Writers of fiction know a storyline dictates the ending. But an author must be careful to include clues in the narrative that keep the reader or movie-watcher a little off guard. Real human beings and their lives have many and varied dimensions.
The plots should too.
Characters have awakenings or experiences that make them see something differently. Something that might even make them act differently.
That has happened to me dozens of times in real life. Those events are called “a-ha moments.” As a guy entering my eighth decade of life, I try to calibrate my outlook with the daily acceptance of a-ha moments.
In fact, I search for them.
Critics pan stories, novels, or movie scripts that are too predictable. Readers like to be surprised with plot twists, or characters that turn out to be different than they first appear. We like that approach because many of us don’t exude a good “first impression.”
How many times have you heard someone say something like, “He (or she) isn’t who I thought she was?”
Let’s go back to the story I wrote about Mike. You know, the dogmatic know-it-all man who is married to Karen. Early in their marriage Karen confronted Mike about his overbearing and domineering manner. The way I wrote the story, severe physical or verbal abuse was not involved.
Mike was basically a good guy with bad social skills.
He clearly had an unworkable attitude about how good relations are established between husband and wife. He behaved the way he was taught. The way his father’s demeanor taught him.
I didn’t throw in stressors such as alcohol, drugs, poverty, physical abuse, abject laziness or irresponsibility. Mike was presented as a fundamentally good man, who underneath the crustiness was sensitive and loving. He thought he was doing the right thing and tried to live that kind of circumspect life.
Karen knew that. She knew she could depend on him. That he loved and would take care of her in any situation.
But it was a docile compromise. Docility replaced mild volatility. A little more every year. Confrontation would get her nowhere.
Karen knew women in her circle of friends who would give anything to be in her shoes, those married to unstable men who were weak, addicted, abusive, irresponsible, or unstable.
There is no scientific evidence that depression, by itself, can lead to dementia. But what happens to the human brain when hopelessness sets in? Where is the escape valve?
I once heard someone say there is a difference between being unhappy and being not happy.
Unhappy is active and results in relational disruptions such as arguments and fights. Where happy gives feelings of euphoria and delight, not happy is a kind of neutral state of being and acting. Not happy is an emotional void that is pervasive but cannot be easily explained.
So, Karen was becoming not happy, and that state of mind made Mike not happy too. That condition is called stasis or, in human terms, excessive passivity.
And that’s where I ended their story. Karen became depressed and withdrawn. She was more compliant when Mike made demands or non-negotiable suggestions. The situation gave Mike no satisfaction at all, but he felt stuck.
Then Karen started the descent into dementia. At the end of the story, as I originally told it, Mike called himself a jerk and dreaded the future.
With good reason. He finally had his a-ha moment. But by that time, it was far too late.
I didn’t like the ending of the story about Mike and Karen. No story should end with hopelessness being the only result.
But that cannot happen unless there is some kind of intervention.
Something must be injected into the evolving story that changes its trajectory. A plot twist of some kind. A character in the story who does something surprising.
Will that curtail the possibility of Karen contracting Alzheimer’s? Medical science would probably say no.
But the runup to the discovery of Karen’s Alzheimer’s might have been different. The sadness of that diagnosis would not change.
But the relational environment Alzheimer’s invaded might have become better, thereby lowering the level of trauma in Mike. It would not absolve his feelings of guilt and despair, but the intensity might lessen.
I’ve already admitted there is a little of Mike in me. It’s much better now than it was decades ago. But even now I can be judgmental and somewhat pompous, delivered in the guise of intellectual inquiry. And it clearly annoys some people.
As it should.
That characteristic is intimidating, and I know it. Yet, as with Mike, it’s a kind of compulsion. It shows up when I feel cornered in some way.
And there is nothing like having a wife inflicted with Alzheimer’s to make a guy feel “cornered.”
But Alzheimer’s doesn’t care.
Its manifestations cannot be backed off with an attitude or the power of combative logic. It makes worthless each utterance and every strategy to overcome.
So, with Mike and Karen, what would intervention look and feel like? An imposed meeting of the minds over a bowl of ice cream before the Alzheimer’s became too acute? Individual or marriage counseling? Psychological therapy? Separation? Dynamic family conversations?
Toward the end of the story Karen has already made the decision to be tolerant and passive. The storyline suggests Mike caused it, although we do not understand the underlying reasons.
Personality strengths or weaknesses can be either innate or imposed by life experiences.
The confluence of Karen’s passivity, depression and dementia is already such that intervention will not help her.
At this point, the focus is on Mike. He knows he is stuck in a lifelong compulsion and is increasingly NOT happy about it.
How can anyone intervene to help a guy who believes he compulsively allowed himself to force the woman he loves into depression? Possibly a melancholy that foretold her descent into dementia? Whether that is medically true or not.
But Mike could think it is true, that he is making the wife he loves die of a broken heart while in the throes of Alzheimer’s.
And he grieves. He regrets. The grief consumes him and eats away at his mental and physical health.
So, intervention must concentrate on the black cloud of grief. It is within that context the storyline must pivot.
Continue to seek ways to take care of yourself.
©2020 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved