‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part One, Chapter 4

The Hamilton Spectator

Three St. Thomas More Schoolgirls Missing

by Tonya Mills

Alexa Frey, 17, Megan Fourier, 18, and Tiffany Ferry, 17, students of St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School, went missing as of last Sunday night. It is assumed they all ran away from home as a result of constant bullying at school.

Don Murray, 51, principal of the high school, asked some of those accused of the bullying, in particular Denise Charlton and Boyd McAuliffe, both 18, what they had done lately that may have provoked Alexa, their victim, to have run away. Though on Friday afternoon when school was finished, they’d shoved her into a mud and slush puddle, kicked her several times and spat on her (according to eyewitnesses), they denied having done anything else to her since then.

Those who’d bullied Megan and Tiffany also denied having done anything to those girls since they’d been reprimanded the previous Friday morning.

The girls’ parents have shown nothing but dismay at what they deem their daughters’ “wayward” ways.

“That girl has been nothing but one problem after another,” said Alexa’s mother, Arlene Frey, 52. “First, she can’t keep from provoking her classmates to pick on her. Then, she trudges slush and mud all over my carpet on Friday afternoon, and now my husband and I have to search all over the place for her. I’m at my wits’ end here!”

“That wayward girl is always getting mixed up with boys,” John Fourier, 55, said of his daughter Megan. “I’ll bet she’s run off with some boy, who’ll mistreat her and dump her. Then she’ll be lost. With any luck, I’ll find her soon enough. But she’s always been trouble.”

Tiffany’s mother, Alice Ferry, 49, had this to say: “That girl has always been a burden. She gets her classmates mad at her, they break a chunk of ice on her head, and I have to clean up all the blood on her. Now she pulls this on me. When’s it going to end?”

Disturbingly, the only traces left of the three girls before their disappearances were: a razor blade on the side of a filled-up bathtub in Alexa’s home; a bottle filled with John’s sleeping pills on the bathroom sink in Megan’s home, when her father hadn’t touched them Sunday night; and a kitchen knife in Tiffany’s bedroom.

Yet the three girls never used these items.

The girls just disappeared instead.

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part One, Chapter 3

“You shouldn’t have antagonized them, Alexa,” her father said in their living room an hour after she’d gotten home. “They’d have left you alone if you’d kept quiet.”

“What?” Alexa shouted. “So, it was my fault? The principal made me tell him who did it, Dad!”

“Don’t you raise your voice at me, young lady,” he said.

“You side with my enemies, and you’re surprised at my shouting?” she yelled.

“Oh, go to your room, and without supper, if you’re gonna give me that attitude!” he shouted.

“Yes!” her mother shouted. “If you hadn’t provoked them, you wouldn’t have gotten slush all over my carpet! Go to your room and stay there–yes, without supper–’til you change your attitude!”

“You don’t love me at all!” Alexa shouted in sobs, then stomped up the stairs.

“Oh, listen to that melodrama,” he said.

“If your stamping of your feet makes marks on those stairs, you will be cleaning them, not me!” her mother shouted, just before the slamming of Alexa’s bedroom door.

She dropped on her bed, sobbing and sobbing. Then she looked up at her dresser mirror; but she got a shock when she saw, instead of her face in the reflection, a split-second flash of the red-skinned man.

***********

“You shouldn’t have finked on those kids,” Tiffany’s mom said in the bathroom, a half-hour after washing Tiffany’s clothes. Her mom took a wet cloth to the blood on Tiffany’s hair. “If you’d kept your mouth shut, I wouldn’t have to do all this cleaning away of your disgusting blood.”

“Your sympathy for my plight is touching, Mom,” Tiffany, sitting in the bathtub, hissed with a maximum of sarcasm.

“What did you say to me?” her mom said in a threatening tone. “Maybe I can leave you to clean yourself, you ungrateful little brat.”

Tiffany bit her tongue.

A tear ran down her cheek.

She looked over at the bathroom mirror. Instead of seeing her reflection, she saw a brief flash of the man with bright, devil-red skin looking back at her.

She yelped and jerked her head back.

“Tiffany!” her mom shouted. “Stay still! This is hard enough as it is!”

Another tear ran down Tiffany’s cheek.

*************

Megan had been lying on her bed, shaking and crying non-stop for almost an hour before her father knocked on her door.

“Supper’s almost ready,” he said. “Hurry up.”

“I don’t want any,” she sobbed.

He opened her door. “What’s this nonsense?” he said as he approached her bed. “I just cooked your dinner. Not get down there and eat it before it gets cold!”

“I’m not hungry,” she sobbed.

“Oh, I see,” he said. “You had some…meat…earlier today, and it…filled…you all up, didn’t it? Well, that serves you right for giving yourself up too easily.”

“Dad, I just got raped!” she screamed, getting up from her bed.

“Your punishment for being too easy. I warned you…”

“Oh, I wouldn’t expect my own father to sympathize, since you yourself raped me when I was twelve!

He smacked her so hard, she flew over to the other side of her bed.

“You were punished today for being a little slut,” he said, playing with his zipper. “As you were when you were twelve. Now, get downstairs and eat your dinner before you get punished again!” He left her room.

I’m a ‘slut,’ she thought, because Mom ran off with another man. You, Dad, didn’t have her around to call a slut, so you took it out on me. You can get it up only if you have total power over a girl…like me.

Her face soaked with tears, she looked up at her bedroom mirror and saw a split-second flash of the red-skinned man in the reflection.

*************

WE’RE GONNA GET YOU.

This is what Alexa saw on her computer screen when checking her email on Saturday morning. The sender was anonymous. Her heart thumped; she twitched in her chair.

“Mom! Dad!” she called from her room, a tear running down her cheek. “Please, come here! I’m scared!”

“Oh, what’s your problem now?!” her mom yelled.

“Can’t I watch the game in peace?” her father yelled from the living room as he watched a video on his computer of a hockey game he hadn’t had time to watch on TV the night before.

I guess only I can solve this, she thought, with a thought of her dad’s razor blades; then she twitched again to see the red face in the monitor reflection.

*************

YOU’RE GONNA GET RAPED AGAIN.

Megan read this on her cellphone early on Saturday afternoon. As soon as she saw the anonymous message, she dropped her phone on her bedroom floor; luckily, it hit a soft rug and didn’t break. She let out a loud yelp as she let go of it.

Her dad heard her from his bedroom. “What’s your problem now?” he barked.

Knowing she’d get no sympathy from him, she kept her mouth shut.

Luckily, he didn’t inquire any further.

She began sobbing. She looked in the mirror, and gasped at the sight of the red man.

*************

WE’RE COMING AFTER YOU.

Tiffany jumped in her chair at the dining room table when she saw this anonymous message in her email on an iPad.

“Oh, my God!” she sighed, then began sobbing.

Her mother–on the sofa in the living room, which was next to the dining room and without a separating wall, so Tiffany was in earshot–said, “What are you blubbering about now?”

“I wouldn’t expect you to care, Mom,” Tiffany snapped.

“What did you say to me?” her mom hissed.

Tiffany got up and took her iPad to her bedroom.

“Yeah,” her mom said. “You get out of here if you’re gonna give me that attitude.” She heard Tiffany slam her bedroom door. “That’s it, slam the door, ya spoiled little brat!”

**************

WE’RE GONNA GET YOU.

YOU’RE GONNA GET RAPED AGAIN.

WE’RE COMING AFTER YOU.

Alexa, Megan, and Tiffany respectively got these anonymous email threats repeatedly over the weekend, an average of about one every three or four hours each day until bedtime. Their parents continued to show no sympathy.

By Sunday night at about 11:00, the three girls were ready to end it all. Alexa was filling her bathtub while getting a razor blade ready. Megan swiped a bottle of at least sixteen or so of her dad’s sleeping pills from the bathroom medicine cabinet. Tiffany took a kitchen knife to slash her wrists in her bedroom; she wanted to give her mother a pool of red to clean up.

About to get in the water, Alexa looked down in it and saw the red man’s face again.

Megan closed the door to the medicine cabinet and saw his red face in the mirror.

Tiffany’s teary eyes looked in her dresser mirror and saw his face.

“Who are you” all three girls said…at the same time.

“I am a chthonic spirit,” he said.

The confusion on the girls’ faces indicated that they didn’t know what chthonic means.

“I’m a spirit from the underworld, the land of the dead,” he said.

“You’re a devil?” all three girls said, at once again.

“Yes, but that shouldn’t bother you,” he said. “You’re about to kill yourselves, which you know as Catholics will send you straight to hell. I’d say you’re emotionally prepared to deal with devils, aren’t you?”

“What do you want?” all three asked together again. It was as if their identities were fused.

“I want to help you,” he said.

“How?” they asked.

“My name is Furioso,” he said. “Since all three of you are about to commit the sin of despair, and give up the hope of salvation, perhaps you’d like it if I helped you get revenge on all your tormentors, including your so unloving parents.”

The girls, now seeing not only Furioso, but also each other in the reflections, were…for the first time in a long time…grinning.

“I can help you make them all share your pain. I can drag them all down to Hell, where you three, as demons, can torment them for all eternity. You will be their bullies, for a change.”

The girls’ grins widened.

“What’s more,” he went on, “I can make your exit from this world far less painful than the exits you were planning. Join me, and as a trio of spirits, you can unleash your fury onto the world.”

Suddenly, a crimson vortex appeared before each of the three girls, a portal into Hell. Alexa saw her bathtub water transform into a red whirlpool. Megan and Tiffany saw such bloody whirlpools form on their bathroom and dresser mirrors.

They each felt a tugging, pulling their trembling bodies forward, which they at first resisted. A swarm of moaning voices from the whirlpools seemed to be warning them, “No!…Don’t!”

“Whose voices are those?” the girls asked in unison.

“Don’t worry about that,” Furioso said. “Just let yourselves be pulled in, and be the spirits of vengeance, punishing the guilty of the Earth. The wrongdoers of the world deserve to be punished, don’t they? Aren’t you tired of evildoers getting away with their crimes? When have you known God to intervene, even after your most fervent prayers? You were going to kill yourselves and go to Hell, anyway. Now, stop hesitating. Come in!”

The girls continued to tremble before the vortices and the moaning of No.

“Come in, and claim your rightful revenge!” he called out.

“OK,” the girls said in a synchronized, tremulous voice.

They leaned forward and let themselves get sucked into the red hole, screaming the whole way.

They landed in a pit of infinite darkness.

