Dorothée de la Forêt: The Documentarians

Turning human nature to an art.
Few men dare show their thoughts of worst or best;
Dissimulation always sets apart
A corner for herself; and therefore fiction

Is that which passes with least Contradiction

-George Gordon (Lord Byron), Don Juan, Canto XV

Dear Dotty-Do,

As always, a treat to hear from you. Tried calling, but your phone settings must be on OFF. I understand the rationale for this, and without “demonizing” anyone, I support it. How are you holding up at your mother’s house?

You were missed on the swim around Aquidneck Point (1.6 miles, a bracing 58 degrees).  It was the route we took once when your Uncle Birdie tacked behind us in the Dyer Dhow. Wasn’t that a fun time? (I finally managed to sell his two guns; you will be relieved to know — there’s a check for $679 coming your way. Please let me know when you receive it).

Xo Dad

P.S.  Is that newsy enough?  
(P.P.S.) No stalking.




             Dear Dorothy,

             If you are receiving my emails, you are likely suffering in horrendous confusion. I want to         
             help get clear about what is really going on, because your successful re-entry into life
             requires this sort of information.



             It always begins, “May I kiss you?” In front of such a pleasant question, I don’t pause to consider what might be best. I don’t ponder, if for effect only. Rather, I say docilely, “yes”. In the first place, I wanted what Badboy had. All of it, but more importantly, (and long after the concierge at the Ritz-Carlton addressed me as “Mrs. Badboy” (a designation I would have corrected were I a sturdier person), I wanted a camel trench of my own: the one with the belted cuffs, gun flaps and a Nova checked liner buttoned down the inside. I liked the epaulettes, which on my small shoulders gave me a jaunty, purposeful look. “I think,” Badboy had said when I tried it on, assessing me with his dark eyes, “’Dot’ is quaint and old-fashioned, but I will call you ‘Thea’ instead. It suits you better.”
             I am a person who does everything slowly. Clipping the sensor and walking out of the store with the coat a year later I did quickly. My heart raced, which made me feel alive and, ironically, in control. Desperate as I was, I had already pawned my grandfather’s signet ring  and a Victorian shell cameo for pizza pies for my son’s class and a pair of Uggs for my daughter, so nothing fazed me. Now Adjournment, Contemplation of Dismissal is the best outcome, according to my attorney, whom I retained because of Dr. Park, who said if I did nothing, I would lose my case, because of the surveillance video. “Your children are still tender,” Dr. Park had said. “Don’t fail them.” If I am to be banned from Burberry’s and its word wide flagship stores in perpetuity, and if the arrest, fingerprints and court proceedings can be expunged from the record, I will kneel down and thank god, and perhaps everything will be as it was before Badboy came along.

             After I wrote the following piece (that I am about to introduce to you), I was inundated by     
             people thanking me.


             My mother’s house in Wequetequock is chock-a-block with spreading plants, birds’ nests, mail, magazines, bric-a-brac, and what you might call folk art. “No one ever fights to see me, Dot,” she says, moving to a high wingchair in the middle of the living room. It is July and my court date has yet to come. “But they’ll come for a party.”
             “Hell-o-ho?” calls, Roxanne, the grey-haired daughter of a dead friend of Mom’s, entering the house, her cotton tank dress sagging like an old nightgown.
             “Don’t you look slinky, darling!” says Mom, trying to rise from her sunk down spot in the chair. If my mother had been a man, she’d have been a letch — bright-eyed, grabby, delighting in people. I ask her if she thinks so. “I wanted to be Barbara Walters.” Mother worked in TV in the 80s, so she may not be far off base in this notion. “Less phony, though, less gaudy,” her hair, a lattice basket. Sometimes when I’m bad my mother is wonderful to me.
             Joe, Roxanne’s boyfriend, clambers in behind to help present the documentary, about H. L. (“Dick”) McCreery, the poet, Roxanne’s schizophrenic father, now dead.
             “Thank you so much, Patsy, for doing this,” says Roxanne, teeth pointing in all directions. She pulls a laptop from her backpack and hitches it to the tv screen with cables.
             “My friends should write some checks,” says Mom. “Have you got a good little documentary pitch all ready?”
             “We’re not calling it a documentary,” Roxanne brooks, her palm in a halt. “And I hope I don’t have to be all salesy, Patsy” she frowns. “Anyway, ‘documentary’ is too clinical for this lyrical approach”.
             “It’s not a traditional narrative,” Joe adds, his clog catching on a bump in the carpet.
             “I always fell in love with my original material,” says Mom. “I died when the producers, those pricks, edited out the most humane parts: ‘too emotional, too graphic!’”
             We hear the sound of gravel crunching in the driveway signaling that the audience is arriving and my mother cries, “Dot! Get the ramp out from under the stairs for Betty’s wheelchair!” She points towards the cellar, her charm bracelet jangling like a glockenspiel. “She can’t even do three steps.” Here my mood starts to dip. I descend to the basement and hoist the ramp up through the bilko door to the front of the house. Can I be kind to the most desperate parts of myself?

             You are not alone. Many people have had the same excruciating experience. He (or she)
             hoovered you in with impressive credentials, only to mine your deepest insecurities to
             maximize the effect of a surprise rejection.


