Edge of Apocalypse: pages 131-137 (Chapter Twenty-Five)
Incidentally, Chapters One through Twenty-Five comprise the “Part One” arc of this book. To use a rather clichéd metaphor, this is where the opening moves of the chess game have been made. One may even think of this as being like a version of multiplayer chess in which the players do not yet know they are actually playing a more complicated game than at first glance.
The next three parts will carry us to the conclusion in which all the disparate plot threads come together, and set the stage for the next book.
Meanwhile, this chapter touches on a possibly delicate issue: drug addiction. This is why I have titled the chapter review “counselling, etc.” It’s a look at quite a few phenomena all packed into one chapter:
First, the people involved (Abigail, her friend) are well-off, if not actually wealthy. Having money and access to health insurance can, under certain circumstances, lead to being able to support a drug addiction that is perfectly legal. A rather prominent example of legal drug addiction is Rush Limbaugh’s addiction to oxycontin – commented upon by people as being particularly hypocritical given his use of Drug Warrior rhetoric for hoots and laughs on his TV and radio show. Because he is a right-wing celebrity as well as very wealthy, illegal acts he committed to obtain the oxycontin were, in the end, brushed under the carpet.
Similar gentility of treatment has often been afforded wealthy white people, even those addicted to illegal drugs. A person I was chatting with just recently mentioned that the high school they attended – which was in a well-off sector of the school district – had a sub rosa drug problem among its upper-middle-class student population, while the other school in the district, which was in the poorer sector, was stereotyped as being rife with drug problems when really, there was no such thing.
There are numerous social issues surrounding drug use and abuse, and the very real effect of differential treatment based on race and economic status is one that I think LaHaye and Parshall didn’t intend to raise, but the book portrays a wealthy white woman with a legal drug addiction and it certainly calls to mind all these extra complexities.
Second, the nature of the proposed treatment. I’m not comfortable, personally, with the idea of a religiously-themed treatment program for drug addiction, partly because of the way in which it is presented. Although LaHaye and Parshall may not realize it, one undercurrent of the proposed treatment, in effect, seems to me like switching from surrendering to a drug to surrendering to God.
I am not an expert in drug addiction treatment; however, I can’t help but feel that the above proposed mechanism is not healthy for the person being treated.
With all the above in mind, let’s begin looking at the chapter.
“Abigail had had to ask herself whether some dark secret might be lying just under the surface. She knew her friend Darlene well enough to know that she seemed to be carrying some great weight on her heart that morning as they drove together. While their husbands prepared for the first day of meetings of the clandestine Roundtable group, the two women had driven to Aspen for lunch. The idea had been Darlene’s.”
As we see, there is foreshadowing of the aforementioned issue above. Incidentally, the “great weight on her heart” smacks of Biblical-style language and is likely a reference which I don’t fully understand the context of.
Note also the gender roles: the men do all the heavy lifting while the women go off and do things that don’t tax their minds.
We get introduced to Darlene, and the village they’re in:
“Abigail was several years younger than the round-faced Darlene. The two had known each other for nearly a decade and had initially met through their husbands. Darlene was married to Judge Fortis Rice, a former Idaho State Supreme Court justice. He was a charter member of Joshua’s Roundtable.
As a longtime resident of Colorado, Abigail had traveled through that fashionably rustic little village more than a few times. She privately didn’t care for the celebrity-conscious, Beverly-Hills-of-the-Rockies atmosphere of the famous ski resort, which was home to a number of Hollywood stars and even a Saudi prince. But Darlene had never been there and wondered if they could go. Abigail said she would be happy to take her and agreed to do the driving. They would travel in the little yellow Jeep for the daytrip, the one that Darlene thought looked so cute, which the Jordans kept year-round at Hawk’s Nest.”
“Fortis”: there’s an interesting name. The word “fort” in French means “strong”, and as befits his name, he was a judge presumably cracking down on those lawbreakers unlike those wishy-washy liberal judges in San Francisco or whatever. “Darlene” is less obvious, but is derived from “darling”. Incidentally the name seems to have been popular as a baby name in the 1940s and 1950s, which, given that the book is set in the 2010s, would be consistent with Darlene and Fortis being an older, retired couple in their sixties.
I’m not sure if Judge Rice being from Idaho has any great significance, but it’s worth remembering that parts of Idaho have been hotbeds for virulently right-wing, anti-government organizations. For example, Ruby Ridge is located in that state.
And this book certainly plays neatly into the kind of belief system where the liberals have taken over and everybody’s freedom is in mortal danger.
I find Abigail’s faux-populistic reaction to be not credible regarding her views of Aspen. The lifestyle she and Joshua live is well-suited to the likes of Aspen, which has a Canadian counterpart in Whistler, BC. It’s exceedingly trendy as a location to ski in, exceedingly expensive as hell, and is more for the tourists than for the people who live there on a day to day basis.
