In order to be successful...
03/31/2009, 2:36 AM #
one must project an image of success at all times. Buddy "The King of Real Estate" King
[I had the pleasure of watching American Beauty with my son the other night. It's one of my favorite movies, but observing my 20-year-old son respond to Lester Burnham's character, and his growing appreciation for the depth of the message...well, one theme in the movie involves the power (and importance) of being seen, and the boy saw a little more of me that night. Lovely.]
I got an email from "J"'s husband the other day, informing me that she had died. It was one of those stunning pieces of news - "J" used to do the billing and books for the group I work with. She's a little younger than I am, I think - late thirties, maybe? Several kids (five, maybe?) running the range from high school to early elementary. I was quite friendly with her, though I didn't know her well - she'd helped my boss out awhile longer than anticipated, as he had trouble finding a replacement. The last time I saw her was at her home - she showed the remodeling projects her husband had been working on. She was thin, attractive, and almost always smiling, though she also had the super-competent Mormon soccer-mom thing going on (you wouldn't want to fuck with her).
So when I got back into town, I called my boss. Had J been sick? Was it cancer?
No, actually, J drove her car off a cliff the other day; she committed suicide. She left her husband, and all those kids. See, about a year ago, my boss realized that J had been embezzling money - a lot of money. She'd been fabricating things like employment tax payments, and had set up a series of PO boxes in communitites as far away as in neighboring states - primarily to intercept communications from the IRS. She'd made such a mess of the books that my boss had actually invited her back to help straighten them out - said he'd back off the prosecution if she did. Her response? She cheerfully cooked the books a little more - going as far as photoshopping IRS documents to indicate quarterly tax payments that had never been made.
Each of those was worth an additional two years when she was sentenced last week.
J didn't commit suicide because she was going to prison; she committed suicide because of the shame associated with going to prison. She lived in the same neighborhood as my boss, attended the same church congregation, and had been best friends with his wife. She'd been revealed, in front of all those people, as a crook - as someone who committed acts entirely inconsistent with the lifestyle and values she had made public commitments to.
So, how could this happen? Turns out, it's easy enough - when you harbor deep fears about your acceptability in relationships, you tend to create a social dynamic that mirrors those fears. J set herself on a course of action in which she would inevitably be discovered - it was unavoidable. The shame of that "unmasking" proved too great to bear, and off the cliff she went.
I took the news about J kind've hard. She could've found what she needed in the form of really good therapy, preferably starting a long time ago. She might have found aspects of it in her first marriage - I've learned her ex is now in prison, though I don't know the charges. She needed someone who could walk with her from one seemingly irreconcilable identity sphere to the other - maybe someone to "make meat pies with" [in the Sweeney Todd sense], but more likely someone who could talk/joke about the appeal of making meat pies, and at other times, her religious beliefs. She did start therapy recently, with her husband - I understand she spent her time there blaming her husband for what she had done (some times, it's awfully slow going). The rigid religious social context she was living in offered her nothing but tools to bolster her denial - reconciliation was the one thing she was never going to get.
I wonder if she said to herself, "I refuse to be a victim!" or, "You can't count on anyone but yourself." "Affirmations" representing feeble attempts to bolster denial. Sad stuff, because I also know how she felt about her kids - I saw it. Tragic, that the schism in her ran so deep that she could forget that for long enough to walk down the path whose terminus is the base of a rocky cliff up Weber canyon. J spent her life refining her ability to "fake it", when she could have been learning self-acceptance and reconciliation. So "fake it" is what she did, and she made sure to create the context where it was not only necessary, but also ensured she'd eventually be "caught" - she'd externalize her conflict, and perhaps have an opportunity to address it in that manifestation [this is what people do when they're stuck like that]. So sad, that she had become so good at "faking it". Had she been caught much earlier, when the consequences weren't so grave, perhaps she could've learned something.
There are undeniable costs accrued by self-deception. Sadly, it's the people who love you that usually get stuck with the bill.