Papa’s Trial. Chapter two, The end and the beginning

Chapter 2: The End and the Beginning

“Thank you Your Honor. The prosecution calls Mary Welsh Hemingway.”

He turned to the defense attorney. “How can they do that? She isn’t dead. At least, she wasn’t dead when I pulled the triggers.”

The defense attorney looked at the judge, who nodded.

“I know that you have the habit of thinking that people are either living or dead, Mr. Hemingway, but the brain is not the mind. The mind uses the brain, but it exists here, in the non-physical, whether the body is alive or dead. If you will be patient, the course of the trial will shed light on the subject.”

“All right.” He turned his attention to Mary. Apparently she had chosen to look the way she did when they met in London during the war. He watched her agreeing to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Apparently the question was ritual. Obviously, if nobody could lie, nobody was going to try it in front of an audience.

“Mrs. Hemingway, we realize that your physical component is presently dealing with the aftermath of the defendant’s suicide. We trust this will not prevent you from giving your full attention to this serious matter at hand. For 17 years, you and Ernest Hemingway joined your lives, very much for better or worse. Would you please describe for us the defendant’s mental state in his last few years, as best you can deduce it from his words and actions?”

She looked directly at him for the first time. “I’d have to say that the past few years of living with him was hell. He was verbally and physically abusive, both in private and in public. “

“Did he ever give you reason to fear for your life?”

She hesitated. “I knew that he would not hurt me if he was in his right mind. But if he had been drinking enough, or if he was in one of his paranoid rages, I couldn’t be sure. I had to be a little bit careful.”

“Was this the pattern throughout your marriage?”

Another pause. “It was one part of the pattern, put it that way. It wasn’t always that way, or we never could have stayed together all that time. But yes, there was this dark side to him, and it showed very early.”

“The abusive behavior continued throughout your marriage.”

“Much more so in the final years than earlier.”

“Would you describe the afternoon and evening and night of your wedding?”

“I would prefer not to. Ernest knows what happened.”

“Is it not true that you went to bed determined to leave the next morning?”

“Yes.”

“Sure at that time that getting married had been a mistake?”

“Yes.”

And this resulted from the defendant’s abusive behavior? On his wedding day?”

A hesitation followed by one word said firmly. “Yes.”

“And what changed your mind?”

“Ernest did. When I got up the next morning, he pleaded with me to stay, and I did.”

“Did you suspect that staying was a mistake?”

“Well – I was of two minds about it. We had been living together for ten months, ever since I returned from Europe in May 1945. I had a pretty good sense of what I was getting into.”

“Yeah, so did I,” he said, and, since he had everyone’s attention anyway, he continued. “Life with me was pure hell, Mary? Nothing else?”

“Ernest, you know that what I said is true.”

“But it isn’t the whole truth, is it?”

“I’m just answering the questions he asks me.”

“Your Honor, if the defendant will contain himself –.”

“Sustained. I would counsel the defendant that although he has the ability, and even the right, to question witnesses at any time, the whole truth will emerge in due course as we follow our usual procedure.”

“I understand, Your Honor. I’ll shut up.”

“You are not required to shut up. A reasonable amount of self-control will suffice. Proceed, counselor.”

“Mrs. Hemingway, I’d like you to talk some more about the defendant’s mental state in his final years. How bad did it get?”

Mary’s appearance changed suddenly: looked old, looked tired, beaten up by life, the way he had felt when he had pulled the triggers.

It jolted him. “Did I do that?”

Mary looked at him. “Some of it, Ernest, yes. A good deal of it, actually. It’s how a person looks after they’ve lived long enough with somebody who is mentally ill. It wears you down, the worry, the lack of rest, taking the abuse and not letting it destroy you, holding yourself together – it takes a toll.”

In 3D life, perhaps he would have denied what she was saying, perhaps exploded in rage at an unfounded accusation. But here, it was so obviously true.

The prosecutor said, “Mrs. Hemingway, this abusive behavior. Did the defendant ever tell you that he was sorry?”