Even the way in which the verb to Aspenize has entered the cultural lexicon is very suggestive of the cloistered, insular lifestyle that Joshua Jordan has created for himself: secluded penthouse apartment, “Hawk’s Nest” retreat, his private helicopter so he doesn’t have to use a car to get around, his private jet so he can go across the country if need be, and so on. Given that the trappings of success are freely bestowed on the Jordan husband and wife couple, it definitely jars when Abigail reacts the way a less wealthy person might to the way Aspen has evolved over the last thirty or so years.
I find it curious that Abigail is the one to show Darlene around, who “had never been there”. It’s almost as though being associated with the Jordans is like being introduced to the exclusive lifestyle they lead.
“As they sat down together at the crowded outdoor cafe for lunch, Abigail wondered if Darlene may have arranged their day together so she could open up about whatever it was that had her in its grasp.”
Literary nitpick again: I dislike the use of ‘may’ in the literary past tense. ‘Might’ would be better-suited.
“But Darlene wasn’t ready just yet. Instead, she was busy cracking jokes about the Aspen society: the trendy Labradoodle mix of designer dogs being walked past their table by the locals, and the wealthy chic women wearing artfully ripped blue-jeans and eight-carat diamonds strolling by and swinging their Prada bags.”
Note how LaHaye and Parshall use this to show the audience the eccentric-bizarre things rich people do, provoking both sneaking envy and that tsk-tsk-y feeling. It’s kind of like saying you can get close to Sodom and Gomorrah and take a good look at what they get up to, but don’t dare join them because at any moment it will be destroyed to make way for righteousness.
They order lunch and have some chit-chat, but eventually get down to the real issue:
“‘We don’t see each other but, what, maybe twice a year on average. And lots of phone calls in between, of course…’
Abigail smiled at that.
‘I feel I can really share anything with you…’
Now Abigail was waiting.
But then Darlene suddenly darted off course. ‘You look so fit, Abby. You must still be jogging?’
‘I try to. Our schedules have become impossible lately. It’s hard to stick to the routine with everything that’s going on…’
‘I know. Fort and I have been following how the media has been going after poor Josh over this missile crisis. What a mess this country’s in.’
Abigail nodded and smiled, but she knew Darlene was just dancing around the issue now, whatever it was.”
Note that no wife of Josh’s must in any way be less than perfect. Naturally.
But we’re getting close, now. Keep reading:
“‘I bet there’s been a lot of pressure on the two of you,’ Darlene continued.
‘There has been. But funny enough, I feel so close to Josh lately, despite the tension and stress.’
‘Hmm, stress…’ Darlene repeated the word with almost a kind of whimper.
‘But on the other hand, I know of so many other folks who have it much harder than we do,’ Abigail offered with a gentleness in her voice that unexpectedly caught her friend off guard. Darlene quickly covered her mouth with her hand as her eyes began to fill up. It took nearly a minute before she could collect herself and respond. When she did, her voice was noticeably trembling.”
That sentence of Abigail’s just doesn’t ring true for me, somehow. Her sympathetic statement about ‘other folks’ who ‘have it much harder than we do’ just jars harshly against what she did to her son a few chapters ago. For a woman who is supposed to be kind and gentle, she has proven willing to go behind her son’s back and manipulate her son in the name of love. I can’t help but wonder how deliberate her word-choices and phrasings are on a day to day basis, especially as Cal has openly complained that she has maneuvered him in this manner before.
Anyway, to switch gears for a second, I’d like to segue into another issue this chapter touches on which called to mind some rather shocking news I’ve read on occasion in the local newspapers:
“‘I will never forget how you helped me through Jimmy’s death. It’s one of those things that a mother doesn’t ever let go of. So many questions. How could my perfectly healthy twenty-five-year-old die like that from an aneurism? No warning. No symptoms. A call from his friend … they were playing basketball at the Y. ‘Jimmy collapsed,’ he said. Your whole life changes in an instant. From one phone call.’”
This kind of premature death I have been reading in the local papers over the last few years involves the sudden onset of a cluster of stories in which the basic theme is horribly similar: a teenager with no health problems who plays sports regularly suddenly dies while playing a game, sometimes after being struck in the chest with a hockey puck, soccer ball or the like. The issue is documented by a sports-medicine doctor who insists it’s something people need to take seriously.
I can only imagine how their families must feel; young people barely into their lives die from utterly unpredictable causes, and nothing could have been done to stop it short of forbidding them to play any sports (which is unrealistic; some people enjoy active lifestyles and sports are a component of that).
Darlene and Fortis are clearly feeling the ongoing effects from that incident (italics in the original text):
“‘I tried to talk with Fort about it. But you know him; he sort of retreats into himself. I don’t blame him. It’s just the way he is. I know he was devastated. I still wonder whether all of that contributed to his heart problems. And ever since he had to retire from the bench it’s been … well … interesting at home, and not in a good way.’”
That kind of makes me go O_O and I hope it doesn’t mean what I think it means.
But now we get to the moment of truth:
“Then, abruptly, [Darlene] sat straight up and began looking around. ‘Where is it? Where’s my purse?’
