Sunday, February 21, 2010

What lies beneath that barely suppressed rage

After reading about Dr. Amy Bishop's barely suppressed rage, which came exploding in fury at her colleagues at the University of Alabama-Huntsville last week, it reminds me of an incident in our past that was very upsetting at the time.

Before Chris was born, Mike met an English professor at a writing conference; I'll call him "D." They hit it off and became friends, and their wives were drawn into the friendship as well. We spent quite a lot of time with them during that period. They got pregnant shortly before we did, and then sadly the wife ("L.") had a miscarriage. However, they seemed genuinely happy when we discovered we were pregnant. Having experienced multiple miscarriages ourselves, we now can truly understand that this apparent happiness was most likely ambivalent.

D. and L. had relocated to Portland from Idaho, where D. had been teaching. It seemed that everywhere D. went, someone had wronged him. He left figurative bodies and broken friendships in his wake, but of course it was always someone else's fault. L. seemed much more even tempered. We spent lots of time with them: going on hikes in the Columbia Gorge and sharing dinners at each other's houses. (I remember one dinner at their apartment, at which we waited for literally hours for dinner, with nothing to eat, but lots of wine to drink. We felt very light-headed and starving by the time dinner was finally served!)

Then Chris was born and we were thrown into the crisis mode of the NICU, or what I think of as our "wilderness," after today's church homily, which talked about each of us experiencing a wilderness at some point in our lives, and often it can enrich our lives and our faith. Initially, D. and L. were incredibly attentive, bringing us food and calling constantly to see how Chris was doing.

One of the many difficult things about having an NICU baby is not being able to experience the "normal" parts of a pregnancy, like childbirth classes and baby showers. My parents hosted a baby shower for us while Chris was still in the NICU. We invited D. and L. to attend, and they did.

When we arrived home that evening after the shower, we pressed "messages" on our answering machine, and heard a hate- and expletive-filled diatribe. D. had apparently been horribly offended by a couple of incidences at the shower, beginning with the fact that most of the attendees had been members of my extended family. He was mortified by something trivial Mike had said (can't even remember what it was now!) and as D. was trying to explain the location of their recently purchased house (in North Portland), my dad was trying to give one of my uncles a landmark, and commented that they lived near a gas station one of my great-uncles owned. This D. found egregiously offensive.

As regular blog readers will remember, there's nothing worse in my opinion than intentions being misread. Here we were, being accused of what we understood not. It was completely bizarre, and triply upsetting given the fact that we had an extremely sick, fragile baby in the NICU at the time. These were people we thought were our good friends, and they completely turned on us.

D. subsequently ended up leaving Portland in shame. (Thanks to Google, I know this...) He was convicted of assaulting a student during an off-campus party. The faculty union fought to save his job. He is now teaching at a college on the east coast, and received a teaching honor in 2008. Of course, it begs the question: did the university that hired him know of his past when it hired him? I cannot imagine that the hiring committee would have known his past.

And what happened to L.? We have no idea. The baby gift was returned (although they rejected the returned mail and it came back to us), as was the tupperware in which D. and L. had delivered food to us in our hour of need (soon after Chris was born). All contact since that toxic answering message was cut off.

For years, it shook Mike's confidence. He had never had that much hate spewed directly at him before, and never has since, thank God. D. is who I think of when I read about Dr. Amy Bishop's shooting rampage. And I'm actually deeply grateful that we discovered D.'s true roots and stopped being friends with him before something worse could have happened. I believe that he is a man on the edge of a deep, violent rage. Who knows what could tip the scales of that rage.

If only the University of Huntsville would have known about Dr. Amy Bishop's history of barely suppressed rage. She actually shot her own brother to death at the age of 21 and was never convicted! In many other cases of people who end up exploding in violent furies, friends and family see signs in advance.

D. and L. are now referred to in family lore as "the unmentionables." We never actually say their names. However, I was amused to note that D.'s name is featured in Mike's latest novel, as a bully! That's a fine way to have the last word!

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