Oliver assumed his identity in response to the women who abandoned him, while Norman assumed his identity from the community that dictated it. Shane's assumed identity is a unique combination of both Oliver and Norman's experiences, where the loss of community and home in the midst of crisis created a deep wound---her sister at the center---which she finally had to confront in The Road Less Traveled.
Shane's ability to empathize with Rachel about the loss of “[her] home, [her] friends and even [her] reputation, " paired with the revelation that Shane’s mother “sold [their] house to cover the debt and put [Alex] through rehab,” it’s clear that Shane’s world crumbled in light of Alex's gambling problem. As a result, a piece of Shane’s identity was inextricably tied to the chaos and crisis that engulfed her family and her world. Wounded by the event and its aftermath, Shane made the assumption that the revelation of her sister would tear future relationships apart, and developed an identity meant to shield her from experiencing the same pain ever again where Alex was concerned.
An Opened Wound
The specificity with which Shane empathized with Rachel’s situation was all the evidence required to determine that Shane didn't just empathize with Rachel, she identified with her. And that reality was confirmed when Shane revealed she had a sister with a gambling problem that “gambled her whole life away and tore [Shane’s] family apart” in the process. Behind Shane’s empathy was evidence of an encounter with community in a time of crisis, and the devastating and traumatic outcome, the wounds of which she still carried.
Community & Crisis
Whenever Alex’s gambling problem came to light, Shane likely couldn’t “avoid the stares and the whispers” of her community, who probably made assumptions about her, her sister, and her mother that robbed them of their reputation. And those whispers caused the loss of friends and neighbors who distanced themselves from Shane and her family, isolating them in the midst of crisis, when they needed community the most.
Family Responds To Crisis
As if the loss of community wasn’t enough, to make matters worse, Shane’s mother “sold [her childhood home] to pay off the debt and put [Alex] through rehab.” But not before Alex subjected their mother to “sleepless nights” and her family to “ruin[ed] holidays.” It’s not unreasonable to surmise that Alex’s gambling problem also made Shane’s mother emotionally unavailable to her at times, her mother’s emotional energy drained with concern for Alex. Already abandoned by their father, Alex further “tore [the] family apart” in this way. Unfortunately, Shane’s pain didn’t end there.
Sister Responds To Crisis
Shane “thought the sun rose and set with Alex.” To see Alex, whom she looked up to, and was so near and dear to her, “do stupid things” like “gamble her whole entire life away,” was devastating for Shane. Alex had a duty as an older sister to look out for Shane and be an example. To not only betray that trust, but to act in such a way that Alex’s bad decisions became a burden Shane had to bear, costing her everything, including her home, it’s easy to see how Shane became “so angry…[she was] afraid to return [Alex’s] calls because she [didn’t] know what [she was] gonna to say.” Deeply disappointed and wounded by her sister’s actions and their consequences, Shane harbored a lot of anger. That anger produced a significant amount of unforgiveness that Shane carried into adulthood.
This crisis also developed the assumptions, and subsequent identity, that Shane carried into adulthood. The failure of Shane’s community to come alongside her in a time of crisis demonstrated to Shane that dysfunction and baggage disqualified her for support, and, by extension, that the burden of the crisis became hers to bear, regardless of whether or not the transgression was a direct result of her actions. In essence, Alex’s decisions, and their consequences, mistakenly became Shane’s burden to bear. This fundamentally robbed Shane of her individuality, and of control of her personal narrative.
Shane’s ability to identify with Rachel was evidence of deep wounds developed under similar circumstances. In the face of a crisis, Shane’s immediate community abandoned her and her family. Abandoned by her community, Shane ultimately ended up emotionally, and even tangibly, abandoned by her own family, too. Already fractured in light of her father’s departure, Alex’s gambling problem rendered Shane and her mother unable to salvage what remained of their family, including their home. But perhaps the deepest, and most significant, wound was inflicted by sister upon sister. A deep and important bond, Alex’s gambling problem shattered Shane’s image of her sister in a seemingly irreparable way, compounded by the loss of home and community. The remnants of this trauma, and the mistaken identity and conclusions they forced Shane to internalize, resurfaced when the past once more came calling.
An Open Case
Whether she realized it or not, Shane’s coping mechanism for the trauma of her past was to immerse herself in the building and maintenance of her chosen family of Rita, Norman and Oliver. She craved the stability and unconditional love their bond provided. And since it was a family she had chosen, helped build, and continued to nurture, she also had the ability to dictate and control her role and perception within that family. For example, Shane established herself as an older sister figure to Rita, the same example Shane had ultimately lost in Alex. Similarly, she assumed a mother-figure role alongside Oliver’s father figure within their harmonious little family. And it was harmony of which Shane was fiercely protective, and even adjusted her own narrative to facilitate.
In order to frame a perfectly harmonious narrative for her POstables family, Shane necessarily had to exclude the less-than-harmonious aspects of her own personal narrative which might threaten it. If she could sever ties between herself and Alex, Shane could finally come out from under the shadow of Alex’s transgressions and their consequences. Shane did an excellent job of compartmentalizing and distancing herself from Alex. Entering her sister’s contact name as “Alex Brighton” in her phone, Shane treated her almost as a stranger, while at the same time superficially distinguishing herself from Alex through their differing surnames. But perhaps most important to Shane, she prevented Alex from having access to her, or the potential to “tear [her new] family apart,” by strictly enforcing that distance.
To write Alex out, however, represented a lapse in logic, as Shane’s “dinging” cell phone ultimately proved. A major plot hole, the complete absence of Alex from Shane’s narrative left Shane without any method of accounting for Alex when she once more tried to reach out. That’s when the anger and unforgiveness began to resurface, Shane’s lie to Rita a subtle symptom.
