Creative Non-Fiction: A Stark Memory
I do not have reliable memories, those mysterious time travel devices that so many people use to relive a past joy or sorrow or glory. My memories are often vague, filled with and distorted by time and the interpretation of the events by others. I have never held a memory that I could be certain was real. This is due to many reasons, but chief among them is my constant and obsessive fear of losing my sanity. It is from this position of mental uncertainty that I will relay the events that led me to abandon the man-child I was and begin the journey to the man I am.
What secrets I have shall remain my own, yet one or two will need to be revealed in order to make some important things understood. Firstly there is the mystery of my own questionable memory. I was born in the normal fashion into an alcoholic family and that caused certain chemical changes to me in utero. That I was hyperactive was a fact known from my earliest childhood, but that I was also blessedly cursed with anti-social Personality Disorder (ASPD, commonly known as being a sociopath) was not something that I discovered until I was much older, when I went to the Veterans Association for help.
Secondly is the detached and often forensic nature of my view of the events of my life. Since I have ASPD in my makeup, I am an outsider. The things that people do touch me very little, if at all. I examine them the way a scientist might examine an unusual compound, so that I may understand them and (in my case at least) get along with them without appearing to be an outsider. What this means is that I have little use for the biases and bigotries that most of society seems to cling to like a junkyard dog guarding a moldy bone. When I look at a person the first thing I notice is their race, and I am fairly good at picking out nationality and heredity. This is followed by their manner of dress and ends with the way they hold themselves. These three things act like dials on a radio, letting me tune into the particular “wavelength” of the person. People are very easy to figure out, all that is required is an application of intellect and logical thought. In this manner even the illogical and irrational can be predicted.
For reasons that my experiences have not justified, some people believe military service is the defining point in their life, the time when they learn who they are and what they are made of.
This is not one of those stories. My story begins with the military, but only on the day I was leaving.
It was mid-September, 1992. It was my EAOS day (that’s End of Active Obligated Service in Navy-speak). I wasn’t sorry to be going; I’d done my bit “for king and country” and felt that I had done the best I could. I wasn’t happy to be going either; I was of the opinion that, while I did not actually enjoy my time, I had felt comfortable with the routine and the traditions of the Navy. I’m hard pressed to remember an actual genuine emotion on that day except for a strange breed of confusion and a nagging uncertainty.
No one saw me off except the Officer of The Watch. I don’t even remember who he was. I want to say it was Lieutenant-Junior Grade Christmas, but I would be lying if I said I knew for sure. What I do remember of that experience was that on this particular day, which would be a singular and monumental day in the life of most men was the day I began to consciously question my own worth. Later, as my memory of past events faded and morphed of their own accord, I would also learn to question my sanity.
I want to say that I saw a woman that day with dark hair and tattoos, because that’s what I remember; but I can’t confirm it. Later on, there would be a black haired girl with tattoos, there would be violence and madness, but for now I don’t think I actually saw here. I don’t believe it.
For years after my end of service, my life had become a waking fugue state. Through the middle and end of my first marriage, the loss of my apartment and my stubborn refusal to join the rest of the world in a job or at least a constant hobby, I lived my life in a hazy, uncertain dream that was indistinct at best and indecipherable at worst. I felt guilt and self-loathing. I remember them very well. The guilt was for my not being normal and doing the normal things. My self-loathing was for failing to make my life work as effortlessly as everyone else around me had. I remember telling my wife I wanted a divorce and how her tears touched me not at all. I remember stealing three hundred dollars from my neighbor without a shred of guild or conscience. I remember beating a man unconscious when he tried to mug me and how my only thought was that I’d better take his money before I go. I spent a lot of time drunk since it was the only time the world made sense. I began to focus on my pleasures, since they were so few. I smoked, I drank, I had sex with anyone who was willing. I scraped by.
There are many times in my life in which I have realized something important about myself. I am the greatest mystery I know. I am comfortable with not knowing everything about myself. I have discovered the epiphanies that I receive to add great excitement and exaltation to my life.
The greatest of these came in the Summer of 1995. I was twenty-four years old and cast loose in the world. I found myself, for the second time in my life, in Virginia. I had spent my Naval time calling Little Creek Naval Base home, but I had never lived as a civilian in the city, or in neighboring Norfolk. But that I would end up in Virginia Beach was something that I would never have expected.
Virginia Beach is a microcosm of everything that is wrong with the world we live in. The rich flaunt their wealth on the main drag while the homeless and the poor try to eke out an existence two blocks over. The police are known to be racist and violent. The religious factions promote bloody fighting and hatred of their fellow man. The gangs are divided into two very different groups, the Latino gangs who run drugs and occasionally guns, and the Black gangs who have their hands in drugs and prostitutes.
Later, after I left, the scene would fracture and all sense of order would be lost. During the entire time I lived there I only saw three white people regularly; the waitress at the café where I usually ate, the duly appointed local representative of SHARP (Skin Heads Against Racial Prejudice), and Tyson, a homeless man who wandered the city singing bible songs and drinking cheap whiskey.
