I stare at the list of files on my computer monitor, despairing. I dread this conversation. I dread it so much that the animal part of me wants to fight or flight.
I’ve buzzed him in, and he’s on his way up. These videos are going to make him hysterical. They’ll injure him so badly that he’ll hate anything his hate can reach. I’ll be closest.
I can handle it, but I’d rather do anything except.
“So the fact they accepted your forgery means they’re his videos, right?” He rushes into the room, all business.
“Yeah. The account was in his name, and all the recordings were scheduled from his phone.”
“And what is it he’s doing in these videos?”
“Copulating.” I want to hesitate, but I don’t.
Troy, however, does.
“What?” The word is a dare, suggesting harm should I repeat myself.
I don’t respond, I simply cue up the first video and jump to a specific portion.
His father opens the door of the familiar room, allowing a pretty young woman in a business suit to enter. Though their words aren’t legible, the tone of their conversation is friendly and casual as the boy’s father unties his shoes and the woman unbuttons her blouse.
Once it’s clear they’re not going to stop undressing, my client concedes.
“Alright, I’m sorry, I get it. You weren’t lying. There has to be more to this, Glenda, surely you haven’t had time to watch all of these?”
“Nah, I’m not comfortable watching a majority of this footage. I have, however, watched everything I’m willing to. There is more you should know, Troy, but it’s not going to be easy.”
“Show me, don’t tell me.” He pauses then lowers his voice. “That way, I can’t make it your fault.”
I acquiesce by starting the final video from the beginning.
Orson Sr. sits on the foot of the bed, right heel restlessly tapping the carpet. After several seconds, he stands up, places his phone on the dresser, and walks out of frame towards the bathroom. He promptly returns, carefully positioning himself where he’s certain the camera will see him, and displays a sealed plastic bag of white powder.
He unzips the pouch and methodically empties the contents onto the dresser. His actions are animated to ensure the viewer can’t misinterpret them as he divides the pile into lines and uses a straw to snort one.
“Dad,” the son sounds more sad than surprised.
After bagging the remainder, the father begins pacing the walkway between the bed and the dresser. For several minutes this is all that happens.
Abruptly, he rushes to the chair he’s draped his coat over and pulls a pistol from a pocket inside the breast.
He looks into the camera, gun to his head, and maybe because his lips are visible, his words are legible.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sor-“
“Stop the video!” His son cries, averting his eyes and covering his ears.
I manage to do so before he pulls the trigger.
His breathing is labored and tremulous, and it’s the only sound for half a minute.
“Don’t think you have us figured out!” He turns on me. “Don’t start pitying me, or him, don’t you look down on us, and don’t you dare think that you know the first thing about him.”
“I know he’s done something terrible. For your own sake, you can’t deny that.”
“Are you so perfect?!” He demanded. “Is there nothing in your life that’s comparable? No dark secrets, nothing that you wake up screaming over because you think someone else knows?!”
“Nothing even close to this.” I say it because it’s true.
I’m being coy, but I can’t be anything else, if he’s to recover. Otherwise, he’ll just keep looking the wrong way down this tunnel. I can’t make him see the light at its end until he lets me explain how he’s not watching the exit.
“Oh, what, he’s so horrible because he wasn’t faithful to Mom? Who decided people should be monogamous anyway? All our closest ape relatives have multiple mates, why did we all buy some despot’s load of bullshit about promiscuity affronting his imaginary god?!”
“No, I agree.” I’m not lying, not entirely. I don’t understand romantic love, much less with multiple partners, but so long as deception isn’t involved, I don’t see how it harms. It was wrong for his father to deceive his mother, but it was also wrong for society to make his honesty so expensive. “The judgment most people would make would be unfair.”
“Then what, the drugs? I know they’ve ruined people’s lives, but my dad was still on top of his shit. He employs thousands, he’s made dreams come true, seen to it that the loyal and hard-working are rewarded. If he managed to achieve so much with such a habit, is it really such a bad thing?”
“I wasn’t talking about that, either.?”
“What terrible thing has he done? What makes you so much better than him, then?”
“Makes me better than him?” I repeated, disqualifying the notion. “This isn’t about judgment, certainly not from me. All I’m saying is I witnessed a true crime. He made a mistake: he believed that stuff you mentioned to be worse than it really was. He accepted the judgments he thought the public would make about him. In the end, those judgments were never more than imaginary. I saw him exaggerate the menial sex and drug use into a reason to murder his son’s precious daddy. Your father was a good man, but he let himself believe otherwise, and in that belief, he robbed you of his worth.”