“Not in so many words, not usually. But sometimes. And I knew he was sick. It was like the real Ernest was being held prisoner inside, and only made his way outside every so often, and if I wanted to be there when he surfaced, I had to stay with his jailer in the meantime.”

It was a startling way of seeing himself, from the outside.

“Mrs. Hemingway, would you describe your own mental state in the defendant’s final days?”

“Living with Ernest had become unendurable. He thought that I had acted with his enemies to destroy him. He had come to hate me.”

“I have to ask you this. Understand, you have nothing to fear in telling us the truth, even though you are still embodied. Did you assist the defendant to commit suicide?”

She nodded. “Yes, of course.” Then it was as if she had forgotten about the rest of the courtroom; she was talking just to him. “I think the worst thing is not being able to tell anybody.”

He glanced at the judge, and got no sense that he shouldn’t speak. “I know, Mary, and I appreciate it.”

The prosecutor turned to him. “You approve her actions, then?”

“I do now. I was down to just existing. Either I wound up in an institution, or I brought it to an end. I didn’t have anything left. Ending it was a rational decision. Mary knew it, and she helped me.”

“However, apparently that isn’t how you saw it at the time.”

“While I was busy killing myself? No. I was too full of resentment.”

“Oh, honey, I knew what you were thinking by the fact that you killed yourself in the entry, rather than in the basement. I knew that you held me responsible for what the doctors had done to you, and I knew that you couldn’t realize, in the state you were in, that I had acted from the best motives.”

“Mrs. Hemingway, let me be sure I understand. You are telling the court that allowing the defendant to kill himself was the only way out of the situation.”

“What else could I do? Have him locked away for the rest of his life? Risk that he would talk his way out again, the way he had done at the Mayo Clinic?”

“Did you consider what might happen to you if your actions became known?”

“Mr. Prosecutor, I was desperate.”

“She can’t admit it, any more than I could admit to the Army what I had been doing in France in 1944, and for the same reason: legal consequences. Like me, she did what was right instead of what was legal.”

“Harry Morgan would have approved,” the prosecutor said drily.

“Yes he would have. And I do too.”

A moment’s pause, and the prosecutor resumed. “Mrs. Hemingway, I would like to go back to when you met the defendant during the war.” Mary’s appearance changed again, back to the look she had in London in 1944. “You and he were married to other people when he decided that he was going to marry you.”

“Yes.  He said he made up his mind the first time he saw me. I don’t know why.”

Were you as attracted to the defendant as he was to you?”

“I can’t say that I took one look at him and decided I was going to marry him. But he was a very attractive man, very vital. And it was flattering to be the object of the attention of a world famous writer. I mean, everybody knew Hemingway.”

“So you began an affair.”

“I didn’t feel bound, if that’s what you mean. My husband was off in North Africa, and I had no illusions that he was being faithful to what was already pretty much past by that time.”

“Did you sense any mixed feelings on the part of the defendant?”

“As far as I could tell, he already considered himself divorced.”

“Did it concern you at all that he could turn his back on his previous marriage with so little ado?”

She took a moment to consider. “Actually, I don’t know that I thought much about it.”

“That’s because you weren’t any more married than I was, so you took it for granted.”

“Would you agree with that, Mrs. Hemingway?”

“I wouldn’t have thought to put it that way, but yes, I suppose I would.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hemingway. No further questions at this time.”

The judge said, “Defense? Cross-examination?”

“Mrs. Hemingway, you have testified that your life with the defendant was hell. You have alluded to the defendant’s dark side. Do you have reason to believe that your words and actions evoked this dark side?”

“You’re under oath, remember,” he muttered. The judge and the defense attorney and Mary all turned their attention on him. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m not used to being on the air all the time.”

Mary picked her words carefully. “I recognize that whatever happens between people, they share responsibility. I wasn’t just a helpless victim. I see that. But he had this dark side, and everybody knew that sometimes they had to step carefully around him, for fear of an explosion.”

The defense attorney looked at him. “You have a response?”

“What?” Hemingway said. “Am I testifying?”

