Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tenet

Given my ex-wife’s steadfast refusal to deal with me directly, extended phone conversations are rare. The three-hour marathon following her efforts on a custody crisis Tuesday returned me to the years I spent as Lucy's support system. Her mania routinely led to long, rambling monologues which we would together reassemble into useful touchstones, constructing ways to face reality that would anchor Lucy in her routines.

Perhaps in this conversation, she noticed that I declined to be drawn into my past role. I kept returning to a simple question we needed to address: what was happening with school pick-up the next day? I’m responsible for getting my kids home from school, but I’m no longer responsible for helping Lucy to order her mind.

It sickened me to worry that the children were now being assigned my former position. Playing nursemaid to Lucy’s illness wasn’t fair to me then, and it isn’t fair to them now. Still, as the custody case progressed, I wanted to remain optimistic. I wanted joint custody to work. Lucy is now, finally, being treated for her illness. The custody case felt like a relapse, with a return of all the familiar signs—Lucy’s raging tantrums and manic actions feeding on her family’s denial and placation—but as the court continued its work, I could hope that a renewed acceptance of reality would once more stabilize life.

I made a few notes on the conversation to share with my attorney. It had raised a number of things to discuss—my attorney was increasingly concerned with Lucy’s erratic behavior, which is so familiar to me that I sometimes fail to note it as unusual—but as I went through the following days, my mind kept returning to a certain thought:

Did Lucy genuinely believe that I watched pornography with my daughter Rachel?

After more than twenty years with Lucy, I have a reliable sense of her responses. When my denial of having watched pornography with my daughter was met with a sarcastic “yeah, sure,” I could be reasonably sure that Lucy didn’t believe me. If I hadn’t done so, she argued, then why had I written otherwise in my blog?

The fact that I had not written that in my blog was immaterial. What mattered most was Lucy’s need to believe that I had written it. If I wrote it, it was true. If it was true, then I had done a bad thing, providing evidence that I was a bad person and thus, a bad father. If I denied it now, I was lying, as bad people will. It was important to Lucy that people believe me to be bad. Perhaps not so bad that I rape our children, as she had come to say casually to others, but certainly bad enough to warrant her actions against me.

In their motion, Lucy’s legal team asserted as fact that I had watched pornography with Rachel, citing my blog as evidence. Still, I didn’t expect that Lucy truly believed it. The motion so relied on misrepresentation that it appeared rooted in cynicism. There was no special interest in establishing the truth; rather, the goal was to help Lucy to use my sexuality to finally “get” me.

Take for example this passage from my blog post Tourists, reprinted here as cited in the motion. It describes an encounter while walking on Saint Mark’s Place with my daughter Rachel and her friend Stevie.

"Jefferson?"

I turned. It was Thomas.

Thomas: the sex party twink who loves the trannies.

"What brings you to my neighborhood?" he asked.

"I'm here with my daughter," I replied, pointing ahead. "And her friend."

"Really? Huh. Man, I have to meet your daughter."

"If you behave," I intoned.

I was kidding, but half serious—for two years he has admired Rachel's photographs on my refrigerator door. He stands naked in my kitchen and asks, "So how long before she's legal?"

This passage was central to my ex-wife’s case against me. Her attorney stood in court to read it aloud, bringing special attention to certain words and sentences. Her voice punctuated with disgust, the attorney went on, “Your honor, the defendant, a self-avowed pervert, is a friend of this man described as ‘Thomas,’ a self-avowed lover of trannies, meaning transsexuals. The defendant admits that he has had sexual relations with this man who loves trannies, meaning transsexuals. This so-called ‘Thomas’ is allowed to come into the defendant’s home to admire photographs of the plaintiff’s underage children so that he can select the child he wants. This is clearly a danger to the children, who should be removed from his home.”

Lucy’s attorney thus argued that my seemingly homely refrigerator door in fact operated as a catalogue for those shopping for sex with minors.

I made notes as the attorney spoke, wondering at the ease with which she could knowingly misrepresent a text to the court. The passage had been shorn of context, overlooking mention that at the time, I had known Thomas for over two years. Over and again in the blog, I wrote of my teasing relationship with Thomas, an aspiring comedian who routinely made jokes at my expense.

Most blatantly in her misrepresentation, the attorney had refrained from reading the two sentences following the highlighted passage:

I usually reply that I am not setting up my daughter with anyone I've blown, so eyes off, faggot.

Perverts are lost without scruples.

With those sentences restored, it was clear that I had written the exact opposite of what the attorney alleged. I wasn’t offering my children to Thomas; I was telling him to stop being silly.

The entire text had been attached to the motion, which sat before the judge. The attorney knew that a simple reading of the restored text would prove she had misrepresented it. Lucy knew there was no genuine cause for concern that these allegations were true. Yet there she sat, pretending otherwise and paying her attorneys eight hundred dollars an hour to further the pretense.

