Chapter 23: Starting Over

“When you returned to Cuba, what did you find?”

“The war had run over the Finca like everything else. I had the staff and the money to do what was needed, but you don’t overcome years of neglect in ten minutes. Even my cats were half-starved.”

“And you? What shape were you in?”

“I was tired. It was like recuperating from a fever. You have to push through this gray haze of fatigue that muffles things and makes it hard to think anything is worth bothering about. You inch your way back into life, you make adjustments.” A pause. “I was having nightmares. I was having these terrific headaches. I couldn’t do any mental work. I was finding that I thought slower and spoke slower, I was forgetting words. Sometimes I had ringing in my ears, sometimes I couldn’t hear right. Jose Herrera said it was because I drank after the concussion, and didn’t rest. He said there wasn’t much I could do to repair the mechanism other than take it easy and get myself in shape.”

“Did you ask him about resuming writing?”

“I wasn’t ready to do that even if I had been in good condition, but he said I should do only a little brain work each day, take my time, and hope to God the old writing machinery wasn’t gone for good.”

“And then Mary Welsh arrived to take up residence. Your honor, the prosecution recalls Mary Hemingway.”

.2.

“Mrs. Hemingway, in May, just before VE Day, you arrived in Cuba, an entirely new environment, beginning a new life. How would you describe your situation, those first months?”

“It was difficult. Everything seemed so chaotic, and everything revolved around Ernest and his friends and his interests, mainly hunting and fishing, which were things I didn’t know anything about. I had no place for myself, nothing that was mine. I had no experience with servants or with running a household larger than two people, and I hadn’t yet begun to learn Spanish. And I was very much aware that I had no independent source of income. Sometimes it felt like I had put myself into prison. Today we would say, `golden handcuffs.’ That’s a perfect description of my life at the time.”

“Yet you stayed.”

“Well – I almost didn’t. In June I was supposed to fly back to the States to complete my divorce, and if I had gotten on that airplane, I might never have returned. But we had a car crash on the way to the airport, and it took me two months at the finca to recover. Ernest was a different man during those months, very solicitous, really listening when I told him I needed an orderly life, rather than a continuous round of surprises and disruptions. And I began to be really happy.”

“Did that happiness last after you returned to the States?”

“Whenever I was away, his letters were very loving, and filled with the best intentions. And he meant what he said, I knew that. But then when we were together, things would flare up again. So, when I returned to Cuba, I was happy to be back and he was happy to have me back, but it was only a matter of a few days before I was feeling smothered.”

“So, would you say you were happy, or not?”

“Well, it is sometimes difficult to know what’s realistic. Life is never going to be all sweetness and light. So, we make allowances. How much darkness can we accommodate and still say we are happy? We learn that the question of whether we are happy is more than any particular moment.”

“Would you agree that the relationship was volatile right from the beginning?”

“I would have to. Between the time I met him in May and the time he left for America, I had learned what he could be like in a rage. I had had all those ardent letters from the front, then the first time I see him in Paris, he gives me a tongue-lashing for supposedly being rude to his drunken friends. It showed me another side to him that I had heard about but hadn’t really believed in.”

“Did it give you pause?”

“Mr. Prosecutor, many things gave me pause. In some ways, there was just too much of him for any one person to handle. I wrote him one day that I had avoided him because I needed to have a few hours without feeling overwhelmed by his intensity. The thought of living with that intensity, day by day, for the rest of my life – it terrified me, sometimes. Not always, and not only that. Mostly it exhilarated me, filled me with excitement, but it terrified me, too.”

“Nonetheless, you decided to be with him after the war?”

“How many people get to be with Ernest Hemingway? I could see that it was going to be difficult, perhaps impossible, but I was willing to take the chance. And I’m not saying all our problems were Ernest’s fault.”

“Would you say that you and he developed a sort of routine around that volatility? A dance? A sort of call-and-response?”

A long hesitation. “Do you mean, do I see my own responsibility for what went on?”

“Mrs. Hemingway, I remind you, this proceeding centers on the defendant, not on you. We merely seek to obtain a clear understanding of the situation as you experienced it.”

