Life Experiences Are What Makes A Persons
Personality Essay, Research Paper
An individuals experiences, past and present provide a significant basis for the type of person they will become. Relationships that are established during childhood and adolescence are important for the shaping of someone’s personality, as most personality development occurs in the early stages of life. Experiences that someone must deal with in the present sense also contributes to their personality. Dominick Birdsey in Wally Lambs novel I Know This Much Is True, suffered his entire life experiencing every emotion humanly possible in his current stretch of forty five years. The sad and stressful episodes of his life began to take their toll sending Dominick began to grow into a depression and question his reason for living.
Dominick Birdsey, his twin brother Thomas, his mother Connie, and stepfather Ray, “Ray is not our real father. We don’t know who our real father is. I don’t even know if Ma knows.” (91) live in Connecticut. Dominick and Thomas had to form an alliance to stand up to Ray, as he had a tendency to use his belt rather than words to punish. He was extremely strict, clearly in charge of the house, and showed little or no emotion, not even towards his wife. As a child of about eight years old, Ray has Dominick and his brother believing that part of being a man is not showing emotion, so the two grow up as little boys feeling very lonely, resulting in a lonely adulthood. The way Dominick remembers his childhood is feeling obligated to frequently rescue his brother from Ray’s abuse. Ray was always much harder on Thomas as he felt he was a mamma’s boy and had to be toughened up. “These days they called Ray’s kind of ‘toughening up’ child abuse.” (63) Dominick secretly enjoyed this special treatment to an extent, but also felt bad for the way his twin was being constantly treated. Even though Dominick was not a direct target of Rays abuse, he was still subjected to it, and as a child, exposure to violence instills fear and what become distilled anger in an adult which can potentially result in violent motives. However, past experiences can be forgotten, and people are able to move on, whereas present issues must be faced on a daily basis and be continually dealt with. In the short term, it is present day experiences that cause people to react to certain circumstances. Children are too innocent to be destructive, but an adult dealing with difficult issues may find a distasteful way to display emotion.
Dominick and Thomas were loved by their mother but because of her unpleasant childhood, she had insecurities of her own, which contributed to her passive nature, thus allowing Ray to make all her decisions and order her around as he pleased. As a child, Connie was repeatedly called ugly by her father, as she was born with a harelip. She developed a nervous stance hiding her cleft lip with her right fist. Contradictory to her childhood, she grew up to be a wonderful loving mother to her two sons and an obedient wife (perhaps not as becoming a trait), nonetheless, she was a good mother and a devout Catholic.
When it was time for the two boys to enter College, they had to move away from home and reside in dormitories. Dominick was looking forward to being on his own, while Thomas was scared to death. Thomas had secretly requested that he and Dominick share a dorm room after Dominick made it perfectly clear that he was more than anxious to break away from his other half. “I wasn’t going to live with him either? I wasn’t going to hold his hand or walk him to the library?” (321) When Dominick arrived at the dorm to discover his new roommate was his brother, he was livid. His whole life, he felt he had to protect his brother, not only form Ray, but later from the bullies in high school, and from the comments that came from under the breaths of co-workers at their summer job. “Dominick, could you please speak to Dell? Get him to stop calling me *censored*less?” (324) Thomas was teased to no end, but never in the presence of his brother Dominick.
Dominick married his first love and lover, Dessa. He was very much in love with her and she was with him. The two tried unsuccessfully many times to have a baby, before they were successful. Their baby was born healthy but later died of crib death. “She? she died. Crib death. She was three weeks old.” (247) Dessa became overwhelmingly distraught and unbearable to live with. She suggested a divorce, “I have to breathe Dominick. You suck all the oxygen out of the room.” (320) on the grounds that Dominick was unsupportive after the death of the baby. Dominick was just as upset as Dessa was, but, reflecting back from his childhood and Ray’s words, part of being a man was not showing emotion. Dessa decided that Dominick never loved the baby to begin with, so he couldn’t possibly love her. After the divorce, out of anger, or out of sadness, Dominick decided to secretly get a vasectomy.
The circumstances that seem to affect Dominick the most profoundly is the period during which Thomas began to change. Thomas became uninterested in school. He never studied or attended lectures, began to become paranoid, feeling that he was always being watched. Thomas also began to lose a significant amount of weight. “Is it drugs, Dominick? Is that why he lost all that weight?” (251) At first, Dominick thought that Thomas was just distracted because of the stress of moving away from home. “Sometimes he’s lose track of what he was doing, or drift off into a fog somewhere.” (250) Eventually, it was discovered “? by then, Thomas’ illness had already started flirting with him? nine months later there’d be no avoiding it: March of 1970 was when Thomas’ brain dropped to his knees.” (50) that Thomas’ condition was in fact schizophrenia. Thomas was diagnosed at the age of twenty-one after he was discovered sitting in his room with a cap constructed of tinfoil on his head to prevent people from reading his mind. Thomas was admitted to the minimal security institution, Settle, and was released two years later as medication was keeping his disease what the doctors claimed to be under control. “I went down to see Thomas and I found him sitting there paralyzed and glassy-eyed, his tongue sticking out of his mouth, his shirt front sopping with drool.” (50) A few times Dominick had suspicions that the doctors just increased his dose of medicine so that they did not have to deal with him. Upon his release, Thomas stationed himself in the public library and cut off his right hand as a sacrifice to God. During his amputation, he chanted, “and if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out from thee, and if thy right hand offend thee, cut if off and cast it from thee.” (5) Thomas was admitted to a maximum security institution, Hatch Forensic Institute, where Dominick fears for his brothers safety as he has been informed that a few of the patients have been raped and there is an outbreak of the HIV virus in the hospital. Because of Thomas’ act of self-mutialiation, he has no choice and must remain institutionalized as he is a threat to himself, “He’s potentially violent,” (48) and possibly to others. Again, Dominick feels that he is helpless as he is aware his brother may be in danger, but knows he cannot do anything to help. Thomas’ condition worsens as he remains in the institution. At that time, Dominick was a teacher at a high school, but had to put his career on what was (supposed to be) a temporary hold. The stress he was caused by his brothers admittance caused him to break down in tears while teaching one of his classes. “I never went back to teaching either. I couldn’t. How can you cry in front of a bunch of teenagers one week and go back the next?” (222) Dominick even sacrifices his career for his brother Thomas.
