Destroyer, Part 3
The Destroyer, Part 3
"Slowly, I turned that beam of cruelty I had always reserved for others as a way to keep the attention off me. I turned it onto myself, and you know what? It felt good. I mean, who was I? A lower middle class, tall, scrawny thing that had little more to show for his 17 years than a trail of smoldering rubble from everything he touched. My motivations were fear and jealousy, hardly unusual for a citizen of the U.S.A. (Unusually Selfish Assholes), I just happened to handle this stress with the grace of a garbage truck. I looked in the mirror and said, "You are one low son of a bitch." Surprisingly, however, this realization didn't bother me. It was like I finally figured out who I was, and the revelation was a huge relief. I had always wondered if horrible people knew they were actually horrible people, and now I think the truly horrible people actually do, and they resign themselves to being the bad guy. Much like a serf must have lived with the drudgery of being a serf, or a marine on the front lines dealt with the inevitability of his own demise. "I am a serf, I was born to the land" and "I am a marine, I will take that hill or die trying." Both come up with a series of ideologies and religions to help them with this realization, and somehow give a desperate situation a bit of dignity. I was no different. I imagined a world of greedy, terrible people who were all out to get me, and I would do my best to screw them before they got to me, and then I'd screw myself for good measure because I was no better.
Suicide was never really an option. I've never tried to outright kill myself. That's not much, I mean many people live their entire lives without once killing themselves, but the fact that I've never really considered it is something I've always been proud of. It just always seemed like the easy way out. There were always those few kids in high school who never made it through. I remember one kid. 15 years old and his girlfriend of 3 months broke up with him. He got drunk, grabbed his dad's shotgun, sat on a motorcycle in his garage, and blew his brains all over the white wall behind him. His two best friends pleaded with him and watched helplessly as what was left of the body slumped forward on the motorcycles handlebars. Gravity slowly pulled the corpse to the floor by the time the paramedics came with the bodybag and hugs for the parents. I still remember that picture of his in the yearbook, grinning like a ghost. Suicide is the ultimate cop-out, an embarrassing cry for attention, or a period on the end of a desperate sentence. I've never understood the slashed wrists, the intentional overdoses, the head in the oven, the jump off the bridge, and probably never will. Why not take some people down with you on the way?
Slow-motion suicide, that's the kind for me. The gradual killing of yourself over a long period of time, using malnutrition, sleep deprivation, cigarettes, unsafe sex, and drugs to whittle away at your once proud human frame. The modern tuberculosis that sits in your chest and eats you from the inside. You violently cough your dreams into the toilet, cables of bloody spit catching on the porcelain bowl. The strange thing about all this is that you feel tougher, meaner, leaner, and badder than anyone else, even though you probably couldn't fight for more than a minute without getting winded. You figure that smoldering chunk of coal in your belly will give you all the fuel you need to annihilate anything that gets in your way, and act tough enough so that nothing crosses your path. So it was for me.
High school passed. A few more years passed. By this time I had manufactured myself into some sort of dark, intellectual loner, quoting Dostoevsky, Marx, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer completely out of context, twisting their critiques of humanity into justifications of my cruelty, unaware of the meanings behind their words. I was brimming with pompous superiority, smugly correct in every instance, casting my shallow view across the humanity that I thought I understood. To effectively move against people, you must first put yourself above them, ordain your own mission in the name of a superior God (or a staunch belief in atheism), wrap yourself in a superior ideology, and then reassure yourself with your superior intellectual capacity. I did this with such alarming skill that by the age of 20, I could have shot anyone in the face with the .38 that I had taken to carrying, and dismissed the incident as little more than crushing a bug scurrying across my floor.
But also curious to my condition was also a strange state of feeling lower than everyone. Watching people meet for drinks, hold hands, cheer a football game, or even have breakfast out as a family served to do little more than further isolate me, and make me wonder why I wasn't one of them. Was it really my superiority, or was I incapable of moving as a 'normal' person, and wrapping myself in layers of intellectual gauze to explain away my inability to relate to anything? In hindsight the answer was pretty obvious but at 20, the world fucking owed me.
