Just Like Suicide pt. 14

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Mery Lynn McCorkle, detail of Battle of Gettysburg, 2015.

For your summer reading pleasure, BURNAWAY brings you Just Like Suicide, a novel by artist Mery Lynn McCorkle, set in the Los Angeles art world. She writes from experience, having lived for years in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, when it still was the art frontier, and then LA; she now resides in Rome, Georgia. She describes the book as “a compendium of interlocking tales cataloguing self demolition and success in the Los Angeles art scene, from the point of view of artists, dealers and family members.”
We’ll post sequential chapters from McCorkle’s book every Wednesday and Friday over the summer (and on Mondays beginning in August!). Or click here to buy the book now.


Twenty Seven
Billy relished his envy, polishing it into a life’s work. At least that’s how Miss Tillie explained her brother’s behavior. He was envious of his sister’s nicely renovated house and stock portfolio even though his inheritance had been valued far more than hers at the time their mother died. He envied the neighbors who gradually learned to avoid him except during church service. He envied the minister and tried to have his pitiful pay cut in half. But the saddest part was he envied his son. Every time Dennis got an award or special mention for his good work or good grades, Billy belittled him and increased his chores so he wouldn’t have as much time to study. Billy even refused to sign the forms Dennis needed to get financial aid for college. If Miss Tillie hadn’t stepped in with a check to cover that first year’s tuition, Dennis would never have been able to leave. Yet when Dennis completed medical school and his residency and started making a decent income, Billy had his hand out. Dennis never turned him down, in part because he felt bad for leaving. Apples don’t wander too far from the tree in farming towns. Moving away is a kind of a repudiation, like changing religions or inventing a new last name. And Dennis gave money and generous gifts to his sister and her family at Christmas, Easter and their birthdays. He never forgot a birthday. He told Odessa he felt guilty for abandoning his little sister, Maggie’s mother, to fend for herself. She didn’t have his “resources.” Miss Tillie tried to explain the family dynamics to Odessa the first time they met. “Be extra nice to your sister-in-law. She’s as sweet as she can be but she doesn’t have the good sense the gods gave a toad stool.” Miss Tillie was seated very properly on the brocade divan in her living room, sharing these insights and some fine sherry with Odessa. “Don’t expect your mother-in-law to ever think of you as family. Regardless of how hard you try to please her, you don’t come from here so you must be up to no good. Don’t take it personally, my dear. She’s vehemently opposed to everything new. She’ll never understand why you want your own career or why you kept your name. Frankly, she would rather choke than swallow any new idea, however sensible it might be. Some folks hold onto the past so fiercely they strangle the future and she is the quintessential example. Please don’t misunderstand me: I love both of them to death but they are who they are. How they ever spawned a child like Dennis is beyond me. You really do have to admire the magic of genetics. Genes surely do work in mysterious ways.” She placed her hand on Odessa’s arm. Whenever Miss Tillie got too near, Odessa sneezed. “My dear, you must be so allergic to cats. I can’t tell you how touched I am that you are willing to suffer to be around me. Dennis made a wise decision in marrying you. You’re kind-hearted. He certainly deserves kind-hearted, but let me warn you: don’t let his father bleed Dennis dry. My brother Billy will try with considerable persistence. Nothing you give him will ever be enough,” Miss Tillie laughed, with her lopsided smile. “Don’t let your kind heart undo you.”
But from the very beginning of their marriage, Odessa had never objected as Dennis wrote check after check to support his parents or purchased so many gifts for the kids in his extended family. He had stood up for her against his parents, telling them that neither she nor Jack would visit again. He didn’t get angry or make accusations. He was just quite calm and firm about it. When Beulah screamed at him that he was the man in the house, he was the one to make decisions, he smiled at her, “I know that’s your way, Mama, and you know I love you, but you have to understand that Odessa and I are partners. We make decisions as partners.” Beulah, fearful maybe that the checks would stop, hushed up. But nothing his parents said or did would have stopped his support of them.
Dennis was such a humble man, never asking for anything for himself really, unless you considered his love of the latest technology in golf clubs. All the gifts to his family were his one great extravagance and who could complain about that? After all, she bought art and his response was to compliment her choices. He was consistently grateful: that she liked to cook, that she responded so enthusiastically to his touch, that she made sure his socks matched and his bed was just soft enough. So what if they didn’t have wads of extra money. She didn’t care that their cars were older or that their house wasn’t the size of a hotel. They had great neighbors and the local public schools Jack attended were very good. Making do, taking what she had and forging it into something better, that suited her nature. Truth be told, she would have stayed with him if he’d decided to be a dog catcher. He was a good man.