Slowly: “There was a pattern, of course. If he attacked, I would attack right back. I had to: It would have been impossible to live with him if I had let him run all over me. There was a big streak of bully in Ernest, and sometimes he would get his way by being as ugly as he could, in public as well as in private, until the woman gave in. I don’t think that worked with Martha, and I wasn’t about to let it work with me. I’d keep at him until he apologized.”

“And when he apologized?”

“It depended on how bad it had gotten. If I said I was going to leave, he would beg me to stay, and for a while he would be very loving again.”

“So you understood what was going on, if only instinctively? And you evolved a strategy to cope with it? Perhaps secure advantage from it?”

“I understood his part in it, certainly, and I did what I had to in order to maintain my self-respect.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hemingway. No further questions. The prosecution recalls the defendant.”

.3.

“Mr. Hemingway, would you agree with your wife’s description of your marriage?”

“You want me to say I was a bully?”

“I want you – this court wants you – to look into the pattern of your relationship.”

A sigh. “Getting used to this.” A moment to settle in, and then he found himself drawing unexpected connections. “With Hadley, it was simple. Her mother and sister were always telling her she couldn’t do anything, and she half believed it. She was shy and pretty much afraid of the world, so I could be the front man for the two of us and we were both happy that way. That’s why she didn’t object to my making all the decisions about money; it’s what she expected. But with Pauline, well she had her own career and her own money – a lot more money than I had – and I had to be careful that she didn’t get the upper hand. I see that now, People noticed how rough I treated her, sometimes. I’d have to think more about it, but I’d bet those were pretty much always times I felt I had to keep control.”

“And with Miss Gellhorn?”

He laughed. “Marty, there was no controlling Marty, she’d just wear you down. She had all those firm opinions about things, whether she knew what she was talking about or not, and she let you know.”

“Did she remind you of your mother, then?”

“No, she wasn’t interested in reshaping me, she just never stopped complaining when I did things she didn’t like. Marty, you know, did what she wanted to do. That was okay with me up to a point, but when she went off to Finland, I knew I’d never be first with her.”

“But Mary?”

“Look, I know she tried. She was willing to give up her job with Time and live without an independent income. She learned another language and another way of living, I recognize all that. But that doesn’t mean our life together was ever going to be easy.”

“Mr. Hemingway, your divorce with Martha Gellhorn was finalized on December 21, 1945. You married Mary Welsh on March 14, 1946. Why the delay?”

A shrug. “We had been living together since May; we didn’t see any urgency.”

“Were there, perhaps, second thoughts?”

“There were on Mary’s part, as you know. On mine, no.”

“No wistful memories of Martha? No regrets?”

“None. That chapter of my life was closed.”

“Tell us, then, why did you keep Miss Gellhorn’s belongings after the divorce?”

A blank look. “I sued her for desertion. Under Cuban law, in such cases all joint possessions go to the injured party.

“Yes, that gave you legal ownership. Did that it mean it was right to keep them?”

“Ownership is ownership, Mr. Prosecutor.”

“But not in the case of the Miro painting, `The Farm,’ that you borrowed from your first wife and never returned?”

“Well – I’m the one who paid for that painting.”

“And Miss Gellhorn is the one who paid for her possessions.”

He couldn’t think of a response.

“Defense? Your witness.”

“Mr. Hemingway,  I suggest that it would be in your best interest to examine the question posed by the prosecutor. You were a man capable of much generosity. Why in this instance did you act as you did?”

“This is a funny trial, where the two lawyers cooperate with each other.”

“Our intent is for you to better understand yourself. So, please examine your motives.”

“There wasn’t a lot of stuff involved. It wasn’t any big deal.”

The defense attorney looked at him, and waited,  then said, “No further questions, your honor.”

The prosecutor said, “The prosecution recalls Martha Gellhorn.”

.4.

“Miss Gellhorn, when you and your husband agreed that he would sue you for divorce in Cuba, did the question of your possessions come up?”

“I never thought about it. I just assumed he would do the right thing. Stupid of me.”

“The defendant has testified that little was involved. Do you agree?”

“He kept everything! My family silver and china and stemware, my clothes, even my typewriter. My furniture, which I didn’t care about, but still it was mine. He kept it all. Eventually Mary offered to return the things that had come down through my family. But when the package arrived, the china was all chipped and the crystal was shattered.  And I had even paid for the shipment. But what can you do? Getting free of Ernest was still worth the price.”

