...the Journal

Mom's
Refrigerator Door

I got this magnet when Peggy and I were in Seattle in October. The way I sleep, especially when on the road, I should have "sleepless in..." magnets for everywhere we travel, tho I did sleep better in Seattle than in most places. Must have been because the accommodations were more pleasant than most.


Cubicle Girl
I came across a new journal today that I really like. The entries are all pretty good, but I especially liked this one.


Virtual Fire truck
Every wonder what all that stuff on a fire truck does? My very own town has put up a virtual fire truck site to give everyone the opportunity to find out. Pretty kewl, actually.


Annoying Boy
My son and others seem to like The Boy with Immoveable Hair. I found it extremely annoying. What do you think?


Sweets for the Sweet
Can you pick your favorite candy bar out from cross section? Give it a try.



WHAT I'M READING

The Night Listener
by Armistead Maupin

For anyone contemplating reading this book, I strongly recommend that you check out this web page. About the time you get to page 13 of Night Listener, the reason wny will make sense to you.



That's it for today!

SPEAKING ILL OF THE DEAD

14 January 2001

Remember my son Paul, the talented, beautiful son I've been telling you about? the one everyone loved? I forgot to mention one tiny detail: Paul was an asshole.

There comes a day when the child becomes the parent, or when the child begins to guide the parent. That day came this week.

Paul was an asshole.

The words were Ned’s and they have prompted a flurry of e-mails between us about Paul and how I am acting about Paul’s death, especially concerning entries I’ve made in this journal lately. It never occurred to me that I’d been concentrating on Paul the actor, Paul the role model, Paul the toucher of human lives.

Paul was an asshole.

This morning, Steve, with whom I’ve been sharing this stuff, wrote. He said that reading Ned’s feelings about Paul allowed him, for the first time to actually comprehend Paul. He said that my being unable to share the WHOLE Paul was the same as my being ashamed of him.

Wow. Talk about getting double barrels.

This all started with an article I received, written by a girl who had been in Our Town with Paul. She talked of his talent and what an impact he had on her. Ned decided that the myth of "St. Paul" needed to be addressed and he sent a message to the family.

The real Paul was the guy who was completely self-centered. Paul was the guy who rarely took anyone's feelings into consideration other than his own. Paul was the guy who would throw a temper tantrum at the drop of a hat if things weren't going his way. Paul was the guy who felt his pain was much larger than everyone else's. Paul was the guy who commanded to be the center of attention. Paul was the guy who would get upset every time he wasn't the center of attention. Paul was the guy who would do anything to be the center of attention... even if it meant killing himself in the process, he writes.

Ned was afraid that he had gone too far. That in expressing his real feelings about the death of his brother, popping the mythical balloon, that he would upset a lot of people who were choosing to ignore the facts of the Paul we all knew.

I answered him.

I'm glad you put all that on paper. I'm glad that you aren't keeping it bottled up. It's really important for you that you do say stuff like this. Paul was indeed all you say. But he also had good points, and it comforts me to know that he touched people's lives, even if they didn't really know the "real Paul."

The thing was that I didn’t realize I had been deifying Paul. I guess that I just felt Paul’s shortcomings were so well known that we didn’t need to speak them. And in writing this journal, as I explained to Ned, it’s kind of like a daily Christmas letter. You don’t spend a lot of time speaking in public about all the rotten things your kids do. You speak truth, but you dwell on the good (unless the "bad" can make a damn good story that doesn't hurt anybody's feelings). And in truth, there is that small part of me that suffers great guilt that I feel relieved because I no longer have to worry about Paul’s moodiness...and that I don’t have to lie awake nights wondering if he will kill himself. He’s done it. The other shoe has dropped. I feel guilty admitting that. So I've just never mentioned it. And in not saying that, I did an injustice to the living children.

Ned continues.

I'm very tired of this "Saint Paul" mentality. I'm tired of people having nothing but good things to say about Paul. Paul wasn't a saint. He was an asshole. I loved him with all my heart and shared a lot of cool moments with him, but he was still an asshole. We all put up with a lot of shit from Paul. We danced around his moods for his entire life, and played right into his need to be the center of attention at all times. Yes, he was talented and he could move a room to tears with any one of his many speeches, but Paul did not earn the right to cause us all this much pain. I don't know if I'll ever be able to forgive him.

I shared Ned’s comments with another friend, who knows all the kids from my having spoken of them for years. He is also a recovering alcoholic. He shared his own observations about Paul:

He was an alcoholic. I've never seen a better description of one [than he read in Ned’s letter] outside of the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. The monumental ego (complemented, no doubt, by a massive inferiority complex which was probably evidenced by extended episodes of self-loathing and depressive self-doubt). The hyper-sensitivity. His feeling of being terminally unique. The craving to be center-stage. The self-destruction which, by the way, is self-centered in the extreme whether intentional or not.

But you know what? It wasn't his fault.

It wasn't ANYBODY'S FAULT.

Yes. He certainly nailed that one. Paul was an alcoholic. In my heart of hearts, I knew it--I mean, how could he not have been? AA is our family service organization. Some folks grow up with the Elks or the Lions or the Shriners. We had AA. Several of my mother’s siblings were alcholic and practically ran AA in various parts of the state. My father was an alcoholic. Other people now living, on both sides of the family, are alcoholic (most in recovery). It would have been a miracle of we hadn’t had an alcoholic among our five children. (For what it’s worth, I think David was an alcoholic too).

