wed 20 feb 2008 13:19:54 witte de withstraat
a friend who thought i was a fugitive
sometimes i wonder if my recounting of things seen and heard, or tales told, is accurate enough. the act of congealing to paper surely skews. i must be taken with salt.
here's why i think of it. a couple weeks ago, a good friend revealed to me that she has always thought i was a *fugitive* from american justice -- and that i would be arrested if i ever went back there. i'm like, huh? i just spent ten days there on business!
but i can see how this sort of thing arises. innocently enough, we do talk about each other in absentia, and misapprehend each other in person. "how is this one doing? have you heard from that one?" in this context i've often heard things about my friends which turn out to be slightly "next to" (ernaast).
sometimes i have myself accidentally propagated untruth. for example, if someone in the bar tells me they've broken up with their sweetheart, i might mention that to the next person, even if the first one changed their mind as soon as they were sober. stuff like that. and on other occasions i have made the even worse mistake of passing along a *truth* about someone, not realizing they had told me it in secret. i'm famously bad with secrets. but that's another topic.
in our circle of friends it's no secret that i owe a lot of back taxes to the US government. so if my friend heard that, and then separately heard me say i was "trying to escape america" (emotionally and culturally i mean), then she could be excused for putting two and two together, and concluding that i was "running from the law" when i emigrated.
but, like, wow. shit. that's pretty heavy. then the question would be, if i *were* somebody like that, why would she want to be my friend? i mean, wouldn't that make me a dishonest person?
i think i've maintained a reasonably healthy correspondence with the people i "owe" that money to. they know where i am, they know where i applied for my latest passport. i think they just don't know what to do with me. but i've never had any trouble visiting my homeland. while abroad i've even enjoyed their active cooperation, like that night in summer 2006 when i was in a pinch in bourgas, and needed them to vouch for my identity. that meant a lot to me. i sent a thank you note to the US embassy in sofia.
i consider myself very lucky indeed, that my *only* serious debt is to a government. so many people today are suffering under insupportable loads of *real* debt, i mean private debt that they actually signed up for. credit cards and car loans and student loans and variable-rate mortgages. many were driven to this condition by the demands and seductions of contemporary "lifestyle". i thank god that never happened to me. i have virtually no private debt.
but that's too complicated for most people to remember. at least that's an innocent misunderstanding. i can recall a less innocent one.
long before i ever had this friend who thought i was a fugitive, i had an enemy who claimed i was a criminal.
around anno 2000, a connecticut woman who had never met me, told her daughter she had on good authority that i did not have a driver's license because i could not have one. specifically, that i had long ago caused an auto accident so dreadful, my right to a driver's license had been revoked for life.
the claim begs credibility of course. even if it were legally possible, which i doubt, then presumably there would have been some criminal charge, maybe a court case, or maybe a little jail time? or at least *something* in the public record to corroborate it.
i was never able to discover the original source of that myth. back in the early 1990s i had heard a similar legend about myself, at my former place of employment, national boston video center. it seems far fetched that the connecticut woman would have heard it from my colleagues there. but certainly whoever said it or re-said it, never bothered to check whether it might be true. why should they?
that kind of rumor is not about verifiability, it's about mental convenience.
incomprehensibilty stands next to death, as the thing most terrible to the human mind. faced with the incomprehensible, we blurt myths to dispell it, with a reflex as strong and swift as vomiting. so maybe certain of my coworkers in the US just couldn't fathom that an american man would voluntarily live without a driver's license. they needed a myth to explain me. it's also possible that it was the work of some overzealous account executive trying to sell me up with a dose of dark mystery. but things like that usually only happen to big people, not small timers like me.
when i heard that at work, i was just confused. but when i heard it years later, second-hand, from the connecticut woman, i found it profoundly hurtful. because the connecticut woman was using it to try and discredit me in the eyes of the woman i loved. then i was aghast at the sheer malice of it, and felt terribly wounded. eventually the woman retracted her claim, but refused to disclose where it came from. why? was she embarrassed about how she came to hear of it? maybe we'll never know. if only i knew, maybe i could put it to rest.
i guess i worry about truth a lot, maybe more than most. i can only hope that whatever mistakes i've made, i have never said anything maliciously false about anyone. i hope.