Tom thinks that every Viking ever born, by design or desire, by chance or by choice, is a complete fuck-up. Complete, he says. No exceptions.
So a picture appears in the papers this morning—a strapping chunk of a man with a broad fierce face, his horned helmet covering a solid block of head, his clothes fashioned from some beast who’s still vaguely recognizable and who appears to be only recently dispatched or perhaps not even entirely dead yet, his muscled body in motion, shimmering and rippling as he swings over the side of his ship with a sword the size of a tree in his left hand, blue eyes flashing, red mouth open in some sort of exuberant cry I imagine—and a positive accompanying story about the fellow’s accomplishments: the extensive plundering along the coast including a meticulous accounting of cities ransacked, homes pillaged, cattle fleeced, graineries emptied, youth kidnapped, woman swagged, virgins despoiled, villages looted and left smoldering. It’s really quite a story: lavish and awed and congratulatory, filled with complex characterization and vivid description, compelling and convincing. And wonderful.
I delicately place the paper, the picture, the story next to Tom’s coffee so he’ll see it as soon as he comes downstairs. A complete fake, he says the moment he picks it up. A piece of contemptible puffery placed in the unsuspecting paper by the puny but aggressive pro-Viking lobby.
There are other incidents and anecdotes I could relate, a steady stream really of instances and examples I could trot out as illustrative, but what’s the point? That dismissive response is typical of Tom—utter antipathy toward all things Viking. Now here’s the really weird and slightly scary part: Tom is pure Viking, all the way through.
I’m not Viking myself—not a drop—but I am open-minded, and, I suppose, sympathetic in my own way—the sea, the ships, the robust vitality. There’s some good there.
You’re romanticizing, Tom says. Barbarians, he adds.
I want Tom to accept certain things, but he won’t. He’s just so damned insistent.
Still, he seems happy enough in his life: he likes his work, he loves me, he functions well in the given world. He doesn’t seem to want more.
I worry. The little termites of self-hatred may be working their insidious paths through his deep structure, undermining his very foundation. One day he could break down—total collapse, catastrophic implosion. I hate thinking that.
So I turn my mind instead to those picaresque ships—like the fragile hand-carved wooden trinkets sold now by the wharf-rat boys by the bay—riding the North Atlantic swells and accepting the crash and crush of cruel or indifferent waves, and I think, too, of the yearning, the impulse to explore, the drunken, dream-soaked journey undertaken with arms outstretched and hopeful. And I feel glad.