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part One, Chapter 2

There was no way Alexa could have hidden the bruises on her face, or for Megan to have hidden the green paint splattered all over her blouse. The teachers and principal were going to get an explanation, one way or another, and the girls’ reluctance to tell on their tormentors, for fear of reprisals, didn’t stop the school authorities from finding out who was responsible.

Tiffany, on the other hand, wanted to tell on her bullies. She wanted to share her pain with Fay and George, no matter what the consequences would be afterwards.

The teachers and principal paid lip service to how they’d protect the three girls from any revenge attacks from their bullies. The girls didn’t believe a word of these promises.

That’s because the promises of protection really were nothing more than promises.

The girls had never been protected before…why would they be protected now?

On the very day that Denise, Boyd, Lynne, Fay, and George were reprimanded–as well as given empty warnings of further punishments if any of them hurt the girls again, warnings so empty that not one bully even flinched–they all went to work on their revenge, each achieving it right at the end of school.

Alexa was walking outside when Denise and Boyd saw her from behind. It had just finished raining, melting away some of the snow on that late February afternoon, so slush puddles were everywhere, with mud and slush patches where students had trampled away the snow and grass on either side of the walkway outside the school entrance.

Denise and Boyd sneaked up behind Alexa. Just as she was passing a mud and slush puddle, they shoved her, making her fall into it and making it splash everywhere.

An eruption of laughter from students all around the area burned in Alexa’s ears. She hadn’t even had time to look up and see who’d pushed her before she felt a few kicks to her gut.

“That’s for splashing mud and slush on me, dyke!” Denise said after giving Alexa a third kick.

“And for getting it on me,” Boyd said, kicking her in the leg.

As Alexa was getting up, Denise aimed her fist at the muddy girl’s upper right arm. After punching it five times, Denise said, “Thank you. I feel so much better now!” She walked away.

Boyd spat on Alexa’s face before following Denise.

Alexa closed her eyes…and thought she saw a man with devil-red skin looking at her for a split second. First, I was hearing whispers, she thought. Now, I’m seeing things.

**************

Tiffany went out the way opposite where Alexa had left, for she was anticipating some nastiness from Fay and George, and hoping they’d go out one of the ways most everyone else went. The coast seemed clear: some teachers were walking about, too; so if those two were hiding out and planning a revenge, the teachers would be there to stop them…she hoped.

She went past where all the cars were parked, seeing no students (let alone bad ones) among any of them, so she assumed she was safe. She took a relaxed walk in the neighbourhood of houses nearby, dodging the piles of slush and ice that hadn’t yet been melted.

She couldn’t hear Fay and George behind her, for they were being so quiet and so good at hiding that they were able to make her hypervigilance useless. They found a block of ice on the sidewalk, where Tiffany had just walked by. They picked it up and followed closely behind her.

They raised the block of ice–almost brick-shaped and as big as their heads combined–inches above her head, then dropped it, hitting her on the top-back of her head. She didn’t hear them laughing or running away because she was unconscious, staying that way for about ten minutes, and lying on the slushy sidewalk with no one to help her.

In a brief dream, she saw the same red face watching her.

*************

Megan was late leaving school; in fact, she deliberately waited for Lynne and Herman to leave first. In gym class, she saw Lynne finish her shower, get dressed, and leave before Megan even began taking her own shower. While showering, Megan assumed that Lynne was hooking up with Herman and leaving school with him.

She was right about the first part.

No sooner had Megan, having finished her shower, wrapped a towel around herself, than she saw Lynne standing by the entrance to the shower area with a malicious smirk.

Megan let out a short, piercing yelp.

“Nobody’s here to hear you, bitch,” Lynne said.

“What d’you want?” Megan spat back in a shaky voice.

“To settle the score with you, of course,” Lynne said. “I don’t appreciate you getting me in trouble just because you’re jealous of me being with your crush…a guy who’d never want you in a million years.”

As Megan walked out of the shower area and into the changing area, she saw Herman standing in front of the locker where her clothes were.

She let out another yelp of terror, and held her towel tighter around her torso.

“Well…,” Lynne said, “maybe my boyfriend will want you…just this one time.” She grabbed at Megan’s towel, and after a struggle, she tore it off the dripping wet and shaking girl, leaving her naked and trying to cover her breasts and crotch with her hands.

“C’mon, Lynne!” Megan screamed in sobs as the other two laughed at her. “I don’t deserve this!”

“I don’t care whether you deserve it or not,” Lynne said smugly as Herman walked up to Megan. “I just wanna see him do it to you.”

“Lynne!” she screamed as he grabbed her and struggled to get her on the floor. “You’re a…fellow female! You can’t…sympathize…with a guy…doing this…to one…of us! Ugh! He’s your…boyfriend! You want him…cheating on you?”

“Oh, I won’t be jealous, like you,” Lynne said as Herman, now on top of supine Megan, unzipped his pants. “Your body is nowhere near as good-looking as mine.”

“It’s good enough for me, though,” he said, whipping it out. “Just this once. You wanted me, Megan? You got me. This is for getting my girlfriend in trouble.”

“I’ll indulge him this one time, Megan,” Lynne said, that malignant grin never leaving her face, “just to watch him traumatize you.”

Megan screamed from the sharp pain of his entry. She could hear Lynne laughing as he carried on inside her. She closed her eyes, seeing not Herman’s face, but a red one.

*************

Over the weekend, none of the three victims’ parents showed any interest in their daughters’ suffering.

The sight of Alexa covered in mud got one blunt comment from her mother as soon as the girl walked in the front door of the house: “What the hell happened to you? And now you’re getting that crap all over my carpet? Go take a bath!”

Tiffany’s mother was similarly annoyed to see her daughter’s clothes covered in slush. “Oh, look at what you did! Now I have to clean that all up! Get out of those clothes so I can wash ’em. Hurry!

In her annoyance, Tiffany’s mother never bothered to notice the blood spot on the back of her head.

Megan was still shaking when she got home. Her father saw her pass the living room, where he’d been watching TV, and go upstairs to her bedroom. Though he got a clear look at her frowning face, he didn’t consider it worth his trouble to see how wet it was with tears.

I’ll bet she’s just having more boy troubles, he thought as he turned his head back to the TV. The little slut just keeps asking for it.

Alexa lay in the bathtub, stunned. Why doesn’t anybody care? she wondered.

Tiffany sat on her bed in her underwear, stunned. Why doesn’t anybody care?

Megan sat on her bed, stunned. Why doesn’t anybody care?

All three girls saw repeated flashes of the red-skinned man before their faces.

I care, he whispered in their ears.

‘Furies,’ a Horror Novel, Part One, Chapter 1

Boyd McAuliffe hated Alexa Frey so much.

Well, it isn’t that he hated her so much that he regarded her as not worth the tiniest bit of consideration or compassion.

Actually, if you were to trace his bad attitude to her right back to the beginning, you’d discover that he envied her for having gotten into the gifted students class back in Grade 8, when he hadn’t.

Sure, that was a good enough reason to hate her.

That was a great reason to regard her as non-human.

That was all the reason he needed.

That was the best reason in the world…

…wasn’t it?

Anyway, right now, in one of the science classrooms during lunch break, when Alexa was concentrating on a chess game with another, equally unpopular student named Sal Moon, Boyd was aiming a bottle-cap in his slingshot, right at her face.

And he had another excellent, perfectly honourable reason to be doing it.

He wanted to impress Denise Charlton, the pretty, shapely redhead who also happened to be one of the biggest troublemakers in St. Thomas More Catholic Secondary School, in Hamilton, Ontario.

Alexa was debating in her mind which move to make. Should she trade pawns? Doing so didn’t seem to serve any purpose, except that Sal was just going to trade with her anyway, and that would have opened up her castle and exposed her king. What to do?

Meanwhile, Boyd was taking aim from the other side of the room.

Alexa could have moved her white queen diagonally two spaces to the front and right to put Sal’s black king in check, but he could have just moved it one square to his left and out of danger. It would have been another useless move that wouldn’t have helped her at all.

Boyd was steadying his hands; his aim was just about perfect.

Her knights, side by side, to the left and behind the centre squares, and with three of her pawns in front of them, were also useless. Her rooks, on the back row, had nowhere to go, either.

Boyd’s aim was perfect. Ready to shoot. Take a few slow breaths in and out, and…

Alexa thought, I’ll bet Karpov could figure out a brilliant way to proceed. With my mediocre talents at the game, though, I–

The bottle cap smacked her just under the left eye. The sting burned.

“Oh, Jesus Christ!” she shouted.

“I didn’t do it,” Denise said with a smirk that showed she was nonetheless entertained by it.

“Oh, sure you didn’t, you fucking bitch!” Alexa spat back, remembering the many other times Denise had been the one who ‘did it.’

“What did you call me?” Denise said, getting up and approaching Alexa. “I’ll kick your ass.”

“You heard me,” Alexa said, though avoiding Denise’s eyes.

“C’mon, Alexa!” Denise said, saying the name with mocking contempt and balling her fists.

“Oh, don’t be such a suck! Miss Dish-it-out-but-can’t-take-it.”

“I didn’t do it, ya ugly dyke!”

“Then WHO DID?!”

Boyd looked back at her, smiled, and waved at her.

“You prick!” Alexa shouted. “What did I do to you to deserve that?”

“You stayed alive,” he said.

“And now, you can apologize to me!” Denise said.

“Alright,” Alexa said, “I’m sorry you’re alive.”

Denise stomped over to her, her fists ready to swing.

“You stay away from…!” Alexa began, before getting a fist on her chin, knocking her off her chair.

As Denise gave her kick after kick to the gut on the floor, Alexa lying in the foetal position, Boyd walked over to get a better look. As he saw Alexa writhing in pain, he smiled.

Sal, too scared to get involved and thus become their next victim, got up and left the room.

As Alexa continued receiving kicks from Denise, as well as getting her long, wavy blonde hair pulled by Denise, she looked up at that smiling prick who’d started it all. All she could think about was how badly she wanted to get revenge on the two of them.

She was sure that the stress was making her hear things, because she would otherwise have sworn she’d heard a voice whisper, I can help you get them.

****************

Later that afternoon, in the halls, Megan Fourier was walking to her locker when she saw Lynne Hendricks, a pretty, curvy, and buxom brunette, but also one of the head mean girls in St. Thomas More, holding hands with Herman Schubert, one of the most handsome football players in their school, and also a guy Megan had had a crush on for years, though she was too shy to tell him or even hint at it.

Lynne knew how Megan felt, though. Megan had once confided in her about this.