Dominick is in another relationship after his divorce of sixteen years with Dessa. He is living with a younger beautiful woman named Joy. After falling two stories while housepainting,Joy visits Dominick in the hospital with the wonderful news concerning her pregnancy. Dominick knows that Joy was unfaithful as the baby could not possibly be his as he underwent a vasectomy. Dominick tells Joy of his operation and she admits to cheating on him with another man. Dominick was cruelly lied to about an issue that was already delicate to him and as he lays in his hospital bed, he sinks into a depression and beings to question his reason for living. “Just let me lie here and think – play with the idea of dying.”(493) At the height of Dominicks depression, after learning that Joy allowed her other lover watch Dominick and her consummate, and after his mothers death, after learning his step father Ray had gangrene and had to have part of his leg removed, after realizing that he was still in love with Dessa and after recalling his childhood – which was supossed to be a time of happy memories, Dominick visualizes his suicide. “They’d send me home with painkillers, right? I could take them all at once with a bottle of? what did I have in the house anyway? scotch? Booze and pills, that would do it.” (524)
With Dominicks past and present combined, his life makes for an unhappy one. Since he was a child he had no sense of control. “When you’re the sane brother of a schitzophrenic identical twin, and you’re into survival of the fittest and being your brothers keeper? say goodbye to sleep and hello to the middle of the night.” (347) He has endured failed relationships, the death of his child, having to cope with the knowing that his brother crisis with schizophrenia was out of his control and for the first time he was unable to protect him; protecting Thomas was an idea which he had grown comfortable with as inconvenient as it was. Dominick also had no control over his mother’s death as she died from breast cancer and in extreme pain.
Through therapy, Dominick realizes that there is plenty for him to live for. He finds inner peace by learning more about himself and by sharing his thoughts and fears. Days before his mothers death, she had given Dominick her fathers autobiography. It was written in Italian (as he had emigrated from Sicily in 1901) and had to be translated. Dominick eventually learns how unfairly his mother was treated and gains a greater respect for her. Her father called the shots and she was used to being told what to do, which explains her obedience and need or submission for an aggressive partner. All her life she was told she was inferior and she had believed it. It does not seem fair to Dominick that she had to endure a life of pain and then die in pain. He does not understand why bad things happen to good people.
After years of living in the maximum security institution, Thomas is placed back in the minimum security institution temporarily and then re-released. The world he is set into is not a familiar one and he decides to end his life on the edge of the woods where Ray, he and Dominick spent a fishing weekend in 1962 as children. Ironically, Thomas killed himself in the same place where he recalls finding a dead squirrel which appeared to have somewhat of an impact on his life.
“One thing I remember about that trip was this dead squirrel that someone had trapped inside a firebox. They’d put a bunch of rocks on top to keep him trapped in there. He was all huddled up in a corner, but you could tell he’d gone mental trying to get out. There was crusty black blood around his mouth and he stank and bugs had eaten out his eyes. Ray lifted him out with a stick and flung him. He didn’t land all the way in the woods: he landed right on the edge. I wanted to bury him and have a funeral, but Ray told me to stop the sissy stuff. All the time we were there, you could see that dead squirrel right out in plain sight. Whenever anyone mentions New Hampshire, that squirrel is always what I think of. I bet I’ve thought about that squirrel a million times.” (159)
To Ray, a dead squirrel was trivial, but to Thomas it had a large enough impact on his life to want to go back to that spot and end his state of anguish. Many people do not realize the impact that some events have on a child’s development.
As Dominick develops a greater respect for relationships, he decides he should try to establish a positive relationship with Ray. Ray, in his older age is no longer the stern and hostile father that he used to be. He welcomes Dominick with open arms back into his life and decides to make up for lost time. After years and years, virtually all of Dominick’s life until present, what was once a bad relationship where respect was enforced by fear, the two men find happiness in their new father and son relationship. After Thomas and Ma are gone, the two men realize that all they have is each other. Ray regrets not expressing love towards both his wife and his sons and vows to grow old with Dominick and be the best father he knows how to be for the remainder of his life.
Dominick Birdsey was clearly the stronger twin. All his life, from a child to a middle aged man, he had to take care of someone, namely his brother Thomas. It is very difficult to be constantly giving and getting nothing in return as such was the case with Dominick. Finally, to be showed love by Ray, (the one man who Dominick thought was incapable of love) Dominick accomplished a sense of rest and settlement. Perhaps the reason why Dominick was so strong was because he had to be, as people were dependent on him. His childhood and his everyday battles made him the person that he thought he would never become. He was finally in control of his life.