But as a good little enabling mother, I ignored that elephant in the living room. I don’t dust, sweep, or move elephants. We knew that our hard liquor (which we rarely drink, but which we store in a closet for guests) would disappear, that Walt’s collection of wine would suddenly be smaller. I knew there was a locked cabinet in Paul’s room, and there was always a terrible smell of "something" in there...stale booze mixed with sweat and old socks. He always had a drink in his hand at shows. And he would be drunk at the end of a performance. I rarely saw him sloppy, falling down drunk...but then I never saw my father that way either, and he started drinking 8 oz tumblers of bourbon with his corn flakes in the morning.

Oh yes, Paul shone on stage, but as Ned says, if Paul wasn't on stage he was more of a pain in the ass than he was a wonderful person. On stage he was wonderful, off stage he had a lot to learn about life and about people. And I feel like he killed himself before he came close to doing that. He was on his way to a beginning, but he didn't come close. He died a selfish brat who could bring a room to tears with his observations about the world... a world that he had yet to understand himself.

He’s right. As I told him, I am angry with Paul because he had this golden opportunity to have a relationship with his grandmothers. Both of them. I look at you and Jeri (and Tom too, tho he's too far away), and how you take the time, make the effort, and when you can, you spend time just being with your grandmothers. Paul promised my mother lunch out several years before he died. And they NEVER did it. It became a standing joke with them. How they would get together for that lunch. He could drive to Berkeley at the drop of a hat and drive back in the middle of the night, but he couldn't find one fucking day in five years to take his grandmother to lunch. The loss was his. I wasn't going to nag him about it. It had to be something he was willing to do himself, And Grandma would always make excuses for him, but the plain fact was that he just didn't care enough to put himself out for one lousy afternoon to spend some time with his grandmother.

I sometimes feel Paul is tearing this family apart. Ned worries that in all the attention paid to Paul, we are forgetting David. I can hardly remember him, he says. He is also concerned that we are losing the "real" Paul and being left with a Paul who never existed. The Paul who touched everyone’s lives, who moved people to tears with his performances, who is memorialized all over town.

And he’s right. We never discuss the kid who demanded center stage everywhere and who would get it even if he had to threaten to jump off a balcony or sit glowering in a corner for some reason nobody could fathom. He was larger than life and his presence was often unpleasant.

Ned is also upset because they were best friends.

I remember Paul was my very best friend, a friend I really need, and he put a noose around his neck.

I hurt for him because I know what it’s like to lose your best friend. I remember Paul’s memorial, which Ned did such an amazing job of organizing, with the help of Jeri, Tom and all the rest of Paul’s friends. How, when it was all over he sobbed on my shoulder that he just didn’t know if he’d done it right. He’d been planning events all his life and he’d never had to do one without Paul.

And now Paul had done something so incredibly stupid that robbed Ned of his best friend.

Jeri is upset that she wanted to be his friend and he shut her out. I listen, first to her tears at his loss and then at her sadness because she can no longer feel the pain. She wanted to be his friend, his colleague and he shut her out. He was the Sinatra in his own private rat pack, and dames weren’t allowed in, except now and then. I hurt that he denied her admission to that private club.

Paul was an asshole.

I’m upset that he missed so many opportunities to be not only a talented performer, but a caring human being. It was the one role he seemed unable to grasp.

And yet there are people with whom he was very close who will tell you different. People who consider themselves some of his best friends and who saw only his good side.

The safest thing to say about Paul is that he was incredibly talented, incredibly complicated, could be a real pain in the ass, and yet he could also be warm and caring, sometimes in the blink of an eye.

Was it just the alcohol? Was it having grown up in the spotlight? Did we all put up with him for so long that he no longer knew how to be a normal human being?

And can we ever recover from this terrible thing that he has done to all of us? He couldn’t even, in death, make a positive statement. We will never know if he meant to kill himself or if he was just stupid. I’ve always called it "death by stupidity," whether deliberate or accidental.

Ned says, the way Paul died makes me feel like he doesn't deserve so much attention. Maybe he deserves to be forgotten... it would serve him right.

And yet it seems that in death, even as in life, he still continues to dominate the family. In leaving us with death by stupidity, he has doomed us to this terrible see saw of emotions which sometimes seems to be destroying the very thing that I have loved most about this family: its cohesiveness.

Ned brings me back to reality as I think about what I’ve done and written about Paul in these pages--

I do know that I am cursed with this reality... Now that he's dead he's more the center of attention than he ever was when he was living. Well, at least Paul got what he wanted.

Ned is wrong. Paul is NOT the center of attention in MY life. That spotlight belongs to Ned and Jeri and even Tom, who wasn't a part of this conversation. They are the ones who bring life to me and who remind me that I don't have to a PERFECT mom. Just a real one.

Sorry Paul. I will always remember your talent. I will always remember the bond we had. But, you did something incredibly stupid. In your self-centered stupidity, you hurt us all terribly and, God help me, I prefer the ones who stayed alive.


 


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Created 1/7/01 by Bev Sykes