The Weird and the Strange VII: Shelley Hayden

{Disclaimer: The name Shelley Hayden is arbitrary. I do not know a person named Shelley Hayden, and any similarities to anyone named Shelley Hayden are coincidental. The name of the person involved in this non-fiction piece has been changed to protect his privacy. If this is your name, please inform me of this, and we can discuss any changes, qualifiers, etc., that will lead you to greater comfort. Do not, for the love of all that is holy, contact a lawyer to intimidate me into changing the name. Let’s all be adults here, and resolve issues such as these in an adult manner.}

A person can have money stacked up to the sky, and a list of friends yea high, but when that person is finally laid into the ground, with worms diminishing their pounds, it is what their family thinks of them that will generate the most sound. A person can be a war hero, an athlete with trophies decorating every inch of their basement, or a scintillating conversationalist that leaves nothing but laughter in their wake, but if their family considers them a fraud, their legacy will fall to the lowest point on any temperature scale, the temperature at which all (non-quantum mechanical) motion ceases absolute zero.

Shelly Hayden is an absolute fraud. Most people don’t consider her a fraud. She doesn’t either, so we needn’t worry about providing accurate details of her existence, because fraudulent people don’t recognize the nature of their being.

If this were a comedy, Shelly Hayden would laugh harder than anyone in the room would. If this were a real tearjerker, she would cry so hard that an observer might ascribe to the notion that she was the only one in the room crying. She feels more than anyone else does, she has better reactions, and she says more about everything than anyone in the room does. She has an unmatched ability to make everything about her.

Shelly Hayden believes that she is sensitive, warm, and a delightful character to be around. She thinks she is the genuine article, and she thinks everyone she knows, knows that she is as genuine as she thinks she is. She thinks that wearing her emotions on her sleeve leaves the impression that she is an open book. She is as good-looking and personable as Pinocchio’s blue fairy, but those characteristics have allowed her to remain a wooden puppet that doesn’t have to achieve the characteristics of a real girl.

It doesn’t matter that the reader know the identity of Shelly Hayden, for she doesn’t know it either. She knows social protocols. She knows how to comport herself when the rules of decorum are called upon. She is emotional. She will notice cute before anyone else, she will see pain, and she will empathize with the best of them. She will also perceive falsity before it becomes false … in others. You may never know who she is, but if you do, you will probably not consider her a fraud. Unfortunate for the legacy of Shelly Hayden, those of us that know her better than anyone else know that the essence of her being assumed room temperature long before her pall bearers begin their ceremonial march.

The humiliating aspect of her fraudster jive, to those of us that thought we were paying attention, was that we believed it. We thought she created a clever façade, built on a façade. We thought she was playing a character, and as evidence, we pointed to her moments of humility and self-effacing jokes.

The thing with being self-effacing is that we can overdo it. When we repeat such jokes too often, our audience might begin to know them so well they begin to believe them. Those of us that defended her informed her accusers that they didn’t understand the depth of her act. We considered the self-effacing jokes, pertaining to a fraudulent caricature too obvious. We thought it was too on the nose, and that Shelly Hayden was spoofing on a fraudulent character. We thought that the fraudulent act was a shield that she put up to avoid having others see the true Shelly Hayden. We thought she was clever, and self-deprecating, and we enjoyed her act it in a Saturday Night Live, over the top, fraudulent way. We thought it was playful, until we joined in on the joke and found out that the insinuation that she was a fraud hurt her. We thought she knew. We thought she was playing a character, until we realized she had no character. We were the ones being too clever, it turned out, believing her character involved the complex layers found in a Russian doll that would reveal a final, scared little girl inside. I don’t know what we expected to find when we cracked that final, little girl open, but we didn’t expect to find nothing.

