Part Thirty-Four: The Hard Choices

Those who know me are well aware of the fact that I am of the pro-choice camp where politics are concerned, because I don’t feel that I (or any uninvolved party) have the right to impose a subjective moral choice in someone else’s life. Those who know me a little bit better are similarly aware that I lean towards a pro-life philosophical stance as far as my own life is concerned. Philosophy, however, has little relevance when real life comes into play a great deal of the time.

Once upon a time I met a spectacular woman and almost immediately knew that I wanted to pursue a relationship with her…strangely enough, she was similarly afflicted where I was concerned. It was less than a month into this relationship, and one of the first times that we had been intimate, when an accident happened with the birth control this woman was using and we just seemed to have the sort of awful timing that led to conception with that one slip up. It was a short while later before we discovered that she had gotten pregnant, having had no reason to suspect that it was even a remote possibility until she began displaying some of the symptoms associated with the early stages of pregnancy. Both of us already had children of our own and we were at points in our respective lives where neither of us was prepared to be bringing a new life into the world, financially or psychologically…so neither of us exactly relished this startling discovery.

My first question, not knowing precisely when the conception took place at first, was to ask if the baby was going to be mine. It may seem like a rude inquiry, but I didn’t know what her sexual activity had been like up until we had gotten together, and I hadn’t requested those specific details. It wasn’t that I was considering washing my hands of the situation no matter what he answer happened to be, that thought hadn’t even crossed my mind. I really liked this woman and I wasn’t eager to jump overboard just because some other guy may have accidentally gotten her pregnant, it wasn’t like we both didn’t already have children from different partners, so the principle was essentially the same.

The timing worked out that the baby was mine though, as you might be able to predict.

We talked about the situation quite a bit, and she felt that abortion was the only viable solution since going through the pregnancy and having another child (at that time specifically) would essentially derail everything she was working towards in her life. She had a lot going for her, just on the horizon, and she was putting a great deal of effort into improving her life and the lives of her children; this was one of the things that attracted me to her, one of the things that I admired about her.

I tried to work out ways that we might be able to avoid going through with that particular decision, because I knew that she didn’t want to go through with any abortion any more than I did, but every attempt to figure out an alternate solution led to the same grim outcome…that she would be stuck losing a great deal of the progress that she’d made towards the better future she deserved. I had no choice but to concur with her assessment of our options, though I didn’t stop trying to brainstorm some other way up until it was no longer a possibility.

There was no question that she didn’t want to do it though, so don’t you dare judge her, the whole idea itself was painful to her and all I could really do was let her know that she had my support and that I was there beside her either way.

If she had chosen to keep the child we would have figured something out, as difficult as it might have been, I’m sure…as challenging as it surely would have been, we could have worked through it, because (at least for me) what we had was worth the strain. The choice was ultimately hers to make after all discussion had been completed and the options were weighed, and she made the difficult choice to terminate the pregnancy.

She scheduled the appointment with Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls (a few hours away) and I set aside money in order to assist her with the cost of the procedure. The scheduling wasn’t optimum and it conflicted with my work schedule, being an overnight trip…and it was like pulling teeth for me to get any time off work, which meant that I was going to be unable to accompany her. It turns out that, to this day, that it can be said that I do have two regrets (regardless of my bluster about not regretting anything); not working harder to find a way that I could be there with her during that trip to Sioux Falls is one of them, the other is that I didn’t find a better solution for us so that she wouldn’t have to go through with that.

Thankfully she had a close friend who was both willing and able to be there with her, and he took the trip with her in my place. I was grateful that she didn’t have to be there alone, because she shouldn’t have had to go through it by herself. It broke my heart not being there anyhow, especially when she told me about the counseling that took place before the procedure itself. I should have been beside her when she was forced to read about the development of her fetus and where it was at this point. I should have been there next to her when they asked her if she wanted to see the ultrasound video, which she couldn’t bring herself to watch (and I don’t blame her).

After it was all said and done, we never really sat down and talked about it. We never took the time to mourn together or really process what had happened. Maybe it would have made no difference if we had tried, as we each mourned our decision separately in our own ways, but it seems to me, looking back, that some good may have come of us doing so.

I didn’t make it easy for her to talk to me though, my coping mechanisms are off-putting at the best of times, but they can be devastating during times of extreme emotional fragility (which, thankfully doesn’t occur often). I wrap myself up in thoroughly inappropriate humor or flat affect detachment when working through difficult quandaries and the like; sometimes fluctuating between the two with seemingly no warning…and this was one of those occasions.

Maybe if she had been a part of my life longer than she had, she would have been accustomed to that trait enough to see it for what it was…but, as it stood, it simply pissed her off and made her feel like she was alone in coping with the loss we had sustained. If only I had developed better habits when dealing with unpleasant things, that whole situation could have turned out better.

There are people who bounce back just fine from something like an abortion, there are even people who can be casual and dismissive about it, but we were not two of those people…and scars still remain to this day.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that she told me that she blamed me for the whole thing. She knew, logically and rationally, that it wasn’t my fault…that, if anything, her error with birth control was the proximate cause of what happened. But what she knew and what she felt were two very different things. She knew that it made no sense to resent me like she did for what happened, both the unexpected pregnancy and the following termination…but that didn’t stop her from resenting me just the same. That undercurrent of animosity wasn’t made any better thanks to my inability to take the trip with her and be supportive in that respect as well.

There are a number of questions and possibilities that I have mulled over since then, little ways that I wonder if things might have been made at least somewhat better. Maybe if I had less jarring coping mechanisms or maybe if I had been able to be with her as a shoulder to lean on before and after the procedure…or even if we had communicated better with one another openly and honestly after the abortion, we could have mitigated some of that resentment and animosity. I never hated her for what happened, but she was the one who actively had to bear the burden of both the choice and going through the actual process involved, and I honestly can’t imagine what that had to be like for her. She tried to appear stoic and undisturbed, but I knew that it was a façade and I avoided probing at it because I thought that she needed that appearance of stability to keep from falling apart.

Even now I wish that there was something I could have done differently, because maybe things would have been better between us if that had been the case…but nothing can ever be done to repair the mistakes of the past, and we have to go on living with the repercussions no matter how painful they might be.

I may be pro-choice still, but I will never pretend that abortion is something that should be decided upon without very serious consideration. It takes a toll on the parties involved, at least it did for the two of us…and maybe that toll was just too much to bear on its own, even without the additional factors involved like my stupid, ill-advised reactions, it certainly seems like the price of that decision we approached together was much higher than either of us was properly equipped to pay.

Part Thirty-Three: In Love and Meth Continued…Hold the Love

Once more we venture into the period of my life as a methamphetamine use. This will not be a coherent, linear bit of storytelling, I don’t believe. That might be an impossible thing to manage, even if I desperately wanted to pull it off. Shit starts to run together and time blurs more than a little bit. This is more likely to be a series of snapshots randomly pieced together, rather than a movie.

I recall an instance when one of the anchors at the NBC station approached me in the break room, asking me in passing if I had been losing weight, to which I inquired, feigning insult, “Are you trying to say that I was fat?” It’s funny to me, knowing that the anchor in question probably had some idea what was going on regarding my apparent weight loss, because I was routinely carrying a small supply of the crystal in my wallet when I went to work, intermittently doing lines on the counter in the control room where I worked, frequently while there was other staff in the building. There were definite perks to working almost entirely autonomously.

