The thing is, as Kurt Vonnegut writes in his brilliant, bizarre Timequake, is that being alive, essentially, is a ‘crock of shit’.
The vast majority (according to my buddy Kurt and his buddy William, 83%) of humans have lives which may feel like they are barely worth living. They’re squirming, embarrassing, uncomfortable things. They’re tiring. It’s an 80/20 ratio of you falling on your face versus you having the glorious, schadenfreude moment of watching someone else, someone that you don’t like, fall on their face. It’s full of rejections and long hours and being caught sticking up two fingers behind your boss’ back. It is a crock of shit.
There are two ways to tackle this overwhelming dichotomy between dullness and unbearable brutality. As Kurt says, the vast amount of human life is geared directly into these two avenues. 1. Poisoning air, heating up the globe, developing machines that crush and track and destroy, both imaginations and bodies, creating industrial, televised, military doomsday- bringers in order to make the end of the world come a bit quicker. Number 2 is a bit cheerier, and is conducted by the special, the good people who have enough brilliance about them not to get weighed down or contaminated by the gunk of the world. They try to create things to mitigate the shittery, to make the mission of being alive just a small bit better.
(Kurt is my buddy, in my head. He died in 2007, when I was eight. That is one of the things that makes me think being alive, indeed, is a crock of shit. In Timequake he inserts letters people have sent him. One of them is from a student, Jeff Mihalich, who talks about feeling inadequate at university, unprepared for the world. That’s, like, my whole deal. Kurt smiles, and you know what I mean about smiling through text, right, reader? The words seem to curve up on the page, seem to beam out warmth. He does that. And he tells him how to be, in so many words, and how to be fine with not being. Just imagine being Jeff Mihalich! What a rub! Kurt died in 2007, in my lifetime, but nine years before I would pick up one of his books for the first time. Nine years before I would be able to write to him, in my own Jeff Mihalich manner, and perhaps feel that smile glow on me too. Isn’t life a crock of shit? Just close, but not close enough. Huh.)
And there are a few of these things that do make being alive better. That do cast a glorious, glorious light onto the dullness of the days, that makes the end of the working hours seem like a sweet relief, that bobs along in the rough sea of the dark like a life vest. Things like Bruce Springsteen songs, and Vonnegut books, and Bob’s Burgers, and whatever your versions of those are. Things that those good, brilliant people (artists) have used their no.2 minds to create in order to ease the burden for the rest of us. But other types of these things, the rarer kind, aren’t made, created, at all. They spring into being and they make you stop and go. Yeah. This is it. This is why life isn’t always a crock of shit. Seeing a cold sun, glittering over heavy, green trees, and the way it streams over silver water, when the air is crisp and clear and bright. Yeah. This is it. The bite into a sweet berry, the juice in your teeth and the seeds at the back of your throat, achy and wonderful. Yeah. This is it. The sound of the wind, howling and hungry, when you’re under the covers, in a warm, yellow-lit room, and the hard taps of a rain that wants to be let in, right now on the double I don’t appreciate the wait, on your window. Yeah. This is it. And one of those things, those rare, burst through the ground like a sunflower and suddenly make you sit up and listen things, reader, one of those things, is love.
It is, indeed, you see, that kind of article.
I want to introduce you to Virginia.
She is about to be born, in a rickety wooden building, one-floor, that squats low on its haunches amidst scrub grass and dirt, sweating in the oppressive August heat. There are no flowers around the house, no trim greenery and house-proud cleanliness. Perhaps, for sweetness’ sake, we can imagine a small posey in the window, a nod towards prettiness, to the hope of beauty. The ground is dry bake mud, and the few sidewalks yet installed are already cracked and peeling, already boiled from two Alabama summers. There are children, streaming around the house, in and out of the walls, playing catch in the uncultivated garden with an unravelling baseball, singing and kicking their legs from the rotting rocking chair on the porch, holding a half-knit baby doll with an expression on its face that says, really, this is it? Six children, wild and barefoot, and if you remember, in the house, another one is about to be born.
Her mother screams one final, final time, blushing with shame and the high Summer heat, screams despite herself, despite the insult to her dignity that she feels screaming to be. Or maybe she has no dignity, maybe she swears and grips the bed and squats down on her haunches, like the house, like the animal that we essentially all are, maybe she threatens the man who has put her through seven of these births, and by the time they divorce when the child she is currently bringing into this world is eight, will have put her through three more. I don’t know. I don’t know whether she was a Southern Belle or whether she was down-home and rough-spun. I do know that the head emerging, there, on the white bed with the frayed cottons, kept clean as can be, is the head of Virginia. Virginia Hill. Onie Virginia Hill, to be precise with you.
Virginia was born in this little hunk of land called Lipscomb in 1916. In 2010, the population of Lipscomb was still only 2,210, 16.21% of them living under the poverty line, so you can imagine what it looked like in 1916. In fact, it had only actually become a town, with an actual name and everything, six years before Virginia was born. People were either employed in the brickyards, furnaces, or shops of nearby Bessamer, or in the Woodward mines. There is nothing here for miles. Work does not live here. A social scene does not live here. What does live here are families like the Hills, headed by W.M. and Margaret, who are laden down with seven or more children, who leave their dusty, dry, dead-grass gardens to walk or ride to work, and then come back to feed and shout and sleep. From all accounts, love does not live here. Like the grass, like the plants, the ground is too hard for it to grow.
We can see, therefore, that in this place, at this time, living is a bigger crock of shit than in most places, at most times.
So, when Margaret, after ten children, packs her bags and walks out on W.M., Virginia comes with. Marietta, Georgia, has gotta be better than this, right? Than Lipscomb, and its tired, sun-baked, arguing people? There must be love in the ground in Marietta. It’s a damn sight bigger, for one, and has plenty of the things that allows love to blossom in the spring: wide, open avenues, leafy trees, actual roads, clean, tidy houses with well-painted wood and flowers in the garden, fountains in the centre of town that catch the light and refract it back. People have more, here. There are still constraints, physical needs, food and water and shelter, but the environment itself is not a constant, present reminder of these necessities. When you look at stately town houses, with manicured lawns and children in clean, new, matching frocks, when you look at restaurants with iron chairs and check tablecloths, when you look at violet paper shopping bags that smell delicious, of crinkly paper and perfume, you are not immediately reminded of all the harshness in life. Oppression, poverty, does not constantly weigh on you in the same way it does when you look at prairie shell-houses, at the sandy earth, and are forced by the sheer image of it to wonder where your next meal is coming from, or how to draw up water from the dead dirt. There is more to Marietta. There is room to care about more than your next pay-check. Fertile ground.