“Defense?”

“No questions.”

“Mr. Hemingway, does Miss Gellhorn’s testimony refresh your memory?”

“What do you want me to say?”

“This court would like you to answer the question. Why did you act that particular way in that particular instance?”

He sighed. “I guess I was just being a bastard.”

“But the question remains, why? What caused those actions? Examine it, Mr. Hemingway.”

Yet more dredging, and he didn’t much like what he was finding. “Having it both ways, I suppose. I was glad to get free of her, but I resented that she was glad to be free of me. So I took it out however I could, and told myself whatever I needed to hear to justify it.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hemingway. We can go on to other things.”

“I certainly hope so. God, how much more of this?” He hadn’t intended to say it; it had come on its own.

The prosecutor considered him. “There are serious things that need to be examined, but we aren’t going to go through everything that you did and thought and said in your final 15 years, if that concerns you. And we will not neglect to consider your life as artist. For instance: Would we be wrong to describe your life in Cuba as a form of exile? Compared, say, to your time in Paris after the first war?”

“Apples and oranges, Mr. Prosecutor. In Paris in the twenties, I was young and I was surrounded by genius and near-genius and maybe-who-knows genius. It was an active, varied, interesting life full of promise and I was working well among comrades even if they were rivals. In Cuba I wasn’t just one among many. Havana was not a literary center! So the stimulus of personal competition among peers was gone. And life in your 40s and 50s is bound to be different anyway. Maybe it was easier to live only at the periphery. I had money in the bank, and I could work at my own pace. I was living mentally, spiritually, in an earlier version of America that no longer existed.”

.5.

“Mr. Hemingway, the year 1947. The writing machinery was working again and you were piling up manuscript. Every so often you received visits from friends such as Buck Lanham. Your sons had accepted Mary as they had accepted her predecessors. In many respects, as 1947 dawned, you were doing well.”

“At first. But that turned into a bitch of a year, like 1941. Patrick in April, and then Max dies in June, and the Dominican thing in August, and Katy getting killed in September in a car accident.”

“Please tell the court about Patrick.”

“At the time Pat must have been about 18. He and Gigi had been visiting Pauline, and he came back to the finca and resumed studying for his college boards. But he kept complaining about headaches. I knew that he and Gigi had been in an accident in a car while they were in Key West, and he had banged his head. It sounded to me like he’d had a concussion and nobody had done anything to help him recover from it.”

“He didn’t treat it by drinking massive amounts of alcohol, at any rate.”

He grinned. “No, he didn’t try his old man’s therapy.” The grin faded. “But he was doing all that brain-work. One day he’s taking his boards in Havana, and a couple of days later he runs a fever, becomes delirious, and turns violent, and has to be watched day and night. And this is Patrick, who has always been such a quiet friendly boy.”

“So what did you do?”

“Mary’s father had prostate cancer, and she had to fly off to Chicago to be with him. She went, and she should have gone. But it left me short-handed, so I called in Sinsky and Roberto Herrera to take shifts with me. And then Pauline flew over to help take care of her son.”

“Did you tell Mary Pauline was there?”

“Of course I did, and in fact Pauline wrote to her directly. She stayed three weeks, and was a big help. And then after Mary came back, Pauline came over again, and to my surprise, they liked each other, I guess because there was no rivalry between them. Anyway, by then the worst was over with Patrick, and in a few more months he made a full recovery, but I’ll tell you, it wore me out. I took the midnight-to-eight a.m. shift, you see, which meant that the sleep I got was mostly catnaps. You can do that for quite a while, but not forever.”

“So then, Maxwell Perkins?”

“Max was the middle of June, just a couple of days after the army gave me the Bronze Star. He just up and died, of pneumonia and exhaustion. Dammit, it always took an act of Congress to get him to take time off from work. Yes, he was a great editor. But wouldn’t he have been an even greater editor if he had had more years to do the job? I always wanted him to give himself more time off, but there was no reasoning with him, he always had reasons why this wasn’t a good time. And then he was gone, and I can’t tell you how much I missed him. He was a great editor and a great friend, and when you lose somebody like Max you can feel it, something’s gaining on you.”

“And then there was the incident of the revolutionaries and the Dominican Republic.”