Caution goes out the window with greater and greater ease the longer one is under the influence of methamphetamine. There were a couple of occasions when the former cop who was hosting our Mexican friend would offer me rides to work and we would casually end up smoking the substance from a glass pipe while driving down the streets in the middle of the afternoon. It wasn’t just me who experienced that sort of disconnect from common sense, is what I’m trying to say, that drug has a definite impact on one’s sense of personal vulnerability…fundamentally erasing it.

There were literally whole days and nights that would run together seamlessly in the most surreal way while my roommate and I would spend the whole time in that former officer’s house, alternately doing lines and smoking from pipes almost constantly. I shudder to think of the quantities we were consuming that way in just one sitting (and not solely because of how entirely wasteful it was). We would lose track of time in conversation and monitoring the grainy feeds from the numerous security cameras that provided uninterrupted views of the whole area surrounding the house, because trafficking in massive quantities of crystal meth is the sort of thing that merits a bit of precaution. All said, it was actually damn enjoyable for us.

My roommate and I were almost always sent home with a decent quantity of our own to get us by in our everyday lives…and it most certainly did. There was often enough that we weren’t opposed to sharing with friends who occasionally came by and even the relatively new downstairs neighbors, when they were inclined to partake. One of those times, when our supply was low, they agreed to reciprocate when they had some of their own a few days later.

Sure enough, they did contact us (a few days later than expected) to let us know that they had what we were waiting for and my roommate went downstairs to retrieve it. I was already doing just fine at the time, so I wasn’t in the kitchen when he tapped into what he’d been given, only to almost immediately begin complaining that it was burning in a way it shouldn’t have been and that it tasted like shit, having an ammonia or piss smell to it. I started laughing and went into the kitchen to see what the problem was. I began laughing even harder when I tried a small taste of the yellowish rocks that he’d brought upstairs, because my roommate had just been snorting crack.

It took about a week or so before I stopped routinely teasing him for being a crackhead, each time he would end up with this sheepish, uncomfortable look on his face while still smiling and chuckling about it.

Those same downstairs neighbors had a difficult time staying out of trouble, quite unlike we more civilized folk upstairs, as one might expect from the sort of people who would trade crack for methamphetamine as an equitable exchange…and the company they kept was equally classy. One of these lovely individuals ended up coming to our door and finally hanging out in our apartment after the downstairs neighbors had left and she discovered that she’d left her baby in a running car that she’d locked herself out of before going into their apartment (more than likely to procure some substance or another from them). We weren’t happy about the position that whole situation had put us in, because we had to actively argue with her for a good long while before she would agree to let us call the police to help her get into her car.

That wasn’t the only time the police came around because of incidents directly relating to those neighbors. One night I was laying in my dark bedroom, preparing for one of the increasingly rare intervals of sleep that I was enjoying, with the window open when I heard the distinctive squelch from a police radio just outside. I quickly and quietly got my roommate’s attention and we split the supply that we had on hand and snorted it all to insure that there was no trace of it there in the apartment if the officer outside was there to see us for any reason.

It wasn’t long before there was indeed a knock at our door and an officer was standing there to greet me when I opened it up. He was there to ask me if we had heard any strange noises from downstairs because there had allegedly been an altercation involving the junkie couple that lived there. The line from Sid and Nancy was absolutely correct, “Never trust a junkie.” We hadn’t heard anything, and told him so, and the officer thanked us for our assistance and went on his way.

We were wide awake by that time and there was no chance of sleep coming for either of us any time soon after what we’d ingested in our panic, so we settled down in front of the television and happened to catch the beginning of The Illustrated Man (the film loosely adapted from Ray Bradbury’s short story collection) on one of the channels…it was a pretty good night, all things considered.

There was a bit of a scare with the traffic coming and going at the former cop’s house and the possibility that someone who’d been privy to what was going on there might be talking to the police and it was discussed as an option that the Mexican would be shifting his base of operations to our apartment temporarily because there was no obvious connection between my roommate and I and what was going on over there. Had the apartment not been only a two-bedroom with insufficient space, that might have happened, and I must admit that I’m relieved that we weren’t put in a position like that.

My roommate’s behavior began to get increasingly erratic as our drug use persisted and his attitude seemed to be shifting in an uncomfortable way. He had lost his job a while before and wasn’t having any luck obtaining a new one, and we were all becoming more than a little bit worried about him. His best friend and the former cop who were providing us with our supply (perhaps at the behest of the Mexican living there, a man who apparently wasn’t terribly fond of my roommate) determined that it might be best to cut him off for a little while and they requested that I not let him know about anything that I was still being given.

I felt the same concern that they did, of course, and I thought that cutting back might be a good idea (but I couldn’t bring myself to cut him off entirely, and ultimately neither could his best friend), so I downplayed what I had available (as did our suppliers), hiding the bulk of it differently than I had before and doling it out more sparingly.

This slow drip access led to the unexpected side effect of my roommate being more productive around the apartment than he had been for a while…primarily when trying to locate any stray traces of crystal that might have fallen on the floor or into any of the furniture. I came home to a clean house a couple of times because of this, and we both got a bit of a chuckle out of his displaying the stereotypical behavior of sifting through carpet fibers for drugs that had spilled.

He was definitely behaving in such a way that our concern was merited, sneaking around and searching for any methamphetamine that might have been hidden from him. One evening, before I went to work, I cut us off a couple of lines and intended to do the same with some of what was left after I returned home. When I did get home though, what was left was only about a third of what had been there before I left. He came into my bedroom when he heard me breaking up what was left and nervously asked if there was enough for him, to which I raised my eyebrow skeptically and said that there was a lot less than I thought there had been.

It was another month or so before he confessed to me about sneaking into my stash that night and apologized for it, and for the deception. I reminded him that I wasn’t a complete idiot and that I already knew, that I’d known that night.

It was shortly after that when the initial Mexican fellow needed to return to where he’d come from south of the border, a replacement being here to take his place in the region. I was asked if I would like to accompany my roommate’s best friend in driving the Mexican back to where he needed to go. Apparently my presence had been specifically requested by the Mexican in question and I was all for that opportunity for adventure until the former cop pulled me aside and warned me that there might be some unpleasant or undesired conditions that would go along with meeting the people these specific Mexicans worked for.

Hosting the Mexicans in his home, the former cop had been privy to some conversations taking place between the two of them and had seemingly heard them discussing me in addition to their business matters. My first response was to daydream a bit about becoming intimately involved with a large scale criminal enterprise like that…a certain moral flexibility I exhibit, that you should be aware of by now, made that prospect very appealing to me.

It took me a moment to consider the somewhat sinister undertone to the story when the Mexican was telling me about how he hadn’t seen his daughter in a long time and that this was going to be his chance to see her again. I had children of my own, and the last thing I ever wanted to do was have them dragged into anything associated with that lifestyle because of my stupid, impulsive desire to live the life of an actual criminal. I had to decline; though I do sometimes wonder what direction my life might have taken if I had not.

It was around this same time, as the binge period was beginning to take on a darker tone, when the degenerate reappeared for the final time in my life.

I’ll end this here. This seems like a good place, as good as any other. Don’t worry; I’ll get back to it soon enough…just not right away. Something else is on my mind that I feel I need to share, related to moral flexibility, before I get to that.

Part Thirty-Two: The Degenerate Returns

When I last discussed the degenerate with you it was when I got convicted of disorderly conduct for what could have easily been attempted murder, or conceivably even voluntary manslaughter if my friend had gone into a different gear that night…things could have been much worse than disorderly conduct.