I met a girl at a punk show, Day-Glo Abortions at the Metroplex, 1986 or 87. She was rotten. She had red curly hair, freckles, black circles around her eyes, a body like a rugby captain, and smelled like a carton of spoiled milk dumped over a tub of rancid meat. Of course I was instantly love. I stared at her for about 10 minutes straight before she came over and hit me up for a cigarette. I told her that smoking was for assholes who liked giving their money to corporations, but I offered her some of the bottle of rum I managed to sneak into one of the dark corners of the club. We didn't have much to say to each other, just what part of the city we lived in and where we were had gone to school. She dropped out of school after getting kicked out of her house. She tried to take the bus from her place downtown out to the suburbs every day, but it only worked out a few times before she gave up. The rest of the time she just sat, smoked pot, and listened to records. I made up a bunch of shit to make myself seem cool, and in the middle of a bullshit sentence, she kissed me with that rotten mouth of hers. She tasted like a pack of cigarettes fished out of a chemical fire, and had dirty nailed, clumsy hands that belonged to a man, but I went with it, more out of cool curiosity than lust or desire.
One of the opening bands, Porn Orchard, started playing and she pulled me to the front of the crowd, grabbing my hands around the wrists and putting them around her waist so that I was standing behind her, holding this stranger. She was only an inch shorter than me, which was saying a lot, and I had to strain my neck to avoid that rotten mop of a haircut bouncing infectiously in my face. Her stiff leather jacket caused a clammy sweat on me that chaffed with every jump. With my hands already around her damp belly, I moved my hands up her shirt on to her tits, waiting for any sort of reaction. There wasn't any, except for a slight smile I could barely see on the corner of her face. The band played for what seemed forever, and I eventually let go of her and walked to the back of the club where I had been before. I pulled out the rum and finished off the bottle, waiting for her to come back. I didn't see her again that night.
About two weeks later I was out again, by myself of course, and drunk. That's the best thing about public transportation, if you can manage to count out your 65 cents and sit down without throwing up, you can go anywhere. I took full advantage of that system, and probably spent half of my early adulthood sitting on a blue plastic MARTA chair, drunkenly trying to comprehend some book 20,000 leagues over my head, reading the same bitter sentences over and over again as if repetition would make me smarter. This night I was out to see Verbal Assault and The Stench at one of those clubs that disappears after a few gigs. I didn't have any friends at the shows, just the same people who seemed to be at every one I went to, who would nod in some sort of recognition to a fellow music fanatic, or maybe out of fear that I was someone important who knew more than they did.
I saw her at that show. She walked in with some huge skinhead. They weren't holding hands or anything, but he paid for her. I think the show was only $2, but still, the gesture must have meant something. They stood with their backs against the wall, side by side, wearing matching flight jackets. Now, instead of that rag-mop haircut, she wore a Chelsea, which is basically an inverted bowl cut, where everything under the bowl is shaved, and all hair not within the bowl's coverage area, is left, as a sort of fringe. Not too flattering, but you try telling that to a skin chick. I waited until he went to the bathroom and walked over.
"Hey, remember me?"
"Never heard of them."
"You kissed me at that show."
"Must have been someone else. You better move before my boyfriend gets back, or he's gonna jump you."
"I could take him."
"Could you take ten of his friends too?"
"Then fuck off."
I walked to the other end of the club. I knew I didn't have her confused with someone else. I can still remember that rotten milk stank to this day. I wasn't used to getting blown off like that. That did it. I had to have her, the fact that her boyfriend was some fat ass nazi skinhead didn't bother me, if anything it made things more imperative, more important that I get her, bag a disgusting girl who won't give me the time of day right from under the nose of a guy who would, in all likelihood, beat me to death. Being a guy ensures that you are constantly looking for a girl, and in that search you are turned down far more times that you succeed. The worst feeling comes when you drop your standards and go after some girl that disgusts you in every way, for the mere fact that she is woman, and you still get brushed off.
I stared at her while her boyfriend was busily looking hatefully at the show, standing rigid and unflinching, like at any moment his services as an ignorant goon might be called upon. She stared back at me. Then she winked and smiled. Whether she was trying to lure me to destruction, or really wanting me I wasn't sure. My inflated image of myself made me think the latter, however thinking the former gave me a sexual charge that was undeniable. The unfair maiden, calling from behind the battlements, knowing my pursuit of her would result in my death, yet calling, singing, and staring. The challenge had been made, and seeing how at that point in my life, my mind broke every situation into winners and losers, challengers, competition, I could not back down. The fact that she was repulsive physically, and mentally (what kind of loser dates a Nazi?) made conquest that much more necessary, conquest for the sake of itself. After all, isn't life all about the pursuit of worthless things, the longing for worthless people, the absolute obliteration of your mind and body for worthless causes? Isn't that what makes us human? Or is it the fact that we deny the unimportance of our lives? Or is it simply the fact that we're relatively hairless and usually ungrateful?
I left the show early, deftly slipping her a piece of paper with a fake name and a real phone number on it. I didn't look at her until I was safely past. I turned around casually to see her slip the paper into her back pocket without telling her boyfriend. But still, she didn't call. Not for two weeks.
Exactly two weeks later, at about 1 in the morning, she called.
"Hey," she said. Right away I knew who it was.
"Hey," I answered.
"Do you have a car?"
"Fuck, I was hoping you'd come pick me up."
"I know the busses and trains like the back of my hand, where are you at?"
She hung up. She called back at 5 am.
"Can I come over."
"Yeah. You have to take the bus though."
I gave her directions and about an hour later there was a knock on my door. She came in with an oversized dufflebag, sweeping her head around the small room as if looking for another way out.
"This place is small," she said.
"Yeah. It's cheap too."
"I'll bet. You live in a worse neighborhood that I do."
And with that, she moved in.
The next three weeks didn't amount to much, other than the ending of my sexual dry spell and the fact that I started smoking. She didn't have much to say, and I wasn't one for listening, so we just got high and listened to records all day. After fucking a few times, even sex got boring. A passionless rubbing of strangers. After only week, neither of us would instigate anything, unless she got really drunk, and then she'd be on me like a malnourished cat. I think the stink she carried was almost tattooed on her, as she was possibly the only thing in the known universe that could make my apartment smell any worse. She was ugly and big, but that wasn't what bothered me. She was empty. Behind the eyes, there was nothing happening, nothing I could pick up on at least. She was like some sort of bloated jellyfish, living only to eat and stay warm. She didn't have a job, and seemed to get by on the general stupid programming of every male that makes us, even the bad ones, attempt to save women and protect them, even the worthless ones. I asked her where she saw herself in 20 years. The answer came immediately and predictably: I don't know.
At the time, my career was moving pot from downtown out to the suburbs every sixth day, a bowling ball sized hunk of compacted weed stuffed in a backpack that netted me $200 a week, just for riding 20 minutes on the bus each way. I was really good at it too, possibly the best. I looked like any suburban kid, maybe a bit leaner, with tight crewcut, so I definitely wasn't out of place as I got off the bus at Roswell Mall (the closest that the bus ever got to the north suburbs). On the bus, merely reading a fine work of literature keeps most people away. They'll resent you for being pretentious and most won't even dream you're moving enough weed to keep their kids high for 10 years. Of course now I know getting caught with that much pot in Georgia is tantamount to raping the police chief's wife in front of the whole station, but back then it was easier than working, and I didn't really give a fuck about getting caught. Something inside of me was very pleased by the fact that most of these drugs were broken up and sold to high school kids, hopefully fucking up their perfect little lives.
Life wasn't too bad for me, in fact it was so perfectly awful I was in love with it. I was the man with everything: a career, a woman, a palace to call my own. It was like the negative image of a normal life, something that was a Fuck You to everyone and everything around me. At the time it didn't seem odd that I build my life into a huge Fuck You. I mean to purposefully give yourself a bad life clues you in to who the Fuck You is really directed at. It took a while to figure it was pointed at me. And screaming Fuck You to yourself is insanity in anyone's book.
But then my perfect dream life ended, stopping my job as a drug mule and severing my cohabitation with one of God's nastiest creations. The choice was hardly my own. I came home from a run one day to get punched in the face by the girl's skinhead boyfriend, whom she had invited into my apartment, as well as two of his friends. They were smart enough not to dress like skinheads when coming into my neighborhood (if you're ever sick of living, dress up like a skinhead and go hang out in south Atlanta), and were waiting for me in an ambush that I assume was part revenge, and part business. They had already done a good job of breaking most of my stuff and setting aside my records to take home later.
"Give me the drugs," said her boyfriend.
"I just dropped them off."
"OK then, give me the money."
"I just move it. I don't get paid for another 2 days."
That got me knocked on the ground and kicked.
"Then we'll come back."
"I wouldn't. I've been making that run for 6 months without getting caught. If my guy hears that his star mule was getting shaken down, especially by a bunch of Nazis, he'd have you all killed." Which was probably true, but the hits would come more from the chance for a rich black dude to ice some skinheads than any concern for me.