Taking notes, I felt once more in the role of the graduate student in a seminar on textual analysis. But now, I was the author called before a court. If we were going to evaluate my writing, we would be able to do so with my expert opinion on it.

The attorney’s argument seemed lazy, really. She pursued a perceived shock value in repeating the word “trannie” aloud in court. She wanted to link me to a man who loved trannies. I chewed my pen and wondered: gosh, surely I must’ve blogged about my own love for my trans friends. Why bother with one degree of separation?

If Lucy could allow her attorneys to make awful allegations they knew to be based on nothing, I assumed that she was simply guided by her ongoing desire to “get” me. She had told me that winning was everything, saying she would “go the final mile, no matter what it takes” to do so.

By this time, she had spent over fifty thousand dollars to prove her determination. Before long, she would be one hundred and fifty thousand more dollars closer to the final mile.

Lucy was not above misrepresenting a text. As she made clear in court and the court-ordered psychiatric evaluations, she would even knowingly lie about facts if lying fed her need to win.

Yet after our extended phone conversation, I wondered if Lucy was even all that concerned with facts. She seemed to be guided more by belief. She believed that I had watched pornography with Rachel. She needed this to be true. Therefore, it must be true. She asserted that my blog supported this belief and seemed genuinely convinced of this.

And yet it isn't true, and my blog doesn't say that it is.

Here’s the relevant passage, from my post On Her Own, reprinted here as cited in the motion. The story concerned Rachel’s move out of her family home and a visit in which I had helped her to settle in to her new place. She wrote to thank me for a coffee carafe I’d given her.

Hey Dad,

It was so great to see you and everybody last week. I am writing this on my patio with some great coffee—thanks!

I’m so sorry I couldn’t go south this year. When can I come up to New York? Maybe for my eighteenth birthday. Then we can smoke cigarettes and watch porn—you know, the usual, but now it will be legal.

I love you Dad. Call me!

Rachel

In posting this note, I had cut-and-pasted it as written. It seemed clear to me, in the context of the story and my writing about my relationship with Rachel, that my daughter was joking in this email. I saw no reason to add further elucidation. At the risk of bruising dead horses, I’ll say that we did not actually make plans to smoke cigarettes and watch porn prior to her eighteenth birthday, nor have we done so since. Rachel’s joke refers to things many people have done prior to their eighteenth birthdays that become legal at that age. I do know Rachel has an on-again, off-again smoking habit. I don’t know what experience, if any, she has with viewing pornography.

If Lucy had been genuinely concerned about the veracity of her claim, she could have confirmed it with Rachel. Being concerned with refuting Lucy’s claim, I asked Rachel to write an affidavit affirming that the note made a joke. But confirming veracity was apparently beyond Lucy’s interests, as is speaking with Rachel. Lucy wrote off Rachel over two years ago, as she disapproved of my daughter’s engagement to marry. The girl who grew up considering Lucy her stepmother has since been a non-entity to my ex-wife.

Still, in her motion, Lucy found it useful to profess concern for Rachel. My relationship with my eldest daughter could be considered a precursor for my relationship with our three children. If I used photographs on my refrigerator door to offer Rachel to a boyfriend who loves trannies, then could my other children expect the same fate? If I smoked cigarettes and watched pornography with Rachel, then how long before my other children were reaching for ashtrays and surfing smut with the old man?

In the case of Thomas and the refrigerator door, I am confident of Lucy’s cynicism. She didn’t really believe this claim to be true. There was simply a hope of courtroom shock value in citing that passage from my blog. But Lucy’s sarcastic “yeah, sure” response to my refutation of her claim about watching porn with Rachel seemed genuine. True or not, Lucy needed to cling to her belief. She needs to believe such things in order to quash her feelings for the husband who had loved her. Sharing cigarettes and pornography with one’s underage children must be bad; anyone can see that. Lucy’s belief became, in her mind, an unshakable tenet.

She couldn’t allow this tenet to be taken away. She couldn’t risk reading the text too closely or asking too many questions of it. It had to mean what she needed it to mean.

In Lucy’s mind, at some point near the end of Rachel’s seventeenth year, my daughter and I settled in for yet another evening of chain-smoking and watching hardcore porn. That evening may always be remembered by Lucy.

Rachel and I can’t share that memory, as we weren’t there. We can’t provide Lucy with the facts she needs to make her world right, so she is left to create them on her own.

If a selective misreading my blog anchors Lucy’s sense of reality, Rachel and I will have to accept that. Lucy’s mental health is not our responsibility.

2 comments:

dov said...

Sigh its amazing how peoples internal anger and fears externalize in wish fulfillment. I want him to be a monster therefore he is a monster.
Reality need not apply

Devani said...

Every time I read about someone who so virulently hates another person, I am reminded that for the most part, the hatred often has little to do with that other person. People we react to are in one sense simply mirrors...the flaws we most revile in them are the ones we most hate and fear in ourselves. Makes me wonder what Lucy sees in the mirror...