The liar and the thief rejoice in their first year only. –Greek Proverb
I remember the day I met Vicky Michaels. I’ll never forget I almost missed the smile she sent me: looked up and saw it fading, saw her expression change to one that said, Okay, if he’s like that then fine, and immediately felt bad about it. I was descending the stairs at the school I’d taught music in for five years already and there she was down below, obviously a new recruit to residential staff: a girl in an over sized arm chair, a little anxious, slightly overdressed for the first day of her new job. She was tall, dark haired and unusual, pretty.
My memory of that smile was vivid for a long time. I’ve been lucky to get a few in my time, but I will always remember this girl smiled at me like she was recognizing a best friend from a past life. She would, years later, praise me for the rush of energy I brought to her moments later as I walked up, offered my hand, and welcomed Vicky Michaels to my little school. I think I would recognize the vibe of destiny if it happened again, but at the time, I just went back to my work. It sure wasn’t over.
Not long after, I was finishing my day with stretches in the Great Room of the refurbished old mansion that housed our little school, and here was Vicky again, sitting in a cushy white chair and telling me that some of the students had been talking about me. That wasn’t important, though. I think she was letting me know for the first time she was thinking about me, and I liked it.
Still, I was focused on my work at this place, and not easy to penetrate. What followed was a progressive campaign on Vicky’s part to get my attention. This would include coming up from behind and putting her arm around me, compliments about my playing, and letting me know often how much the two of us were alike.
We spent long breaks together talking about our lives and our backgrounds, and favorite movies we had in common. There were many. We both loved Cronenberg’s The Fly, and I ripped my DVD of it one night before work, and left a copy in her mailbox. From this came another smile I will not forget. She walked up and thanked me with such sincerity. I loved to make this odd, vulnerable young woman smile like a kid on Christmas morning.
She came up to me smiling one Tuesday afternoon at school, between lessons. “Tristan, I had a dream about you!” She reported. I asked her what it was about, but she just smiled and shook her head. Another time, toward the end of my career at this little school, I was sitting in the dining room eating lunch when I felt Vicky’s warm breath and her voice in my ear, telling me she liked the way I looked that day. She looked back and smiled at me before she sat down at her table. I liked Vicky whispering kind words in my ear, then smiling at me like we had a secret together. If she’d wanted to get my attention, it was working.
We talked about our backgrounds and families, broken homes. She was remarkably intuitive about my own, and seemed to know what I was going to say before I said it. She would later say the same of me when we reconnected. Vicky had an odd ability to convince me she was like me, that we shared a great deal in common. I guess we did. The one thing I felt was missing: Vicky did not laugh enough. I like the playful female muse. I love the girl with the raucous laughter, the easy smile. I love to laugh with my partner, and laugh at myself. Vicky’s smile was pretty, but sad, and she didn’t laugh much.
Still, she kept up with the attention. “We’ve got twin minds, Tristan,” she told me one day. Another colleague I’d become friendly with at the school said something contrary to all of this.
“Vicky says her boyfriend helps her,” she told me. It was an odd thing to report, as I hadn’t told her about Vicky and I. If that’s true, I wondered, why does she make these strong moves with me? The thing was, the bearer of this message had tried get me into her bed more than once, and another time, get me to move away to Los Angeles with her; so I thought she might have been redirecting my attention for her own purpose. She knew me well and would have guessed Vicky was the type I would find intriguing. On the other hand, it was a perfectly valid thing to point out. Vicky’s behavior with me sure didn’t reflect it.
I read once that a cheater cheats because they are lacking love: but not from their partner, from within themselves. They remind me of that student you see now and then who tries every music teacher in town, looking for that elusive trick the next one might have that will make them good without making them face their own playing first. I guess I’m just lucky: life is so vivid for me, that kind of behavior would just be pointless and stressful. I have this quality of wanting to devote my life and my affection to one person. Maybe some people are like stones: stuck to the base level of consciousness and in need of constant stimulation, born to forever wander, use others for meaningless distraction and quickly get bored. I don’t envy it.
Still, this mysterious girl had me convinced of our easy chemistry. I was starting to wonder if maybe she was right; maybe we did have some kind of soul connection. I invited her into the studio one night to hear a song I was working on. She sat across from me and chatted. A pretty little lamp burned in the corner.
“The students have a ‘makeout bench’,” she told me, quite out of the blue. We hadn’t been talking about students, or benches. “They call it the ‘makeout bench’.”
I guess it was a pretty clear invitation. I later wondered why I didn’t act on that one. I was strangely passive through much of this. I guess the final tally is that it was just a major shifting of gears. I really hadn’t expected something like this to happen at my work. I was concerned with music, and my quite sensitive students. Maybe it would have been completely different if I worked a job I couldn’t stand, as so many of us in this culture do. I might have been looking for distraction. I’m long past that. I loved my job. I had drums, a synth, a piano, gifted students and colleagues to bounce ideas off of. So, I made Vicky memorize my new address in Holyoke, and encouraged her to visit me sometime.
Soon after, she came up to me with another announcement.
“Tristan, I was outside your house last night!” She seemed excited about it. From the way she reported this, she made it seem exciting for her to lurk around my place and imagine coming up, gaze up at the third story where I was probably eating chocolate or playing music. She didn’t ring the bell.
Then, right at the height of all this, misfortune struck at my little school. Well, to be more accurate, it had been a slow motion car wreck for some time. This music academy had coalesced around a group of students with a rare genetic anomaly called Williams Syndrome, via some wealthy people who each happened to have a child with the disability. They wanted a school worthy of them and their children: a kind of Harvard for the special needs crowd, and they had the resources to make it happen. The mission was to teach special needs students through music and the arts, and it was built around the unusual group of people with Williams. This anomaly, much to the good fortune of anyone who works with them, tends to make people kind, trusting, and telepathically gifted at the emotional language of music. My connection with these students, from the first summer I’d met them at a camp in the Berkshires three years before (the camp director helped me land my job at the school, something for which I’ve always been grateful), was easy, fun, and productive. I did stuff with these kids I still remember as quite beautiful. For a time anyway, it was a fabulous gig. I loved to watch the effect these students had on the other adults and volunteers who came through. They brought out the best in everyone. I saw twenty-three year old college guys stand at the piano and sing a silly pop song I knew they wouldn’t have been caught dead singing outside that school. It didn’t matter. I saw repairmen leave the place smiling, just for their proximity to these kind, unusual people.
The momentum from my experience at the Williams Camp was strong, and I threw myself into my work at the academy. It was way more than a job to me. One summer, I stayed after every day to wipe down tables in the dining room. Another time I stayed to move old TV’s into the cellar, all of this off the clock, since my pay was based on the lessons I taught. I drove from the Berkshires in a snowstorm once, and crashed my car into a guard rail. Another time I rented a car for a week to get to work, out of pocket. It was a real irony to me that the school was called Berkshire Hills Music Academy: it was set in the Pioneer Valley and for years my commute from the Berkshires was an hour and twelve minutes each way. I didn’t even mind that. I spent hours after work was done with kids who wanted extra help with their writing or playing. The extra hours didn’t bother me. The students paid me with kindness and gratitude. I liked the music most of all, especially performances, and we had many. For a time, it was truly fun.
Six years into my tenure at this old restored mansion of a school, the board hired a new director, a white haired veteran of private schools and non-traditional programs like ours, who I thought had a lot of vision and did some great stuff. Unfortunately, like the directors before her, the board’s out of touch demands and brash maneuverings clashed with her own attempts to steer the ship as best she could. She lasted one year. That was longer than most of the previous directors lasted: one lasting only a few weeks! (He seemed promising, actually). The controllers of this private school were taking their toll on my little paradise. We had scored our first director three years in, and she had been exceptional. She was supportive, competent, very smart. Staff loved her. The school thrived with this lady at the helm, and parents glowed with appreciation. Many of us felt let down when after one year the board fired her, but that’s what this small group of wealthy wives who controlled the place did. These are brash, demanding people who are unskilled in cooperation, and clearly regard others as tools for their own ends. They controlled everything, and expected total submission from management. Our success during that first director’s tenure was at its peak: the high water mark. The board let her go.
The first red flag came early, within our first few years of opening. A drum student of mine, a sincere and likable boy who’s family was from the South, Native American and obviously poor, had attended school for two years and was ready to graduate. It was our new school’s first graduation ceremony. It’s important to understand how much it must have meant to these people for their child to live among students with the same disability he had for two years and have a college experience, despite the cost. For all I know they mortgaged their house twice just to pay for it. When the time came to graduate, I think it meant a great deal to this family for their boy to walk away with a real diploma. I can still see him with his gown, cap and tassel, his Native American grandma and extended family at the table, beaming with pride. Our President and CEO, multi millionaire with her home in Wellesley and second mansion on Nantucket Island, stated that this boy would not get the diploma he had earned until his family paid the final portion of their bill. I still find this distasteful and heartbreaking.
I recall the exact meeting one warm night in late summer under those hideous fluorescent lights, when there was almost an audible click, and things went south. It was a tipping point, where the school took a turn and started downhill. We’d acquired a new head of Residential, and she was there to meet the rest of us. She gave a little speech. “Everyone has rights. All over the world they have rights,” she said. This rendering of human rights was bizarre: completely superfluous for one thing, and about as heartwarming and sincere as it might have been from Josef Stalin. I forget what she went on to say, but it must have contradicted the former. This woman appeared to me to have roughly the empathy of a slab of concrete. I think a Komodo Dragon would have found her manner coarse. She went on to lay out new rules for the students, as she saw them, including that they could no longer wear hats. As a loved and celebrated music teacher, a highly successful one and a kind of maverick, her gloves off conservative approach to special needs students wouldn’t affect my own life much. I shrugged it off. Still, that kind of change didn’t bode well for us, and I should have known it. If I walk off a cliff, it’s likely curtains for my dreams. It really is my own job to pay attention. I was a bit naive.
Two years later, things were not great. What had started as a love song of inspiration and possibility was becoming more rigid and restrictive by the week: fear replacing the open-hearted creativity that characterized its genesis. I saw changes everywhere. It brought in people who watch the traffic lights in life, but not the traffic: folks with a focus on rules, parameters and codified standards rather than the real contextual unfolding of a human situation. There were staff at my school who’s hearts could fill up a room: very competent people who either lost their jobs or quit. I don’t think this serves the parents or the students. It’s too bad for us when it happens, but a loss for the students as well. I watched more good people get fired, let go or quit out of frustration than I can count on both hands, and I shouldn’t have been surprised when the axe finally swung for me.
Still, it hurt. My friend Celeste would later tell me, “It sounds like that school of yours is a once beautiful planet that’s no longer capable of supporting life.” Looking back, I think that’s pretty apt. Right after they fired the experimental, forward thinking lady who’d lasted only a year as director, six years in and hardly our first, the board made a reactionary move and replaced her with a bitter, distrustful, unpleasant little man named Stewart. My first, and subsequent impressions of Stewart was of a man who had followed the rigid doctrine his entire life, walked the official line and done what they’d told him to do, and was waiting for his reward. It wasn’t coming. He was terse and unpleasant. Stewart suffered from the malaise of the not particularly gifted Western male who, when faced with a challenging and unusual (once creative and inspired) situation like our school, responds with stiff policy and an awkward attempt at stern discipline. In some ways I feel sorry for him. He was not an imposing figure, just a nasty one, and clearly out of place.
Stewart was comparable and well suited for a collegial relationship with Candace: the lesson coordinator who took over in my final few months at the academy. I’d had the same manager for five years at my school, a very bright, talented and supportive man who eventually stepped down to focus on music. The young woman and fellow music teacher who took over this job however, was exceptional! We had two years of inspiration and productivity, and we did great things for those students. Despite the board literally begging her to stay, she stepped down out of total frustration: quite a thing as I’d noted her patience was considerable. In that vacuum of leadership and disinterest from the rest of the staff in taking the job, as well as a massive upheaval with our director leaving after one short year, Candace moved in to coordinate the music staff. Candace was five feet tall and weighed about three hundred pounds. She taught voice and sang opera, loudly, with a flair for that histrionic German stuff. I never saw her show emotion one single time, except when things didn’t go her way. There is no doubt that once she got herself in this position of moderate control over others she changed fast, and not for the better. I recall one highly gifted colleague who, despite many attempts by the school to keep her (she was exceptional), quit, and cited Candace as the reason. Candace later sent her an email and said “I was going to fire you anyway.” Extremely petty and cheap, in my opinion.
“It’s like an abusive relationship, working at that school.” This talented colleague said to me. “You’ll see. After you leave.” She was right.
Another told me with dark rings under her eyes when we met in the cafe at Whole Foods one afternoon, that she had come home to vent about Candace every night to her fiancé before she’d finally resigned. I should have known that with Candace and Stewart in charge, my days were numbered.
Candace had, a few years before, pointedly asked me at work one day if I’d be interested in a sublet of her apartment. She knew I wanted to move from the Berkshires down to the Valley, where the school is. She was considering a job out West, she said, and could sublet her apartment for a fantastic price. Yes!, I had said, but soon after she revealed the job hadn’t come through, and invited me to move in anyway.
“I guess it’ll be you, me and Franklin,” she said, meaning her and her young son. “I want a cabana boy,” she told me. “Someone who looks good, and cleans up around the house.” She didn’t say she meant me. Still, if she did, I was unable to reciprocate any interest in this proposal, or the offer to move in with her. A year or two later she’d asked me to take care of her small terrier at the same place while she went away for the weekend. I love animals and she knew it, but it was far for me to drive and for some reason I turned that one down, too. I would regret it soon after, when she took over as Lesson Coordinator and turned out to be so unnecessarily harsh toward me, and the driving force behind my dismissal. Though management hadn’t the slightest interest in anything I had to say and seemed to fully support Candace in her thrust to get rid of me, things apparently went south fast. They fired Candace soon after, and found themselves embroiled in a highly contentious wrongful termination suit with her, their most serious court battle yet. I’m told it was quite a debacle.
I came in to teach one Tuesday morning in December, and Candace cut me off in the hall and ushered me into a meeting with her and Stewart. It was, predictably, not a pleasant one. I feel the school’s decision to leave me in a room with these two unpleasant individuals did not reflect my nearly eight years of service, sincerity, hard work, and hundreds of hours of volunteer time with this population. A longtime member of management had written that I was “unfailingly gentle” with the students; and many had praised the generosity and sincerity I brought to those kids. In my first review in our first year, my supervisor and director told me they wanted me to speak at the next teacher’s meeting, to explain how I’d been so successful teaching these unique students. I thanked them but deferred. I had encouraged my students endlessly to exercise, stretch, and eat delicious healthy food. I had started at the school doing residential work as well as music instruction, and there wasn’t a day when I didn’t round up any willing students and get them outside to move their bodies. Our founder and president had praised my dedication and particularly the live performances saying, “Everyone’s an equal on that stage with him.” Strangers had walked up and thrown their arms around me after concerts for the work I was doing with those kids.
