I’ll still respect you in the morning.

“I want you to know,” my traveling companion said to me, “that I still respect you.” He closed the bedroom door, knowing what rumors would fly through the other rooms while his fiance stood in the kitchen introducing herself to everyone.

I was lying down with my stomach churning one way and my head spinning another. Our hostess for the Thanksgiving party, a fellow volunteer, had given me her room to rest in. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to go home, but home was a five-hour bus ride away. No buses were running at that hour anyway.

sick peace corps style
sick peace corps style

Only two other people at the party believed I was sick. Everyone else thought I had a broken heart. I had kidney stones–I just don’t know it yet. So there he was, the girlfriend who I’d believed he didn’t want to join him was on the other side of the door. She’d been planning to join him all along. While he’d been telling me he was searching for a kind way to get her to stay home, he was writing her letters telling her what to pack.

There’d been red flags, of course. But the thing about red flags is that they’re so much easier to acknowledge after you pass them by. Curled up now on the bed, I peered at him through half closed eyes. “I don’t need your respect,” I said. The fact he was saying it, meant it wasn’t true anyway. “Go away.”

Pain zipped around my side and I winced. “Can I do something to help?” he asked.

“You can go.” I almost laughed. I could see how it bothered him that I wasn’t letting him be nice. He made a great show of being nice, but for him nice was for an audience. Or witnesses. The air in the room changed and I knew he wanted to take the respect comment back. Like he needed to.

But he was worried what I might tell her. She lit up when he walked into the room and she hung on his arm as if it had once lassoed the moon. I was not going tell her he was not George Bailey. She gave up too much to follow him and I hoped for her he was better. Of course, I also wished he’d die.

Then he must’ve remembered how good I was at silence and pretend. “You’re a real friend, you know that?” he said and finally left me alone.

In fiction some scenes, like some truths, are too unpleasant to deal with. Writing about my traveling companion is unpleasant. I don’t know if I will do it again. But in my stories I try go a far as I can stand and that I think is wise, but never for the sake of showing off how awful I can be. You can’t go into the dark just to prove you can. You go into the dark in writing because you and your reader should find something of value there. Right?

I also prefer to write about characters I like. Even my bad guys I find a grain of life in them to appreciate or care about. And even the tactophobe and the aggressive guy, I like. They are not dislikable people. While I don’t mind blowing a speck of revenge in their eye, I like to believe they come across here as real people, not simple jerks.

The traveling companion, however, I dislike. I don’t think I can write about him again, because I can’t see anything from his point of view. I can’t sympathize with him. A believable bad guy in fiction should have depth. Should have a life. Should have good things aside from the bad. If he doesn’t, why is he even worth writing about?

5 thoughts on “I’ll still respect you in the morning.

  1. True enough, what you present of him does not make him seem much worth the effort, but imagine how some part of him, however small, must feel when he recognizes what he is. What he does accordingly makes him interesting to follow because of the tricks he plays on others. We see him in action and are reminded of such persons and perhaps even as a tiny fragment of us. In real life you were well rid of him but i writing life his type is found in many works, shadowy, marginal sorts who are in conflict with a larger part of themselves. Perhaps that part of him that he tries to avoid is someting you can save for a character you have more tolerance for.

    It is goof you could bring him forth this time. And write about him.

  2. That’s why the word


    was coined.

    IMHO – he sounds like an addict waiting to happen. The double life/ Nice is performance art are the big tip offs. Why, why would anyone want to get bogged down in that story line unless the character was intrinsically important? Use the word ‘schmuck’ and it’s all your readers will need to know to identify with the scene.

    And my sympathies on the kidney stones. My husband gets them every couple of years and they are murder.

  3. Ditto ditto ditto on the kidney stones. Had about a half-dozen of them in my 20s and 30s. If you can, dig up a copy of Richard Selzer’s Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery and read the chapter called “Stone.” [Actually, the whole book is amazing.] He comes as close to describing it — without ever having had one — as I’ve ever heard, as I can even imagine for that matter.

    Please tell me the traveling-companion jerk’s name was not Ike.

    (Everything IS okay Ike-wise, right???)

  4. The way I look at it, major characters need to have layers and subtlety.

    Some characters aren’t major. They are there to serve a purpose, to allow the hero to grow, to spur the hero on, to make the hero have to prove herself.

    In life and in fiction. You don’t have to like every villain in your past. They were not important enough to your story to warrant such an even hand. You take what you learned and move on to the next lesson.

    And I loved what you said. “I don’t need your respect.” I think that’s a great line. And it’s so true, and says so much about your character’s own growth.

  5. I’ve missed so much! Help! You need to publish your blog so that I can curl up with it at night.

    So glad you’re rid of him. But, yes, he makes for a good character.

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