Part Eighteen: Making Friends

Having spent a little while telling you how I ended up making enemies with a man who has only fairly recently disappeared from my life for an extended period of time, it seems only appropriate to tell you about how I became friends with a man who will likely be one of the best friends I could ever hope to have for what remains of my life.

It’s a funny story how I ended up becoming friends with one of the two closest friends I’ve had for more than the past decade. My former guitarist friend had been living in my apartment with me for a while before deciding that he was going to move to Denver in order to take advantage of the opportunities available to him there; he is still living in Colorado to this day, and it appears to have been working out well for him. He hadn’t wanted to break it to me that he was moving out of the apartment, so he was gradually packing his things and preparing for the move while I was asleep or at work. When I did confront him about it, having not been as soundly sleeping as it might have seemed, I understood his reasoning and didn’t begrudge him the chance to leave.

It should be fairly obvious that I was suddenly in need of a roommate without much by way of advance warning…but I had no options as far as friends who needed a place to stay, no matter how much I didn’t want to be stuck paying the full rent, it appeared that I was going to be stuck with that burden. I was drunk one night, though it would be more accurate to state that I was drunk pretty much every night, and I was out having coffee with a couple of friends when I abruptly asked our waiter (someone I had met a few times and gotten along with during those times, a man who had not so long before been brutally attacked by another friend of mine for seemingly little to no reason) if he knew anyone who was looking for a place to live.

I had unintentionally struck while the iron was hot though, because he was himself looking for a new place to live. This was the beginning of a trend for he and I, fortuitous timing and serendipity would indeed abound as it seemed like we were almost always on the same page when there was no good reason why we should be…it’s just one of those situations when you happen to meet the right person, and things just fall into place in the most peculiar way. One arbitrary, drunken inquiry made of a server who was honestly little more than a passing acquaintance to me and I made one of the best friends I will ever have…and suddenly everything was on a wholly new path for me. No, this isn’t one of those stories. I assure you this is not another iteration of Brokeback Mountain, so dispel those thoughts right now you perverse shit…though there have been plenty of people who have since told us that we behave like an old gay couple, that is entirely irrelevant.

This friend somehow had a more difficult time with people in the workplace than I have, which is no small feat to accomplish. It wasn’t long after he moved in (less than a month, if I recall correctly) when he was looking for new employment after being fired from the restaurant where he’d been working when I asked him to move in. A normal person might have taken this as a bad sign, but I couldn’t have conceivably given a shit less. I was enjoying the fact that I had stumbled across someone with the same passions for literature (and even a lot of the same obscure books), music, science, and movies/television that I had. He consumed pop culture and counterculture in about equal measure, just like I did. I sincerely doubt that I could have designed a more compatible roommate for myself if that had been an option for me, though I would have probably just designed me with a vagina if that had been possible…we will ignore the psychological issues that might indicate, and continue on with the story.

He had (and still has) some problems with depression of the clinical and debilitating variety, which did contribute to some of the only issues that I ever had with this particular friend. Retaining employment was literally the sole point of contention I ever really had with him though. He did find another job after being let go from that first one, but that employment ended up being short-lived. This was where his depression seemed to kick in the most, making it difficult for him to find the motivation required to seek new employment, or bother with cleaning up his part of our shared living space. I can’t blame him though, being fired from a job where you are smarter and more highly qualified than the people you work beneath is never an easy thing to swallow, but it is made far worse when you are predisposed to depression.

There was one occasion when this lack of employment actually got under my skin. A mutual friend of ours was staying on the sofa in our living room after a blow out with his girlfriend led to his no longer having a place to stay. This friend brought with him an old Super Nintendo which was getting some use due to sheer nostalgia more than anything. I was walking out the door on my way to work at the local ABC affiliate where I was employed at the time, when my irritation was triggered by seeing my roommate playing video games in the living room while I was on my way to earn a paycheck. I suggested that maybe he could find a job that involved video games somehow. He looked at me curiously and asked, “Really?”

To which I replied, “Sure, because otherwise I fail to see how this is helping you find a fucking job,” and then I walked out the door and went to work. I felt like my father there for a moment again, because that sort of sarcastic, bitter derision in the form of a jest was something I definitely learned from the years of being his son. I can be a caustic prick sometimes, but I like to think that there is still some wit about me even when I’m in an otherwise unpleasant state of mind.

Joblessness aside, I loved having him as a roommate. Our days consisted of watching rerun episodes of News Radio that were being aired back to back a few days every week, discussing (and sometimes outright screaming at one another about) various scientific theories that we’d yet to study in any formal environment but which we studied in our free time simply because we loved that sort of thing, dedicating every Friday evening to the new episodes of Farscape as they were broadcast on SciFi, and just enjoying books, movies, and video games together. It was a good life that we had together, and I was overall quite content with how things were going for the first time in a good while.

This was a man who had no qualms about standing in my open bedroom doorway, reading Green Eggs and Ham out loud while I was having sex with my girlfriend just because he thought it was an amusing way to inform us that he was home and that the noises issuing from the bedroom were a distraction. It could be argued that this was an appropriate payback  for my stripping down to only a pair of boxers and bodily jumping into bed with him in order to deliver a pack of cigarettes that I’d picked up for him while he was sleeping.

It was during this time, while he and I were living together in the apartment that methamphetamine became a bit more than just a recreational part of our lives, but that is a story that needs to be told all by itself.

In total he lived with me for the final three years that I lived in the apartment that had been my home for a grand total of eight years, and those three years were without a doubt the best I had experienced there aside from the very beginning, when my oldest children lived with me while they were still babies.

The funny part is that we ended up living together in two additional locations over the few years or so that followed, and I have always enjoyed those intervals far more than the gaps between or the time since.

There is little to nothing that I could say here, with this whole episodic journey into my life, that he does not already know…as there is likely no one in my life who has known me even half as well as he does. I’ve never been particularly good about making friends or maintaining the friendships that I have, but this is one of two that I know I hope never to live without. I’m entitled to be a bit sentimental at times, so shut up.


Part Seventeen: The Degenerate

I was 16 when I met a man who was to become like a persistent virus in my life, destined to come and go repeatedly without any real way of predicting his arrival or the form his departure would take. I was hanging out at a local counterculture establishment known as The Atomic Cafe in downtown Rapid City when I first encountered this individual. He and two friends had made their way to the area only recently from somewhere I can no longer recall, and I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time otherwise I might have avoided meeting them…and my life would have been a far less interesting landscape.

I got a bad feeling about him the moment I saw him walking down the alley towards where my friends and I were hanging out and smoking. It’s difficult to explain, but it felt like I knew him already, even though he had never visited South Dakota in the past…I knew that no good would come of his being there, as if I had caught a momentary glimpse of the future that was ahead of us. It’s funny to me that I dismissed that intuition, because I have never been so perfectly on the mark before or since.

I should tell you a bit more about him, before I get going on our numerous interactions with one another.

It wasn’t too long after first meeting him when he was arrested for public intoxication, which led to him being in jail for resisting arrest and assault. The police picked him up drunk and disorderly and placed him in the back of a cruiser only to have him roll onto his back and kick the window repeatedly until it shattered. He continued fighting, handcuffed, until they placed him into a second car where he immediately began kicking that window as well.

He was removed from the car and forced onto the ground where some of the broken safety glass ended up lodging itself into his jaw, leaving him with a scar that he will likely carry with him as a reminder for the rest of his life. They did finally get him under control and escorted to the jail and he remained there for the next month or so before being hauled off to a treatment facility an hour or so away. I just wanted to share that little bit of his story with you so that I could adequately set the stage, because this man was a real piece of work.

Even though I had only met him a few times and spent small amounts of time with him since he had arrived in town a couple of weeks prior to the incident, he ended up placing me on his visitation list and requested that his friends ask me to come and see him in jail. Against all better judgment, I did indeed visit him quite a few times while he was locked up…to this day I have no idea why.

During the time that he was locked away his two friends left the state, returning to whatever corner of hell they crawled up from, which led to him having no one else to keep him company but the mother of my oldest children, my best friend at the time, and I.

