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mythIn other words, mythomania. It was late in the afternoon one day last week and I had had a long day. I had just left a lengthy meeting at a client’s offices so I sat down on a nearby bar terrace to order a drink and put my thoughts in order. I was alone on the small terrace, the waiter came out and served me, and shortly afterwards a man of about sixty came out holding what looked like a double (triple?) whisky, sat down two tables away from mine, and lit a cigarette.

He said hello it’s cold. I said hello sure is. He said and that’s not good for my health. I said Oh really?

And he went on to recount that he had been diagnosed with liver cirrohosis six months ago. I said uhu, that’s awful I’m sorry (and I thought “and you’re drinking straight whiskey??!!) He said yes but the cirrhosis didn’t matter any more anyway because he had been diagnosed with what was probably fatal pancreatic cancer sometime between Christmas and the New year and so what the hell. Talk about a happy new year he said bitterly.

He went on to speak about his wife and informed me that she had died of cancer in September (or August maybe). That, he said was because she had had enough of all the bad hands life had dealt her, one of which had dealt the death of their 19-year-old son in a road accident earlier in the year. That’s why the cancer started.

But, he said, he managed to cope with his present reality because he was used to death, and this because his first wife had committed suicide (no, really, I am not making this up) because she had learned from doctors that she was infecting the baby they were expecting with a previously undiscovered genetic disorder she had had since birth.

What could I say? After all, it would have been totally inappropriate of me to lazily trot out the usual and cheery “ah well, you know how it is, things will be better in 2013 you’ll see” that one sometimes does in bars. Besides, his story didn’t seem to ring true. So I bade my leave, politely and sympathetically, and went inside to pay for my drink.

“So which version did he give you sir?” asked the barman. “Euhhh…Waddya mean?” I replied.

And he went on to say that he hoped that I hadn’t been too put out by the man outside, who was a regular client who could be a little boring with his stories sometimes but who meant no harm because he was a “mythomaniac”. One week he would talk about his three sons who joined the army, the next he would relate how he felt after his wife’s murder, and the one after that the story would be that he had lost his only wife in his twenties. Every few months would herald a new theme in his life, such as his job or his life in Italy as a boy or something, and, as had been the case for his cancer and two wives, the details of those stories would change radically as the days and weeks went by.

I recounted all this later that evening to a friend over an apĂ©ritif. “Oh sure” she said, I’ve known a couple of mythomanes too. Crazy stuff.” I asked her for an example.

Her example concerned a friend from school. They were 14 at the time and her friend would come out with some very strange details about her life outside of school. Details such as this;

She would say that her two sisters had plastic hair and that it was brightly-coloured, and that despite the cruel reactions from the other kids, who thought she was nuts, she would continue to resolutely insist that what she was saying was true. And that just as true was the fact that she slept with her two pet snakes every night. And that just as true as that was the fact that she was working on a project to record an album of her playing classical piano with a string quartet. And on on on it went, said my friend.

Now I don’t know much about mythomania or mythomaniacs. I am merely relating the words I heard at the bar and the words my friend said her friend said. In both cases though, those mentioned were/are considered to be mythomanes. But are they? Who says? Why? And if they are not, what ‘are they’?

All I know is that the things people say……

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