Thomas Wictor

Reining in the wolf

Reining in the wolf

I used to spend hours engaging in online fights with strangers. Every single day. For years. It was a way to express my rage. And it was utterly destructive for everyone. It attracted maniacs, one of whom stalked me for about seven months. After long online fights, I felt worse than I did before. I’d be angrier.

Most shameful of all, nobody was ever any match for me. I’ve written almost daily since I was six years old. My vocabulary is gigantic, and my anonymity gave me the self-confidence to behave in a manner I would never have dared in a face-to-face confrontation.

The tiny, nearly irrelevant saving grace is that I targeted only extremely poisonous, smug, vicious creeps. I never attacked the casual commenter. Still, I knew that I had a better command of the language and a better brain. My actions were really inexcusable. They were also pointless, since I changed nobody’s mind. That wasn’t even my goal, though I told myself that I took on “trolls” in order to expose their lies or give them some of their own medicine.

No. I did it to humiliate them publicly and show them that they were idiots who simply repeated others’ words. When each day’s fighting was over, I felt terrible. Dirty and demeaned. But it was an addiction, so beginning the next morning, I’d do it all over again.

I have a wolf inside me.

Reining in the Wolf

Tim also has a wolf inside him. He used to let it free, and the results were catastrophic: fistfights, virtual imprisonment in our own house, and psychological harm that was passed down from sibling to sibling. Mom and Dad had wolves inside them too. Mom gave her wolf carte blanche when we lived in Texas, from 1972 to 1975. That was an awful period for all of us. By the time we got to the Netherlands, Mom had reined in her wolf.

Dad never did. His wolf was unrestrained his entire life. He made the remarkable statement to Tim that the reason he changed his behavior somewhat when we became teenagers was that he was now afraid of us. But he wasn’t afraid of us enough to keep his wolf under control.

Joni Mitchell’s best song is “The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey.” The vocals, lyrics, melodies, jarring guitar, and howling add up to a flawless work of art.

Of the darkness in men’s minds
What can you say
That wasn’t marked by history
Or the TV news today
He gets away with murder
The blizzards come and go

Wolves always get away with murder. I did, anonymously, and Dad did because he was impossible to confront. As much of an expert as I was at fighting, Dad was even better. His secret was that he made it so unpleasant to call him on his actions that it was easier to just swallow your resentment. He’d feign ignorance, use sarcasm, deny he’d done anything wrong, and then agree with you, but in a contemptuous, transparently false way that was like a condescending pat on the head.

When Dad let out his wolf, he was exactly like David Letterman. It’s a Midwestern-male thing. You’d be trying to reach him, and he’d be saying, “But I thought— Didn’t you just say— I’m confused; aren’t you—” and a whole bunch of other rhetorical weapons designed to make you feel foolish or bog you down in repetition. So we’d just endure the wolf most of the time.

And Lindsey loved the ways of darkness

Yes, wolves love the ways of darkness. I did and so did Dad. In darkness your prey can’t see you. It’s defenseless. Wolves prefer prey that can’t fight back effectively. Nobody could beat me at online flame-warring, and nobody could beat Dad at evading…everything. Dad would not be pinned down on any level. Every aspect of his existence had to be nebulous.

“How are you?”

“Why do you ask?”

Has any other person in human history had that stock response? He released his wolf to keep from being defined in any way, because if we knew anything about him, we might hold him responsible for something. His every second of consciousness was dedicated to avoiding accountability.

If you’re smart or rich or lucky
Maybe you’ll beat the laws of man
But the inner laws of spirit
And the outer laws of nature
No man can
No. No man can

The laws of nature always apply. They killed Dad, and they were what made me finally rein in my wolf. As for inner laws of spirit, the vast majority of us don’t escape them either. Almost everybody knows when their actions are wrong. I knew that my troll-hammering was wrong, and Dad knew that the way he spoke to all of us was wrong. He refused to change, though.

There lives a wolf in Lindsey
That raids and runs
Through the hills of Hollywood
And the downtown slums
He gets away with murder

The saddest case of Dad getting away with murder was when Tim took Mom to the Hollywood Bowl to see Diana Krall. The staff and patrons were very solicitous, since Mom walked with a cane. Though Dad was completely antisocial and had no interest in going anywhere, he also hated it when Mom wasn’t home. He’d sit in the living room, watching TV, waiting for her to return. When I heard the car pull into the driveway, I went out, met Mom and Tim, and asked them how the concert was.

“Fabulous!” Mom said. “Just amazing!” It was the happiest I’d seen her in ages.

We went into her house and found Dad watching the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, which he’d seen twice before. He looked up and stared at us blankly.

“I had such a good time,” Mom said to him. “It was really fantastic!”

“I would like to see the ending of this film,” Dad said. When he wanted to be extra-toxic, he went Victorian in his speech patterns.

Mom deflated, and she and Tim and I sat at the kitchen table, talking in low voices because when Dad watched TV, he demanded complete silence. If you said anything, he’d turn the volume up all the way, or sometimes he’d bolt to his feet, drag his chair across the room until it was three feet from the TV, sit down, and lean forward, cupping his ear.

At the kitchen table, we discussed the concert and a strange incident. In Tim and Mom’s row, people on their left became agitated. The commotion went from one person to another, getting closer and closer. Then Tim felt something crawling on his shoulder. He picked it off and discovered that it was a large, pure-white praying mantis. When he put it on the floor, it immediately climbed up his leg and went back to his shoulder. It’d traversed everyone in the row and stopped on Tim.

“He really likes you,” the woman behind him said. Tim gently dislodged the insect a second time, but it scampered right back to his shoulder. He found a cardboard food box on the ground, put the mantis in it, and took it over to the nearby bushes, where he released it.

Praying mantises stab you with their spiked forelegs, and they bite. They’re incredibly aggressive. This one didn’t hurt Tim at all.

“I wonder if it meant something?” he asked. So I looked it up.

The praying mantis is regarded in many cultures as a messenger from God. “Mantis” in Greek means “prophet.” Praying mantises show you the proper path to take. And white animals are universally regarded as sacred or magical.

When the Bond movie ended, Dad turned off the TV. He didn’t ask Mom anything about the show.

“You were pretty rude just now,” Tim said to him.

“Oh. So I was rude,” Letterman-Wolf said. “How was I rude, exactly? Please explain it to me.”

“Please don’t talk to me like that,” Tim said.

“Like what?”

“With that sarcastic tone of voice.”

“Fine. I won’t use a sarcastic tone of voice ever again.

That was that. Tim and I went back to our respective houses.

I’m sorry, Dad. We wanted to tell you about the white praying mantis, but your wolf wouldn’t let us. When The Wolf came for you, all you had were the stories your parents and aunts told you about being lost in the forest and getting torn apart.

Wolves still live in Tim and me, Dad. Unlike you, we don’t let them hurt anyone. I believe that by choosing to do no harm, we’ve made ourselves more perceptive. Certain senses are heightened. A wolf sees, hears, and smells only in the service of predation.

To a wolf a white praying mantis is a snack. A wolf would see Diana Krall as a meal. Wolves routinely kill the leader of the pack. The intended successor will arrange with other wolves to carry out a hit, even if the target is the killer’s own parent. It isn’t coincidence that those of us who regard white praying mantises as something more than a snack also take care of our parents. We don’t murder them, especially for reasons as stupid as prestige and power.

My wolf will remain leashed forever. I want to keep seeing.


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