We also visited him while he was in treatment during one of the days when he had a pass. We took him out to lunch, drove around for a while so that he could feel like he had a little bit of clear air, and I even gave him a Christian Death live cassette that I had in the car so that he had something to listen to while he was finishing out his stint in treatment.

After he was released he began a relationship with a friend of mine from Sturgis, and I still feel bad about introducing the two of them, though they did end up producing a pretty adorable daughter who will hopefully turn out to be a more worthwhile human being than either of her parents have managed to.

One night, after my oldest daughter was born, they were visiting us and he ended up downstairs getting drunk with my neighbors in the apartment directly below our own. During that time his significant other was in our apartment spending some time with my daughter’s mother and I. It was a nice night until he inevitably came upstairs, heavily intoxicated and apparently feeling hostile because he started in on his girlfriend almost immediately after coming through the door about the gambling problem she apparently had. We will side step the obvious hypocrisy of the alcoholic tearing into the gambler about the shortcomings associated with their addiction in the living room of their friends’ apartment…no one ever said that he exercised much by way of self-awareness or common sense.

I had to repeatedly ask him to keep his voice down because our daughter was asleep in her crib on the other side of the wall from where he was raising his ruckus. He would apologize, lower his voice, and shortly thereafter begin to increase the amplitude all over again…another example of the long term memory skills of a drunk.

Finally I got tired of the noise and the accumulation of recriminations between the two of them. I reached over to him, grabbed both sides of his face to turn him so that he was facing me, and told him to shut the fuck up. That was when the degenerate bit into the meat of my right thumb and clamped down as hard as he could.

I let go of his head, jerked my injured hand away from his mouth, and lunged at him…throwing him across the few feet into the corner of the room. I attempted to restrain him while displaying remarkable self control under the circumstances, until he lodged his teeth into the nearest part of my body again, which happened to be my inner thigh this time. Even with jeans on, I later discovered that I had an almost perfect dental imprint of punctures in my leg. The bastard had some sharp fucking teeth and impressive jaw strength, I have to give him that. The scar has long since faded, thankfully.

I got him loose from my thigh, dragged him into the middle of the room where I could actually maneuver, and somehow managed to successfully restrain him on the floor with only a small amount of unnecessary violence directed his way.

It was around this time when the neighbors from downstairs came up to find out what the noise was all about. Seeing the guy who was recently drinking with them pinned to the floor and thrashing around like a fucking madman, they thought it was an excellent opportunity to begin kicking him while he was down. I enjoyed watching it and let it happen for a little while before asking someone if they could just call the cops so that I could get the piece of shit out of my home.

The police did show up and he was arrested…and, as anyone who has dealt with abusive relationships can guess, it seems only typical that he and his girlfriend remained together even after all of that. They were such a perfect fit for each other that she was actually upset with my ex and I for having him arrested.

This marked the first interval of peace and quiet while he was out of my life. Like all good things though, this was destined to come to an end.

He and his girlfriend popped back into our lives a while later, something like six months down the road, and there seemed to be no hard feelings. This was, of course, illusory.

One night my ex and I arranged for a babysitter so that we could visit them at their trailer in Sturgis, after being invited to show up at any time. There had been a little get together taking place that night but things had already wound down before we arrived. The degenerate and his girlfriend were in bed and my best friend at the time was passed out drunk in the guest bedroom. I decided to wake my friend up, making a nuisance of myself in order to do so. This apparently pissed off the degenerate and he began screaming at me from his bedroom.

We yelled back and forth for a bit before my ex and I decided to just return home.

Apparently we overstayed our welcome by just a second or two too much, as a large glass ashtray came flying down the hallway, almost hitting my ex in the head as it crashed into the wall next to her right where we were standing as we were about to exit the trailer.

We weren’t oblivious and we took the hint. We rushed outside, followed by the degenerate with a small crossbow in his hands. The crossbow was not the hollow threat that it might have been in anyone else’s hands, and he fired a bolt at us, hitting the ground nearby a little too close for comfort.

As we were trying to get into the car so that we could get the fuck out of there he approached the driver’s side, making it impossible for the mother of my children to get into the car and behind the wheel so that we could leave. I ran around the front of the car to draw him away from her and we ended up wrestling in the gravel of the alleyway.

The noise and activity woke up my drunk friend and he decided that he needed to get the hell out of there before the police showed up, being a minor at the time and clearly under the influence, this wasn’t the worst decision he could make (aside from the driving away element of his plan). As my friend was climbing behind the wheel of his 70s model Monte Carlo I yelled for him to pull forward while maneuvering the degenerate’s head so that it was wedged tightly against the front driver’s side tire and the gravel surface beneath it.

There was no hesitation on my part. I was fully prepared to kill that man with the unwitting assistance of my friend in his car. I was an angry young man still, the damage in me was clearly quite present, and my impulse control was not the best (it’s not so great at the best of times). I suppose that I should be thankful that my friend reversed from where he was parked rather than pulling forward as I had asked him to, but some part of me still feels that I would have been doing the world a huge favor by insuring the degenerate was out of the picture for good, his skull pulverized by the weight of the car.

I was charged for disorderly conduct for my part in the events of that night. The degenerate’s girlfriend had called the cops right after we left, fabricating some bullshit version of events which negated any part that the degenerate had played in order to try and have assault charges pressed against me. I was 19 and this was the first charge on my adult criminal record (though it would not be the last), I plead guilty to the disorderly conduct charge without any attempt to fight it.

One would think that the story might end here, but that would only be true if my life was the sort of thing that makes sense. He was out of my life for a few years after that, but not for good by any stretch of the imagination. I think I knew that he would show up again (and again, and again), there was just something about him that kept on drawing him back to me again, or maybe it’s something about me. Sheer morbid curiosity always motivated me to welcome him back, fully aware of the poor judgment involved in that decision…always operating under the assumption from that point on that I was going to end up having to kill him sooner or later.

Don’t worry, I will tell you more about him later on…also, he is still alive. I haven’t killed him yet.

Part Sixteen: The Weak and the Wounded

Thankfully memories fade with time and large parts of my childhood blur together in such a way as to make it difficult to discuss with too much detail. I will tell you about my father, along with whatever else comes to mind right now. This is going to be a bit of a memory dump…but I promise it won’t always be bad. My early life may have been plagued by violence but there are plenty of positive memories as well.

My father was an angry man, in fact that would have to be the emotional state that best characterized him in my memories. I don’t know how he got that way, or why, but I can speak from personal experience that it wasn’t the drugs or the drinking that made him into the one and only person I have ever been scared of throughout the course of my life…that would be too much of an oversimplification of things. Situations have frightened me, nightmares and hallucinatory episodes as well, along with various other things (like deceleration trauma, because it isn’t the heights that scare me but the impact subsequent to the fall)…but only one individual ever scared me, and that man was my father. It wasn’t just that he was 6′ 7″ and strong from years of hard work, but those factors definitely didn’t help to ease my fears.

Residual traces of that almost perpetual state of fear from my childhood still resounded when I saw him getting angry even as an adult, regardless of whether that anger was directed towards me…it was enough that I knew he was unhappy. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that echo of childhood fear was the product of persistent PTSD…after the life that I have lived and the things that I’ve experienced (namely the things I have put myself through, or done to myself, for the most part), PTSD would be a suitable partner for the survivor’s guilt anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex would recognize as being manifest in me.

I say it wasn’t the drugs or the drinking that made him what he was to me because I have had ample experience with drinking to excess as well as ingesting pretty much every illicit substance I could get my hands on…repeatedly, in most cases. Sure, maybe those external factors might have triggered it in him, bringing that man to the surface…but it had to be something inside of him that was the driving force behind it. Whatever it was, I was terrified that I had it in me as well, especially after the incident that transpired between myself and the mother of my two oldest children.