Well, it certainly works for Virginia, who gets married when she is fifteen, in 1931, to sixteen-year-old George. Virginia, pulled from dirt-poor roots and transplanted into a city of greenery, is vivacious, all the way from youth to her death at 49. She has a wink permanently threatening to burst from her bright eyes, dark hair that floats around her pleasant, round face when she walks. But there is a hardness there, too, in her sharp eyebrows, her smallish eyes, her cruel smile. She laughs open and loud, which shocks the timid, coy Southern belles of Marietta. There is nothing coy about Virginia, nothing even coquettish. She is ripe and electric. George does not know quite what to do with her. Virginia knows what to do with George though, as she has seen her mother do it through ten children. She knows that to make this work, she will sit and have child after child and perennially try to keep second-hand furniture clean from sticky fingers and dirt and iron George’s shirts and rot herself, slowly, alongside him. There is no love in that sort of life, or if there is it is a rarity, found between two souls that are content to be alongside one another no matter the strife, but that is a rarity that she and George do not possess. Virginia does not want this.
So, she makes George buckle up his best boots and take her to Chicago in 1933. They can make something of themselves in Chicago, even if she has to grind and strip a bit. When George proves that he cannot quite handle all of this, all of Virginia, she drops him by the wayside. That isn’t love. Love isn’t not being able to see all of the other person, the wildness of them, and not handle it. Love isn’t dimming herself down to go back to a one-room shack and have baby after baby and become a wooden shade barely standing out from the rest of the wallpaper. Not for Virginia. So, an eighteen-year-old divorcee, if you’re following, she gets a job as a waitress (with a supplementing income as a sex worker) in an Italian restaurant which functions as part of the San Carlo Italian village exhibit of the Chicago World’s fair.
Now, reader, here’s the skinny (can I pull that off? I don’t think I can, but it fits the time period, so, suspend the disbelief for a moment. Me and you, reader, the dreams we can spin! A world where I can conceivably, and convincingly, say ‘the skinny’. Wonderful.). Al Capone was arrested in 1931, and with ‘let the good times roll’ Roosevelt ending prohibition, the bootlegging business has gone its way down the drain like so much cheap whiskey. But, these guys, Capone’s guys and the tangential celestial groups that circled each other, warily, like moons around Jupiter, sometimes breaking into shaking rock-on-rock crashes that ended in a cosmic hail of bullets and gaseous clouds of blood, these guys, they liked the power. They’re not going to disband all so easily. They start other rackets, numbers and construction and protection and drug running, and Capone’s ex-guys in particular start hanging around the San Carlo Italian restaurant. Do you see where I’m heading here, reader? Now, I’m not saying that our Virginia knew that the mob was involved when she applied for the job. I’m not not saying that, either. As we know, cities, especially at this time, were as notoriously gossipy as little villages.
Did Virginia really not know that she was worming her way into a mob den? I doubt it. The issue is, that mob life is wild and violent and incredibly brutal, especially towards the women within it. However, it is not boring. It has lost some of its glamour in more recent years, but mafia life offered luxury, opulence. For Virginia, life’s crock-of-shitness had been directly attached to its poverty, and through its poverty, its dullness. If love, always glittering, cannot be found in living hand-to-mouth, in dust and dirt and boredom, it is a pretty fair assumption that it can be found in wealth and excitement. And Virginia was a clever woman. She was charming, and interesting, and wild. It is natural she would seek a home amongst men who were also charming, and interesting, and wild. Even if they were violent.
I’m going to break aside here, reader, to spin you an anecdote. Sometimes, there are people who are not, for lack of a better phrase, conventionally beautiful. You know this, of course you do. You know that there are people without sharp cheekbones, or delicate fey-like features, or willowy arms, or whatever else confirms them as drop-dead to our society. They don’t have a warmness that radiates to you just from the set of their face, the curve of their smile. Or, conversely, they don’t have a chill that freezes you across the room, a quick chill that is sweet and enervating as a walk at the winter seaside, a chill that emanates from the narrow of their eyes, the sharpness of their cheek. They have none of these haunting, preternatural, unfair, beauties. But there are people who are nonetheless captivating, perhaps even more so than the pretties. You cannot put your finger on why: none of their features are supremely arresting, or nicely-set. But there is something about them. When I was around fifteen, my friend India told me this. (Hello, India, if you are reading). There are some people who are perhaps odd, uncomfortable, unclicking and strange, but they have that something that makes them altogether quite impossible to stay away from. They are striking, in that they hit you square on the forehead with their themness.
Virginia Hill was one of these people. In photos she is beautiful, true, but reports from the time say that she was not outrageously, outstandingly, stop-in-the-street gorgeous. She was often described as ‘matronly’, and from people who didn’t quite understand the appeal, rather hard-featured, nothing special. But Virginia had something that made half the people she met, hardened womanizing mobster men, fall head over heels for her. A joie de vivre? A ruthlessness? A devil-may-care attitude? A desire to get to the top? Perhaps all four.
But Virginia made an impression, and climbed ranks through the American mafioso world to heights no other woman would ever quite reach. Charming bookkeeper Joseph Epstein, who introduced her to Charles Fischetti, a top man in the Chicago outfit, Virginia knew what she wanted, something to erase life’s crock-of-shit, and she did not stop till she was there. Virginia was embracing and encompassing with her body, apparently once even performing oral sex on Fischetti as a dare in front of a whole party, including Fischetti’s none-too-pleased wife. However, unlike other women who charmed the Cosa Nostra, Fischetti and his top-tier ilk placed trust in Virginia. She was tight-lipped, diplomatic, loyal: perhaps they recognised a thirst, for love and excitement, an all too easily remembered past of life’s shit crockery that made her unlikely to risk losing the world she had placed herself in. Fischetti sent her to New York to keep tabs on Joe Adonis, a Luciano kingpin, and she did so by making herself his lover. Adonis was impressed.
Perhaps Virginia was in love with all of these men, or none of them. But she did love the colour this life leant her. It was not the brown of her childhood, but the clear white of diamonds, the golden fizz of champagne, the rich, deep red of nail lacquer, the rose-blush of mink. It was the sound of laughter and heels on the floor dancing and the eye-flash of attention.
