The meanings of "to risk" and "unthinkable" are clear, but I cannot get the ponint in the phrase below:

To tell them was to risk the unthinkable: it was to risk learning that they already knew.

The fuller text is here:

I OPENED AUDREY ’S MESSAGE. It was written in one long paragraph, with little punctuation and many spelling errors, and at first I fixated on these grammatical irregularities as a way to mute the text. But the words would not be hushed; they shouted at me from the screen. Audrey said she should have stopped Shawn many years ago, before he could do to me what he’d done to her. She said that when she was young, she’d wanted to tell Mother, to ask for help, but she’d thought Mother wouldn’t believe her. She’d been right. Before her wedding, she’d experienced nightmares and flashbacks, and she’d told Mother about them. Mother had said the memories were false, impossible. I should have helpedbelieving myself.*1 It was a mistake she was going to correct. I believe God will hold me accountable if I don’t stop Shawn from hurting anyone else, she wrote. She was going to confront him, and our parents, and she was asking me to stand with her. I am doing this with or without you. But without you, I will probably lose. I sat in the dark for a long time. I resented her for writing me. I felt she had torn me from one world, one life, where I was happy, and dragged me back into another. I typed a response. I told her she was right, that of course we should stop Shawn, but I asked her to do nothing until I could return to Idaho. I don’t know why I asked her to wait, what benefit I thought time would yield. I don’t know what I thought would happen when we talked to our parents, but I understood instinctively what was at stake. As long as we had never asked, it was possible to believe that they would help. To tell them was to risk the unthinkable: it was to risk learning that they already knew.

Educated by Tarawestover

1 Answer 1


Essentially it means that the person speaking is afraid to discover something about their parents. So long as they aren't asked, they can never confirm that something the speaker fears is true.

So, in this case, in a gambling metaphor, they don't want to wager their "ignorance" against a possible answer they could get. They believe that it might be better to continue on unaware than to have their fears about their parents be confirmed.

What they don't want to discover (what is unthinkable to them) is that their parents already knew about some kind of abuse on the part of Shawn—and had also lied about it when Aubrey had asked as a child and been told it was just her imagination.

  • And what about the "risk the unthinkable"?
    – Peace
    Jun 16, 2018 at 17:44
  • That is the unthinkable. The answer that they fear. (I've added that to my answer.) Jun 16, 2018 at 17:44

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