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The Big Hurt: A Memoir

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A memoir of growing up in a fractured, literary family, being seduced by a teacher, kicked out of boarding school, and then doing it all over again in middle age. In 1982, Erika Schickel was expelled from the highly prestigious Buxton boarding school in the Berkshires for sleeping with a teacher. She was that girl--the pretty, precocious one who got seduced, caught, and the A memoir of growing up in a fractured, literary family, being seduced by a teacher, kicked out of boarding school, and then doing it all over again in middle age. In 1982, Erika Schickel was expelled from the highly prestigious Buxton boarding school in the Berkshires for sleeping with a teacher. She was that girl--the pretty, precocious one who got seduced, caught, and then whisked away in the night to avoid scandal. But Erika's provocative, searing, and often funny memoir, The Big Hurt, asks the question, What really happens to that girl in the aftermath? Schickel came of age in the 1970s, the angsty progeny of two writers: Richard Schickel, the prominent film critic for Time magazine and Julia Whedon, a romantic, disappointed novelist. After her parents’ divorce in 1976, Erika was dumped in a bohemian boarding school and left to navigate the world more or less alone. The Big Hurt tells two stories: a girl coming of age unsupervised, her seduction and expulsion from school which led to decades of self-loathing, an insatiable desire for an all-consuming love, and an overwhelming feeling of guilt. The second is how that girl, grown into middle age, reenacted that trauma with a notorious LA crime novelist, blowing up her marriage and casting herself into the second exile of her life. The Big Hurt looks at a legacy of female pain handed down a maternal bloodline and the cost of epigenetic trauma. It shines a light on the Manhattan haute culture class and the atmosphere of neglect in the 1970s and ‘80s that made girls grow up too fast. It looks at the long shadow cast by great, monstrously self-absorbed literary lives and the ways in which women pin themselves like beautiful butterflies to the cork board of male ego.  The Big Hurt shows how one woman survived abuse and neglect, survived her own scandals to claim her creative voice and repair the legacy of "hurt" in her family tree so that her own daughters might grow up free of it.


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A memoir of growing up in a fractured, literary family, being seduced by a teacher, kicked out of boarding school, and then doing it all over again in middle age. In 1982, Erika Schickel was expelled from the highly prestigious Buxton boarding school in the Berkshires for sleeping with a teacher. She was that girl--the pretty, precocious one who got seduced, caught, and the A memoir of growing up in a fractured, literary family, being seduced by a teacher, kicked out of boarding school, and then doing it all over again in middle age. In 1982, Erika Schickel was expelled from the highly prestigious Buxton boarding school in the Berkshires for sleeping with a teacher. She was that girl--the pretty, precocious one who got seduced, caught, and then whisked away in the night to avoid scandal. But Erika's provocative, searing, and often funny memoir, The Big Hurt, asks the question, What really happens to that girl in the aftermath? Schickel came of age in the 1970s, the angsty progeny of two writers: Richard Schickel, the prominent film critic for Time magazine and Julia Whedon, a romantic, disappointed novelist. After her parents’ divorce in 1976, Erika was dumped in a bohemian boarding school and left to navigate the world more or less alone. The Big Hurt tells two stories: a girl coming of age unsupervised, her seduction and expulsion from school which led to decades of self-loathing, an insatiable desire for an all-consuming love, and an overwhelming feeling of guilt. The second is how that girl, grown into middle age, reenacted that trauma with a notorious LA crime novelist, blowing up her marriage and casting herself into the second exile of her life. The Big Hurt looks at a legacy of female pain handed down a maternal bloodline and the cost of epigenetic trauma. It shines a light on the Manhattan haute culture class and the atmosphere of neglect in the 1970s and ‘80s that made girls grow up too fast. It looks at the long shadow cast by great, monstrously self-absorbed literary lives and the ways in which women pin themselves like beautiful butterflies to the cork board of male ego.  The Big Hurt shows how one woman survived abuse and neglect, survived her own scandals to claim her creative voice and repair the legacy of "hurt" in her family tree so that her own daughters might grow up free of it.