Following that incident was a period of peace; well, peace where the degenerate’s presence in my life was concerned (in that he wasn’t present in my life), the rest of my life was plenty devoid of peace.

It was more than a year or so later before the degenerate appeared in my life again, relatively stable by comparison with how things had left off before, though the application of the word stable where he is concerned was always a relative thing at even the best of times. This guy has always been a self-serving, erratic piece of shit as you’ve likely become aware from my previous stories relating to him…and some people are simply congenitally incapable of change, no matter how necessary it might be.

This brief reappearance didn’t end in violence like the previous two intervals had, but it did end with him taking off with one of my favorite long coats. He’d needed a coat to wear one night and I was kind enough to offer him one of mine, because I’m a charitable sort of asshole if you catch me on the right days. It was only a couple of days later when he took off again, to destinations unknown, my coat keeping him warm. I knew he was selfish and short sighted, I knew that he was prone to unpredictable behavior, but I let him run off with my coat anyhow and I never saw it again. Life goes on.

The next time he came around was during a time when the waiter was my roommate and the girl from Indiana was my significant other. They had both been warned of what could be expected with him around, and both of them justifiably questioned my judgment in welcoming him into my life all over again like I did. I was clear with them as far as my motivations were concerned; that some part of me wished to see him redeemed and that I might be able to somehow facilitate that redemption or that he would ultimately need to be put down like a rabid animal and that I felt like it was my place to be the one to put him down…it was one of those Old Yeller scenarios, “…but he was my dog. I’ll do it.” I don’t know that my explanation in any way instilled any greater confidence in my judgment, and looking back I don’t suspect that it should have.

The situation was tense at times, knowing that things could get pretty fucking strange and potentially dangerous with him around…but I did my best to maintain some small amount of control over him and kept a close eye on his every action while he was around, hoping that I could anticipate the break as it approached.

All things considered, I did a good job of helping him to stay level and reasonably steady for a couple of weeks…but I’m not perfect and he was damn far from perfect as well.

The breakdown happened regardless of my attempts to ward it off. My girlfriend and I returned home from dinner on Friday evening to find him drunk and still drinking with an underage coworker (and friend) of mine who was abjectly horrified by the time we arrived home because the degenerate had taken to treating this friend like he was a girl (and may have actually been perceiving him as being a girl for some entirely unknown reason); and a fetching one at that, one he had taken quite the shine to.

My coworker took my arrival and the distraction that it momentarily provided as an opportunity to get the hell away from his potential rapist and make his intoxicated way to work at the ABC affiliate where we were both employed.

I received a stern reprimand from one of the directors there later on for allowing an underage coworker to get drunk in my apartment just before he had to be at work, even though I had been neither present nor privy to that activity until after it was already done.

The degenerate’s extreme state of inebriation combined with the aggressively sexual and disoriented demeanor he was exhibiting led me to the obvious conclusion that there was no way I was going in to work for my overnight shift while he was still in the apartment with my girlfriend. I attempted to be polite in asking him to leave for at least the next 12 hours or so, but something set him off and his aggression became less sexual in nature and more all around hostile.

He ended up grabbing the first thing he could find, which happened to be a large steel cooking fork from the kitchen as a weapon when I made it clear that I would physically remove him from the apartment if he wasn’t willing to calm down and leave on his own. He drunkenly brandished the cooking fork, his behavior becoming rapidly more unstable and animalistic, and I took that as a sign that I should usher my girlfriend outside before she ended up getting hurt.

We quickly made our way down the stairs and I knocked on the downstairs neighbor’s door so that we could get her inside to use his phone in order to call the police. He let my girlfriend in to make the phone call while I did what I could to keep the degenerate distracted outside so that he wouldn’t follow her as he initially tried to do. There was a clear trend with this bastard, to focus on the women in my life instead of dealing with me directly until he was forced into that position.

Seeing that my girlfriend was on the phone in the downstairs doorway, he retreated back upstairs to my apartment and I followed him, determined that he wasn’t going to be running loose in my apartment until the police arrived, creating further chaos for me to clean up after he was gone. Against all better judgment, my girlfriend followed me.

Shortly before the cops showed up, deflated and knowing that he was going to be arrested, he collapsed onto my living room floor with my girlfriend and I watching him from the open doorway where we could avoid being cornered by this man who had been heaving less human by the second.

He began stabbing at his own thighs with the tines of the cooking fork, with increasingly frenetic quality before raising it and placing the tines against his throat. We could see the pressure increasing as the tips began to further dimple the flesh of his neck more and more and both of us gasped as it suddenly jerked in his hand as the tension disappeared, appearing as if it had just punctured into his neck. Apparently the tips had slipped along his skin rather than jabbing in as the pressure he was applying became too great for the angle…but for a moment there my girlfriend and I were equally certain we had just witnessed the man committing suicide on our living room floor.

Much like the night that had ended with his skull wedged beneath the tire of that 1970s Monte Carlo, some part of me wishes that he had died that night on my living room floor just like some part of me wishes that he had been crushed that previous night…if only to save myself the trouble of dealing with him later on, because I was, of course, stupid and reckless enough to not make that the end of my dealings with him.

He was arrested that night (the second time the police hauled him away from my apartment in only a few short years) and I was almost arrested as well. I had apparently missed a court appearance for some offense that I no longer recall, perhaps the accidental shoplifting charge from ShopKo a while before, and there had been a bench warrant issued for my arrest. The officers were reasonable and considerate enough to leave me be after everything that had happened that night; knowing that I was already running late for my overnight shift in the master control room that night due to the bullshit with the degenerate, as long as I agreed to arrive for court the following Monday morning. I did indeed appear in court as promised; because, unlike many of my friends and acquaintances, I actually believe that treating police with respect is the key to being treated with respect by the police…and that reasonable and adult attitude is what I believe has led to my never being unduly harassed or mistreated by police officers since I stopped being a child, even looking like a less than productive member of society or an all around worthless creature, as I do. That isn’t really relevant right now though.

That was the end of the degenerate’s presence in my life for a little over a year, and the next time he showed up in my life would be near the tail end of the interval of methamphetamine use by my roommate and I, so that is when I suppose I will have to go next in this journey through my life. That next period you’ll hear about will be the final chapter to include the degenerate, not because I finally did kill him or because he did us all a favor and actually killed himself, but because I finally just had enough of his presence in my life.

Some of us, you see, are capable of exacting change within our lives…because some of us recognize that each new day is an opportunity, if we take it, to reinvent ourselves and take a different path from the one we were on the day before. That much is true for all of us, not just your not so humble narrator, if we only accept it…it isn’t always easy, but rarely are the things worth doing the easiest options available to us.

If I can learn that lesson, so can you…assuming that you haven’t already, and if you have, then you should be actively trying to instill that lesson in others instead of reading about my pathetic life.

Part Thirty-One: In Love and Meth

I’m forced to temporarily merge a couple of different threads of this disordered narrative that is my abysmally ludicrous existence, because there is an unavoidable correlation between my disastrous love life and my final bit of drug binge debauchery. I told you already about my roommate (the former waiter) and I stumbling upon a steady supply of methamphetamine shortly after the time that I’d forced a wonderful woman out of my life for what I told myself was her own good.

It was entirely recreational use at first, a nice way to compensate for the occasional fog that I experience as an unmedicated insomniac in addition to boosting creativity and productivity quite a bit. Even casual use tends to have a fairly profound impact on emotional stability and thought processes though, and the next half-year or so was most certainly influenced by that chemically altered state of mind I was fostering.