The management, perhaps sensing the cowardice and injustice of their decision, chose to leave me in a room with these two odious individuals to end it. Stewart, obviously a low level talent even in the mundane world of management, and despite having been there for all of two months and having had virtually no contact with me, took the opportunity to be gratuitously cruel to bolster his own ego. He knew I was basically a dead man walking at this point, that it was unlikely anyone would listen to or care what I had to say after they cut things off so forcefully, and he exploited that opportunity for his own gratification. Stewart even managed to roll his eyes and sound put out by generosity as he told me “We’ll pay you for your lessons today,” when this is in fact state law. He said it again a few minutes later. “We’ll pay you for your lessons today.” He again rolled his eyes, as if after nearly eight years of commitment, it was more than I deserved. I suspect Stewart knew they were required by law to do this; he just didn’t think I knew. Petty and dishonest. Stewart had a job to do and a message to deliver; I understand that. It was his choice however, and the exercise of his own free will to be harsh, condescending and arrogant. I think that’s unfortunate for him.
Of course the loss of the job hurt me financially. The colleagues who called me after this stated that the management’s behavior had been unethical and incongruous with my service to this population and my loyalty to the school, but Candace came on with a force and they went with it. They fired her soon after, in conditions way more complicated than mine (highly capable staff members were quitting because of her), and she did not go gracefully. It was quite a mess, I’m told, and she attacked them in court. I guess she never got that cabana boy.
I felt cut off from the things I loved. Probably because I was. The Director of Academics felt my dismissal had been harsh and unfair, and lobbied quite a lot to get me a meeting with the founder and president. She promised she would meet with us and then, despite many attempts and much effort on his and my part, did not. I’ve come to believe they left me in a room with these two tasteless and low level individuals because they knew their behavior was irresponsible and unfair, and they preferred not to face it or face me. After all this, and after seven and a half years of that kind of dedication, when I applied for the unemployment I’d paid into all those years the school denied it, saying “Oh, no, he quit.” I still find that an astounding and sleazy deception. It makes Berkshire Hills Music Academy guilty of fraud, on top of their reckless treatment of staff. I opened a dispute, and explained the situation to my case manager. The state of Massachusetts agreed with me, and awarded the benefits.
A few months later I was at Kripalu yoga center in the Berkshires, and in a strange and highly unlikely coincidence, met a young woman who told me the next semester she was starting an internship at a small school for special needs students in South Hadley. It was obviously my former school. I gushed about how amazing the students were, what a beautiful and life changing experience was waiting for her. I hope it was. I stood there afterwards and wondered at this strange coincidence. I realized I’d said nothing but good things about this academy only months after they had treated me so harshly and so undeservedly. I wondered why I was still kind and so decent to an organization that had behaved towards me with such cowardice and such nastiness.
For some reason, I had emerged as a sort of pied piper at that school: able to rally and influence the students effortlessly. This was helpful and effective in the beginning as I connected with these unusual and fascinating people, organized them to exercise, make healthy food and especially to learn music; but as the place became more rigid and structured, it got in the way for folks who prefer to sleep walk through life and run things by the book. There was one summer for example, about four years in, when students were foregoing their afternoon nap to come downstairs and hang around the ensemble room while I played the piano. I in no way encouraged this, and in fact would have liked the time to myself. I didn’t quite have the heart to send them back up though; it was summer after all, and they were having the time of their lives. It was the first time I remember someone complaining things weren’t running by the numbers, and indirectly because of me. There was a time when my style and the school’s overlaid almost perfectly, but it passed. I guess that could have been understandable if they’d approached it with some level of integrity or human decency. I’m sure this irony is well beyond the management of BHMA and wouldn’t occur to them, but the reasons cited for my dismissal: my openness with the students, my emotional sincerity and transparency, were exactly the same things that caused them, in a much more optimistic and inspired time, to hire me.
I called the family of one of my students, months after all this. I reached the dad first. He and his wife had been two of the nicest parents I’d met there. I had known them for years. We had exchanged presents every Christmas when I was teaching their son. I was shocked to find out on the phone that this young man, who was one of the most amazing talents I’d ever encountered, a brilliant talent on drums who could sing and act as well, had left the school. I brought up Stewart. “Tristan,” the dad said to me, “I’d like to spit in his fucking face.” I was very surprised to hear my student’s father talk this way; I’d never seen him be anything but kind. Still, the board did nothing to apologize for Candace and Stewart. They just ground the machine onward.
From the year we opened, we had assembled some of the most dedicated people I have ever worked with, all centered around this amazing population of unusual and gifted students. Most of them, like myself, would have been loyal to that school for life. Every single one of us is gone, except one, and that person seems to be trudging their way through at this point, and I know for a fact has stacked up some serious regrets. Later, when I tried so hard to return after I’d been let go, acting on my strong need for some sense of closure to this harsh and emotionally painful situation, an administrator wrote and told me that if I wanted to return I would be “expected to fit into BHMA culture.” I see now what a sickening idea that is. There is not a person I admire in all the world who would do it. It’s clear to me in retrospect that Berkshire Hills Music Academy is a place of real bigotry and dishonesty. I’m sorry for my former colleague, that he’s diminished and suppressed his own humanity so much, that he can make a statement like that. Let’s take a look at this culture: the addicted, the jaded, the optimistic and soon to be exploited, the unhappy and demanding millionaires that control it all and their anxious, disingenuous sycophants. If I fail to fit into that culture, I think this is clearly for the best. The only thing he advocates with that statement is cowardice. It comes in many guises.
A former high up in management from the early years, a very talented one with whom I’d gotten along fabulously, called me on the phone. “Tristan, that place is like a cult,” she said. “When people leave they feel like, ‘What am I going to do now?’ But they figure it out.”
Looking back, I’d have to say she was right. A cult has to have something to trade in: something you crave. In this case it is the unusual level of kindness, talent, and trusting sincerity Williams people bring to your life. There really is a feeling state associated with your proximity to them. It’s habit forming. A cult also tends to subtly erode your confidence and self-esteem, something I can say definitely happens to people who work at that place. That makes the siren song of these kind hearted students even stronger. Another parallel is that the controlling members of a cult tend to be unyielding and obtuse in the execution of their own power: totally convinced of their primacy. Again, bulls eye. They have sure caused a lot of grief.
I recently met with a former colleague who expressed his regret that enrollment was at its lowest ever, that the fun had gone out of it, the magic was gone. Still, at the time, I really took it personally. I was hard on myself about it.
I drove out West for the first time. I took the southern route, and drove across the United States on Route 40. I stopped to volunteer at a wildlife sanctuary in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. I helped take care of mountain lions, cleaned the wolves’ cage, brought food to goats and geese and a fallow deer, stepped into a wading pool with a North American alligator, delivered breakfast to a prickly African porcupine, and helped build a new bear habitat in the hot Oklahoma sun. I loved it.
I made it to California and fell in love with the San Clemente pier, saw my first West Coast sunset pour itself like fiery, liquid red gold into the ocean, and stayed that night to watch a raucous full moon rise up over the palm trees. I watched a crowd of kids surfing on sleek little skimmers in and out of the shallows in the moonlight. I’d never seen anything like it. It looked like they were gliding on some kind of alien technology: slippery shadows that skimmed across the shallow surf and back onto the beach. I made new connections, drove up to LA for work. Now and then, I sent an email to Vicky. The feeling of lost opportunity pulled at me, and she would later say she felt the same way.
I drove back to Oklahoma for my wildlife sanctuary, and this time got to feed and care for a nine day old puma kitten. I loved seeing Dama Dama again, the fallow deer. She seemed to recognize me. I went back to the Berkshires for a few weeks, then drove out to Cape Cod to stay with my friend Celeste and help take care of her two girls. I had lots on my mind but I hadn’t forgotten the young woman who’d gone to such lengths to convince me we had a special connection.
Then one day, after a time with no contact between Vicky and I, an email came in. It was pretty simple, but somehow set things off again. I think she knew it would.
I temporarily lost your email, and just found it while looking through
my desk. How are things? Did you have a nice holiday, filled with
spirits and cheers? Were you visited by the Ghost of Tristan Past,
Present, and Future? What did he tell you?
I found this email oddly provocative. Was Vicky inviting me to write my own future? If so, I was going to write her in.
I was convinced Vicky would be the last attractive female to like me in this lifetime, that I had somehow missed an opportunity for the soul level connection she’d convinced me we had. A new student’s mom I’d become friendly with suggested otherwise.
“Look, there’s a reason you didn’t make a move with this girl in the first place,” she said, sitting across from me at her kitchen counter one day after a drum lesson. Maybe, but driven by the harsh disconnection from my work at the school and my need to make it right again, I was set on recapturing the opportunity. My emails to Vicky Michaels unfolded like flowers on lapse photography. It was as if I’d taken Vicky’s happiness on as my creative project. I wanted to make this young woman smile, even if I wasn’t there to see it. If Vicky had cast a spell with me, or if fate had positioned us both for some kind of purpose, it had worked.
Even in the best of conditions I have a strong desire to be of help in this world, and maybe I sensed underneath that Vicky really needed it. This combined with her affection towards me and the obvious chemistry between us made a very potent mixture. I was hooked. I think she knew it.
Vicky encouraged these emails. She said my writing was “wonderful” and “quite special”. A few weeks later I was in the Berkshires with my dog Lana, and another message flew in from Vicky. She requested I resend a recent email. I accidentally deleted it. She wrote. I was going to print it out, actually. Resend it, if you can.
Ah!, I thought. So you are reading them!
One night a few months later, right in the middle of a hot summer, my phone woke me up at 3 AM on a Saturday night. RESTRICTED, the ID said. I answered, but they said nothing, then hung up. I went back to sleep. The next day I thought about it, and I was sure it was Vicky. The only other person it might have been would have definitely called to talk, and she wouldn’t have restricted the caller ID. I suspect this was right around the time Vicky was breaking up with her boyfriend of more than three years. I called a friend of mine who works for Verizon. “How do I find out if she called me?” I asked my friend. “Ask her,” she said. Months later when we reconnected, I asked Vicky if she called that night. I might have, she wrote. I thought about it more than once. This was as close to an admission as you tend to get out of Vicky.
I sent an email soon after, just a short one to say goodnight. Line One was the subject title.
Vicky. Wishing you a beautiful night, I wrote. I woke up the next day to her response; she’d sent it late.
Well thank you, kind sir, for thinking of yours truly. Perhaps we can find the time to get together, at some point in time. Night. -V
Just stare… And live the nightmare. –Rage Against The Machine “No Shelter”
I came home from Haymarket Cafe in Northampton one warm night in January, in a fine mood, still fizzing from the green smoothie mix of orange, banana, cranberry and spirulina they call Swamp Thing I’d drank a few hours before. I felt like a hot shower. I got out and dried off around midnight and oddly, as I wasn’t in the habit of doing this, I opened my MacBook and logged into Gmail. I immediately saw a green light on the column to the left: Vicky Michaels. Available. I think it was the first time in nearly two years I’d even looked for a chat with her, but almost as soon as I saw it, within minutes, Vicky shot me an email. It was as if she had seen me see her and fired the email off in response. It wouldn’t have been the first time she had this kind of psychic hit on me. As uncanny as it might sound, it happened a lot with us. So here was a new email. I opened it.
Tristan, I woke up today, and my cat was suddenly very, very ill. I’ve had Greyson since I was 10, and this just SUCKS. Anyway, I couldn’t think of a gentler spirit than yourself to help me deal with it. Send a little midnight goodness my way, telepathically or electronically.
Tell Lana I said hello.
I clicked on her name in Gchat.
Babe I’m so sorry about Grey, I wrote to her.
I immediately started reassuring her that she’d given him the best life possible. It’s okay, I wrote. I’m sorry. It’s okay.
i knew you would understand. besides, i am long overdue to talk to you. Though i think of you frequently.
She had led with the loss of a pet and friend, something she knew would get to me, but seemed to jump quickly into wanting to just talk.
One of the first things I said to her:
“Vicky. I’m sorry I got fired from the school.”
I think I almost felt as if I had let her down. I would realize later on that losing my job didn’t in the slightest mean she and I couldn’t have continued our interest in each other. Of course, it pretty much did, as she’d been in a serious relationship the entire time.
It wasn’t your fault. She wrote back. It rarely is in that place.
She was interested in me outside of that place, she would tell me later that night. I was glad to hear it.
We set out on a dark winter night’s journey sending ideas and questions back and forth, reconnecting.
Something was different about Vicky. It was obvious. She seemed angry. Vulgar. I wondered why. She described drug and alcohol abuse that was astonishing in its volume and severity. Gone were the wine and sleeping pills she’d downed nightly just to get to sleep. Now it was vodka, and a few nights later a switch to whiskey. She indicated a strong interest and frequent use of drugs. She confessed real insecurity around my focus on health.
You seem so organic, she wrote. I am not. i am highly unhealthy..the things i put into my body would probably kill you.
Oh, you mean food, I wrote.
If we were together and I ate an avocado and drank some spring water, would that make you insecure? I wrote back.
I waited for the answer…
Yes. I don’t know why. except that i have been somewhat intentionally self-destructive, perhaps out of spite for the health nuts. always a supporter of fast food.
Looking back, I find that quite a thing for Vicky to say. It’s got me thinking about how when we’re sick, we crave more poison. It’s odd that human beings keep reproducing familiar conditions, even when they cause misery, sickness and death. The tobacco industry has relied on this tragic human truth for decades. Still, I was surprised to hear Vicky say it. Do Vicky’s eating habits spite the health nuts? I can’t say I’m speechless with envy at a diet that brings depression, addiction, bloating, gas, weight gain, anger, low vibration, malnutrition and the bad karma associated with fast food and the horrifying cruelty behind it. If anyone is enduring all this to spite me, I guess I’d have to say they’re not getting far with it.
It was the first time I’d gotten points off with a love interest for taking care of myself, and the planet. What a strange thing to count against someone. Wouldn’t you want a lover who is healthy, vital, in a cheerful mood, and takes care of his or her body? She sure seemed to show up quite a lot when I did my yoga in the corner of the Great Room at the end of my day at school. What was the problem here? Where was the kind soul I’d known at my music academy for two years? Had it all been an act? Or had she plunged that much further into some progressively degrading world of toxicity and addiction? She’d plunged back into my life on Gchat, the cat was dying and Vicky drinking vodka, and I honestly could not tell.
