The Story Behind The Fallen O’Connell by Lorhainne Eckhart
13 Oct 2020
By Lorhainne Eckhart
What exactly is the court of public opinion? It’s a place where the truth depends on how you spin it, and you’re judged based on rumor, gossip, and whatever story sounds believable. It’s not a place anyone ever expects to end up, but each of us has been there in one form or another. Think about it. Have you ever found yourself the subject of community gossip or a hurtful rumor that had you wanting to rage and shout and scream because it wasn’t the truth, or have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do?
In The Fallen O’Connell, Iris is unfairly convicted in the court of public opinion based on a story the DA spins, and she and her children feel the repercussions from neighbors who see her as guilty and openly question her integrity, saying she has to have done something or the finger wouldn’t be pointed her way. Iris and her family find that their once friendly neighbors and community aren’t so friendly anymore.
Even though the murder case is dismissed, the resulting media circus has the townspeople believing Iris is guilty of something. She lives through the nightmare of overhearing gossip and trash-talk, being made to feel as if she doesn’t belong, as if she’s unimportant and unworthy. The community as a whole seems to be watching every move the O’Connells make, especially Marcus, whose tenure as sheriff is being held by a fine thread after he steps on the wrong toes by not allowing overreach from his officers, the judges, or the DA. It seems the city council doesn’t like having him as the squeaky wheel. The O’Connells feel as if the community is waiting in the wings for one of them to do something wrong, and then everyone will jump in and say, “See? We knew they did something!”
Can you imagine living that kind of nightmare, being in the spotlight, being thought of as someone you aren’t? The court of public opinion convenes far too often, even though we have no idea what’s really going on with someone else, how he or she is thinking or feeling. Why are we so quick to jump in and assume the worst about someone, spinning stories from distorted facts?
Meanwhile, Raymond O’Connell has to face the family he walked out on eighteen years ago, as it seemed the folks in their small Montana community will continue to extract their pound of flesh from Iris unless he sets the record straight. Even the local caterer takes money from Iris and cancels at the eleventh hour before her son’s wedding, with no refund and not even a courtesy call, leaving the family scrambling. Is that justified? The caterer feels it is, considering she still believes Iris to be guilty of something.
Nothing could ever excuse this kind of behavior, but the O’Connells have lived through it before. When the siblings were young, after Raymond abandoned the family, his wife, his six children, there were whispers behind their backs that Iris must have done something. Doors were closed in her face, and the only thing she was able to do was swallow that hurt, keep her head down, and ignore all the gossip, the hurtful rumors and talk, knowing that eventually it would blow over and someone or something else would be front-page community news.
Iris is well aware of how the cycle of gossip works, as she’s lived through that kind of character assassination. She knows that the media often puts out front-page news that entertains people at the expense of others’ wellbeing. She has had to drive to the next county over to have her hair done, because at least there, no one knows who she is. She’s heard the talk from her neighbors, the gossip about how her marriage ended, why her husband walked out the door and left her. Have you ever heard someone wonder what happened between a couple to make the man leave, or have you been on the receiving end of those types of insensitive comments?
When Raymond faces his grown children, whom he abandoned, they realize he knows more about them than they thought, because he watched from behind the scenes, seeing the jams and scrapes and close calls, the problems they experienced while growing up without him. From within the CIA, he pulled strings to get Marcus and Ryan out of the kind of trouble that would have seen Marcus labeled a career criminal, locked up behind bars, instead of growing up to be the sheriff he is now. Did the family know Raymond was watching over them from afar all those years earlier? No, and forgiveness is something no one in the family seems too willing to give.
Raymond comes back to Livingston to see his grown children in person after watching from the shadows. At the same time, he has another son in tow now, one who learns the secret only after he falls in love with a girl who turns out to be related to him. His father never told him. Secrets and lies are all Raymond has ever known, but in The Fallen O’Connell, he comes full circle, because secrets always have a way of coming out, and often, they leave behind the kind of carnage and destruction that can end up destroying bonds between siblings and parents, having everyone going their separate ways, hurt, never talking again. But not the O’Connells. Iris and her six children only grew closer.
Although Raymond makes a public plea to set the record straight, Iris aptly points out to him that speaking out will resolve nothing, because all that publicity will do is once again shine the spotlight on the family, front and center. She remembers well what she lived through when he abandoned her and their six kids, when their neighbors, all the people they knew, humiliated her with their whispers of scandal and put her to the stake publicly. It took her years to be able to hold her head up high, ignoring what was said, even as her children listened. Raymond believes he can walk in and fix everything, but Iris knows that men are held to a different standard. People have been conditioned to give men a pass—especially men who look like him.
The O’Connells are a fictional family, but think about how the court of public opinion can be found in small towns, neighborhoods, communities, and families across the world. Men and women are different, true. We talk differently, think differently, and see things differently, and we play different roles. Are women held to a much higher standard than men? Are they seen as weaker, easier targets who can’t or won’t fight back?
Often, when someone twists the truth about us, our first instinct is to set the record straight, to speak out publicly and tell our side of the story—but for what benefit? When a man walks out on his family, he is often given a pass instead of being tarred and feathered. If a woman were to walk out on her family, her children, how differently would she be treated, not just twenty years ago but today?
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