"What did you say? You think we're scared of some coons?"
"Yeah, I do. Otherwise you would've worn your Johnny Rebel flight jackets down here." That was probably the remark that got the shit kicked out of me. Even the girl, who, up until this point had shown me nothing but pure disinterest, seemed to comprehend that she was basically getting me killed. Iron cross rings, steel toed boots, Budweiser numbed brains, all converging on my already damaged body. It only went on for a few seconds, but they were good at beatings, if nothing else.
"OK, ok, fine." I heard myself say through a bloody mouth. "I'll pay you."
"Damn straight you'll pay us."
"Come back. I'll pay you."
After they left, I laid there for a while, not that I had any other options. I was definitely bleeding from a few places, but I'd had worse. It wasn't a surprise that the girl called them or left with them, she was barely here when she was around.
Moving out of that place was easy, seeing how I didn't have any stuff left except some shirts and a box of books, which they somehow were unable to break and had no use for themselves. Yeah, moving out was easy, a suitcase full of dirty clothes and a box full of good books. The hard part was finding a place to go. I had burned most of my friends, and after people found out what I did to that girl back in high school, I wasn't too welcome in many places, even three years later. Anyone I talked to at shows was more of a cold acquaintance, who seemed to talk to me out of politeness, not exactly the people to ask for a couch. My parents had moved away after I graduated from high school, and I never really bothered to get the exact address.
I went to the dealer and told him what happened, played up the racism thing, made up some stuff they said about him, and suggesting that he put a few guys in my room and wait. He said he's think about it, paid me my money, gave me an extra $100 and told me to go to the hospital. I thanked him, but I never went.
Instead I rode the bus around a bunch. I even took a train to the airport and wandered around there, hoping to find a plane ticket on the ground or something. I sat and watched people getting off planes. Family, friends, or lovers scanned the steady trickle of weary passengers stumbling out of the doorway to the plane tunnel, wondering 'did they really get on the plane?' until they saw the face of the one they wanted. Some smiled and waited to be noticed, others blew right through the line, disrupting everything out of sheer joy. Some met with a handshake, some with a hug, some with a kiss. They'd offer to carry the traveler's bags, express concern for the quality of the flight, make some comment about bringing the good weather with them. They'd start talking about where the car was parked, how far they lived from the airport, who was waiting at home exited to see them, how the Braves were doing, stupid small talk that seemed so, comforting. I also saw the people who got off the planes by themselves. Hopefully looking around, as if some friend of theirs had deciphered the flight information and would be waiting for them as a surprise. This never happens.
I walked around and saw lonely men in airport bars, half-heartedly flirting with waitresses old enough to be their wives.
I took part of my $300 and bought a one way ticket to Indianapolis. To this day I'm not sure why. I suppose I wanted to get out of the South, and the ticket to Indy was cheap. I knew that Vonnegut wrote about Indiana, as did Richard Bach. It didn't seem like it would be a very harsh city. It seemed like there would be nice people there. After all my shit, I was in the mood for nice. That's how it happened. I just got tired of being an asshole."
And now for a confession:
This entire conversation (Destroyer 2 and 3) isn't my story. It belongs to a guy who used to stop by my dorm room in college, usually drunk, late at night, ready to confess all of his sins while I sat and quietly listened. I have no way of knowing if it's even true, although I suspect most of it was. I'm not sure why he picked me to talk to, but we did have a lot in common. I originally met him at a party, and it turned out we were both from down South, both way into good books and old punk music. Although he wasn't enrolled in school, he was smart as hell, and just as untrustworthy. I couldn't leave him alone in my room without him pocketing a book or a CD and splitting. But he'd always bring them back. I told him that he could borrow anything I owned if he asked, and he told me that stealing was more fun, it was one of the only things that tied him to his old life. If he was telling the truth about his old life, he had turned things around pretty well. He was dating some Pharmacy student (he swore to me that it wasn't to get pills), and had a job at a record store. We even drove up to Chicago a couple times to go see shows, where we would spend most of our time wondering how the hell we'd never run into each other back in Atlanta.
"You know I'm going to steal your stories." I told him once.
"Oh, yeah? What are you going to do with them?"
"I don't know. Write a book or a movie or something."
"Tell you what, if you can live past 25, you can have it. Don't even give me credit."
"I won't. Anyway, it's not the story that's important, it's how you tell it."
"No," he said. "It's the story. It's always the story."