by Kleitia Vaso

The following essay has been actually written during the course of a few days, encompassing several backgrounds, from the most green and beautiful, to its opposite, glass and extreme cleanliness, and, finally, to the most mediocre, an outdated environment with heavy curtains and groups of drinking, loud men. In addition to the scenery, it also involved several conversations with the people who, naturally, inspire me to think and analyze; or, rather, whose opinions matter sufficiently, that in a conversation with them, my senses are at their sharpest and, through an effort to simultaneously understand and impress them, I also understand myself and my thoughts in relation to theirs.

The following, accidentally linked chain of thought started with a statement exclaimed by F. as part of a story he was telling me: “Either first or last!” he said and this sentence resounded in my head the following days. It helped me understand my own resistance to a phenomenon which, that same day, was surrounding me: average, middle-of-the-road people, on a walk, or having the usual coffee on a Sunday afternoon, in one of the only green spaces in the city. Actually, I really like the area and I would go there more often if only it didn’t have, what seem to me, imprisoned people pretending to be free and satisfied for the duration of an afternoon. When I look at these throngs of families which, for the most part, look identical, an overwhelming feeling of inertia and powerlessness comes over me. Perhaps I exaggerate but looking around me, I don’t see a lot of free people who are happy with themselves, in terms of professional ambition, personal life, and individual choices. And, while I was watching these families, I also noticed a few very poor-looking, half-naked men, lying in the sun, a strong smell of weed suspiciously coming from their direction. Although the sight of them was somewhat depressing also, I somehow felt that they were happier than the previous group. But, I might be wrong.

The question of the “middle” came up in a conversation with another friend. This time the conversation revolved around a quadruple murder committed by the son of famous parents (an Albanian actress, now a member of Congress, and a film director),  a boy who had previously been arrested for a murder but freed after only two years and other such terrifying episodes; terrifying from a personal viewpoint but also from a wider lens which considers the more abstract value of justice and its concrete (here, faulty) legal manifestations. I felt bad for the criminal’s mother, whom I imagined as the simultaneously magnificent and horrific image of tragedy itself, her story comprising the required elements of profound pain and self-questioning, as well as the traumatic public humiliation. That was until, in her public withdrawal from the governmental post, claimed that her son’s actions had nothing, I repeat, “nothing to do with our family”.  Here, I immediately recalled the mother in the film, We need to talk about Kevin, who only gradually senses that her son’s criminal acts –  killing people in a school massacre as though they were puppets – are directly connected to her short-term appeasement of his violent actions throughout his childhood and her superficial affection towards him. He challenges her constantly to punish his limitless, malicious behavior but she can’t because she is constantly covering up for a love she doesn’t really feel. So, the parents never talk to Kevin, or about him, pretending he is not the monster he turns out to be.

In the specific case, I don’t think and cannot say whether it is a lack of love; but, certainly the quick solution to the previous crime indicates that the mother has avoided looking at the cause and analyzing the negative long-term effects of “saving” her son from prison and puts a quick Band-Aid on a deep, festering wound. The superficial solution spares the boy the real weight of consequence but, eventually and ultimately, harms him and his life beyond repair.

I feel bad for the real mother, still; and I even understand the criminal son who, protected by his family, knows that he can literally get away with murder. I understand, although it is an extreme case, that if one gets away with things, one will take worse actions than the preceding ones, not having suffered the consequences. My friend, of the second conversation, said he could not understand such actions, not even in theory. And, feeling slightly guilty about understanding them, I realized that the only level I don’t really understand, even in theory, is the middle one; those people who rob themselves of any freedom in their daily lives and deceive themselves with facile pleasures. I think what the spoiled son did was unforgivable; yet, I think severe self-deception and, consequently, deception of those closest to us, taking shortcuts that avoid pain and suffering and sacrifice the well-being of our relationships, can lead us down these wrong paths.

by Kleitia Vaso