Anything could set him off, even something as simple as spilling a glass of water on the floor…other times there didn’t need to be anything at all, maybe it was just something that he brought home with him from something that happened at work that day. I don’t know which was worse from him, his hands or the belt. If it had been something as simple as spankings, I think it would have to be the belt…but there was something about the direct physical contact that made it feel more real and more hurtful to me most of the time, if that makes any sense. Somewhere along the way, as I started to get a little bit older, I began to believe that he wanted to kill me and that it was only a matter of time until he did. Awareness of my mortality led me to suspect that it was something right around the corner from one day to the next. I still recall the first time I saw The Shining, before I had a chance to read the book, and I felt altogether too much familiarity with Danny Torrance, and if there was a fictional character that could perfectly mirror what I saw from my father as a child, it would be that portrayal of Jack Torrance from the film. I don’t know if that helps you to visualize what I’m trying to describe, I’m pretty ineffectual when it comes to this sort of thing.

There was one night in particular when I knew that I was going to die. He and my mother were fighting late at night and I slipped out of my bedroom as quietly as I could in order to find out what they were fighting about, I always assumed the worse and that it was me or something that I had done. I watched for a short while before I saw him strangling her right there in the living room. I knew at that moment, without a doubt, that he was going to kill her and then he was going to kill me too. Whatever happened after that is lost to the past, the memories are a blur from there, and I will take that as a blessing. I don’t know what happened after that, but I clearly was not murdered, so my fears had been unfounded.

He wasn’t always like that though. I have one memory in particular where he was the hero rather than the villain. We were driving home from somewhere when a county Sheriff chasing someone on a dirt bike approached us from behind on the gravel road that led to our house. My father immediately swerved the car over in an attempt to block the dirt bike, but they cut into the ditch and got around us anyhow. He had no reason to get involved in whatever was going on, but he tried to help the officer put a stop to that chase. That man is the father I wish I always had to look up to, the one who would go out of his way to do the right thing. That is the version of my father that I most wanted to be like…the man who tried to be a hero when the opportunity arose and the man who valued hard work, which he does to this day. I doubt I will ever meet another person who puts in the kind of hard work that he does. I told you that he had his good qualities.

One of my favorite collection of memories regarding my father is of the times when he would take me to visit members of our family who worked with the veterinarian in charge of the animals for Bear Country (a local wildlife habitat/tourist spot, in case you are unfamiliar). It was on a ranch out near the local airport where some of my favorite childhood memories took place. There was a pen there in which dozens of baby bears were kept. I was allowed to go over the electrified fence (and once, directly into it, after which I found myself suddenly sitting on the ground and wondering how I got there) in order to play with them. Bear cubs begin to treat you as just another cub after a short while and they are very playful. I probably needed a new pair of shoes after each visit there due to the shoes being chewed on along with everything else. Of all my childhood experiences, having the chance to literally roll around on the ground with dozens of bear cubs, losing track of time while playing with them, is the one I wish I could have shared with my own children. It isn’t something that many people have the chance to enjoy, and I will always treasure it.

Speaking of bears, I was probably five years old when we were at Bear Country on a summer day. One of the adult bears approached our car and began licking the window next to where I was sitting. I didn’t hesitate to roll down the window so that I could pet the bear. Of course my mother and father responded with shock and panic at the unbelievably stupid thing their son was trying to do. You probably think that I was stupid too, but you can fuck right off…I was five or maybe six at the time, you were no genius at that age either.

Sadly, the bear incident was not the first time that I almost got myself killed while doing something totally innocent. One morning I woke up before either of my parents and I decided I wanted to do something nice for them. I was a sweet kid, you wouldn’t know it from the man I’ve become, but I really was. I chose to make pancakes for breakfast that morning. Being no more than four years old at the time, I was no award winning chef…come to think of it, I’m still not much good in the kitchen.

I emptied a box of pancake mix onto a griddle, it took the form of a pyramid of sorts. I then poured some milk onto the pancake mix mountain, and I think I even broke an egg and included both the insides as well as the shell on the growing mound. From there it was just a matter of turning on the burner for me, and we would have pancakes. Instead of a delicious breakfast, my parents were awakened to the shrill chirping of the fire alarm.

There was another incident where it wasn’t my own life that I endangered but the life of my baby brother. We were back in Minnesota for a vacation, I believe we were at Bald Eagle Lake or maybe it was White Bear…it doesn’t matter which one. My brother wasn’t even a year old at the time, I don’t think…so I couldn’t have been more than seven years old myself. I walked out into the water and my brother began crawling after me, because he followed me everywhere at that time. I stood there watching as he crawled into the water and just kept going until he was submerged. My mother and father began screaming for me to do something, but all I did was stand there watching as my brother was possibly drowning. My father got to him and pulled him out of the water, and he turned out to be perfectly fine…but I very nearly killed my little brother simply because I couldn’t do anything more than stand there and watch him crawl towards me even after he was under the water.

Now that I think about it, though I know that I shouldn’t make light of this topic, maybe my father really did want to kill me…but because I was clearly intent on bringing about my own demise out of sheer childhood stupidity, and his method would have been far less gruesome and less likely to include other people on my way down. I don’t care if you think that was funny or not, I think it was kind of a funny thing to suggest, and humor is how I cope with things, so you don’t have any say in the matter.

A couple of years after the divorce I started spending weekends with my father. He and I would stop at a video store on the way to his house where I was allowed to pick out pretty much anything that I wanted. It could be argued that there was a lapse in proper parenting involved in this form of pacification…but I personally loved it.

It got to the point where I was alphabetically working my way through whole genre sections…beginning with horror, followed by science fiction/fantasy, and then action. I may not remember all of them clearly anymore, but there is hardly a movie included in any of those genres released before the early 90s that I haven’t seen at least once thanks to all of those rentals and the glorious thing that was USA Up All Night!

I hope that I’ve done a reasonable job of showing you a fairly balanced portrait of my childhood, that not everything about my early years was a constant, waking nightmare. I have good memories from those years as well, just admittedly not as many.

I can honestly look back on my childhood and state that it wasn’t all bad, but that would have been an impossibility, for it to have been all bad. I do realize that I tried very hard to shift the emphasis to the good parts or the elements that focused on the negative things not directly related to my father, it was a conscious choice on my part, there’s a reason for that…if I can focus on more of the good aspects, and less on the violence and fear, maybe those bad parts will continue to fade just a little bit more.

It’s perhaps foolishly optimistic , but let me have my illusion for the moment, no need to dispel it right away…asshole.

Part Fifteen: …Hollow Be Thy Name

I’ve already discussed the fact that I was raised in a Catholic household, so it goes without saying that I was a churchgoing child. In addition to the weekly torture that was the sit, stand, kneel repetition that was church itself I was compelled to participate in catechism classes throughout my younger years and confirmation classes as a teenager. I did not complete confirmation though, striking out on my own as I did before I reached adulthood, which means that I can’t be excommunicated from the Catholic Church…and that is just a damn shame.

Reading the Bible was a large part of those studies throughout my childhood, and not those cutesy, illustrated children’s Bibles either. Being a delinquent as you’re aware I was, I was predisposed to getting into trouble more often than other kids…punishment in catechism was to copy, by hand, chapters from the Bible. I suppose that I don’t need to tell you that I became more familiar with the Bible than the other kids in my peer group. In case you are unaware, I feel that it should be known that the Catholic Bible is substantially larger than the versions of that same book recognized as authentic by other Christian faiths, including books that are dismissed by protestants. Over the years I read that damnably tedious thing from cover to cover, not because it was captivating literature by any stretch of the imagination but because there was something about it that genuinely fascinated me beyond the literary quality. This is something I recommend only for those with a serious masochistic streak.

I never was a believer, though I sometimes wished that I could find a way to force myself to be, and I spent a long time going through the motions and trying to force myself into that mold because it was what was expected of me. There are aspects of the faith that I could appreciate and even admire to some extent. As much as I occasionally condemn religion and the religious, there is something special about the sort of history and gravity that accompanies that kind of organization and the traditions it carries with it. There is something solemn and deserving of respect in the Catholic Church, for all its faults (and the same could be said for a number of religious or semi-religious frameworks)…in the same way that ancient architectural edifices and venerable texts are worthy of our respect and study. If you don’t recognize that, you might be a bit touched…I say that with only the utmost respect.