I’ve noticed that when infected with this kind of toxicity, the sick part of us tries to convince that a life of health and vitality is “boring”. Not true at all! I’m a good cook and I love what I eat. How boring is it to feel energized, alive, creative, awake and attentive when you meet new people, good about yourself and your body? That’s what wild spring water, organic raw foods, maca root, chocolate and daily outdoor exercise do for you. I’ve found something that works so well, I’d feel remiss if I didn’t share it with you: real deal, no debt or depletion. It doesn’t even take much of your time. In fact you will find it was harder to maintain the life they’d been living, and much easier to let it go. I find myself actually living in my body for the first time since childhood. I find life has started working for me, instead of against me. I’ve been on this upward spiral for well over a year now, so I’m pretty sure it is not a fluke. I used to have issues managing pain and fatigue; now I have issues managing my energy and inspiration. The stuff Vicky mentioned, it doesn’t just make you fat, sick and nearly dead; it actually leaches vital nutrients out of the body. … Then you crave more of it. Let’s be honest here: that’s a little crazy. A life of energy, health and high vibe is easier! Your thoughts ascend. You feel awake, alive, attentive with the ones you love. The world is vivid. Music explodes in exquisite colors across your tender nervous system and reduces you to shivering ecstasy. For the first time since you were born into the machinery of a brutal and toxic culture, life starts going your way. You contact your true soul desires and dispense with any ridiculous waste of time in your life. Synchronicity and coincidence unfold more quickly and more often, and you find out you’re a character in your own story, supported by the universe and by nature, complete with your own soundtrack. I can’t imagine who wouldn’t want that.
Drugs, pharmaceuticals, bad food and promiscuity are the faintest attempts to feel the way you’ll feel every day if you get on this train. Life becomes a peak experience of energy and inspiration.
Then there’s all the stuff you’re not doing: like putting hormones, pesticides, carcinogens and other toxic trash into your body, and supporting the horrors of deforestation, pollution, and the horrifying cruelty of factory farming. You wake up. Western culture reveals itself to you as one of numb, unfeeling cruelty; from the unsustainable crimes of petrochemical war profiteering, to the desecration of this fragile planet and your health by companies like Monsanto and Dow Chemical and their crowd of toxic sociopaths. You quickly find that it took all those bizarre chemicals, mindless TV shows and cheap little addictions to keep you from seeing what was really going on in your life, and your culture. This is not fun stuff, but there are moments of real hope for the world, not just petty, cheap little distractions that quickly turn back into pain. The world presents in vivid color, and tender optimism.
In many ways, my reason for not eating that stuff is pure hedonism: I like to feel good. I had no idea of it growing up, but as I write this, fast food restaurants like KFC and Wendy’s are paying pulp suppliers to clear cut whole Indonesian forests, with unthinkable destruction of ecosystems, irreplaceable species and wildlife, including tigers and their habitats, just to make the trash paper people get at KFC or Wendy’s. We have failed as a culture, nation, and as a species when this is possible. Is that really what Vicky wants when she writes “always a supporter of fast food”? I believe no one has a right to clear cut these precious habitats, or set orangutans on fire to make palm fruit oil for Girl Scout cookies, or any of these other atrocities against animals, nature and the Earth. It is an emblem of the absurdity of our times that we even speak of being “into the environment.” You are the environment. You’re constantly exchanging molecules with it. A person cannot pour toxic chemicals into the ground or ocean without eventually taking those chemicals back into their own body. It’s absurd that some people are called “environmentalist” and others aren’t. Without it you would be dead in minutes. I’d say that’s a vested interest. The only question then, is whether you have the character and humility to love your own mother, or whether you are a rapist and killer of her: slashing from the inside with a jagged knife like a sociopath fetus. It’s clear where Western culture lands on that spectrum.
While our first lady plants organic gardens on the white house lawn (a wonderful thing to do), her husband, who I twice helped get elected, recently appointed a toxic criminal to head the FDA: former Monsanto VP, lobbyist and super-creep Michael Taylor. Our president did this despite a petition of more than two hundred thousand Americans decrying it. This is equivalent to putting Ted Bundy in charge of the profiling department at the FBI. He’ll certainly know the subject matter; but the results will be horrifying. What is Barack Obama’s agenda in hiring this toxic creep to head our nation’s health agency? It’s certainly not one of health or competence. Apparently, organic food is good for the first family but toxic pesticides, Roundup, Suflaxflor, dioxins, Aspartame and cancer causing GMOs are good for the masses. That’s certainly what we’ll get more of with this noxious buffoon heading the Food and Drug Administration. Obviously, these agencies are run by corporate servants who ought to write bad comedy no one will watch; they have no business pretending they serve the people of this nation. They serve Monsanto; they serve Dow Chemical. A huge amount of processed foods in the US, just to give a quick example, contain propylene glycol: an ingredient in anti-freeze. The FDA knows propylene glycol causes kidney damage and, incredibly, skin irritation in direct contact, but allows 5g of propylene glycol per kilogram of body weight. European countries only allow 1g. Another gift from the FDA, who watch out for Dow Corning and Monsanto, while Americans poison their own families, hoping the FDA will watch out for them. The EPA approves horrendous pesticides to be sprayed from the air in the United States, several of them essentially Agent Orange with a slightly different formulation, that cause cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and birth defects. If you care about your family, your community, your mom and dad and your children, don’t join the military; go to law school and join the fight against these cowards and the corporations they serve. They are the clear and present threat to you and your family.
I’m just going to come out on this: my heart breaks so painfully at the thought of the downed calf in long haul transport, or the sow in the a gestation crate, flattened for two and a half years while she waits to die in the most nightmarish way imaginable. She cannot stand up, she cannot turn around, from the day she was born onto cement and her tail cut off brutally without anesthesia, her whole life is unthinkable pain and I would do anything to help that feeling, sentient creature, and the millions more in her situation. I saw a video once of the dolphin slaughter in Japan, and was so stricken with emotional pain I was lifeless and sick for two days. That’s light compared to what I’ve seen now with the factory farm industry, and the sick cowards who torture these animals behind closed doors. Those dolphins had it good compared to cows and pigs in factory farms. All we have to do to end it, is stop eating the stuff. I am an activist on many topics with regards to social justice, economic policy, the insanity of war for profit, and believe me, with regards to the unspeakable horror of the cancerous growth grilling at your backyard barbecue, if you are a remotely sane human being, anything north of putrid sociopath, factory farming is an offense to you too. It’s a human rights violation to serve this cancer to schoolchildren, to families, to an unknowing public, and to you, especially with the senseless cruelty just beneath the surface. The factory farm lobby is currently defending their practice of body slamming piglets to death as a humane form of slaughter. Obviously, these are deformed psychopaths, but that body slamming is not the worst thing that will happen to these poor creatures who’s lives started by being wrenched from their mothers, and having their tails cut off without anesthesia over a cement floor. I’ve seen images of this. Believe me, it is horrific. This industry employs full out sociopaths, vicious sadist cowards who’s documented atrocities are in many cases completely gratuitous and pointless, apparently just for their own sadistic pleasure, actions that if you saw these videos would make you sick with rage and grief. The solution rests with you: stop eating factory farmed products. Only local dairy, no beef or pork. Simple. Many animals in this industry are boiled alive on the assembly line, fully conscious and screaming. A culture has to be extremely sick for this to continue, with legislators actually passing laws to support it.
If we thought government had anything to do with legislating against these kinds of abuses, or stopping them, we’ve found otherwise. With a few notable exceptions, they fold to the lobbies like flaccid cowards. In fact, anyone who looks at this will not fail to notice that if an industry is brutal, toxic, oppressive and destructive to health and human values in every way, from food policy to factory farming of animals to petrochemicals, war, disease and death profiteering, the United States government gets behind it full force. As strange as this sounds, anyone who actually looks at this will see it is as if they are in the business of degradation and death. That’s where government puts the most money and support. When we look at the history of people like Dennis Hastert, George H W Bush, Clarence Thomas, Michael Taylor of Monsanto and the FDA, and many, many others, it gets a little more clear why this would be the case. These are extremely corrupted, malformed, segmented in their consciousness, perverted human beings who are so toxic and disgusting, it’s emotionally dangerous even to look at pictures of them. It’s sensible enough then, that people like this will favor the most hideous, cruel, anti-human policies imaginable. It’s what we’ve got.
Leaders should be chosen for their intuitive talent, their spiritual achievement, their demonstrable history of service to humanity and the Earth. We have nothing like that; we have a system where money and influence assures that the lowest of lowlifes find their way to positions of power and policy. When it comes to the toxicity, unsustainability and extreme intolerable cruelty of the meat industry, your government has failed you miserably. It has not failed you benignly, or by simple incompetence; it has yielded to profiteers and lobbyists, and the sociopathic self-service that characterizes American empire and the destruction of this planet for short term gain. They’ve even become deceptive in the way they title bills dealing with this industry. It is all deception, sleaze and depravity from big agricultural business and the legislators who serve them. Currently, for example, this same lobby is petitioning the FDA to add the insidious and potent neurotoxin aspartame to factory farmed milk, a product already poisoned with pesticides, dangerous hormones, and blood and puss from the animals who gave it, without labeling the aspartame. This is is a shocking development in our toxic and Orwellian culture, and if it goes through, will comprise a human rights abuse. I suspect the numb, profiteering creeps at the FDA will approve it. As always, it is only through your activism, and your refusal of this poison that the situation will change.
What we need is more mercy, kindness and compassion in this world; but through their sadistic greed and indifference, your government, via subsidies and legislation, your agencies like the USDA and others along with this industry instead bring more terror and torture into this world. That is the reality behind the meat industry. That’s why I quit the stuff.
It may interest you to know that it takes ten pounds of grain to produce one pound of animal protein. Without government subsidies, a hamburger would cost 18. dollars. That’s literally insane. The truth is, if something causes horrific pain, degradation, suffering and ill health, the US government will invest in it heavily. I don’t know why, but that’s how it is, and anyone who cares to look at the situation will see this plainly. Believe me, the factory farm industry bears no resemblance to your great grandparents killing a cow to get through the winter and sharing it with the neighbors, or the lion and gazelle on the African plain. This is systematic, terrifying cruelty of true Orwellian proportions, and any thinking, feeling person would find it intolerable. The solution is not to eat or buy the stuff. Most people have a category in their mind for “animal activist” and a sort of mental defense against facing the realities around this topic. They harden themselves, women and men. Believe me, anyone who watches just one video, confronts this reality head on and connects with it emotionally will quickly lose all concepts. Hear that feeling creature scream in torturous pain and terror, inflicted by the numb, detuned sociopaths who work in those places. That is a visceral experience: one no amount of flaccid abstraction or numb propaganda can undo. That’s how you can judge your culture, and your government. It is why quitting that stuff is the only solution.
I read this recently, and thought it would be relevant here: We are surprised that some people believe animals don’t have human thoughts. All animals – including the human animal -have the ability to love, desire and play… as well as feel pain, mourn the loss of their loved ones, terror and sadness. Many are even capable of math and pigs are known to be smarter than dogs. We live in a time where the most innocent, the most vulnerable and sincere being among us suffer the worst, most horrifying abuse. My conversion came fast: I can explain it here quickly. I had eaten this stuff my whole life, just as you may have. I was in the Pittsfield library one day in 2002 or so, and I picked up a book on the meat industry. I don’t recall the title. I read the flaps, the back cover, opened the book and read a few pages. What I read still haunts me to this day and breaks my heart. I set the book down and made a deal: I will quit this stuff forever, do all I can to change it, and in exchange I don’t have to read this book. That was it.
If you want to assess your culture: for real I mean, not the brightly lit TV show, tie-a-yellow-ribbon, Hollywood red carpet, parade of new gadgets or however else we numb ourselves into self-congratulatory avoidance of what’s really going on in our world, then look closely at these feeling creatures and their lives. Every spiritual luminary throughout history has told us we reveal ourselves by how we treat the least among us. The ones who have no voice. This is it.
Does you really want to support the most vicious, cowardly violence against innocent creatures, born with hope for love, warmth and affection like any mammal, and subjected to some of the most painfully brutal and torturous conditions on Earth? Does the painful, lonely heartbreak of the calf in a veal crate, prodded with an electric prod when it falls over on the way to slaughter appeal to any of us? How about the “redskins” who scream for mercy while they’re boiled alive? That’s a pretty awful and inhuman thing to support, I would say. I want to be clear; I grew up eating this stuff like everyone else. If you eat animals raised in horrific violence, misery and pain, you become violence, misery and pain. Notice any correlation with our culture? We are what we eat, after all.
If we care about this beautiful jewel of a planet, our family’s health and our own, we will reject this toxic trash and design our lives to be free of it. For a thousand reasons, this means avoiding mass produced meat and dairy products, and buying local. It also means raising awareness about the full out holocaust they are committing against this beautiful Earth and our health.
So yeah, as Vicky intuited, I don’t eat that cancerous trash. I feel this is a pretty sensible decision, for myself, for other sentient beings, and for the planet.
Still, the words flew back and forth. Our chemistry in writing was similar to real life. Vicky and I shared ideas again about movies, music, life. She seemed quite negative about her own. There was a strong thread of self-destructive sadness in Vicky this time, much more than I’d seen before. She talked about childhood like it had been a sad affair.
Oh, Tristan, why couldn’t you have been my little friend when I was like twelve?
I’m that friend now, I wrote back.
At some point, fairly early on, Vicky announced the cat was now dead.
What!!?? I wrote.
Yes. She said. He’d been dying there, on the bed with her, and had just expired. Honestly, I didn’t see how this could happen when you’re on Gchat. I felt confused. I tried reassuring her. You gave him a good life, I told her. Don’t blame yourself.
The night wore on. It got late. We shared our mutual regard for each other. I wrote to her:
Me: You understand you have my number and it is fine to use it, right? In case we’re ever in a great talk and get cut off. Just so you know. I wouldn’t misuse you or your number.
Vicky: i know this. and, although i hardly ever listen to my mom’s answering machine, i happened to one day…and found the most soft-spoken, intriguing voice imaginable
me: was it???
Vicky: an old msg from you
me: do tell.
Vicky: twas. and i listened to it again..for confirmation. then again, for my own listening pleasure. … i hadnt heard your voice in so long. and phone messages are usually abrasive.