The couple kissed before walking into art class together. Megan, frowning, followed them in.

As Megan walked through the doorway, she saw Lynne look back at her and grin, gloatingly.

Megan went red with rage.

“You bitch,” she hissed at Lynne. “You wrapped your legs around him on purpose.”

Lynne saw a big can full of green paint on a table. The lid was off. She picked up the can and turned to Megan.

“I can fix that red face of yours,” she said.

She threw the green all over Megan’s face and blouse.

Her eyes squinted shut from the paint; she heard a tidal wave of laughter all around her.

“She’s green with envy,” Lynne said.

The laughter continued. Megan opened her eyes.

Herman was laughing, too.

I wanna get that bitch soooooo badly, she thought. But what can I do?

A male voice whispered in her ear, I can help you get her…and him.

She looked to her left in surprise.

No one was standing there.

****************

Tiffany Ferry was in math class at about the same time as when Megan’s misfortune had happened. A short, chubby brunette named Fay Oliphant was walking by Tiffany’s desk when she looked down and saw her calculator lying by the edge.

Fay brought her fist smashing down on the calculator; Tiffany was too shocked by the suddenness of Fay’s action to get mad. Knowing no one in class liked her, Tiffany felt she could do nothing other than cower in response.

Mocking an answer she’d heard Tiffany give, with what seemed far too much pride, in their previous physics class, Fay said, “Force equals mass times acceleration!”

Those half-dozen or so students who’d also been in that physics class laughed. Tiffany, of course, didn’t laugh at all.

She’d wanted…but didn’t have the guts…to say, And you have plenty of mass, don’t you, Fay?

George Kelly, a boy sitting in the row of seats in front of Tiffany’s, looked back at hers and said to the kids sitting by her, “I feel sorry for you guys, having to sit next to a wimp.”

The math teacher entered the classroom. After twenty minutes of teaching, and having given the students a set of math exercises to do, he walked out of the classroom: Tiffany’s protection was gone again.

Focused on writing her exercises, she never bothered to look up and see George aiming a triple-A battery with an elastic band at her face. He’d heard of Boyd’s glory with Alexa earlier that day, and had hoped to emulate it here; he got her in the shoulder.

“Oww!” Tiffany shouted.

“Shit,” George said. “I meant to get her in the face. Well, at least I hit her.”

She heard an explosion of laughter from all directions.

“I’ll get her,” Fay said from behind. She had her own elastic band, with a marble aimed at Tiffany. “Tiffany Ferry, which should be spelled F-A-I-R-Y, called me ‘Fay Elephant’ last week. She’s gonna get this upside the head.”

Having had enough, Tiffany looked back at Fay with a scowl. “You know,” she said, “I was wrong to have called you an elephant. You’re really a shithead.”

Fay scowled back and fired the marble, but Tiffany ducked out of the way.

“Oh, well,” Fay said, getting out of her seat. “I’ll just have to get you upside the head another way.”

Fay punched her hard in the shoulder several times, then gave her a punch in the back of the head, and then returned to her seat just in time before the teacher returned.

“Tiffany F-A-I-R-Y,” she said when she got to her seat, “if you squeal to the teacher, you’ll get it worse, I promise you.”

I can make it even worse for Fay and George, if you let me, that same voice whispered in Tiffany’s ear.

I’m going nuts, she thought. I’m hearing things.

How Does the Non-dupe Err?

I: Psychoanalytic Punning

Lacan wrote a lot of useful and relevant topics, but he did so, unfortunately, using a prose style that can only be described as…impenetrable.

To take his notion of The Name of the Father, for example, this is a concept best expressed in the original French, as I typically present it: le nom du père. I use the French not to be pretentious, but to get people to see the nuances that the English translation doesn’t convey. Those nuances help to tease out more of the meanings of the concept.

For example, Lacan made two plays on words with le nom du père that the English cannot parallel: these puns are le Non! du père and les non-dupes errent. Again, on the surface, such playing around with French may seem pretentious and self-indulgent on Lacan’s part, but all three of these similar-sounding expressions bring out a lot of hidden meaning in what he was trying to say.

The nom (“name”) in le nom du père represents the legalistic aspect of the concept. In nom, I hear an interlingual pun on νόμος, or “law” in Greek. The non in le Non! du père represents the prohibitive aspect. So, the father (or, the second parent, he or she who intervenes in the dyadic, Oedipal relationship with the first parent), in laying down the law against the child’s wish to indulge in the transgressive pleasure of jouissance with his mother, is saying, “No! You mustn’t indulge in your Oedipal fantasies with your mother…she is my wife!

Apart from the prohibition against incest with her, the child must also give up on his wish to remain in a one-on-one relationship with her, to have her as the only person in his life, to hog her all to himself, to have her as a metaphorical mirror of, and an extension of, his narcissistic self. The child must be integrated with the greater society, which is who the father, as the third person in this set-up, represents: to go from a relationship with one other to many Others.

II: Going With, or Against, Society

So, the father’s (or second parent’s, as against the Oedipally-desired first parent’s) introduction of laws, or what’s more accurately understood as social rules, customs, culture, and a shared language, helps the child in his or her initiation with society. Now, initiation into society includes a confrontation with its illusions and hypocrisies, which one may or may not be duped into accepting.

If one accepts the phoney social charade, or is even duped in to believing that it’s real, one tends, in varying degrees depending on one’s intelligence and talents, to succeed in life. One has learned, socially, how to play the game. If, however, one does not accept the charade, and one is not duped into believing that the charade is real, then one tends–again, to varying extents depending on how well or how poorly one’s competencies can compensate–to fail to climb the social ladder. These social successes or failures are what Lacan meant with his second pun on le nom du père, the paradox that is les non-dupes errent.

So in Lacan’s paradox, we can be both wise and foolish at the same time, but in opposing ways. If we’re the dupes of social convention, believing its illusions are real, we won’t err, because we’ll benefit from playing the social game. If we’re non-dupes, though, we will err from the straight path that leads to those benefits–generally material and those of social status–that come from social conformity.

We can call this paradox, if you will, the ouroboros of social conformity, to return to my dialectical symbolism of the coiled serpent, which I’ve used in many previous blog posts to describe the paradoxical unity of opposites. The serpent’s biting head is one extreme, the bitten tail is the opposite extreme, and the length of its coiled body represents all the intermediate points between the meeting opposites.

To apply this concept to les non-dupes errent, if we’re duped too much by the hypocrisies of social convention, our drive to do well will push us to succeed and rise high in society. Such has been the success of our phoney, lying politicians, our trendy, Top Ten pop stars, and our virtue-signalling Hollywood celebrities, among many others. Those who know how to play the game and manipulate the system to their advantage do well…because they’re so thoroughly duped by it, totally believing in the illusion; and provided they have a decent amount of ability (and good connections!), they’re motivated to work hard enough to succeed socially and materially.

These successful people have gone all the way up the coiled length of the ouroboros that they’ve not only reached the biting head of success, they’ve also gone past it, over to the bitten tail of being extreme dupes. They’ve not only been taken in by the deception, to its maximum; they’re addicted to the illusion, and when confronted with the unreality of their world, their cognitive dissonance is so great that they’ll fight tooth and nail to defend their cherished illusion.

Then, on the other hand, there are the non-dupes who err. These ones are so contemptuous of society’s hypocrisies, they despise the masquerade so much, that they refuse to participate in it. Refusing to go along, though, they also don’t get to enjoy the rewards of the system. As a result, they slide down the coiled length of the body of the serpent and reach the pain of its bitten tail. These ones are like Diogenes the Cynic, or in modern times, persecuted journalists like Julian Assange. In their martyrdom and suffering, though, they go past the bitten tail and reach the biting head, which for them represents the honour of keeping it real.

Of course, there are also those who are everywhere in the middle, on the coiled length of the ouroboros’s body. These ones are some combination of partly duped, partly erring, and therefore moderately succeeding or failing to varying degrees.

As for me, I’ve learned that les non-dupes errent has been, for good or ill, the story of my life.

III: Erring in a Toxic Family

When you’ve been raised in a family with a narcissistic parent, as I was, you live out a life with a phoney narrative built up around it. By the time you finally wise up to it (which tends to be around when you’re in your late thirties to early forties), the psychological damage has already been done.

The phoney narrative has a cast of characters that the narcissist narrator has established, a set of roles the members of the family are assigned and manipulated into playing: the narcissistic parent, who has absolute power and is idolized, practically canonized as a saint by the family; the codependent other parent, who, like everyone else in the family, doesn’t dare challenge the narrative for fear of reprisals from the narc parent; the flying monkey siblings, the chief of whom is the golden child (the dupe to end all dupes), who is favoured the most for having pleased the narc parent the most, and the lesser flying monkeys, who are the lost children, given less attention and feeling relatively invisible, but who are at least not the despised one.

The despised one, however–the scapegoat, or identified patient–is the one who defines the dysfunction of the family for being the one who flouts its rules and incurs the wrath of the narcissistic parent. This last family member is the non-dupe who errs. He or she sees past the masquerade that the rest of the family is putting on; he or she is the black sheep who sees through the family bullshit. His or her blunt honesty about the phoney situation, refusing to be duped, gets him or her in trouble; he or she errs into the realm of emotional abuse.

As I’ve discussed in a spate of blog posts, I was the scapegoat of my family. As the sensitive empath, I saw through the phoniness of their presentation of themselves as a ‘respectable,’ and ‘loving’ family. My attempts to expose their charade got me black-balled by them. I was not duped, and I erred from the path they all went on together. They, the duped, didn’t err: they all ended up with better-paying work than mine, and with the respect of their peers.

No good deed goes unpunished.

And as the Marquis de Sade observed in his prose, the wicked prosper. Such is the world we live in.

IV: The Non-duped in School

Similarly, in high school we see our classmates grouping together based on common interests, usually based on their musical tastes, through which these adolescents derive their fragile sense of identity. In the 80s, when I was a teen, there were the metal-heads, or rockers; there were the New Wavers; there were the Goths, and other fans of what was then considered ‘alternative rock’; and there were the fans of mainstream pop and rock, those who included the hero jock football players and their pretty, princess girlfriends.

Then you had people like me, who didn’t fit in with any of those categories, partly because I was too awkward to make it with any of them, and partly because I simply didn’t want to be one of them. I built my own identity around listening to prog rock, modern classical, and avant-garde music. In other words, I rejected the phoney conformity of my classmates. Not being duped by their fashionable posturing, I erred…into the realm of being bullied.

