Though the stories of Orders of Protection aren’t directly linked, occasionally ties between the stories reveal themselves, as in “Intensify the Feeling” and “What If You’re Wrong,” where self-harm takes many forms in the lives of apartment building neighbors. In the latter, one of the shorter stories of the collection, Sarah prepares to see her brother Jerry for the first time following his release from prison for a rape he claims not to have committed. Her mother is joyfully preparing his homecoming, but Sarah dreads the reunion. She hasn’t been able to put into words the way she can almost understand the genesis of Jerry’s crimes—the way she sees her mother’s alcoholism and violence carry on through him, and how she carries it too, though in a different form:
What she wants him to know is there’s a thin line between doing wrong and being wronged, and they’re both on the same side of that line—even if the only person Sarah has hurt is herself. And she doesn’t know how to move past it any more than Jerry.
In “Intensify the Feeling,” a mother, Ruby, and daughter, Beth, both inflict pain upon themselves, having never truly recovered from the unexpected death of their son and brother. Following Beth’s leg injury, Ruby attempts to help her out at home, but is uncomfortable with the way her life has turned out. Her constant scrutiny falls somewhere between judgment and wry pity, as when she sorts her laundry: “Ruby pulled out two pairs of underwear so tattered, they dangled from their elastic waistbands like bluegill. She tossed them into the garbage can.”
It takes an outsider, a coworker of Beth’s whose “whole effect was that of a cocker spaniel,” to let Ruby know that her daughter’s injury was no accident, but a hastily executed suicide attempt. Beth has spent her adult life believing that her brother died by suicide—that she, too, is prone to it—and it is up to Ruby to at last let her know the truth, that her brother’s death was a consequence of auto-erotic asphyxiation gone wrong, a confused teenaged attempt at self-pleasure that was likely provoked by the strict abstinence-only messages the children were taught growing up. Hoping that this openness will start to heal both of them, she sees that she has only opened the door to more hurt: “Beth looked down at her leg, as if suddenly realizing that her mother had been the one to push her off the sidewalk in front of a truck.” Their pain will persist, but at least—at last—they will persist together.