“Yeah.” He was embarrassed. “Agent 007 versus the dictator. I guess you know the background. Rafael Trujillo, another son of a bitch like Franco, was running the Dominican Republic. He still had the army and the ricos, but these rebels were organizing an army in Cuba to throw him out.”

“And you thought they could succeed?”

“I had hope, let’s put it that way. This particular bunch contacted me, and I got involved a little bit, and maybe I would have gotten in further, but just at the time their preparations for an invasion were coming to a head, Patrick got so sick, and I was nursing him day and night. Who knows, maybe that’s what saved my neck. As it is, it was bad enough. The Dominican rebels had greased the Cuban Minister of Defense to look the other way, naturally, but either he decided what he was doing wasn’t safe, or he got a better offer. On the 6th of August he announced that he’d captured some airplanes and pilots that were to be used against Trujillo. This meant I was in trouble. Jose Luis Herrera called me, told me to get out that day. Rene packed a bag for me and my chauffer got me to the airport just in time to get the afternoon plane to New York. I mean, just in time. The plane was ready to go. But I got out.”

“And why would you have been in danger from the Cuban authorities?”

Embarrassed: “Because they’d find my checks.”

His attorney delayed for a beat, merely for effect. “Mr. Hemingway, do I understand you to say that you were giving a revolutionary group financial support in the form of signed checks?”

“Look, you don’t have to tell me how reckless that was. All I could say is, it’s a lot more obviously stupid after the fact than it seemed at the time.”

“So you left in a hurry. Did you later decide that perhaps this was an overreaction?”

“Not at all. They named me in the newspapers. But I was safely out of the country, and I spent the winter in Idaho. I didn’t go back until February, 1948, when it had all blown over. But that’s the kind of year 1947 was.”

“Let me ask, how did it happen that you went from famous author to covert participant in revolutionary activities?”

“You could say it started in 1918, those months in the hospital listening to wounded veterans talking among themselves. It taught me that the hell that war is can’t be justified even by the brave things, even the splendid things, that men may do in war. When you’re in a war, you have to win it, but when you win, you have to ask what you bought with what you paid. It was clear to me that the World War made political violence into the defining element of our time. That’s why I called my book of violent sketches in our time.”

“All right. But I don’t quite see how this led you to sympathize with revolutionary politics.”

“You don’t? World War I bitched the world, and brought us communism and then fascism. How could you enlist in either side? Yet, how could you stay on the sidelines? From the first time I saw Mussolini, I knew him for what he was, and I said so in print. And even after I got rich, my sympathies were with the poor, never on the side of the rich or of the forces of reaction.”

“So you were willing to risk being used by Stalin?”

“It got hard. In the Spanish Civil War, the republic had nobody else on its side. How could you criticize  Russia in those circumstances? It seemed like treason to the republic. But to support the Soviet government after the war, you’d have to have a stronger stomach than I did.”

“So after the war, you were tempted to dabble in revolutions.”

Angrily: “You think World War II was a happy ending to anything? Maybe if you get involved with revolutions you can’t keep your hands entirely clean, but maybe sitting by and doing nothing isn’t so clean either. Let’s say my politics was revolutionary but cautious. It was always a question, when a chance came up, whether to play it to win, or risk a few bucks on a longshot, or shake your head at and wait for another day. Mostly I stayed on the sidelines, waiting.”

“So the perpetual party at Hemingway’s was cover for your other activities?”

“People don’t do things for just one reason usually. But if you have a place owned by a celebrity and he holds parties all the time, it’s easy for people to meet there while holding drinks.”

“So, later, Batista’s police weren’t so far wrong in suspecting you of helping their enemies.”

“Hell no they weren’t wrong, and the nice thing is, they knew they weren’t wrong, but they couldn’t do anything much about it, because I was too famous, and it would have hurt them. And I lived with this background tension for years. But it did cost me where it hurt – in my reputation. If people had known what I tried to do, it would have showed them where my heart was.”

“Thank you, that’s very clear. The prosecution calls Aaron Hotchner.”

.6.

He half-listened to Hotch promising to tell the truth. He ought to be in his early forties, sort of middle aged, but apparently he had decided to look 28, the way he did when they first met.

“Mr. Hotchner, please describe for the court when, where, why and how you met the defendant.”