V: Meandering and the Media

Another area where, paradoxically, the dupe doesn’t err and the non-dupe errs is in that of the global media, 90% of which in the US is controlled by only six corporations who, therefore, get to decide, based on their class interests, what is and isn’t newsworthy; and elsewhere there are repeats of what is reported in such dubious sources as the Associated Press, Reuters, and Agence France-Presse, based in New York, London and Paris.

Much of the global media, including The Guardian, CNN, and many others, is given huge donations from Bill Gates (Don’t get me started on him!), meaning that he can decide on the nature of their content, which will ensure maintaining a positive public image for him.

It is in these contexts that we can understand the contrast between the journalism of Assange and someone like Vanderbilt oligarch heir Anderson Cooper, who worked for the CIA for two summers while in college. The latter is a dupe who doesn’t err, while the former is, as mentioned above, a non-dupe who has erred.

For his work in maintaining the phoney political and social narratives of our time, being himself a dupe of them as well as duping millions of brainwashed CNN viewers around the world, Cooper has done well for himself financially and in terms of social standing. For telling the truth about our corrupt political world, though, Assange is incarcerated and in poor health.

VI: Roaming from the ‘Rona

The fact that the mainstream media is so reliably mendacious is the context in which we should place most reporting on the ‘rona. That millions have been plunged into poverty during this pandemic, while the oligarchs have seen their wealth skyrocket, should give us all pause. And this is all because of a virus that, if you were to catch it, would cause you in most cases to have from zero, to mild, to moderate symptoms, or in a small percentage of cases, more serious symptoms, or death in less than 1% of cases: this reality is more than enough to raise serious doubts of what we’re being told.

As I’ve stated previously, I’m no “anti-vaxxer”; rather, I’m opposed to the mandates. Those of us who are resistant to the machinations of those who are exploiting this pandemic for the sake of their own material gain, we are the non-dupes who err. We refuse the jab as an expression of our civil rights, and because we have legitimate doubts of its efficacy at best, and its safety at worst. Because we won’t be duped by the media, we err, that is, we lose work and the ability to go where we wish. The compliant ones, whom we see as the dupes, they don’t err: they can go about and work as they wish, imagining there’s no dog leash around their necks because they never attempt to walk beyond the length of its reach.

VII: Erring Commies

A final manifestation of the non-dupe erring that I’d like to discuss is he or she who has a realistic understanding of capitalism. The dupe of neoliberalism has a blind eye to how the hell we’re undeniably living in has been caused by the aggravation of class conflict through the unholy alliance of the bourgeoisie with the capitalist state that protects their interests. This dupe insists that the mere existence of a government and its regulations precludes the possibility of our woes having been caused by capitalism, the only ‘true’ form of which is, apparently, the “free market.” By playing the neoliberal game, however, these dupes tend to fall in line, believe in the spurious notion of the ‘American dream,’ work hard for their bosses, get promotions, and achieve at least a reasonable level of success. They don’t err.

We non-dupes, however, we communists, are standing in the rain, as Michael Parenti once observed. We put our jobs on the line; we’ve historically put our lives on the line. Contrary to the right-wing propagandists’ notion that communists hunger for power, we want the power to end hunger. If we’d truly lusted after power, we’d join forces with the Rockefellers and Kissingers of the world (as the dupes who don’t err do); instead, we non-dupes who err find ourselves in, or at least sympathizing with, countries that have to endure economic sanctions and embargoes, as well as threats of invasion.

VIII: Conclusion

So, though the non-dupe errs, he or she can be consoled with the fact that, straying from the straight path that leads to material success, he or she at least isn’t selling his or her soul to the system. Our suffering should be seen as a badge of honour, for we have an integrity and a sense of principles that the duped who don’t err will never have. We’ve erred past the bitten tail of the ouroboros, the realm of failure and defeat, to reach the serpent’s biting head, where we can proudly say that we’ve never allowed ourselves to be deceived.

Keep on erring, non-dupes. Progress is not possible without it.

‘Cedrick,’ a Children’s Story

[Here’s another children’s story in verse, like my previous one, ‘Bite.’ Again, there are no illustrations for it, because I’m far from being the best drawer in the world. I hope to find an illustrator, preferably my wife’s nephew, to do justice to the story. Here it is.]

In the land of Nacada, a powerful witch
Used her magic to give herself beauty.
Named Zill, she then married a man who was rich;
But to none in the world was her duty.

The key to her beauty was throwing away
All her ugliness onto another.
To keep herself comely, she found one good way:
After marrying, she’d be a mother.

On their children, she’d throw all of her ugliness:
First, two sons, and then, their only daughter.
Then at last, their son Cedrick, who never felt bliss,
But instead, his tears flowed out like water.

For on him was thrown all of the hideousness
That the five in his home all possessed.
For, without all Zill’s magic, these five were no less
Hard to look at than her. In his breast,

Cedrick had a good heart, but nobody saw past
His repulsive exterior form.
As a boy, he sought friends, but they all were aghast
At his shape–less a man than a worm.

In their house, the five made him do all of the work–
Washing dishes and clearing the trash.
If any one duty the youth dared to shirk,
He’d get many a bruise and a gash.

He learned of a party one night; out he snuck.
There he saw…oh!…the prettiest girl!
He was far from the power of his mother–what luck!
His good looks were restored! With this pearl,

He dared to chat, dared to ask her for a dance,
And this pearl of a girl said she would.
Oh, Cedrick was glad that he took such a chance,
For her heart, like her looks, was all good.

Her name being Georgia, she said he was handsome!
He’d never been called that before!
He looked in the mirror: he looked good, and then some!
Zill’s spells didn’t work anymore.

They danced, and they laughed, and they talked ’til quite late,
And she saw in his soul a good heart.
And he saw in his Georgia a long-wished-for mate,
And from her, he would not want to part.

But by midnight, Zill’s magic had traveled far past
The more usual reach of its power.
For all five of the family now made a cast
Of their curses at him in a shower.

His deformities all had returned, one by one,
Causing him to flee from Georgia’s sight.
Her surprise came more from his abrupt need to run
Than from how his new looks caused a fright.

Back at home, he saw all his grotesqueness returned,
And his family all felt relieved
That their warts and their boils were now his. How he yearned
For his Georgia, and how she’d perceived

Him as good in his looks as she’d found his warm heart.
And he slaved away as the five dined.
He wondered if he’d get her back…by what art?
All he had was his Georgia on his mind.

The next day, she came back to him! She’d found his home!
She said, “I’ve come to set Cedrick free!
He’s no longer your slave; now, with me will he roam.”
His mother growled, “How can that be?!”

“I, too, am a sorceress,” Georgia replied.
“But, unlike all of you, I do good.
It was I who helped Cedrick to find me outside
At a dance, far from you, where I could

“Give him love and affection, a cure to the ills
That you cruelly all passed on to him.
I won’t leave him with you, ’til your ugliness kills
All his goodness. A future so grim

“Is what you five deserve, so we’re leaving you here
Where I’ll bind you from passing your curses
To others. No longer will anyone fear
Zill’s deforming, maleficent verses.”

Then Georgia and Cedrick left his troubled city,
And wed in a faraway land.
As for Zill and her family, more was the pity.
They died by her cruel, cursing hand.

For no longer could they throw their foul ugliness
Onto others; it stayed there with them,
And they rotted away. Cedrick, though, lived in bliss
With his Georgia, his saviour, his gem.

So, if something inside has been bothering you,
And you try, then, to dump it on others,
You’ll find it comes back, just to vex you anew.
Folks aren’t trash. You should see them as brothers.

Analysis of ‘Tommy’

I: Introduction

Tommy is the fourth studio album by The Who, released in 1969. Most of the songs were written by Pete Townshend, with two songs by John Entwistle (“Cousin Kevin,” and “Fiddle About”), “The Hawker” being Townshend’s adaptation of a song with lyrics by Sonny Boy Williamson II; and “Tommy’s Holiday Camp,” though credited to Keith Moon, being based on his suggestion of what kind of religious movement Tommy could lead, was actually written by Townshend, too.

Though there are some historical precedents dating from the mid- to late 1960s, Tommy is the first album to be billed as a “rock opera,” according to Scott Mervis of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Townshend himself made some musical forays beyond the simple three-minute pop song from 1966 onwards, with songs that have extended narrative elements, resulting in such suites as “A Quick One, While He’s Away” and “Rael,” the latter having melodic material in its second half that was used in “Sparks” and “Underture.”

In 1968, Townshend became influenced by the Indian spiritual mentor Meher Baba, and deaf-dumb-and-blind Tommy Walker’s connection to the world through vibrations (making him amazingly gifted at pinball, as well as a spiritual leader in his own right) came from Baba’s mysticism. Indeed, this mystical connection is the flip side to Tommy’s self-isolating trauma response to the killing he, as a sensitive child, has seen, but has been forbidden by his perpetrator parents to acknowledge having seen or heard, or to speak about. This trauma reaction, Tommy’s mental block, was also influenced by Townshend’s own experiences of childhood trauma. As of 1968, the rock opera was referred to by such tentative titles as Deaf, Dumb and Blind Boy, Amazing Journey, Journey Into Space, The Brain Opera, and Omnibus.

Tommy was acclaimed on its release by critics, who called it The Who’s breakthrough. It has been developed into other media, including the Ken Russell film of 1975 and the 1992 Broadway musical. The album has sold 20 million copies and has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Here is a link to all the lyrics of the album.

II: Traumatic Beginnings

The Overture is mostly instrumental, incorporating themes from “1921,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Go to the Mirror!”, “See Me, Feel Me,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Listening to You,” and “Sparks.” Another musical highlight is John Entwistle’s French horn. The song ends with one verse sung by Townshend, establishing that Tommy’s father, Captain Walker, is missing in action in WWI and presumed dead.

Tommy’s mother, left to raise the boy alone, takes on a lover. Though the year is 1921 in the album’s version of the story, Russell’s film changes the year to 1951; the war is thus changed to WWII, and her lover (played by Oliver Reed) has Fifties style hair. Furthermore, while on the album, Captain Walker kills his wife’s paramour, in the film, killer and killed are reversed.

Since the killing is the traumatic event that causes Tommy’s psychosomatic deafness/muteness/blindness, it’s interesting to explore the precise psychological circumstances of this trauma. We’re dealing with either the killing of Tommy’s father, implying an Oedipal wish-fulfillment (especially relevant given how the little boy’s mother is played by the oh, so hot Ann-Margret in the film), or the killing of her lover, suggesting what the boy’s daddy might do to him if he were to satisfy his Oedipal desires with her. (While Freud is generally considered passé today, recall how Townshend’s story was conceived at a time when the ideas of the founder of psychoanalysis were still in vogue, and his ideas are therefore a valid interpretation of the story’s meaning.)

