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Like a Lamb to the Slaughter
When I left the USA in 1973 to play trombone in an orchestra in Brazil, I was 21 years old, my head was full of Objectivism and Brazil was my unexpected battleground for intellectual warfare. Life was so full of promise. There was the excitement of going off to foreign lands to fight the good fight and change the world according to rational principles.
Fight I did, too. I argued circles around anybody and everybody back then - mystics, socialists, Catholics, Protestants, businessmen, politicians, men, women, all comers, bring them on. I had all the answers. I knew both basic premises and sophisticated arguments about reason and whim, capitalism and collectivism, egoism and altruism, romanticism and naturalism, and just plain old good and evil.
I missed one part, though - the up close and personal part, the back door to the soul.
Back then I had a very well-defined inner image of what I was seeking in a wife – my wife – my highest value. I am very proud that I have been hardheaded enough over the years to hang onto that same ideal, but the price has been excruciatingly high. I learned the hard way that romantic relationships are much more complicated than what I read about in Ayn Rand’s fiction, that the philosophical ideas I held did not always keep me from making serious mistakes, and that my heart, a good heart of a good man, could also make some very bewildering demands of its own.
Not knowing all that back then made me an easy mark several times over the years.
When I went to Brazil, I was involved with GIRLFRIEND, a musician I met in college. I managed to get her a job in the same orchestra I was in, so she came down and we set up house. She was not exactly my soulmate, but she did show promise. I thought that over time she and I would grow in the same direction and become each other’s highest value. What I learned from GIRLFRIEND is that you eventually become attached to a person, even when that person grows in ways that are completely different from what you expected or even approve of. Such a romantic partner may not become number one, but she can get pretty high up on the value scale. GIRLFRIEND was a love like that. We lasted seven years and our breakup completely devastated me.
While we were together we decided to take up singing lessons. GIRLFRIEND had a beautiful coloratura soprano and I was a composer. What better way to learn about writing for the voice than taking voice lessons? So off we went. We discovered a famous contralto, MATRIARCH, who used to sing in La Scala in Milan, but no longer sang professionally. She taught the "mask" school of opera singing that all great opera singers use. She was a wonderful teacher and was one of Brazil’s finest.
MATRIARCH’s lessons were much more than imparting knowledge. She became a friend and confidant. GIRLFRIEND and I both used to open our hearts to her for hours after the lessons. We would discuss the meaning of life, what we liked to eat and do, how things were different in the USA, who we got along with, who we hated, why we did things, and many – way too many – personal issues.
It so happens that GIRLFRIEND had been cheating on me for some time and I knew nothing about it. She ended up falling in love with another musician in the orchestra. I was so busy composing and practicing trombone during the day that I never even noticed.
MATRIARCH and GIRLFRIEND would talk about these things after the lessons and MATRIARCH would try to convince GIRLFRIEND to straighten out. Then after my own lessons, MATRIARCH and I would sit and talk about life and morality, with me railing on about how correct and noble my vision was and how my own life reflected this.
DAMSEL, MATRIARCH's daughter, who was not a musician, overheard most of our conversations. She took a strong liking to me around that time. She thought I was getting shafted and empathized. She especially loved TV soap operas and here was one playing out right before her eyes.
GIRLFRIEND and I finally went kaboom, but we both continued the lessons. I suffered greatly, feeling like a lamb led to the slaughter. I confided all my pain to MATRIARCH, my friend and confidant. But there were other ears listening also.
Without perceiving when it started, DAMSEL was becoming more present during my voice lessons, serving cafezinho (small cup of strong Brazilian coffee) and dressing beautifully. She started staying for the discussions. She would offer surprisingly perceptive observations and views. The more I talked to her, the better I like her – and I wondered why I had missed such intelligence in this woman before.
About 6 months after my separation from GIRLFRIEND, the dust started settling in my heart and I began to long for female company. I did not want sex so much. I just wanted to be with a woman and do man things like opening doors, lighting cigarettes and small gallant courtesies. I had lost the art of flirting, but with DAMSEL I really didn’t need it. She gave all the right signals, so I asked her out.
What a pleasure. She seemed to know everything about me. We started going everywhere together. She was the perfect companion for every occasion – always upbeat and intelligent. All of my acquaintances loved her. Maybe she wasn’t very profound in her views, but her statements always aligned with my deepest held values.
DAMSEL was Brazilian by birth but had been adopted when she was very young by an Arabian immigrant family. Her foster mother, MATRIARCH, was Lebanese and her foster father was Bedouin. I had always heard that there were vast cultural differences between Americans and Arabs, but I simply couldn’t see them in DAMSEL. On the contrary, she fit me like a glove. She reminded me of what I wanted my highest value to be.
