The love Of A Bad Man
Anybody can relate to the feelings of utter horror or bewilderment that can occur when looking back over a relationship with the beauty of hindsight and a less love addled handle on reality. Did I really show up at that persons house in a dog costume? Because I know that the person loves dogs. I did. I did do that. It seemed like a sure fire way to win them back at the time. Perhaps you have a collection of letter under your bed. An unfinished novel.
What if your love sick fugue resulted in more than embarrassing memories and an expensive dog costume that you cannot return and will never wear again? What if your heady and incredibly logic defying love for someone, resulted in finding yourself about to be given the death sentence. What if your beloved manipulated you so expertly that you found yourself helping them drug and sexually assault one of your sisters? What if you simply and irrevocably loved someone and never recovered as you were never sick to begin with, it was the world around you that was wrong and the lover was simply your only safe house of mutual recognition?
I have wanted to read The Love Of A Bad Man since this years National Young Writers Festival. While there I witnessed the talented young author: Laura Elizabeth Woollett, read her short story Charlie’s Girls, written from the perspective of one of the young women who joined the ‘family’ started by ex con cult guru Charles Manson. The story was amazing and brutal and it was amazing to be given the keys to the inner sanctum that was a Manson’s girl’s mind.
”We are all, without exception, beautiful-inside and out. Christ made us this way, but not the christ you believe in.” Charlie’s girls are unapologetic, young and pretty faced killing machines.
Woollett deftly pens the voices of every woman in the collection of stories. They are innocent, calculating, creative, demanding, searching, vibrant, holding warped self perceptions or holding onto nothing at all. Almost all of them hold strong ideals of loyalty and conviction. It is astounding to read and feel like you are right there with each of them. It is hard to say what disquiets me the most. The fact that I see how easily some of these women could have been me in another lifetime, or the fact that quite a few of these women could have escaped a great deal of heart ache and life sentences, if they had been given some Feminism 101. Even that could not have saved some of these women from the bull headed entitlement that fuelled the blood of the men in these stories. It is 13 year old Caril who pays dearly for refusal to marry her much older and very trigger happy boyfriend. She just wants to finish school and get out of the tiny patch of what makes her world. Her situation tugs at my heart for days after reading the story. Because it is true. All the women in these stories are real. That is what makes it so much more than mere nips at the heart and empathy centre.
It maybe true that I lived with someone for two years who smoked weed everyday behind my back. But, would I have been as easily deluded when it came to my boyfriend hiding something much bigger than a home made bong in the garage? Would I have turned a blind eye to a coffin sized box that held a young woman? I would like to think the answer is yes. These first person accounts of real women who found themselves doing unspeakable things for the love of a deluded or unstable or bad bad man, make the concept of blame a very grey area indeed. It is not simply the people who suffer at the hands of these men and ( in some of the cases) the woman who love them, it the women themselves. The inner life of each of them is startling in its complexity and breadth. Women, even when they are being led astray or doing the leading, are so much more interesting to me than the men in these stories. The men seem to be motivated by variants of the same things: power, control and dominance and entitlement. The women are all driven by love.
When considered is it so surprising that these women get into the situations that they do, when society tells us that to be loved by a man is the epicentre and culmination of our purpose and acceptance within society. Then add to that religious or cult loyalties and you have the perfect concoction for woman to aid and abed the horrors of male imagination made reality. When society makes it clear that woman need to constantly keep themselves in check and squash and misgivings or doubts about their partners.
“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks… the work for which all other work is but preparation.” Rainer Maria Rilke
It can be assumed that Rilke did not mean that the work should include assisting your husband to kidnap seven 14 year old girls to be his wives. The final story in the book is the one that I could identify with the most. This was because of my own experience of Mormon indoctrination ( not nearly as foul as Wanda’s experience). Wanda meets Brian at a therapy group for divorced Latter Day Saints, at 40 years old. After a year of Rocky wedded bliss, Brian becomes convinced he is a prophet and the Lord wants him to be known as Immanuel. Woolett’s story inhabits the inner life of Wanda, as she helps her prophet husband in his prophetic plans. It follows her as she gets the first kidnapped girl child washed and ready for Immanuel’s Lord ordained purposes.
”Immanuel says the keys are an invisible but constant burden which is why i must carry more earthly burdens than he does. ” Which is why it is Wanda who carries all the heavy bags of rice and tins of food five miles up the mountain in the burning sun while ”Immanuel carried the keys to the Lord’s kingdom and a carton of Heineken and he was ahead of me when I dropped to the ground on the edge of camp. Later I awoke and he told me I must have strength because my suffering was only of this earth.”
The key to true horror is to make the familiar unfamiliar. The story of Wanda and her Mormon Prophet husband, does that incredibly well with my reading of it. It works so well because there are aspects of the principles held by Immanuel and Wanda that were principles passed down to my siblings and I. The deeper I go into the deconstruction of those teachings, the more I have to tell my therapist. Immanuel (formally known as Brian) is very obviously not all there. But it made me think about the stuff I was taught to believe as a child and the similarities are prevalent enough to cause discomfort that s much more existential than if I was reading this story as person who was raised by agnostic or Atheist parents. It is way more personal.
You are not meant to take wives by force in the church I was raised in ( The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints). You are not meant to take child brides. You are meant to believe that a man by the name of Joseph Smith was visited by the lord and his son Jesus Christ and told not to join any of the churches already in action on earth. We are taught to believe that Joseph Smith was advised to start the one and only true church.and translate golden plates found deep in a mountain. Wanda’s experience may seem like it was pretty silly and you may not understand how she could be so bamboozled by this Immanuel individual. But if you have been groomed to have faith in otherworldly things. It is pretty easy to understand how one belief could be replaced with a slightly different and more sinister one. This is especially true when both beliefs involve following men ”chosen by the Lord” out into the wilderness.
It could be argued that the person who was running that therapy group for divorced Mormons really dropped the ball on this one. It is not a fair place to place blame. You can lead divorced mormons to therapy group but you cant stop them making ghastly life partner choices a second time around. Faith is something that can have many complicated and varied consequences. At what point does faith mutate into something that has you believing that it is the word of god that is compelling you to sexually abuse young girls? The thing that is so scary about that is that it is something that happens quite often.
The Love Of A Bad Man is compelling and heart tugging reading. The list of readings that Ms Woollett had to do in the name of research reads like the reading list of Wednesday Addams. After finishing the book it was hard to stop holding it and staring at the cover, in bewilderment. Ever had someone who you previously loved say something like, ”I cant write the bad guy for you.” I have. Men do not need to ‘write the bad guy’ the real life aftermath of bad men are all around us. All the time. What makes this collection of stories so interesting is that it is not about the bad men. Its about the women who loved them.