After The Chemical Toilet did what she does best by disappointing me and disappearing, I was in a position to actively pursue other women, even though I wasn’t inclined to actually do that. I did however begin catching the occasional ride home from a girl I worked with at the local NBC affiliate, a girl who happened to be the cousin of my roommate’s best friend. One night we ended up sleeping together quite unexpectedly, the girl and I, not my roommate’s best friend and I…just in case there was some ambiguity in my statement.

That incident felt far more intense and meaningful to me than it probably should have, almost certainly more than it would have if I hadn’t been indulging in the specific substance that I was…or maybe it would have. Fuck if I know if things would have been different if I had been sober at the time, and I have no way of comparing it to a sober iteration of me because this wasn’t a god damn experiment with a control group included, though that prospect does intrigue me and I would love to have gone through my life precisely that way, with a control me insulated from my less brilliant decisions. That’s entirely beside the point, what I do know is that I felt an intense attachment to the girl in question, and she supposedly reciprocated.

We began a relationship together and it wasn’t a bad one while it lasted, I don’t think. She was sweet and affectionate towards me and I apparently treated her better than any other guy had previously. Some of our coworkers were skeptical of our relationship and even poked fun at me for being involved with her, because they were assholes and because they didn’t happen to think much of her…but I didn’t give a damn what they thought because she made me feel good, which was something I most assuredly needed.

A couple of months later she ended up taking a trip to visit some family in North Dakota and ended up returning home entirely broke because she had taken one of her cousins and that cousin’s boyfriend along with her on the road trip and those two had managed to do the exact opposite of contributing. Finances were a bit tight for my roommate and I, but I did have my bass guitar that I wasn’t actively using much. I took my bass down to a nearby pawnshop and collected a decent bit of cash so that I could help her get by until the next paycheck.

She began growing distant towards me shortly after that, spending less time with me and not coming around even at times when she said she would be. Things went on like this for a couple of weeks until one of my days off she called me to let me know that she wanted to come by and talk with me after the 10:00 news was over.

I knew what was coming, and I dreaded her showing up around 11:00 that night, but I sat there waiting for her to let herself in. As I had predicted, she only wanted to talk to me for the purpose of ending our relationship face-to-face…I can respect that. At least she didn’t try to end it over the phone or something silly like that.

As soon as she left I made the decision that changed things from that point on, I made a call to obtain an address I hadn’t previously wanted to know, I put on my coat, and I walked to the house where my roommate and his friend (the now ex-girlfriend’s cousin) were hanging out. This house was the proximate source of the methamphetamine that we had been using for the past couple of months.

That night was when the transition from recreational use to something far more extreme took place. Until that night I had never really tried to consider the sort of quantities that were available in order for my roommate and I to enjoy the free or damn near free surplus that we had been receiving…but it became difficult not to think about that sort of thing when faced with it, and good lord was there quantity. It sometimes felt like there was a lifetime supply readily available to us right there, which could be an accurate assessment if we actually did consume all of it.

The methamphetamine was higher quality than anything I’d experimented with previously, with an almost perfect glass-like clarity…which stood to reason, being trafficked (as it was) up here directly from Guadalajara, Mexico by various Mexicans including a Mexican fellow I actually happened to like, enough so that I began working on developing some degree of conversational Spanish in order to better communicate with him.

I may be making light of the situation a bit more than is justifiable, because these were the sort of men who carried illegal firearms along with them as they illegally crossed the US/Mexico border with massive quantities of high quality methamphetamine and occasional cocaine. These were dangerous men who were members of a dangerous organization…and I couldn’t possibly have cared less. Being closely involved with organized crime wasn’t the sort of thing that tripped alarms for me like it probably should have. Maybe we could casually place the blame for that indifference on the drugs, but it really seems like a bit of a stretch if not an outright copout…in reality I just happen to suffer from a bit of moral flexibility which makes proximity to dangerous criminals the sort of thing I didn’t even consider to be an issue worth worrying about.

These Mexican fellows were arriving here with their cargo, setting up a base in the home of a former police officer, and distributing their materials outward from there. My roommate and I had hit the jackpot simply because his best friend was staying with said former police officer. This placed us right there near the epicenter of the action…and we both milked it for what it was worth.

My state of mind was not the greatest during the succeeding months, as one might suspect…and that was exacerbated by the fact that my recent ex-girlfriend arbitrarily decided to show up over the following three months or so, sometimes for sex and sometimes just to spend the night with me. She would appear at work when my shift was ending just to give me a ride home (and often stay with me) or she would show up somewhere along my path during the walk home to pick me up for the same purpose. Her appearances weren’t the sort of thing I could count on or predict with any efficacy, but it was surprisingly frequent from someone who had broken up with me just a short while before.

The only thing that could be predicted from her during that interval was that she would once again disappear if I even suggested us being together again or if I questioned the fact that she would have left me in the first place just to continue behaving as if we were still in a relationship of some sort.

Between the drug use becoming steadily heavier and this girl seemingly delighting in torturing me and promoting a state of near constant confusion…I’m surprised I managed to come out the other side with anything approaching sanity. Before you interject, let me just say that you should shut up because this is my fucking story and I am sane if I say that I am. Your job is to listen, not to be a backseat narrator.

This seems like a reasonable place to stop, before I go into further detail on the experiences over those months. I have a thing or two to discuss before we get there anyhow, because I clearly have a coherent plan in place regarding what I’m sharing with you, if you couldn’t tell. Bear with me, it won’t be long before we’re back on track. You can deal with the brief hiatus, or you can just stop reading now.

Part Thirty: Is This Thing Still On?

Even without my drug and alcohol history being a factor, my sexual history or promiscuity, and my overall bizarre way of going about things…with all of that taken out of the equation, I was probably never cut out to be a father. My own childhood did not prepare me well for fatherhood even though I did receive some excellent male role models (in the form of my maternal grandfather and a couple of amazing uncles) to compensate for my father’s shortcomings, as amazing as these men were it may have been a case of being too little too late though in a lot of respects.

That would be a perfect world scenario though, where I did not carry with me the burden of my own exceptional laundry list of shortcomings, and we are not living in a perfect world by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve had a longstanding tradition, or maybe just a habit, of fucking my own life up left and right and there was no reason for me to suspect that I wouldn’t produce a shit rolling downhill dynamic in the lives of my children as well.

Somehow I seem to have avoided that outcome, though I think that has more to do with them being good kids at heart than my skill as a father…they’re just good kids who may have also learned some sort of lesson from my mountain of mistakes.

When my oldest daughter was barely a toddler, I had the idea that it would be funny to buy her a puppy and place a two-way communication device on its collar so that I could raise her thinking that her dog was able to talk to her. I thought that it would be just fucking hilarious to spend a few years convincing her that her puppy was able to both understand and communicate with her. I would be her best friend by proxy of the magical, talking dog, telling her that no one else could ever know that I was able to talk, and that it was our secret.

I don’t know what my overall purpose for this would have been, other than playing a rather peculiar and possibly harmful prank on a very young girl I was supposed to be caring for and looking after, as well as possibly producing psychological damage in the process.

Luckily her mother was not on board with my fucked up little experiment, and she shot that plan down almost immediately upon my sharing it with her. Saner heads prevailed in that instance, and it wouldn’t be the last time.