“In 1948, I was working for Cosmopolitan magazine, and they sent me to Havana to persuade Ernest Hemingway to write an article on `The Future of Literature’! I needed that job, but, you know, Hemingway had been my hero ever since college, and I couldn’t imagine myself calling him up out of the blue with such a stupid request. I spent a couple of days hiding in my hotel, then I said to hell with it, and if it costs me my job, all right. I wrote him a note and asked him to provide me with a written refusal so maybe I wouldn’t get fired. To my amazement, he calls me up and invites me to have a drink with him at the Floridita! Which, naturally, I jump at, and we spent the evening with him asking me questions and telling me stories and getting me drunk on papa dobles.

“Seeing if you would pass inspection?”

“That was my guess, and evidently I passed, because he invited me to go out on his boat next day, and he started right in teaching me deep-sea fishing, and that was the beginning of a friendship that lasted more than a dozen years.”

“Would you describe the defendant as a true and loyal friend?”

“Absolutely. The best. Never had a better friend in my life.”

“The defendant was famous for having close friendships and then ending them on some pretext or other. Why do you think that was?”

“When I was in law school. I believe they called that hearsay.”

“Then let me ask a somewhat different question. Do you feel that your own friendship with him was following that pattern?”

“Not at all. We were friends from the time we met.”

“Even in 1960 and 1961?”

“That’s not a fair comparison. These past couple of years, his illness prevented him from seeing anybody clearly.” Speaking directly to him, instead of to the prosecutor: “It’s good to see you your old self, Papa. The past couple of years were pretty terrible.”

“Yeah, I’m getting that. Paranoia is hard to see when you’re on the inside of it.” Saying that, he felt a sudden blast of unscripted emotion, as Hotch let go of the burden he had carried so long. Pain, sorrow, guilt, indecision, helplessness, loss. Anguish, there was no softer word for it.

The prosecutor allowed him to experience the depth of his friend’s emotion. “Mr. Hotchner, I for one wish it were possible for you to remember these proceedings in your waking hours in the physical world.”

“It would make life a lot easier, I’m tell you that!”

“At least, you can feel the defendant’s present comprehension of the effect his illness had on others. And that is the point of this procedure.”

Hotchner shrugged non-existent shoulders. “Well, I’m here as a character witness, if one is needed.”

“It appears that you became a sort of adopted younger brother.”

“Remember, I was old enough that I had done things. I had been an officer in the war; I had begun a career as a writer. So I wasn’t just a wide-eyed kid with nothing to offer.”

“Then tell the court the nature of your relationship.”

“Well, for one thing, we had a lot of fun together. Surely people have told you that Papa loved doing things, and loved doing them with somebody. He loved having good times, and he planned and worked to make them happen, and good times always involved other people. Sometimes it would be a mob, and if need be he would settle for a mob of one. And he was a born teacher, and he liked nothing more than having someone eager and able to learn what he knew.”

“So, not just a wide-eyed kid but a sidekick. A court jester?”

“Listen, mister, I paid my way. I acted as intermediary with my editors, and later I made quite a bit of money for him, adapting his stories for television.”

“Made the money for the defendant, or for yourself?”

“For both of us. Whatever I negotiated, we split down the middle.”

“Did he regard this as a fair division?”

“Of course I did! They were my stories, but it was Hotch that picked them out, and adapted them, and got them produced. For me, it was found money and it kept my name out there.”

“Mr. Hotchner, when you first knew the defendant, did he exhibit signs of mental illness?”

Cautiously: “No more than any of us do, I’d say. We all get into bad moods. We all have bad days and good days. I know what you’re asking about, and for any time prior to the two airplane crashes in Africa in 1954, I would say no.”

“Very well. No further questions. We recall the defendant.”

.7.

“Mr. Hemingway, in 1948 you and your wife set out to spend several months in Europe. Would you describe that trip for the court?”

“In other words, you want me to talk about Adriana.”

“We would like you to tell the court the reasons behind your behavior at that time.”

He squirmed, just a bit. “It’s a pattern, clear enough from here. That doesn’t mean I was aware of it when I was still in the body.”

“Doesn’t it, Mr. Hemingway?”

