The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 8

She remembers back to the day after the previous Christmas, when Mr. Willard drove her up to the Adirondacks to visit Buddy. She was depressed, like she always was after the holidays, and as they drove further towards their destination she felt gloomier and gloomier; she was tempted to tell Buddy’s father to leave her and she’d hitchhike home. But one look at his face - sweet and trusting - and she knew she couldn’t do it. At midday they pull to the side of the road to eat the lunch Mrs. Willard has prepared for them, and Mr. Willard tells her he and his wife had always wanted a daughter and adds, "I don’t see how any daughter could be nicer than you."

She wasn’t sure what to expect of Buddy’s sanatorium, and had imagined a sort of picturesque Swiss chalet. Buddy had told her they had to lie around a lot, hoping the TB wouldn’t become active. She couldn’t imagine Buddy lying quietly; even when they went places where you supposed to relax, like the beach, he was always running around. The last thing she had expected was for Buddy to have gained weight, but he even has a little pot belly. He explains it’s because they’re fed so much and not allowed to move around. Buddy asks if they want to see his room. It contains a lumpy bed and a couple tables, one covered with books and clay pots. Esther asks about one of the ashtrays, and he says he’d made it for her; she responds that she doesn’t smoke.

Mr. Willard announces that he’s going to go and Esther’s surprised. He gives some money to Buddy for Esther’s return ticket on the train. Esther feels deserted, as if it was planned all along, but Buddy says father couldn’t stand to be around sick people. She sits down on Buddy’s bed, and he shows her a poem in a magazine, and announces he’s written it. Esther thinks it’s terrible, but doesn’t say so; Buddy edges closer to her on the bed, and suddenly she’s worried about germs. He tells her he’s not positive, and not to worry. He asks her if he can ask her an important question; she knows what’s coming and tries to make it as difficult as possible for him. He whispers in her ear, "How would you like to be Mrs. Buddy Willard?" Her first impulse is to laugh, but she just hesitates silently; he sees this and qualifies it by saying he’s not in any condition to think about doing it soon and so on. She tells him she wants to tell him something; he’s afraid she’s met someone else, which she denies. Instead, she says, she’s never going to marry. He thinks she’s crazy. She reminds him of a time when he asked if she wanted to live in the city or the country, and she said both, at which point he called her neurotic. She denies this explanation, saying that if "neurotic" is wanting two mutually exclusive things, that’s what she’ll be for the rest of her life. Buddy puts his hand on hers and offers to do it with her.

They go skiing on Mount Pisgah, although Esther has never skied before. Despite her utter lack of enthusiasm, Buddy borrows everything they’ll need and teaches her how to ski, even though he also has never skied. She’s amazed by his persistence in the face of such mulishness. She remembers Buddy had won some prize at medical school for convincing the most families to donate their recently deceased family members to science.

After about half an hour, he suggests she try the rope tow; she doesn’t think she knows enough to ski down an advanced slope. He suggests she get off the tow halfway up, so she won’t have to ski all the way down. But once she gets on she’s not able to get off halfway; suddenly she’s at the top of the slope and Buddy is waving at her from below. An interior voice tells her to take off her skis and walk down; but this voice vanishes in the face of another thought: "the thought that I might kill myself formed in my mind coolly as a tree or a flower." She pushes off down the hill, rushing past all the other skiers, and for a brief moment she feels truly happy. Not surprisingly, she crashes at the bottom, and Buddy informs her, with a queer satisfied expression, that she’s broken her shin.

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