A short while after our son was born we were in a local pet store where I saw a foot long baby Cayman alligator on sale for only a little more than $100 and I desperately wanted to bring it home with us. Once again it was their mother who put an end to that, asking me how we were supposed to keep something like that in our apartment, as it got larger. My solution was that we could place a children’s pool in our kitchen where it could grow up and that the kids would quickly learn to avoid it as it got larger or they might end up losing a finger or two in the learning process. Of course I wasn’t serious with my cavalier attitude about the children losing appendages; but I was in for a penny, in for a pound at that point, trying to justify the purchase that I ultimately did not make.

My brand of fathering is best described as being a series of barely controlled impulses sandwiched between impulses that I was unable to control sufficiently, with a light touch of emotional distance for flavor. It’s gotten better over the years, but not as much better as one might hope.

I am, by many standards, far too open and honest with my children…at least the older ones. There are few things I’ve shared with you that my oldest children did not already know, at least in broad strokes…because I always felt that they were best suited to get by in life if they were adequately informed, and I had made more than enough mistakes for all of them to benefit from the expertise I’d obtained through hard fought survival through the pitfalls my own limitless stupidity had set up for me.

I may be a fairly clear definition of the term total fuckup, but I always had rules in place. Even during the intervals where drugs and alcohol were a substantial part of my life, none of it was ever allowed to be anywhere around the apartment when the children were there with me. If someone had walked through the door with drugs on them while my children were present, there was a better than average chance that I would have been arrested for a particularly brutal assault within a matter of minutes. If my roommate (whichever one it was at the time) and I happened to have drugs in the apartment they were kept safely out of reach where there was no chance of the children getting their tiny little hands on anything they shouldn’t have.

It wasn’t until my oldest daughter was 15 years old when she saw me drunk for the first time, only because she happened to be awake far later than I had expected and was sitting in the living room when I walked through the door, and she apparently thought it was a terrific experience because she began encouraging me to go out drinking more often. My daughter enjoyed the fact that I was a fun, giggling sort of drunk…quite unlike my own father. I guess that I have that much going for me; at least I’m a pleasant drunk.

I know that I’m certainly not perfect, especially when it comes to being a father, but I can say with absolute certainty that I could definitely be worse. I’ve seen worse in my own life and in the lives of plenty of others, and I can vouch for the fact that we are, each of us, perfectly capable of being more than simply carbon copy versions of those who have failed us in our own lives.

I just had the pleasure of watching my oldest daughter graduate from high school, and I couldn’t have been more proud of that little girl who almost had a talking dog. Within that same 24-hour period my little brother and his former wife had their first daughter, and I’m proud of them as well. It’s a transitional period, for sure. My oldest child overcoming that final hurdle on her way to beginning her own life coinciding almost perfectly with their daughter making that first, gory slide into the beginning of hers.

Life is funny like that sometimes, in the good ways rather than the bad…and I’m fairly confident that I’ve done about as well as I can (considering my limited capabilities) to equip my own children for dealing with whatever might come their way. With a father like me, there was no shortage of surprise and shock along the way through life.

Part Twenty-Nine: Drink Up Asshole

Between the cocaine and LSD and the methamphetamine binge a few years later, I spent a great deal of my time drinking. It wasn’t until after the soup incident that I already told you about when I really just lost any interest in remaining sober at all. Thankfully I had some supportive friends who were right there with me, encouraging me every step of the way.

This was mostly prior to the time when the guitarist moved out of the apartment during his transition to Denver. I was working at the local ABC affiliate at the time, which was located right there downtown near the bars that I frequented. I would get off work after the 10:00 News and immediately make my way to one or another of the bars I preferred to meet up with the guitarist.

My usual night would begin with a Long Island iced tea or two, a couple of Irish (or Belfast, depending on whether you feel like being particular) car bombs, and maybe a shot or two of akvavit…depending on which bar we happened to be in that night (since only one of them happens to have akvavit in stock). I was pretty well intoxicated by that point (putting it mildly), which was my obvious goal. The nights when I didn’t feel like becoming stumbling drunk within the first hour would consist, instead, of white Russians and the occasional whiskey sour. These days I can only really drink white Russians, having lost my taste for those other beverages for the most part.

I remember one night quite clearly (which is actually surprising, seeing as how I had probably consumed enough alcohol to be on the verge of alcohol poisoning) when I’d been out drinking with the guitarist, both of us drinking far too much to safely have either of us driving home…when, on the drive home, he slammed on the brakes with the car straddling the railroad tracks. Of course there was a train coming, to answer your question, otherwise it wouldn’t have been an interesting thing to do, and a less interesting story to tell. With the train only about a block or two away, its whistle blasting as a warning, the guitarist turned to me and screamed the most ridiculous, manic cartoon scream. I got in on the joke as well; staring out the window at the light of the oncoming train, plastering my hands against the glass and producing a similar scream myself. He obviously stopped fucking around and drove off, before we got hit (though not without cutting it a bit close), but it was entertaining to both of us just the same and neither of us stopped laughing until after we’d arrived at the apartment.

My little brother was a musician during his teenage years, at this same point in time, and a good one. He used to sign up to perform at a little place called the 6th Street Deli during their open mic nights on Tuesdays. It just so happened that the deli was just around the corner from where I was working. The timing was almost perfect because it coincided with the few hours of downtime between my shifts and I could make my way there without any difficulty. And, of course, while I waited for his set to begin, one of my favorite bars was right across the street. The guitarist would meet me a lot of those nights and I would be more than slightly intoxicated by the time I returned to work for the 10:00 news.

Those were the days.

My mother was frequently in attendance for my brother’s performances, so she got to experience the pleasure of seeing me drunk on an almost weekly basis. One of these evenings happened to be her birthday and she was opening presents from her friends while she was there. She showed me the cheap leather cat o’ nine tails that someone had given her as a gag gift and took my subsequent grimace to be an indication that the whole premise made me uncomfortable. She replied to that grimace by trying to make me more uncomfortable, saying something along the lines of, “What? Your mother isn’t supposed to have fun too?”

Without skipping a beat I replied that I was just disappointed now that my present was going to seem less special, coming (as it was) too late, because I was going to head down the street to a local porn store to procure something truly awe inspiring that I had in mind for her birthday. I’ve always had a nasty habit of taking jokes a little bit too far, and my family does end up being on the receiving end of that sense of humor on occasion.

During periods when the guitarist was out of town or otherwise disposed I would go out drinking with coworkers instead, after the news was over. On nights when I didn’t work I would frequently be downtown drinking well before that time, often wandering drunk to the television station and asking if anyone was feeling up to joining me for a drink or two after they were done working. A few of those times I was asked politely to leave before I ended up doing something stupid and making an ass of myself, and that they would meet me after they were finished. It could probably be assumed that I was drunk four nights out of any given week for a few months there, and I worked overnight Friday and Saturday nights (so I couldn’t be out drinking those two nights)…which left Sunday as the only night I was likely to be sober most of the time, primarily because I didn’t get off work until 11:00 and the bars close early on Sundays.

There was one particular coworker out of all of them that I ended up drinking with more than anyone else, probably the closest thing I had to a friend at work…in fact he was one of the two people I was sobering up over coffee with the night when I happened to ask our waiter about knowing anyone needing a place to live.

This coworker and I dedicated a lot of our time to fucking with another guy we worked with, one who made himself a target almost as if it was an actual objective of his, this was the same one who ended up staying on my sofa for a while there (the one who owned the pager that I shattered against the wall). One night he passed out at my coworker’s apartment and we left for a little while. During the time while we were away we began to hysterically consider some options as far as what could be done to fuck with him when we got back, and we definitely crossed some lines.

