January 28, 2010

LA Times 6-part series, Tessa disputes narrative

Filed under: philip k. dick — ubikcan @ 6:39 pm

The LA Times is in the middle of a 6-part series on PKD, which begins like this:

While writer and student were chewing the fat, Dick’s wife, Tessa, and her brother began grabbing things – lamps, chairs, the crib – seemingly oblivious to the two friends.

“She and her brother were carrying things out of the house,” recalls Powers. “I said, ‘Phil, they’re taking stuff, is this OK?’ ”

“Powers, let me give you some advice, in case you should ever find yourself in this position,” Dick responded. “Never oversee or criticize what they take. It’s not worth it. Just see what you’ve got left afterward, and go with that.”

“And then,” Powers recalls, “her brother said, ‘Could you guys lift your glasses? We want the table.’ “

Dick was an old hand at marital dissolution. Tessa had reached her breaking point with her husband’s infidelity, and that evening was the beginning of what would become his fifth divorce. The author could bounce in and out of love affairs, stints in rehab and drug overdoses — while keeping his cool — better than most.

After Tessa left, Dick told Powers not to stick around for his sake – he’d be OK. But that night, the novelist’s nonchalance would not last. After Powers left, Dick took 49 tablets prescribed for his heart condition, alongside a cocktail of other pills including blood pressure meds. He slashed his wrist and sat in his car, parked in his garage with the door closed, so the carbon monoxide would finish him off.

In other words, he tried to commit suicide three different ways.

In a post on her own blog however, Tessa Dick describes that evening significantly differently:

After reading yet another fantastic and completely fabricated account of my husband’s suicide attempt, I have decided that it is time that I told the full story of what happened that day.

One morning in February of 1976, I took our two-year-old son to preschool as usual, then attended a class at the local community college from 9 to 10 a.m. When I returned home, Phil was agitated and pacing around. He demanded that I leave immediately, so his new girlfriend could move into the house. I believe that the mood elevators which his psychiatrist had prescribed were causing his agitation, and he was beginning to get violent. He began throwing things around the living room, and he threatened to kill me if I did not walk out right away. So I walked out.

I called my brother, and that afternoon he and his wife came with me to the house, so I could get my clothes and the baby’s clothes and toys. My brother stood outside the front door, while my sister-in-law went into the house with me. It took us two trips to get the clothes and toys and load them into my car. The whole time, Phil and K.W. Jeter were sitting on the couch, drinking and talking. Jeter glared at me when I walked by. His expression was a mixture of hatred and contempt.

She doesn’t dispute that PKD attempted suicide shortly later, but her involvement in it is cast in a very different way:

I was planning to stay with my parents until I got on my feet, but the next morning I learned that Phil was in the hospital, having attempted suicide. I went back to the house, where I found a note from Phil’s girlfriend telling me to buy cat food and take some clean clothes to Phil. She had taken Phil’s little Fiat sports car and my gasoline credit card. There was no sign that she had moved into my house, so I stayed there and cleaned up the mess that Phil had made when he tried to kill himself. I also bought cat food, and then I bought some brand new clothes for Phil and took them to the hospital. He stayed in the mental ward for about two weeks, and I took our son to visit him there one time. He seemed much calmer and more himself.

I dropped out of the community college, where I had been taking two classes, and I tried to take care of Phil when he came home. But that June, just over three months later, Phil moved out to an apartment that he had rented for another new girlfriend. He had a moving company take all of our furniture. I had to give up the house because I could not pay the rent, so I moved in with my mother until I could get on my feet.

Certainly it’s not quite a difference of factual events, but rather the motives and character that differ in the two accounts (unfavorable in the LA Times narrative, more understanding to both Tessa and PKD in the 2nd, allocating some of the culpability to the medication). However, despite her understandable irritation at the uncritical first narrative, neither does her account show it is “fantastic and completely fabricated.” That’s just exaggeration.


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