“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.
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?