“Did you know that your friend’s dad is an infidel?” Mrs. Francis Finnegan asked me, as I stood at the door of their home. The greeting from Mrs. Finnegan was not unprecedented. I received it, whenever I stood outside her door to pick up her son, and she had a topic that she wanted to discuss that day. I called it her headline hello.
Mrs. Finnegan might have met me at the door with more traditional greetings in the beginning. If she did, I don’t remember it. She may have used the more traditional, “Hello! How are you doing?” greeting with other people, but I never saw it. As far as I was concerned, she greeted everyone at the door with a provocative introduction to the discussion of the day. A provocative introduction similar to a lede used by newspaper editors to draw attention to a story.
“Hey, it’s mister smoker!” she said to introduce me to a discussion the Finnegan family would have on that day, regarding my smoking. “It’s the heavy metal dude!” she said on another day to introduce me to the Finnegan family discussion that would involve my decision to wear a jean jacket, a t-shirt of whatever band I was listening to at the time, and jeans, or as she put it ‘my heavy metal dude gear’. I was fair game for these family discussions, she informed me, because I had such a heavy influence on her beloved son. She also informed me that with the state of my home, I was in dire need of some guidance.
This ‘Your best friend’s dad is an infidel’ greeting informed me that the Finnegan discussion of the day would involve a detailed account of her husband’s recent business trip to Las Vegas, in which “he happened to get himself some (girl)”. I write the word ‘girl’ here, in place of the more provocative ‘P’ word that Mrs. Finnegan used to describe Greg Finnegan’s act of infidelity.
Mrs. Finnegan was a religious woman that used profanity or vulgarity sparingly. She reserved those words for those moments when she needed to wound the pride of the subject of her scorn, and those times when she felt she needed to pique the ears of the listener. She used these words with a ‘Look what you’ve made me do!’ plea in her voice to further subject the subject of her violation to greater shame.
Hearing her use such a vulgar word was not as shocking to me as hearing her use the word ‘infidel’ in an incorrect manner. As a self-described word nerd, Mrs. Finnegan prided herself on proper word usage. She informed me on another occasion, half-joking, that I was her apprentice. I took this as the compliment it was, in the beginning, but as the years went by, I began to believe she said to it relieve her of whatever guilt she may have felt for correcting every word that came out of my mouth. There were times when I was almost afraid to say anything around her, lest she correct me, but for the most part, I was an eager student of her mastery of the language.
My initial thought was that the turmoil of this moment caused her the faux pas, but her diction was so proper and refined that I didn’t think she was capable of a slip. She spoke in a manner, at times, that I was sure violated the conventions of our language. I would go home, look them up, and find that she was correct. Even during the most tumultuous moments, the woman managed to mind her rules of usage well. Thus, when she made the error of attributing the word infidel to her husband’s act of infidelity, I assumed she intended the slip to pique the interest of the listener in the manner her sparing use of profanity and vulgarity could. Either that, I thought, or she was attempting to creatively conflate the incorrect use of the word, and the correct one, in that not only had her husband violated his vows to her, but his vows to God.
My friend James was sitting on the couch, next to his father, when I entered the Finnegan home. The two of them were a portrait of shame. They sat in the manner a Puggle will sit in the corner of the room after having made a mess on the carpet.
James mouthed a quick ‘Hi!’ at me. He pumped his head up to accentuate that greeting. He then resumed his shame position of looking at one spot on the carpet.
“Mr. Finnegan decided to go out to Vegas and get him some (girl)!” Mrs. Finnegan said when I entered the living room. I had not enough time to sit at that point. When I did, I sat as slow as the tension in the room allowed, an air that did not permit quick motions.
“Tell him Greg,” she said.
“France, I don’t think we should be airing our dirty laundry in front of outsiders,” Greg Finnegan complained. The idea that he had been crying prior to my entrance was evident. His eyes were rimmed red, and they were moist. He did not look up at Francis, or me, when he complained. He, like James, remained fixated on a spot on the carpet.
France was the name Mrs. Finnegan grew up with, and she hated it. It was the name her immediate family members called her, and her husband. She had very few adult friends, but to those people she was Frances. To everyone else, it was Mrs. Finnegan. She may have allowed others to call her less formal names, but I never heard it. Mrs. Finnegan was not a person that permitted informalities.
“NO!” Mrs. Finnegan yelled. That yell was so forceful that had there been any actual Puggles in the room, they would’ve raced from it, regardless if they were the subject of her scorn or not.
“No, he has to learn,” she said pointing at me, while looking at her husband. “Just like your son needs to learn, just like every man needs to learn the evil ways of their nature.”
