“You will learn that when the truth isn’t pretty, expected, or delivered with a fair dose of charm, people will almost always put their faith in a lie.” So reads one of many chilling lines in H.G. Beverly‘s recently released memoir The Other Side of Charm, about her unwitting marriage to a sociopath.
Before her marriage to Wyatt, Beverly believed–as I imagine most of us do–that evil is recognizable. “Like most anyone else,” she says, “you’ll think that evil must be somewhat easy to identify it might come right at you with a gun or it might have squinty or buggy eyes or it might be a man trying to trick you into his car or it might be a creepy uncle who pats little children on the bottom all the time.” But evil came to her in the form of a charming, romantic man she’d known since they were kids, a man who professed all of her values for family and farm and forever, and then, the very week of their wedding, abruptly changed. Oh, he still professed all those things to everyone else. He was still as charismatic as could be–when he was in public. But she soon realized with horror that, in private, he was none of those things. In private, he was capable of the worst sorts of physical and mental abuse, for which he felt absolutely no remorse. And no one outside her family would believe it. He was so charming, after all. The problem must be her.
The awful effects of Beverly’s husband’s abuse and deception were compounded by the fact that they had children. Beverly was sure that divorce would be her way to protect them: she was sure the courts would give her custody and she would be able to keep them safe from their father. But she quickly discovered that even the courts were not immune to charm. That Wyatt had “friends” everywhere in power, and that he had convinced even the guardian ad litem that he was a saint and she was the one harming the kids. No matter what she did, no matter whom she approached for help, Wyatt was always able to make people believe him over her. His evil was not bumbling and stupid. It was calculated, ruthlessly intelligent, and unremittingly cruel.
Beverly’s account of her disastrous entanglement with this man is superbly written, riveting from the first page to the last, but what was most gripping–and disturbing–about this book, for me, was the questions it made me ask about myself and the world at large. “I believe there are millions living out this story in the United States,” writes Beverly. I can’t help but ask myself why we don’t see it, when the statistics about sociopathy say it’s all around us. (1 in 25 Americans are supposedly affected by the “disorder” of lacking any empathy or conscience.) Why did no one see the evil things Beverly’s husband was doing to their children? Why did no one believe Beverly even when she came right out and told them (and showed the guardian ad litem photographs of the children’s bruises)?
Beverly doesn’t claim to have figured it all out, but part of the answer she starts piecing together is that we don’t want to see it. People believed Wyatt over her because they didn’t want to believe that someone could do such terrible things to their own wife and children. And, perhaps more importantly, they didn’t want to believe that someone could be that evil while appearing that nice. I think most of us want to believe that the world is fundamentally a good place, and that the few things that are bad in it are easily identifiable. It makes us feel safer. But how safe should we really feel knowing that, were we to find ourselves in a situation like Beverly’s, no one would help us either? That’s a terrifying possibility! No wonder that, instead of accepting it, we would rather believe that it could never happen to us. That we would not be taken in by a sociopath. That Beverly must have done something to bring all this abuse onto herself.
I have to admit that there were moments as I was reading The Other Side of Charm when I thought that Wyatt’s destructive behavior couldn’t be as nonsensical or invisible as Beverly made it out to be. I found myself identifying, however briefly, with the very people who ignored Beverly’s situation in real life. The people who took the route of blaming the victim, because accepting that a perpetrator could be that evil and have that much power was too much to handle. Those moments were enough for me to see that I am capable of doing just what those around her did. Ignoring the truth.
It’s not easy to keep our eyes open to unwelcome aspects of reality. It’s not easy to accept the fact that evil exists, that it’s often invisible, and that we’re going to need an awful lot more than wishful thinking to make this world a substantially better place. But Beverly’s memoir can be of great help to us. By keeping us alert, and showing us the world the way it is, not the way we would like it to be.