When Shelly Hayden touched Mark Clark’s hair and wept softly at the side of his deathbed, we had already arrived at the conclusion that she was a complete fraud, but we knew she needed that genuine moment for her “genuine moments” archives. She backed out of that moment quickly, before questions of authenticity could occur. Shelly Hayden probably told a couple people about that moment in the aftermath. She probably informed them how much it meant to her, to be able to touch him one final time and shed a tear for the life of Mark Clark.

When Shelly backed out of that moment quickly, however, it revealed a secret that she and Mark shared. To punctuate this revelation, Mark Clark rolled his eyes as she touched his hair and wept softly. He knew the secret that the other participants in the room either didn’t know, or didn’t want to know. He knew that this wasn’t a shared moment, but her moment, and a moment in which she could showcase her emotions. He knew he was nothing more than a prop in the “sadness and grief for the departing” act of her play. Mark Clark taught us what motivated her in that eye roll, and we learned that if she was to remember anything about that subtle, sweet kiss, it would be the subtly and sweetness of that kiss. It touched her in a way that only she could.

To say that seeing Mark Clark in such a horrible state didn’t sadden Shelly Hayden would be an overstatement, but even her staunchest defenders would have to admit that a defense of her actions would have to include an asterisk that read: “She didn’t appreciate him when he was alive.” Coupled with this notation would be the sentences, “She considered him a burden” and “She avoided speaking to him at all costs”.

“He is a saint now,” she said in the immediate aftermath of his demise. She said, “He should be considered a saint for all that he had to endure.”

That would’ve been a wonderful sentiment from anyone else, but Shelly Hayden avoided speaking to Mark Clark at all costs when he was alive, because he was difficult to hear. He was a quadriplegic that didn’t have the muscle necessary to project his voice, and that fact made her feel bad about herself. She had to say “What?” constantly. Shelly decided it was in the best interests of her personal profile to avoid speaking with him, because it made her feel uncomfortable to admit that she couldn’t hear him.

We couldn’t understand him. No one could, and it frustrated us. To our ever-lasting regret, some of us made those frustrations apparent. We were the ones that Mark Clark held most dear, however, because we treated him like a human being. We got annoyed with him for being a fussbudget, for being soft-spoken individual that a listener constantly had to say “What?” to, and we felt bad when we couldn’t understand him over the phone. Some of us still feel bad about making our frustrations apparent, but we don’t run from him, hide from him, and avoid him at all costs. We kept talking to him.

He had some last words to say to me. I don’t know if he wanted to leave some profound last words imprinted on me, or if he wanted to offer me some advice, but he had something urgent to say to me. I couldn’t understand him. I tried. We tried. Seven or eight different times, we tried. Imprinted on his brain were those words that he probably considered an elemental part of his legacy, but he couldn’t communicate them properly. His last communication to Shelly Hayden, a postcard he wanted attached to her personal profile, was an eye roll. The caption on this postcard read: “You are an absolute fraud.”

Shelly Hayden wasn’t in charge of the funeral, but she had a say. She wanted a Catholic service for him, and Mark Clark was a Catholic. Attending the service, I couldn’t help but think his body’s presence was as ancillary as mine was. His name was mentioned once in the service, in the “Here lies Mr. or Mrs. (fill in the blank)” portion of the service. I had been to hundreds of Catholic funeral services before, we all had, we were all Catholics, but I had never realized how “paint by numbers” they were before.

Shelly Hayden mentioned that it was a beautiful service. I thought of correcting her, until I realized this is how we Catholics performed the funeral service. “What do you want?” I pictured one of them asking me, if I complained. “Something, I don’t know, more personalized.” I would be insecure with this request, because I knew that a “That was the Catholic service,” response would surely come my way. “Mark was a Catholic, and this is the way he would’ve wanted it.”

