It struck me today, in considering what loose strings remain in my attempt to weave a coherent tapestry of your life, how these last few pieces fit together.
“About fucking time…” said the skeleton of my father.
I’m able to walk again in recent days. I’m walking longer and longer distances. While I was walking today it hit me. It reminded me how walking seems to help the mind puzzle over things.
“Way to rub it in, putz,” said the earthbound remains of my father.
I’ve got to set this down fast, it’s complicated and elusive, yet elementally simple.
“Aren’t we all?” said the skeleton with a sigh.
One essential connection eluded me. You and I are having this fairly relaxed discussion, one we could have been having all along. I never doubted my mother’s love for me, though she was also capable of flinging mighty mountains of dung at me. The last piece of the puzzle was suddenly right there in front of my eyes as I walked up Broadway.
I can’t explain it, and you did your best to obscure it, but I felt loved by you, on some level I can’t really describe. If you have the love of both of your parents, you expect people to love you, find it odd if somebody takes a dislike to you. If you have the implacable hatred of either of your parents, your odds go way down, you’re more likely to have your doubts. If both of your parents hate you… I don’t even want to consider that.
I described the repetition compulsion — an irresistible need to replicate the same fundamental trauma over and over with new players in the old roles. Many unhappy people do it in various forms for their entire lives and never see it. I think of my old buddy Friedman, the best ready example. Every relationship went through the identical dramatic arc: fascination, idealization, disillusionment, misunderstanding, betrayal. It was uncanny, the motherfucker must have had a hundred of these in the years I knew him.
I noticed in my relationships with some of my closest friends a real, and eventually sickening, psychological resemblance to the abusive relationship I had with you, dad. And I say “dad” with italics for purposes of that previous sentence, dad.
“I get that,” said the skeleton.
I placidly took abuse from some of them that I would never have taken from you. Doing this unconscious psychic work, I suppose. I took an amazing amount of shit from the talented and self-hating Speed, for example, while he taught me guitar and music theory. The music I was most drawn to, for him, was shit that was beneath contempt. Nonetheless, he was unstinting in expressing his contempt. After years, and learning a good deal from the musical savant, I finally had enough. Same with Friedman.
I realized shortly after you died: fuck, I have to take this shit from my father, there’s a psychic pay-off if I can get to the other side of it. At the same time, there was no possible pay-off for taking shit from an implacably unhappy prick who had no insight into his own misery. I was better off having someone like that as a stranger, addition by subtraction. A beautiful thing, to remove a cancerous relationship from your life.
“You understood that fairly late in your life, but better late than never,” said the skeleton. “You remember how much shit you gave me for doing the same thing?”
You never explained the necessity of instituting that fall from grace in a way that made any sense to me. You never took the time to understand it yourself, just went into a rage and began swinging your broad sword.
“It was my way,” said the skeleton, with a hint of coyness.
Yeah, so anyway, dig this. My mad friend Andy, the one who fought with his wife, Hitler, over the Atavan?
“A very bright and quick-witted fellow,” said the skeleton, “although the mirthful malice glittering in his eyes was also clear to me.”
Anyway, Andy bore a striking psychic similarity to my uncle, your brother, Paul, the mild mannered enraged tyrant.
Yeah, look, he was one step away from being like you. He turned out to be your bullied, bullying little brother. That’s the cunning of the thing, why this last puzzle piece has been so hard to fit in with the rest. Here’s what I realized. The fact that I expect to be liked, even loved, is the most infuriating and intolerable thing of all to someone who fundamentally hates himself. You loved me, but on some fundamental level hated yourself. How does that work? You have to destroy me.
“I hated to do it, you know,” said the skeleton.
I can’t account for how it turned out, after all the ugly confrontations, the senseless fucking carnage around the dinner table. I knew that, somehow. I think even without your deathbed regrets and apologies I knew that you held me in very high esteem, respected me, loved me. The whole deal. You remember you once asked us if we’d rather be loved or respected and we said ‘loved’? You said ‘respected’, like the two were mutually exclusive. A very reductive and idiotic way to see the world.
“I stipulated to that as I was checking out, no need to get back into that.”
No need to get back into that.