Blaming the Victims

So, this may become chapter one of a novel, or it may be modified and shortened (after all the characters are incorporated) into a rather long short story. There are nine principal characters, as I’ve planned it so far; only a few have been revealed in this piece so far. As with all writing, it may…no, it will…change. In the meantime, I’m sharing a bit of what I’m thinking. ~ John Swinburn


Ginger is dead.

Given her condition, it was just a matter of time. We all knew it

The news came as a shock to us, nonetheless.  No one expected it to be quite this soon.  No one except the one among us who murdered her.

The perpetrator may have been shocked at Ginger’s death, too, but I doubt it. Nothing about Ginger’s murder suggested a fit of uncontrollable rage that might morph into grief and shock when the killer realized what he or she had done. To the contrary, it had been excruciatingly calculated to inflict the most agony for the longest time before ultimately draining the life from her pain-wracked body. It had been planned. It was the work of a meticulous psychopath, or someone very nearly akin to a psychopath. The only reason the killer might have experienced shock would have been at his, or her, own cold-blooded capacity to take another person’s life in such a horrible way. In my experience, one who can do such a thing is not surprised at possessing the capability; it is something the person has long since known was there. It is not surprise at its presence, so much, as it is fear of its emergence. Not whether, but when.

Ginger had been ill for almost four years. Her health had steadily declined, victim of an inoperable tumor wrapped around her esophagus. She was attached to machinery to help her breathe and to permit her to take sustenance. She was essentially immobile. Despite her immobility, she had grown brutally, fiercely aggressive with her verbal attacks on anyone she perceived as antagonistic or weaker than she. That translated into everyone with whom she had even a modest amount of contact.

At the time of Ginger’s death, Mona had looked after Ginger for three years, volunteering to be her primary caretaker. ‘Looked after’ in the sense that she bathed Ginger, fed her, gave her medications, helped her to the bathroom, combed her hair, and changed her clothes. Despite Mona’s role in minimizing Ginger’s pain, Mona was not exempt from Ginger’s wrath.

“Jesus, Mona!,” Ginger shrieked, “You’ve had two years to learn how to operate the goddamn sling lift,” Ginger shrieked, “but you must be too stupid for it to sink in! Call someone else who knows what the hell they’re doing!”

That attack, a month ago, wasn’t the worst Mona had endured, but I had heard that sort of thing with enough frequency, and had endured it myself, to want to give Mona some support.

“Remember, Mona, it’s the medication and the situation,” I told her when we were out of Ginger’s earshot, “and it has nothing to do with you. Somewhere beneath that demonic exterior is the decent human being we love. She’s just scared.  And angry at the world, not at you.”

When Ginger’s verbal assaults started, about eighteen months ago, Mona cringed at the attacks, stung by the heart-breaking transformation of her longtime friend from a laughing, smiling wise-cracking trouble-maker to this fire-breathing serpent. But Mona’s response to my words of encouragement clearly demonstrated she did not need my support.

“That decent human being died long ago,” Mona responded, “I don’t know why I go through the motions of being her friend when there’s nothing left of her inside.” Mona, once famously known for being sensitive to a fault, sounded hard and callous. I understood the rawness of her emotion; after being subjected to that king of mistreatment day and night for month after month, it would have been impossible not to have changed.

Mona had never been athletic, not in the least, but when Ginger’s condition worsened to the point that she needed assistance standing up and turning over in her bed, Mona began hitting the gym. She used the treadmill and lifted weights. Finally, when Ginger could no longer sit up by herself, Mona went to a personal trainer to build her strength and stamina so she could meet the challenges of serving a bedridden friend. Mona’s dedication to Ginger was extraordinary, almost superhuman, really.

Though Mona had, by far, the most contact with Ginger, Roger Payne suffered the same abuse when he relieved Mona for a few hours at a time. Just seven days ago, I stopped in to see Ginger. Roger was there to change out the almost-empty oxygen tank. He was struggling to disconnect the valve from the old tank; it had become cross-threaded and was proving to be almost impossible to un-thread. Ginger watched as he fought the valve, her face contorting into a searing scowl.