The love that made Virginia famous, the love that rescued her name (of course, a lifetime of norm-breaking mafia service and captivating behaviour wasn’t enough to do this on its own) from mafia obscurity, the love that gave me enough recorded information to write this much on her, was also the love that made Las Vegas. Virginia met New York mobster Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegal when she was still keeping tabs on Adonis. Bugsy, as his name heralds, was hot-tempered, vicious, wild, but he was also a savant: a snappy dresser, a big spender, a known chancer. Bugsy also had something about him. A desire to beat life’s crock of shit, or at least, make it a bit more fun.
Bugsy was the only man that Virginia made a politically inept decision for. She met him first in New York, when she was under (both politically and physically, right, reader? Go on Virginia) Adonis. At Adonis’ own party, she snuck off with Siegel and had a torrid hotel room affair. Despite the fact that both Adonis and Virginia refused to commit solely to one another, both conducting multiple affairs—Adonis had been married to Jean Montemaro since 1932, to start—Siegel was different. For one thing, he worked on behalf of Adonis in vice racketeering, and sleeping with Virginia was a thumb-the-nose at the man who was supposedly his boss. Worse still, Adonis could hardly discipline or punish Siegel, as Siegel did not technically belong to the Luciano clan, but their allies in the Jewish mob racket. He occupied the same level of position under his chief, Meyer Lansky, that Adonis did under Lucky Luciano. Luciano and Lansky were on a par, and good friends themselves. Any action taken to discipline Siegel would risk that delicate alliance, something Luciano would not stand for. Siegel was powerful, and a threat, and also, from what one can gather, plain annoying. We may never know why Adonis hated Siegel so much and reacted with such fury when he discovered Virginia and Siegel’s activity. But he did, and Virginia’s star dipped quite a bit as a result. The Chicago outfit cut her allowance, and between 1937 and 1939 she was out of the game, indeed, forced to move back in with her mother, in the very shit crockery she had worked so hard to escape. She risked that for Bugsy. Perhaps life was so wonderful with him, so far removed from dullness, that she could not imagine that being with him would lead her back into the very terribleness that she had entered into this life trying to escape.
Ultimately, Hill was too valuable an asset for Chicago to lose forever. She facilitated contacts with Mexican high society through other lovers that vastly eased drug trafficking, she was willing to cross the country to move immense amounts of cash, jewellery and other valuables, and due to her petite, feminine figure, decked in luscious clothes, would rarely be frisked. She deposited money in bank accounts, mended arguments, and kept tabs on whoever her Chicago friends wanted her to. Through 1939 and 1940, when Siegel languished in lock-up over a murder charge, Hill did everything the men asked and more, and she did it for fun. For colour. In return for her work, she was allowed to invest mob money into a nightclub at which she danced in her bare feet on the bar, kicking her legs in a black dress made of rich fabric. She picked out jewels with no regard for cost. She made headlines, she had eyes on her, she lived a life that wasn’t a crock of shit but one of absolute hilarity. She was in love, that rambunctious, rapacious feeling, not with any one man perhaps but with the lifestyle this world gave her. Love, this oh god this is it, life is electric, life is alive feeling, mutes all the terribleness that needs to be done in order to achieve it. The blood spilled is red paint. The drugs are baking powder. Even the contraband she is smuggling is made of jewels. The love, the excitement, the payoff for this difficult duty is a hit that washes the rest of life in a glow of radiance.
Before she met Siegel again, Hill married a boy. It was annulled in a matter of weeks. She met him in a bar, and they were man and wife three hours later. He, Osgood Griffin, was 19 and a college football player. He had come from the same infertile dirt as her, and perhaps for a moment, she thought she could bestow the same beauty on him that had been bestowed on her.
When her and Siegel did reunite, the colour had not dimmed. Do you think she ever stopped and thought about her parents here? Her mother? Her mother who had lived in that grey, wooden, Lipscomb shack, who had ten children in blood and pain, who had resided in a million muted shades, made do with dirt and wood and not much else. Hill had everything. She lived in a mansion. The man she lived with was building a casino in the Las Vegas desert, a casino that attracted Judy Garland and Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra, a casino that was named the Flamingo, reputedly after her own nickname. They had roaring fights, of course, but he was utterly entranced with her, and she with him. There was no compromise or colourlessness. Life, impossibly, was not a crock of shit. It was, in fact, a crock of gold. They held parties and they made love and he showed her off up and down around L.A. and Vegas. She was brilliant. She was opulent. She was in love! (She was also keeping tabs on Siegel for her old friends in Chicago and their L.A. representative, Jack Dragna. Hedging her bets. In love, perhaps, not with Siegel but with the life.)
Siegel, however, was stupid. Bright and charming and bloody good fun, but stupid. The Flamingo was hiking up higher and higher building costs and netting a continuous loss. Rumours were spreading. Siegel was skimming off the top. Over $1 million gone and no explanation why.
Whether Hill loved Siegel or not, she was conspicuously absent, on an unscheduled flight to Paris, when Siegel was shot five times in the chest in the house they lived in together, as he sat down to read the newspaper.
Hill avoided the downturn for a while, but eventually, life returned to its essential state. She had one last burst of stardom, testifying that she up and down knew nothing about illegal mafia activity in the US in the Kefauver trials of 1951. She wore a mink fur, a broad-brimmed hat and rich satin gloves and was still the star of the show. But after that? Nothing, really. A sad, slow, descent back to the dullness and obscurity that she was born in. She was brought up on tax evasion. Married a ski instructor, had a son and fled to Austria. She still made trips across Europe for her old friends, but the money, the regard, they had for in her in return slowly started to droop, before eventually running out entirely. No-one would return her calls. She tried to end her life several times before she succeeded, beneath a snowbank, in her car, on sleeping pills. The note beside her said that she was simply tired of life.
The thing is, would Virginia have been tired of it, of life, if it was the life she lived with Siegel? The life of colour and distraction? I doubt it. Love, you see, has a habit of disguising the bad things. Of softening them. When it gets taken away, it is very difficult to return to a life where this was not the case. Where you accepted the rough lot of it all.