But it was also the sign of an assumption upon which Shane was operating where Rita, and even Oliver, were concerned - that revelation of Alex would put those relationships in jeopardy, that they would abandon her as she had been abandoned by community before, the end result a second complete unraveling of her world, perhaps an even more painful one. To sustain this assumption meant somewhere along the line, however, that Shane had written Rita and Oliver’s lines for them, and it’s not hard to see where her imagination wrote Shane right into a panic.
Remarkably, Shane had taken such swift control of the narrative that she had potentially even written the lines of those closest to her, robbing them, at least temporarily, of the opportunity to choose their own responses. This was the true measure of just how little Shane had “mov[ed] on” from the past, and just how much was still “dragging behind [her].” What’s worse, her assumptions were completely unfounded, something she would soon discover when finally confronted with Alex outright.
Wounded by her community and the loss of her home, Shane finally found refuge in the family built among the POstables. Fiercely protective of that family---and out of the fear of losing them---Shane took great care to construct a new narrative that restored the security and relationship previously lost over Alex. To protect it, Shane excluded problematic elements like Alex on the assumption her POstables family would react as her community had in the past, and distance themselves from her. But, as Shane was about to discover, healing of the past wouldn’t come from her pen, but from the community from whom she tried so hard to hide this piece of her life.
It was a subtle detail, but Oliver’s refusal to divulge what Norman told him about what was “going on between [him and Rita]” was actually very important. It demonstrated to Shane that Oliver was a safe person with whom she could share her pain over Alex without concern that he might spread it among the family. If one of her fears was that her narrative or perception within the family would be altered in light of the revelation of Alex, Oliver’s commitment to confidentiality was proof he would provide her pain the same security.
Support + Compassion
Security was important, particularly when Oliver finally asked Shane outright about Alex Brighton. Shane already knew she could trust him implicitly - what she needed was for Oliver to trust her. When he assured Shane, “I’m not letting go,” he allowed for their relationship to contain some measure of “something that [hadn’t been]worked out yet” without loss of relationship, while confirming his trust in her. Oliver's treatment of Shane didn’t alter in the slightest. Unlike the community that distanced themselves in the midst of her crisis, Oliver committed to remaining at her side, even if he didn’t have all the facts, extended trust, and did his best not to assume anything.
Rachel wasn’t necessarily part of Shane’s immediate community, but their encounter was critical to Shane’s healing journey. To sit across from someone who had experienced the same loss of home and community, and in the midst of struggling with the same hurt, anger and unforgiveness she harbored towards Alex, Shane was safe to empathize with Rachel at a core level. Shane even found a vocabulary for that pain, a step on the path to healing. In the course of their conversation, Shane realized that whether she forgave Alex or not, “until [she could] face [Alex], [she would] always sort of be in prison herself,” the prison that had her constantly trying to hide Alex from those closest to her. Shane thought she “was moving on,” but realized she couldn’t “get very far dragging so much behind [her].”
That realization led to a moment of clarity, and a definitive next step towards finally confronting the hurt, anger and unforgiveness Shane compartmentalized for so long, and the broken relationship with Alex waiting for reconciliation behind it.
“You thought you knew me, right?”
“I know you---I just don’t know your sister. You’re Shane McInerney and she’s…”
Her identity was so enmeshed with her sister’s transgressions---and with the hurt, anger and unforgiveness produced in the aftermath---that it took Oliver parsing Shane and Alex apart once more for Shane to objectively see all the wounds which compounded to create it. Where her community had successfully lumped Shane and her sister together in shame, Oliver distinguished Shane from her sister, even with their true relationship known. Consequently, Shane retained the support and compassion Oliver pledged to her previously. This no doubt made it easier for Shane to invite him into the pain with which she still struggled. She allowed Oliver to experience it raw and unfiltered
By walking Oliver through that pain, Shane invited him into it. And that made Oliver uniquely qualified to speak into Shane’s situation, to remind her that she would have to “forgive [Alex] for being human.” But, most importantly, it allowed Oliver the opportunity to co-sign on that pain so Shane “wouldn’t have to [face Alex] alone.” Once alienated by the truth of her situation, Oliver responded with the exact opposite behavior, leaned into her conflict, and offered not just support, but assumed some of the burden. The commitment of someone interested in more than just a “relationship,” Oliver also assumed the label of “boyfriend," and encouraged Shane to share that fact with Alex. Instead of “[tearing them] apart,” the situation with Alex, and the healing it produced, actually brought Shane and Oliver closer together.
It also brought Shane and Alex closer together to some extent as well. Shane was confident enough to share some details about her life with Alex, including the fact she was “still in Denver…[and] love[d] it.” It was clear proof that Shane was no longer fearful of Alex's impact on her current relationships, and perhaps even ready to invite Alex back into her life.
Even if Shane had some concern that the reality of Alex would alter her relationship with Rita, Rita made it clear later that evening that sisterhood was much more than just DNA. "The sister she never had,” Rita couldn't “imagine getting married, being married, or raising children without [Shane],” and it was clear nothing in the world would change that then, or in the future.
In light of Alex's gambling problem, Shane lost her community, her home, her sister, and even her identity. Determined to prevent the past from repeating itself, Shane was fiercely protective of the family she built among the POstables, and constructed a narrative and perception of herself that restored the security previously lost over Alex, even excluding her sister from that narrative entirely. But when the past began to demand her attention, Shane was forced to confront the hurt, anger and unforgiveness lurking beneath the surface of which Alex was at the center. With the help of her POstables family and Rachel, Shane confronted and combated the assumption that the revelation of Alex would jeopardize her current relationships, while walking the path that ultimately led to healing for her, and reconciliation with her sister.
Overcoming Assumptions: Oliver | Norman | Shane