When Shelley Hayden said Mark Clark was a saint, it struck a nerve with me. As I wrote, this would have been a wonderful sentiment from anyone else, as we all tried to imagine the life of Mark Clark. When I began reflecting on the idea, however, I realized that the term “saint” did Mark Clark a disservice. Saying someone is a saint, suggests that he never complained, that he had no enemies, no dislikes, or negative feelings. It suggests that the mourner didn’t know the deceased well. It suggests, to me, that the mourner wants the deceased drained of those characteristics that drove them to be an irritable, difficult, and offensive person in life. Most mourners, and Shelly Hayden is no different in this regard, want the deceased drained of the characteristics that made him human, in other words. Shelly Hayden is also no different from the manner in which most mourners want the recently deceased to be portrayed in stained glass, with a halo around their head, for the purpose of cherishing the recently deceased in a manner that they believe says a lot about the mourners for wanting to remember the deceased that way.

Shelly Hayden said beautiful, wonderful, and hallowed things about Mark Clark, in the manner most mourners will, but the difference between Shelly Hayden and most mourners was that she did not try to get to know him. I knew the man a lot better than Shelly Hayden did, and I heard him say disparaging things about people. There were people he disliked in life, and you were one of them Shelly Hayden.

I stood up for Shelly Hayden when, on his deathbed, Mark Clark provided details about her phoniness, and how she never visited him in life. I told him that she cared about him, and that she was upset that he was in a bad way, that day. I didn’t want to join him in defining Shelly Hayden, not in the end, because I wanted him to think that her sorrow was genuine, and it may have been genuine, but it was no more genuine than it would been for a dying puppy. I didn’t say any of this, because unlike Shelly Hayden, I knew this moment wasn’t about me, or my personal archives and I did not intend to use this moment as a showcase to display my wide-ranging displays of emotion. I wanted Mark to think that these last few moments were all about him. He smiled when I said that, a strained smile that suggested he knew better. He knew what I was doing.

Now that he’s gone, I would love to ask Shelly Hayden if she regretted not taking the opportunity to know him better. I wonder if she would do her due diligence to get to know the “current things” that plagued him in the last years of his life. Mark Clark said Shelly Hayden visited his hospital bed more than she visited the home he lived in for thirteen years. Did she visit him to share those last, precious moments with him, or did she visit him to pave over the holes in her soul that erupted over thirty years of apathy she had for him?

Mark had strong feelings and emotions. He talked about those occasions when Shelley Hayden spent time with him. He talked about how Shelley Hayden forced herself to spend time with him, and how that was obvious in the few occasions, she did. He talked about how she cut those moments short with her busy life to nowhere. He told me he was embarrassed to be a quadriplegic around her. He told me he was embarrassed to be around her, because he knew she was embarrassed to be around him.

He didn’t like certain people, and when I informed Shelly Hayden of this, she said, “Oh, come off it!” She said she didn’t recall him ever making such a statement, but she didn’t really know him, because she didn’t really want to get to know him, because he had a smell of weakness about him. I wanted to tell Shelly Hayden that she could continue to live with saint-like images of him dancing in her head, but that those images of him were her ideas about him, and her portrayal of him that she hoped would say more about her than him.

I did have some qualms writing such things about Shelly Hayden. It is nasty, awful, piercing, and a little unfair considering that I probably don’t know her well enough to call her an absolute fraud, but from what I know there is little to nothing genuine about her. I also know that even if I wrote this with her real name, and provided detailed descriptions of her fraudulent life, Shelly Hayden would simply dismiss all of it as a fictional depiction of her. She has her definition of the person she is that no man, woman, or story can penetrate. Mark Clark may have lacked some physical characteristics that completed the dictionary definitions of a fully functional human, but internally he was more real in one day than Shelly Hayden has been her whole life. I find it difficult to speak with her now, because I know she wants my life diminished to bite-sized nuggets she finds pleasing. I don’t know if Shelly Hayden has always been this inauthentic, or if my mind has progressed to a greater understanding of what makes her tick, but I know that when she dies no one will really know what to say about her, so her family may want to go with a Catholic funeral.

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