Life can be tough when you’re a character on a TV show. Fortunately, filmmaker and film teacher Jennifer Peepas — who also blogs as the wise Captain Awkward — is here to help them deal with their drama.
[Spoilers for ‘Hannibal’ Season 2 follow.]
Dear Captain Awkward,
I would not normally impose upon a person such as yourself, but my psychiatrist has recently departed town and, as you will see from the rest of my letter, I sorely lack a friendly ear just now.
This spring, my dearest friend and I made plans to go on an extended vacation together. We both needed a change of scene and to wind down some inconvenient personal matters, so it was decided: I would close up shop on my business, he would find someone to take care of his charming stable of shaggy pets, and we would have an old-fashioned Grand Tour, viewing great works of art and eating our way around the world while pursuing the shared hobby that brought us together.
I undertook the considerable task of winding down my affairs and placing my clients with other providers. I also secured our tickets and planned our itinerary, as I had traveled to these places before and have greater funds at my disposal. My friend has not traveled widely, and I confess that I was looking forward both to showing him places that have been important to me and to polishing some of his rough edges on the Continent.
He is a unique and fascinating human being, unlike anyone I have ever known, but he has not one decent suit of clothes. I became consumed with the idea of helping him achieve his potential, so I booked appointments with a renowned barber, my personal tailor, and a chemist who could formulate a scent to replace the ghastly soap-on-a-rope cologne he favors. He had shown interest in my cooking, so I enrolled us in a knife-skills refresher course from one of France’s most celebrated chefs.
My friend came to dinner often and we discussed our plans with great relish. And then, at the very last moment, when it was too late for me to resurrect my business interests or make other plans, he rudely changed his mind. We had a very messy and regrettable argument that became violent, and we did some real damage to each other and to my home and possessions during the ensuing physical altercation. Furthermore my lover walked in during the middle of the fight, and now she wants nothing to do with me. I do not know if any of us will recover from the events of that night.
I know that everything ends, but I find myself grieving very hard for my friend and our friendship. I do not trust easily, but this person knew the best and worst of me and we shared a rare intimacy. Now that I am away from him, the comfortable solitude I cultivated seems bleak and isolated. Things lose their color with no one to show them to. Do you think that it is possible that we can forgive each other?
On a Grand and Lonely Tour
Dear Grand and Lonely,
Letters to me usually come as emails, not via handsome calligraphy on thick woven paper and sealed with wax, like a wedding invitation from friends with rich parents. I also wasn’t aware that my home address was public knowledge, so thank you also for the kind reminder to better guard my personal information.
Thank you also for these charming sketches of Il Duomo; I haven’t been to Florence since a school trip in 1992, but your sketches and the hint of perfume that lingered on the paper brought it all back to me quite vividly. The recipes were a thoughtful touch, and your take on homemade sausage smelled and tasted so good that one of my dinner guests gave up being a vegetarian on the spot.
I want to call attention to your phrasing about the violence between you and your friend. You say the argument with your friend “became violent.” This is, sadly, an extremely telling expression when used to describe violence in close personal relationships. It has the effect of displacing the violence, turning it into an outside force like weather, instead of a series of choices and actions by individual human beings.
Abusers use neutral, distancing language to describe violent incidents because they do not want to admit wrongdoing or damage their image of themselves as good people. Victims use it because they are afraid or not ready to admit what is happening; it’s easier to say “things turned violent” than “this person I trusted harmed me.”
I’m not your psychiatrist, and we don’t have the luxury of exploring the problem at length together until you gain self-realization about your own role in this drama, so please forgive my bluntness: The argument didn’t “become violent” — he said he wasn’t going on the trip and then you hurt him or he hurt you. I think it’s probable that you hurt him, at least initially, both because you use the word “regrettably” and because your girlfriend broke ties with you after witnessing what happened.
If I have mischaracterized that, I apologize. My goal is not to place blame or solve a whodunit but to point out that whoever started the fight, it sounds like something was dangerously off-kilter between you and your friend. Violence doesn’t come out of nowhere, it grows in soil made of control and contempt. You seem like an intense and thoughtful dude who thrives on a grand gesture, and I can see how others might be attracted to that grandiosity but also have trouble keeping up with someone whose baseline setting is Overkill.
Your plans for your trip sound delightful, but they also sound like a Hitchcock-ian honeymoon straight out of “Rebecca.” You love your friend, but at the same time you want to change everything about him and describe him more as raw material than a fellow human being. You don’t say why he canceled the trip, or what prompted the violence, but I can’t think that someone like you would argue over something as trivial as money. Did your friend have a conflict with work or family life that made the trip impossible? Or did he bristle in the end at your Pygmalion-like schemes? Control achieved by showering someone with gifts and affection is still control.
I cannot tell you whether this friendship can be repaired, but I can tell you any prospect of healing or reconciliation requires that you stop displacing what happened and own your role in it. Did you harm your friend? Then an admission and an apology are owed, and the rest is up to him. Did your friend harm you? Then maybe this time far away from him is a gift to both of you.
Jennifer Peepas is a Chicago-based filmmaker and film teacher. She answers questions from non-fictional characters at her blog, CaptainAwkward.com.