I told her a story, how I’d been thinking of her once at a Barnes & Noble, when right at that moment someone called the name Vicky on the speakers above. I thought this was cool, the kind of synchronicity that seemed to haunt Vicky and I when we thought of each other, but her response was quite jarring:
I was at Anthony’s Strip Club recently. and a patron asked me my name. when i told him, he said “you and every other stripper here has that name” sure enough: “Vicky, report to stage left…”
My friends kid me about it, she wrote. I was not expecting this response to my story about the bookstore. It made it seem quite naive and quaint. She pushed on about the strip clubs.
I’m not opposed. She followed.
She said she’d gone to accompany a friend who seemed a little drunk and vulnerable. This was another one I would turn over in my mind with a cooler head and a little more scrutiny. The friend seemed drunk and vulnerable, so they drove while intoxicated to a drinking and strip establishment in the city of Springfield? Vicky did all she could to make her interest in this stuff sound intelligent and chic, but I believe it is the next stop in a spiral of severe addiction and abuse that will take her years to recover from, if she does at all.
I love to watch women dance. I’ve probably seen the Daft Bodies video forty-seven times by now. My friend Anusheh is Iranian-American, and when she visits my apartment she does Persian dance and belly dance for me and I love it! I guess watching a girl stomp on top of a bar stark naked except for heels, manipulating her vagina lips for some drunken, leering stranger just doesn’t appeal to me. No offense to those who enjoy it. It’s just not my idea of sexy. It feels impersonal, cheap, and degrading to me. I tried a few of these clubs with friends back in my twenties. I was curious. I recall watching the men there and wanting to go up, tap them on the shoulder and say, “Hey, you know that’s not for you, right?” If they want to hang around beautiful women, isn’t there a way to do that where they’re actually important? Don’t get me wrong, I believe in devoting whole afternoons to sexual ecstasy. I think sex, chocolate, and hot showers with your beautiful, curvy sweetheart are truly important pursuits in this life. It’s just that to me, strip clubs hint at the promise of sex, but they don’t deliver! There’s no heart and no intimacy. It’s like computer generated pop music. Made in LA, sold in Springfield. I don’t think strip clubs are immoral; I just think they’re joyless and toxic. If you could peer just beneath the surface, could it be that whole scene is a pack of frightened, insecure, badly wounded and hostile people preying on each other, living out a pitiful illusion of false sophistication? I wish these clubs were massive, Gothic mansions with endless rooms to discover upstairs and down, mysterious goings on, pulsing techno-funk music and sweaty revelers rave dancing with luminous violet lights strobing on them, dark hallways crawling with decked out strangers, and always the promise of something unpredictable, wild, fun! I would go every weekend. I don’t mind if its edgy and strange; I just don’t wanna do it by the playbook. Strip clubs are like theme parks to me: well lit and predictable.
I think these clubs appeal to folks who are out of ideas. There’s a lot of that in this culture. You just get in line and live the prefabricated fantasy. You don’t even get your own. Take a look at those Secret Service guys with the brittle, short-cropped hair, the tense, steely facade. Look in the eyes. Now that’s an ideal strip club patron. It’s a trend our culture has taken: let them tell you what you want, and then just go along with the program. To me it feels empty; no real satisfaction. Do men go to these clubs to prove they’re not gay? I see more sense in visiting a brothel. At least with that, you get something for your money. There’s a clear expectation, and less pretense. For Vicky, it may just be a sad waste of intelligence and talent: the next floor down in a tragic descent of addiction, avoidance and abuse.
Once again, no judgment here on the topic of pleasure seeking. I believe comfort with one’s body and sexuality is no small issue. Many of us are so cut off from our bodies, laden with the useless repression of Puritanism and religion, that our desires are something we need to face in life, as a part of real growth. I believe healthy sexuality and pleasure makes a person more expressive, more emotional and sensitized, causes them to laugh easily and smile often. I have observed that sexual repression makes people hard, unsympathetic, cruel and judgmental when what they really want deep down is to get the sex they know they’re missing. Most people who cut themselves off from self-acceptance and joy in this life won’t have the character to wish it for anyone else. Cruelty and fascist control are the next stop. I have long felt that those who crusade against others’ private behavior are driven by their own sexuality, and thus very dangerous. Sexual repression may get sublimated into all kinds of bizarre behavior, but I suspect most often, violence and fascism. The religious or puritan types who preach against it are often quite comfortable with horrifying violence. Enter US culture with its out of control militarism, war profiteering and cultural obsession with guns and violence. Even in our own modern world, shame and misinformation around sex and reproduction can ruin lives. But there is a flip side to this coin my friends, one I hope the artists, intellectuals and educators who have the courage to take all this on will acknowledge: that is narcissism, addiction, calloused desensitization and sleazy abuse of the freedoms we inherit as sensual and expressive beings of free will. Whenever there’s an imbalance of this kind, there are opportunists who move in to take advantage and abuse. We are all responsible for the thumbprint of our actions on other feeling beings in this lifetime. That rule, in my opinion, supersedes all others. I’m sure we can agree: there’s a difference between healthy sensuality and the desperate, anxious cycle of addiction and avoidance.
I cared about Vicky Michaels. I saw something in her; maybe it was the person she was early on in life, or underneath all this sad abusive trash. Everything she told me about her diet, the alcohol and drug abuse, the life she was living, I just accepted. I gave endless latitude. I thought, maybe this is just temporary. It had been two years, though, and the woman at the other end of this chat seemed very different from the sensitive, vulnerable creature I thought I’d met at my little school. She’d told me several times she had a caustic, irritable side that was quick to anger. I hadn’t seen it. Vicky stated that she had been interested in watching sex in movies early, in childhood, that her life as an only child had been a lonely one. Her parents divorced. She stated early on in our chat that she was into the kind of sex where “it’s over in a matter of minutes.” Oddly, my mind flashed to something I’d seen years ago: an interview with a woman who was a former prostitute and drug addict. She explained how empty she had felt after having quick sex with a stranger in a dark corner behind a building, and made it sound like a pretty desolate way to live. I wondered why this memory came up. My feelings for Vicky were sincere but now that we’d reconnected, I felt like I was walking into a war zone. I would later wonder if Vicky limited our relationship to chat because she didn’t want me to find out how things really were with her. I’ve seen too much toxic addiction in this life to have stayed around. Apparently, Vicky hadn’t let go of the dark, antisocial, disdainful of happiness and cheer posture of American adolescence: a buffoonish and pointless persona to retain in adulthood, in my opinion.
I called a friend of mine, someone I’ve known all my life. Her reaction was interesting:
“Oh, see, the sick part of her doesn’t want you around because it feels threatened by you. … And the good in her will probably reject you too, because she cares about you and she knows she’s sick. So you’ve got an issue there.”
I logged in the following Monday, and here was the green light again. Vicky Michaels. Available to chat. She pushed through, and wrote to me:
The pretty one.
Is that your pseudonym?
Yes. Yes I am. Actually I can be quite caustic, she wrote.
Here we were, live on Gchat again in less than a week. After two years of not seeing each other, I think we were both thirsty for it. This was certainly the time for Vicky to say Hey, ease up there kid. Enough with the love notes and care packages. I didn’t like ya that much. On the contrary, she praised and encouraged the attention. She told me she had printed my emails out and stashed them away various places in her bedroom. I found this exciting, and encouraging. I liked it.
It started to snow, and we wrote back and forth all night with the soft white snow piling up outside our windows. I felt a strange, shivery, hypnotic trance from lack of sleep, anxiety over liking her so much, and the feeling that something on the other side of this was no longer safe. Still, I had a lot of momentum. The abuse stuff, at this level, it was all new to me. I pressed on.
Once again, I was astonished at Vicky’s gift with language. She could type whole paragraphs and spit them out at me with brilliant style and no typos. She did it so fast, I almost wondered if she had them stored up somewhere, and just copied them in. Probably not, though. She really is a talent. It was fuel for the fire because, I like smart women. I crave the playful back and forth with the brilliant and fascinating. I felt myself waking up to answer questions, play with her, shoot the energy back and forth between us. Vicky described seeing me in dreams much the way I was seeing her.
You give me hope for the world, Tristan, she wrote that morning as we were getting off chat. I was glad to hear it. She was giving me hope for the love affair she’d hinted at for some time now. I wanted to see it through.
We hooked up again later that week. She stated that she’d been in the midst of a three-year long relationship when she’d met me. She had printed my emails out, squirreled them away like chestnuts she said, and he’d found one.
Chaos ensued. She wrote. I was sorry to hear it.
During these long nights of live chat, Vicky described dissatisfaction with all aspects of her life. Her childhood had been lonely; high school had been blase and unsatisfying. She cared for her cats, who brought her headless animals from the wild, but couldn’t relate to dogs.
I witnessed a real split between the person Vicky had shown me at our school, and the person she was revealing now. I was running to catch up. The Vicky I had built up in my mind over a period of years had a lot of momentum, and I didn’t want to give that person up. It was the strangest turnaround I’ve ever seen in my life.
I think I knew through all of this that my true love in life would be much lighter: more funny, more joyful. It was a kind of dark chapter I had to see through. I think I also wanted to pay Vicky back for all the attention she’d given me. I’m sure I was responding subconsciously to her pain, and wanting to heal it. I have much too serious issues having been around that stuff in my younger years to do it safely.
Has cocaine improved this world much? It’s like there’s this nasty slime associated with these drugs, and if you’re around them, the slime gets on you too. Maybe it’s the sleaze and brutality of the people who deal with it. I haven’t tried it, but it looks to me like cocaine tweaks the selfish gene. This probably reflects its popularity with the white western male in those greed soaked Reagan years: the beginning of the massive transfer of wealth in our country from the poor and working class to the upper three percent of the population. I was a kid then, and now, that drug just looks like trouble. I don’t think there’s anything countercultural or rebellious about a substance that does all this. The people who would oppress you are cheering when you use it. It’s good for them. More money for the increasingly privatized and lucrative prison industry, more militarization, infrastructure and support for an obscene failure called the war on drugs.
Do these drugs give the user a short route to a feeling of accomplishment and success? I hope Vicky isn’t resorting to cheap, short term gratification, manipulation and avoidance over choices that would bring long term fulfillment and healing to herself and others. Maybe she really is a sensitive soul scarred by a rough start in life; or maybe she’s just a full out user of people, a seeker of self-gratification at any cost. Of course, it may be all of that and more. I read recently that for those who see the luminously colored electromagnetic energy field around the human body, they find alcohol and cocaine tends to muddy and dim the aura, and gray spots show up. I don’t see how anyone swimming in this much alcohol and chemical abuse could be at their best, or making good choices for themselves or those around them.
Maybe I’m just lucky I love music so much. I made a commitment in my late teens at a level I wouldn’t have made to anything else in my life had I not found it. I mean it was like a torrent of energy, desire and enthusiasm. I was so grateful for the ability to study music, and I still am. When you do that, a fair amount of your life force gets channeled into the study and practice of your craft. For me, the most kid-at-Christmas, fun thing in the word is to play music for you, feel a little vulnerable, watch the whole thing build itself into something I didn’t imagine or expect. Life like that puts me into the stratosphere. I feel like a pulsing waveform afterwards, energetic and alive, and grateful for the gift of music.
Let’s get real honest here: how soon does a person with Vicky’s interests run into the boredom of desensitization and stale repetition? For someone with her level of talent, how quickly will it start to feel empty and unsatisfying? It looks to me like that life is a false outlet and it tricks you. It doesn’t work. Apologies to Ayn Rand fans, but a life of service strictly to self does not make you happy. You truly are most raucously, joyously happy when you’re caring for others as well as yourself, sharing whatever gifts you came into this world to give. That’s when you shine, and interestingly, I’ve found that’s when the gifts really start to flow to you, too.
We’ll have fun, she wrote as we were getting off chat one night. I will not disappoint.
She didn’t sound like much fun these days. Still, I was glad to get that assurance. I had a lot of momentum: a strong infatuation with the person I’d known more than a year before. I thought there was something special about us.
We talked about stuff we would do when we got together. Vicky wanted to learn music theory, and I was going to let her drive my truck. She’d never gotten her license. Vicky made a point to spontaneously inform me of her cup size, unsolicited information I think she knew damn well would be provocative to me. She’d seen baby pictures of me and I wanted to see pics of her as an innocent, goofy kid.
You will, she wrote. I promise.
It was nice to hear that. Still, I was starting to want to move on from this strange life of late night chat. I found I would enter this strange, hypnagogic state at around 4 AM, weak with fatigue and what was probably a protein debt, anxious from some kind of silent link up with Vicky as we quietly traded text back and forth. It was as if the fatigue and the absence of any kind of real tone or expression made me more vulnerable, like she was casting some kind of spell, and it felt strange. Vicky had been nocturnal since high school, but I was starting to resent the jagged feeling of sleep deprivation the next day.
I called a friend of mine the next week, and told her my dilemma.
“Just be clear on what you need,” she said.
I took her advice. Later that night in another Gchat with Vicky, I told her I wanted to get together, follow through for real. Vicky said she had trouble making plans; then she agreed. It was going to be the following Saturday.
I just need you to understand Tristan… I’m neurotic. She wrote. That’s fine, I said.
I just need you to understand… I’m an only child. All fine, I indicated, thinking her absence of siblings wouldn’t affect our date much.
Life is so simple for straight people. –Go Ask Alice
I had a good week. I woke up early, exercised, stayed vital. I was in Trader Joe’s and saw a lady and her daughter who I’d met at my former school. They lived in Vermont but traveled to Western Mass once a month or so. She asked for my email for a lesson with her special needs daughter. It turned out we would meet once a month in Amherst after that, and continue to this day.
I thanked her and left thinking, this is a good sign.
I emailed Vicky before I went to bed that Friday night, and fell asleep excited about our plans for the next day. What a fool I was. What followed will not be a surprise to people experienced with addicts. For me it was a painful letdown.
I woke up Saturday to an email from Vicky. She’d sent it at 2 AM that Friday night. The subject title said Eraserhead and in a postscript she spoke about how she’d just watched a clip from the David Lynch film. She was sick, she said, and would state in the following email that she’d been vomiting, couldn’t follow through. She was breaking our date. The email had a strong feeling of deception, and evasion. I recognized the vibe of avoidance, of wanting to be free of a commitment. She stated that another cat had died. She had found him dead earlier that week, and was still upset. Therefore, she couldn’t see me. Odd, as when the last cat that died she’d chosen me specifically to stay up all night with her. Additionally, it was clear the death of this animal did not keep Vicky from the drug and alcohol abuse, along with whatever else she was doing, that had made her so sick that weekend.
I admit, I did not do well with this. I felt very let down, and offended that she’d written I can’t commit to seeing you tomorrow, when she already had committed to seeing me. She had specifically stated she would not do this. I had waited patiently. I wrote her back. I’m going to take a shower, I wrote, then come down. I’ll see you in an hour or so. I’m on my way.