As much as my family raised me to be a good, guilt-riddled Catholic boy, my mother deserves some credit for not only tolerating but actively encouraging my exploration of that and other religions and schools of philosophy. It was my mother who provided me with books like The Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Bhagavad Gita as well as textual explorations of things such as Kabballah and Sufism. As many times as she and I have butted heads, including the countless times where screaming matches were ignited by my refusal to go to church, my mother has earned a great deal of respect from me for nurturing and supporting my intellectual development over the years.

There is a strange inverse correlation that I discovered, as the more I studied religion and the belief structures around the world the less I found myself able to take it seriously that anyone actually believed those things. If I ever had any kernels of faith in the things I was raised to believe, it was eroded as effectively as if by geological processes during my teenage years. That lack of faith did nothing to deter my interest in studying those things and I still enjoy reading about those particular subjects to this day. Personally I think that atheists and religious people alike would benefit from actively studying the various belief systems that surround us…regardless of whether they reach similar conclusions to my own.

It’s all very subjective, and I think that is kind of the point. You know already that I don’t believe in any sort of god…but I am scientifically minded enough to accept that there is a chance (however fucking slim) that some sort of god or god-like being could conceivably exist…a very small chance, as far as I am concerned, but a chance just the same. Claiming either that there is or is not a god with absolute certainty is dogmatic either way and equally a product of faith whichever side of the fence you find yourself on.

I am honest enough to accept that there could be something out there that resembles a god, and pretending that I somehow know better would be total bullshit. The one thing that I do feel safe in saying though, is that (if there is a god) it is nothing like any of the things that any religion has claimed it to be. As much as some people rail against it, religion is an entirely human and subjective experience, a thing we assembled in order to come to terms with a strange and frightening world filled with unpredictable and magnificent things. Within any given congregation there will be dozens of people with entirely different perceptions of what their shared deity is and what it desires of them and those around them…and dozens more interpretations of the exact same words located in whatever their sacred text might happen to be. That alone should be enough to wake people up, but we are nothing if not proud and so filled with hubris that we just know that we are special and set apart from everyone else. We assume that everyone else sees the same things we do, or that they could if we just explained it to them.

I am no less guilty of that particular bit of ignorant reasoning. In my late teen years I started trying to put my comparative religious studies to some use by fabricating a new Bible that would collect the common themes that are found in numerous religions and explain away the differences as little more than culturally-imposed nuances that became exaggerated over time to become the divisive bullshit that it is today. I spent a long time writing that worthless thing only to one day realize that there was absolutely no fucking way I was the first to try that very thing and if no one else had succeeded in making a difference, I sure as hell wouldn’t. I knew I wasn’t special, for once…so why can’t you figure that shit out?

It wasn’t entirely out of character for me to try and adopt the role of shepherd in a sense, by trying to develop something comprehensive that could bring people together, nor was it the first time I would dismiss that very thought process. During my time attending Catholic school I went on a trip with some other students to a seminary and Catholic college in Minnesota. I was seriously considering the possibility of entering the priesthood, and I wanted to get a feel for what that life would require of me. We took classes there and lived alongside the actual priests in training. Ultimately a group of us ended up spending a large portion of that time playing D&D, and bonding over a fictional adventure of our own creation rather than the fictional adventure that was the Bible. Strangely enough, the individual who took on the mantle of bard within our party (and all later parties, because playing D&D was one of those things I very much enjoyed doing with my close friends) actually did go into the seminary after high school…and he was a fantastic fit for it, compassionate and intelligent, which goes to show that not all religious people are idiots (even though I sometimes fall for that confirmation bias myself, and there are plenty of people out there who make it difficult not to).

Yes, I know, it seems silly that someone who didn’t believe would entertain the thought of becoming a priest…but there was a sort of logic behind it. I figured, quite sincerely, that no one who devoted themselves to studying scripture and Church history would actually retain their belief in any literal truth to be found in those things. I thought I would be in good company, men who made great sacrifices in order to become teachers and stewards, helping the lost and afraid to find a sort of peace and direction in life…the hoodoo, mystical nonsense was just window dressing as far as I was concerned. In my mind it was something good and noble that I could do with my life that might also save me from becoming the monster I was afraid I was. It was not because I had an unhealthy predilection for young boys…I know you were thinking it, you sick shit. Though I did not become a priest, I did become an ordained minister over a dozen years ago exclusively for the purpose of being able to officiate weddings outside of any religious affiliations. It is legitimately quite appropriate to apply the honorific of Reverend when addressing me, though only a few of my friends actually do…mostly because it is kind of funny to do so.

I have known some fine priests, monsignors, and bishops over the years, all of them good men who deserved my respect…regardless of what they happen to believe. Also, none of them tried to diddle me behind closed doors…or outside, or anywhere else for that matter. This is not one of those stories, as interesting as that might be. In all reality, it doesn’t matter what people believe or don’t believe, there are good and bad apples in every group. I greatly respect the current Pope and I had a great deal of respect for Pope John Paul II as well, for all of his shortcomings. I even joined Catholics from around the world on a pilgrimage to Denver in order to attend World Youth Day in 1993. As much of an irreverent shit as I might have been, there was something beautiful about being there…and attending the ceremony at Red Rocks officiated by Pope John Paul II himself.

Being the sort of kid that I was, I spent the long bus ride to Denver with headphones in, listening to White Zombie and Nine Inch Nails, perhaps offensively striking up a small chorus of us singing along to the song Head Like a Hole. Of course, I spent most of that time fucking off and just being an irresponsible fucking kid. I became friends with someone who would end up becoming one of my best friends during that trip and we spent most of that time finding ways to screw off and generally be bastards…much to the chagrin of the people who were trying to escort us and keep us safe. Sleep deprivation, massive quantities of caffeine and sugar, as well as an overall predisposition to behave like a fucking criminal led to that being one of the most enjoyable vacations I’ve ever had. This friend I made on that trip ended up attending Catholic school with me until we both got asked not to return by the administration, and he was on the trip to the seminary as well. There are so many good memories that I might never have been able to form if I hadn’t gone on that trip and met him…and there were numerous other friends I would never have had the pleasure of knowing had it not been for him introducing me to them. He remains the best dungeon master I ever had the pleasure of role playing with, with a wry sense of humor and a sadistic streak that often led to almost inescapable situations. His friendship was important enough to me that I overlooked the fact that he was one of the two individuals I found in the bathtub with the girl I lost my virginity to, and I must have been important to him as well because he forgave me for sleeping with his girlfriend years later after he asked me if I would let her stay with me when she had nowhere else to go. There was a time when he was being pursued as a felon and I immediately let him stay with me, and it was only because of one of our mutual friends informing the police of his whereabouts that they showed up at my door. Were it not for one particularly diligent officer, he might have eluded them for a while longer, but that cop insisted on thoroughly searching my apartment and located him curled up inside of my dryer. I never would have checked that location, so we both figured it was a safe place to hide. I hated seeing him hauled off, but there wasn’t a damn thing I could do. He and I have grown apart over the years, but my memories involving him are still some of my favorites.

It may seem like I have gone off on a tangent there, and I did…but there is an important lesson to be learned from that little anecdote. The Church provided a sort of community, a way to meet people that I might never have met under other circumstances. This is the most important purpose that religion has fulfilled throughout human history, bringing people together and reinforcing that sense of community and belonging…the problem is that infinitesimal differences regarding inconsequential nonsense has led to that being distorted and used to vilify anyone outside of that community. We can’t blame the religion for it, nor the religious people, as easy as it is to cast that stone. In-group/out-group dynamics and kin selection have been hardwired characteristics within human nature since our earliest tribal (cultural) advancements…the same sort of primitive bullshit we’ve yet to cast aside as a species that lends itself to racism, nationalism, sexism, and every other form of discrimination that we exhibit on a dishearteningly regular basis.

As much as I have entertained the thought of burning every religious structure down to nothing but ash, I don’t hate people because of what they believe…it’s what they say and do that makes me hate them, and those things have more to do with who they are as a person than the religious indoctrination they might have been exposed to.

All of this puts me in an awkward position from numerous directions; I’m not rigid and dogmatic enough for hard-line atheists, but I openly deride and mock the beliefs of most religious people on a semi-regular basis. Hell, the simple fact that I don’t believe is enough to place me at odds with certain religious folks. I guess it’s a good thing that I couldn’t possibly care less about how well I fit in, as evidenced by a lot of what I have shared with you so far.

