[previous chapter] [start from the beginning] Not too far away from Jeff Toussignant’s smelly undisclosed location, a middle-aged woman had just been hit in the stomach by what Martin Greenberg was saying on television. She had been stroking her cat’s head, sipping her tea, quietly watching the public affairs shows as per usual. She found it helpful in her job as a communications officer for the minister of cultural affairs. Not that she had anywhere else to be, in any case.

Her name was Martina Labrecque, and she was just about to realize that no, hers wasn’t a unique story and that yes, she was right to be angry.

“I mean,” Martin Greenberg was saying, “history is full of examples of parents failing to show the proper love and attention their children deserve. I was just reading a book on Catherine the Great last week, and it starts by telling the story of how her mother, who was but a teenager at the time the little girl who would become a terrifying empress was born, had been terribly disappointed to give birth to a girl and had consequently ignored her baby. History does not remember Catherine for her gentleness, now does it. Saddam Hussein was also famously mistreated at home. Closer to home, the man who shot the Polytechnique female students here in Montreal had been raised by a wife beater who showed him no love. We could go on and on; there are countless famous examples. And there are the legions of less famous ones, too – go visit a jail, any jail, and ask the inmates what kind of childhood they had. In the overwhelming majority of cases, they will say they had a rotten childhood, were abused, unloved, orphaned, etc. I study these issues and I have stacks and stacks of such examples. It’s not to say bad parenting causes children to grow up wicked, for there are also plenty of examples of people who grew up with terrible parents who managed to overcome their past and go on to lead perfectly normal lives. But what I’m saying is, the vast majority of those folks who end up doing awful things as teenagers and adults are the product of either broken homes or terrible, unloving parenting. So yes, in a sense, not loving your children is – perhaps not criminal, but certainly it is a very bad thing to do.”

“But hold on a second,” Jason Martel had been visibly trying to butt in since Saddam Hussein popped into the conversation. “Isn’t it just a way to shift the blame for your actions on to someone else? You can say, ‘Yeah, so I raped someone, but hey, my dad beat me up when I was a kid so, you know, not my fault!’ That’s a rotten way to live your life!”

Martin Greenberg had a smile on his face that he hoped didn’t look overly patronizing. He’d heard that objection thousands of times, from students the same age as this young journalist. Ah, youth. So idealistic. So black-and-white in their own endearing way.

“First of all, we have to make sure we are not making the research say something it didn’t say. Then we afford the same courtesy to the researcher. I would never suggest that a poor upbringing at the hands of abusive or unloving parents was an excuse for bad or criminal behaviour later in life. It isn’t. There’s no excusing crime. Rather the focus of my research is the impact such a bad childhood has on the children as they grow older. Most people don’t wind up behind bars. Most people, even those who grow up with unloving parents, manage somehow to avoid getting in trouble with the law. In fact, in many of those cases, you can’t tell they were unloved by the way they behave. But they’re around you; they’re your colleagues, your professors, the people you train with at the gym. You don’t know the turmoil in their souls because you don’t know them all that well. If you did become close to them you might start noticing a few odd things about them and wonder… where did this anger come from? Why is my friend so sensitive to criticism? Why does he get mad when people tease him, even about innocent things? Why can’t she find a boyfriend, she’s gorgeous and funny and smart but the men never seem to stick around past the first few dates…”

“Really?” that was the anchor chirping in, “can you tell someone had a bad childhood just from the way they can’t find a mate?”

“It sounds far-fetched,” the psychologist smiled some more as he answered, “but you’d be amazed, looking at the research, how often people who eventually come around to realizing they had a terrible childhood also have trouble forming long-term affective relationships with others. And these, again, are people who, on the outside, look like great prospects. And they are – great prospects, I mean. But only on the outside. On the inside, these people are walking around with hearts that are permanently bruised. They don’t know what real love is, what it feels like. So obviously they have trouble with their relationships. They tend to be attracted to partners who aren’t suited to them, often partners who are abusive or non-committal. Partners who are only interested in getting something from the relationship, not giving anything to the other person. And when a good, solid, truly loving partner comes along, our broken-hearted person doesn’t recognize it, and often thinks the loving partner is trying to trick them or else that they are unbearably weak.”

“You’re making it sound like those people are lost, doctor,” the lawyer said.

“That’s exactly what they are, indeed. It’s as though their parents had smashed their internal love compass.”

“This is a fascinating discussion,” the anchor said, “we need to take a quick break now for the news and other important messages but we’ll continue debating these questions when we get back. I can tell Jason is itching to say something, and I promise we’ll get to you first. Please stay with us.”

Martina wasn’t going anywhere. She was nailed to her easy chair, tears streaming down her face.

[next chapter]