In My Ohio

​On Burying Your Heroes

Darren C. Demaree
​When I was twenty-two it didn’t matter to me how terrible of a person my heroes might have been. If you achieved greatness, if you wrote a generational book, if you recorded an incredible album, if you led one my favorite sports teams to a championship, I didn’t care about what you did outside of that. I just wanted to exist amidst that sort of ecstatic accomplishment.
Ernest Hemingway was a monster? Who cares? Robert Creeley stole another poet’s wife? So what? Albert Belle tried to run over children in his SUV? I’m sure he never came close to actually hitting them. I could explain away any offense that wasn’t rape or murder. The contortion and flexibility of my own expectations of what those people were allowed to do allowed me to behave in terrible ways as well because I was a poet (a good one I thought), so that meant I could own the fringes of my own morality, too. I could invent ethical islands where my own questionable actions would exist away from my actual person.
So, for around five years I came fairly close to being a caricature of all of my heroes. I drank too much. I lied to women. I was abrupt and selfish with friends. I didn’t care about how I presented myself in the present, I just knew that whatever talent I had would eventually justify my actions. This is a fairly common tale; actually, it’s always just categorized as a phase of advanced youth. Sowing oats, or learning how to be an adult, or simply figuring how to best manage the available substances of our world, it can be put in a forgiving context. It shouldn’t though.
I was never violent or arrested or anything close to what might be considered the precipice of unrecoverable dangers, but I was awful to many people. I treated women I loved like they were nothing. I was rude to family and friends. I wasted several years in graduate school because I was paying more attention to creating the mythology of myself than I was to learning how to be a better poet.
Now, a month away from my fourth book being published, I have spent most of the summer researching and writing poems for a collection that I intended to write about Sam Cooke. My favorite album of all-time is his “Live at The Harlem Club”, and I own the rest of his records, as well. I was obsessed with his music, and I wanted to write a book of poems about his mysterious and conspiratorial death, so I read as much as I could about his life. The man was a brilliant musician, a small force in the civil rights movement, but he was not a good man. He impregnated more women than we even know about, he left the women and the children behind with only walking away money, and he died violently after being robbed by a prostitute and assaulting a motel manager in the tirade that followed his discovery of the missing money.
Twenty-two year old Darren wouldn’t have cared about anything other than that album. Thirty-four year old Darren is having issues moving past those things. Part of it revolves around my own guilt for how I treated women. Part of it is that I’m a father now, and I don’t understand how he could abandon and ruin so many lives that pumped his own blood. Part of it is, there is still a very small section in my mind that knows I will never be able to stop listening to that album. That bugs me. Greatness carries with it a wide berth. The tide that works its way on to the shore always carries away some innocents. Who am I to balk at the process?
I am still a young writer, with some success thus far, but even if that success grows someday into the realm where college students read a book of mine and find themselves in a place to forgive any of my wrongdoings, that would make me uncomfortable.
Hemingway once wrote, “If he wrote it, he could get rid of it. He had gotten rid of many things that way.” That sort of catharsis is real, I hope, but more than that I hope I am able to find a new place to appreciate great works. If the behavior disclaimer follows them I want to read that as well. It has always mattered how you treat strangers. It has always mattered that you honor and respect women. It has always mattered that you are loving to your friends and family. The excuses that allow room for those attributes to be faded are just plain wrong. The light of accomplishment is real, but if it’s surrounded by darkness, then I’m not so sure it’s worth it.