Really, it all comes down to one simple thing for me. Whatever you believe or don’t believe, just don’t  a cocksucker about it and we’re OK…also, lighten the fuck up, this is the real world and nothing is sacrosanct, everything is worthy of ridicule.

Even me.

Especially me.

Part Fourteen: I Told You I’m An Asshole

I want to take a little time to tell you about a couple of friends who were important parts of my life during my late teenage years. I haven’t seen either of these men in a long time now, and I have to admit it makes me a bit sad.

There was a guy I knew for quite some time, a friend of mine once upon a time, who liked to pretend that he was some sort of spiritual sherpa, styling himself as a pagan of some nebulous variety. This was a man who took himself far too seriously for being little more than a sexual predator masking his predation behind a transparent facade of offering spiritual guidance to vulnerable and naive younger girls. I liked to compare him unfavorably to something more like a poor man’s Rasputin than anything else.

This was a man who assembled a flock of teenagers around him in his 30s…and I derived endless pleasure from fucking with his mojo wherever the opportunity could be found. I’ve always been kind of a prick like that, but it does help to show you that it isn’t just those of a Judeo-Christian faith that I enjoy tormenting and mocking for no other reason than the sheer pleasure I discover in doing so. I spent a good deal of time toying with his insipid little playthings as well, though I tended to display a touch more reservation where they were concerned because I genuinely felt kind of bad for them while simultaneously thinking they were all functionally retarded.

Thankfully I had another friend around that same time who was equally inclined towards socially inappropriate behavior and poor impulse control. There was one time when he and I happened to find the decaying head of a deer in a dumpster while visiting the fast food joint where one of our mutual friends was working, as the manager who almost exclusively deserves the credit for running it right down the toilet. This friend of mine and I were immediately on the same page as we hoisted the head from the dumpster and placed it in the back of his truck.

The head of that deer was placed with care, as threateningly as possible, inside the front door of our self-styled guru’s apartment simply because he had the poor common sense required to leave his door unlocked in case anyone happened to come by…that was a habit he quickly curbed thanks to us. That evening we stopped by again and found the deer staring up at us from the garbage can behind the apartment and we promptly extricated it and placed it on the rail of the deck behind the apartment so that it would be staring right at our friend when he stepped outside to smoke. What was done with the bit of carcass after that was unknown to us, all that could be said is that we never tracked it down after using it that second time.

The number of times that we tampered with this friend’s “altar” are probably beyond measure, individually and together. Frequently it was something as simple as moving things around in subtle ways when he wasn’t home while other times it was more invasive actions such as passing amounts of urine into various oils and “potions” that he had crafted and utilized for assorted purposes…there might have been some semen as well, also there was feces.

Those were good times in my life, and I realize just how awful all of that makes me sound…but I do peculiar things when I get bored.

That partner in crime was a terrible person for me to be around, and I totally concur with that assessment. Not only was he the sort of person who encouraged me to not bother holding myself back where aberrant impulses were concerned, but he was almost aggressively averse to behaving like a sane human being himself.

He and I developed a game once (one that we continued to play for quite some time) while bored and driving around aimlessly, and it should be mentioned that we were also quite high…probably from drugs that we had skimmed from what we were selling to Job Corps students at the time. The game became known as Next Blue Car, we weren’t terribly creative about it, so shut up. The objective was simple; drive aimlessly until you encounter a blue car of any kind, follow this car until you happen across another blue car, and begin following that car…repeat. Two caveats of the game were what made it a more truly antisocial activity; the first one is that you do whatever you have to in order to follow said blue car (including rapid, illegal U-turns and excessive speed in order to remain less than a car length from the target) and the other rule being that if the car pulls into a driveway or a garage you are to park directly in front of the house or in said driveway with the engine running until either another blue car comes along or an hour has passed, casually ignoring anyone who might confront you for being there. These additional elements were what had the capacity to make our game honestly quite terrifying to the occupants of the blue car in question. This became our default form of entertainment when nothing else was holding our attention sufficiently.

We purchased blow guns once along with a healthy surplus of different varieties of darts for them and developed a habit of routinely surprising one another by firing darts at each other whenever the urge was upon us, typically when it was least expected (occasionally while the victim was asleep or even mid coitus). There were also extended intervals of time during which we had blow gun wars with one another, no protective eye wear or clothing included. The blow guns were nothing, however, compared to the time when we procured a couple of hatchets from the tool shed in a stranger’s yard and proceeded to attack each other with little by way of restraint. This was certainly a high point in my life as far as decadence exceeding common sense and self-preservation is concerned. Surprisingly enough, neither of us was seriously injured.

In all the time I spent with this particular friend there was only one time he was ever angry with me. This was a time when we were parked along the side of a highway, I can’t recall why, but there were a bunch of us there, in a couple of vehicles…maybe someone needed to change a tire and we all stopped together. His daughter (who couldn’t have been more than four years old at the time) was being a pest and I casually told her to go and play closer to the road. He might have been less upset with me if she hadn’t listened to me. I think he might have actually hit me if it weren’t for the fact that he recognized as well as I did how that would have played out, and how rapidly the whole thing would have spiraled out of control.

I haven’t seen him in years, more than a decade in fact, and I openly admit that I miss him a great deal. I have no idea where his life has taken him…but I would be far from surprised if I were to learn that he was no longer with us, though I suspect that he would say the same thing about me if asked.

Part Thirteen: My Lucky Number

When a woman asks you what you would do without her in a cutesy, playful manner, the correct answer is most certainly not to inform her that you would either be with someone else or you would be alone, and that either way things would probably be about the same. I could write a book consisting of nothing more than things not to say to a romantic partner, all of them things that I have said at some point in the past. One would think that, with all of my experience with women, I would not be such a truly abysmal jackass when it comes to talking to them…one would be painfully incorrect.

Contrary to all of my impulses, asking a woman if she washes her asshole with Windex because I can see my tongue in it is neither an appropriate pick-up line nor an endearing attempt to elicit a smile. Similarly, role-playing a mentally challenged cannibal during foreplay is no way to segue into intercourse. These are just a couple of examples of just how poorly I read the situation when it comes to interacting with women, even those with whom I am romantically involved.

It’s not all fun and games though. My failures when it comes to interpersonal relationships are often less entertaining and a good deal more shameful…not just where women are concerned, but that is what I’m talking about here.

One could argue that killing the first girl I loved might have set me off along a really dark path in life, and I certainly can’t disagree. I have fucked up my relationships in some unbelievably fantastic ways…but that remains the pinnacle of how disastrous I have been to another human being…at least so far. If only my poor judgment ended there.

Less than six months after the accident I began seeing a girl who was one of the friends of the girl who had died. We bonded over our mutual loss and similar interests and tastes. She was an amazing girl, sweet and funny while being aggressively punk rock and forceful enough with her personality that she dragged me screeching like a rodent from the shell I was comfortable living in…we will ignore the fact that only a truly atypical rodent would live in a shell; I’m atypical like that. We had a couple of months together, and I was beginning to function in a sense, in a way that I hadn’t since the accident.

Even at the time I knew that she was good for me (this isn’t one of those situations where it’s all in retrospect) and that I was probably about as happy as I could be under the circumstances. None of that stopped me from walking to the interstate one morning and hitching away that summer. I called home a couple of times to let my family know that I was still alive and I called that girl now and again only to hang up when she answered…I think some part of me knew that she would be able to talk me into coming home if I allowed her to speak.

I didn’t stay away too long, hitchhiking with little to no money is a recipe for ending up doing some terrible things for money. I avoided that unpleasant outcome and I returned to the region but stayed with various friends and acquaintances rather than returning home like I should have. I don’t regret not going home, a great deal of fun was to be had during that summer, but it broke my heart every time I called the girl I had abandoned…the answering machine message in her home had even been converted into a plea from her for me not to hang up if I was calling. I stopped calling. She was better off forgetting that I even existed.

