Brightside Booklist: A Father’s Story by Lionel Dahmer

I read this book in just a few hours over two nights. I could’ve finished it in one night, but my eyes were burning (WHERE ARE MY EYE DROPS?) out of my head and I had to put it down. The stories that Lionel told about Jeffrey as he was growing up were filled with hope and promise that Jeffrey would change. There was also much regret that Jeffrey’s life was void of love, connection and understanding.

Lionel makes no excuses for his son. On the contrary, he tries to find any meaning in the things that Jeffrey did as a baby, a toddler, or as an isolated teenager that could’ve forewarned him of what was coming. He acknowledges his shortcomings as a father and is traumatized by the pain that his son caused to the 17 men he killed and their families. Ultimately, there are no answers, but his reflection on Jeffrey’s childhood was fascinating and heartbreaking.

I’ve included a couple of excerpts to illustrate the despair that Lionel felt watching Jeffrey turn into someone he didn’t know:

“I often think of him in that inital innocence. I imagine the shapes he must have seen, the blur of moving colors, and as I recall him in his infancy, I feel overwhelmed by a sense of helpless dread. I consider his eyes, blinking softly, and then I remember all of the horrors they will later see. I dwell on the small, pink hands, and in my mind I watch them grow larger and darker as I think about all that they will later do, of how stained they will become with the blood of others. It is impossible to reconcile these visions, or to escape their sadness. They are like scenes from separate worlds, pages from different books, so that it is impossible to imagine how the end of my son’s life could have sprung from the beginning.”

Because of Jeffrey’s apparent aimlessness and alcoholism, Lionel tried numerous times to compel Jeffrey to pursue college or to get a job. Lionel later recognized how ridiculous these conversations must have seemed to Jeffrey considering the fact that he, as a teenager, had already murdered a man:

“For him, a sudden, uncontrollable act of violence and sexual mutilation had thrust any hope for an ordinary life into a work that was utterly beyond his grasp. How odd and unrealizable all my talk of college and careers must have struck him after that. My ambitions for him, the little strategies I suggested for getting his life on track, must have seemed like constructs from another planet; my system of values, built as it was on notions of work and family, like quaint, but incomprehensible artifacts from a vanished civilization.”

Through the book, Lionel describes the similarities between him and his son and wonders what sent Jeffrey down this murderous path, instead of him. He also spoke of turmoil in the home and Lionel’s inability to connect with Jeffrey (or anyone else, for that matter).

Several theories about Jeffrey’s monstrous behavior are proposed: delinquent traits passed down through generations or medication his mother took while pregnant with him. Jeffrey also had an overwhelming need to be close to someone else, but was unable to do so. He was simply incapable of making meaningful human connections and resorted to creating death in order to feel ANYTHING.

Sadly, there appear to be no concrete reasons for his behavior. Whether it be mental illness, insanity, or sociopathic behavior, no explanation can assuage this father’s conscience.

I should mention that this book is, apparently, really difficult to find. I really lucked out when I found it recently (there are copies on Amazon going for $55-180!). SO, if you see one, grab it, jump up and down and scream and BUY IT.

Has anyone else read this book? Who can I talk to about this?? Scroll down and leave me a comment!

Princess Diana’s Last Night in Paris

I had just finished with a night out on the town in Minneapolis. I was in town visiting and, well, not just visiting, but ripping up the town like 22-year-olds do. We returned to our friend’s house after dancing our buns off and that’s when I heard that Princess Diana had died.

I’ve always been attracted to tragic figures. I’ve spent more time than necessary thinking about how life has pulled these people into a subtle vortex of sadness and loneliness, even though they may be surrounded by people who “love” them. They’re successful by society’s standards, but they don’t see themselves that way. Princess Diana was one of them, Kurt Cobain was another.

I always rooted for them. Kurt Cobain died when I was 18 (sorry for all the dramatic tears back then, guys. Geez.) Princess Diana died when I was 22. It always busted me up that they never really escaped the lives that they created (one way or another) and they both died at a really young age.

Age is funny, though. Diana died when she was 36, but at 22-years-old, I thought that if you’re 36 you might as well be 100. Side note: I am now 42. LOL.

As you know, we recently went to Paris and I was HELL BENT on finding the tunnel that Diana died in. Years ago, a friend had gone to Paris and sent me a photo of the tunnel. It was like I had won a million bucks, I was so excited/intrigued/shocked. I told myself that if I ever got to Paris, I would FIND THAT TUNNEL.

Well, we found it (did you doubt me?) It is the Tunnel du Pont L’Alma, which runs parallel to the Seine River. There was a bike tour gathered around it and they finally left (they probably heard my irritation with all that huffing and puffing. Take a look and move along, people!)

This is what you see when you first get there:

Flame of LIberty, Paris

The Flame of Liberty has become an unofficial memorial to Diana and it’s quite large. I remember being able to see it from across the Seine River. It was originally a gift from the United States to France in 1989 and it symbolizes the friendship between the two countries, although most people assume it was built for Diana.

Princess Diana's Crash Site

People have left notes all over the ledge on top of the tunnel behind the flame.

“May I find my once upon a time”: BE STILL MY HEART!

Locks of Love, Paris

The chain around the flame is packed full of locks that symbolize love. You can find these “love locks” all over the city. Apparently, there’s a dude that’s always there selling these locks, but it must’ve been his day off. DARN.

Enough of the yakking. Do you want to see the tunnel AND Danny in the upper left corner patiently waiting for my gawking to end?  Here it is:

Pont de L'Alma, Paris

For comparison’s sake, here is a photo of the crash:

Awful, right? And I AM aware that I am totally a Tragedy Tourist, but I can’t help it. If I’ve got a scratch, I’ve got to, er, see the death site? I don’t know, you get it.

While on vacation I had read the book Diana: Story of a Princess  and it reinforced what I already knew about Diana. That she was selfless with those in need, loved her children deeply and was able to connect with others naturally in a way that was rare, deep and meaningful. She was a free spirit and didn’t take life too seriously. She treasured relationships with people over, say, education, and many faulted her for that. (Has anyone read Diana: Her True Story In Her Own Words by Andrew Morton? That’s next on my list!)

I also found out more about her relationship with Charles. I knew Camilla was always lurking in the background, but I didn’t know that the night before the most watched wedding in history, Charles gave Camilla a personalized diamond bracelet.

Of course, Diana found out about it, but had to go through with the wedding anyway as she was locked into the Royal Machine, if you will.  Cue the affairs, the fear of being alone, bulimia and an independence so strong it turned the Royal Family upside down.

According to this book, she was seeing Dodi Al Fayad, but it wasn’t anything too serious (did you know he was ENGAGED to someone when he was hanging with Diana on that yacht?)  She had finally started to feel free, alive and allowed to live her life as she pleased and girlfriend was DOIN’ IT! Yachts! Bikini parties! Expensive holidays! (Also, she worked extensively to raise awareness of land mines during this time, which is WAY more important than lounging on a yacht.)

Ultimately, the tunnel was a reminder of how short life is. Is anything more cliche than that statement? Probably, but it is TRUE and staring you in the face when you catch a glimpse of that tunnel.

It was sad, it was overwhelming and I was glad I saw it. I needed that reminder. We ALL need that reminder, don’t we?

 

P.S. If you want to see my awesome pictures from the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris they are right HERE.