             My mother’s neighbors from Wequetequock and its environs take their seats on ladder-back chairs arranged in a semi-circle around the tv screen, nibbling on cheese and crackers. “Is Usha’s hair brushed?” My mother asks, by way of requesting that my daughter come downstairs and pass the hors d’oevres. Roxanne’s film opens with a cloud sequence over which her father, the poet McCreery, reads sonorously from Byron’s Don Juan, the inspiration for his own Railway Man of 1962, about a charismatic but troubled “epistolary wizard” who wandered through life, eventually breaking. (Had I, too, thought I could wander thus? What had I conceived of as a future?) The audience smiles at me when I scooch in.  I am so weak in the most important ways, I find it worth recognizing how people have always liked me.

           As to precisely what kind of person does this, do not be surprised. Many narcissists, while in
           love-bombing phase (the initial time of showering you with validation), when high on
             narcissistic supply (namely, you and your adulation), can seem delightful. 


An errant oxygen tank on the seat in front of me has begun to tilt sideways, obscuring my view. “Betty,” I whisper, making my way out, “your machine was about to wheel away.” I withdraw to my mother’s bedroom. The bed is covered in overstuffed nautical-themed pillows, rising above heaps of bags labelled “scrapbook stuff” in the tidy handwriting of Tam, the organizer. I clear a space and lie down.


         Dear Dot,

          Funnily enough, today’s New London Day contains an article about H. L.“Dick” McCreery. I’ve         
          mailed it to you. He is buried in the “Poets’ Corner” of the cemetery, along with,(for example), two
          time Pulitzer Prize winner, Stephen Vincent Benet (see the “
Llaregyb Hill” poems). Many a writer
          exist, Dot. A.) They’re not all of sound mind. B.) That one you thought was the-End-All-and-Be-All
          was no John le Carré! 

            Today’s swim (.8 mi. 78 degrees) was met by Chauncey (Dirndile), who lives in the house on the
            point, and came out to marvel at mermaids and mermen arising miraculously from the sea onto
            his front yard. It was terrific. He would have loved to see you too, Dot. Don’t stay inside (not good
            for the mindset).



            From where I lie gazing at the stenciling on the bedroom walls, I hear the gentle clapping and the dulcifying conversation of Mother’s coevals as the documentary ends. I can identify the speakers’ voices.
            “Dick was ill.” (Betty McNulty, judiciously).
            “You can’t expect kindness from a sick person. You can’t take it personally.” (Captain McNulty).
            “They had no medication back then, Betty.” (My mother).
            “When I took Prozac, my husband would shout, ‘you’re a Nazi when you’re on that!’” (Barbara Knox,
            “It made me… not orgasmic but very confident.” (Mother, showing off).
                         “I can spend $2,000 a month on this relationship.” (Badboy, captious).
                         “People say all kinds of things.” (Dr. Park).

“Men start fist fights late at night.” (My attorney). “Women steal in broad daylight.”
           “The Llaregyb Hill poems remind me of us.” (Badboy).
                        “Every person is many people.” (Roxanne).

“You were like a gentle giraffe.” (Badboy, approving). “Tethered to your boorish husband.”

                                          “Create your sanctuary.
                                                                  Not a physical shelter.
                                                                               On your cushion.
                                                                                           In your heart.” (Roshi).




            On the day of the arraignment, my mother drives us to the courthouse. “Call the judge ‘Your Honor’, Dotty,” she says. “And if we’re waiting around, I want you to help me with this dating download class I bought for $157. It’s called, ‘Every Man Wants to Be a Hero’.”



            Badboy had been staying in the townhouse of his agent, Bill Paul. I liked the Shaker banisters, Berber carpets and oversize glass doors that opened onto a garden out back. My days before this were seldom jubilant or blue-skied. I would grimly circle the reservoir thinking, these buildings will remain long after I am dead, these museums will still be puzzling their stale tautologies. But now, padding around the airy bathroom, Badboy with a thick white towel wrapped around his waist, I felt an effortless bonanza shone upon us as it did over the whole house. “When we’re married,” he whispered, pointing to a marble dish, “will our taste be like this?” And to the cleaning lady he shouted, (like the martinet he was), “Change the sheets, right away!” Adding, for my benefit, “my wife is on her period.”


             If you were a computer, I would tear down the motherboard and re-set you. No, you cannot                   pass by his house just to see if the lights are on. You cannot put store items in your purse                       just to stir up trouble. You must pay for them.


            My sister, an artist, hot-glues scraps onto a large board, letting out small grunts of concentration as she goes, flouting the idea of a linear story. She is also a documentarian, but in a “gestalt” way. Many items, fine and abject alike, populate her piece, titled, “Our History is a Boomerang”: the bullet casings she collected from our Uncle Birdie’s apartment when we were in our twenties; small oil paintings of her own making of brown and green glass orbs; Dad’s DUIs; finely painted birds; and, most disturbingly, an inventory of human chattel from an ancestor’s will two centuries old. I would ask her to include my scupper, the tiny tartan envelope for spare buttons to the coat I stole, landing me in jail. I could tell the whole story, how my knees chattered as I sat waiting for the public defender, how the courtroom buzz awakened in our mother happy memories of her career days, and how I am admonished, contrite. Telling it might make the shame fall away, since, after I wrote the following article (that I am about to introduce to you), I was inundated by people thanking me!