30 review for The Big Hurt: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    A fantastic, propulsively told memoir. I made the mistake of starting this at 10 p.m. one night. Reading into the wee hours, I marveled at the deftness with which Schickel described states of mind quite specific to adults who have not yet mastered their wounds, which lie like areas of quicksand under a tranquil skim of water. I had to to be careful to finish my work for the day before I picked it up again, and put it down at a reasonable hour, because man, can she write, and man does she have a A fantastic, propulsively told memoir. I made the mistake of starting this at 10 p.m. one night. Reading into the wee hours, I marveled at the deftness with which Schickel described states of mind quite specific to adults who have not yet mastered their wounds, which lie like areas of quicksand under a tranquil skim of water. I had to to be careful to finish my work for the day before I picked it up again, and put it down at a reasonable hour, because man, can she write, and man does she have a story to tell. Schickel's memoir opens with the 40+ year old's affair with a legendarily strange, compelling older writer--a quite-famous mystery writer--succumbing to a blazing affair that seems fated, conditioned as it was by deeply hidden, unresolved, lifelong emotional wounds. She prepares us for her tale, by bringing us deep into the power of the attraction to this particular man in the midst of a long marriage to a nice guy whom she admits she was never passionate about. She had married him in the unconscious deal-with-the-devil that she would give up looking for a more passionate partner in favor of someone solid and reliable, around whom she could form a nurturing family life, and heal the damage inflicted by her glamorous but self-centered parents in the permissive 1970s. She thought on some level the marriage would heal the damage, but all it did was send it deep underground, where it lay in wait for the appearance of trouble, which caught her in the form of this unsettling, obsessive older writer. As the almost-inevitable affair looms, Schickel switches back into her history, moving us back in time, to chart the emotional--and sexual--journey of a young girl, telling the truth about encounters of a type many women have had but would be embarrassed to admit. but also the early parental inattention and general moral vacuousness that devolves over time into a shocking blindness, selfishness and self-justification, the worst of the 'me generation' 1970s and its effect on the cultural classes--never have I seen a more keen eyed and damning portrait of that cultural moment. Schickel's mother was a. novelist, and her father one of the essential film critics of his time, and between them they had the protective instincts of fruit flies, all the empathy of a hunk of concrete. Things go from bad to worse for the unsupervised, growing big-city sophisticated/unsophisticated girl as she comes into puberty. Her parents divorce and she becomes a bit of a football, neither parent able or willing to take responsibility or even think through what their eldest daughter might be experiencing or suffering in her own life. Though the mother finds the daughter's diary, discovering shocking realities, she withdraws her love rather than stepping up to see what she can do to help her daughter navigate the waters of the life they're living. An event of neighborhood sex play, where the 5th grade Schickel is caught by the boy's mother, and labeled at school as a 'slut' begins her struggle with being labeled--and self-labeled--as the 'bad girl'. Thinking of herself as a bad girl, an unworthy girl, continues as other incidents the completely unparented girl begin to add up. Drugs and alcohol don't help the unsupervised young Schickel define boundaries with her male classmates--and her search for approval and connection to someone, anyone, intensifies-- lead to further incidents which a girl with some sense of herself might have run from. Her parents, unable to figure out what to do with their troubled, shoplifting, defiant daughter--at least anything that doesn't require a sacrifice on their part--send her to London to au pair at 13. It is incredible that anybody would trust a child like this with their baby, but it was the 1970s, and the lack of adult common sense in this story is eye-popping. When she is sent home for shoplifting- she is informed that she cannot for various reasons live with either parent. She will have to go to boarding school. Nobody is acknowledging what it must feel like for a child to be rejected/abandoned by both parents at such a critical time. Fortunately, it seemed, the school was progressive and, as her father had hoped-- gave her the community and the kindness and care that neither one of her self-justifying parents is able or willing to provide. Until it didn't, following the disclosure that she had begun an affair with a music teacher a short six weeks before graduation. One of the most brutal parts of the book was a letter from her father, the movie critic (professionally prone to long literate letters) sent to Schickel explaining why she couldn't spend the summer with him (the mother won't allow her to spend more than a few days with her because she finds her presence upsetting). He's got a new girlfriend he hopes will become permanent and the woman only has three months to spend with him and he doesn't want to blow it having Erika there. The gaslighting is astonishing--and I had to keep reminding myself, this is a memoir.. How the "kind and perfectly logical" father puts his needs ahead of his daughter's, and then drowns any insight into his BS with a profusion of verbiage professing care and concern. All the while showing what he really values. This to an unsupported fourteen year old. The absence of parental weight, indeed, interference or attention by any adult other than the predatory teacher, renders the mistakes that proud, wild young Schickel was about to make almost inevitable. A very big hurt indeed. Coming into the final furlongs, the book turns back to the marriage-exploding relationship with the weird older writer which becomes weirder by the moment as it works its way to its own denouement, No spoilers but we can anticipate that anything this hot between two very damaged people was going o melt down at some point, but still, the details of the meltdown grip you, and the perfect school situation also explodes. Then there's a completely unexpected twist in the aftermath of her expulsion that had my hair standing up. The ne plus ultra of the whole story. The book makes a terrific landing. Of course the end would have to come around to the original wound, the family one, and it's an oddly healing journey, something I had not been expecting. I admired Schickel's masterful storytelling, the intricate switching of the rails from the past story to the present one, timed for drama but also for our ability to absorb its difficulty moments, and every page offers up the readerly thrill of impressions precisely rendered: "They had two dogs, Dutka and Yevka--tall, slender Russian wolfhounds that looked like hanks of silky yarn pressed between two panes of glass." " Dad was more inconvenienced than he was heartbroken by the end of his marriage..." Her keen eye and refusal to soften the edges. make this an unforgettable read. Emotionally dense, suspenseful, insightful, formidable.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Anny Celsi

