Simply by being female I was excluded from the lists of potential usurpers, since no woman could ever sit on the Council of the Commanders; so on that front, ironically, I was safe.
My life might have been very different. If only I’d looked around me, taken in the wider view. If only I’d packed up early enough, as some did, and left the country – the country that I had still foolishly thought was the same country to which I had for so many years belonged.
Such regrets are of no practical use. I made choices, and then, having made them, I had fewer choices. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one most travelled by. It was littered with corpses as such roads are. But as you will have noticed, my own corpse is not among them.
[…]I can do this, I thought. I can get through.
I was right, but only just. You’d be surprised how quickly the mind goes soggy in the absence of other people. One person alone is not a full person: we exist in relation to others. I was one person: I risked becoming no person.
For a time I almost believed what I understood I was supposed to believe. I numbered myself among the faithful for the same reason that many in Gilead did: because it was less dangerous. What good is it to throw yourself in front of a steamroller out of moral principles and then be crushed flat like a sock emptied of its foot? Better to ade in the crowd, the piously praising, unctuous, hate-mongering crowd. Better to hurl rocks than to have them hurled at you. Or better for your chances of staying alive.
They knew that so well, the architects of Gilead. Their kind has always known that.
My larger fear: that all my efforts will provide futile, and Gilead will last for a thousand years. Most of the time, that is what it feels like here, far away from the war, in the still heart of the tornado. So peaceful, the streets; so tranquil, so orderly; yet underneath the deceptively placid surfaces, a tremor, like that near a high-voltage power line. We’re stretched thin, all of us; we vibrate, we quiver, we’re always on alert. Reign of terror, they used to say but terror does not exactly reign. Instead it paralyzes. Hence the unnatural quiet.
“No one wants to die,” said Becka. “But some people don’t want to live in any of the ways that are allowed.”
Bearing false witness was not the exception, it was common. Beneath its outer show of virtue and purity, Gilead was rotting.
This was what the Aunts did, I was learning. They recorded. They waited. They used the information to achieve goals known only to themselves. Their weapons were powerful but contaminating secrets, As the Marthas had always said. Secrets, lies, cunning, deceit – but the secrets, the lies, the cunning, and the deceit of others as well as their own.
If I remained at Ardua Hall – if I performed my Pearl Girs missionary work and returned as full Aunt – this was what I would become. All of the secrets I learned, and doubtless many more, would be mine, to use as I saw fit. All of this power. All of this potential to judge the wicked in silence, and to punish them in ways they would not be able to anticipate. All of this vengeance.
Here you can find my review of The Testaments