I admit, I had trouble letting go. I was set on this thing. Vicky had provoked my interest literally for years, and I thought it was finally happening. She was letting me down in exactly the way she said she wouldn’t do. I can’t say it felt good. Is this what addicts do? Is this how they behave? She will be my last, I promise you.
I showered, got out, checked my messages and found a voice mail from someone who identified herself as “a friend of Vicky’s… and a co-worker.” Her tone was abrasive and condescending.
“Tristan, this is a friend of Vicky’s, and a co-worker. Vicky sounds terrorized. If you go near Vicky’s house… the cops will be called. Vicky sounds terrorized, and you need to take serious inventory of what you’re doing. If you go near Vicky’s house Tristan, the cops will be called. This is a work number. Don’t call back this number and harass it, or I will call the cops.”
I was shocked at the hostility and coldness of this communication, and how completely uncalled for it was. It was obvious Vicky had called this girl in a self-created panic and manipulated her into calling me when she knew she had every opportunity and responsibility to do it herself. She had started this, after all. Vicky’s “friend” made threats as if I was some kind of physical danger or stalker, a ridiculous irony given the crowd Vicky is courting, the same one she’d made herself so sick with that weekend in her epic alcohol and drug abuse that it was literally not possible to face me the night of our date.
This woman used my name with great conviction, yet didn’t have the courage or integrity to leave her own. I was astounded that after the things she’d said about the place, Vicky would have someone call me from my former work, on a work number. I would also like to call your attention, in this post 9/11 world, to the kind of individual that uses the “terror” word whenever it suits their purpose, against whomever they happen to disagree. I find this to be a lazy, cheap and manipulative thing to do. It is a substitute for real thinking. In this case, it was patently dishonest and untrue. I was nothing of the sort, and Vicky’s own words indicate it, many times over. If anything, and let’s be perfectly honest here, Vicky and her friend were the creeps. Vicky started all this, provoked my interest many times and encouraged it at every stage. I liked it, but manipulating this other person in the way she did just to avoid her own responsibility was dishonest and cheap. Her friend’s false surety and forcefulness, despite knowing little of the situation, was something Vicky herself had indicated she detested in this life. I guess it’s okay when it serves her? I’ve known people raised in trailer parks who would have behaved with more class.
This woman called my number to protect Vicky from facing up to a commitment she clearly made, the only one I ever held her to. In doing so, she infantilized Vicky and enabled her illness. Like the enabling parent who makes a phone call to get her hung over child out of work in the morning, Vicky’s “friend” further digs the hole of Vicky’s toxic addiction and self-destruction. I find it worrisome that this person is so willing to enable Vicky in the very real possibility of killing herself.
I think it is so sleazy and dishonest to drag another person in to get you out of your own commitments, especially when that person will project their own anger, their own agenda, and act on all kinds of distortion and misperception. I had the impression this woman welcomed the manipulation so she could protect Vicky from her own responsibility, and strengthen their relationship on very sordid grounds. Vicky and I had the ability to resolve this thing ourselves, however dysfunctionally or imperfectly. This other individual may have told herself she was protecting Vicky, but it was obvious she was protecting her own interests.
Suddenly the “gentle spirit” who “gives me hope for the world” is someone Vicky needs protection from? I doubt Vicky informed her friend when she called her with a crisis she just couldn’t resolve herself, that she had stated she was “stalking” me outside the practice room, twice, or told me she’d been “outside my house last night” uninvited, called my phone and woke me at 3 AM, or that she had come up from behind to hug me, and another time, whispered in my ear at work. I feel these things are at least equal to my expectation that Vicky live up to plans she made on a Saturday afternoon.
What hurt me most was that this woman did not treat me as a mutual friend of Vicky’s, something I certainly would have done for her, and thus with some level of decency. Her choice to treat me like a hostile aggressor, given my history with Vicky, the things Vicky had said about “gentle spirit” and my kindness towards her, given the things Vicky had done to encourage my attention and given the toxic, abusive crowd she willingly associates with, was unsupported and unjust. This was, in fact, my only attempt at intervention in what is clearly life threatening addiction. Does this “friend” do anything but enforce life threatening alcohol and drug abuse? This woman exaggerated the situation greatly to suit her own purpose, strengthen her relationship with Vicky and win some sort of points as a rescuer. By participating in this deception, I feel she blocked Vicky from any real growth. She helped Vicky to be helpless.
If Vicky called her friend in a panic, I feel that had much more to do with her lack of sleep, ill health, and the jagged, anxious, paranoid state anyone would suffer from the severe drug and alcohol abuse she’s making a life of than anything I did. As the one who initiated, encouraged and provoked our relationship many times, Vicky was obviously capable of making that call herself. I think she just didn’t feel like dealing with her own issues, herself, and she chose this dishonest manipulation to avoid them.
Like the codependent mom who calls and lies for her alcoholic child to get her out of a commitment, Vicky’s enabler did zero good for anyone with her phone call to my voice mail. By relieving Vicky of her own responsibility in life, Vicky’s “friend” just digs the pit further of an unfolding self made tragedy. That she framed it as intervening in some kind of danger is offensive self deception on her part. I’m sure she believes she is Vicky’s special friend, but unfortunately she will eventually realize that Vicky’s love is false, because love does not lie and manipulate.
I guess this is the new friend who “helps” Vicky. No surprise Vicky would find one. I wonder if she’ll be surprised when the betrayal comes.
Imagine the hostile, alpha moron thugs Vicky will encounter in her descent to the depths of addiction, avoidance and abuse. The irony of the deception Vicky practiced that day with her friend and myself, is that the life she’s living virtually guarantees encounters with truly dangerous people. There will be blackouts, groping, close calls, and quite possibly, sexual assault or rape. This is tragic, but the life Vicky has chosen makes it quite likely, along with all manner of self-important dramas and emergencies attendant to associating with chronic fuck-ups and pitiful narcissists, male and female. No one forces her to live this way.
It certainly appears Vicky is a much more angry person than she let on, although it was misdirected: as she pointed out more than once, I was the one who’d been nothing but kind to her. She sent a vibe of senseless, belligerent anger and disrespect that day, though she could only express it indirectly, through a hapless proxy. What a shockingly poor way to manage the situation. In Vicky’s messenger, I believe I recognize an individual who is keen to pounce on others for their transgressions, but not so much her own. I don’t think that street runs both ways. I had the impression even as it was happening that they exaggerated the Victim / Rescuer roles they were playing together, at someone else’s expense. They exploited it. I’m sure we’ve all played helpless at times to get someone else to do our work for us. This woman sure took the bait. I’m sure Vicky was afraid that day- but not of me. She was afraid to face herself, and she chose this dishonest betrayal to avoid it. She will, however, eventually have to do that. We all do. In a thousand years, I wouldn’t have thought Vicky could treat me that way.
Vicky and I had plans that day, and I wouldn’t have dreamed of going to her house otherwise. I couldn’t even tell you what the front door looks like. I really was disturbed by all this talk of cats dying and the chemical driven hell she was putting herself through. If anyone behaved like a stalker, and she in fact used the term to describe herself several times, I think it was Vicky. Calling the friend in a self-created panic was just the easier thing to do. It was a cop out. I suspect a much more serious reckoning will come in which, again, all Vicky will want to do is run. Eventually, she will run out of relationships like ours to squander, and people like this “friend” to manipulate, and the reality she faces will be quite dire. It gives me no pleasure to write this, just a somber sense of the inevitable.
I felt hurt and let down that Vicky was standing me up, that she had chosen the toxic addictions over me, but having the friend call to threaten me was harsh and dehumanizing beyond anything I ever thought Vicky could do. This was a very different story from the one she sold me. The fact is, I’m an easy guy to get rid of. Vicky was the one to repeatedly provoke and encourage me. She invoked protections against that once she was going to actually have to face a real life situation and take some responsibility for it.
I checked my email again; there was another from Vicky. I wasn’t expecting you till later, she wrote, I’m going to see my cousin in the hospital and then maybe out to dinner with my mom. Please don’t come now.
She was throwing up, she said. Sick. I wrote her back and said, okay. I pointed out that I wanted her to want to see me. I let it go. Never even left my driveway.
I called a friend of mine, one who recently had to end a relationship with a girlfriend I know for a fact he really cared about, because of her own addiction issues.
“Get ready for more of this, dude. Addicts are selfish people.”
I talked to another friend, someone older and more experienced. She has a brother who’s an addict, an alcoholic ex, and generally, is no stranger to this stuff. She was blunt. “Tristan, if you continue with this person, you should hope for disappointment. Because that’s the best you’re going to get. Addicts always let you down. Always.” I wondered if Vicky somehow knew this too, when we’d gotten off chat one night and she had written I will not disappoint. I had the sense it was a kind of aspiration. In every case, when I talked to people experienced with addicts, their message was striking in its uniformity: If you continue, expect more of the same, or worse.
The truth is, I went into this thing willingly, and we all know there are no rules in this game. The thing I object to most was Vicky bringing this other, unfortunately inclined individual into it. She was condescending without anything close to an understanding of the context. Her comment, for example, “Don’t call back this number and harass it.” makes it clear she didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. I really do keep to myself in this life. I would have vastly preferred not to even know this woman existed. The last thing I would have wanted was to call her back. This was, in fact, the kind of obtuse and over-controlling behavior that Vicky herself had told me she found so offensive. But, that was the job Vicky manipulated her into doing. Unfortunately, she behaved exactly as expected. Whatever the story behind Vicky’s “friend” and her behavior that day, there is one thing I am certain of: she protected her own interests, while pretending to uphold some vaunted principle, or defend poor Vicky. I doubt she has any awareness of this, but it had a very dishonest feel to it.
If you’re a person who’s interested in gender equity, let’s take a closer look at this. Vicky could whisper compliments in my ear at work, tell me she was having dreams about me, come up from behind and put her arm around me, state playfully that she was “stalking me” outside the practice room, and tell me one day that she had been “outside my house” the night before; but I could not move forward on plans we’d already made to show up at her house without invoking the threatening, bullying friend who calls from my former school to make threats into my voice mail? I do not find this aligned with any notion of equity, or integrity. I don’t think they cared. I have never sent so much love and sincerity to another human being, and met with such uncalled for nastiness. Whatever my flaws may be, I am a loyal and trustworthy friend, for life. Vicky squandered it for nothing. Eventually, as gifted as she is with persuasion, this currency will run out.
I spent the next few weeks in somber review of the entire story. I wondered if Vicky was seriously ill. Was she good at hiding it? She can sure give the impression of grownup competence. She’s so smart. I wondered if a person in Vicky’s position might be unconsciously living out unfulfilled narcissistic desires of a parent, almost like a burden she has to carry for them. I wondered if they might have done anything to stop this, and save their daughter’s life. This “friend” of hers sure wasn’t. In any event, if I’d been avoiding it before, I had to face the reality Vicky herself had recently stated: that she’d been in a serious, committed relationship the entire time she was showing strong interest in me. I wondered what this actually meant, and thought, given the other stuff she’d revealed, maybe I had just been a cheap diversion for Vicky. I wondered how betrayal could come so easily to a person, like it was nothing.
I found this in an article at Psychology Today:
(Narcissists) know what you want to hear, how to make you feel good, and how to say just the right things.
And the following also from a doctor of Psychology on the Web:
The narcissist very early on claims soulmate-ship, special connection, ultimate love. Or (s)he makes the victim believe these things without outright declaration. Everything seems incredible and unbelievable – a dream come true.
Free people might show each other affection but generally feel comfortable with themselves. They might enjoy the company of someone but will stay focused on their own interests. The victim is needy (co-dependent) due to some childhood, current or past abuse(s). The narcissist is not needy in terms of affection but needy for admiration within the group of chosen victims (his partner/spouse, family members, “friends”, co-workers, VICTIMS) where the narcissist keeps his or her spider-web. However, the narcissist gives this affection in order to draw the victim into this spider web.
This is a difficult time for the narcissist because the narcissist cannot be truly intimate with anyone. Ever. Hence, intimacy is replaced by sex.
3. Withdrawal: Once the victim’s dependency is re-directed onto the narcissist, the narcissist begins to withdraw. Step by step the supposed closeness is disappearing. The victim experiences this as a great loss and the narcissist finds him or herself on a high. The narcissist thinks something like: “I don’t have to give gifts, I don’t have to show affection, and yet I am being admired.”
I felt a kind of dawning horror as I read this stuff, including the third section about withdrawal. I would add to the above, such a person may be very good at convincing you of “soulmate-ship”, that you have a “special connection” as the author states, but once they decide to cut it off, they will act as if your feelings are way off base: as if it wasn’t ever that big of a deal for them. Actually, it probably wasn’t, but they sure gave you the impression it was. Not quite fair, is it? I had a strong sense that the moment I showed need, on that day she had her friend attack me the way she did, I lost all appeal for Vicky. A person who actually cared about her and to whom she’d made promises… that was just an unpleasant mess she didn’t want to deal with. Vicky is very good at convincing you of this connection, but if you no longer serve her interests, she can cut it off in the most heartless way. People like this withdraw to avoid facing themselves. It is intrinsically dishonest.
Then again, I believe it’s possible to be in such emotional pain that your only respite, the only thing you learned from your early caretakers and your culture is sneaky, cheap, short-lived pleasures that quickly turn to pain again. Not long after all this, I dreamt I was watching a huge crab move slowly, hypnotically around a shallow pool. There was a sickening, toxic quality to this bottom feeder crustacean; it had over indulged and poisoned itself. The claws looked dangerous. The dream was oddly nightmarish, disturbing. Vicky had written of her connection with turtles, and I had dreamt of a turtle once and connected it with her. This was a downgrade. Whatever had happened with Vicky it seemed unnecessary to me, pointless, like driving full speed in the wrong direction down a dangerous highway. It just takes a little effort, a little humility, to turn yourself around.
Someone else will slash whole forests, torture and slaughter feeling animals so Vicky can eat the fast food she’s “ever a promoter of”, someone else will clear cut jungle and poison the land to bring her the drugs she’s so fond of, and someone else will make the call to get rid of me and close the door on any accountability. I think Vicky actually has herself convinced this is all permissible because she’s “an only child”.
It’s a real possibility Vicky’s heart will finally give out one night from the drug use, that her liver will bottom out, that she’ll drink herself into a coma or die in a car crash. Such a waste of talent. She really is gifted.