“We all felt your reaction just then, Mr. Hemingway, and this trial isn’t exactly like trials in the 3D world. Procedures are flexible. You can jump in at any time.”

“I just didn’t like her saying that everybody had to walk around me on tip toes.”

“We didn’t like it much, either, Ernest,” Mary said evenly.

The judge said, “Proceed, counselor.”

“Mrs. Hemingway, would you say that the defendant’s mental condition was precipitated by physical injuries?”

“Your honor—“

“Yes, counselor, I agree. The witness’s answer to such a question could only be speculation on her part.”

“Your honor, I recognize that. But she lived with him longer than anyone else. Can we not elicit her opinion?”

“Bearing in mind that it is opinion, and no more than that, I’ll allow it. The witness may answer.”

Mary frowned, thinking. “ I don’t think he ever fully recovered from those two crashes in 1954. Getting out of that second airplane, his head was leaking cerebral fluid. He was never out of pain from then on, and he was never able to be as physically active as he had been, and that was a terrible blow to him.”

“And prior to 1954?”

“I’ve thought about that, a lot. It may be that I never knew him when he was functioning at his best. By the time I met him, he was deeply tired from a year of sub-hunting on his boat, then he got that concussion just a few days before D-Day, and went off reporting instead of letting it heal, and he had more concussions in those hard months with Buck Lanham’s outfit. It all took its toll. He told me later, he had lived an entire year with a headache, day and night. I think after Hurtgen Forest, he had combat fatigue.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hemingway. No further questions.”

“Mary? I’m sorry I left such a mess.”

A wan smile. “It is a mess, honey, that’s for sure.” And she was gone.

“Prosecution?”

“Your honor, the prosecution calls Elizabeth Hadley Richardson Hemingway Mowrer.”

.2.

And there was Hadley, the part of her that was not still on earth living happily married to Paul Mowrer. She looked as she had looked in their early days in Paris, red-haired, serene, radiant with happiness. The fact that he was on trial receded from his mind, and he was flooded with the reality of that part of his emotional life. She knew it, and smiled at him.

“Mrs. Mowrer, you were the defendant’s first wife. Would you say it was a happy marriage?”

“Oh yes, particularly at first.”

“You were married for how long?”

“Six years.”

“While you were married to the defendant, was he abusive to you?”

“Never.”

“Even verbally?”

“No. I know about various aspects of his relationships with his other wives, but he wasn’t that way with me. Ernest was always very good to me.”

“Soon after you married, the two of you moved to Paris so that the defendant could become a writer.”

“That’s right.” It was interesting, everybody in the room had the feel of their early years in Paris. Arrival around Christmas, 1921, finding an apartment, setting up housekeeping.

“And you and he lived on the proceeds of your trust fund, is that right?”

She shook her head, decisively. “Not in the way that that sounds, no. In 1922 and ’23, Ernest was working for the Toronto Weekly Star, paid by the piece, rather than being on salary. So our income fluctuated wildly. One week we would be scraping by with just enough money for a bowl of soup for supper, and then we’d get a check for several stories, and reimbursement for expenses, and we’d live it up. We didn’t live on the trust fund income: It was more our anchor to leeward.”

“But from 1924, when your husband gave up his job, until the end of your marriage, you and he lived on your income.”

“We did while the income lasted, yes. The inheritance was mismanaged, and then stolen. It was very distressing.”

“And as your income declined, the defendant became involved with a rich woman, is that correct?”

Hadley looked at the prosecutor with distaste. “I suppose that statement is true in fact, but it is most certainly untrue in its implications, if you are implying that Ernest married me for my money and then married Pauline for hers.”

“Then should we conclude that this was the old story of the husband wanting a younger woman?”

“That’s not really true either. Pauline was a few years younger than I was, and she was still slim and fashionable, but if she hadn’t been determined to have him, he wouldn’t have fallen in love with her. I know that it looks like he found her physical presence irresistible, but Ernest’s emotional needs were at least as strong as his physical drives. He needed to love and be loved.”