It wasn’t long after that when I began running into a girl who thoroughly fascinated me; tall, with porcelain skin, eyes that appeared black unless the light hit them just the right way needed to reveal the green that they actually were, and with a sense of style that I found totally captivating. Of course she was involved with a friend of mine, or someone that I liked to consider a friend…though my subsequent actions proved me to be far less of a friend to him than he had been to me. He passed away recently, and I wish I had gotten a chance to spend more time with him before that happened. We had barely spoken in a decade or so and yet he was one of the first people to show an active interest in my novel after it was finished.

Fuck! I let myself get sidetracked; I do that sort of shit all the time…sorry about that.

I knew that she was involved with someone I respected a great deal, but no amount of respect I had for him was sufficient to override what I wanted…and I wanted her. How she could have conceivably ended up with me eludes me to this day, when she had someone better…especially when I consider our earliest interactions.

She was quietly sitting by herself on the trunk of her car when I sat down beside her, the first time I ever made the choice to speak to her. I looked directly into her eyes and suggested that she either thought that she was somehow better than the rest of us which was why she was always off by herself or that she was mentally challenged and knew we would deride her if we all found out just how deficient she was. It was only a week or so later that I stole the keys from the ignition of her car and told her that she would only be getting them back after she kissed me.

Sometime around Halloween of that year we conceived our daughter, my first born…her’s as well, but that’s irrelevant because this is about me.

Both of us were too damn young and ill equipped to be parents…but I was definitely the more toxic component within our relationship. When it was good, she and I were almost perfect together…the problem was that the good became more and more frequently occluded by the rest of our relationship, which is to say, the bad.

She is, thankfully, the only woman I ever laid a hand on in anger. I can offer up rationalizations and justifications, but they are all bullshit…no matter how many other factors were present at the time, there was no excuse for me hitting her. You can condemn me for it, I wouldn’t blame you, and I have already done so myself. But I am not here to make myself look good, I tried to warn you about that before…sincerity requires that I share these details as well.

Our daughter was still a baby, no more than a month old when it occurred. Her mother and I had been at each other’s throats more than usual since before she was born, and the additional stress and strain of being new parents was not alleviating things in any way. In the middle of this particular fight I packed up our daughter in her baby carrier and headed to the door. She ran after me and tried to yank the baby carrier from my hand. I told her that I was going to spend an hour or two with my family and that I was taking our daughter because she was my daughter too. Her response was to shout, “She is not!”

I think back to that moment and I wish that I could step back for a second and breathe. In that moment though, there was no stepping back for me. I hit her…before I even knew that I had moved, it was done. No, I didn’t hit her in the face or anything that dramatic, as if that somehow makes things better.

She was on the phone with the cops almost immediately, still fighting with me the whole time. I knew that the police were on the way, but I stayed right there. I did end up hitting her a couple more times, kneeling on the floor in front of her, deflated as I was from the shock of what had happened; these were not blows like the first one, there was no intent to harm her, more ineffectual bursts of frustration and sadness than anger…there was no strength left in me. Even worse than the action itself, a couple of friends had arrived at that time and were witness to that final, proud few moments before the police arrived.

I went with the police without putting up a fight at all and I spent a couple of nights in a juvenile detention facility before being released to my mother. I can’t imagine how my mother thought of me when she had heard what happened or when she picked me up from my incarceration, or how she felt bringing me back to her house for a couple of days before I went to live with my father. While I was locked up my things were moved out of the apartment that she and I had shared and moved into my father’s house. When he was picking up my things he apparently apologized to her and told her that this was his fault…but it wasn’t, I had done this to myself, and there was no dispelling my guilt and passing the buck on to someone else, not even my father.

Obviously she and I tried to work things out after that, primarily for our daughter’s sake, and we both believed that things could be different if we gave it another chance. She and I had our son only 15 months after our daughter was born…but we were never ok after that incident, and we honestly didn’t last too long after giving it another chance.

We continued living together for a couple of years even though a relationship between us couldn’t possibly function after what had happened…we tried our best to keep things stable for our children, and we did a surprisingly admirable job of it, all things considered, which isn’t saying much. All we really accomplished was making us hate one another and ourselves. It was not a good place for either of us; a place filled with recriminations, eroded trust, and hostility.

We dated other people near the end, but hated having to bear witness to one another trying to be happy with someone else, perhaps because we both still carried around some faint shred of the hope that we’d had when we first found each other….this led to some awkward situations.

It was shortly before our son was born that I began seriously dating another girl who is still an important part of my life and one of my dearest friends. She was too good for me from the beginning, she was (and still is) almost unnaturally beautiful, smart and talented, and she had a family that would have placed her in a higher caste if we lived in a different society from this one. I still don’t know what she ever saw in me.

It was shortly after my son was born when we discovered that she was pregnant. This brought to light some questions of paternity, since I was bachelor number two in this scenario…but of course it would turn out that she would be giving birth to my second son.

She and I finally ended up falling apart after she cheated on me with another guy…even though I tried to still work things out after that, she left me. It was probably in her best interests to move on, away from me. The problem is that the guy she left me for turned out to be a total nut, but that is a story for another time.

A while after that, after she and I had both grown and reached different places in our respective lives than we were in when the relationship dissolved, she expressed an interest in trying to give our relationship another chance, but I was too stupid and self-loathing by that time to take advantage of her obvious lapse in judgment.

This will never end if I keep going into details here. I will stop this particular chapter here and write up an addendum later on, so that I can provide further examples of how I am unsuitable for relationships. I feel like I have covered that enough for now. You might need a reminder later on.

Part Twelve: Broken Homes

I’ve heard it said that children of broken homes are predisposed to create broken homes of their own when the time comes around, but I happen to think that’s an irresponsible bullshit mentality. It’s thoroughly dismissing our own accountability for the choices we make in life, and that sort of thing always tends to piss me off.

I won’t deny that it is a bit more of a challenge to build a healthy and stable home and family life when your dominant example is far from being either of those things…but life itself is a fucking challenge, and we’re supposed to overcome them, that’s part of the joy and spice of life. I admit that I’m not the most sympathetic person when I hear the sort of victim mentality that’s manifest in claiming that a troubled childhood will produce more of the same when that child becomes a parent in their own right. The worst part is that I am a walking fucking billboard for that philosophy being correct…but I am not a fuck up because my childhood was difficult. I’m a fuck up because, plain and simple, I am a fuck up.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have never been adequately suited for relationships, not the functional variety at the very least. This is the sort of thing I am reminded of time and again, just when I start to believe that something is different. My insecurities, my aberrant state of mind, and my overall poor impulse control have definitely worked against me plenty in the past…but there is also the simple fact that I have typically been happier on my own, that allowing someone to truly become a part of my life has always terrified me.

Where problems don’t exist naturally I have sabotaged myself more than enough for a lifetime or two. Little things become amplified from my perspective and I become easily irritated at the slightest provocation, trivial little problems become deal breakers, and I begin looking for a way out. I panic when I feel like someone is getting close to me to an extent that I’m not comfortable with, which leads me to become defensive and to take things far less seriously than I should. I was always closed off and guarded, emotionally distant and unavailable to an unhealthy degree. At one point I described myself to a girl I was involved with as being like a treacherously rocky shore, hiding dangerous stones beneath the surface of what might appear to be a safe harbor…and the closer the ships drew in (the ships being women in this analogy, did I really need to explain that to you?), the greater the damage that was done. I don’t know why I felt that it was dangerous to be close to me, but it was like that before the accident as well, it just got worse after that.

I’ll spend a little while really going into detail regarding what I mean when I talk about how ruinous I am in relationships, right now I’m more focused on the broken homes that I mentioned previously. If I was not hardwired for relationships you can only guess how poorly suited I was for parenthood. There was a substantial part of me that never wanted kids, primarily because I was horrified that I would end up being just like my father and that any children I had would be subjected to a life where they would experience the same sort of perpetual state of terror that I had…or worse.

I was still all sorts of fucked up from the accident when, only a year later, I discovered I was going to be a father. I tried to put on a brave face and be supportive, I wanted to smile and be happy about the new life that I was helping to bring into the world…but I had to pretend, in order to do so. Inside, I was so fucking broken and damaged, I was petrified…this was like a nightmare for me. I was suddenly going to be in a position to fuck someone else’s life up just like I was fucking up my own. I’d be lying if there wasn’t a part of me that considered running as far away as possible, it would be better to be raised with no father than the father I was going to be…of course, I did not run. My oldest daughter was born when I was 17 years old and her brother was conceived only six months later, entirely without any intention on my part or the part of their mother.

