an open letter … on human relationships
The sign on the front door of the stucco house, indistinguishable from any other in the Nevada retirement community, reads: “We did not know him.” In all the reports of life and death, of courage and grief, to weep and rush from the Las Vegas shooting, it was this that most gave me pause. This sign displayed by shooter Stephen’s Paddock’s nearest neighbours. Not only did those he lived alongside not know him, but neither, it appears, did his brother nor his partner. Not intimately enough to be able to cast any real light on what drove the 64-year-old to cart his arsenal of weapons to a room on the 32nd floor of a luxury hotel and open fire on concert-goers at a country music festival. Of all the hashing over of Paddock’s history and personality, two of the most revealing anecdotes came from the young woman who regularly delivered Domino’s pizza to him and the barista who served him at the Starbucks he frequented.
Often when a terrible crime has been committed those closest to the culprit will profess to feeling shock, that these were not the actions of the person they thought they knew, but perhaps this is worse, to not be known at all. Most human relationships are forged on an innate desire to be known. To find friends, a soulmate, to whom we can show our true self and be loved for it. And not just that we prefer to be on top and don’t like prawns with the tail on, not just our surfaces, our flesh, but our very marrow.
The other night my husband and I took the opportunity of being child-free to see a movie. We grabbed a bite to eat at an Asian fusion restaurant, sharing bao and lettuce cups. The seating was slightly too cosy and I was very aware of the couple next to us. Their bags of groceries sat on the floor around them, and they each ordered a bowl of chips and a cup of tea. Given our surrounds, it seemed a strange thing to choose and when the man up-ended his chips on a plate, spreading them out in a single layer, then, using a chip as his implement, dabbed sauce on to each individual chip, I have to admit I judged them a little harshly. But, pointed out my husband, after the woman got up to go to the bathroom and very deliberately placed a bag of groceries upon her seat as though to keep us from trying to take it, look at how perfectly suited they are. How happy they seem. Neither, he said, finds anything remotely odd in the other’s behaviour.
It requires generosity and effort to really know one another. You have to be prepared to give of yourself and put in the hours. It is the beauty of families; the knowledge is already there, the hard work done for you. Sitting around with my cousins last weekend, ribbing one another about our flaws, in both character and body, I felt relaxed in a way I don’t often allow myself to. On the face of things we have little in common, but underneath we have everything. If one of us were ever to do something to attract the world’s attention, we could never in good faith say we did not know each other.
Johan wasn’t going to bother responding to last week’s column on Hugh Hefner “because any male’s attempt to express his views are either not published or shouted down”. I’m happy to report he put his fears to one side to inform us that, “We all know women are far better at twisting men around their little fingers than the other way around. And how do women do this? By strength of personality and a sense of humour, certainly — but also by using an aspect of human nature that feminists reject but which ‘makes the world go around’, namely that men are attracted to a beautiful woman and her general physical appearance, which would include ‘a blonde with big tits’.” Susan had something to say, too, about Hefner’s stereotypical woman. “The whole world was persuaded to believe that other types of faces, hair and bodies were substandard. Perhaps the worst damage came from most of us internalising that belief, and trying to sculpt our bodies to fit the pattern. I mutilated my own perfect body by having breast implants (later removed). I felt I was not a proper woman because I had such small breasts.”
It requires generosity and effort to really know one another. You have to be prepared to give of yourself and put in the hours.