Another crucial aspect of little Tommy’s traumatizing is the denying of what he’s seen and heard. The man and woman screaming at the boy, “You didn’t see it, you didn’t hear it!” happens while he says he did see and hear it, though his words are ignored. Such denial, or refusal to validate a painful experience, is the essence of gaslighting, which causes the victim to doubt his or her perception of the world–in Tommy’s extreme case, to doubt his very senses to the point where he feels forbidden even to use two of them.

The ultimate trauma, though, is in his being forbidden to talk about the painful incident. Being able to put one’s trauma into words is indispensable to healing, and his own parents, refusing to take any responsibility for what they’ve done, are denying the very thing the boy needs to do to get better. One is reminded of that old poem by Philip Larkin.

III: Lacan’s Angle

So this trauma, making Tommy psychosomatically deaf, dumb, and blind, has cut him off from society. The inability to communicate with others has isolated him from the world. Normally, a child of his age would, using Lacan‘s terminology, shift from the narcissistically Oedipal Imaginary Order to the Symbolic; that is, he would go from the dyadic mother/son relationship of self and other mirroring each other’s narcissism, to the healthy relationship of self to the many Others of society. Tommy’s move from other to Other would have been mediated by the Non! du père, the father’s prohibition of Oedipal incest with the mother, and the introduction of language, culture, law, and social customs.

Tommy, however, gets neither the Non! du père nor an introduction to language and culture. The murder of his mother’s lover (or, in the film, the killing of his father) precludes the boy’s entry into society with him seeing his father commit a crime (an antisocial act pushing Tommy in the opposite direction of society), or be killed. He cannot use language and relate to the Other of society if he’s deaf, dumb, and blind, so he cannot enter the Symbolic. Instead of le Non! du père, his is a case of les non-dupes errent: that is, not being duped by the hypocrisies of social life (because not initiated in society), Tommy errs in a non-Symbolic, solipsistic world.

If his mother is reunited with his father (or if, in the film, “Uncle Frank” [Reed] replaces his father, as Uncle Claudius replaced King Hamlet by crawling into Gertrude‘s bed), then Tommy cannot indulge in his incestuous, Oedipal desires with her, the transgressive jouissance of the Imaginary. He can be in neither the Imaginary nor the Symbolic. Therefore, Tommy is trapped in the traumatic world of the Real, a world of the undifferentiated, because of the absence of sight, sound, and speech.

IV: Heaven and Hell

Now, the undifferentiated world of the Real, or of Wilfred Bion‘s O, is not necessarily all traumatic. It’s actually on the cusp where heaven meets hell; it involves the dialectical relationship between the highest happiness and the most traumatizing pain. The only thing that marks the difference between an experience of bliss or one of horror is whether or not one is still attached to one’s ego (something formed during the mirror stage in the Imaginary).

In his essay Heaven and Hell, Aldous Huxley wrote of what he called antipodes, or extreme opposite “regions of the mind,” where one can have blissful or hellish visionary experiences, brought on by trances, meditation, self-flagellation, fasting, or the use of such drugs as LSD or mescaline, all of which in some sense biologically disable the mind–that is, turn off the senses, as Tommy has had his turned off.

Huxley wrote of how quickly one can shift from the blissful to the hellish experience: “In life, even the blissful visionary experience tends to change its sign if it persists too long. Many schizophrenics have their times of heavenly happiness; but the fact that (unlike the mescaline taker) they do not know when, if ever, they will be permitted to return to the reassuring banality of everyday experience causes even heaven to seem appalling. But for those who, for whatever reason, are appalled, heaven turns into hell, bliss into horror, the Clear Light into the hateful glare of the land of lit-upness.” (Huxley, page 90)

Now, we’ve already examined the traumatizing aspect of Tommy’s loss of connectedness with the social and sensory worlds. We must also look into the blissful, mystical aspect of his experience, something first heard in the song “Amazing Journey.” We learn that the “deaf, dumb, and blind boy [is] in a quiet vibration land.” The unifying vibrations of the Brahman-like universe are his only connection with everything around him…but they are also a powerful connection with it, because a connection not requiring the senses. Here we see the influence of Baba on Townshend.

These vibrations will be the mystical source of Tommy’s incredible talent at pinball. Since the regular, wave-like movement of these vibrations suggest a rhythm, we can see how Tommy’s interpretation of the world around him can be understood as a musical one. Such a context is what we need to hear “Sparks” in: a kind of musical dream. In this sense, “Sparks” can be interpreted to mean tiny flashes of symbolic light to guide Tommy through the darkness, and the rhythm of those vibrations is a sound he can feel rather than hear.

V: The Manic Defence

A quack/pimp known as The Hawker claims his wife, a drug addict/prostitute known as the “Acid Queen” can cure Tommy. The use of the lyrics to Sonny Boy Williamson II‘s blues song “Eyesight to the Blind,” which refer to how the beautiful prostitute’s sexy walk is so compelling that it would restore a man’s eyesight, his ability to talk and to hear, are effective in how they dovetail with my psychoanalytic interpretation of the cause of Tommy’s trauma.

The sexual allure of the Acid Queen (played by Tina Turner in the film), as well as the hedonistic escape that her drugs represent, embodies what Lacan called the objet petit a, the unattainable object-cause of desire. Since part of Tommy’s trauma is based on the violent expression of the paternal prohibition against the boy having his mother (given on the album in the form of his father killing her lover, on whom Tommy has projected his Oedipal desire; and given in the film in the form of “Uncle Frank” killing the boy’s father, usurping his position as his mother’s new lover and causing Tommy to have guilt feelings about a murder he himself has, however unconsciously, wished for…like Hamlet vis-à- vis Claudius, in Freud’s interpretation), the Acid Queen as seductress attempts to act as a replacement, a transference, for the Oedipally-desired mother, which if she succeeds, she theoretically could cure him of his mental block. Since the objet petit a never ultimately satisfies that forbidden desire, though, the Acid Queen’s attempt is doomed to fail.

Similarly, the boy may enjoy an intense LSD trip, as musically expressed in “Underture,” with musical themes similar to those of “Sparks” (implying the similarity between a drug trip and a blissful mystical experience of universal oneness, as Huxley observed), still, drugs won’t cure Tommy of his trauma any better than sex will. If anything, indulgence in these fleeting pleasures are the opposite of a cure, for they are only a manic defence against facing the pain, which is the only real cure. Hence, the Acid Queen’s drugs will fail, too.

VI: The Opium of the People

If drugs fail to help Tommy, religion, “the opium of the people,” will also fail. At “Christmas,” his parents fret about how the boy’s disconnect from the world around him means he doesn’t know about Jesus, and therefore cannot be “saved from the eternal grave.” Of course, these parents–being impenitent about a murder they’ve kept secret, a murder whose very secrecy is the cause of Tommy’s trauma–are in no position to judge whether Tommy, or anyone, for that matter, needs to be saved by Christ or not. Their main concern, in making Tommy a ‘good Christian,’ is in integrating the boy with the hypocritical bourgeois values of society.

Making Tommy know of religious custom, or the laws of morality and mores of society, is another manifestation of the Nom, or Non! du père (in this case, God the Father). But with Tommy, who won’t accept pretending he never saw or heard the killing (recall his protests of having seen and heard it in 1921), and who therefore won’t talk about it, is someone not willing to be duped by his parents’ social hypocrisies (including the phoney pretence of Christian piety). Therefore, the boy’s response to le Non! du père is les non-dupes errent: he won’t be duped into following the hypocrisies of society, so he errs in his psychosomatic disabilities.

Along with Tommy’s rejecting of hypocritical Christian piety is his flouting of other social graces. His playing of “poxy pinball,” of course, is a presaging of his uncanny skill at that game, but it’s a game played alone, without friends, and skill at pinball, like skill at billiards, is a sign of a misspent youth. Note how kids at Christmas normally are very excited, but the holiday means nothing to Tommy. He also “picks his nose,” a social horror that guarantees most people won’t like him. Still, since these dysfunctional habits are trauma responses to something his selfish parents have brought on, it is they, not he, who are to be blamed.

His parents ask, “Tommy, can you hear me?”, but if they’ve refused to hear him when he’s said he saw and heard their murder, why should he obligated to hear them? They should be more focused on removing the beams in their own eyes than on removing the mote in his eye (Matthew 7:3-5). Meanwhile, Tommy mentally pleads, “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me“: he so desperately wants to be able to connect with his parents, to be cured of his mental block.

VII: Fiddling About with Fourths

Indeed, far from making a decent attempt at curing him, his parents emotionally neglect him, something carried to the extreme that they “think it’s alright” to leave the deaf, dumb, and blind boy in the more-than-questionable care of, first, his bullying “Cousin Kevin” and his drunk, child molester Uncle Ernie, thus compounding Tommy’s childhood traumas.

A recurring musical motif in Tommy is the back-and-forth progression of suspended fourths to major chords (and variations thereof), a progression epitomized in “Pinball Wizard,” but also heard on “1921” (i.e., when we hear, “Got a feeling ’21 is gonna be a good year.”), and on such tracks as “Sparks” and “Underture” (i.e., the theme they share with that of the second half of “Rael”). In a way, it’s even heard on Townshend’s guitar part in “Cousin Kevin,” though the ‘suspended fourth’ part is actually in the context of a dominant 7th chord resolving to the tonic (i.e., the ‘fourth’ is really a minor 7th).

This back-and-forth, up-and-down movement between the suspended fourth and major third can be seen to symbolize the up-and-down, wavelike movements of the vibrations that Tommy feels are connecting him with the world. They’re the source of his mystical bliss, but paradoxically, they are also caused by his trauma. Significantly, the movement from suspended fourth to the major third chord is also a movement from musical tension to resolution (i.e., a symbolic move from pain to peacefulness). Hence, while we hear the back-and-forth of fourths and thirds in the mystical, visionary instrumentals (“Sparks” and “Underture”), as well as in “Pinball Wizard,” we also hear them in some of the trauma-oriented songs (“1921” and “Cousin Kevin”).

