CONTENT NOTE: Essentially, all the warnings and alerts for readers, especially those who feel they are in a precarious emotional and/or mental state. Bookmark this for later. Or never. Whenever is best for you. In this multi-part post I address various forms of domestic violence and reference other forms of violence. I get personal. I do not write about any abuses in graphic detail, but oftentimes the muted, even mundane details can be the most triggering. And I write about some lasting effects, including mental health/illness crises and self-harm. Take care of yourselves and thank you for reading.
Part III. When Barry Met Sally
Somewhere in all this, the titanium-hipped hubster and I binged the latest/third season of Barry on HBO. ⚠️ENTIRELY RELEVANT SPOILERS AHEAD. ⚠️Also, FAIR WARNING TO FAMILY: I’ll be talking about You Know Who. Continuation of Part II. Dis Closure
Barry started as a dark comedy. The title character is a charming if not too bright antihero, a veteran (with PTSD, it seems, maybe) turned assassin for hire hiding in plain sight. He’s in a relationship with Sally, a survivor of domestic violence. In season 3 Sally is helming her own TV show about domestic violence. She seems to enjoy being busy and in charge. She’s often sincere and caring. She’s also dismissive and manipulative with staff/friends, Barry. She’s all over the map emotionally and clearly in denial about her progress regarding her past — and her present relationship with Barry. It’s a brilliant portrayal of a survivor of abuse grappling with success and failure and other people’s perceptions of the realities and marketability of victimhood.
The Emmy goes to …
It’s a short season of half-hour episodes, but they pack a wallop (pun originally not intended and then I decided to let it stand), so abuse survivors beware. That Barry is a violent man and not the safe haven Sally chooses to believe and present to others is revealed to her workmates in a heart-pounding scene of verbal ferocity. In the scene Barry does not hit Sally or anyone else. He does not produce a weapon. He does not throw objects. He arrives at Sally’s work unexpectedly, wanting a favor from Sally. He will not take no for an answer. He will not leave. He does not care that he is interrupting her meeting and stalling the entire production. He gets angrier and angrier, his verbal assault reaching a terrifying apex with Sally against a wall, Barry towering over her, his face spewing invective just centimeters from hers. It’s a wire-walking feat of cinematic accuracy in portraying a type of violence and intimidation that leaves no visible mark, but feels as if it should.
The Emmy goes to …
Hard as it was for me to watch, I deeply appreciate this spot-on portrayal of a violent man perpetrating a type of abuse that so many of us experience and do not know how to name or document. Barry finally storms out and Sally goes to her meeting, newly clothed in denial. The three witnesses bounce around the unseen devastation left in their wake. That was bad, right? We should report it. But … Denial, dismissal, and fear compete with naming the abuse, honoring feelings, taking action. They default to inaction and disperse, traumatized and confused.
(Hopefully welcome spoiler alert: One of the witnesses does eventually confront Sally with the truth.)
Just take all the Emmys already!
So many times my father was that screaming assaulter. Although he would go off on service personnel when he felt slighted, his favorite victims were family, especially, in my limited childhood experience, my mother, his mother, me, and my sister (all but me long deceased). (Not to minimize the harm he inflicted on his siblings and others which I did not often witness.)
None of us ever knew when my father’s tirades would erupt or end. Or when he would lash out physically: slamming a door, throwing a paperweight, pressing a fork into flesh just to see the imprint fade away. One good, hard slap. Or sometimes two. An occasional reminder that he could back up those incessant threats whenever he so chose. We knew he was capable of much worse.
But according to him, never. Never ever. He was a very good father. A great father to me under the circumstances, really. He did nothing wrong. All blame lies solely with my mother, the witch who divorced him and took me away. He was blameless.
He was the victim.
Admittedly, he sounds much more like real-life Johnny Depp than fictional Barry. (Sounded, that is. 7th anniversary of his passing coming up in January/Tevet.)* Unlike my father and Depp, Barry is aware he’s done bad things. Criminal acts. But he’s not all that self-aware or all that smart, which is part of his antihero charm. Barry’s a contemporary, land-lubber Jack Sparrow without the stench of rum and dead pirates.