What followed this display was an actual display, brought into the living room by the daughter. The daughter appeared as unemotional about this particular event as she had all the events that occurred in the Finnegan home. She was more of an observer to the goings on in the Finnegan home than a participant. She rarely offered an opinion, unless it backed up her mother’s assessments and characterizations, and she was never the subject of her mother’s scorn. She was the dutiful daughter, and she walked into the room, carrying the display, in that vein. She carefully positioned it on living room table and pulled the supports out so that it could stand without manual support. After completing that action, she sat.
Mrs. Finnegan allowed the display of Greg Finnegan’s shame to rest on the living room table for a moment without comment. It was a multi-tiered, wood framed, structure with open compartments that allowed for wallet-sized photos. The structure of the frame was a triangle, but anyone that looked around the Finnegan home knew of Mrs. Finnegan’s fondness for pyramids. The husband purchased the triangle to feed into Mrs. Finnegan’s fascination with pyramids, but it didn’t have the full dimensions of a pyramid. When the daughter pulled the supports out, however, the frame rested at an angle. At that angle, the frame appeared to be one side of a pyramid.
Before this day began, Mrs. Finnegan had somehow managed to gather enough unique photos of the “harlot, slut, home wrecker” to fill each of the open compartments in the pyramid, so that the bottom level had five photos, the next level up had four, and so on, until one arrived at a single photo at the top. Each photo had a votive candle before it to give the shrine of Greg Finnegan’s shame an almost holy vibe.
“It’s the pyramid of shame,” Mrs. Finnegan informed me with a confrontational smile. “What do you think of it? The frame was Greg’s gift to me on my birthday. Isn’t it lovely? I’m thinking of placing it in our bedroom. I’m thinking of placing it in a just such a position that if Greg is ever forced to have sex with me again-” (Except she didn’t say sex. She said THE word, the big one, the queen mother of dirty words, the “F-dash-dash-dash” word.) “-he can look at those picture while he’s (sexing) me. Do you think that will help your performance honey?” she asked her husband.
An inopportune knock at the door interrupted the proceedings. The construction of the Finnegan duplex was such that when the drapes were open, those inside the Finnegan home could see the knocker. We saw the knocker. It was Andy, the third party of the adventure James and I had planned for the night.
“Welcome to the home of Greg Finnegan, adulterer and infidel,” Mrs. Finnegan said after leaping to her feet to beat all the people that were racing to the door, except no one was racing. We were all ensconced in the shame of our gender. We were all staring at our own spots on the carpet. “Come on in,” she said to Andy.
Andy left. He just turned and walked back down the steps, got in his car, and drove away. Just like that, Andy escaped all that I was forced to endure. He didn’t respond to Mrs. Finnegan’s greeting. He didn’t go out of his way to be respectful to one of his elders, but he really wasn’t disrespectful either. He just turned and left.
I didn’t know we could do that, I thought watching Andy leave.
I knew what I was in for, after hearing Mrs. Finnegan’s headline hello. Andy knew the procedure too. To my mind, his departure was not only bold it was unprecedented. I didn’t know we could do that. I would ask him about it later, “Why did you do that? How did you do it?” He informed me that he didn’t want to go through all that again with Mrs. Finnegan. “Well, of course, but I don’t think I could’ve ever done that,” I said. He explained his reaction a little more, but the gist of it was that he didn’t want to sit through another Finnegan family discussion. His impulsive reaction was so simple that if he asked me about it earlier, I would’ve told him that will never work, except it did. I realized that I would have to do a much better job of evaluating my options in life.
When the confessional phase of the Finnegan family conversation began –a phase that required Mr. Finnegan to confess to me what he had done– I looked out that window and imagined that I had evaluated my options as well as Andy had. I imagined that the two of us were now in Andy’s car driving away, and we were laughing at the lunacy of these people. I imagined that I would call them platypus people at one point in our round of jokes, and that Andy might be so confused by that he would stop laughing until I explained the joke.
What is a platypus, I imagined myself saying to expound upon our laughter, but an animal that defies all categorizations. One look at them, informs the world of science that they should fall into a category, until they do what they do to prove those hypothetical guesses wrong. Further study only yields more surprises with the classification-defying animal, until even the most seasoned naturalist throws their hands up.
I would then have to provide Andy with the story of the introduction of the platypus to the world. At its introduction, naturalists considered it a joke. I would inform Andy that prior to the platypus’ introduction some naturalists stitched together body parts of different animals to lead the world into believing that they discovered an entirely new species. Thus, many believed that the platypus was an elaborate hoax of taxidermy in this vein.
Those that prided themselves for not falling for previous hoaxes even had a tough time believing the platypus was an actual species when they saw one live.