The poor bastard woke up to my penis only about an inch from his lips and his response was to gasp in shock, which led to a wide-open mouth. If our coworker had gotten his camera ready in time, it would have made a much better picture that way than it was going to be without him waking up. He might have remained asleep long enough for us to get a good picture of the violation if only my coworker and I hadn’t been giggling like fucking madmen from the time we walked through the door to see him still sleeping peacefully just like we had left him.

Yes indeed, those were the days.

I wish that I could talk about the horrors of alcoholism and drug abuse, but I really can’t pretend that I wasn’t enjoying myself. I am well aware of the fact that I shouldn’t have been living that way, and that I might have been less inclined to behave like such a degenerate if it weren’t for the fact that my life was hardly a pleasant thing to be living through. My life didn’t become miserable because of drugs and alcohol so much as it was my life being miserable that led to me alleviating the pathetic excuse of my life with those things, and it worked for a while.

My drinking began to taper off after the waiter moved in with me, and eased towards almost nothing after that wonderful girl moved from Indiana to be with me (at least until the end, when I was getting drunk and being an asshole with the intent of making myself less of an anchor to the life she had chosen to live with me).

There have been intervals here and there, since then, when I’ve been a fairly heavy drinker, but nothing quite like that period of my life…however that might only be due to the fact that I couldn’t sustain the habit financially with the ease that I had during the chapter of my life I just shared with you.

Part Twenty-Eight: Style and Substance

It’s a universal truth that music and media can play a major part in influencing the style and persona that we adopt in our lives. Growing up with artists and performers like Alice Cooper and David Bowie as influences, it’s really no surprise to imagine that I might have started wearing makeup at some point.

It wasn’t until I was around ten years old, though, after seeing Robert Smith in the video for Just Like Heaven, that I snuck into my mother’s makeup one day and tried my hardest to look like he had. I’d been up at night, watching Night Tracks, a program that hasn’t been on the air for the past twenty odd years, and when that video came on I was entirely captivated. To my young eyes, Robert Smith was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen (not in a sexually arousing sense, but in some less tangible, aesthetic sense of the word), and I wanted to look that way as well. This is how music began the process of shaping me.

That was the beginning for me, of my growing interest in what would be the whole gothic subculture. I didn’t have much by way of resources available to me, no internet service which could be used to delve into a musical genre I didn’t even know existed, especially not being here in the middle of nowhere that was South Dakota. There were magazines, though not many that were relevant, but there were music-oriented publications in every grocery store and convenience store and I tried to find more things like what I’d heard when I first heard The Cure. It wasn’t easy. It was around that same time in my life when I discovered the comic book series The Crow, and I loved it too.

Musically, I was mostly focused on listening to heavy metal artists as I was growing up, followed by what would be classified as alternative and grunge along with a healthy dose of punk…but I was always looking for more of what I’d glimpsed with that first exposure to The Cure. I came across bands like Siouxsie & the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Sisters of Mercy, and a few others…and I loved what I was hearing in each of those cases, I just couldn’t easily obtain it.

I found Type O Negative and Nine Inch Nails at about the same time, a couple of years later than first hearing The Cure, followed by bands like Ministry and Skinny Puppy…and I began discovering myself in the process. The music that speaks to us tells us a lot about who we are, if we just listen closely enough and let it into us.

I didn’t have any friends that I could share the music with, none of them seemed to care at all about music beyond what they would hear whenever they tuned into whatever the popular radio stations happened to be…where they would simply listen to whatever was being broadcast. It took some searching, but I found a radio station for me as well.

KTEQ was (and is again) a college radio station based out of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology campus, and it was the location on the dial where I found so much more than I could have hoped for with things like MTV or Night Tracks. Too often I was left with no idea what I was hearing, as artists were rarely announced…but I was happy just the same to have discovered various blocks during which music that spoke to me was being broadcast.

I didn’t persist with trying to wear makeup for a long while, having failed miserably in my attempt to emulate the man who first inspired that particular adornment…but it would only be a few years before I started again.

The film adaptation of The Crow came out when I was 14 years old and I saw it in the theater a couple of times. I was young enough to enjoy it even though it had little in common with the comics I’d read, and impressionable enough to think that this made it acceptable for me to look however the hell I wanted to look. It was only as I got older that I realized what a god awful, monumentally horrible movie The Crow happened to be…filled with terrible acting and insipid dialogue, but that hardly matters where this story is concerned.

It wasn’t often at first, but I began applying eyeliner on occasion when I was going to be out and about…with the expected derision from those I’d run into, including some patronizing treatment from friends (including some who’ve become Juggalos and Juggalettes over the intervening years, which is kind of humorous to me).

There was one exception though, a tall man in a red Chevy Nova SS who dressed and looked almost exactly the way that I wanted to. I was captivated by him, as were most people I knew, and I am proud to say that I ended up being able to call him a friend, even though I later ended up stealing a girl away from him who would then become the mother of my two oldest children. He’s no longer with us, but I trust that he knew how much I respected him and that he was actually a profound influence on me as far as helping me to feel comfortable in my own skin and becoming who I wanted to be.

As I became more comfortable and experimental with my makeup and dress during those teenage years, I became what that girl (the future mother of my children) would refer to as being gutter goth when she met me, an amalgam of gutter punk and goth. I began adding long black skirts and long black coats to my attire as time passed by.

I believe it was my junior year of high school when the vice principal escorted me to the restroom and informed me that I needed to wash off the makeup that I was wearing or leave the school because my appearance was becoming a distraction in the classroom.

I stood in front of the mirror for a couple of minutes, staring into my own reflection, considering cleaning my face before making up my mind and walking back into the main hall without changing a thing where I was asked to leave or security would escort me from the premises. I left without causing a scene.

The next day I showed up with an even more distracting appearance and was again asked to leave. Strangely and/or touchingly, another dozen or more people arrived for school that day either in garish makeup or outright dressed in drag…whether a sincere show of solidarity or a desire to get a free pass from school. It was an excellent show of support.

Being a politically minded young man and filled with righteous indignation, I (along with a few of my friends) went and had an impromptu visit with the superintendent in order to seek his intervention in this matter of what we perceived to be clear and unambiguous discrimination. He patiently heard us out, but ultimately determined that the administration was well within their rights to have me removed from school based exclusively on my unconventional appearance. I still have the letter somewhere in which he informed me of his decision in that matter.

After leaving Sturgis and beginning to attend school where my mother was a teacher, I was less aggressively judged for how I chose to appear. My mother refused to drive me to school while I had makeup on, so I had to take advantage of how early I was arriving (due to being the child of a teacher) and apply my makeup after getting to the school. This became my daily routine, and it worked out just fine.

This habit of wearing makeup when I was going out remained with me for a long damn time, well into my 20s…as did my overall gothic sensibility as far as appearance is concerned.

I don’t often wear makeup these days, but it does occasionally happen when I’m feeling like going out (on those rare occasions that I ever opt to leave the house)…because I’m apparently a perpetual adolescent. My musical tastes still lean more towards the industrial and goth musical genres, but I tend to listen to pretty much anything that sounds good to me, regardless of genre.

Part Twenty-Seven: Opportunities (My Lucky Number Continued)

For the moment I would like to return to the subject of my relationships, of the romantic variety, as there’s still some catching up to do on that front.