    This is a hilarious, fast and funny read that nevertheless left me breathless time and again with its tragic honesty. I grew up in the same '70s as Erika Schickel and even though Portland, Oregon is about as far as you can get from the New York skyline, so much of her high school experience is familiar to me - the flannel shirts, guitars and round-robin backrubs, the Indian bedspreads, the endless planting and woodchopping, the arty, grade-less curriculum, the free-range parenting and yes, the r This is a hilarious, fast and funny read that nevertheless left me breathless time and again with its tragic honesty. I grew up in the same '70s as Erika Schickel and even though Portland, Oregon is about as far as you can get from the New York skyline, so much of her high school experience is familiar to me - the flannel shirts, guitars and round-robin backrubs, the Indian bedspreads, the endless planting and woodchopping, the arty, grade-less curriculum, the free-range parenting and yes, the rather fluid approach to teacher-student boundaries. Schickel writes with a wit, clarity and self-awareness that astonishes me. Her reckoning with her experience, and how it shaped her relationships going forward, is both insightful and brave. It made me question my own understanding of the world as we saw it then.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Kevin A.

    I bought this on impulse — the woman on the cover flipping the bird in a Patti Smith t shirt drew me in. Schickel is a superb writer. The narrative flips back and forth in time between two stages of her life (and two love affairs) thirty years apart, yet it is never confusing nor does it feel like artifice. That alone is a remarkable achievement. Her second achievement is that this is a remarkably thoughtful and thought-provoking book. Though the memoir format is well-worn, this one always feels I bought this on impulse — the woman on the cover flipping the bird in a Patti Smith t shirt drew me in. Schickel is a superb writer. The narrative flips back and forth in time between two stages of her life (and two love affairs) thirty years apart, yet it is never confusing nor does it feel like artifice. That alone is a remarkable achievement. Her second achievement is that this is a remarkably thoughtful and thought-provoking book. Though the memoir format is well-worn, this one always feels fresh and never (well, hardly ever) feels like it succumbs to a by-the-numbers “I’ve been through hell but things are great now.” Nothing is pat in this story, and I take that as evidence of her honesty. I’ll be thinking about this one for a while. The author is only three years older than myself, but it feels like she’s a generation older somehow. I suspect this is because she was essentially left on her own to navigate life at an earlier age than I was. She was forced to grow up fast, but she correctly notes the course of her earlier story took place entirely while she was still a child. That, of course, is the difference between the two affairs; the second took place in her 40s, and therefore she must bear responsibility for the fallout of that one. The reader does see how the two are related, though.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Taylor