“Well, not quite aware, or not entirely aware. There’s two things going on, and they’re all mixed together. One is my temper, and the other is my fantasy life. If you give me a chance, I think I can make you see it the way I do.”

“Do proceed.”

“Take my temper. We are talking here of sitting on a volcano. You don’t know what you’re going to do ahead of time – I mean, it isn’t like you’re planning to lose your temper. Sometimes after a particularly violent attack you feel sick. Drained, shaking, and a sensation almost like nausea, almost like a headache. In just a few minutes, you spent the energy you might normally have used in a week. It flowed through you so hot and so fast that sometimes it really did need physical release or it felt like your body would explode. That’s when the physical danger would arise. You could kill somebody, easily, if the fit was still on you and a weapon was at hand. A chair, your fists, a gun, anything. But who ever wanted to make himself sick, and maybe do damage he’d feel guilty about, and maybe kill somebody? I’m talking here about being so fighting mad that you lose sight of limits, or if you keep yourself within limits, it’s just barely. And others are criticizing you for not having enough self-control. They’re controlling a ten horsepower engine and you’re controlling a ten-horse team, and they figure if they can do it, you can do it.”

“But do you not agree that in life individuals need self-control?”

“Sure, but the normal everyday you is not the same as the rage-machine. You try to keep it from going hog-wild, and you pick up the pieces afterward. But you and it aren’t the same thing.”

“Doesn’t this amount to trying to evade responsibility for your own lack of self-control?”

“Looking at it that way is comfortable, isn’t it? It puts distance between you and behavior you disapprove of. Hell, who doesn’t disapprove of behavior like that? Who isn’t ashamed of it? But what if I wasn’t in control of it? What if I, who wouldn’t ever do something like that, am being held responsible because it was done with my body? And what about the fact that when I muscle myself back into control, or at least when the rage-machine lets me back in, then I have to live with the consequences and I don’t even know what happened? People say, `You have to take responsibility for your own actions.’ But if you were an officer commanding a company of men, and one of the men fucked up, yes, it would be your responsibility, but nobody in his right mind would treat you as though you had done it personally. You have the responsibility to prevent it, or, if it happened, to clean up after it, but you yourself didn’t do it, and treating you as if you did would just muddy the waters. You wind up trying to defend yourself not for failing to prevent something, but for doing the something. That doesn’t help you keep the rage-machine under control. In fact, it makes it harder.”

“All right, you said temper and fantasy. Shall we move on to fantasy?”

“You know I was a story-teller. That’s what I was, not just what I did. My whole life, I was making it up and rewriting it as I went along. so sometimes when I was among pretty girls, I was imagining I was young again, and single.”

“And at such times, your actual wife ceased to exist for you. You couldn’t hear her, you couldn’t see her, and then you regarded her as one of the servants. You insulted her verbally, then sometimes you went beyond that, making it clear that you wished she didn’t exist.”

A flash of the old familiar irritation. “I am trying to explain something, here. Yes, that’s how it would affect me sometimes. But Mary could never seem to see that it didn’t have anything to do with her as a person, it was that having a wife didn’t fit in with the scenarios in my mind. I was being a carefree boy again, and she was being my ball and chain.”

“However, look at the position this put her in. She didn’t cease to exist just because you were pretending you were young and unattached.”

It was hopeless, even here where people could read each other’s thoughts.

“Not hopeless, Mr. Hemingway. Don’t give up just because things are difficult. You are not responsible for making things clear to anyone but yourself – but you are responsible for doing that.”

He let it well up. “Okay, I am aware that I treated her badly when she wasn’t fitting in the pretend-life I was enjoying. Pauline, same thing. I remember one time telling Ingrid Bergman I had written Pilar with her in mind, and Pauline butted in and said I had told her I’d had her in mind. You see? It was interfering with the stories I was telling myself. I was retelling my life the way it might have been.”

“Like your stories about your service in the Italian army in World War I.”

“Same thing, yes. But Mary never understood that, and neither did Pauline.”

“Nor Martha Gellhorn, apparently.”

He snorted. “Marty! She didn’t believe the stories I told that were true, let alone the ones I was making up! But that’s another subject altogether.”

“Well, the topic of story telling is a natural segue to a discussion of Hemingway as artist.”

“You won’t hear any objections from me!”

 

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