It’s always fascinating to see how the right words at the right time will affect a person.
Troy collapses to his knees, his body gone limp as though his spine were severed at the neck. His face is pointed skyward, and tears spill up from his eyes like over the lip of an overfilled glass.
“What,” he managed, his words barely legible. “What is this?”
It feels so awkward that I consider not doing it, but I walk over and embrace his head, face pressed into my abdomen.
“I looked into the vault where you hide stuff you thought nobody wanted to see. I held one of those things in front of you and told you it was beautiful. It’s okay for you to defend him from what people would say about these videos, and at the same time, it’s okay for you to be mad at him. These tears are what happens when the truth wins, when you let the truth be okay.”
He was trying too hard to play the adult. He’s been conditioned to control the wrong kind of damage before dealing with the real wreckage.
He wraps his arms around my legs, just above the knee, and squeezes. It’s all I can do to keep from falling over backward, but I’m not about to interrupt him. He’s resisting the escaping whimpers with everything he has, and I shouldn’t help him win that fight. He needs this trance.
We value dignity too much. It can be such an obstacle.
That was my real role in this. He asked me to try and salvage his father’s reputation, but it isn’t always right to do what I’m asked.
Life in the public eye had warped his priorities. He’d come to believe his image’s needs came before his, his family’s before theirs. This would have gone untended until he died. He’d have lived outwardly proclaiming Orson Sr. a saint while hating him within. It would have been what eventually killed him.
We’re still for several minutes before he returns to reality.
“Sorry,” he mumbles, pulling away. The abrupt unlocking of his arms nearly causes me to lose my balance. “Sorry. I don’t really understand what just happened.”
“Don’t think about it too much. You felt what you needed to, and so long as you don’t forget the lesson from it, you don’t need to dwell on how the knowledge came about.”
“You e-mailed me the account information, right?”
“Delete that e-mail from your ‘sent’ box, please. I’m going to purge the account when I get home tonight.”
“Consider it done. You need to get yourself back to work, right? I imagine lunch has gone long.”
“I’m the boss now, they’ll just have to deal.” He sighed. “Glenda, I know I came to you convinced that you and I were going to expose the truth, but I absolutely cannot have that happen now.”
“From where I stand, it looks like the people who need to know already do. ‘Cept maybe the rest of your family, how are you going to break it to them?”
“I don’t think I’m going to. Aside from my new belief that it really was suicide, I mean. It’s not about protecting his legacy anymore, it’s about learning how to forgive him. I’m not going to allow my mother to know those videos existed. She can’t see those things, because she wouldn’t be able to stop watching before it really hurts her. I can’t lose her too, Glenda.”
“After I deal with the e-mail and the browser history, I’ll have nothing left to even prove you ever came to me.”
“Well, besides the invoice. You will be sending an invoice, right? Be much more generous to yourself than I first insisted, ‘kay?”
“I don’t do invoices, Troy. If you insist, the only funds I accept come from Paypal donations.”
“Count on it. Goodbye, Ms. Dalton.”
“Best of fortunes, Mr. Orson.”
It’s understood that options increase in direct proportion to power. The more we can understand, the more we can control, the more paths we can take to reach our goals.
For example, a surgeon in strong position can save life and limb in situations where weaker surgeons might have to amputate. There might even be more than one method to save both. There appear to be many options.
The reality is different. A surgeon presented with a dying warlord might know that saving the despot means ruining other lives. Perhaps he’d be too vulnerable to rule with only one leg? Live or dead, might the vacuum of this patient’s authority give rise to a worse tyrant? If the new ruler is more reckless, might it provoke long-overdue intervention from benevolent neighbors?
The more powerful the surgeon, the more of these questions they are able to answer. The more they understand how each stroke would affect the world, the more strokes they understand to be taboo. Once they are powerful enough, they recognize one choice will always be the undisputed best.
Such deities abandon their goals, because separate goals are revealed to be mutually exclusive. To pursue both would bring them into inevitable conflict, and to abandon one in favor of the other reveals the selected goal to be meaningless. These beings are constrained by their own power; they come to understand the best option to be abstinence from self-interested action.
The most glorious existences suffer a depressing condition.