Print by Darwin Leon
David Arthur Walters
Helene was resolved to never, ever speak to Paul again. That would not require much resolve, she thought, because she could really care less about him, despite their five-year “friendship.” Why should she? She was herself her first and main concern.
Paul was attractive to Helene for his intelligence but he was a loser in her opinion, “just a street person.” His horrible childhood had caused him to retreat into the darkened corners and cellars on the fringes of society, either to read books in his room or to drink beer at the pub. His mind was admirable but his body repulsed Helene, even though he was far better looking than the hoggish looking hedge fund operator she had been married to – high society had wondered how she, a beautiful, finishing school graduate, could have married such an ugly creature.
Paul, besides being hairy and sporting a beard and otherwise being sloppy like the absentminded intellectual that he was, had very little money; he wanted to study and to write so did not want to work full time and support a household. His health was deteriorating and he had no health insurance or life insurance. Indeed, he was lucky Helene would give him the time of day, let alone invite him over for dinner every once in awhile to practice her excellent cooking skills. She had let Paul know shortly after she met him that she wanted to marry again, but only to a “clean-cut, very generous” man, so that left him out even thought he was generously affectionate. He pretended to himself that he did not get the picture she had of him; he got it but he did not want to be in it.
Given the circumstances, she would not let him lay a hand on her; she turned into a frozen tuna whenever he showed affection, at the beginning of their relationship when he still imagined she was sexy. If he accidentally touched her, she cringed as if on the verge of being brutally beaten again by a husband. She let him know her feelings about sex—it was in itself a filthy, dirty, disgusting act, she said, and it would “never happen” between them. Paul soon lost interest in seducing her, not so much because of her prudish pretenses but because he discovered from a bartender that she got drunk in his bar on occasion, and picked up all sorts of men for very brief encounters. And he knew she had a longstanding relationship going with a wealthy 75-year-old man, who flew her to his side all over the world every few months or so. Besides, Paul had a steamy relationship going with a 60-year old Russian pole dance teacher who looked half her age—she was a good example for her students, who tried to look sexy while she was actually sexy, the sexiest woman in the world as far as Paul was concerned.
In sum, Paul considered Helene and himself to be just friends. He did not realize what dear friends they would become over the next decade, and how that friendship would mold them into good people. For once and for all, he wanted to be a friend true to the root of the word itself, i.e. free. He would do his best to be her friend no matter what she did. To be her friend he realized he could set no conditions given her many boundaries—hence his experiment in unconditional love. She had in fact warned him time and time again of her “boundaries,” and whosoever violated them could not be her friend. He had better not, as she put it, “cross the line” with her, for she had been brutally abused by her former husband and was in the process of getting even with him.
“I am a vindictive person,” she proudly stated one night while showing him the photographs of her battered body—she had mounted the photos in her family photo album. “He put me in the hospital for two years, and I’ve turned his hard drive over to the F.B.I. He’ll rot in jail for a long, long time when I get done with him!” It would not be long until he was confined at Clinton Prison in upstate New York thanks to the hard drive she turned over to the F.B.I.
The reader should know by now that there is no arguing with Helene when she has gone beyond her second glass of wine. When contradicted, confronted, or frustrated, she assumes an arrogant and haughty attitude, and, if her interlocutor persists, she flies into a tempestuous rage. She views others according to their uses; that is, her relationships are based on interpersonal exploitation. Seemingly devoid of empathy, she is either unable or unwilling to acknowledge their feelings or to identify with their needs. Moreover, she is envious of others or thinks they envy her. Indeed, she wants nothing more than admiring attention from others, to be treated favorably, as a special, unique person, worthy of every priority, wherefore she tends to exaggerate her talents and achievements and to be obsessed with fantasies of unlimited fame, fortune and power.
Furthermore, when inebriated, Helene is a hardcore right-winger who believes the last President Bush was the greatest president in U.S. history – Vice President Cheney is her arch-hero. She habitually resents blacks, Hispanics, Jews and gays, and despises homeless people. But when sober, she is rather the contrary of self-glorification and mean-mindedness: she is self-effacing, sincere, charitable, and empathetic albeit with a trace of militancy—the sight of a wounded soldier is most likely to cause her to burst into tears, patriotic tears that she generously calls to the attention of others so that they not be wasted on herself.
She might even pass for a liberal when sober, although she, a student of speechmaking, is still unwilling to give President Obama, a man of color, the slightest credit for the tax benefits she has received as a result of his liberal advocacy or for his florid rhetorical flourishes, although she likes nothing more than to be admired by a black man, and has even said, “Once you go black, you can’t go back, that’s why every Southern family has a secret.” Above all, with her natural blonde hair, blue eyes and white skin, she loves to shine like the Sun in a crowd of black men, where the extension of the slightest courtesy or compliment renders her day exceedingly glorious.
Paul had drawn up a list of rules to follow to be Helene’s friend:
1. Never disagree with Helene or contradict her. Listen intently to everything she says and express agreement with it although you may not believe a word of it. Be exceedingly patient, accommodating and understanding to keep the peace. Above all, never criticize the Bush administration.
2. Flatter her constantly. Appear to be awed by her looks and by everything she does. But never offer intimacy. Do not make remarks that might in any way detract from her self-image. Especially avoid using the word ‘fat’ in any context. Never talk about harsh reality unless casting her as its star.
3. Be very generous: Give her something unique, something she cannot get anywhere else – your unconditional love.
4. Be independent. You may want something from Helene, but do not need anything. Take what you really want if you can, but do not be upset when you do not get it. Just walk away or give her the silent treatment and wait for her to come around.
