I will speak in generalities here, because the particulars are too harmful to discuss openly. I understand the irony in this better than most, feel the grotesqueness of it more stingingly than most, I imagine, but there we are. I don’t want to get into a fight about any of it at the moment. Pat Conroy lost half of his family after he revealed details of his father’s insane brutality in The Great Santini.
People who love somebody don’t want to hear that he’s actually got an Adolf Hitler side, and they’ll kill anyone who persists in highlighting the resemblance, particularly to outsiders. Conroy was dead to his father’s side of the family after publishing that book openly detailing their beloved relative’s monstrousness. They were furious that Conroy insisted on describing a trip to the E.R. after a near fatal beating from his highly respected war hero father.
Conroy and his father eventually reconciled, due largely to the immense success of that book and the movie with the charismatic Robert Duvall as the brutal elder Conroy. Such reconciliations with toxic people who learn from life and actually try to mend their ways are exceedingly rare, however, and matters of extraordinary grace and luck.
The other piece, of course, is that nobody is simply Adolf Hitler, outside of maybe Mr. Hitler himself. You can portray a difficult to forgive side of somebody while also recognizing many excellent, admirable qualities in that person. It is not always easy to do, but it can be done. We tend to view people on a kind of moral see-saw, balancing their good and bad attributes until something tips it one way or the other. Somebody saves your life, it’s easier to forget the many faults that used to annoy the shit out of you.
So, while I don’t believe that the truth will set you free, except in rare cases, I know that lies will keep you tied up in knots and make it impossible to ever free yourself. That’s my point here. When people are crippled by shame or guilt, they lie, construct alternate explanations, elaborate rationales for why they are not crippled, or why the fact that they’re crippled is of little consequence: pay no attention to those twisted, shrunken limbs, I am Superman!
Back in Egypt guys working for the new Pharaoh and his dynasty would go into the tombs of the preceding Pharaohs and scrape the faces off the paintings on the walls, literally erasing these once all-powerful god-kings from history. This is how we do it, homo fucking sapiens. We live by stories, myths, and whenever necessary, we scrape the previous records right off the walls of history, replace them with myths that serve us better.
Millions of people killed by the Nazis? Bullshit! It was only a few hundred thousand, and they died of disease and insanity, they were subhuman filth, and liars. There were no gas chambers, no crematoriums. Six million Jews? Jew please! There you go, again, it was more like two million, at most, you lying goddamn Jew. Ten million Africans killed during the American trans-Atlantic slave trade? Prove it, bitch. It was no more than a couple of million, and they were mostly the psychos who wanted to kill their captors, plus the slave trade was necessary to the Land of the Free’s prosperity, and, anyway, it was outlawed more than two hundred fucking years ago!!!!
Not all re-writing of history is bad. Evil myths need to be corrected, rewritten. Homosexuality, for example, was long considered a form of deviance punishable by ostracism, beating, imprisonment, even death in many parts of the world, including the U.S.A. (where, in fairness, death sentences were rare, and not strictly legal) until very recent times. While still persecuted in many places, it is now recognized in many countries as a naturally occurring sexual preference whose practitioners deserve every right to practice, openly, legally and, in an increasing number of places, with marriage equality. These former deviants now have the same right to love each other, under the law, that heteronormative couples do. Not bad, not bad at all.
So, leaving aside the generalities of myth, and with sadness, because describing the particular relationship I am thinking of would show more about my father’s life and beliefs than any other I can think of, and because I witnessed 100% of it as an adult myself, I scrape this descriptive relationship off the painting of my father’s life on the tomb wall before I even paint it. I redact it. So what can I actually tell you about it without actually telling you about it? That is what I’m trying to figure out.
When someone is angry, and they never get to explain the causes, it creates a loop, a kind of insane loop. They appear to be irrationally angry, since they cannot openly discuss what they’re angry about, it will never make sense to anybody since the cause of it, however reasonable, however clearly understandable, remains hidden. They cannot seek help, or even sympathy, because they keep the cause of their anger secret, become complicitous with their tormentor. Repression of a shameful and damaging secret is a route to madness, I’m pretty sure, or at least to an unbelievable amount of pain and misunderstanding.
I once loaned a large sum of money, my life savings, actually, to a man who expressed great gratitude and promised he’d pay it back quickly. He did not pay it back, quickly or otherwise. When I pressed him he admitted that he owed many people money, that I was actually at the end of a very long line, that I’d have to wait, perhaps a year or more, before he could start paying me anything at all.
I told him I was going to go to the others in the line and tell them about the tight spot I was in and that I needed to go to the head of the line. He tried to extract my promise not to do that, told me it would be humiliating to him, and an unforgivable betrayal. I would not let myself be convinced that the stream of steaming piss on my leg was a sudden targeted, body temperature mini-rain storm. He became very angry about my inflexibility, my self-righteous refusal to recognize the tight spot he was in, what an unbearable position I was putting him in.
If he had been my size, I’d have bashed him in the face when he started to rage at me. Being much bigger than me, I just cursed back at him and did what I could to get my money back, which took years and cost me a lot of money. More than that, it caused a lot of anger and resentment all around.
After this, it was impossible for me to ever see this guy as someone I could trust. He made a habit of lying whenever he was in a tight spot and was very often caught in these lies, which at least a half dozen times involved the unauthorized transfer of thousands of dollars. He was never repentant, always made an excuse for why it was the other person’s fault for being a fucking judgmental prig, forced people close to him to keep his shameful acts secret. After years of this, I was done with him. How can you keep having conversations with somebody who reflexively says whatever he feels is necessary to get himself out of an untenable position he’s put himself in?
On the other hand, depending on how this person is situated in the world, it makes things more or less complicated. I had a friend play peacemaker with his wife and her sister. The two women had a long simmering rage against each other and the peacemaker’s work lasted a very short time, with ugly repercussions for him. There are certain toxic types that we simply must avoid, for our own sake, for theirs. For their sake because “fuck you, you don’t get to poison my life.” My father considered such people without integrity and therefore without value as human beings and avoided them like the plague they arguably are.
But I have already said too much here, and revealed little enough about Irv, except to say, he was acutely aware of the point where things became toxic with another person, and although he was able to appear civil, and even casual, there was no mistaking the depth of his actual malice, even as he bantered cheerfully with a person he despised.