My case here, reader, is that love is a means to suspend the toughness of the rest of reality, in the same vein as many other dopamine-releasing drugs. But unlike liquor, coke and heroin, we are taught to be addicted to love. It is a harmless addiction. It is a way to make life sweet once more without wasting the body away along with it. I idolised love for so much of my life. If you find my old facebook, which I cannot remember the password to and thus cannot delete (unfortunately), I am 99% sure that there are at least three statuses from when I was around eleven that decry my lack of a boyfriend (I had, and continue to have, no shame). I was obsessed about it. Thought about it constantly. I fell in ‘love’ every five minutes, with whoever was decent enough to smile at me, bless them, or someone I had read about and refused to believe wasn’t real (Peeta Mellark, a part of me will forever be yours). For, what I will say and you will have to allow me a slight bit of self-flattery here, rather a clever young woman I was indeed not so much bothered with what I could do in the future than who I could do it with. Finding a radiant person that would reduce the rest of life to a distant, grey hum. I had experienced the love hit in other senses of the word. The familial, when I would be singing in the car with my mum, and the sun would light her face so, or when I was very little and she would come downstairs after getting ready for a dinner with my dad and her perfume would smell like pearls and treasure and roses, and she was the prettiest woman in the world. Or the friendly, when my dog would wag his tail when I entered the room, or would sleep outside my door, or when someone I thought was so cool would laugh at my joke, or when India and I would map out films that our production company, Green & White, inc., would make. Or the material, when I tried on a dress that made my frumpy, unsure self feel like a million dollars, or I would get a new book and I could smell that sweet, vanillary crinkle of the pages. I had experienced those forms of love, and indeed, they absolutely washed out the rest of the world. Romantic love, surely, would be that to the extreme. Intensity turned up to eleven.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote of poetry as another means to block out this terrible awfulness of living (along with his preferred strategy, railing enough opium to wipe out an Afghan poppy field, before falling slack-mouthed into an armchair and living for a moment in a world far more wonderful than his own). What he said poetry could do was create a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ for a moment. A willing suspension of thinking about trying to work out the menu of the week, and its corresponding budget. A willing suspension of resentment towards whoever has enraged you this particular week, the person who has built themselves a little rage corner in the back of your brain. A willing suspension of worry about deadlines, of worry about how-am-I-going-to-avoid-this-person-who-I-don’t-actually-like-but-have-accidentally-become-friends-with, of worry about family, future, friends. A willing suspension of your disbelief that the world can be in fact, wonderful. He’s right, our friend Coleridge, you know. Poetry, and stories (both written and filmed) do in fact do that. They create a world, fantasy or not, where there is more than this. Where every emotion, bad or good, is exhilarating, and anyone can end up spirited along in an adventure. Where the excitement is right here, right now, in the present pages underneath your finger and thumb, moving and dreaming and squealing, not in a lost past or a hypothetical future. Where it is Thunder Road and not Glory Days. (Glory Days is actually, despite the title, a really sad song all about life being better in the past, it does make sense, so check that attitude at the door, reader).
Now, this is obviously more commonly found in fantasy and sci-fi and historical and romantic pieces, but it is equally true of both non-fiction and fiction that is set in the real world. Few of them are concerned with the actual reality of humdrum existence; that fades away against the more pressing foreground of murder or espionage or romantic entanglement.
But, Coleridge, darling, love does this as well.
In another of my favourite books, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Cathrynne Valente (God, what a name. You could conquer the world with a name like that, reader. Say it with me. Cathrynne Valente. God! It feels like an autumn leaf falling off the tongue, does it not?) the main character, September, visits a bathhouse, where she has to take three baths. These are not regular, soap and water baths, reader, oh no. Not for September. She is, after all, in Fairyland. What these baths are, and what September gets washed, is her zest for life, which as we grow old and are faced with immeasurable disappointments, gets grimed up with fear and resentment and hurt and exasperation. Lye, the soap golem who runs the bathhouse, treats September to a refresher of her courage, her luck, and her wishing. September is only eleven in the first book, and already all of these have become filthy and used and barnacled. Lye brews her a concoction that is the red-gold of autumn leaves and smells of cinnamon and crisp air and apples, and when September steps out of the bath she has learned to be brave again, fearless as a much younger child again, has learned to smile upon the universe’s chancing hand again, has learned to want and hope for things again.
But, and I am sorry to have to be the one who has to break this to you, reader, this bathhouse does not actually exist. Even if you and I, dreamers that we are, ran a lovely, steaming bath, a bath so hot it would leave tidemarks of blush where the water was on our skin, and we poured the bubble bath that smelt the best in the world to us in it (my favourite smells are much like September’s courage bath, warm and crackling and Autumnal) and we lit tall, tapering candles, that would leave spider-web strands of rich, red wax on the window sill, even if we did all of this, when we emerged, the fundamental qualities of who we are would not be changed. We would still have the lifetime grime of human living stuck to the recklessness within us.
Love, see, not to be too heavy-handed about this, is this universe’s version of a courage-bath, a luck-bath, a wishing-bath. It reminds us that we are actually alive.
The first time I went to the cinema with the man who is now my boyfriend (score! Right, reader? Up top) I have never been more aware of every single part of my actual body in my life. We went to see A Quiet Place, which I have on good authority is actually quite a brilliant film, but I cannot remember much or any of it. All I can remember is that he had part of his arm on the arm rest, and I had a part of my arm on the other part of the arm rest, and I could feel every single piece of my skin in relativity to where his was. Every single piece. I could feel the downy hairs, I could feel the muscles beneath it, desperately flexing and unflexing as my mind went through the ups and downs of do I move it to touch his do I not do I do I not. I could even, in a fanciful part of my mind, feel where my freckles were. I could feel my wrist bone where it almost knocked against his, I could feel the actual pocket of air between our two hands. This, reader, was the wishing-bath. I learnt, with our arms, so close and not close enough, watching the film reflected in the light over his face, the nose and his heavy brows and his eyes, that I did actually want things from life. I let myself want them. (God, this is atrocious, and is going to give him such an ego.)
When, so many weeks or months later, when we were actually together and we went swimming in the frigid, rigor-mortis Porthcawl sea with his brother, and then went back to his house and ate tuna sandwiches that tasted like the salt from my fingertips, and when months after that we ate his mum’s spicy, sweet mince pies (I had never liked them before but in his warm kitchen they tasted incredible, a compliment not so much to him but to his mum’s brilliant cooking), and when months after that again he fell asleep with our littlest dog curled into him, and weeks later again when we would go walking and walking every day and talked from our first step out of the house to our final step in it, when he played guitar on Christmas night without a pick even though it hurt his fingers because my parents were enjoying themselves, when he bought me True Grit for Valentine’s Day, when all of these things happened and happen every day, that was the luck-bath. Well, I could hardly be anything else other than lucky with this person on my arm, could I?
