Before I recount the Stockholm Syndrome situation, I have to shift into reverse chronologically in my story line. That’s the liberating quality about writing a memoir. You can write it any way you want. There’s no standard format. No MFA-approved guidelines. No how-to-get-it-published hard and fast rules.
You can jump around time-wise and subject-wise willy nilly. You can put stuff in or leave stuff out. But to connect with people, you must find the common thread in your story that runs through the universe.
A story that does not ring true is as jarring as a clanging cymbal or noisy gong. Dishonesty alienates people. You make your story relatable by telling the truth.
That’s what I’m doing. To the best of my ability. So help me God.
Officer Zaps and I stood on my front porch discussing philosophies. I was disappointed when the topic ran its course. As sometimes happens at the end of a conversation there is an awkward pause. A verbal lacuna? All talked out about the difference between agnosticism and atheism? Nothing left to say about the value of altruism? Now what? How’s the weather? How ’bout them Dodgers?
We looked at each other. Or I assume he was looking at me. (Those damn sunglasses. For all I knew he could have nodded off. Maybe that’s why the silence lasted so long?)
I finally blurted out, “Is Zaps your real name?”
I had wanted to know about his name since I’d first heard it. I’m guessing Zaps had been asked that question plenty of times.
“It’s an acronym,” he said.
“My full name.”
“Worse than a boy named Sue?” I asked.
“Yes,” Zaps replied.
“Worse than Twonkette Clementine McGillicuddy?”
(Whew.) “Now I really want to know.” I started picturing those children’s alphabet books in my head: Zebra, Apple, Pumpkin, Snake.
“I’d rather skip it,” Zaps said.
“You know my entire genetic profile and you yanked a bloody blade out of my back and I don’t get to know your name? That’s not fair,” I said.
Finally the sound of silence was interrupted when Zaps said, “My full name is..” Then in a sing-songy voice: “Zackarius Aladonis Philomenas Smithee.” He pronounced it like a cadence: ZACK-a-RI-us AL-a-DON-is PHIL-o-MEN-as SMITH-ee. I recognized the meter—the same as Longfellow’s poem “Song of Hiawatha:” ‘ON the SHORES of GITCH-e-GUME-ee.’
“That’s a mouthful,” I said. “And rhythmical. Was your mother a fan of poetry?”
“No, a Greek butcher.”
Was that hostility in his voice? The mom must be a touchy subject.
“My mother named me after a brand of hair styling products,” I said. “Twonkette’s Tresses.”
“Never heard of it,” Zaps said.
“Maybe your mother made it up.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me a bit.” (Don’t get me started on that woman’s shenanigans.) “I like your name origin better.”
“Not many people know it.”
“I can see why you use Zaps. Good name for a cop.”
“It’s easier to text.”
“Do you ever worry about texting destroying the English language—its musicality; its beauty; its power? Because I do all the time.”
I had a vague knowledge of Stockholm Syndrome. I remembered the term from the Patty Hearst kidnapping and her subsequent executive clemency because of it. Here’s the official definition—named after a bank robbing incident in Sweden in 1973:
“A hostage, kidnap victim, or abuse victim develops a sense of loyalty, cooperation, and/or emotional bond toward his/her captor, disregarding the abuse or danger.”
Pure and simple it’s an unconscious strategy to stay alive. The brain allows you to fool yourself as a survival mechanism.
Zaps explained other circumstance where Stockholm Syndrome can apply—like POWS, religious cult members, ‘romantic’ relationships. When he threw families into the mix, I knew where that was headed.
“A controlling or intimidating relationship with a family member can produce the syndrome,” Zaps said. “Do you think this applies to you?”
I felt my wound ooze; my stomach tighten. Oh, gee, could I answer this highly none-of-your-business question? Could I discuss my personal life with a total stranger? How fun. How rewarding. How idiotic! Now it was my turn to turn hostile.
“My fifth grade teacher told our class that if someone asked you a nosy question that you didn’t want to answer, ask him, ‘Why do you want to know?'” I glared into the sunglasses.
“Even if you don’t acknowledge something, doesn’t mean it isn’t true or it didn’t happen,” Zaps said. (Not in a condescending way, but still irritating to me.)