I figured that I might have a tough time selling the ‘Finnegan Family are platypus people’ joke to Andy, for he might have considered my tale a creative story comprised of stitched together details. He might not even believe it if he saw it live, I imagined after Andy left and Mr. Finnegan prepared to offer me his confession.
The introduction of Mr. Finnegan’s confession involved Mrs. Finnegan informing me that Mr. Finnegan had already confessed his transgression to his children, and that he would be required to offer this confession to the mailman, a traveling salesman, or any other friend that happened upon their door that day. She instructed me to look at her when she said this, and we did. She forced me to acknowledge that the only reason the Finnegans married in the first place had to do with the fact that no one else would play with young Mr. Finnegan’s reproductive organ, except she didn’t say reproductive organ.
“He was lonely,” she said with tones of derision. “Mr. eighty dollars an hour consultant fee, and Mr. professional student with eight degrees would be nothing without me, because he was nothing when he met me. He was a lonely, little man with nothing to do but play with his little computer products, designs, and his little reproductive organ when no one else would.”
“That’s enough France,” Greg said standing.
“Do you play with your reproductive organ?” Mrs. Finnegan asked me, undeterred by Greg’s pleas. “Do you masturbate? Because that’s where it all starts. It all starts with you men, and all of your pornographic material, imaging that someday someone will come along and want to play with your reproductive organ.
“You think it’s about love?” she asked. She had a huge smile on her face. She was aghast at a statement I hadn’t made. “You think every couple has a story of love, and dating, and that hallowed first kiss? Go rent a gawdamned Meg Ryan movie if you want all that, and once that love conquers all movie is over, you come to Mrs. Finnegan with your questions, and she’ll introduce you to some reality. I’ll tell you the tales of men, grown men that marry because they’re desperate to find someone to play with their reproductive organ. Isn’t that right Mr. Finnegan?” She called after him, once he mustered up the courage to walk away from her. When he wouldn’t answer, or even turn to acknowledge her, she took off after him.
It was not a feat of strength for Mrs. Finnegan to push her husband down a flight of stairs. We didn’t see it, but we figured that he might have been off balance, resulting from his refusal to turn and face her in his flight to the basement. She was screaming things at him from behind, and her intensity grew with each scream. He wouldn’t turn back. He should’ve suspected that that rising intensity would reach some form of punctuation, but he didn’t. He was not expecting that she would push down the flight of about twenty stairs. We did see her pull him up the stairs, however, as we all came running to the top of the stairs when the sounds of him hitting the stairs shook the house in such a manner that we all instinctually put a hand on the armrests of the furniture to brace ourselves.
We also heard Mrs. Finnegan’s final scream when she pushed Mr. Finnegan down the stairs. That shriek led the listener to believe that whatever frayed vestige of sanity she clung to for much of her life, just snapped. We could not hear what she said as she pulled him up the stairs by his hair. The screams of her children, and her husband, drowned out those grumblings.
“France!” Greg screamed in pain. “France, for God’s sakes!” he screamed repeatedly.
I saw her face, as she approached us at the top of the stairs. I witnessed rage a couple of times, prior to Mrs. Finnegan’s, but I couldn’t remember it appearing so vacant. This display of rage was one that I can only guess those not engaged in some sort of civil service work see once in a lifetime. She was lifting a six-five, two-hundred pound man up the stairs, by his hair, with one hand. Her body blocked any view we might have had of Greg Finnegan, but I assumed that he was back stepping the stairs to relieve some of the pain of having his hair pulled in such a manner. I also think he was putting his hand on the handrail in a manner that assisted her in pulling him up. Regardless the details of this moment, it was still an impressive display of strength fueled by a scary visage of rage.
She was in such a state, once she reached the top step, and she was standing in the kitchen, with her children trying to calm her, that she couldn’t speak. The master of language couldn’t come up a word to say, and when she finally did, it came out as gibberish. She would later say that that gibberish resulted from her being overcome by spirits. Once she escaped the state she was in, she stated that the gibberish that what came out of her was her speaking in tongues. She believed that divine intervention had prevented her from further harming her husband, in a manner similar to the divine intervention that prevented Abraham from harming his son Isaac. I believed it too, at first, in the heat of the moment, but I would later learn that I had just witnessed my first psychotic episode.
I don’t know what happened in the aftermath of this incident, in the Finnegan home, as I never entered into the Finnegan home again. I do know that the Finnegan marriage survived it, and I’m sure that Mrs. Finnegan thought it had something to do with that divine intervention. I’m also sure that if any future visitors of the Finnegan home doubted Mrs. Finnegan’s assessment of the situation, they would be greeted at the door with a “Welcome to the home of the divine intervention!” headline hello to introduce them to that Finnegan family discussion of that day. If those potential, future visitors were to come to me for advice on this matter, I would tell them to weigh their options before entering.