The courage bath is sort of a constant one, really. There is a Bruce Springsteen song that everyone thinks is actually very tragic and sad, and I thoroughly disagree with the whole bloody lot of them. It is called Secret Garden, and ostensibly (ostensibly, reader, remember whose side you’re on here) is about how even when you have known someone for twenty thirty fifty years there will still be big swathes of them that remain secret. You will come across a patch of hollyhocks, or a forgotten bandstand, and it will remind you that the garden can never be totally mapped, and totally understood, just as your own garden will have room for constant exploration for them. There is tragedy here, I guess, that you could live a life with someone and still not know the entirety of them. Always a yard left to discover. But the courage bath, you see, is finding that not frightening or terrible but brilliant. I love that now and again I will stumble onto a waterfall trimmed with yellow reeds and packed with glinting, ghostly koi, or a grove of olive trees that hang heavy and fragrance the air. The courage bath is keeping going through the wilderness.
The thing with the whole love is suspension of disbelief is summed up again, brilliantly, by Vonnegut (what a guy). Just as when you crack open The Two Towers and believe, for your brief reading, in a world that can be populated by humongous men made of trees and moss and crackling bark, love makes you believe in a world of ‘white magic’. When he is describing his first wife, Vonnegut writes ‘Jane could believe with all her heart anything that made being alive full of white magic’, and he is glad of this, he has benefitted from this, ‘because I loved her’, and through loving her, he felt that white magic too. Imagine a lifetime of that. When the world is cold and terrible and grey, there is an injection of brightness. An injection of magic.
What a drug!
Have you met Carrie and Sue? They’re seventeen, and eighteen, respectively. They’re about to get married.
I don’t have as much to tell you about Carrie and Sue. I can’t spin you a yarn in the way I could Virginia, who, because of her tendency for the daring and the extreme, is rather a well-documented woman. Carolyn and Assunta, Carrie and Sue, have very little written about them. All that I can find are two obituaries for Carrie, one that refers to her as Catherine instead of her actual name, and a four-paragraph article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sue’s death. Unlike Virginia, who has been photographed from every conceivable angle looking like she is thoroughly enjoying each snap, there is only one photo available of Sue on the internet, and believe me, I have searched. There are none for Carrie. Carrie and Sue are not as historically important as Virginia, even though both were married to two of the most powerful Cosa Nostra bosses in U.S. history. I have my personal feelings about why this is, and they can mostly be summed up, as most things can, by one Virginia Woolf quote.
‘This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book, because it deals with the feelings of women in the drawing room.’
Virginia Hill did not have children, and was not married, for the majority of her exploits. She was not busy with making dinner and dressing little girls and combing hair for school. She was a woman doing what at that time were ‘man things’, smuggling and running drugs and the like, and thus, presto, she is interesting. She is History. Carrie and Sue, on the other hand, were ‘normal women’ for fifties and sixties America. They lived in the domestic sphere, they attended dances, they went on trips, they loved their children and their husbands, and because their realm was considered ‘distinctly female’ they are not of historical interest. But, hey, this is an argument for another day. In my opinion, however, they lived lives that were altogether rarer than Virginia Hill’s. They lived lives that were, for the most part, totally, utterly, happy.
Yes, so, Carrie and Sue, Carolyn and Assunta. Carolyn, born Carolyn Sciandra in Buffalo, New York, on May 22nd, 1911, was a content woman. By all accounts, a beautiful woman, raised in a bright and close family in Buffalo, with three brothers and a sister, Mary, who remained her best friend for much of her life. Buffalo is a relatively big city, although dwarfed in the ‘New York’ name by its older, larger cousin, but it is open and green, with a flat, blue coast. It has freezing winters, where it is buried in drifts of snow, and if you try, reader, you can imagine Carrie there, sixteen and beautiful, with dark hair that brushed the shoulders of her new winter coat, diffident, effusive against the white snow, with cheeks the ripest pink and a light-up smile. She met Russell, who would become her husband, around that time. Similar to the city she was born in, Carolyn was dwarfed by her own name, Sciandra. Both her parents, and her uncle and aunt, came from Montedoro, a municipality in Sicily, where the buildings were fat, flat and Mediterranean yellow, with hot, red, tiled roofs. Carolyn was not born in Montedoro, her life was Buffalo, and America, and I don’t know if she ever even visited. Her cousin, John, and her other cousin, Edward, were born in Montedoro. They knew the life. They knew the heat, and they brought it with them. The Sciandras were old-school notorious. Not in the papers, spilling blood and wine and dancing with the wife of the mayor notorious, like Crazy Joe Gallo, or like our old pal Bugsy, but frightening notorious. Whisper the name behind your hand notorious.
Russell respected their hustle.
He was quite short, a quiet man, Russell. He was also born in Montedoro, though his family emigrated two months after he was born. He had quite a tough, tragic start, the way that many did in 1903: two months after Russell, his mother and his siblings arrived to meet his father in New York, he died in a mine accident, forcing the Bufalinos back into the Sicilian heat. They returned to the bracing east coast in 1906, but Russell left once more for the homeland in 1910 after his mother died. He made his final move in 1914, back to the U.S., at eleven years old, on his own. Carrie, at this time, if you’ll remember, was three. She was brought up in warmth, amid the hot smells of cooking and the lemony scent of clean floors. Russell moved to Buffalo when he was fourteen, in 1917, when Carrie was six, and learned hard and fast that to live in Buffalo you have to be quick, quiet, and clean.
Carolyn was the Sciandra princess, and she must have been a beacon of light to Russell, like we’ve imagined her earlier, reader. Dark hair and pink cheeks and a flashing, pearly smile, an Italian votive of warmth and colour amongst the frigid cold of the rest of Buffalo. She knew and understood. You can picture them here, reader, if you’d like. I certainly will be. In a frozen park, hands linked. Maybe this is where he asked for her hand, in the icy wastes of blackened trees and warm-lit buildings, in this park by the sea.
Around three months after her seventeenth birthday, on August 9th, 1928, Carolyn Sciandra, like magic, became Carolyn Bufalino.