“Are we finished here?” (No ice tea for this guy!)
“Do you consider yourself a loyal person?”
This question seemed harmless enough. “Yes, I do.” (Probably overly-loyal if truth be told.)
“Then do you mind if I bring up cognitive dissonance?” Zaps asked.
“I already know what it is,” I said.
“It’s applicable here—how people alter the normal way of thinking to justify being in a negative or unhealthy situation. Studies show that the more difficult or uncomfortable the situation is, the more loyal and committed to the relationship the person becomes. It’s a nutty sense of loyalty.”
“Do you read psychology textbooks while sitting on the freeway?”
“I was going to ask you if you read the dictionary.”
“I subscribe to dictionary.com’ Word of the Day.” I was feeling the uncomfortable part of cognitive dissonance.
Zaps continued. “It’s not like people develop cognitive dissonance on purpose. Or Stockholm Syndrome for that matter. It’s involuntary. It’s about self-preservation—physically and/or mentally.”
I’d heard enough. “Don’t you have to get back to work?”
“I am working. I thought it would be better to receive genetic information in person.”
“As opposed to what?” I asked.
“As opposed to never receiving it,” Zaps replied. “Self-knowledge is the key to being successful and having successful relationships. It’s the key to navigating life in general.”
I happened to agree. But I wouldn’t admit it to Zaps. “It’s the ol’ ‘to thine own self be true…thou canst not then be false to any man’ theory.”
“Truer words were never spoken,” Zaps said.
This guy admires Shakespeare? It was hard to stay perturbed at Zaps. And I guess I should have been appreciative to him for mentioning Stockholm Syndrome. It would add scientific credibility to my memoir. Then, as if Zaps were reading my mind, he asked:
“You said earlier that you were writing to save you. What are you writing? A screenplay?”
“No, I don’t live in L.A.,” I said. “I’m writing a memoir.”
“What’s the title?”
“To be determined.”
“I like it,” Zaps said.
“Oh, no, that’s not the title. I haven’t determined what it will be yet. I’m working on a few possibilities, like State of Bifurcation.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Zaps said.
“Has to do with two sides of something. I was going for the two sides of the human experience: good/bad; enlightenment/darkness; wisdom/ignorance—that kind of thing.”
“Too esoteric,” Zaps said.
“OK, how about A Cross to Bear: A Personal Crucifixion Story?”
“Malice in WeirderLand?”
“Twonkette Twounces Twerps?”
“Too Dr. Seuss.”
“A Kick in the Gut, A Slap in the Face, and a Stab in the Back: Ain’t Family Grand?” My opening lines would be: “No, it isn’t. Not by a long shot.”
“Most of my original ideas were, like Watch Your Back: How to Cut Family Ties Before They Cut You. Or Tribal Tribulations: A Deadly Overdose of Greed Mongers, Weasel Lovers, Money Grubbers, and Teleomere Wreckers.” Or Family Plus Money: A Lethal Combination When Mixed With Liars, Cheaters, Stealers, Connivers, Takers, and Deceivers.”
“Too dark,” Zaps said.
“Dark but true.”
“That’s a sorry sack of humanity. Can it get any worse?”
“Yeah. They all have lawyers.”
“I’ll figure out a good title eventually,” I said, hoping I sounded confident.
Zaps said, “I always wanted to write a book. I’d call it Know Your Own Bone. It’s from a Thoreau quote: ‘Do what you love. Know your own bone. Gnaw on it…'”
“Wow, that’s a great title!” (I was envious.)
“You can use it if you want,” Zaps said.
“Oh, no, I’m not a taker. Or a stealer.”
“You can’t copyright a title. You may as well use it.”
“I just might,” I said. (I probably would.)
“Do you have any pages you can read to me?” Zaps asked. “You asked me earlier if I worried about texting ruining the English language. I worry that all social media is diminishing the need for literature. That people can’t comprehend a large block of sentences. Or have no use for a good story. I love a good story. If you have one, I’d like to hear it.”
That was it. Zaps had me. Somebody asking to hear (or read) what a writer has written? Are you kidding me? This was the equivalent of winning Super Lotto!
“As a matter of fact I do,” I said. “I could run in the house and get some pages. Say, would you like some ice tea, Zacharius?”