This spoiler-laden article sums up the momentous shift in this latest season of Barry, “Season 3 rebuffs this audience instinct [to roo t for Barry despite his mounting body count]. Barry descended from a bumbling anti-hero to full-fledged villain by threatening the two people he claims to love.” According to the article, the show also demonstrates how Barry “equat[es] violent acts with love” and is “driven by animalistic fear for his life and what might come next—not true remorse or a desire to actually earn forgiveness.”
Why would someone like Barry or my father or Johnny Depp need to seek forgiveness when in their minds they’ve done nothing wrong? When — from their perspective — just the accusation is yet one more insulting campaign against their entitlements, which have been ridiculously threatened and denied repeatedly, instead of honored with gratitude?
[Digression number (oh, I don’t rightly know at this point) … This may well remind some or all of you of a certain plate- and invective-hurling American political figure, who I choose not to name here and now. And wouldn’t you know it, those who vociferously defend That Guy, are all-in Depp supporters — and were from the very start.]
And hereabouts is where I’ve been stuck. I was going to cite some of Depp’s tirades, which include threats, insults, absolutist demands, with violent gestures, such as slamming cabinet doors,** and consumption of alcohol and/or drugs. But you, my dear readers, don’t need to read his ugliness here. How the jury believed this man was only defending himself, was not really violent; you know, not like that — not abusive! Well, I have ideas I’ll address in Part 4.
Instead I’ll posit that angry, violent people create a pervasive atmosphere of fear and intimidation around themselves. Without effective intervention they do not tend to be pull back on their own and look inside. Those whose language is replete with self-aggrandizement and control are not naturally given to introspection.
I do feel very sad for Depp’s children, who apparently testified that Depp was a terrific father whose years of significant substance abuse and multiple trips to rehab did not adversely affect them. Depp asserted the only person who suffered because of his substance abuse was him and a number of witnesses appeared to corroborate.
While I’m not a big fan of Alcoholics Anonymous for reasons well articulated in this 2015 Atlantic article, that organization along with most if not all others would find Depp’s idea laughable. Whether or not alcoholism/addiction is a progressive disease, it generally fits the model of a serious, ongoing disease, and thus necessarily affects those in the user’s milieu, like ripples expanding outward from a pebble tossed in a still pond. The closer to the center, the greater the impact. Not all substance abusers are angry and/or violent, of course. Some when using are morose or reckless or hypersexual or suicidal or … But one thing they are not is present. Under the influence, they are unavailable as engaged parents, partners, friends, or colleagues — as they might otherwise be when clean and sober. Not that they don’t want to be. Many a person with an addiction wants nothing less than to hurt anyone. (Except maybe themselves.) But it’s just not possible; it’s a big part of what it means to be “impaired.”
2000 miles away from my father, I lived most of my childhood with my mother, Aunt Lore, and Uncle Tom. They were remarkable people with traumatic pasts and admirable resiliency. Among other things, the sisters had both depression and alcoholism in common. Neither ever found or could commit to appropriate, effective treatment for either disease. There were times when I resented each for not trying harder. But I know, too, that medicine and society did them no favors.
Some time in the future I will write about the trio who raised me. Suffice it to say, being adversely affected by a loved one’s substance abuse does not preclude loving that person. Denial of the problem is not a winning strategy — except in the case of this trial, it seems. I guess, I hope Johnny Depp’s kids are getting paid very well for their “good father” testimony instead of … something more controlling.
Coming up … Part IV. Backlash and The Antihero Fantasy
*Yup, took me this long after his death to get here. Even so, my heart is pounding hard in my chest as I write honestly about him for a public site. Sometimes, I feel dread is physically embedded in my tissues, comparable to how toxins are in the cells of those living near Superfund sites.
**At one point in the trial Depp was shown in a drunken rage slamming kitchen cabinet doors. He bemusedly admitted to “assaulting a couple cabinets” and the audience/jury/courtroom murmgured in delight. But this was not an inconsequential display. Depp was not alone; he was railing at his then-wife Heard. Had the jury considered Amber Heard’s point of view, they might have sensed the intimidation. I’ve slammed a door in anger a couple times and instantly regretted each. Because I saw the fright in others. Which was not my intent. Or was it? Scheiße! Was definitely not my primary goal, but, yeah, there was a little of that desire to intimidate, to reflexively reassert my perceived loss of status. Damn! Gotta bring that up in therapy!