The trouble with childhood trauma, especially the kind that results in the “freeze” trauma response that Tommy’s deaf-dumb-and-blind mental block represents, is how quickly it attracts predatory types. Bullies like Cousin Kevin and child molesters like Uncle Ernie find people like Tommy, now a teen in the story, to be easy prey. Bullies and pedophiles are cowards who cannot take out their pain on people who fight back, so they prey on the weak, resulting in re-victimization for people like Tommy. PTSD thus grows into C-PTSD.

“Cousin Kevin” is sung by Townshend and Entwistle on the album, while in the film it’s sung by Paul Nicholas, whom we see torturing Tommy, who in turn is played by Roger Daltrey. “Fiddle About” is sung by Entwistle on the album, while in the film, the lyrics are growled by Moon, who plays Uncle Ernie. An amusing performance of this role, done during the reunited Who’s 1989 tour, was done by Phil Collins, dressed in the stereotypical pervert’s bathrobe, underwear, and with messy hair and glasses. Billy Idol did a profanity-laced performance as Cousin Kevin during that show.

“Fiddle About” switches from 4/4 to 3/4 when the song’s title is heard in the lyrics. That creepy, rocking 3/4 suggests the act of molestation, to our ears’ horror.

VIII: Heaven and Hell 2

It is fitting that “Cousin Kevin” should occur just before the Acid Queen giving Tommy his acid trip (“Underture”) in the sequence of songs on the album; then, that “Fiddle About” should appear just before “Pinball Wizard.” That is, two of the most traumatic events in his life should happen just before a great mystical or visionary moment, a move from hell to heaven. (Similarly, the traumatic “You didn’t see it!…” of “1921” immediately precedes the mystical/visionary “Amazing Journey” on the album.)

This juxtaposition of the worst with the best brings us back to what I discussed above about the traumatic and blissful aspects of Lacan’s Real Order and Bion’s ineffable O. Rudolf Otto, in his book The Idea of the Holy (1917, Das Heilige), wrote of the non-sensory numinous, the dual nature of experiencing God, which is both blissful and traumatic, mysterium tremendum et fascinans. Tommy’s traumas are so extreme that he’s come out the other end, dialectically speaking, from hell out to heaven; he’s so well connected to the world, so touched by God, so to speak, that he can excel at pinball without even seeing the ball.

As I’ve discussed in many other posts, I use the ouroboros to symbolize the dialectical relationship between opposites: the serpent’s coiled body represents a circular continuum with the biting head and bitten tail representing extreme opposites that meet, phasing into each other. All intermediary points are on the coiled body of the ouroboros, the head and tail of which can represent any pair of opposites–heaven and hell, sanity and insanity, etc.

In Tommy’s case, his mental state is right where the serpent’s head is biting its tail: the bitten tail is his trauma, and the biting head is the bliss of his mystical, visionary consciousness. So with the trauma of Uncle Ernie’s molestation of him, immediately preceding his amazing extrasensory powers as the usurper of the Pinball Wizard, we have a perfectly fitting juxtaposition.

IX: Tommy Uses the Force

How do you think he does it?” you wonder. “What makes him so good” at pinball? That Tommy has “no distractions” reminds me of that scene in Star Wars, when Luke is practicing with his lightsaber on the Millennium Falcon, and Ben has him wear a helmet with the blast shield down, making Luke unable to see the remote. Ben says, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.” Then he tells sightless Luke, “Stretch out with your feelings,” and Luke can, through the “mystical energy field” surrounding him, sense when and where the remote will shoot at him, and he can deflect its shots perfectly. Similarly, Tommy is, so to speak, using the Force when playing pinball.

On the album, Daltrey sings most of “Pinball Wizard,” while Townshend, elsewhere quickly strumming those suspended fourths and major third chords on his acoustic guitar, sings some lead vocals during the bridge (quoted at the top of the previous paragraph). In the movie, Elton John plays the Pinball Wizard (in huge shoes!) and, on his piano, plays over the suspended fourth and major chord acoustic guitar strumming with fast, descending arpeggios of subdominant and tonic triads. The film version of the song is extended to include variations on the main guitar riff to “I Can’t Explain.”

X: The Mirror

A doctor is found who, his parents hope, will cure Tommy. In the film, he’s played by Jack Nicholson (“The Specialist”), who–like Oliver Reed–also sings…for good or ill. In the song on the album, we hear a refrain of Tommy’s “See me, feel me…”, a reflection of his trauma; then soon after, “Listening to you…”, a reflection of his mystical, visionary state of mind–again, a juxtaposition of his inner heaven and hell. Realizing that Tommy’s disabilities are all psychosomatic and not at all biological, the doctor et al advise that Tommy “Go to the Mirror!”

It is interesting, from a Lacanian perspective, that blind Tommy would be brought before a mirror, of all things, as an essential part of his cure. An infant establishes its ego, its unified sense of self, an ideal-I, by seeing itself in the mirror reflection for the first time, bringing it into the Imaginary Order. Apart from seeing itself in the specular image, the infant feels itself to be a fragmented body, awkward, lacking in boundaries between me and not-me, and lacking in a unitary identity.

The traumatic arrest in Tommy’s development as a child came from his having witnessed the murder and his parents gaslighting him into not seeing, not hearing, and never talking about it. Also, his having been deprived of his Oedipal desires (note that a baby seeing his mother’s loving smiles is also a metaphorical mirror that returns his infantile narcissism back to him; note also that, in the film, Tommy’s oh, so desirable mother is seen in the mirror reflection with Tommy during “Smash the Mirror”) is connected with the need to establish his ego before the mirror, something his trauma has frustrated. This connection is now key to curing him.

Having Tommy stand before a mirror and stare at himself also symbolically suggests therapy through the methods of Heinz Kohut–that is, a temporary indulging of narcissism through the mirror transference before gently weaning him of this indulgence through optimal frustration. The problem is that Tommy’s mother, chanting “Tommy, Can You Hear Me?” with the others, grows impatient and frustrated herself, and she decides to “Smash the Mirror.”

Such a smashing is far from the gentle weaning of optimal frustration. It’s much too sudden and abrupt, and the fragmenting of the mirror, its shocking suddenness, is symbolic of the threat of psychological fragmentation, a danger often averted by resorting to pathological narcissism. Sure, Tommy’s mental block is gone: he can finally see, hear, and speak, but his “Miracle Cure” is a superficial one.

XI: The Messiah

Now, the narcissism of Tommy’s fancying himself as a Messiah-figure is the one thing keeping him from falling apart and having a psychotic break with reality. What’s worse, as we see especially in the film, his family is indulging his megalomania to make a buck or two.

Tommy has already had “disciples” from the discovery of his amazing pinball skills, but now he’s become a “Sensation,” gaining many more followers, including groupie-like “Sally Simpson,” whose preacher father disapproves of her involvement in Tommy’s cult. Since he’s “free,” Tommy is trying to get as many followers as he can, people who, devoted to him, are treated as mere extensions of himself. They are the other, a mirroring back to himself of his ego, the other of the Imaginary (i.e., a form of the objet petit a, where a is French for autre, only one ‘other’), not the Other (many people) with its radical sense of alterity, the alterity of the Symbolic.

Wishing to cash in on Tommy’s new celebrity, his Uncle Ernie, his mother and Frank (in the film), set up “Tommy’s Holiday Camp.” This whole set-up would be the rock opera’s satirical take on all those who would exploit the spiritual yearnings of the masses for profit.

And at first, the masses go along with it. There’s an ironic twist in having them wear ear plugs, eye shades, and a cork in their mouths. As we know, Tommy’s psychosomatic disabilities gave him a mystical connection with the “deep and formless infinite”; but his followers, seeking to be pinball-playing imitators of Tommy as Christians would be imitators of Christ, are being wilfully deaf, dumb, and blind followers…that is, unthinking adherents of this phoney new religion that gives Tommy narcissistic supply.

When Tommy starts scolding certain of his followers for drinking, smoking pot, or being “Mr. Normal,” they grow disillusioned with him and his restrictions on their freedoms, realizing he is no different from any other religious leader who becomes too authoritarian and repressive. Thus, they all chant, “We’re Not Gonna Take it,” and reject his phoney cult.

XII: Rejection of the Messiah

Their rejection of Tommy leads to an ironic repeat of his “See me, feel me…” plaintive singing. Before, the traumatized boy had our sympathies; now that he’s not only regained his senses but also become a powerful cult leader, his pleas to be heard and healed fall on…deaf…ears.

This irony leads to yet another. The masses’ rejection of Tommy, their refusal to indulge him in his narcissism and megalomania, has made him retreat into himself again. Now, his singing of “Listening to you…,” instead of being straightforwardly visionary and mystical, has become dubious in this new, narcissistic context.

XIII: Conclusion

So, what are we to make of the ending of Tommy? Is it a happy one? To hear the driving guitar, bass, and drums of Townshend, Entwistle, and Moon, as well as the operatic grandeur of Daltrey’s vocals, harmonized by Townshend and Entwistle, one would think it’s a happy ending. The lyrics certainly seem upbeat at the end. Let’s consider, however, what has happened in light of the plot.

Tommy’s recovery from his trauma, from staring at a mirror which is then smashed by his mother, is a shaky recovery to say the least. He’s replaced his previous isolation with a narcissistic Messiah complex. In the end, his followers have rejected him, relegating him to his loneliness, and he’s withdrawn into himself. From this, can he really “see the glory,” “climb the mountain,” and “get excitement at your feet”?

I would describe these ecstatic words not as an attainment of nirvana, but rather as him deluding himself that he’s attained it, as a narcissistic defence against fragmentation. He can convince himself that he’s found the highest bliss, though he’s actually lost his mind, because as I’ve argued above, the heavenly and hellish mental states are actually opposite sides of the same coin.

Still, the very dialectical proximity of these opposing states makes the ending of Tommy ambiguous rather than pessimistic. Just as his childhood trauma also gave him his mystical connection with everything, so can his new isolation, with all the pain of the world’s rejection of him, make him once again pass the ouroboros’ bitten tail to the biting head of visionary bliss.

The “you” he’s “listening to,” “gazing at,” and “following” could thus be his rejecting herd of followers, or it could be God…or it could be both.

Who Is to Blame?

One of the popular motivational videos you can find on YouTube is a scene from Rocky Balboa, when Rocky steps outside with Robert, Rocky Jr. (played by Milo Ventimiglia), his adult son, to discuss why Rocky, now in his fifties, wants to go back in the ring and fight Mason “The Line” Dixon, a young fighter in his prime. Robert tries to talk his father out of fighting Dixon, complaining that his ambitions in life have been stifled from living under his father’s shadow, and that this fight will make it all worse; but Rocky retorts with the advice that, to succeed in this harsh world, “it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.” He, significantly, also tells his son that blaming others won’t help him.