“But he did leave you, and for a woman who had been your friend.”

“It was like a slow-motion nightmare, one of those dreams where you are trying to run, but your feet are caught up in quicksand. Pauline knew what she wanted, and went after it, but I wasn’t able to do that. The quicksand was my passivity, stemming from my terrible childhood, I know that now. I couldn’t assert myself. I didn’t know how to. Besides –”

“Besides?”

“Well, you know, I could see what was happening to Ernest, too. The situation hurt him, and I could see it, and it made it impossible for me to do certain things that other people might have thought natural.”

“So you weren’t even angry with him?”

“Angry? Of course I was angry! It was so selfish, so immature! But I was angry in the way that you get when you see someone you love doing something stupid, something that’s going to hurt himself and you and everybody else besides. And of course I was hurt, and disappointed.”

“And rejected.”

“You would expect so, wouldn’t you? But somehow that isn’t what I felt. I think it’s because I could see so clearly that what Ernest wanted was not to leave me but to have both of us, and that’s not rejection, that’s just being put in an impossible situation.”

“Mrs. Mowrer, do you feel that you can give the court a fair estimate of the defendant’s relationships with his other wives?”

“Of course not. Nobody ever knows the reality of anybody’s relationships. I can say this. Ernest was the most sensitive man I ever met or expect to meet. He could be hurt so easily! And when he was hurt, his natural instinct was to lash out, and it might be two minutes or it might be two days or it might be never, before he realized that he had misinterpreted what he had taken to be an attack. I understood it, and I made allowances for it, but of course it’s difficult to be in a position where, if there’s an argument, you’re always wrong.”

“And yet you overheard two of his friends talking about him, when he was still in his twenties, saying that he used to be a nice boy, which of course is the same as saying that he was not that, any longer. And instead of getting angry at them, you recognized that they were correct, and your heart sank. Is this not so?”

“Don’t you think I was sick about it? But no matter how much you love somebody, you can’t make them see themselves from the outside if they won’t look, and you can’t make them over. If you see them going wrong, and they aren’t responsive to your suggestions, what can you do? You have to let them live their life as best they can. All you can do is love them and be loyal to them and hope for the best.”

“No further questions.”

The judge said, “Defense? Cross-examination?”

“Mrs. Mowrer, you seem remarkably free of rancor when it comes to the defendant. Why is that?”

“Why on earth should I feel rancor? Because he left me? But look what he did for me. I used to say – I still say – he gave me the key to the world. He loved me, and he taught me that I was lovable, and so I learned of my own ability to love. He encouraged me to try things. He awakened me in so many ways.”

Looking directly at him: “If Ernest Hemingway hadn’t come into my life, I might have gone through life thinking I was a semi-invalid. But he never thought of me that way. He pushed me to do things. He assumed that I was healthy, and I found that it was true. And in return, I understood how important his writing was to him, and I appreciated it, at a time when he had not yet developed it. I provided financial support for a while, yes, but he always would’ve found a way to live. What was more important, terribly important to him, was the emotional support I gave him, and the intellectual support. And he knew it, and he appreciated it. We were great pals.”

“Then why, in your opinion, didn’t it last?”

Returning her attention to the defense attorney: “Well, I suppose Ezra Pound was right, once you have a baby, it changes things. You’re not pals in quite the same way after that. And, you know, you gain a certain amount of weight while you’re carrying the baby, and it isn’t always so easy to lose it again, and maybe you don’t look quite as young as you had. And it got harder to keep up with him. There was that age difference between us, there wasn’t any getting around that.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Mowrer”

“Hadley –” ignoring everyone around them – “Hadley, you know that –”

“I do, Tatie. And I’ve never said otherwise.” And it didn’t matter how many others were in the room, it was the two of them alone again.

The judge gave them that moment, then said, “Mr. Prosecutor, next witness?”

“Your honor, I think this initial testimony establishes that this is a complicated man, his life best understood by proceeding chronologically. The prosecution calls Grace Hall Hemingway.”

 

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