5. Remember: Helene cannot be fixed because she doesn’t want to be fixed. Any attempt to heal her or cure her of herself will surely alienate her. She may ask you for help and advice, but she will always do exactly the opposite simply to prove herself superior. You may help her more by recommending that she do the opposite of what she should do in a situation.
6. Last but not least, when she cooks, do what she says, just shut up and eat.
On the other hand, when her drinking bottles of white wine, Helene did her best to cross what she perceived to be Paul’s lines, that is, to somehow offend his sensibilities. To do that, she assumed the role of a blonde, blue-eyed, Nazi. On one particular night, around the bottom of her second glass, she started in on the homeless people, how awful they were and how they were all mentally ill and how decent society should expunge them, concentrate them in camps for the mentally defective. Paul did not flinch, mainly because the farther away he himself became from being homeless, the less sympathetic he was with their plight. In fact, he feared that he, like Ronald Reagan after he met Nancy, was becoming a neo-conservative.
Well into her third glass, Helene lit into the Jews, and said she was sick and tired of their cowardly whining about the Holocaust, as other peoples had suffered and did not make such a big deal about it, and she expressed her spite for Israel’s persecution of Palestinians. She knew that Paul’s father had been a Jew and had lost half his family in the Holocaust, so she figured Paul would be offended, but Paul knew what she was up to and let it slide, though he believed remembering the Holocaust was important to the future of the human race – but he did not have much faith in the State of Israel, as he thought it was turning Jews into their worst enemy: right-wing fascists or virtual Nazis.
And then she lit into gays, notwithstanding the fact that she loves one prominent gay man as her best friend in the world.
“I am sick and tired of all the gays on CNN,” she said, pointing at a man appearing on the television. “They don’t have what it takes. They have to sit down on toilets.”
“How do you know he is gay?” asked Paul.
“Just look at his big mouth,” she said, smiling maliciously.
“Well, he does not have a goatee.”
“What does that have to do with it?”
“A goatee around the mouth looks like a woman’s….”
“Stop! I don’t want to hear it!”
Helene went on to the blacks—in accord with her training at Southern Belle Finishing School, she skirted the N-word, but the denigrating implication remained constant. She commanded Paul to change the television channel because there were too many black people on CNN. Paul complied, but then there were black people on the next four channels including Fox News, much to the expressed disgust of Helene.
“Change the channel! No, not that! Change it! No! There, you see, they’re taking over now that they’ve got themselves a president!”
She was finally satisfied with the program on penguins around the South Pole.
Rather than play along with her any longer, Paul decided to change the subject and to exceed one of her boundaries, to “kick her in the shin,” as he called it, and even, if necessary, to write off his unconditional love experiment as a failure, although he doubted that would happen.
Since Helene frequently pointed out that she had been brutally beaten by her former husband, Paul asked her why he beat her.
“It must have been something I said,” she flippantly said.
“Maybe getting a man to beat her was her way of conquering him. A gentleman would not be thus defeated – perhaps gentlemen marry shrews to prove their mettle,” Paul thought, deciding to keep that politically incorrect idea to himself.
“Helene,” he said out loud, “I hate to change the subject, but have you ever heard of Carrie Nation?”
“No. Is she black?”
“No. Carrie Nation was badly abused by her husband, and she was commanded by God to go out and rid the nation of the leading cause of abuse. In fact she went down to Miami and spoke on the subject before the largest crowd in its history.”
“I’ve never heard of this woman, this Carrie Nation, and if she had spoken down here I would have known about it from my involvement in women’s shelters. You must be making her up.”
“It was a hundred years ago, in 1908. Carrie saw what was causing most of the wife-beating and immorality, so she grabbed an ax and started smashing saloons. Eventually the dangerous drug was prohibited.”
Helene’s eyes flashed as her face reddened. Paul had obviously pushed the wrong button: Helene drank wine every day, and she would not brook any criticism of alcohol.
“Alcohol is not a drug!” she exclaimed. “It’s perfectly legal.”
“Is marijuana a dangerous drug?”
“Yes. It invariably leads to the use of hard drugs.”
“You have said many of your friends smoke pot.”
“They’ve exceeded my boundaries, so they are not my friends anymore. If they use drugs in front of me I will report it to the police, and I have many friends in the police department.”
“Helene, do you really believe marijuana use leads to the use of hard drugs?”
“It does. I have seen statistics. The numbers don’t lie like liberals.”
“Most kids today are introduced to drugs through their parents’ medicine cabinets.” (Paul knew very well that Helene used sedatives).
“That’s a lie concocted by the liberal media!”
“When I was a kid, we had our mothers’ diet pills and sedatives available, but most of us used alcohol. When the Mexicans turned me on to pot, I did not like it at first, nor did I like cocaine or acid – I was introduced to those drugs because of alcohol, as once you drink, you might as well try other things. The principal of my grammar school recommended me to AA when I was in the fifth grade.”
“I don’t want to hear it! You are wrong!”
“Helene, I wrecked two marriages with my drinking. Fortunately my families went on to better things without me. As a professional you must know that the consumption of alcohol is the chief cause of abuse. What we need around here is another Carrie Nation.”
“How dare you! Get out of my house! You are an abuser! Get out!”
Helene glared at Paul furiously and grabbed her empty wine bottle by the neck. He stepped quickly through the door, and heard the bottle smash into it behind him. Helene had resolved never to speak to him again, and Paul resolved to honor her resolution. But there is something more to the both of them than what we have seen thus far in this living novel, something underlying in their human nature that will give the lie to their resolutions and neuroses, bring out their true selves and bring them together for good.