I had managed to create a complete negative space around myself, shunning the world and everyone in it. I had reached Zero, that point in life in which what you take from the world is exactly what you give. It is a null existence and one that can only be maintained for a finite amount of time because it is impossible to sustain. After that point in time a person either rises or falls. Falling is easier, it takes zero effort. I was under the strong impression that nothing I did mattered because I didn’t matter. I was having great success at being a failure and thus living up to my own deflated sense of worth.
Then I met Her. I do not remember her name. It may sound odd, but I don’t really remember people’s names because names are the least and most insignificant part of a human being. They are bestowed upon babies by their parents who are basing their choices off of what they want their children to become, or at least what they hope will happen. At worst a name was chosen because the mother or father “liked the sound of it.” A person’s name has no basis on their character and little impact on their actions.
What I do remember about her was that she was five foot, eight inches with natural black hair and the tattoo of a flock of ravens running from her left wrist, up her arm, across her chest and back and ending just above her thighs. There were twenty nine birds in all, rendered on her body by various artists over a number of years. Her nationality was truly American, much like my own mongrel ancestry, where the basis of my bloodline is White European, hers was African. She had a vaguely oriental beauty with skin like lightly creamed coffee that shone bronze under yellow lights. By candle light the ravens on her body seemed to dance and shuffle, as if trying to break out of their smooth, sensual prison.
There are a few rules that applied to my world at that time that need to be stressed at this point because they are terribly applicable and because they are the rules I learned that eventful summer.
Rule number one is fairly simple: everyone has an agenda. When I met her I was under the impression that I had somehow managed to attract a woman who would normally be so far out of my league as to be laughable. It was laughable, in the end it was hilarious.
Rule number two is also simple: Everyone is selling something. Whether it’s labor, love (or something like it), drugs, advice, sex, promises, or porn it’s an easy thing to find someone who not only has it, but who’s willing to sell it for only a moderately extortionate price. “Buyer Beware” is the order of the day and if the price seems too good to be true see rule number three.
Rule number three I have heard from countless sources but its best expression is this: “If you can’t spot the patsy in the deal, it’s almost certainly you.”
It was because of those three rules that I found myself on an oppressively hot day in July walking down the streets of Virginia Beach with a duffle bag filled with dirty gym cloths that were not mine and that were only concealing a rectangular package wrapped in saran and butcher paper. Inside was approximately twenty-five thousand dollars. I walked the package, like I had done for the past five or six weeks now, from a guy on Ocean View avenue across from Mama’s Italian Restaurant to another guy at a sleazy bar off the main drag in Virginia Beach. What I got for my trouble was a little cash, a dive apartment and a visit from Her at the conclusion of every successful delivery.
The part I find bitterly funny was that I was actually happy with this arrangement. I was caught up in this illegal and very dangerous life by the most insidious of enticements that you can offer a man who believes that he is both worthless and fast approaching insane; sex with the promise of love.
On that day in July I was being pursued by a rival. I had changed my route on the fly several times and had succeeded in shaking off the tail, only to discover I was in greater danger just being where I was. I walked down the street, sticking to the sidewalk and keeping myself to myself as much as possible. I could feel unfriendly and hungry eyes on me and I knew that my life was very much in danger. I looked up from the sidewalk and there was a man I knew was going to try and kill me for what I had in the bag.
Being as I am mentally and emotionally separate from society I must study society in order to fit into it. That includes paying close attention to such things as posture, manner and method of speech, dress and nationality. I can size most people up in less than two minutes and be pretty accurate. I am especially attuned to dangerous and hostile personality types and I could tell that this mixed Black and Latino and something-I-still-can’t-identify was going to kill me. I could see the shape of his hand where he concealed the knife he was going to ram into me and the way he was leaning as he strutted told me that he was going to slam into me with his left shoulder, shove the knife in with his right hand while his left hand took the bag from my slacking fingers. I remember his very well, his face, his dress and his walk. He’s one of two strangers whose face has remained imbedded in my mind since the day I saw him.
I had a forty caliber revolver I kept in the outside pocket of my bag, for protection. The man was still twenty feet away when I pulled the gun out of my bag, shot him twice in the leg and walked past his screaming hysterical form. I put the gun away and delivered my package. When She came to my apartment later I turned her away. I spent the rest of the week replaying that event in my head and wondering at the sheer lack of emotion I had concerning it. I was insane, I think that was pretty clear, but I didn’t feel worthless, and I never did again.
I left Virginia in September, all my money was gone and the job had dried up. That’s what happens when people deal drugs; anonymous tippers rat them out for the price of a phone call home.
I remember the shooting very well, I remember the events that led up to it and the events after, but I can’t recall a clear memory of any of them. My life has always been like that; smaller events leading into small events that lead into larger events until finally culminating in a sudden explosion that seems to burn itself into my brain. I can remember the chains of events that all merged to form that one moment, but I can’t recall much, other than the raw facts.
I don’t have reliable memories, I never have. It could be that everything happened just the way I remember (or surmise) that it happened. But then again, I could be telling a lie and not even know it. I sometimes wonder if a lie is a lie if I believe it to be true, but as a wise man once said; “that way, madness lies.”
Makes me smile, anyway.