My friend Julia shows up at my house the other night.
“I hate my cat,” she says. “I should have known when its previous owners offered to pay for the entire year’s expenses, plus my building’s exorbitant pet fee.”
“What does it do?” I ask.
“It just sits and mews at me all morning and all day and all night. It vomits constantly. And it stares at me while I pee.”
“That sucks,” my roommate Kendra says. “Do you think you could just take it to an area it doesn’t know and lose it?”
“That would be so immoral,” I interject. “Some other poor fool is going to be stuck with a shitty cat. No one in their right mind would do that to a poor, unsuspecting family. You should probably just poison it.”
“Hillary. I can’t just poison my cat.”
“Well you can’t shoot it, can you? You don’t have access to that kind of weaponry.”
Kendra has a similar dilemma, except instead of having an obnoxious cat, she has an abusive, alcoholic, do-nothing father. This guy just sits around all day, torturing his wife and bankrupting his family.
“Could you kick his ass?” I ask.
“Definitely,” she says. Kendra is a badass D-1 athlete.
Kendra is descended from prohibition-era bootleggers, so she’s got access to some not-so-distant mob relatives. They’ve already offered to “take care of it.” What really irritates me (and Kendra) is that the mother turned down their happy assassination offer.
“You should probably just poison him. ”
“Hillary. I can’t just poison my dad.”
“Technically you could. Slowly and over time. No one would miss him.”
I should probably stop half-joking about this matter. I’m a good Dostoevskian pseudo-scholar. No one has the right to determine take another’s life in their own hands, there is no such thing as the greater good, only suffering, blah blah blah. Intellectually, I understand these principles. Viscerally, I’ve watched Boondock Saints one too many times to not consider the pros of vigilante justice.
And of course, not all murders are created equal.
“Did you know the movie Foxcatcher is about Sam’s uncle?” remarked my friend Zach over Christmas dinner. “He was the Olympic wrestling coach who went crazy and murdered the entire team. Hence why Sam’s side of the family has none of the du Pont money, while G***** **** ” – another of our classmates – “has all of it.”
“Did he murder-murder them, or did he just poison-murder them?” I ask.
Zach’s mother drops her fondue fork in horror.
I don’t have much of a stomach for anything more than a hypothetical poisoning. Having been brought up on the likes of Rambo and Battle Royale, I should be desensitized at this point. But after years of watching bloodthirsty theatre, I’m fully comfortable with the fact that I don’t want to watch bones broken, veins injected, or living faces cannibalized in the pursuit of sexual pleasure. For fun, I occasionally try to imagine impossibly frustrating and irritating situations that might lead me to cause someone else extensive physical pain. Sadly, any hypothetical altercation inevitably ends with verbal conflict resolution.
There remains one outstanding fantasy, put into motion by the Dixie Chicks song “Goodbye Earl.” It’s at those moments when I’m walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, maniacally smiling at unwitting passerby, that I can honestly visualize the pain, the whole “seeing red” cliche. If a man ever walked right through his restraining order and put my lady friend into intensive care, I’m pretty sure I’d have the stomach to kill (or, more likely, brutally maim) him as well.
For those of you who don’t know the song, MaryAnn (played by the magnificent Jane Krakowski) marries some small-town douchebag named Earl. He starts abusing her. Maryann divorces Earl. Earl puts Maryann in the hospital. Her old friend Wanda flies in from Atlanta like some sexy big shot. Maryann/Wanda – SPOILER ALERT – kill Earl and have a fucking picnic.
Which seems to me to be an efficient and reasonable punishment for the crime.
As one might expect, this fantasy was birthed from a psychological somewhere. My parents used to occasionally kick the shit out of eachother. Holiday or birthday? These were as good a time as any to start breaking expensive electronics over eachother’s heads.
As I chose to remember it, my mother did a lot of the hitting. For a 90-pound nerd, she could really hold her own against my reasonably sized father. Looking back, I’m pretty sure she started the majority of the fights. And while most of the time she ended up black and blue and busted up, I also remember my father’s ear bleeding profusely (she had decided to bite him). After their fights had settled down, he would be gasping for air like the chubby little bitch he was, and she was always anaerobically pissed off. Her face was distorted and scrunched unattractively, each breath taken more out of spite than necessity.
In a way, she made me proud. The spirit of nonviolence is all well and good, but I liked thinking my mom fought back enough to hold onto some dignity. She was the original hoodrat from Miami, glorious in her awkward, seething, drug-prone, perpetual adolescence. She had been too poor to be popular in 1970s Jewish Miami, too unattractive to be anything but used in the post-free love culture, too sarcastic to be a good dinner party guest in any generation. She carried these insecurities around with her all her life, but it didn’t matter much to me. My mom had fucking gusto. She had androgynous charm. I thought she was beautiful and weird and spunky and a woman to be admired.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to realize that maybe things weren’t so even-keeled as I wanted myself believe and remember. As much as the myth of Mommy-David and Papa-Goliath makes for a good playground anecdote, it doesn’t really hold up to reason. During their long-awaited divorce she began telling me that he abused her and beat her, that she was a “victim.” I didn’t want to hear her say that word, because if she was a victim, she should have left – like I begged her to a million times – or she should have killed him or maimed him or at the very least poisoned him.
Maybe I don’t admire her as much anymore. I hate myself for it a bit because maybe it makes me a bad woman, a traitor to my sex, an ignoramus twiddling my thumbs at sociological rhetoric. But I didn’t want to think of my mom as a victim, and I don’t want to think of Kendra’s mom as a victim. As some sort of hypothetical reparations, I get off imagining my own “Goodbye Earl” scenario. But I’m not going to do it and Kendra’s not going to do it. The wretched cat is going to continue watching Julia pee, puking on Julia’s chaise lounge, and inspiring Julia’s standup routines. We can’t affect change in that way because we’re good prep school girls. And good prep school girls don’t poison people. Good prep school girls don’t do anything but go to therapy.