There was a look of panic on Darlene’s face.
Abigail spotted it under her chair and reached down to pluck it up. Darlene thrust her hand over the table to grab the purse. As she did she inadvertently knocked her purse out of Abigail’s hand and down onto the table where the contents spilled out.
Including a dozen prescription pill bottles.
Abigail picked up one of the bottles. Then another. And another. They all read Diazepam.
Abigail recognized what it was.
‘These are all valium…’
Darlene reached out to grab them and stuff them back in her purse. She was trying to look unruffled. But it wasn’t working. Her hands were trembling, and she accidentally dropped several of the pill bottles on the floor once again. Abigail quietly helped her pick them up and placed them on the table.”
Valium, being a perfectly legal drug, nonetheless has potentially addictive properties, and so should be used carefully. We’ll see in a moment how Darlene is abusing Valium; the “why” is the sudden death of her son.
“Finally she summoned the strength to speak. ‘Okay, Abby. Now you know. My nasty little secret. This is how I cope.’
‘That’s a lot of valium, Darley…’
Darlene nodded. ‘I have three different doctors. In three different cities. All of them prescribing. I don’t think they know about each other. Although two of them know about Fort, and because of who he is, they don’t ask a lot of questions. So I triple-dose. I’m using this to exist, Abigail.’”
It gets pretty heavy here. Darlene, barely avoiding breaking down, goes on to admit that she has tried to quit, but remarks that she feels extreme fear and anxiety when she attempts it. Abigail and Darlene suspect Fortis may be using something too, but Darlene is not sure.
Abigail discusses what Darlene’s options are:
“‘I don’t know. Maybe you’ve got some advice. I’ve run out of answers. I’m just surviving from one minute to the next. Just barely.’
‘Look, I’m glad you confided in me. I’m no expert. But I know a little about addiction. Back when I was practicing law full-time I had a few clients dealing with similar issues. And I know enough to know that your willingness to admit you’ve got a problem is the first big step.’
‘That’s good to hear…’
‘The next step is to find a place that is discreet, where counselors can help you to kick this thing. I can help you look for a good rehab center.’
Darlene was weeping gently.
Abigail continued, ‘You’re also going to have to talk to Fort about this…’
‘Abby, he’s going to be devastated…’
‘But he loves you, Darley. I’m sure he’ll support you. But there’s one more thing, an even more important step…’”
I honestly am not sure about whether or not total honesty between a long-term couple regarding drug addiction is necessarily good without taking timing into account. Eventually, yes, it should be shared, but I’m getting the feeling that if Fortis is having problems he’s going to need to see someone as well and I don’t see that being pointed out by Abigail.
And now Abigail segues into the RTC part of the prescriptive method of drug addiction treatment:
“She then looked up at Abigail through her tears and asked, ‘An even more important step? Like what?’
‘You said it yourself.’
‘Yes. When you said the words God help me … I believe He can and He will. If you let Him. God’s in the business of fixing people.’
Darlene’s face relaxed into a mildly surprised look. As if she had just been told something she assumed she had known all along but now realized she had never really thought about.”
(To clarify: the “God help me” phrase was in a part I did not reprint here)
As I mentioned above, I’m not sure Abigail’s advice regarding religiously motivated “additional help” is useful or warranted and I can’t help but feel she’s taking advantage of a friend’s desperate straits, even if Abby doesn’t realize that’s what she’s doing.
She may very well know what she’s doing, given that one part of the RTC calculus vis-a-vis non-Christians is that every opportunity is an opportunity to proselytize, because the truth MUST be spread far and wide else all people shall be sent forever to Hell to burn without end.
This lack of compassion for those who sin is why, when I was younger, I think I was particularly attracted to the idea proposed by the WWCOG that Hell is not a place of everlasting torment and that people who are not redeemed would simply cease to exist upon being judged at the Second Coming, because at that time it struck me as a lot more kindly to not keep people around burning forever as that seemed particularly nasty to me*.
Doctrinal stuff aside, even today I still feel that the RTC-emphasis on people who burn forever is a rather unattractive trait of that branch of Christianity. As readers of Fred Clark’s blog will know, the appellation “TurboJesus” has entered the lexicon over there, and refers to the kind of Fuck-You-Sinners attitude the books take on, particularly when TurboJesus drags Leon Fortunato and Nicolae Carpathia back out of Hell to mock them some more and dump them right back in even though they’re really really really really very sorry.
Even assuming Carpathia is unredeemable, for Pete’s sake, put Leon out of his misery! Vaporize his ass or something, he’s spent the last how many centuries learning how very bad he was and there’s really no point to eternal torment for him except sheer sadism.
Before I move too far off topic, I should stop here and say that since Part One is ended I might detour some more and write a couple more fanfiction snippets. Then on to Part Two.
* Even so there’s obvious moral and ethical issues with exterminating everyone who doesn’t fill the bill of “righteous and repentant person”, so it’s a question of difference in degree, not difference in kind, I think.