And this is where, reader, I trail off. They were married for just under sixty-six years, till February 25th, 1994, when Bufalino died, aged 90. Bufalino became one of the most prominent names in La Cosa Nostra, ruling quietly over the Pennsylvania crime family, named Bufalino in his honour, making little noise and drawing little attention to himself. He was kind, and generous to his friends, and steely to his opposition, as so many of these men are. He did what he did, and copped some prison time for small fry charges like extortion and conspiracy, but no restitution for the violence he certainly saw.
The thing is, unlike Bugsy and Virginia, or Virginia and any of her dalliances, Carolyn and Russell were known to be blissfully, and utterly, happy together. They were afflicted by sadness—they were unable to ever have children, a difficulty that Russell’s friends said deeply saddened both Carrie and Russell—and I am sure that there were times when the reality of what Russell did infected their relationship, but on the whole? Unendingly happy.
Perhaps it was easier for her, Carrie, as she had grown up in the Cosa Nostra way of life. She knew, and she was accepting of it. Perhaps it was easier too, as like Sue Maranca, she was married to a gentle, ungentle, man. Both Russell and Angelo, Sue’s eventual husband, did what they did because it was what they knew how to do. Both were clever, whip-smart and good at both organisation and mediation, but neither lusted for violence. In fact, many times, both tried to avoid it in whatever way they could. Angelo was even nicknamed ‘the gentle don’. Unlike Siegel, or Adonis, or countless other mafioso men, there was no need for the showboating and eccentricity and deceit and adultery that the power of the lifestyle could afford them. They were at ease, in love with their wives, and carefully managed the reality of their conditions. Kept their heads down. What I can find about Russell and Carrie is that he worshipped her, and the feeling tended to be mutual. His number one concern was her safety. They took trips and he bought her (blood-soaked) diamonds and they spent sixty-six years in unending, crock-of-shit-less happiness. Life, for Carrie, with Russ, was beautiful. She spent nights under the olive trees and amongst the poppies in the secret garden of Russell, and the quiet and peace she found there proved to be wonderful.
This was much the same for Sue. An intelligent, educated woman with a daring, red-lipped smile, Sue was born in Abruzzo, an Italian province east of Rome, before moving to Philadelphia at five years old in 1918. She was younger than Carrie by two years. She wouldn’t have met Angelo much later than that; their families owned grocery stores about a block (I am still not sure how far that is and it is too late to ask) away from one another. Angelo was cheeky, young, friends with Sue’s older brother Ralph. When prohibition came roaring into force, they became bootleggers together. In 1931, Sue married Angelo, at eighteen years old in St. Paul’s Catholic Church, an impressive red-brick building on Christian Street. Inside, (you can find the photos online) it is grand and wide, as Catholic churches tend to be. (I have to say, I do adore the theatricality. Protestantism is so damp and grey. Bring out the incense!)
I like to imagine what Sue thought when she walked up the aisle to Angelo, ostensibly under the eye of her God. The floor is polished, a honeyed wood; the pews match, with red velvet pads to numb the pain of bone-on-wood. Where she would stand, there is a huge arch, framed by two smaller ones cut into either side of the wall next to it, and inside the arch, there is a fresco of Christ kneeling. I bet it would smell heavy, velvety, and I bet the light, which is both warm from the candles and cold from the autumn early morning sun, would fall over Angelo’s face just so, under his wide smile and glinting eyes, and I bet he would look excited under the guise of solemnity, and there amongst the families that had been intermingled since Sue was five, there amongst the heavy smells and the streaming sunlight, Sue looked at Angelo and thought yeah. This is it. Life is not, not, a crock of shit.
They were married for just under 50 years. According to their daughter, Jean, they were 49 years of absolute heaven. Angelo would play songs on their wooden piano, and Sue would sing ‘Baby, you done me wrong’. Sue, Jean says, was a head-turner, who wore jewel red lipstick deep into her seventies, who on the few occasions she was annoyed with Angelo would go and run up an expensive bill in the hairdressers, who would dance with Angelo and make him potato pasta in a rich, spicy marinara sauce, with unsweetened red wine on the side. There were difficulties, as with Carrie, engendered with Angelo’s line of work. He was imprisoned for three years for refusing to talk about mafia activities. There were times when Sue was afraid to open the door. But with Angelo, she was happy. Happy. What a drug, I said earlier, love is.
They were married for just under 50 years when Angelo was shot dead in his own car in 1980. The last thing Sue said to him was that he looked ‘so handsome in that blue business suit’. She told her daughter she was glad that that is what she had said to him, her last words before he walked out the door, her last words before he died.
Carrie and Sue are not wild, like Virginia, not brutal and brilliant. They are normal, and gentle, and kind.
But I like them. I am interested in them, more so, perhaps, in some ways, than I am in Virginia. There is another Vonnegutism that I particularly enjoy: the notion of a karass. A karass is a team that God has formed for you, a team of people whose life yours, for some reason, tangles up with. When you are with the karass, the world seems more correct, righter on its hinges. Carrie and Sue found their karass, simply and without care, and they lived blissful lives happily unaware, for the most part, of the crock-of-shit that was the world, drugged with the shit-blinder that is love.
The thing is, this version of love, this kind, soft-round-the-edges dopey love ignores that, for the most part, love is a drug. A drug you will do anything to get your next hit from. A drug that for the most part it is very, very hard to quit.
I know, I know! Caitlin, how cliché, you scoundrel. Everyone knows that love is a drug. There is even a film called Love and Other Drugs. Boring. This isn’t like you.
But the thing is, dear reader, do we really know that love is a drug? Where are the scared-straight school seminars on love, for one? What do you say to that, huh? I vividly remember in Year 8 being shown before-and-afters of meth users, heroin junkies, alcohol addicts. I remember being warned that what starts off beautifully can end in absolute tears. I do not remember being warned this about love.
For we say we all know that love is a drug, that it numbs the crock-of-shit that is the world, that it is good and wonderful and makes the world turn round and round. And we say we know how powerful it is. I disagree.
There is always a monologue in a film where love is talked about as the most powerful force in the universe, it looks upon tempests and is never shaken. But the thing is, love is rarely tested in these films. Oh, of course, it is tested by distance and time or mediocre secrets and all those relatively namby-pamby plotlines. However, if one loved person ever does a truly awful thing, a truly, truly repulsive act, then the person who was in love with them in the first place, the person who made them loved, quickly falls out of it. The bonds of the addiction are always easy to break.
