Thursday, June 4, 2015

Messy Lives

[I first published this in my earlier blog, Patrick Murtha's Diary, in 2009. It still strikes me as one of the strongest posts that I did there. I configure myself as a liberal and progressive, but NOT as an "Anything goes, what the hell" type. Thus, I am perfectly capable of finding common ground with conservatives and traditionalists on certain issues - as here, perhaps.]

In an Edith Wharton novel that I am very fond of, The Children, a group of seven children disparately related by the marriages and re-marriages of their various biological and adoptive parents struggle to stay together as a unit, sensibly coming to the conclusion that they are inherently more stable, mature, and loyal than any of the adults in their lives. At the time Wharton wrote this, in 1928, this sort of familial messiness was largely the domain of the Twenties jet-setters (the novel has strong sociological affinities with F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tender Is the Night, which came out six years later). One can imagine the discomfort The Children created in Wharton's upper-class readership, and the disapproval it engendered in the rest of her readership -- that is, if anyone did read it; it has never been one of her popular books, and the discomfort level it provokes undoubtedly has had something to do with that.

In the spirit of defining deviancy down, the messiness that Wharton describes is now available in all its anti-splendor to any middle-class Americans and Europeans who feel the need to partake of it, and apparently many of them do. Theodore Dalrymple, a British doctor who often writes for City Journal, is scathing and funny on this and related phenomena; he is not always quite fair and he is hardly "liberal," but his critiques of contemporary behaviors have much more substance than those of most conservatives; he hits the bone more often than not. I wonder what he would make of a recent story in my home-town of Appleton, Wisconsin.

Scott Schmidt was an Appleton firefighter; his estranged wife, Kelly Wing Schmidt, was a nursing assistant and paramedic-in-training. On April 17 of this year, Schmidt came to his wife's home, shot her multiple times and killed her, and also shot and wounded his mother-in-law, Barbara Wing (who recovered fully). The two children on the premises hid in a bathroom and fortunately were not hurt.

The local Gannett paper, the Post-Crescent, has made a big deal of this story, and I can't fault them for that; people are interested. I personally have an admittedly strong fascination with crime stories and have been paying close attention to "family annihilators."

Beginning on Sunday, May 31, and running through Wednesday, June 3, the Post-Crescent ran an exhaustive four-part series on Schmidt and Wing. The part of it that really caught my attention was a detailed time-line that ran with the first story. It is too long to reproduce in full, but let me transcribe parts of it:

8/5/91: Noah Wing is born out of wedlock to Kelly Wing; the father is Jim Baker.
10/95: Scott Schmidt meets Kelly Wing.
8/17/96: Scott Schmidt marries Kristen Krings.
9/10/96: Scout Wing is born out of wedlock to Kelly Wing; the father is John O. Dorn.
2/25/98: Scott Schmidt divorces Kristen Krings. The couple cites irreconcilable differences.
12/12/98: Appleton police are summoned after Kelly Wing hits John O. Dorn.
3/20/99: Scott Schmidt re-marries Kristen Krings. She is pregnant by him.
9/9/99: Maxwell Schmidt is born to Kristen Krings and Scott Schmidt.
1/7/00: Jory Wing is born out of wedlock to Kelly Wing; the father is John O. Dorn.
4/01: Kelly Wing seeks a restraining order against John O. Dorn. The court rejects her request.
6/01: Kelly Wing continues to have ongoing problems with John O. Dorn. She is ordered by a judge to seek counseling to understand why she is so often a victim of men.
9/01: Scott Schmidt and Kristen Krings are divorced for the second time. Schmidt doesn't want the divorce.
12/26/02: An Appleton woman files a harassment restraining order against Scott Schmidt.
7/11/04: Kayan Wing is born out of wedlock to Kelly Wing; the father is Scott Schmidt.
8/11/05: Police arrest Scott Schmidt and charge him with disorderly conduct and domestic abuse stemming from an argument he was having with Kelly Wing over the custody of Kayan Wing. Schmidt jumps on Wing's car window as she calls the police.
4/21/06: Scott Schmidt and Kelly Wing are married at the Garden of Love Chapel in Las Vegas.
6/1/06: Scott Schmidt is arrested for first offense drunken driving.
7/24/06: Scott Schmidt's driver's license is revoked for six months due to the drunken driving conviction. [He must have blown a very high Breathalyzer; in general, you can drive drunk and pile up convictions in Wisconsin for years before anyone does anything serious about it.]
10/18/06: Cassidi Schmidt is born to Kelly Wing and Scott Schmidt.
7/07: A felony charge of interfering with child custody against Kelly Wing is dismissed.
4/25/08: Police are summoned after Scott Schmidt hits Kelly Wing and threatens to kill the family dog.
9/3/08: Scott Schmidt is convicted of disorderly conduct in relation to the 4/25/08 incident.
11/17/08: Shortly after leaving a bar where he was drinking in violation of his probation, Scott Schmidt drives his truck through a stop sign, hitting another vehicle and seriously injuring a woman in the other vehicle.
4/17/09: Scott Schmidt murders Kelly Wing and wounds her mother Barbara Wing.

Dalrymple would have a field day with this, and who could blame him? I would not have to agree with his entire analysis to concur with what I know would be his central thesis: Scott Schmidt and Kelly Wing, and perhaps several other people involved in this cascading series of misadventures, did not have a clue how to live. None. One doesn't particularly have to be a moralist to read that time-line -- with its six children by five people, four of them out of wedlock, its multiple brushes with the law, and the ultimate sickening detail of Schmidt and Wing wedding at a Vegas chapel after he has abused her -- and realize that the whole scenario is just messed up. And while it's easy to see Scott Schmidt's horrific culpability, and it feels hard to say anything bad about an abused woman and a murder victim, the fact is that Kelly Wing does not come across as a paragon of responsibility in this chronology, either. Dalrymple has written quite a bit about domestic murders in Great Britain, and while coming down appropriately hard on the usually male perpetrators -- he makes no excuses for them on any basis -- he does offer the insight that it simply will not do for anyone, male or female, to live their life as if there are no rules and no consequences.

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