I must say that I have mixed feelings about Rocky’s speech. While it is true that our ability to overcome difficulties is based on how much we “can get hit and keep moving forward,” and that when we go and get what we’re worth, we have to be prepared “to take the hits,” I don’t think it’s necessarily cowards who point the finger and say that they aren’t where they want to be “because of him, or her, or anybody.”

Sometimes pointing the finger at others is just plain telling it like it is.

And while sometimes it is true that “Life” is what hits the hardest (i.e., bad luck), it shouldn’t be used as a sweeping generalization to which all our troubles can be reduced. Often, indeed quite often, we really aren’t where we want to be because of other people’s evil-doing. Very often, it’s other people who are hitting us the hardest…literally hitting us, even. Blaming our woes on an abstraction like “Life” is often an evasion of personal responsibility on the part of our abusers.

Indeed, abuse victims are traumatized not by “Life” but by other people, their abusers. Bullies often like to make their victims feel as if it’s their weakness that has put them where they are, but that’s nonsense. It’s the bullies who are the real cowards and weaklings, by taking advantage of their victims’ meekness instead of solving their own problems.

The Jews suffered pogroms, discrimination, hate, and a genocide not because of “Life,” but because of other people…European Christians in particular. On the other side of the coin, the Palestinians aren’t suffering oppression because of some abstract notion called “Life,” but because of the Zionists who are occupying their land, and making life there unliveable for the Palestinians.

The aboriginals of North and South America, as well as Australia, suffered the theft of their land, the rejection of their culture, systemic racism, and a genocide not because of “Life,” but because of other people…whites in particular.

Blacks were enslaved, abused, scorned, lynched, and have to this day suffered police brutality not because of “Life,” but because of other people…whites in particular.

And the global proletariat have been ruthlessly exploited and kept in either poverty or near-poverty not by mere bad luck, but by other people…the ruling class.

(The above examples are, of course, far from exhaustive. I’ve failed to mention the many, many other examples of victimization not out of a wish to trivialize or minimize them, but because I simply need to carry on with my argument.)

Yes, other people cause our misfortunes all the time, and there is nothing wrong with pointing this out. In fact, pointing this out is a crucial first step towards ending the misfortune that these other people keep causing for us.

The idea that “cowards” go around blaming other people for their woes is in line with the neoliberal agenda that those in power, and those with sky-high levels of wealth, needn’t take any responsibility for the toxic effect they have on the world. Instead, apparently, those who are down on their luck are unsympathetic ‘losers,’ or are people who just need to pull their socks up.

A recent manifestation of how the obscenely wealthy have risen even higher, while the poor have been plunged into even worse poverty, has been the global response to the coronavirus epidemic. My focus here isn’t so much on how much of a danger covid is, but rather how the global capitalist class is using this pandemic to further their own nefarious agenda.

Millions of people have lost their jobs (I, myself, have gone from employed to underemployed) and/or have been at least in danger of losing their homes, or are food insecure, while the likes of Bezos and Musk have seen their wealth skyrocket. The common people are being made to wear masks while the wealthier don’t seem to need to all that much.

Bill Gates, a man with no education in medicine whatsoever and therefore no authority on medical matters, has been treated like a health guru in the media, pushing the vaccine mandate. A look into the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s history with imposing vaccines on their Third World guinea pigs in India and Africa should give us all pause. This, recall, is the same man who has bought up huge areas of American farmland, who has far too much influence over the media, and over organizations like the WHO through the money he’s given them, and who had an unsavoury business relationship with Jeffrey Epstein…not someone we should be trusting.

I’m no “anti-vaxxer,” but I do believe vaccines should be given a longer testing period than these new ones have been given. I’m definitely opposed to the mandate on them that is being pushed. When people who don’t want the jab are being denied work, re-entry into society, etc., only for refusing an experimental vaccine that doesn’t prevent transmission of covid, that at best gives some protection against more serious symptoms, and at worst could worsen one’s medical condition (due to ADE, something the medical establishment dismisses, but which many of us, not trusting the politics of that establishment, don’t dismiss)–all against a virus where, if you catch it, your chances of survival are at least 99%–this is a potential recipe for totalitarian repression. This is other people hurting us, not “Life.”

Now, some might think the use of the term “totalitarian” to describe vaccine mandates, coronavirus immunity passports, and the like is alarmist. We must, however, think about what all of this is leading to, if we sit back like those unthinking beasts in Animal Farm and passively accept all of this piecemeal chipping-away at all of our rights.

Covid is being exploited by the global capitalist class to usher in not only vaccine mandates, but also to goad everyone into having digital vaccine ID passports, which will further erode our privacy. Governments will be able to surveil and monitor everything we do, everywhere we go, in spite of paying lip service to protecting our privacy. Total tech, that is.

Cashless economies will spring up soon enough, making it possible to take us off the online grid, as it were, and deny us access to the purchasing of anything, if we say or do anything considered a threat to the power of the global elite. Sometimes people are denied access to crucial necessities simply through an online glitch from these biometric ID systems, as has happened to many impoverished Indians unable to get their monthly rice rations…these people starved to death. “Life” didn’t do this to them; other people are to blame–the ruling class.

To get back to the covid controversy, the problem with masks, social distancing, and lockdowns is that it aggravates the already devastating alienation that has grown over the past forty years. Solidarity, worker unity, and organizing aren’t sufficient conditions to bring about a revolutionary situation leading to socialism, but they are necessary conditions.

Adding to all this divisiveness is how the media has portrayed the compliant side vs. the resistant side in the covid debates. The former are portrayed as not only ‘mature,’ ‘reasonable,’ and ‘responsible,’ but also as the bulk of the left…and by ‘left,’ the media presents them as liberals. As for the resistant side, not only are they seen as crybabies, irrational, and selfish, they’re also portrayed as largely right-wing (i.e., libertarians, Christian fundamentalists, NWO/Illuminati conspiracy theorists, and/or Trump supporters).

My resistance, on the other hand, as well as the resistance of many others out there to the repressive measures being used on us, is based on solid leftist principles. More and more of the working class is getting fed up with extreme income inequality, long hours with poor wages, food and housing insecurities, and the like; not only are workers striking, but they’re outright quitting en masse. Add to this the worst economic collapse (predicted before covid) we’ve seen in decades (along with inflation), and it isn’t hard to see how the global ruling class is getting nervous.

Just as, a century ago, the capitalist class used fascism to circumvent socialist revolution, so are they now using these authoritarian measures to rein us in. This current predicament is why revolution is so urgently needed. These months and years could be our last chance before not only these authoritarian measures are implemented and irreversible, but also the ecocide of climate change and the threat of nuclear war between the US, China, and Russia could be realized.

Again, these evils that loom over our heads aren’t to be blamed on some impersonal force called “Life,” or “bad luck.” There are real people to be blamed for all these ills.

With a socialist revolution, we could also settle the covid controversies once and for all by taking all the relevant medical information and putting it in the hands of the people. A big part of the reason that so many of us don’t trust how the medical establishment is presenting the ‘facts’ on the ‘rona is with all the censorship and ‘fact-checking’ going on.

The mainstream media lied about Iraq, Libya, Syria, ‘Russia-gate,’ and is currently lying about China and the Uyghurs. And we’re supposed to trust the same media establishment, paid for and controlled by such oligarchs as Gates and Bezos, to be telling us the truth about the ‘rona? Hearing the likes of Fauci, the top mouthpieces of the medical and political establishment, flip-flop and lie–time and again–over the past two years, doesn’t encourage trust.

A revolution could result in the people gaining control over the narrative. With all the information available, uncensored and free of the undue influence of the wealthy, we the people could scrutinize and thoroughly debate the evidence on the effectiveness of vaccines and masks, the seriousness of covid on people of all ages, and all the other relevant issues. Whichever way the pendulum ultimately swings, and how far it swings one way or the other (i.e., the compliant side vs. the resistant side), we would all have an answer we could trust.

We’d also have a decent chance to solve all the other problems of our world: the endless wars, ecocide, income inequality, homelessness, healthcare, education, racism, alienation, and bullying.

If, given this post-revolutionary chance, we fail to solve these problems, we really will have only ourselves to blame.

What Love Is (And What it Isn’t)

I: Introduction

No, Alannah Myles, it isn’t what you want it to be.

I’m no expert in the art of loving, and I’m far from practicing it ideally myself, but I do know it’s something more specific than “what you want it to be.” Love isn’t just a sentimental, ‘nice’ word that we can throw around any way we like. It actually means something.

I believe it’s potentially dangerous to toss this word around like a panacea to any relationship problem. We can’t just say, “I love you,” or “We love you,” and expect conflicts in families or with intimate partners to be resolved, as if those three little words were like saying, “Abracadabra.”

Again, I’m not anywhere near giving the final word on what love is, or how it’s to be properly given; but there are some fundamentals that are indispensable. I bring up the issue because narcissistic and other toxic people tend to sidestep these fundamentals:

  1. Love is accepting people as they are, and not demanding that they conform to how one ‘should be.’
  2. Love is wanting what is right for you and actively trying to help you achieve that, not wanting what I merely claim is what is right for you.
  3. Love is speaking well of you and focusing on the good in you, not speaking of and focusing on the bad, or merely speaking of loving you to make oneself look good.

There are other things one could mention, to be sure, but I’d like to focus on these three, since as I said, narcissists and other toxic types don’t do these three, while hypocritically claiming to be loving.

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II: Accepting People as They Are

While those who love you may need you to change certain aspects of yourself because they’re genuinely bad for you (drug abuse, alcoholism, criminal behaviour, etc.), these people don’t go around trying to mould you into what they’d like you to be: a mirror of their narcissistic selves.

A narcissistic parent, for example, may manipulate his or her children into conforming to particular roles, like the golden child, the lost child, or the scapegoat. My late, probably narcissistic mother (she was never diagnosed) did such manipulating of my elder siblings and me.

I’m sure that Mom rationalized her tactics by imagining that my sister, J., as golden child was merely being guided into being the best version of herself that she could be. She also would have justified her making of me into the identified patient (through a bogus labelling of me as autistic, or having Asperger Syndrome) by claiming that identifying what’s ‘wrong’ with me will be the first step to helping me get ‘better.’

The point is that neither J. nor I should be what our mother merely wanted us to be–in J.’s case, an idealized version of our mom, and an extension of Mom’s narcissistic self; and in my case, a projection of everything Mom hated about herself. J. and I should simply be ourselves.