Not only was I barely more than a child myself, but I was also intensely filled with guilt and self-loathing in about equal measure at that time in my life. I was certainly not fit to be a father to anyone, nonetheless those two beautiful children, even if I had the slightest idea what I was doing, which, I might add, I did not. I would like to say that I gave it my best effort, at least my failings as a parent could be perceived as less of an overall failure of character if that had been the case…but I know damn well that I could have done a substantially better job of it than I did. The fact of the matter is that I still could be a better father than I am today, but I am trying…and I have been for quite some time now. It just took me a little bit too damn long to finally pull my head out of my ass and learn that I could do something more than fail miserably.

Having had additional children over the intervening years (because I clearly never learned to quit while I was ahead), I haven’t gotten much better at knowing what the hell I’m doing…I have no problem admitting that. I can say with certainty that I have never laid a hand on my children out of anger, nothing more than the occasional spanking, at least…and I subscribe to the school of thought that punishment of that variety is not a bad thing, even though I’ve never been able to accomplish a spanking without feeling bad about it immediately after. I am still far from perfect in my parenting, and anyone who has witnessed the way that I interact with my children would be ready to join in a chorus of affirmation there. I’m flawed as all hell, but I think I have done a reasonably good job of insuring that the children know that I love them and that I am always there for them. I realize that I have still been emotionally distant and disconnected, even from the children, for a major part of their lives…but that didn’t mean I didn’t love them and treasure them just the same.

I worry sometimes that I might have fucked my own kids up in a lot of the same ways that I have been, and still am to this day, fucked up. Somehow, though, they have all seemed to turn out quite well, despite my influence. I’m proud of them, even when they make mistakes…thankfully they tend not to make mistakes comparable to my own. Maybe I have gotten lucky enough that they learned from my errors and haven’t felt the need to replicate them, or maybe they are just better people than I was, better people than I am today. Either way, I don’t have much to worry about there.

They may be products of broken homes and a severely broken parent, but they are in no way broken themselves. I may be living proof of the fact that children of broken homes produce them in turn, but my own children give me a fair deal of hope that they can provide ample evidence to the contrary. Let’s keep our fingers crossed…and don’t be so jaded.

Part Eleven: My Passion

Being a writer is not a new thing for me, which might come as a surprise considering the lack of quality and polish that my writing exhibits. This is not some calling that I discovered for myself in adulthood…it’s something I have been doing since childhood, almost as far back as I can remember. With the childhood that I had, there is smart money riding on the probability that storytelling, for me, began as a form of escapism…fashioning worlds where I had a semblance of control that I lacked in the real world. It was probably my way of working things out as well, trying to obtain some rudimentary understanding of things and making sense of what I was experiencing in everyday life.
I know that I have been persistently vague so far, regarding the specifics of my childhood, at least where my home life is concerned. I will get to it, the good and the bad, in my own time. This is my story and I will tell it however I damn well see fit. I’m the storyteller here, just like I always have been in my life…but this marks the first occasion where the story I’m telling is a true one, where I am the protagonist (a role I don’t really think I deserve), and that makes things more of a challenge than you might think. You may not enjoy being subject to my seemingly arbitrary whims, bouncing here and there through my life, but that is how this works for me…the only way it works.
So, I was telling you how I have always been a writer. I began telling stories at an early age, rudimentary and trite by any objective standard, but they were stories just the same. The earliest written things were little tales featuring Tom the turkey, if I recall his name correctly. They were stupid little stories about Tom’s insipid adventures in the life of a turkey, culminating in something about how he sacrificed his only begotten son for the sake of Thanksgiving dinner. I’m kidding about that last part, he sacrificed himself; the Jesus parallel was just more entertaining to me just now. Tom did actually get eaten in the end, not as a sacrifice, I’m sure…but really just because he was the wrong turkey in the wrong place at the wrong time. All of my stories have a fairly optimistic outcome, as you can clearly tell.
It’s the unwritten stories from my childhood that were the most important to me. It could have been because my early years were plagued with violence and fear that I began concocting more and more intricate and frightening depictions of what was going on in the world all around me. The real world apparently wasn’t scary enough for me, I suppose…so I imagined far worse things around every corner and lurking within every shadow.
Initially these musings were cobbled together from stories I heard along with bits and pieces of horror movies that I’d seen (I was too young to read when this first started), gradually becoming more original in nature as my imagination developed in its own right and took hold. I spent a great deal of time alone while I was growing up, wandering through the hills by myself regardless of the weather or season. These were some of the best days of my life. There were days when I would wake up and head off immediately into the hills, only returning home after it had gotten dark…other aspects of my childhood might have been traumatic, but the degree of freedom I was allowed to experience is something I will always treasure.
In my little world I was being hunted and stalked by an assortment of creatures, my only goal being to survive in the wilderness on my own. I look back and wonder how I could have possibly wanted more terror in my life than I already had…but that was apparently just what I desired, or maybe it was just all that I knew.
At first these were stories that I told only to myself, things to keep me scared in my free time, as scared as I was at home…upon further reflection maybe it was a coping mechanism, a method by which I could keep myself in a constant state of wariness? Over time I began to involve the few friends I had made in this narrative tapestry of horrors that filled my life, in the same way that other children might play cops & robbers or cowboys & Indians. I would weave together new mythologies surrounding the small town where we lived and surround us with beings and creatures that thirsted for our blood…trying to immerse us so deeply into the fiction that we lost sight of it being anything but the reality that we experienced in everyday life.
This spoken and interactive form of storytelling preceded my actually writing anything by a couple of years and it continued well into my adolescence…populating the darkness with horrors that kept me awake at night, bringing my nightmares into the waking world.
I’ve heard it said that an active imagination is a healthy thing in a child, but I get the distinct feeling that the particular manifestations of my imaginings may very well point towards something quite unhealthy. I guess it’s up to you to make that determination; I am too biased to reach a viable conclusion.

An Interlude: Part 10.5

I began writing this for a couple of different reasons, first and foremost because I needed to get back into the habit of writing something, anything at all…and we all know that rule number one is to write what we know. Where my fictional writing is concerned, it mostly concerns horror, and I felt it might be beneficial for me to explore the horror of real life and how it influences who I’ve become and what I do.
Almost as important, I felt that this might just be a healthy bit of self-exploration and would certainly be cheaper than therapy. It was almost arbitrary that I opened up and shared myself with you, without restraint, and I figured that there would be a couple of people who might be interested in seeing me vulnerable and exposed…If only out of morbid curiosity or spite.
I could not have anticipated the overwhelming show of support and encouragement I have received, from friends and acquaintances as well as total strangers. I expected, at most, to reach one or two people like I usually did with the things I’ve written in the past, and that was fine with me…it was relatively safe and provided me with the illusion of openness without the reality of truly being laid bare in the eyes of anyone. I am not the most interesting fellow and I definitely don’t expect anyone to hang from my every word, so I have been floored by the unprecedented number of people who have been showing an active interest in what I’ve had to say.
This shocking development led to another impetus being adopted behind my decision to continue writing all of this, one that only came about after a few of my stories had been shared…that is my hope that maybe I could potentially reach someone and speak to them in a way that might resonate somehow for them, and maybe improve their life in some small way. Through the sharing of my experiences I started to hope that I might make a difference somewhere, for someone. I dismissed that as being a damned silly thought almost immediately, but I am starting to wonder if maybe I wasn’t too quick to cast it aside…maybe I will be able to help just one person by continuing to open up like I have so far.
I have a small request for you, whether you take me seriously or not…share all of this with anyone you know who might benefit from it, whether because you know they are hurting or because you feel they would derive some pleasure from a total stranger making an ass of himself by sharing these deeply personal aspects of his life with anyone who happens to come along. There is no sense in my exposing myself like this if no one is there to witness it. The vulnerability is a sham if I am not putting myself out there without hesitation…in for a penny, in for a pound.
I am not special, though, and my story is not unique or original…the details may be individual to my life, but the overall theme is not a new one by any stretch of the imagination. There are countless men and women, boys and girls, who have suffered through experiences quite similar to my own and many of them even worse. They are everywhere. If you don’t open yourself up to them without judgment and allow them to reach out to you in their own way (on their own terms) and with their own timing…there is no safe assurance that anyone else will.
It’s up to you to try and make a difference for the broken and the damaged, even if you are among them…don’t you dare second guess yourself like I always do. You might be surprised at just how much healing can come from two broken individuals coming together and simply focusing on the parts that don’t bear the scars left behind, until they can look at one another and no longer see the scars, but the person as they are meant to be.
The world around us and life itself are full of darkness and horrors beyond our everyday imaginings. That darkness has a way of penetration us when we are at our weakest, and consuming us from the inside if we let it. I am the first to admit that it can be seductive in its own way, and that it can be a relief to grab ahold of that darkness and embrace it. Once you do, it never really goes away…and I honestly don’t know if that is even a bad thing, but I am in no position to judge that without bias. Even with that darkness everywhere you have to remember that there is also so much light in the world as well, and you have to insure that other people are seeing it to.
Fuck what I have had to say so far, as well as the rest of what I’m going to share with you after this. None of that is important. What matters is that you take one small lesson away from all of this and make a positive difference in someone’s life, even if that life happens to be your own.
What are you doing still sitting there? Get off your ass and make the world a better place in some infinitesimal way. One person can’t change the world, I know that, but a population is constructed from nothing more than one person and another and another…if you all choose to make a difference, then it will fucking happen.
Don’t worry, I’m not done…I have so much more to share with you.