    As a woman born on the cusp of being a very young baby boomer or a very old Gen Xer, I found The Big Hurt to be hugely relatable. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by the author. Besides being a brilliant writer, Erika Schickel is also a trained performer, so the reading was better than most. But now, because I loved the audiobook so much, I need to buy the actual book so I can see the words on the page and savor the author’s command of the English language. It is so well-written and be As a woman born on the cusp of being a very young baby boomer or a very old Gen Xer, I found The Big Hurt to be hugely relatable. I listened to the audiobook, which is read by the author. Besides being a brilliant writer, Erika Schickel is also a trained performer, so the reading was better than most. But now, because I loved the audiobook so much, I need to buy the actual book so I can see the words on the page and savor the author’s command of the English language. It is so well-written and beautifully organized to cover several topics: abandonment, feminism, generational trauma, growing up in the predatory 70s and 80s, playing muse to brilliant men who appear sensitive at first, but once the newness of the relationship wears off, not so much. In some ways, Schickel’s childhood is enviable. Both her parents are accomplished writers, both are talented and intellectual, there are plenty of books around the house, and she’s growing up in NYC surrounded by tons of culture. What could possibly go wrong? Well, the 1970s (what I like to call the decade of the feral child), and parents born in the Silent Generation. They are so stereotypical of that era, which is to say there is very little supervision. Dad is a smoker, drinker, and womanizer, and Mom is, well, a little more complicated, but isn’t that usually the case for ambitious women of that era, expected to marry young and have children instead of building a career of their own? So yes, the mother-daughter relationship is somewhat strained. Schickel’s main romantic pursuers were her high school music teacher and later in life, a big-time crime writer. (I see you, James Ellroy, I mean “Sam Spade.”) These men used their position and power to seduce Schickel, made her feel loved, then dumped her. What I loved most about this book is its honesty. Though a reliable narrator, Schickel herself is flawed and doesn’t cover it up. Instead, she shines a light on her shortcomings and tries to make sense of it all by tracing the patterns in her life. I also appreciated that she looked back on her life through the lens of the #MeToo movement. Manipulative men were so predominant back in those years that we all thought it was normal behavior. Thank the goddesses, women are pushing back on this bad behavior and we are now starting to read books like The Big Hurt. I highly recommend.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Deanna

    I had started reading this book about a month and a half ago and just couldn't get into it. I finished all the books in my house so I picked this up again and was glad I did. It's about a woman looking back on her life and her relationships with men- her Dad, her teacher, her husband, her lover (coined Sam Spade but perhaps in real life James Ellroy?). It's about what women give up (themselves) when they are in relationships. It's about secrets that are kept. I recommend this book. Give it a try I had started reading this book about a month and a half ago and just couldn't get into it. I finished all the books in my house so I picked this up again and was glad I did. It's about a woman looking back on her life and her relationships with men- her Dad, her teacher, her husband, her lover (coined Sam Spade but perhaps in real life James Ellroy?). It's about what women give up (themselves) when they are in relationships. It's about secrets that are kept. I recommend this book. Give it a try!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    Though it wasn’t enjoyable for me I can appreciate it as a memoir. Others will certainly enjoy Erika Schickel’s jot down memory lane.

  7. 4 out of 5

    April

    Thank you to Erika Schickel and Hachette Books for a copy of The Big Hurt: A Memoir. I don't give away spoilers in my reviews. I sometimes hesitate to read any type of memoir because I always feel an obligation not to hurt an author's feelings or to cause them any pain -especially if their life has had significant pain already. I started The Big Hurt yesterday around 5pm and stayed up until 1:22am to finish it. I could not put her book down. Even when it fell on my face a few times as I started Thank you to Erika Schickel and Hachette Books for a copy of The Big Hurt: A Memoir. I don't give away spoilers in my reviews. I sometimes hesitate to read any type of memoir because I always feel an obligation not to hurt an author's feelings or to cause them any pain -especially if their life has had significant pain already. I started The Big Hurt yesterday around 5pm and stayed up until 1:22am to finish it. I could not put her book down. Even when it fell on my face a few times as I started to fall asleep. Erika is a real person so I can't say I loved the character like I usually can in a book. So I will say I relate so much to her. I related to her struggles with men, mostly. I think every woman who has had a history of dating "parasitic men" should read this book. It's not an advice book. It's about one woman who had that history, made the connections throughout her life and fought through them. That's not easily done - and is so admirable. Erika's book gives me hope, helped me understand mother-daughter connections and made me realize I was not the only woman who struggled with men. I wish her nothing but happiness and success in her life. She's certainly due it.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ann