And because Mom tricked J. into being her notion of the ‘ideal daughter/sister/mother/aunt,’ tricking her into thinking that that manipulation was for her own good (i.e., a form of love), J. tried to make me into her idealized version of a younger brother, thinking that doing so was also an act of love. It was nothing of the sort.

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III: Wanting What is Right for You

Granted, even the best and most loving of families and other relationships will have their share of frustrating moments. Sometimes, what they think is right for you is at odds with what you want or know to be right for yourself; sometimes, they are utterly wrongheaded in thinking that this or that is right for you, in spite of having the best of intentions.

But at least these loving people have good intentions!

They aren’t trying to drag you down, they aren’t subjecting you to emotional abuse, and they aren’t using the most vicious of tactics, as a habit, to express their own frustrations with you. When the bad moments inevitably happen, when the fights happen, you are assured that there will be apologies later, and there will be far more good times with them, affectionate times, to compensate for the bad, and by a wide enough margin to render those bad times insignificant in comparison.

If, for example, you were being bullied at school when a kid, your loving elder siblings would have wanted to help you build up the courage to stand up to those bullies, and they would have done all they could to help you. They certainly wouldn’t have jumped on the bullying bandwagon and reinforced your sense of learned helplessness, as my two older brothers, R. and F., did (J., too, in spite of her claims to want to help me with such problems)!

Elder siblings helping you learn to assert yourself would include them actually listening to you assert yourself when you need to tell them they’re angering you. They won’t just pay lip service to how you should fight back, then when you try to do so, they double down on their own bullying and silence you, because they’d only intended for you to stick up for yourself against bullies other than them.

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J. used to be hypocritical with me in this way, when preaching that I should be assertive and tell her, R., and F. off when they were giving me a hard time. But when the time came for me to stand up to her, did she step back and listen? Virtually never. Instead, there was usually some excuse why ‘now’ wasn’t the right time to speak up. Apparently, I was too late with it; apparently, there’s a time limit for asserting oneself. One should speak up more or less immediately, in her opinion. (No logical reason was ever given for the need to be so quick with one’s sticking up for oneself, of course. It was just manipulation on her part to silence me with her ‘speak now, or forever hold your peace’ tactic.)

Wanting what’s right for you also includes wanting you to grow into the best version of yourself. Well-intentioned parents, for example, might occasionally speak inadvisedly, and accidentally say things that hurt their children. But how is a mother telling her adolescent son that he is “only good at things that don’t make money,” spoken calmly and matter-of-factly, an accidental comment? My mother once actually said that to me when I was a teen.

Similarly, back in the mid-1990s, when I, in my mid-twenties, told her that two psychotherapists, each of whom I’d been seeing over a period of several months, told me they saw no autistic symptoms in me, she seemed rather unhappy about the news. After arguing with her over a lengthy time that doubt had been established over whether or not I am on the autism spectrum, Mom–having none of the authority or expertise in psychiatric matters that those two men obviously had–insisted she was right and they were wrong. She clearly wanted me to be autistic, or at least make me believe I was: what loving mother wants that for her son?

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IV: Speaking Well of You

Finally, for my purposes here, a minimal requirement of loving you will include having kind words to say about you. Again, there will be a time and a place for critical words, when one genuinely needs to hear them; but such times should be a minority, not a majority, of the time.

The critical words should also be controlled, not wild, thoughtless, and abusive. Even anger can be expressed in measured ways. People who love you are not going to be making a game of regularly insulting and belittling you. I say this because, though it should be obvious to most people, victims of emotional abuse and gaslighting are often confused by traumatic bonding, with its switches back and forth between nasty to nice.

My mother and J. used to rationalize the horrible things they used to say and do to me, as well as what R. and F. said and did, through victim-blaming (i.e., making out every conflict with me as if it were always exclusively my fault for getting them mad, without considering that maybe they could have tried reacting to my faults in a manner that actually has a bit of loving in it), giving me long-winded speeches supposedly meant to edify me, when these speeches typically went far off-topic (e.g., J. reacting to my accusation of our mom lying to me by talking a load of irrelevant nonsense about Mom not being able to handle every problem ‘perfectly’), or saying the meaningless words, “We love you,” when the last thing I’ve ever felt from any of them is real love.

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Saying you love someone isn’t about pointing out how good you, the giver of love, are; it’s about seeing the good in the receiver of your love. Narcissists fail–or rather, refuse–to grasp that simple fact. If you see no good, or never mention any good, in the person you claim to love, then why do you claim to love this person? Is it just out of family obligation (i.e., if this person wasn’t a member of your family, wouldn’t you hesitate to abandon him or her)?

There’s no doubt in my mind that my mother and J. would say, or would have said, that they love(d) my cousins, L., S., and G. You wouldn’t know this, however, to hear how Mom and J. (have) spoke(n) about them. My mother in particular bad-mouthed our cousins in the most vicious ways over a period of decades, especially G., the youngest. On one occasion, she said G. “was being his usual boring self, talking and talking, and we all wished he would just go away.” On the other side of the coin, over all those decades, I’d never once heard her or J. say a kind word about him. Not even one. It’s not as though it couldn’t be done; Mom and J. simply didn’t want to.

People don’t love other people for no reason; they do so because they value those they love, which means seeing the good in, and therefore speaking well of, the beloved. Providing food, clothing, and shelter for someone, and only these three–without also providing loving words of comfort during sad times, encouragement during challenging times, and congratulations during successful times–is merely fulfilling material obligations, treating the receiver of ‘love’ as a job to be done. The loving person fulfills these obligations with joy; he or she would never regard the receiver of love as a burden.

My family heaped a mountain of verbal abuse on me over the decades. Words of kindness were a small minority, and they were generally insincere. Their insistent words of “We love you” sounded a lot more like them flattering themselves than making me feel valued. Such talk isn’t love. Now, I’m no expert on love, but at least I know what love is not.

J., just a week before the publication of this post, found me on Twitter and tweeted me a happy birthday wish, hoping that my wife and I are doing well. I didn’t respond, because I know this kind of graciousness from her is superficial and meaningless, given all I’d endured from her and the rest of the family for decades before. Her message was an obvious case of hoovering, and I’m not going to fall for that. She’ll have to do a lot more than send me birthday wishes if she hopes to get back in my good graces. She, R., and F. must confront the wrongs they’ve done to me over my life, and I know they don’t want to do that.

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V: Conclusion

As I said above, how I’ve defined love is pretty obvious except to those who have been abused, then subjected to the gaslighting that it was all done “out of love.” My definition is far from exhaustive, and while it isn’t made up of the sufficient conditions, it certainly has some of the necessary ones.

If those who ‘love’ you aren’t accepting you as you are, and are demanding that you be someone else, whom they prefer (I’m not talking about changing a few bad habits as necessary), they aren’t loving you.

If those who ‘love’ you don’t want what’s right for you and aren’t, on at least some level, trying to help you achieve what’s right for you (I don’t mean what they merely say is right for you, but what actually is right for you), they aren’t loving you.

If those who ‘love’ you either can’t or aren’t willing to do such a simple, straightforward thing as to speak kindly to you and emphasize the good, rather than the bad, in you (I don’t mean that loving people should never criticize you, but that they don’t harp on criticism constantly), they aren’t loving you.

These three things are fundamental and indispensable. If they aren’t there in the relationship, it doesn’t matter what other good things the person who ‘loves’ you does (i.e., such superficial things as buying you stuff or meaninglessly saying “I love you”). Other good things ought to be added to these three, but the three must be present.

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Remember: loving you isn’t about how great they think they are, but about how great they think you are…despite your faults.

The Third Poem from Jason Ryan Morton’s Book, ‘Diverging Paths’

Here’s another poem from Jason Ryan Morton’s collection of poetry and prose, Diverging Paths. As anyone who has read my blog posts knows, I’ve written about my Facebook friend’s poetry many times. Again, I’ve set his writing in italics to distinguish it from mine. Here’s the poem:

I hate it all, 
Can I watch it die, 
Fading embers, 
Of a burning sky, 
Call me, 
To be nothing but what I am,
 

Every fucking day is the same, 
Breaking me apart, 
Too dark to start, 
Can’t hit the Wall, 

break the design, a
pattern of time, 
Is unheard and underlying, 
Maladies return me to the death of my humanity,
 

O Lord I am broken, 
My soul tattered and shattered,
 

Too a point nothing fucking matters, 
And all the dreams are lies, I kiss
my Deliverance goodbye, And yet
it seems,
 

I am me, 
But broken, 
Where no vessel should be, 
I am nothing, I …. 


Will not bother, I….. Will not bow, 
I….. 
Will not scrape, 


I am nothing, 
But at least I’m me,

And now for my analysis.

The poet would “watch it die,” the “Fading embers/Of a burning sky,” that “Call [him],”… He seems to be referring to the religious authority represented by God in the sky, which is “burning” because the validity of that authority is “fading”. Having been abused by it, he would happily “watch it die.”

In “Every fucking day is the same,” the use of the word fucking doesn’t seem to be just gratuitous swearing. I’ve learned from his life that he was a victim of sexual abuse, something kids often suffer in Catholic institutions, for which the perpetrators all too often go unpunished. Feeling the effects of the trauma is an every day thing, hence “Maladies return [him] to the death of [his] humanity.”

The poet calls out to God for help, “O Lord I am broken,” but that God isn’t there to help him, because here God is just the idol of institutionalized religion, rather than representative of any genuine spirituality…”all the dreams are lies.”

“Too a point nothing fucking matters” should be seen as a pun on too and to. Nothing matters to a point, but his problem is, too, a point, the point of the rapist’s phallus. Again, fucking isn’t gratuitous swearing. He kisses his “Deliverance” goodbye, because there is no deliverance, yet the capitalized D implies an allusion to the film and novel featuring the rape of a man. The deliverance of the Church, resulting all too often in the sexual abuse of children, is mere deliverance into another kind of hell.

He is broken, so he calls himself nothing, since part of the trauma he feels makes him devalue himself. In spite of his pain, though, there is some defiance against his abusers. He “will not bow,” and “will not scrape.” Society devalues him, yet “at least” he’s sincerely himself, not the kind of phoney person that society favours.

The aligning of the first half of the text to the right, where the focus is on the cause of his suffering, versus the aligning of the second half of the text to the left, mostly his reaction to his suffering, as well as his defiance to it, suggests the right-wing authoritarianism of the Church versus his left-wing aspiration to be liberated from such authority.