This really winds me up, reader. When a woman is treated despicably by her partner or vice versa, the advice is always there, (and I am usually part of this chorus too so I’m insulting all of us, together, equally): just leave. Walk out the door, turn around now, cause he’s not welcome anymore.
The thing is, it is bloody good advice, but it is ignoring a key part of the bloody issue. The advice is naïve and honestly doesn’t take into a key component of the whole complex.
Does anyone ever tell a heroin addict to just stop being addicted?
Because beside the rest of the tangles and twists that legally and societally bind our lives together and make it hard for one of us to leave another (marriage, shared property, children, shared friends, shared wealth) you are forcing someone to quit, cold turkey, on something that at least once proved to them that the world was not a crock of shit. Even if that love is bitter and cruel and the person who once blessed you now repulses you, there is some physical, addictive muscle memory that remembers what it was like to feel that good. To see the world in its spring brightness. To feel alive. It is very, very hard to give that up.
When I was younger, I swore to myself that if a man ever cheated on me, I would never forgive him. I would leave, right there and then.
If my boyfriend, the person who points out ice crystal rings around the moon and learns how to play Coat of Many Colours on guitar for me, who is fascinated by Dungeons and Dragons monsters and can look at maths and solve it just like that, the person who proves to me that life is not a crock of shit, if he cheated on me? Well. I don’t know.
The thing is love is always lovely and kind and perfect in films and television and books, a phenomenon that we all say we are aware of but kind of tacitly accept at the same time. But love is not. Love is a bitch! It is just as much proof of life’s shitness as life’s goodness.
I think a key part of the death penalty argument that is often forgotten is the family of the victim. In all aspects, I am anti-death penalty. I think it is barbaric, it is conclusively not a deterrent to crime, it often targets victims of heinous abuse themselves, I do not think the state should have the right to decide at will who lives and who dies, and obviously, in America it is far more geared towards destroying non-white bodies than towards creating any semblance of justice.
The only thing that could make me waver is the families. It is a part often left out of the ivory-tower university discussions I have been a party to about it. Even those pro-death penalty are less pro the victim’s family than they are pro eliminating a criminal threat. But I think about them often.
I think about my mother and my aunt and my father and my boyfriend and my dogs. I think about my cousins and I love them so much that I would believe the sky is green if they told me so. That love, no less so than romantic, makes me think that the world is not a crock of shit. (I will stop using that phrase at some point).
When Lisa Montgomery was executed a few weeks ago, the first woman on a federal death row to have been since Ethel Rosenberg in 1953, I was the first to be disgusted, dismayed by it. She was a victim of constant, atrocious abuse. The crime she committed was horrific, barbaric, but she was clearly not mentally well. It was a miscarriage of justice, I proclaimed.
And then I thought about the victim, Bobby Jo Stinnett, who Montgomery killed in Skidmore, Missouri. (Skidmore, incidentally, is also famous for the essentially vigilante killing of Ken Rex McElroy, who raped then ‘married’ at least three underage women, who rustled cows, destroyed property, committed felony assault and shot at least two people, one a seventy-year-old man who was shot close-range in the neck and by some miracle survived. McElroy had never received a criminal conviction. The town had no justice. They shot him, as a last resort. Were they wrong?)
Bobby Jo was 23. She was pregnant. Lisa Montgomery met her under false pretences, in order to buy a puppy from her. She then strangled the eight months along Bobby Jo with a rope before cutting the baby girl from her stomach. She attempted to pass it off as her own before the police arrested her.
I think of Bobby Jo’s husband, who has to raise the child on his own. Would he resent the child, his own daughter, just a little bit? Her entrance proved his wife’s exit. Would he feel guilt? And I think of Bobby Jo’s mother, who found her daughter disembowelled and her granddaughter missing. I think of the love they must have had for Bobby Jo.
If I was them, and this is neither morally correct or a civilised thing to think on my behalf, but I would want Lisa Montgomery dead.
Love is so easily twisted to accept and think and do horrific, horrific things. As much a cult as a drug, when love becomes a crock of shit itself you will change the conditions, the situation, anything about it to make it go back to the way it was, to the way it would feel, to make it come true again. Anything.
People ask if the wives of some of history’s most heinous serial killers knew what they were doing, knew that there was a double side to the coin of loving husband/father/churchgoer/scout leader, if they had an inkling that in the dark of the night Mr. Great Dad Loving Husband III was stalking and staking out sex workers or brunettes or little boys and committing awful crimes against them.
Dennis Rader’s wife, who was married to him for thirty-four years, there or thereabouts, for instance. Did she know? Did she know that lovely old Dennis was installing security alarms in the very homes he would later invade, did she know that in the evenings when she went to bed early he was out on the prowl, ready to bind, torture, kill families? Robert Hansen’s wife, who was married to him for twenty-three years, did she know? He was investigated, he was found out and prosecuted in 1983, the year of their 20th anniversary. Did she know that when he paid for a trip for her and the kids that he was doing so not out of the kindness of his sweet heart but in order to get her out and away so he could chain up and abuse young women in their basement, before flying them out into the Alaskan wilderness and hunting them like dogs with a shotgun? Gary Ridgeway’s wife, (any of the three of them that he eventually had) did she know? Gary was an odd one, sure, an evangelical proselytizer in the streets and a sex maniac in the sheets (rather a common combination, actually), but did she know that when he wasn’t around he was out racking up one of the highest kill counts of any U.S. serial killer? That he was bringing a photo his infant son out in the truck with him when he would pick up his sex worker victims, and he would show them so that they would feel safer with him. Did she know that as they relaxed after they saw the smiling child’s face, he would take the women out into the woods and strangle them from behind?
Of course none of these women knew. Were there signs that things were wrong, things were off, that they could be the source of the evil? Probably. Was it likely any of the women seriously considered that their husbands were these killers? Probably not. When Dennis’ taunting letters and their unique spellings were making the rounds on Wichita TV, Dennis’ wife turned to him, and said, laughingly, ‘You spell like BTK!’. If we were watching this on a police drama, you and I, reader, with popcorn on our laps, we would laugh at the stupidity of the woman on the screen, and say how could you not see it?! But when you love that person it blinds you, it tries to erase all faults and issues no matter how heinous. It cannot accept the badness of a person who has made the world so good for you. Even when those flaws have been proved without a shadow of a doubt, letting go is still so, so hard. Robert Hansen’s wife didn’t divorce him until two years after his trial and incarceration for the rape and murder of at least 17 women.
