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Monday, March 23, 2015

Misanthropy–The Bad Luck Of The Genetic Draw

“You’re bitten and crabbed”, Harvey Lemon’s wife said to him. “Pinched, bitter, and always negative.”

Admittedly he had been going through a rough patch, not himself, out of sorts most of the time; but after all these years she should know that his occasional nasty moods were part of the bargain. “Just like your mother”, she said, trying in her newly vindictive way to open old wounds. 

In the early days of their marriage Harvey’s mother had indeed been moody and unpleasant, sitting like Rosa Coldfield in a dark musty room with the shades drawn in a black dog funk and refusing to budge out of it until she was good and ready.

Absalom

“Be quiet”, Harvey’s father had said in the early days when his mother had just begun to sink into the dark pits of depression. “You’ll disturb your mother”; but all Harvey and his sister wanted was for him to barge into the den, throw the drapes open, pick their mother up, carry her into the back yard and dump her into the chaise longue so that she could see the sun on the dogwoods and stop being such an infliction, crippling their father so that he had to creep around, and making them want to change mothers entirely.  Harvey wanted to live with the Swansons because Herbie’s mother was hot; but his sister said that all the pickled herring and sprats she ate oozed out her pores and made her stink.

They never left. Edith Lemon kept slamming pots and pans around the kitchen, throwing half-cooked food on the dinner table, and slamming her way out into her funk room; and Elmer Lemon crept around the house, careful to pee on the back of the toilet and walk up the edges of the stairs so splatter and creak would not bother his wife. He was afraid of his wife when she was like this.  She said vindictive, hateful things and never apologized for them.  It was as though the horrible depressive crone was the real Edith Lemon and not the bright, cheery woman who five or six days later emerged out of her horrible, dark, and dank place. 

Depression

Had she at least said she was sorry for her meanness and her spiteful slamming everyone out, Elmer could have chosen to believe The Good Edith and assume that The Bad Edith was an aberration from the norm; but she never said a word, just went about her business as though nothing had happened.  She cleaned up the kitchen, put the pots and pans in order, and sat pleasantly with the family at dinner.

“Mother was a destructive, damaging person”, Harvey’s sister said to him many years later. “Papa was wrong.  There was no Good Edith at home.  Xanax and Prozac created her.  The real Edith was the nasty, temperamental, hurtful virago our father put up with.”

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Harvey felt just the opposite.  The drugs returned their mother to an even keel.  They restored the the chemical balance which had gone out of whack and created the succubus that stalked the house.

How was it that Harvey and his sister could have seen two different women? Or that their father refused to see either one? Was it birth order? Had he been favored as an infant?  He remembered how his mother let his sister howl until she turned purple, shutting the nursery door to muffle her tantrums.

“Pre-linguistic hate”, a German psychiatrist theorized. “Children form clearly delineated profiles of their mothers and fathers which are never updated.”  Betsy couldn’t articulate her rage as an infant, but every time her mother came into the room to tuck her in, she hoped that she would trip on the landing and fall down the stairs and die.

Harvey on the other hand hated his father for tip-toeing around the house when a good thrashing was what his mother needed. He was the one who was derelict and cowardly.  He was the one responsible for letting her steep in her own miserable depression which seeped out from under the door jamb of the den and fouled the entire house.

Harvey listened to his wife go on about his negativism and mean spirited criticism of anyone she wanted to invited to dinner.  It wasn’t so much that she was turning into a vixenish Kate the Shrew.  He had known for years that the pert and bright young woman he had married was turning into a caricature of the frustrated wife, born too early to ride the tidal bore of feminism, and too late to know how to deal with men who themselves were on the social cusp and uncertain of their sexual future.

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It was that she had hit a raw nerve.  If she had called him out for anything but the very criticisms his sister had leveled at his mother, he could have dismissed her and her comments, bided his time until he finally decided to divorce her and move on.  But she stuck the rapier in his one vulnerable, assailable spot. He was becoming like his mother.

Stories of genetic anomalies were part of the Lemon family lore.  There was Cousin Jimmy who came out looking exactly like his Great-Grandfather Herman; and instead of having the mild manners and social graces of his parents, inherited Herman’s cantankerous rebellion.  He never made anything of himself, never gathered his antisocial pissiness and used it for good ends.  He was just a nasty malcontent, unpleasant to be around, a dog-kicker, mean drunk, and wild spendthrift.  Cousin Jimmy was a bump on the old log as his Harvey’s grandfather would say. “Spitting image of the old cocksucker”.  It was no family secret that everyone wanted Herman dead and buried before he was forty so he would do no more damage; but he lived to a ripe old age causing no end of trouble and headaches. 

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Then there was Cousin Marsha on the other side of the family, as ugly as a tree knot despite the fact that her parents were Hollywood material.  Her father had had a screen test in the 40s and her mother had been a model for Harper’s Bazaar. Somehow the DNA from her beautiful parents which was her birthright got mixed up with odds and ends that had finally been spliced in the family genome and distorted every genetic trace of beauty, grace, charm, and poise.  Marsha’s parents were nonplussed at their daughter’s unattractiveness.  No matter how much they tried to reassure her, their hearts were not it.  Any fool could see that their child had not even a trace of feminine comeliness.

So that must be it, Harvey thought, the old genetic broth over and over again; but this time his funks and misanthropy didn’t come from any distant relative but from his beloved mother herself.  Now every time he felt like wringing his wife’s neck or sat in his office ready to throw a rock through the window and kill the neighbor’s barking Weimaraner, he knew where his depressive rage came from.  There was no Good Harvey or Bad Harvey. The double helix had decided his fate, and by the looks of it, the Bad Harvey was as indelibly twisted in that elegant ribbon as his Bad Edith had been.

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At first Harvey did not want to tamper with God’s creation.  If He, in his infinite wisdom, had chosen this particular genetic sequencing, then so be it.  Far be it from him to question God’s will or to tamper with the His intent.  Soon he rationalized God’s universe and concluded that Prozac was not tampering at all but a part of His grand design; and he started taking it.

Prozac is a funny drug. It does indeed calm you down and make you wonder what all the fuss was about; but it doesn’t nullify the psychic energy that caused the problem in the first place.  It just stuns it and keeps it out of sight.  Harvey remembered what it was like to be the old, Bad Harvey, and much to his surprise, he missed him.  He liked his pissy, ornery, misanthropic self.  It made him feel good to go all negative and cynical and bring down a whole dinner party with his miserable sarcasm.  He hated treacle, bouncy good feelings, and cheery optimism.  A bloody Hallmark card existence, no thanks; and he went off Prozac.

Once the drugs had been washed out of his system he felt the old bile rise and he felt like himself, pissing on everybody and thinking only of himself.  His wife was the one who divorced him, not the other way around. Now that he was on his DNA fatalism kick, he was even nastier and more intolerable than ever before.  “I’m outta here”, she said to herself one day, and never looked back.

Harvey found that living alone was worse than he expected.  Now that he had gotten rid of his wife – or she had gotten rid of him – he had no one to gripe at.  He couldn’t slam the door and lock himself in the bedroom because there was no one to yell at him. It was good to be The Bad Harvey, but he needed someone to share his grumpy pessimism. Of course no woman would have him; so despite so many years of propriety and good behavior, he resorted to long vacations in Amsterdam and Bangkok where he could pay for company, bitch, whine and moan on his dollar, and come back refreshed and sexually sated. It was not a bad life.  He was never sure whether to thank his mother or to piss on her too.

1 comment:

  1. Quite interesting really; I have experienced nastiness like this in my family and I would really like to know the cause, and if it is actually genetic. It is a nasty affliction to say the least.

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