Thomas Wictor

I will not submit

I will not submit

The death of my father changed me in fundamental ways. Probably the most significant consequence of Dad’s passing was that it made me aware of how much of my life I’d given over to him. He got what he wanted, regardless of the cost to others. Now that he’s no longer here, you need to know this about me: I will not submit. To anything.

I spent fifty-one years keeping the peace by agreeing to actions that were inexplicable. Dad would rather have died than admit he was wrong or had made a mistake, so if something started to go south on him, he did more of it. In fact that’s the reason he did die. He refused to admit that he had cancer.

There was one method of getting through to him. If you spoke to him as though he were a dog, he listened. Doing so was horrific.

Tim’s house flooded after the neighbors put in a foot of sod, raising the level of their lawn so high that rain was now decanted off the grass and into the crack between the window sills and the top edge of the wooden siding. Each wall therefore filled with gallons and gallons of water. When enough weight built up, the water shot out of the crack between the bottom of the wall and the floor molding, surging into the fireplace and piano rooms.

Never mind all the orbs in the photo. They’re just my angry, deceased ancestors waiting to get their hands on me.

The fireplace-room carpet was ruined, so we just cut off the wet part and threw it away. Then we moved everything that might get wet, soaked up what we could with towels, and went to tell our parents.

Dad’s face lit up. “What we’ll do is take steel plate and pound it into the ground on that side of the house using sledgehammers. Each plate’ll have to be about six feet tall and four feet wide, and we’ll have to figure out a way to seal the gaps between them. Maybe welding.”

It was a scenario straight from the mind of Satan. Six-foot-tall steel plates weighing half a ton each. We’d have them delivered on a flatbed truck, and we’d hire a crane to lift them over the fence into the neighbors’ yard, fighting off their rabid dogs. Then eighty-one-year-old Ed and his two middle-aged sons would heave each plate upright. Two of us would hold it in position, and the third would climb a stepladder with a sledgehammer and hit the top edge of the plate five hundred times to ram it six feet into the earth.

Once all thirty plates had been installed, we’d dig a six-foot-deep trench the length of the house so that we could get down to the plates with welding equipment and seal the gaps. All of this work would take place in the middle of a monsoon.

NO!” Tim almost-shouted. “WE’RE NOT GOING TO DO THAT!

“All right,” Dad said, unfazed.

During the last six or seven years of Dad’s life, Tim could muster the strength to almost-shout at him, but it was harrowing, draining, and depressing. I was never able to emulate Tim. Because of this.

But almost-shouting, “NO!” was the only way to make Dad give up on another of his schemes that would’ve done incalculable harm.

One of the best movies Tim and I ever saw was Aguirre, the Wrath of God, directed by Werner Herzog. Don Lope de Aguirre—a Spanish conquistador—leads his men further and further into the jungle, looking for El Dorado, the city of gold. Nothing will deter him. Despite losing everything, he’s completely unreachable. The final scene is bone chilling.


I’ve seen the movie only once, but Tim and I mention it at least a dozen times a year. Probably more. You can’t imagine what it’s like to be under the command of Aguirre. Werner Herzog is a master of surreality and allegory, which makes the movie work. It’s universally understood, but at a distance. When a writer or director goes for detailed realism and sets the story in the present, it’s just too ugly.

The Mosquito Coast is what I’m talking about. Based on Paul Theroux’s novel of the same name, it’s a film that never should’ve been made, because there was no chance of it being successful. I read the book and saw the movie. Both were beyond grueling, and they taught me the futility of being too specific. My next novel will be a careful balancing act of concealment and revelation. Both Theroux and director Peter Weir made the mistake of telling us too much.

Allie Fox (Harrison Ford in the film) has absolutely no redeeming features. Look at the faces of his children in this clip as he monologues, his usual form of communication.

The kids know they’re doomed. Unlike Aguirre, the Wrath of God, this movie is about unrepentant, unrelenting child abuse, as Allie Fox drags his family into the jungle, convinced that building an ice plant for the natives will make him rich. A terminally arrogant narcissist, he doesn’t care about his wife or children. They’re just props in his fantasy.

Some of the scenes in The Mosquito Coast are pure torture. After I saw the film, I recognized that trying to convey something so painful and irrational is pointless. It can’t serve as a cautionary tale because it’s too over the top.

“You know, I was thinking of dragging my kids into a Central American jungle to build an ice plant, but after seeing The Mosquito Coast, I realize I shouldn’t.”

The story is chock full of issues that have personal meaning to Paul Theroux, and that robs it of the universal appeal that Werner Herzog’s film has. We can all identify with Aguirre’s monomania. Allie Fox, on the other hand, is utterly repulsive. He’s not allegorical, and we don’t know why he’s so selfish, oblivious, delusional, and destructive. It’s simply not possible to feel sympathy for such a person.

Both films are about men who demand total submission. For the rest of my life, I refuse to submit to anybody. It’s already cost me what I thought were solid friendships. The strange thing is that it’s happening all at once. I prefer to not give people their walking papers; I’m actually a very easygoing friend to have. My definition of a friend is someone whose company I enjoy and who enjoys my company. That’s all.

People who try to force their will on me aren’t real friends. It’s monumentally disrespectful. I won’t tolerate it anymore. And I certainly won’t put up with that familiar, totally generic, instantaneous switch to inappropriate venom. If you suddenly become a spitting cobra because I disagree with you, we can’t have a relationship.

Actually caring about someone means that there are certain lines you won’t cross.

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