Let’s imagine the genders reversed. A man works at a small school for special needs students and plays slippery games with staff, convincing various women she and he have a “special connection,” manipulating them through intrinsic and sincere needs of the human heart, and then discarding them in the harshest way. He repeats again and again the unconscious loop of addiction and compulsion, and lies through his teeth at the first hint of trouble. He’s proud of his bisexual exploits, considers them an emblem of his amazing grown-up-sophistication, and visits male strip clubs on the weekend where he explores this interest, including sex with sleazy strangers in which it is “over in a matter of minutes.” This man’s own needs are a bottomless pit. The needs of others, well, he’s always “going through a tough time right now,” and unable to help. If someone tries to hold him to a commitment, by attempting to come to his house on the day of that commitment for example, he doesn’t even face her. He plays helpless and manipulates his “friend and co-worker” who makes a phone call to project her own issues like a gender dysphoric traffic cop with a whiskey hangover. I suspect some would see this situation quite differently. As author Alissa Nutting points out: because our culture denies power to women, we fail to acknowledge reality when women behave like predators.
If you’ve gotten caught up in this kind of spider’s web, I hope you won’t be too hard on yourself about it. Such people manipulate you based on your own sincerity, trust, and emotional needs. Vicky exploited me based on the same kind heart she praised me for many times. I had a sense that I was a lot less interesting to her once she’d broken up with her boyfriend. It would have meant some kind of real commitment, even if only to follow through on the only one I ever held her to, and she refused even that. This really was a shock to me. I expected better. For whatever it’s worth, I have little history of love from afar, or wanting someone I can’t have, etc. If somebody doesn’t like me, I let it go and move on. I prefer the reward over the chase. I’m a May 3rd Taurus and I like things you can hold in your hands. I like a lover I can smell, taste and touch. I was mistaken with Vicky, I admit it, but she really had convinced me that she cared for me, that there was something special between us. I was afraid I had somehow missed. I wanted to see it through.
Ever the promoter of us as a couple, I had pointed out to Vicky on chat one night that I was good at being there when someone needed me, but could back off to give space if they craved it. That’s not how she’d had it before, she said, “Either he’s a leech, or you get the cold shoulder.”
I believe that is full out self-deception. If Vicky could draw me into her life so brilliantly, I suspect the ex boyfriend who “helped her” was nice enough. It is necessary for Vicky to cling to this kind of cynicism in order to continue to live the life of manipulation, addiction, and self-service at all costs she’s chosen for herself. I know this, because I was nothing but kind to Vicky, and she killed it in such a harsh and pointless way by having that unfortunately endowed woman call me.
I do not appreciate this type of cynicism about relationships. I’ve heard men and women utter comments like it many times, from carpenters to women college professors. In every case it’s from a person who doesn’t want to own up to their own issues, process through their grief, and face the vulnerability of their dreams of true soul connection with another human being. That’s what we all crave. I suppose it is less frightening to cling to cynicism and resentment, and chase after shallow gratification instead. Have these people noticed how cheap cynicism is, how common the affectation of toughness? Jaded quotes about love may sell books by aging movie stars, but I think vulnerability and optimism are much more beautiful qualities. They call for real courage, and style. Some people can’t wait to show you how tough life has made them. If they only knew how pathetic they look. If life has made you hard… no kidding. That’s no badge of honor. It just means you’re a jerk. It’s the person who’s taken some hits in this life and still manages to be merciful, kind and optimistic that impresses me. That takes real character, and real courage.
Jaded cynicism is popular with the masses, and that alone should tell you it’s suspect. It’s easier to distrust everything than to risk your heart with real vulnerability; but which of the two takes more courage and more character? It never occurs to such people that their cynicism is an excuse to deny their own emotional responsibility in relationships with others. The sad irony is that they crave love themselves, and eventually demand or try to leverage it out of others.
If we heal and resolve our own issues, they stop coming up in relationships, anyway. That’s where the focus should be, not on abstract cynicism about love and relationship. I have little regard for pessimism; it’s fear and laziness in disguise. Jaded cynicism is a quick route to cheap, ready made resonance: from famous movie star quotes to the guy spouting angry comments at the corner store. It reveals the person’s character, that’s about it. From drinks after work to Facebook quotes, it’s just a projection of their own heartbreak and their own failings. Men and women need to cherish each other, and cherish this opportunity. My sincerity didn’t serve Vicky’s interests in manipulation and self-gratification at all costs, but I believe our opportunity in this world is an amazing one. To me, it’s a privilege just to walk around and breathe clean air on this planet. The prospect of love, sensuality and the firefly dance of true soul connection is an amazing one to me, a real gift.
Looking back on all this, I have to say there is a sort of bottomless pit of self-pity with Vicky’s type: the surety that they always got shorted or had it so terrible is justification for always taking more, for letting people down. If you’re the giver, the caretaker, the one born with a desire to love and you find yourself in proximity to a narcissist who plays into your own emotional needs, believe me, you are in serious danger. At best, it will take an incredible amount of energy. For some reason it just pours out of you, into them. If you fall for the addict, you’ve got further problems. You keep dreaming of how much fun it could be, that spark of inspiration you know was there between you. I was starting to understand the statement “Vicky says her boyfriend helps her.” Was that coddling the “neurotic, only child” while she flirted, lied, and likely cheated on him? I wondered where she’d been earlier, when she announced to me “I was outside your house last night!” For some reason, I had a feeling it might have been with him. You will not experience harsh, loveless treatment until you care for someone like this. It’s just not the way most people behave, and it is shocking to see what they’ll do to protect themselves from facing it and keep the toxic machine rolling. I have found this personality type irritable and unpleasant when asked for help, but endlessly willing to call on the kindness of others. We all have a range of behavior we are capable of in this life, from highest to lowest. The choices Vicky is making represent an appalling drop in my opinion: well beneath what she would do without the sleazy addictions and substance abuse. Her “friend” supports all this.
In my opinion, Vicky’s emotions are all too often those of self deception: not rooted in any cause that one can release cathartically and express, but designed to manipulate others. I’m glad she demonstrated the difference between the two so dramatically: so i can be cautious the rest of my life to avoid that kind of toxic manipulation, and, equally important, not perpetrate it myself.
If I look like a fool on this one, I accept it. I fully admit to rejection, and whatever else I seem to have brought on myself in my naive attempt to connect with Vicky. Though she encouraged my feelings and my attention, many times over, I probably look quite naive and ridiculous to her from the corrupt and cynical life she’s living. That’s fine. The truth is, I have a strong soulmate longing, and for many reasons owing to emotional wounding and the projective feelings I had (in other words, not genuine), I was quite mistaken about Vicky. It could be she understood this better than I, and pushed me away for my own betterment. I’m grateful for it.
I just want to state for the record that Vicky casts a powerful spell of persuasion. With even small compliments I sent her way, she would respond with strong emotion. It was as if what I thought of her really meant the world to her. I wanted to repay that, for some reason. She’d told me about daddy not coming around much with near tears in her eyes, and I wanted to let her know she didn’t have to feel that way. I guess I got played. I got pulled in full force. I don’t know how you break your promises to someone and betray them in such a nasty way; it’s just not in me to do it. Is this what alcohol and drug addiction do? I sure wouldn’t want to be the person who did such a senseless thing. I can hardly express in words how tasteless I feel it was for Vicky to have that woman call me from my former work to end it. But that’s what happened.
Once the possibility for an extra-curricular affair at the school dried up, and once the boyfriend was out of the picture, making it no longer a supplemental proposition but one in which she might have real responsibility for real feelings, I lost all appeal for Vicky. I think she felt some obligation to follow up on everything she’d said and done, but as her behavior reveals, not much interest. I wonder if Vicky’s friend is aware she’s helping Vicky spin out of control with narcissistic abuse and addiction, or if the school or parents are aware this “friend and co-worker” ties up their phone lines to conduct sordid games and protect her own interest in Vicky while she’s charged with caring for disabled people. I went into this willingly with Vicky, but I did not ask for this projective, condescending, arrogant woman, nor did I deserve her. I wish Vicky had spared me that. Vicky’s “friend” took away the consequences from Vicky’s own behavior, and protected her from them. Does this help Vicky? That she would also call me to lecture, on top of all that, is in my opinion, pretty serious error. It caused me a lot of grief.
I thought Vicky was cool. Is she? Lying, manipulating, squirming away at the first sign of any kind of responsibility or reciprocity? That’s not cool. That’s slimy. I want to be clear about this, since culture and movies sometimes glamorize charismatic individuals who callously exploit the human heart for their own gain and gratification. In my opinion, this is not powerful or impressive in any way. You appeal to the most vulnerable part of a person: one that reaches back to before they could even speak and had the most tender hopes and vulnerability to mommy and daddy, and exploit them based on that. This does not take imagination, creativity, or strength. It is cheap and predatory. It’s also incredibly easy. I wish Vicky had just told the truth. On the other hand, I suppose it’s awkward to say:
I had a boyfriend the whole time I was showing interest in you. You were moderately appealing as some sort of supplementary proposition at the school while I was with him, but it seemed sentimental and oddly naive to me that you made something more of it after you left. I am free of him now and I prefer drug abuse, alcohol, and the progressively base and degrading behavior associated with sex addiction to anything you could even begin to offer. I am addicted, numbed and desensitized, and the only thing I care to do about it is seek ever more dangerous, lurid and extreme sensation. Obviously, this wouldn’t involve you. Yes, I provoked your interest many times. I did it to amuse myself. Human beings are disposable to me, their feelings irrelevant. When I said ‘I promise,’ when I said ‘I will not disappoint,’ etc, those were empty and meaningless. I will not keep my promises. It was easy to manipulate my hostile girlfriend into doing my work for me, and rid myself of any responsibility with you.
I am constantly in a crisis and feel I am drowning. No amount of support will change this. I will take endlessly, and refuse to manage my life in a way that I’m ever in a position to give back. You, buddy, were a good mark from the first day. As evidenced by my total disinterest in contacting you in more than a year even to say ‘sorry’, I couldn’t care less how my actions made you feel, and there is no way for you to redress this.
Not a very nice scenario, I guess. But that’s how it is.
I do think there’s a kind of toxicity and addiction where sincerity and kindness mean almost nothing. They may be the things you need most, but they just can’t get in; it’s like a whisper from a thousand miles away. For one thing, you probably don’t think highly enough of yourself in that state to believe you deserve it. Sad. Whether or not this is the case for Vicky, I couldn’t say. What I can say is that I have rarely made such an effort in such a subtle, thought out way, to reach someone. I’m sorry to have seen it degraded in such a senseless and nasty way. Vicky’s “friend” didn’t just protect Vicky’s right to the typical addict’s behavior of avoiding responsibility, betraying promises and weaseling out of commitments, she enforced her right to it.
Vicky had said yes. i hadn’t heard your voice in so long. and phone messages are usually abrasive. She thanked me for the way I approached her that first day when Everyone else has always come up to me with this harsh energy. If Vicky’s life has been that harsh, and she’s just using more and more extreme behaviors to deal with it, then she really is in trouble. Those diversions run out quick, and leave you with an ever-increasing debt of jagged, hard edged reality to deal with afterwards. It was the last thing I wanted for her.
I suspect the crowd of sociopaths, drug dealers and wannabe whoremasters Vicky is courting in her epic campaign of self-destruction will not be a pretty one. It will degrade to the company of wounded abusers and bullies. That woman who called me is probably one of the better ones. Vicky is in the mix with thugs involved in dog fighting. I guarantee it. Vicky will find herself in the company of people who look at child porn, or guys who joke with their friends about taking a girl outside for gang rape, and in the right circumstances, they just might do it. It seems like such a sad, harsh way for her to treat herself and her body. This stuff stains your soul, and it takes a long time to wash away. Plus she has to smell that atrocious body wash those guys wear! That’s reason enough to give this life up right there.
This whole thing has me thinking about how sad addiction is. It’s not cool at all. Addiction makes you into a compulsive robot. It makes you a slave. After so many years of praising me as someone special to her, I doubt Vicky could have cut it all off for one afternoon of discomfort without feeling bad about herself. If she liked me half as much as she said she did, then she didn’t just betray me. She betrayed herself. Still, in the final tally, it’s up to her. Of all the abuse we may suffer in this life, I think the worst is the violence we do to our own fragile hearts.
In my opinion, the world Vicky has charged into is about as glamorous as a piñata full of used condoms. One good whack at the wrong time, and she’s going to find out what it’s really made of. I sure found out, the day she broke our plans. I have a friend named Celeste who found herself in this world once, when she was briefly married to a tall, square jawed, wealthy man from a military family who revealed himself to be a chronic cheater and sex addict who confessed to all kinds of bizarre and high risk iterations of the act, including rape, licking a child’s genitals, and masturbating cats. He had slowly introduced my friend to the world of strangely desperate late twenty-and-thirty-something folks who writhed around on the cheap rugs of expensive hotel rooms after clubbing at places like Manray, and apparently, did their best to act like porn stars in full view of all other participants. My friend describes this as empty and unsatisfying.
“It’s all about projecting an illusion of success,” she told me. “They create this special, exclusive club so they can feel elevated above the ‘vanilla’ people. They even give them a special, derogatory name.”
“I don’t think I could feel real ecstasy in that situation.” I told her. “I think it would be an act.”
“It certainly was for me,” she said. “You look at those people the next morning, and you start to see what you’re doing to yourself. Some might enjoy it, but I have my doubts. I think at most it’s really, really rare.”
Vicky claimed another cat had died (?!), that she’d found it the Wednesday before and that this was going to prevent her from keeping her promise. It’s obvious to me that Vicky spent the weekend in more of the dangerous behaviors that define her life and made herself so sick that by the time our date rolled around, she just didn’t have any energy or interest. I wonder what it’s like to do all this knowing you’re going to break your date with the guy to whom you promised you wouldn’t break it, later that weekend. It sure sounds brutal to me. I would feel terrible about myself.
I believe that in Vicky’s mind, it was not okay for me to insist she live up to her commitment. It was fine for her to state she was “neurotic”, to talk endlessly of her pain at being an only child, the alcohol and drug abuse, her unfortunate lot in life; but when I got neurotic myself that day and made a demand, one time, that was it. Goodbye forever. Vicky’s needs were worthy of endless attention, but once I asserted my own, one single time, I lost all appeal. The connection we had between us, the one she initiated and encouraged so many times, I’ve never seen it devalued so quickly. I think it’s quite likely that Vicky and her coarse bully of a friend actually managed to convince themselves that I was just some sort of nuisance who needed to leave her alone: a pretty extraordinary mental contortion, since she started, encouraged and revived our relationship, as well as agreed to those plans that Saturday.