    For some reason, the ending of this book sold me on the entire project. Students having intimate affairs with their high school teachers and college professors is nothing new. What’s changed is seeing the student in that scenario as a victim and the teacher’s behavior as predatory. And yet, this is still happening. Erika Schickel presents a compelling story of patterns of mischief that she traces back to neglectful parents and a world that under valued a girls education. At times a little slow, For some reason, the ending of this book sold me on the entire project. Students having intimate affairs with their high school teachers and college professors is nothing new. What’s changed is seeing the student in that scenario as a victim and the teacher’s behavior as predatory. And yet, this is still happening. Erika Schickel presents a compelling story of patterns of mischief that she traces back to neglectful parents and a world that under valued a girls education. At times a little slow, I found this memoir compelling nonetheless, enough to carry me to the end where it all made sense.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Silver_Neurotic

    I received a copy of this book from Goodreads. Opinions are my own. I don’t know how I feel about The Big Hurt. It would be easy to dismiss the book because I struggled to read it. It would be easy to say that it wasn’t very good because the narrative was all over the place. It would have been easy to decide that it wasn’t worth my time to read it because I didn’t like it. I have a huge respect for writers who choose to share their most vulnerable stories, but honestly, I just didn’t like this fo I received a copy of this book from Goodreads. Opinions are my own. I don’t know how I feel about The Big Hurt. It would be easy to dismiss the book because I struggled to read it. It would be easy to say that it wasn’t very good because the narrative was all over the place. It would have been easy to decide that it wasn’t worth my time to read it because I didn’t like it. I have a huge respect for writers who choose to share their most vulnerable stories, but honestly, I just didn’t like this for all the reasons I listed above.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    This seemed right up my alley, but it was not.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    This book is fierce, funny, smart, tender, sad and ultimately, uplifting and redemptive. I loved it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Julia

    I am not sure what the point of this disjointed and incoherent book was supposed to be, but the result is an extremely unflattering self portrait of Ms. Schickel. There seem to be two themes: abuse by her mother and abusive behavior by men in her life. But considering that she maligns and complains about everyone and everything in her life - both parents, female best friend, ex boyfriends and husband, social circles, professional circle - these themes are diluted and confused. Maybe it’s victimho I am not sure what the point of this disjointed and incoherent book was supposed to be, but the result is an extremely unflattering self portrait of Ms. Schickel. There seem to be two themes: abuse by her mother and abusive behavior by men in her life. But considering that she maligns and complains about everyone and everything in her life - both parents, female best friend, ex boyfriends and husband, social circles, professional circle - these themes are diluted and confused. Maybe it’s victimhood culture. Ms. Schickel describes a lot of really bad behavior on her part - which she ascribes to being a “victim”. At times she seems aware that she is re-enacting prior bad acts (including her mom’s) and that her own behavior is hurting others. Other times she is baffled, or furious, when this is pointed out to her. Sometimes, it seems she doesn’t even recognize her hypocrisy. Aside from criticism about the “message”, the book is just not well written. It jumps around chronologically and thematically to maintain interest, but ends up feeling randomly cobbled together with parts that don’t fit in. It doesn’t flow, and tries too hard to be clever. The stories and anecdotes are often peppered with gratuitous insults, lack context or explanation, or strain credulity. Ultimately, though, this book doesn’t know what it wants to be: Mommy Dearest with a not famous mother? A tell-all about her brief affair with a famous writer? Is it a #metoo book? 300 pages of victimhood competition? To me, it sounded like the sad ramblings of an insecure, middle-aged privileged stoner narcissist who goes to therapy three times a week, to a shaman, and does drugs to “find herself”. I cannot relate.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Goldstein