I fell in love and asked her to marry me. We did everything the old-fashioned way. I asked her father for her hand. Lots of flowers. Wedding in a Catholic church. She married virgin. We were a model couple of traditional values. Despite not sharing some of those values, the importance of this event in my life demanded that I shoot for the highest mark as part of a couple, and no longer as I would have done it alone. If that meant traditional ceremony, then so be it.
One event during my wedding was an ill omen. I wrote all of my own wedding music. My idea was to have it played for our marriage, then present the scores to my wife and have her burn them. My music was my greatest "self" value and the concept of what being my wife meant was so sacred that I wanted her, DAMSEL, to have it exclusively for that one event. I could think of no greater tribute I could pay to any human being.
The wedding march started with a trumpet fanfare, then four elegant starts-and-stops where DAMSEL and cortege would take one or two steps and then stop with the music. There followed a stately march for DAMSEL and cortege to slowly float up the isle, with enough time to smile and acknowledge the public graciously. It gradually built up in intensity to a huge climax at the end, with simulated church bells joining in, for her father to hand her over to me.
Well here is what I saw that day. Trumpets. People standing up. The first musical start-and-stop. DAMSEL then dragged down the isle by her father as fast as they could politely go. They arrived at me before the march part even started. I could only look on in wide-eyed in horror as DAMSEL said, "Receive me…. receive me… hey, receive me!" It felt like an awfully long time before I snapped out of it, but I finally received her, then stood there in bewildered stupefaction while the wedding march went on its merry way for a cortege that had already arrived. Climax and simulated church bells finally put an end to the misery.
I wanted to cry. Once again I felt like a lamb led to the slaughter. That was how much my music really meant to DAMSEL. Well, little did I know, that was just the appetizer.
What I had no inkling of was that during our engagement, even before, DAMSEL was being coached by three different Arabian women – MATRIARCH and two of DAMSEL’S aunts. These women would spend long hours discussing me, what I liked, what I didn't, how far to go sexually before marriage, what to feed me, what to say and when, the works. Whenever I brought her home from a date, they would wait until I left, then painstakingly dissect every minute she spent with me and analyze my moods and acts. No detail was too small to discuss. MATRIARCH had me down pat, too, because I had been telling her everything about myself for years. Unwittingly, GIRLFRIEND had even told her things about living with me. I know about all of this because they confessed it to me later.
The practical result was that I went off on my wedding night with one woman and woke up the next day with a different one. There wasn’t even an adaptation period.
The first thing that DAMSEL did was make me buy a television set. Incredibly, I did not own one, since I was always doing music, reading or socializing with classical musicians. I used to think that a TV would get in my way. So on my first day of marriage, I took her to a store and let her choose the TV set she wanted. What did she want it for? Soap operas, obviously. Afterwards, I was tortured with soap operas every single day I was home for the rest of my married life.
DAMSEL immediately stopped going with me to my concerts and to every other place as well. She stayed home and took care of the house. She made friends with our neighbors. She watched TV and visited her family. During our 5 years of marriage she forgot what English she had learned and never learned another word. She basically told me that it was my responsibility to pay for the life of comfort she wanted, since I was now married and could not get out of it. She had nothing more to do with my interests. Ever.
Well not ever. She would help me entertain people in my profession if I asked her to, but without MATRIARCH’S coaching (which was no longer needed since the catch was caught) and with her complete lack of interest, she came off as pretty dumb. So I finally stopped asking her to join me. I decided I had married a maid and a breeder.
Probably DAMSEL’S worst trait was lying. She would lie over the least little thing, and when she was caught, she would grin mischievously and say in a squeaky high-to-low voice, "Ah-huh." She thought this was cute and endearing, and it was – for about the first four days or so, meaning about the first two-hundred times. Being an adopted Brazilian, she had some black blood in her, despite it not being so apparent. That did not stop her from being a racist, though. It used to hurt me to no end to hear her make racist comments to my boys and know that black blood also flowed through their veins. If I wanted to go on, I could complain about her all day and night and still come up with new gripes.
DAMSEL was not the only thing that changed on my wedding night. My friendship with MATRIARCH simply disappeared, evaporated. She became my mother-in-law. I asked her several times, bewildered, what was wrong, but she would always change the subject. We got along fine, but something I treasured a great deal was lost forever and I could find no reason for it. She became a member of a small group of three, herself and DAMSEL’S other two aunts, and it seemed like their sole purpose in life was to torture me to no end with subtle nagging and manipulation.
I didn’t learn about all this all at once. These things were gradually revealed over time. There was a certain amount of self-blindness also. I tried my best to make a go of this marriage, I even tried to straighten out some of these issues as if they were misunderstandings. Who would ever want to admit to himself that he had been taken on that scale?
I used to drink alcohol pretty heavily before my marriage, so even more heavy drinking became a comforting solace. It helped with the blindness. I was in a horrible situation that I could not believe I had allowed to happen.