Following the soup incident I remained single for a little while before something unexpected happened. It was during the interval of my life when I was heavily using cocaine and LSD that I struck up quite the interesting friendship with a quite remarkable girl in Indiana. She and I would spend literally hours on end discussing everything from theoretical physics to obscure religious practices and myths.

She was articulate and brilliant, and I positively loved the opportunities I had to talk with her, whether online or over the phone. There were occasional intervals of silence between us, as life would get in the way on both ends of the line, but we had no difficulty picking back up right where we left off.

It was during the Christmas break just after my friend who’d been working at Perkin’s moved in with me that she decided to take a brief vacation to see me. It was an exceptionally wonderful couple of weeks for me, and apparently for her as well. She was lovely in addition to being intelligent, and as passionate with her flesh as she was with her mind. There was no question on either of our parts that we could have a thoroughly fulfilling relationship…if the opportunity arose to pursue such a thing.

She returned to Indiana and her college courses: she was actively pursuing a degree in forensic psychology, and she was in school on a full scholarship that exceeded the cost of her classes and course materials (which is one hell of a pleasant position to find oneself in). She had an excellent deal going for her there and I was exceedingly happy for her.

It was only a couple of weeks after she’d returned to her real life when she proposed taking a hiatus from school in order to return to South Dakota and begin a relationship with me. I was adamantly opposed to her making what I considered to be a monumental mistake. I fought as hard as I possibly could to convince her to stay where she was, that we could continue seeing each other during the breaks from her schooling and that, if it was something that proved to be as good as we both believed it might be, we could get by like that until she had graduated and go from there.

I even went so far as to enlist my roommate to help me explain to her what a bad idea it was, her putting her real life on hold to come slumming with us. She had a good life there; a job she happened to like, an excellent educational opportunity, and friends…and it seemed like such a categorically terrible idea for her to walk away from all of that, least of all for something like me.

Of course she wouldn’t listen to reason, otherwise this story wouldn’t be something worth talking about right now. Sure as shit, she withdrew from classes, turned in her two weeks at work, and made preparations to vacate her apartment (which included paying out a penalty for early termination of the lease, if I recall correctly). There was no stopping this girl if she put her mind to something, and she was absolutely certain that we belonged together.

Hell, maybe she was right about that too, and we were supposed to be together (if such a thing is even reasonable to consider, which I don’t believe)…but I certainly fucked that all up. It wasn’t right away though, that I fucked it up, we actually had a good year and a half (almost) before she finally did return to the better life she’d left behind.

It was a great year and a half, with a woman who genuinely loved and cared about me in the sort of selfless way that only seems to exist in fiction. She made sure that I was taking care of myself and did her best to encourage me to improve my life in any way that we conceivably could.

When she arrived here I was working for the local ABC affiliate, including two terrible overnight shifts on the weekends. It wasn’t a bad job really, but the pay was borderline pathetic and there were no benefits even though I was employed there full time for almost two years by the time she arrived. There were some benefits to working almost entirely autonomously though; one night in particular comes to mind when she and I made our way through the hatch and onto the roof of the building where we had sex against the edge facing the bar across the street where the bar crowd below us scurried from one place to another trying to stay out of the gentle, slightly chilly rain that was falling. I’ve enjoyed plenty of sex, before and since (including numerous instances with her), but something about that particular experience always stands out for me.

Were it not for her encouragement and support I may not have quite that job and taken a better position with the local NBC affiliate; a job that provided both better pay and decent benefits, an end to working overnight (though I did work into the middle of the night, but not all night long at least), and the added bonus of having three days off every week.

In addition to the improved occupation, her presence in my life and the stability that it helped to promote allowed me to begin seeing more of my children than I had been previously, and for that alone I would always be grateful to her. She was amazing with the kids as well, spending time coloring with them on the floor while I sat in my recliner or at my desk watching them bond. She was fond of the children and they were quite fond of her, though they likely wouldn’t remember her today (but I have pictures that might elicit some recollection, perhaps).

She fell comfortably into the same routine as my roommate and I, watching Farscape on Friday nights, enjoying the final season of the X-Files together, and just all around enjoying the life that we had (as banal and pointless as it might have been).

I wasn’t able to enjoy the relationship as freely as I wanted to though, there were some major reservations on my part; because while my life was steadily improving, her own seemed to have stagnated in the cesspool that was my pointless existence. I felt guilty about what she had given up to be with me and I resented her a little bit for that, for putting me in the position of feeling that way about something that I wanted to embrace. She was doing her best to save me (mostly from myself), and it felt like she was being consumed in the process. She has disagreed with me about this for years, claiming that this interlude in her life was somehow a positive and pivotal experience, which has helped to shape everything that followed…but I suspect that she is just being charitable, because that’s the sort of person she is.

I began to withdraw from her more and more as the guilt got worse, spending less time around the apartment. That was made easier by virtue of the fact that an old friend of mine had reappeared in my life. We’ll refer to this friend as The Chemical Toilet, because I always have referred to her that way…it’s both a term of mocking endearment and a factual assessment of her most defining characteristic. I took this as an opportunity to be out drinking rather than being at home, and I fostered the impression that there was something more going on between myself and The Chemical Toilet, that I was being unfaithful…at least until she got arrested for drug possession. But the damage had already been done and it was only a short while later before my girlfriend returned to Indiana and the life that she deserved to be living.

We are still close, and she will always be a treasured friend…but I don’t regret pushing her out of my life, though I could have perhaps utilized a less hurtful method, because she genuinely deserved so much better than she could ever have found with me.

Perhaps it was because my roommate and I discovered a reliable and constant source of high quality methamphetamine shortly after she moved out, but my judgment was clearly impaired when I decided that a relationship might be possible with The Chemical Toilet when she got out of jail a month or so later.

That ended about as well as one might suspect, which was no surprise to me (even at the time). The worst that could be said is that I was disappointed in her, but nowhere near as disappointed as I was in myself. I’d gone from something deeply fulfilling to settling for something disastrous that held no potential for any real depth or positive mobility.

That shouldn’t be too surprising to you though, not anymore. We know just how stupid I can be…and it should no longer surprise us. Nothing I do should really be much of a surprise to us anymore.

Part Twenty-Six: A Magical Journey

Sit back children and hear a magical tale of friendships discovered and of great triumph over the plague that is procreation. This is the tale of the Cane of Abortion and Nancy Severedhead, which I agree, does not sound like such a magical tale now that I think about it. In fact, the story itself isn’t magical at all really, it’s actually just a story about a few teenagers at the edge of adulthood behaving as if adulthood was something alien and light years distant.

The night began with my fellow musician and I wandering aimlessly through the downtown streets and alleyways, something we were prone to do when nothing else appealed to us, or even when there were a multitude of things that we could otherwise be doing with our time…but at least we were active, so there’s that. This specific night we found ourselves in possession of a number of wire clothes hangers for whatever reason, I honestly can’t begin to recall where the fuck they came from or how we’d decided to carry them around with us. On a whim we straightened the wire hangers and twisted them around one another until we found ourselves creating something that approximately resembled the shape and size of a cane.

It was while we were walking through the downtown streets that night when we encountered another young man of similar disposition. He appeared to fall into the same gothic subcultural category that my fellow musician and I did (which was an unusual thing for the area). This young man would rapidly become my closest friend for a good many years to come, and he is still, to this day, among the dearest friends I will ever have…a number that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, but that’s neither here nor there.