“You could not have been born this stupid, Roger, you must have had to work hard at it,” snarled Ginger as Roger fumbled with the valve. “Imbecile! Read the damn directions!”

Roger, the laid-back Buddhist, the one we called the Dalai Dude, hissed back at her: “You want someone else to hook up this tank?! Good luck in finding anyone else in Rurbanica who wants to prolong your life!”

He immediately tried to retract his uncharacteristically venomous reaction. “I didn’t mean that, Ginger. I’m trying to help you and you’re doing your best to raise my hackles. PLEASE, don’t bite the hand that feeds you EVERY TIME you’re offered food.”

In response, Ginger’s ferocity subsided, though her scowl remained and she grumbled something under her breath; I’m sure it was not an apology.

Whether Ginger’s viciousness sprang from the illness directly or was an outgrowth of a damaged psyche, angry at the prison her body had become, no one knows.  Even the doctors were at a loss to explain such a radical personality transformation.

All of us, I think, felt deep empathy for her for a long, long time. But every one of us had borne the brunt of enough of her savage verbal assaults to test our compassion.

Roger had known Ginger for almost as long as Mona had known her, but he had not been particularly close to her until a few years before Ginger’s illness, when the nine of us decided, finally, to establish the co-housing community we had talked about and dreamed about for so long. Not long after we found the land on which to build our community, which we called Rurbanica, Roger and Ginger began working closely with one another as leaders of an effort to craft a plan and establish the legal framework for the enterprise. Their almost daily meetings to develop program plans, share what they had learned about other communities, and draft co-housing agreement language that could be incorporated into the purchase agreement for the property so co-housing principles and responsibilities would convey, in the future, when individual units were sold.

During their regular meetings, Roger and Ginger learned that they shared many of the same interests and were aligned politically. They became good friends, but then so did all of us who created and nurtured Rurbanica.

Lance, Mona’s husband of thirty-one years, probably had the least direct interaction with Ginger of all of us because he was the only one who worked outside the confines of Rurbanica and he traveled extensively in his job as CEO of a trade association. Because of Mona’s close friendship with Ginger and, especially since Ginger’s illness and Mona’s increasing role in looking out after her, Lance was aware of Ginger’s personality changes. He was aware of her regular attacks on Mona. A few months ago, he witnessed them first hand. He walked with Mona and me to Ginger’s house…Ginger refused to move to an assisted living facility…where we were to meet with the home health aide hired to help. When we arrived, Ginger launched into an ugly tirade at Mona, seemingly unaware of my presence.

“I never really believed you were my friend,” Ginger snarled to Mona when we walked in, “and now I know it! You’re abandoning me just when I’m sickest! That’s just what I’d expect of you! You’re going to pawn me off on some minimum wage flunkies who don’t give a shit!”

Mona, who’d heard it before, replied, “Ginger, we’ve discussed this. I’ve told you I’m not going anywhere, I just need some help sometimes to make sure you’re getting the best care. The home health people aren’t going to replace me, they’re just going to help me help you.”

Lance didn’t say a word, allowing Mona to handle a situation she understood far better than he. He clenched his teeth and his fists, but allowed the scene to play out without his involvement. No one else noticed his furrowed brow and his clenched fists; but I took note.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Blaming the Victims

  1. Juan says:

    I’m not hooked. It’s somewhat interesting, but if you’re going to hook the reader, you should begin with some real physical descriptions. I really believe that although readers are into text, they are really people into visuals.

    So, as you write:
    Ginger is dead.
    Given her condition, it was just a matter of time. And so while she laid there, red hair on a body of dead-white flesh, fingernails in black and….so forth.

    Is the body of Ginger — even dead — at least a sexy body? I want smell, too…..Who is ginger? There are words “about” her, but few that “describe” her.

    Consider the opening to Moby Dick:

    Call me Ishmael. Some years ago–never mind how long precisely–having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off–then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

    Or the opening to On The Road:

    I dunno thoughts…..

  2. Joyce says:

    ok – you have me hooked….next chapter, please

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