The only decent thing that came out of my marriage was my two boys, Roark and Ragnar. I had to fight The Three Conspirators over putting these name on my boys in homage to Ayn Rand. They had already picked out some names of Catholic saints and were going on the attack at every moment. Roark was my firstborn, so he was the easiest. At the hospital, with everybody standing around and cornering me – and Arabian families can get pretty tribal – I insinuated that I would think over the name suggestions. Then I went down to the registry and simply registered his birth. Ragnar was a bit more complicated. The Three Conspirators had people watching me so I had to feign someone was calling me for a free-lance music job. I lost them on the way and then went to the registry. I felt a little like James Bond.
The issue of my boys has been a cruelly jagged one in my heart. As I said, there is more scar tissue than wound, but the cut is deep. The collision between my culture and the Brazilian-Arabian world, all those deceptions, my increased drinking and bitterness, dealing with layers and layers of emotional blackmail, and more irrational mess than I even want to think about any longer has resulted in being estranged from my boys for years. That is a long, long story – another one for another time – but I think it is about to have a happier ending later this year.
On the money part, the only thing I know for a fact is that my boys have been well taken care of. DAMSEL’S father was rich. I found this out quite by accident. During all the time I took voice lessons and even during the engagement, I observed that MATRIARCH’S family lived pretty upper middle class. There was nothing to indicate any great affluence. Apparently this attitude comes from a cultural habit of some Arabian men in Brazil of hiding their money and assets, then when one of them dies, his wife and family inherit the wealth and the whole colony talks about what a great and wise man he was.
A couple of weeks before the marriage, I was accused by one of DAMSEL’S cousins of marrying her only for the money. I was shocked because I didn’t know there was any. If I had stayed around, I probably would have a nice fat inheritance by now, but I walked away from the whole mess after 5 years. I just couldn't do it anymore.
The outcome of all this had a profound impact on my life. I gradually sank into alcoholism, stopped, but then went off into drug addiction. I did about five years each, one after the other. As I mentioned, I am pretty hardheaded, so I always have to learn some things twice. I can say with certainty that ten years is a long time for a detour.
One of the most important points toward the end of that period (when I was still on drugs) was reading The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden. Ayn Rand suddenly became a human being in my mind, not a perfect goddess any longer. It shocked me into looking at my life and thinking, "What the hell am I doing?" If Ayn Rand had personal problems like that and still did what she did, well I can do wonderful things too. My life was not completely lost because I had been targeted and taken and made some terrible mistakes. I started a long arduous climb from that point, and it was a roller coaster of ups and downs, but I have to save that for another time.
My whole point in this tale is this. Evil does exist. One of its most insidious forms is through the back door to the soul, through personal relationships. When someone wants what you have, they will get together and connive with others and study you to get it. That bears repeating, because it has repeated several times during my life. Some people will study you to get want they want. In my case, the prize was my marriage status. An American is generally looked up to in Brazil and at that time, my star was rising fast in the music world. I suppose DAMSEL and the others thought I was quite a catch.
I still shake my head in wonder when I see intrigues unfolding nowadays. Why did DAMSEL want me when the "me" in essence was nothing like what she wanted in life? Couldn’t she see that? Was she so tied up in her little scheming and conniving that she forgot to see who I was? Why did she see the target only and not the man? Was she merely blind and making a mistake of knowledge?
No, I don’t think she was blind because she saw enough of who I was to make herself appealing to me. And she knew enough to stop when she got what she wanted.
Curiously, I find that, by overcoming this kind of suffering, I am now going the way mankind usually goes with age. Many flaming issues of my youth like saving the world, molding myself into a perfect man, condemning altruistic and collectivist evil left and right and demanding rigorous compliance of others with rational standards that I made very clear to them have lost a good deal of the former intensity. I have become more tolerant. I have learned to seek and foster the good in most everybody where there is good will.
But I also find that I am becoming increasingly out of patience with other issues that I used to not mind so much. I have become very sensitive to comparing what people say against what they do. I have learned to use an iron hand to protect my space from encroachment, including emotional and spiritual space, and even the parts that I do not use very often. I place an extremely high value on friendships that have been tested by events. I will cut my friends a lot of slack when they are wrong and I have little patience with a new arrival in my life wanting the same privilege.
I also have no tolerance for those who deify Ayn Rand. The woman I met in Barbara’s biography who dealt with her heart’s own bewildering demands is so much more appealing and sounds so much truer – one who fought the world and fought herself to reach for the stars – one who overcame the emotional devastation of a broken heart from loving one person and getting another in the end.
There is one thing I still carry from my earlier Ayn Rand days. I have held onto it practically unchanged throughout all the betrayals, the cauterized bitterness in my heart and all my past failed relationships.
I still love passionately and the woman I love is my highest value.
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