The three of us became quick companions that night, walking up and down streets gradually being flooded with the drunks exiting the various local bars. One unfortunate inebriated woman made the mistake of asking us what the thing was that we were carrying with us, referring (of course) to the wire cane…and it was only a moment that passed in reflection before we informed her that it was The Cane of Abortion (a proper title merits capitalization, and this was a well and proper title), it was then lifted just slightly and pressed against her abdomen as we announced that she was cursed to miscarry her next pregnancy.

We continued walking around through the milling clusters of drunks, arbitrarily blessing random women with our special cane. Looking back, I realize that this was perhaps done in exceptionally poor taste on our parts, but I have always had a bit of a dark sense of humor. Even now, when I look back on that night (fully aware of how truly awful it was, what we were doing), it still makes me smile and almost chuckle. Knowing how sensitive the subjects of miscarriage and abortion are, even to me, I still can’t help but find some small amount of pleasure in the reminiscence. I’ve always insisted that it’s important to find humor in everything, even the worst things in life…perhaps especially those things. I wasn’t alone in that way of thinking by any stretch of the imagination, as my two companions were similarly inclined to treat everything as a joke, both the sacred and the profane…something that has become almost a litmus test as far as determining who will become my friends ever since.

It may have been that same night, the next part of the story I wish to tell you, though the more I think about it I believe it was indeed another night altogether…it’s too damn long ago to recall with any certainty, and there were so many nights spent wandering through those same streets and alleyways at night that it all begins to run together aside from certain specific episodes. It doesn’t matter what specific night this was, but it is the night when Nancy Severedhead was born of great tragedy.

My fellow musician and I had stumbled upon a veritable gold mine when a friend who worked at a local beauty college showed up at my apartment with a bag of mannequin heads that were to be thrown out after being used to the point of being no longer viable. He and I laboriously decorated them and subsequently used them as props during our first live performance as a band, but that is a tale for another time.

We got into the habit, after that, of dumpster diving at the beauty colleges in order to get our hands on more of these wonderful little treats. It was one of these heads that we carried with us downtown one night, a lovely lady we’d decided to name Nancy. She joined us during our walk that night, a trophy that we carried along with pride, startling numerous people when they came upon us in our meanderings.

It was when a train began making its way through town that the sudden, random impulse came upon us to toss Nancy towards the rail wheels carrying the train along. After it had passed, we collected what was left of her. Nancy’s head had been almost neatly sliced through, removing the upper portion of the skull, including one of the eyes. This was when her name became Nancy Severedhead, even though the severed head aspect was in place well before having that severed head more severely damaged. We continued carrying her along with us, destroyed as she might have been.

It was later that my fellow musician and I proceeded to rebuild her. Bits of wire, fragments of circuitry, and assorted screws were affixed to what remained. She was our little miracle, the product of our Frankenstein impulse to meld plastic fake flesh with machine…which, I accept, sounds a little bit crazy. I’m making all of that up, by the way, about there being any objective in mind beyond the aesthetic pleasure of turning this destroyed thing into something else entirely.

I still had Nancy Severedhead for a solid decade or more after she was born. I may still have her somewhere, stored away in the garage. It would be a shame if she were to have disappeared somewhere along the line, because I have always taken pleasure in knowing that she was still one of my possessions. We were an odd sort of people, the three of us, but we were damn lucky to have discovered one another…and I was the luckiest of all to have had such friends (including Nancy).

Part Twenty-Five: A Different Box of Crayons

I walked into a convenience store one night only to hear the music of KMFDM playing on a stereo behind the counter, which I found to be a moderately surreal experience. This led me to strike up a conversation with the guy operating the register and a friendship was born from that simple encounter. We spent countless hours in that damn convenience store; talking about music, books, movies, and whatever inappropriate shit happened to pop into our heads.

I would walk down to that convenience store at night and lose track of time just hanging out there with him, and not exclusively because I had nothing else to do throughout the middle of the night (because I always had things that I could be doing, I’m an expert where it concerns distracting myself almost perpetually). It was an easy friendship routine to fall into, having a number of overlapping interests like we did.

Being altogether too self-involved and not always the most considerate person, I did occasionally tend to take advantage of this new friendship. The number of fountain drinks and gas station hot dogs that I consumed during those visits with him are probably equally without measure…because I have the dietary habits of a mentally challenged person, as anyone spending much time with me would quickly discovery, and so it was difficult for me not to take advantage of the situation.

The truest evidence that he didn’t care about his job altogether too much was not reflected by the copious amounts of food and beverage that I was provided with while spending time there, it was exemplified by the times when I would be standing there and he would suddenly tear off a handful of scratch off lottery tickets and hand me some of them, telling me to scratch them off. We would stand there, scratching off lottery tickets in the middle of the night, waiting until we had obtained sufficient winnings to cover at least the cost of the tickets themselves. Winning at the lottery through a sort of reverse engineering would be the best way to think of it, not so much theft as a calculated form of borrowing.

Sadly, he was transferred to an alternate location that was outside of casual walking range for me, so I was no longer able to spend quite as much time with him at work. He made up for that fact by spending more time in my apartment with me than anyone who didn’t actually live there (though there were times when he would just fall asleep on the sofa or in one of the chairs because he was too tired to worry about the drive home). I would sometimes fall asleep in my recliner with him sitting at my desktop, sifting through my digital music archive, and watching movies…and there were plenty of times when I would wake up with him still sitting right there.

I once described this friend by saying that, while he might not be the brightest crayon in the box, he was like a Crayola Jumbo. He may lack some of the variety and brilliance of those normal Crayolas, but he was thicker and far more durable, less easily broken and seemingly lasting forever. That may have seemed like a bit of a back-handed compliment, and it probably was…but it was intended to be a sincerely complimentary statement at the same time.

One could easily downplay his intellect if they wanted, but I’m not inclined to do so. He is definitely a smarter man than he lets on, maybe smarter than he gives himself credit for being as well…but it’s not his intellect that makes him someone I would always be happy to consider a friend. I’ve rarely met another individual with the sort of compassion and consideration that he’s capable of displaying, and it served as quite the counterpoint to my own lack where those things are concerned. He actively worried about me a lot of the time because, without regular reminders or someone taking note, I would routinely forget to eat anything for days at a time. This was a man who would show up at my work in the middle of the night, unannounced, just to drop off something for me to eat and drink because he happened to be thinking about me. He’s the sort of person who would show up with cash in hand if he even suspected that a friend was in need or dealing with a rough patch.

There aren’t many people out there like him and it’s a damn shame, because the world would be a better place if there were…unless you happen to be a woman, because that man was certainly quite the womanizer. I may have gotten around quite a bit, as you’re well aware (so don’t act fucking shocked when I say it now), but I did tend to maintain good relationships with the women I dated or even casually enjoyed…but my friend, he burned bridges like it was going out of style when the relationship or casual situation ended.

The only conflict that ever really existed between he and I was after we were sharing a house along with the woman who would become his wife a short while later. Were it not for her being present, the conflict might not have become an issue, but she and I definitely didn’t work and play well together. That woman rubbed me all the wrong ways, and not in the sense that I might actually enjoy it…and the feeling was certainly mutual, because she despised me. I may have taken exception with how he treated women at times, but even with all of that taken into account, he definitely deserved someone better than her as far as I was concerned. However, as bad as it got between he and I during that interval where we lived under the same roof, he was the sort of man who went out of his way to rent a U-Haul for me so that I could get everything moved out with the assistance of my little brother all because he wasn’t going to be around to help me with the move.

We gradually dropped out of regular contact after that, but he is still my friend and probably always will be.