    I had to stop reading at p. 32 when she said she felt “rewarded” by yelling at her little kids and making them cry. I don’t know what kind of person would think this, much less put it in a book. I’m giving it 2 stars because I didn’t finish the book and don’t think it would be fair to give it one on that basis.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    I devoured this book. It felt at times like reading about a slow motion train wreck, described by someone with a tear in her eye and a wry smile. From her early childhood in New York city with two deeply unsatisfied parents and a much younger sister, to a shocking end to what had promised to be a positive period of growth at a private boarding school, to a disastrous affair in mid-life, Schickel explores the Big Hurts of her life. Through the writing of the book, in digging into the layers of ab I devoured this book. It felt at times like reading about a slow motion train wreck, described by someone with a tear in her eye and a wry smile. From her early childhood in New York city with two deeply unsatisfied parents and a much younger sister, to a shocking end to what had promised to be a positive period of growth at a private boarding school, to a disastrous affair in mid-life, Schickel explores the Big Hurts of her life. Through the writing of the book, in digging into the layers of abuse and neglect, and discovering her own tenderness and strength, Schickel finds - and learns to accept - herself. It's not so pat as that, but you can find that out for yourself when you read The Big Hurt.

  15. 4 out of 5

    S.M.

    I realize how fragile the human spirit is and how precious the emotions expressed are. And I don't think we should take for granted how easily we are given control over those innocent feelings. It is a criminal sense of prey under power. Where the main character fantasizes her predator into existence. Yet romanticizes the young ache of wanting to be loved and outright thoroughly adored. Our adolescent minds are ruined and manipulated with momentary infatuation. If you haven't read it, you should I realize how fragile the human spirit is and how precious the emotions expressed are. And I don't think we should take for granted how easily we are given control over those innocent feelings. It is a criminal sense of prey under power. Where the main character fantasizes her predator into existence. Yet romanticizes the young ache of wanting to be loved and outright thoroughly adored. Our adolescent minds are ruined and manipulated with momentary infatuation. If you haven't read it, you should because Ericka does a fantastic job not only detailing her past trauma but awakening the awareness to spark a flame to those corrupt. The Big Hurt Ericka Schickel @schickity

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lisa P.

    I loved going back to this memoir over the few days I read it. Her childhood in New York City which brought me back to the city I love. Her distant mother and a father who wrote movie reviews for Time Magazine were....quite aloof and narcissistic. Her troubled family life, boarding school-and eventually her affair with 'Sam Spade' (James Elroy) during her marriage, about which I can't help but ponder: I know that we are all attracted to different people for different reasons, but him? Really? I loved going back to this memoir over the few days I read it. Her childhood in New York City which brought me back to the city I love. Her distant mother and a father who wrote movie reviews for Time Magazine were....quite aloof and narcissistic. Her troubled family life, boarding school-and eventually her affair with 'Sam Spade' (James Elroy) during her marriage, about which I can't help but ponder: I know that we are all attracted to different people for different reasons, but him? Really?

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joanne Crosetti

    I listened to this book on a road trip. It was perfect for that. This memoir was all that was described...great stories, introspection, stories of older men who take advantage of young girls and then the girls are blamed/shamed, colleges trying to gloss over sexual abuse, mother/daughter relations, Dad/daughter relations, famous people, true friendships, addiction, mental health, and more.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    The story was interesting. This girl had a lot of problematic situations in her school life.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Marsha

    This book is incredible. I read in a few days

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mindy

    4.5 stars

  21. 5 out of 5

    Annie

    Great rec from Maria Semple’s Instagram.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sundry

    This is a compelling and well written memoir. Timely and fascinating.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Connie

  24. 4 out of 5

    Susan Jaffee

  25. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

  26. 4 out of 5

    kay breakstone

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ali

  28. 5 out of 5

    Deborah H.

  29. 4 out of 5

    John B

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kennith

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