Still, after all the attention she gave me, the effort she spent promoting us as having a “special” connection, even after the promises she made, Vicky without question did me a favor by pushing me away. Believe me when I say that with some distance, I fully appreciate and am grateful for it. I just object to her getting her friend to do it. I have thirteen year old students who wouldn’t resort to something so hurtful and so cheap. Apparently, Vicky hadn’t informed this woman that she “couldn’t think of a gentler spirit” than me to soothe her grief over her childhood pet, or that she’d found my voice mail “the softest, most intriguing voice imaginable”, and listened to it several times. Or that I was holding her, for the first time ever, to a commitment she’d made and promised she wouldn’t screw up. Instead, she manipulated her friend into treating me like one of the toxic thugs she no doubt regularly meets up with in the world she’s voluntarily placed herself in. Not quite fair, I think.
You see, the problem is, it wasn’t Vicky’s voice on that voice mail. It was another, unaware, quite forceful individual who had no business getting involved. Whatever Vicky was going to do or not do to me I would have accepted. When you get involved with someone, to some extent, you place yourself in their hands emotionally. That’s just how it works. You do not place yourself in the hands of some hostile, bullying friend.
Vicky had stated that phone messages were “usually so abrasive.” Judging from the message that woman left on my voice mail, it appears that in her world that is true. They aren’t harsh for me, by the way. I get sweet, hilarious voice mails on a regular basis.
I suspect Vicky dreamed of herself at the center of some kind of undeserved drama that day, when in fact she had made plans with me, and before that initiated, provoked and encouraged my interest in her, again and again, over a period of years. I started to believe her. I wanted to see what was on the other end of this. I think she was so wrong to act as if she was somehow persecuted for it, and manipulate this hostile proxy into calling me rather than face it, and face her own behavior. The hormones of stress, fight or flight and the behaviors and chemicals we use to resolve them may be addictive, but they make for a life of dysfunction, stress and pointless harm to others for a person who could be living a life of creativity. Real inspiration is a much more satisfying state and brings much more joy, although it’s not as lurid, not as immediately available; it takes a little discipline and a little work. It also takes real trust. In a truly creative state, you forget about yourself. You’re so involved, so optimistic about your project in a place of creative ecstasy and joy, that everything flows. It takes a little work to get to this place; you need to recondition your mind and body from the stimulus / response robot culture has programmed you to be, but it is so worth it. Anyone who’s felt this, I believe, would never want to go back. For the person who chooses to stay in a state of compulsion, drama and addiction, massive amounts of resources get spent putting out the fires and attending to the constant need for chemical relief. Instead of contributing: bringing intention, imagination, healing and sincerity to the mix, the addict just consumes and takes. Then, if they finally end up in treatment, that costs money and effort too. I think this is a pretty good description of US culture at large, and the exploitation and abuse we wreak on the rest of the world for greed and profit. If you clean yourself up, and start taking care of yourself, one of the first things that happens is you start to ask how you can be of help. You become a living antidote to the dreary fascism of false authority, greed, deception and empire, and a living example of compassion, creativity and inspiration. I think that’s as good a reason as any to free yourself from toxic culture and addiction.
As for what I was doing that day, I had just had enough. I was hurt that Vicky started her email with self-deception: I can’t commit to seeing you tomorrow, when she already had committed to seeing me tomorrow, and continued with manipulation of my feelings for animals. Pretty cheap, especially when the cat hadn’t kept her from the torrent of abuse she’d engaged in that weekend to make herself so sick. After the promises she’d made, I wanted to confront Vicky on this cop out. I wanted to find out if there was anything to the things she’d said. I’m sure she was tired and stressed that day. The thing is, those moments don’t change you. They reveal you. People may pay lip service to all kinds of ideals and espouse all kinds of stuff, but not until there is some kind of real life event do you find out what these claims are made of. It’s more difficult to maintain a facade in those moments. In this case, I should consider myself lucky. At least now, the cards are on the table.
In June of 2012, the dearest creature I knew in the world, my chocolate lab Lana of thirteen years, died in my arms. I wish you could have known Lana. She was such a sweetheart. Everyone who knew Lana loved her. She was friends with an entire side of our street. She used to move from yard to yard with the afternoon sun.
I dug a hole in the Berkshires forest and laid my friend in the ground wrapped in a clean white sheet with her favorite stuffed animal. I kept compulsively feeling Lana’s soft little head and her ears, and couldn’t bring myself to start filling in the grave until it was dark. I cried so hard I thought my forehead would split open. I was afraid to go to sleep for nights afterward, because I knew the grief would be waiting for me when I woke up the next day. For a time, I felt like a walking ghost. I knew throughout all of this that if I had called on Vicky to ask for help, the way she had with me on that long night when she claimed her cat had died, literally until dawn in that case, her first thought would have been how to severely limit any requests for time, support or empathy. I would have gotten short, empty platitudes, and nothing else. That’s just how it is.
Is Vicky living her life in hell? The narcissist may be predatory in their human relationships, but are they suffering? It certainly seems harsh to me: to put your body through that kind of daily abuse and expose yourself to hostile, wounded, nasty people chasing an empty, fleeting high that quickly turns to the low of shame, ill health, addiction and pain. It makes me sad to think of it. I used to actively wish for Vicky to get better. I really believed in her. I sent so much kindness her way. Maybe Vicky really is lost, in terrible pain, crying out for help and then pushing it away. I don’t know. I tried so hard to bring light to this situation. I would sure love to see Vicky bring that talent and intelligence to the world and do something creative: anything, even if it’s pure iconoclasm.
Allow me to clarify something: Vicky has placed herself in the world of faded tattoos, cynicism, failed relationships, jaded cigarette voices, drug abuse, strippers, scratch tickets and sleaze; and she will inhabit that world as long as it serves her; but this is an extremely keen intellect and born artist, a woman capable of success in almost anything. I suspect it will take ever more dangerous amounts of alcohol and substance abuse to cope with that degrading crowd and harsh environment. With her current choices in life, Vicky is no iconoclast. She is no fighter, no activist, no threat to the corporate sleaze machine raping the Earth and dragging us into ill health, depression, anger and addiction while they devise more products to treat those conditions. In fact she’s helping them. I hope she changes that one day.
I imagine Vicky feels powerful: dressed to provoke, drugged up and juiced in those back rooms at strip clubs and sleazy sex parties. In my opinion it’s a power born of early abuse and wounding, meant to mask inner pain, and like the protagonist’s in that Cronenberg film we both admired so much, it’s a power with a marked expiration date, and a rapid decline. The underlying vibe is harsh and the people dysfunctional, pathetic. I’m sure these people fully support Vicky’s descent, because it serves them and feeds the toxic machine which forever demands more flesh and more souls to devour. Addicts degrade themselves further and further as they find they have less and less soul to sell. It sure seems desolate to me. Again, I really feel we are most happy and satisfied in our lives when we find a soulmate to love, and dedicate ourselves to a creative passion, not just furtive gratification. I believe the road she’s on ends in heartbreak, regret, and massive karmic debt. Nothing cool about that.
In some ways, this may be a story of the abysmal failure of education for the working class: schools deprived of inspiration or imagination in which underpaid, unsupported, frequently narrow-minded professionals trudging their way to retirement in a pitifully political and codified system fail to connect young people with the experience of ecstatic discovery they were born to have. In a numb, demoralized, massively propagandized society of ever greater disparity, the glitter of Wall Street or Madison Avenue are nice options for Yale grads (some choose Paris, or move to New York and write for the art world), but for Vicky’s and my class, the choices can be pretty bleak. The manipulation, addiction and subterfuge may in part be psychic byproducts of a gifted individual who hasn’t yet found a way to plug it in.
Still, I read real arrogance in Vicky’s behavior. Though they may talk endlessly of their difficulties and cite them as reason when they fail to live up to their agreements, I believe addicts love their self-created drama. It’s one way to feel important in life. It’s always another crisis, another fire to put out. If she continues her life as a severe addict and manipulator, Vicky will have many self-created dramas and train wrecks, and hurt many people. Real human relationships call for vulnerability and genuine give and take, not just self-service, self-gratification and endless spirals of self-pity.
I wonder about this “ neurotic, only child” thing: drinking, drugging, crying herself to sleep nightly. I fully believe Vicky had loneliness and difficulty in her childhood. Does it justify all this? There are things about my own childhood that, if I relate the stories, leave most people speechless. Those things do not control me, or define me. When I was seven years of age, I got knocked down and attacked by an Alaskan Malamute: it ripped my face apart, and tore open my scalp in injuries so severe they could have easily been fatal. A flap of skin hung over my left eye as they carried me into the hospital. The canine tooth actually pierced my cranium, and spinal fluid leaked out. You’re not supposed to lose that stuff. There are many scars, but one of them on the back of my head is so severe that when someone new cuts my hair, I hear him suck in in his breath and tense up for a moment. Months later he’ll ask me “Dude, were you in a bad accident or something?” Life was often cold, harsh and difficult in the early years growing up. Later, in my teens, a car battery exploded in my face. Battery acid sprayed in my eyes and I could taste it in my mouth. In a flash I was yanked into extreme terror, depression and fear that I would be blinded, or badly disfigured for life. Shards of plastic ripped my chin open, marking me with additional scars. This, in part, is why I’m uncomfortable under fluorescent lights. I know they show up quite glaringly. These two events were short, and not as damaging as the emotional pressure I was subjected to regularly in childhood: the kind of difficulty that resulted in PTSD symptoms, and a huge amount of anxiety and grief I would eventually have to work through. The only solution to this stuff, is just to feel it, slowly or all at once, and work your way through. Did Vicky or her self-serving juvenile proxy experience anything like this? I certainly don’t ever want to pull people into my life
This experience has caused me to look closely and honestly at myself, and root out anything similar. I don’t want to treat people that way, ever. I recently wrote to an ex and told her I was sorry: I felt I didn’t appreciate her enough, had not been careful enough with her feelings. I also took the time to let her know what an amazing person she is and the beautiful life I believe she deserves to live. Vicky may be self-destructive (she said she was), but what I asked myself after all this was: Are you self-destructive? How do you like giving so much and getting nothing back? How do you like being lied to, manipulated, and then excised by her friend: something one of your fourteen-year-old students wouldn’t do? That kind of change is hard won, but I guess it works. Vicky employs a potent mix of seductive attention and sympathy evoking vulnerability with stories about her sad lonely life, et cetera, and I admit, I got pulled in. It appears to have worked on her hapless proxy, too.
I want to be clear on my intentions here. I changed all names but my own, and I don’t expect much from this entry. I don’t expect Vicky to make any attempt to live up to for a moment the things she said she would, or in any way honor the connection she invoked again and again with me, despite that it’s so unfortunately disrespectful to herself to leave it like this. I was certainly surprised by this level of senseless degradation, caught off guard, and it makes me vaguely sad, but I accept it now. I suspect Vicky’s hostile partner would respond to this post with nothing but defensiveness and facade, acknowledge nothing, concede nothing, and learn nothing. If through Vicky’s manipulation she can imagine me as some kind of danger, however absurd, ironic and mistaken that is, it allows her to write the whole thing off and bear no responsibility. I understand that to wait for any kind of apology or consideration implies a level of humility, integrity and decency that Vicky and her minion have no interest in. I accept it. Lastly, I don’t believe my former work of eight years will put forth even a token gesture of an attempt at fairness. I just wanna tell my story. I know there are others with stories like this, many who’ve had it far worse. At least I made it out.
If you’re involved with someone like Vicky, you know the complaints, problems and drama they keep selling you as an excuse for their dysfunction is a bottomless pit. You’ve probably also found, as I did the day I finally made a real demand on this person, that they will do anything to avoid facing themselves, and resort to real cruelty to achieve it.
The addict’s life is complicated to be sure, but in my opinion, they love the endless, pointless drama. It’s one way to create a feeling of importance. The drama justifies the self-pity which drives the selfish addictions they wouldn’t dream of giving up which, of course, create all kinds of discord and drama. Do they imagine themselves hapless victims, and complain to their friends all the while? What a stupid, wasteful way to go through life. If she continues on her current path, Vicky will always be the one in a crisis, always the one who’s “going through a really hard time right now,” the one who’s “boyfriend helps her”. The one who takes, and takes, and does not give. This sure wasn’t the girl I thought I knew at my school two short years before. I was surprised to find Vicky regards herself as such a sad case, worthy of nightly descent into alcohol abuse and self pity, justification for endless drama, betrayal, broken promises, manipulation, lies. When I showed the slightest need myself however, when I crossed the line just a little, Vicky thought it perfectly appropriate to manipulate her hapless little proxy into the harshest reprisal. Isn’t this what they mean when they say narcissistic?
I am not naive to this game, my friends. I have an ex who punched me in the stomach once when I was carrying drums in each arm and unable to defend myself. I remember feeling helpless and sick to my stomach for a moment. I’ve had someone I cared about cheat on me, and found it’s worse than the punch in the gut. In each case I was an equal player, and took the risks willingly. That unnecessary phone call from a stranger, the pretense it was based on and the sad little control drama she and Vicky played was the lowest thing I’ve seen. Senseless.
After encouraging this the way she did, if she actually meant anything she said about me, I think Vicky let herself down by having such a hostile individual with such misconstrued ideas call my cell phone to end it. How did we go from “The soft-spoken, most intriguing voice imaginable,” and “I couldn’t think of a gentler spirit than yourself to help me deal with it,” to this nasty, undeserved attack from the condescending and controlling girlfriend in a single afternoon? Obviously she was telling me one thing and the “friend” another when she calls to make these threats and sound the alarms, yet Vicky emails within minutes of this call and says Don’t come now; I wasn’t expecting you till later. Vicky was not content to use her friend to get rid of me; she leveraged it so the friend actually saw me as a kind of threat. Ridiculous. It’s clear Vicky sees people as disposable assets, to be used and discarded. This is the reason for her chronic dissatisfaction in life, her unhappiness with the “girly girls” of high school, feeling of loneliness in youth, etc. When you don’t know how to give back, you’re unhappy.
I wouldn’t chalk that phone call up to a misunderstanding, either, although I suspect Vicky would like to frame it that way. She knew exactly what she was doing. I don’t put great stock in cultural or religious ideas about right and wrong, but I do put great value on the way my actions make others feel. I’m quick with the attempt to help out, or lift someone’s spirits, and when we review our lives, I think we’ll find that’s the one thing that counts. If a moment of clarity comes, I think Vicky will wish she’d done better for herself as much as for me. I don’t see how anyone using that much alcohol and chemicals could be at their best in this life.