Part Ten: When You Gaze Long Into the Abyss

My maternal grandfather was quite possibly the most important influence during my childhood, and after my father was functionally removed from the picture he stepped in and took over in the role of father figure for me. Quite sincerely, I could not have asked for anyone better to have fulfilled that need in my life.
He was a hard working man right up until the decades of smoking took their toll and forced him to require an oxygen tank just to breathe. I spent summer months and weekends in the spring and fall accompanying him to flea markets and threshing bees, assisting him with small engine repair (a skill that he picked up during his time in the Navy). At the time, being barely even an adolescent, I sometimes got bored and looked at the days spent thus way as a bizarre form of punishment…and I wish that I could go back and smack that ungrateful little shit and teach him to appreciate the lessons he was learning as well as the time he was fortunate enough to spend with a great man.
My grandfather was well respected in the small community where I grew up, and with good reason. As selfish and stupid as I could be when I was younger, my grandfather was the one person I was least inclined to behave disrespectful towards. There was something about him that elicited a degree of compliance from me that no one else ever really could.
This story isn’t about my grandfather; I just wanted you to know a little bit about the man because he plays an important role in the story I am about to share.
I made a passing reference to the violence that punctuated my childhood, both at home and in the outside world. I’d like to take this little bit of time here to discuss the violence outside of my home, so sit down and pay some damn attention…maybe you will learn something.
I told you before that I didn’t make friends easily (and still don’t, as you’re probably aware), and that may have been a bit of an understatement. I don’t know what it was about me as a child, at least not specifically, but I apparently rubbed people the wrong way pretty badly. It could be something as simple as the fact that I was taller than all of my peers until right around high school, it could have been because I was smarter than most of them (if not all of them) and they resented me for it, it could have been due to the fact that I was always a little bit different (and I know I’m not fooling anyone by trying to pretend it was some miniscule bit of peculiarity I exhibited), or it may very well have been a combination of some or all of those things…I never did learn why I was singled out the way that I was.
I don’t remember when it started, the years back then blur together for me this far away, but it may have been as early as first grade when the beatings started…and they continued for years.
There was a certain group of kids consisting of classmates as well as older friends of theirs and family members who determined, for whatever reason, that I was something to be broken. I played basketball with some of these boys and later participated in Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts with them, but there was no sense of being comrades between us outside of those circumstances.
Looking back from the vantage point of the present, it seems like I was subjected to their bullshit a couple of days a week all through the school year, but I know it couldn’t have conceivably been that frequent; they would have had to get bored with it if that had been the case. It was frequent enough that it hammered itself into my memory pretty severely though. It wasn’t always the same faces taunting me, hitting and kicking me…some days it was only two or three of them, other days there were five or six of them. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was scared. Anyone would have been frightened under those same circumstances.
It had to have been one of the first times that this happened when my grandfather came out yelling and chased the boys off before helping me to my feet. My grandparents lived diagonally across the street from where I attended school and had a clear view of the parking lot where most of this violence took place. I actually feel bad for my grandfather sometimes because I know that he had to witness the same thing happening to me with far too much frequency. That first time though, he made me promise that I would not get into fights with those boys. He told me that I was not supposed to fight back, that I needed to avoid them and get away from them if it happened again.
If anyone else had asked me to do the same thing I would have dismissed it and done whatever I had to do. But I did not take that promise to my grandfather lightly.
Over the following years it happened again and again, some days I could get away without a scratch…but there were plenty of times which ended with me on the ground, beaten and sobbing out of frustration and pain, and none of those times did I even attempt to fight back. I took what they dished out with as much dignity as the situation allowed, escaping if the opportunity presented itself. I could run like a motherfucker if properly motivated.
For the longest time I almost resented my grandfather for insisting that I not fight back, most profoundly during and immediately following one of the beatings.
As I got older I looked back on his request and tried to understand why he would ask me to just take it without raising a hand to defend myself. When I was in a particularly negative state of mind I worried that he saw something bad in me, something possibly passed down to me from my father, and this was his way of doing the best he could to help me overcome that potential monster hiding there beneath the surface. I know that wasn’t his reasoning at all, and that he was simply teaching me to be a better and stronger man, and that violence wasn’t a solution. The funny thing is, when I have really let myself look closely at my life, I wonder if he wasn’t unintentionally killing two birds with one stone there. I still suspect, and fear, that there is something down there, lurking beneath the skin…and I learned to keep it there through the lessons my grandfather taught me, of discipline and self control. He may not have seen something terrible inside of me but I know myself well enough to suspect that it is in there…and that is where it can damn well stay.
All of that aside, there did finally come a time; perhaps it was after a particularly bad beating that I experienced (or maybe he was just tired of seeing those smug little shits beating on his grandson), when my grandfather told me that I had his permission to fight back the next time, but only if they hit me first. I can still clearly recall a sensation that can only be equated to having shackles removed at that moment.
As it turned out it wasn’t me being hit that served as the impetus for my bring able to respond in kind. I was in the next yard over from my grandparents’ house, playing with the boy who lived there. He was the nicest kid, a bit on the slow side, but he didn’t treat me strangely…which may explain why I have an easy time building rapport with individuals suffering from various sorts of mental handicap.
A few of the boys who routinely beat me up showed up and started behaving like the assholes that they were. I don’t know what led to it but one of them shoved the neighbor boy over and I felt like I was free to retaliate. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that I hit him hard enough that he went over the white picket fence that separated that yard from my grandparents’. It sounds like embellishment, and you are free to assume it to be just that, but I assure you that I have been entirely forthcoming in this, as with the rest of what I have shared with you.
I’ve always been stranger than I look, and I was justifiably angry at the time. My grandfather was right, that was the last time I had to worry about those boys after school. There was only one other incident during grade school when I used violence as a means to an end. This time it wasn’t justified and I felt terrible about it. In the hallway one day another student began saying some rude and cruel things to me and I didn’t catch myself before I could react.  I hit him once in the chest and cracked five or six of his ribs…I was 11 or 12 at the time. I immediately felt awful for hitting him and worse after learning how badly I’d actually hurt him. After that I got myself in check and really internalized the importance of avoiding violence.
There was another period of a few years after the accident when I lost track of the lessons I had learned from my grandfather, when there was nothing but anger fueling me, but I did finally get myself back under control…too late to avoid leaving some damage in my wake, but I never claimed to be perfect.
I could have turned out much worse though, and almost certainly would have without my grandfather providing me with his influence and teaching me that violence is almost never the correct answer.