Diane Keaton’s character in the Godfather II annoys the mother of God out of me. She is happy to take the good things from her marriage to Michael Corleone without a second thought, but when she becomes unhappy she rejects him for his mafia lifestyle, and I think every time I watch it, get a GRIP, woman. Did you really have no idea that Michael was gun running and drug smuggling and in the business? It is staring out at you. Of course you knew. You just tacitly accepted it because it was facilitating the proof of life’s goodness, its luxury and its opulence and its happiness, to you. When it stopped, and you got bored, it suddenly repulsed you.
I never knew why that annoyed me so much, and I think I know now that it is because it is just. Not. Real.
In The Irishman there is a scene where Katherine Narducci, who plays Carolyn Bufalino, our girl from earlier, waits at the top of the stairs for Russell to come home. This scene is what made me spend about 12 months reading about mafia wives and women, and this scene is what made me like Carrie, and this scene is what made me write the article. Russell, played by Joe Pesci, comes home late late in a shirt covered with blood. Carrie says nothing, but takes the shirt from him. That is real.
The thing is, love doesn’t want to know anything that might dispel its proof of life’s goodness. That might suspend the suspension of disbelief. It doesn’t want to let go of a body, it doesn’t want to let go of the feeling that with this person life is wonderful once more.
I don’t know what you’ll take of this article, reader. I don’t know what to take out of it myself. On one level, considering it all has proved to me how vital, how necessary, love is to our continued survival. Whether platonic, familial, material or romantic. Whether you believe it is purely a dopamine hit released by your brain, a chemical designed to keep us functioning in survival-friendly pack societies and breeding, or whether you believe it is proof of an intrinsic soul that thrives within us all. Maybe, like me, you believe (without much proof, I fear) in a bit of both. Whether you think it is pedalled to us and forced down our throats and has been making us far too googly-eyed for far too long, it is necessary. Our lives are constrained by the dull and often difficult realities of living, of working, of money, of arguments and disjointedness. Love is something that keeps us going. As the lord and legend Bruce Springsteen writes so beautifully, when love graces us with its dramatic presence, the banality and difficulties and issues of the world seem to fade away, dwarfed by its genuine beauty. ‘I don’t see the summer as it wanes/Just a subtle change of light upon your face’. Love is a numbing agent and also an amphetamine, as written in another heroic Bruce track. When you ‘ain’t going nowhere,’ when you live ‘in a dump like this’, when you’re ‘tired and bored with yourself’ the ‘spark’ of love can transform a reality. (I will never stop with the Bruce, it is just not going to happen.) It can prove to you that you’re still alive. And that’s wonderful!
But the issue is that love is absolutely insane and is so intense and so lovely that we will do anything to maintain it. We will do anything to uphold its illusion. We will forever be chasing the dragon for our next hit, even if we ruin ourselves in the process, even if we totally inure ourselves to horrific, horrific behaviour. These women, these proud, intelligent, lovely women, were married and in love with men who, even if they were not evil in and of themselves, did commit violent acts. A violence that had no bounds. A violence that destroyed and swept up everything in its path. But, especially in the case of Carolyn Buffalino and Sue Maranca, love kept them from acknowledging this, love kept them from leaving. There are obvious additions to this; many people are frightened to leave from the fear of physical, financial and emotional abuse, or they are scared of the power that their significant other may possess, or the effort of exiting a life so entwined with someone else’s is exhausting to the point of exsanguination. But I do think that we underestimate that with some people, some women like Carrie and Sue, and even Virginia, they do not leave. They cannot accept or be put off from the person that they’re with because like greedily drinking in every drop of a beautiful sunrise, the love is too good to quit. The prospect of going back to a world without it is too bleak. Maybe all I’m suggesting here is that instead of jumping in with a just leave you idiot, or a how could you stay with someone like that we cut them a bit of slack. It is hard. Love, that trickster chemical, that favourite of Disney, is a powerful, powerful thing, and it is hard to unleash its bonds entirely. Maybe we try to understand. This is not to say we encourage them to stay with the person or overlook these things, but to say that maybe we do not judge, when they find it difficult to. Maybe we listen. Love is monstrous as well as angelic, and people will do so much, overlook and take so much, in its name.
Ninetta Riina was married to the ‘Beast of Sicily’, Toto Riina. They married while he was on the run, a trend that lasted over 23 years of their marriage. She bore him four children, and sat at home and cooked and smiled while he did atrocious, atrocious things. She had a son who was around fifteen years old when Toto kidnapped the 13-year-old son of a fellow mafioso-turned-police-informant. He held the boy for around two years, savagely beat him, starved him, neglected him, in an effort to intimidate the man into silence. He then killed him and dissolved his body in acid in a lupara bianca, a mafia hit that makes the body impossible to find. When Toto was arrested, and then died a number of years later, Ninetta just said ‘He was the best of possible fathers.’
Ann Hathaway, a Rochdale cabaret dancer, was married to Antonio Rinzivillo, a ruthless mafioso sentenced to thirty years for drug running, assault, amongst other charges. She was tried too, for her shady mafia associations, but she was found innocent, after a harrowing, two-year-long ordeal. When asked if she would do it again, she replied: ‘Certainly I’d do it again. I adore my husband. He’s the father of my two girls.’
Mae Coughlin was a young Irish-American woman who was twenty two when she married nineteen year old Al Capone, though they both fudged the numbers on their marriage certificate to make it appear as though they were twenty. Coughlin gave birth to the couple’s only child, also Al, who was deaf in one ear. She took care of them both, dressed elegantly, smiled sweetly, loved her husband with a simple, defining truth. She loved him while he ruthlessly and relentlessly conquered Chicago. She loved him when he or someone working on his orders gunned down seven men in a Lincoln Park car garage on Valentine’s Day, 1929, in an arranged hit. She loved him when the papers turned against them. She loved him when Eliot Ness and his Untouchables stalked the family restlessly in order to put him in jail. She loved him when he slept with hundreds of women, and developed the syphilis that would eventually kill him. She only let this love slip once, when she told her son, ‘don’t be like your father. He broke my heart.’ Then she cared for him when he was in jail, sending him letters addressed to honey, wishing for him to come home. Then she cared for him when he was out of jail, until he died from the syphilis his adultery had given him at 49 years old, with the mental age of around an eight-year-old.
What a drug!
Art by Sophie Dickson