By The Front Porch Talker
“Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity…the soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears.” From Billy Budd (Herman Melville).
We all live the lie sometimes: everybody lies. Lying is part of the American social contract; a matter of civility and manners, in some circles. Culturally, we even eschew the truth sometimes, equating it with rudeness. Who wants to hear that they are looking old or that their appearance is less-than-stellar? While our American cultural values appear friendly—albeit naïve—to the world, we are fiercely private and “independent” about our deeper feelings. Nobody wants to seem powerless or out of control.
We all know why we lie: because it is convenient; or, maybe it is easier just to keep the peace—so we believe. Sometimes we lie by saying that everything is just fine when it really isn’t. We tell our friends that we are just fine to signify that our real feelings are private. I do feel a little better now, just saying I’m fine. In turn, they tell us the same lie—it’s quid pro quo social management. Sometimes we lie to protect others from our reality; or, to protect ourselves from our own reality. We tell ourselves that we should be fine and that by saying it aloud we will be fine.
The truth is: not all lies are equal. Some people lie because they can and because it serves them in some way. They don’t live by social rules—or any rules, except as it harms us and benefits them. They are not part of the social contract of civility or convenience. They are “people of the lie,” as Scott Peck calls them in his book of the same name. They are the narcissists and sociopaths who live among us, undetected, and wholly without a conscience. They imitate our emotions to fill the vacancy of their own. They pretend to care, to have feelings of remorse even, if it will serve their own ends.
Sociopaths run the gamut of the danger zone—from the trusted partner or friend who steals your identity and every dime you have, to the person who commits violent acts against innocent people who “trusted the wrong person.” They are the “people of the lie.” They will take everything you ever had, including your dignity, then move on to the next person, leaving us to wonder: what could we have done differently? But even that is part of the manipulation. The truth is: there was nothing you could have done, or that anybody can do, especially if they are well adept at evading the law, which most of them are.
They hurt everybody, and because we would like to believe that they are “just like us”—you know, with morals and a conscience, they continue to offend. I have known more than my share of sociopaths and others who have no discernable conscience. I’ve spent half of my life blaming myself for “letting them” harm me and people I’ve known. I always wondered why sociopaths do what they do—it’s because they can.
I am thinking now of the anniversary of the month that my college student was murdered, back in 1993. Lisa had been moving from one apartment to another, and had solicited the help of a stranger. It had been a violent death: and, it is still unsolved. She was only twenty-two years old at the time.
At a memorial service for Lisa I read the following quote, which I’d written as part of a eulogy for her.
“Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity…the soul would have no rainbow had the eyes no tears.” From, Billy Budd (Herman Melville).
The truth is: we don’t know exactly where one color in the rainbow ends and the next begins. It seems that I’ve learned a lot about the colors, which I’d like to share with you. From Lisa’s death, I learned that fear is a good thing, unless you run with it. Many of us see a person whom we fear, for whatever reason, and we bypass our intuition to let them in.
For all the violent events that I have witnessed in my life, I will name a color. Yellow is for all the charming sociopaths who made their way into our apartments, and ultimately into our lives, then betrayed us—or worse.
Red is for the raging friend in high school, Barbara, who beat-up another girl, Aileen, in my presence and in the presence of the whole school. Aileen later died of a concussion. Barbara was never charged.
Green is for Tucson, Arizona where I witnessed a murder and a near-murder. For the man who lived next door to me while I was in graduate school—a gun lover. I heard the gun go off, then saw the man dragging a woman across the bare parking lot. I reported this to the police and even showed them a puddle of blood in the parking lot, but nothing was ever done.
The Green near-murder would involve me. While living alone in Tucson in a big house on Speedway Avenue, near the center of town, I was interrupted from my writing one day. My dog never barked. Something just told me to walk through my fenced back yard and look over the gate to the narrow space in the side-yard. A man was attempting to hoist himself up and into my kitchen window. The press had called him “The Prime-Time Rapist.” As my dog and I stood there staring, in shock, he jumped down and stared back. He was maybe twenty feet away. The moment we locked eyes was the pivotal moment. We both ran, in opposite directions. That night, he was gunned-down by the police.
Purple is for the female sociopath who stole my identity and everything I had in my life, then changed her name and found somebody else to steal from. I had been a “trusted friend” for over ten years. I had helped her through her years of disability. I knew her children and her grandchild. But nothing in the world prepared me for what she would do to me. I lost my job, my retirement account, my house, and all the money and credit I had worked so hard to earn, all because I had trusted a sociopath with a very long history of scamming people.
The most difficult part for me is the trail of tears we leave behind with all of this unfinished business and grieving—for what never was. Sociopaths steal our innocence, and perhaps our naiveté too, for no particular reason and with no particular meaning. They leave us unfinished too, at least privately.
Unfinished, but not defeated. We look to some higher power to finish what we cannot. We know that pain is inevitable in life—for all of us. But suffering—that is optional. We love who we love, because we are human and we have a conscience. We love people imperfectly, then when we’ve held too long to the outcome drawn somewhere in our imaginations, we detach with love and let go to a power that some call God. Fly high and free!
In the end, I tell myself this: there are plenty more colors in a rainbow, if you look closely. Some are nuanced or muted; some appear tinted at different angles, with more or less light than when you first had seen it. Some colors form hazy borders about exactly where the colors become “blendingly into the next,” just as “sanity and insanity does.”
Truths are blendingly complex too—a sign of intimacy. Whatever we reveal to others we are also revealing to ourselves, simultaneously. The pain is tacit and unspoken. But paradoxically, we are freed of suffering and that need to control or soften things with our lies. The only truth that we can know for sure borders on solipsism: that we know that our own mind exists; all else is speculation, at best. We can only know our own private and ineffable experiences of what is or isn’t the truth. The rest is beyond us to know for sure.
And, I will repeat the words I began with: we can never really know what is in the hearts of others. We can hope against hope, but never know for sure.
I will never be the same trusting person I once was. Thank God. The muted pinks and blues and greens are becoming clearer, with more defined lines now. I know that it’s time to finish my novel, and get on with the business of living, and to honor those who, for whatever reason, weren’t as lucky as me and didn’t survive.
We may not ever really know what is in another person’s heart, but now—now that we’ve seen that vacant look; and, now that we’ve heard the superficial stories and lies that never did quite add-up, because they didn’t. Now that we are older, and probably wiser, we can cut through the artifice, the faker, the liar and cheat, the approximation of humanity—like butter, and spread it over so many slices of proverbial bread.