I have lost all tolerance for the self-imposed dreariness of the addict: their daily grind and bleak outlook, the way they drag anyone else around them into this drudgery. I think it’s total bullshit, and it pervades much of American life. I believe you can define much of our culture in terms of addiction theory. It’s the Monday morning drag, the dreary bouquet of ubiquitous cop shows and senseless, numbing violence, the toxic food that brings you down and makes you sick, the exploitation, propaganda, failed policy, shocking cruelty to animals, militarism, force, willful deception and massive amounts of resources needed to maintain this toxic disconnection from our actual feelings.
Vicky Michaels will turn 30 this year. She does not have a license to drive a car, is not pursuing any kind of college degree, has no interest in seeking therapy or treatment of any kind. The manipulation she perpetrated with myself and her friend, I’m sure it’s a short parentheses in a much larger story. I don’t care for codified societal standards on what a person should do with their life, but Vicky could write books, play bass in a band, work on a movie set, write a screenplay, excel in any subject at school, or start a business of her own. She could do something no one has thought of before, outside any of the stuff I just named. She could attract all kinds of help and support for whatever she chose to do with her life. She’s good at that. Vicky really would do well in the arts. All this need for drama would go into the work. She was born with that sensibility, desire to touch the infinite and ease the pain. Commitment to an artistic path, with real focus and real diligence would plug all that in, and probably save her. I don’t like to think of her throwing it all away on nothing. I wonder when it will all start to look like a dreary parade of pointless drama, glorified mental illness and post-adolescent narcissism. I won’t be around to find out.
I realize it is strange that this last chapter begins and ends with dying cats. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Vicky knows I have a lifelong sensitivity to and love for animals. Vicky is skilled at reading a person, and playing to their particular likes and dislikes. In this case it was an ideal topic for manipulation.
I recall a strange click, that first night of chat, when she said, that’s enough talking about sad things. A little later she wrote that the childhood pet lying next to her on her bed had just died. I don’t understand how that happens when you’re typing into your laptop, chatting with a guy on Google Chat.
Why did Vicky have to start this all again by evoking pity? Was there ever even a cat? I find it so strange that I entertained this stuff in the past just for love and sex. I promise: I will never do it again.
Most of all, I think Vicky brought in the issue of the dying cats so I could comprehend the depth of her pain. I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt. Even with all the manipulation and deception, it probably is pretty bad. I’m sorry about that. It’s just that manipulating and using people, drug and alcohol abuse, these may not be the best behaviors for dealing with the issues one needs to face in this life. They kind of keep you stuck, and create more of the same. I don’t believe this “friend”, the one who coddled Vicky and made such mistaken assumptions about me that day is helping much. If they lower Vicky into the grave before her time, a shockingly real and heartbreaking possibility, will this “friend” say she did all she could? She may find herself with heart wrenching regrets for having supported Vicky in a staggering level of chemical abuse and extremely risky compulsions, while she enabled her to live like a helpless child. Even worse, she may have to realize she did it for her own pleasure and her own ends.
If I’d had more time with her, I also would have suggested Vicky be careful of that school. Because the students are so protected, the atmosphere can have an infantilizing effect on the adults who work there. I almost wonder if the place makes people sick. Strange, since the students have such a healing presence. Still, I not only heard words to this effect from colleagues, I got the same report from their spouses and partners. Relationships tend to suffer when you come home sick with complaints and regrets every night. It sure seems like a trap to me. I’m so glad to be free of it. The insidious, creeping psychic danger woven into Berkshire Hills Music Academy is subtle, but it’s real. In my opinion, anyone who works at that school will find their self-esteem and confidence subtly eroded. They may become more arrogant and controlling, clearly where we find Vicky’s over aggressive proxy (though she may have been that way to start with), or more withdrawn and self-destructive like Vicky.
With Vicky, I was probably fortunate. I would have just been another one who “helped” her, while she lied, manipulated, and eventually cast me aside the way she did with the boyfriend. Well, actually, that did happen to me, but it could have been a lot worse. I used to wish intensely for Vicky to heal. It was a kind of prayer I offered to the universe. I really thought she could. I see now that I was giving with no chance of getting anything back. It’s hard enough to find good people in this world; and if you live your life with sincerity, too easy to find yourself vulnerable to attack from predators. I wish Vicky had treated me with as much respect as I treated her. I wish she had kept her promises. Still, I think this kind of pain clears the way for good things in life. I can already see that it has. I’ll always wonder why she smiled the way she did that first day. Maybe she knew she’d found a good mark! One thing worth noting, is that within a second of the first time I laid eyes on Vicky, I felt bad about having missed that smile, and immediately wanted to make up for it. That feeling of wanting to assuage her feelings and make up for any missed connection defined our entire relationship. I always felt I needed to do more. Why? Is Vicky in that much pain? It could be she just knows how to tweak the empathy gene.
As for my loss at the school, I was hurt by it, but I moved on. I teach at a new school now and I’ve already filled the three days I had available and moved into a fourth. Families invite me for dinner on holidays. Much of my time is spent writing and planning for my next band project, as well as many others. If my former school meant to disavow me as a person or a professional, I guess for a time I bought into it. I’ve never felt so terrible about myself, despite friends and colleagues telling me otherwise. I tormented myself. I tried so hard to make it right, with emails, attempts to return, etc. I called former colleagues like my friend Stephen, a gifted musician and teacher, and asked him to help me understand what I’d done wrong that had caused this painful loss of the work I loved so much. He had recently left the place himself, just walked away voluntarily. His response was pretty simple:
“I don’t know man. Listen. I just love ya to death. I think things got bad there, and I hate to say it, but I think you got sacrificed.”
The idea Stephen evoked about sacrifice, I find it resonant here. I heard something interesting about this recently in a talk on science. When pack animals sense a predator nearby, vigilance heightens, and physiological functions ramp up greatly. The predator finds some outlier and attacks, and there’s a moment of extreme stress for one creature and high stress for the others. Once the predator kills their cohort though and begins feasting, once it’s clearly past the point of no return, they all calm down and start grazing again. Some actually watch. Some scientists have suggested this may have strong implications for human psychology and our long history with sacrifice, in which the pack feels they have appeased some monster and somehow exonerated themselves. Until the next time. That was the school of course, but regarding Vicky, there is the sacrifice the addict makes: and that is everything vulnerable or meaningful in their lives, all to protect their addiction. She certainly offered me up to her attack dog friend. No hesitation.
With perspective and time for healing, I see that I am far better off away from that bizarro place. Nothing in the world could bring me back. There is a strange, treacherous side to the care of such vulnerable students when it’s run by people for whom the normal rules of fairness and decency just do not apply. These folks are used to doing what they want Period. What’s more, you see, because the students are so innocent and sincere, the people behind the scenes feel justified in anything they do to the staff. You can rationalize almost anything in this life when you’re “doing it for the children.” Even when that’s not the case. The number of people hurt by that place now is probably in the dozens. The truth is, that school will pull the very best out of you, then cast you aside like garbage.
The drum teacher who replaced me at BHMA, by all accounts a nice guy, he worked there for two years and then inexplicably left. I don’t know why, and I don’t care to. The thing is, recently a former student of mine posted in his Facebook feed: this teacher was on the way to a Best Buddies concert to see my former student, got in a car crash, and died. And it’s true. The man is dead.
I over extended my empathy response, bent over backwards, and with the quality of individuals the management had degraded to in December of 2008, I was easy to topple. Stewart chose a stiff, judgmental, adversarial tone for this dismissal: one quite out of step with the general tenor of my little school, and with the quality of my work of seven and a half years. I think Stewart was the type who dreamed of life as an axe man for some heartless corporation, where he would cut heads with impunity and feed off the fear and enmity, always under protection of the company and its Selfish Gene spouting, fascist moron doctrine. In fact he was a retired high school principal who’d taken a job at a small town school for thirty kind hearted special needs kids. I can see how that disparity might have been disappointing for him. Far from being more gentle at a time like this, I found he and Candace sensed my weakness and became more ruthless. And that’s just what happened. Not much I can do about it.
Vicky told me once, “It’s lucky you got out when you did and saved your soul.” I had no idea how right she was. I believe the school helps Vicky stay sick, and her friend obviously makes it worse. However, regarding my soul, Vicky was right.
“Everyone’s so afraid of losing their jobs now,” she told me, describing an environment of fear and constriction. This will not attract the most brilliant people, who tend to be less regimented, more expressive and creative in their approach to work. It does attract folks who love to point the finger at others, enforce petty rules, and generally behave like the kids in the schoolyard who delight in reporting the more spirited ones if they break the rules. The “friend” Vicky manipulated into calling me that day may well fit into this latter category. Too bad. I would have preferred Vicky spared me the woman’s self-righteous tone of voice. It was the least she could have done. Vicky had told a story once from her high school days: how she’d been at a party that’d gotten busted up by the cops. They took the kids outside and made them lay with their heads on the ground. It had felt forceful, degrading and pointless. But didn’t Vicky do something quite similar, when she had this toxic enabler call to issue threats and insults, in such an unnecessary way on such false pretenses? I guess it’s okay when it serves her. If BHMA has devolved into a kind of cult, as the astute former executive suggested, then the games Vicky plays, with the assistance of her partner who makes calls to support this sleaze from the school’s telephone while she’s being paid to care for special needs people, fit right into that dysfunction.
I opened an email recently that a friend had sent; it was a forward of a job listing. BHMA was advertising for yet another Executive Director. Has no one sat down yet and said, “You know, maybe this approach isn’t working.”? It’s almost become a joke at this point. Though they have maligned many people of real sincerity, the individuals who run this school operate with a tacit notion that because the population they serve is so innocent, they have some kind of halo around their own conduct. This is dangerous and false, and they will eventually have to face it.
My Williams Syndrome students continue to inspire and connect with me: a lifelong gift no one can take away. The music we wrote and performed together really was special. I’m grateful for it. My former school really did have a kind of magic in the early days. In a microcosmic way, everyone lived his or her dream. For me it was a hard-to-resist level of creativity and connection with my students, and concerts that were almost as good as I could do with adults my own age. I loved waking those kids up to their own power to make improvisational funk music. It was a surprise to everyone in the first few years, and pretty glorious. It was fun. I loved to see the happiness and pride on the parents’ faces after the show. It was strong stuff, hard to let go of. For my colleagues it was the same, and I heard beautiful music from their ensembles and singing groups. I also watched Reading or Yoga instructors change these kids’ lives, and in some cases I think they loved it as much as I did. I should also admit that as the wounded highly sensitive, it was a safe place to hide out, safe harbor, even when I knew I eventually needed to move on and face my destiny elsewhere. I stayed too long. For Vicky’s “friend” it appears to be a much needed feeling of import, control and false authority: a pretty easy trick with a bunch of eager-to-please special needs kids. For Vicky, it is safe harbor for a life of addiction: a place close to home where she can roll in to work in the afternoon, nurse the hangover, and quite likely play the same manipulative games with others that she played with me. At least I’m free of it now and free of that place, where a natural born empath can find himself in real trouble.
I really thought Vicky and I would make good friends. Our talks were stratospheric, I mean really cool. Even our Gchats reminded me how gifted she was, how wide her conception of the universe. I think she must have agreed, given the amount of effort she put into getting my attention. All the more so, since Vicky is a true introvert. Maybe this is all about the progressive illness of addiction, and the anxiety, fear, and inevitable callousness that results from it. I honestly don’t know.
As insane as addiction is, and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word, I see that to care for someone in that condition is equally insane. You live on crumbs. You give and get nothing back. I did that to myself. My mistake. I won’t do it again. I am so grateful to be through that dark chapter, to have the opportunity to say goodbye to that shadow side once and for all. Without Vicky’s cold betrayal via her hostile partner, I might have wasted more time care taking the narcissist personality and the addict. Now, I will tolerate it about as long as the period at the end of this sentence. So, in a strange way, this experience set me free. I am so grateful for it. We tend to go through life assuming others we meet will be like us. With the sociopath, the narcissist, the addicted psychic vampire, this is not a good policy. Much more discernment is called for if we’re to survive this trip and arrive in one piece. We can trust that inner feeling response we all have, that still small voice, if we will only listen to it.
I want to state my gratitude here, before we close, because I’m relational by nature and I really have been lucky in love. I started with a beautiful Pisces blonde, who through some great fortune decided she liked me my sophomore year in high school, and I still remember the elation of finding out at sixteen years of age that one of the hottest girls in school has chosen you. That was my entrance onto this stage, and it turned into four years of intense erotic love relationship. I’ve favored long, monogamous relationships: few lovers and lots of love, and I really have been lucky.
Forever sweet in my memory is the love affair with a dark haired, dreamy eyed little Chinese flower named Kira Sung: an Ivy League university student, gifted painter and piano prodigy. I loved Kira’s school with its iron gates, Gothic stone buildings and promise of endless possibility and imagination. I loved our private dorm room with its hardwood floor, old fireplace and twenty foot high ceiling. I understood after that why they called Kira’s life privileged. I recall watching Kira sketch a charcoal teddy bear with reflective black eyes in the hallway of her dorm building one Sunday night, while I bounced a blue rubber ball on the hardwood floor and mouthed off at her on various topics. Kira and I really cared for each other, and the difference in our features was endlessly amusing to us. We used to sit across from each other at a delicious little Thai restaurant near her school and eat coconut and lemon grass soup, talk and laugh for hours and then make our way slowly back to her dorm on a cold October night, arms around each other for warmth, our laughter swirling up around us with the papery leaves of autumn.
I met a Jamaican beauty in California, a real angel, and recently a liaison in the Middle East where she finished her deployment with the Air Force. We were both babes in the woods out there, and quickly became not only lovers but close friends. I used to call her on my way home from gigs, set the phone on speaker and drive while she worked at her desk and chatted with me about this or that. We didn’t even need to talk. We looked out for each other. I have another ex who was a world traveler, actress, underwear and bra model, passionate lover, and a doctoral candidate in medieval literature. I’d had teachers who loved Shakespeare before, but not with this kind of passion. She used to sit at my kitchen table and read to me from The Tempest, and I would watch her light up. She liked to invite me to Boston for the weekend and spoil me with delicious food, expensive chocolate, adventures in the city and endless possibilities with our bodies. It’s been my good fortune to have people in my life of intelligence, generosity, humor and talent, and I expect it to continue. Sincerity and optimism met with a fairly crushing blow on this one but you know what?, I learned a lot, and I have my whole life to live. I still come out ahead.
I could turn jaded on this but those beautiful people I describe, they might not show up anymore. I might lose the chance to meet amazing souls of real outrageous humor, kindness, intelligence and talent. Just one more like that, makes the whole thing worth it.
-Tristan L. Sullivan
25 Things or Less About Me