Almost Midnight

Almost Midnight by J. Kuzmier --  photo by John B. at JohnBdigital.com     

It’s almost midnight here on death row. At any moment now, my time on this earth may be up for good.

If you don’t mind listening, I want to tell you my story before it’s too late. It’s not worth much, because I haven’t had a very worthy life. But still, it’s my story and there isn’t much time before I’m gone from this world. That is, if all goes as others have planned for me.

My given name is Jake Lewis, although I bear no relation to George ‘Big Jake’ Lewis of the Black August freedom fighting movement, at least none that I know of. As you’ll find out soon, I don’t even know if I’m black or if I’m not. I was born on December 21, 1964, almost at midnight just like it is right now. Just my birthday alone has made me fall through the cracks and disappear. Sometimes I’m considered a Sagittarius, sometimes a Capricorn. It all depends on when the calendar decides when winter begins, and I get caught in the shuffle.

Same goes with my so-called generation. I’m a Baby Boomer, I’m Generation X. Take your pick. Everyone else does. I fall through the cracks on both fronts, my sign and my generation. Neither fully claims me as theirs.

It doesn’t end there. Take this example, for one. My mother’s white, but I’m darker than she is. A lot darker. White people tell me I look Hispanic, if that’s supposed to mean anything. No, Jake, you don’t look like a white boy, they say. But I don’t really look like any of my Latino or black friends either. They all seem to agree with the assessment that I’m not quite like them.

So am I white? Am I not? I don’t really know, and no one else does either. I don’t know my father, and neither does anyone else it seems, including my mother. And obviously, he doesn’t seem to know me or at least want to know me. So I’m other, I belong to no one. No one truly claims me, no one really wants me as their own. That’s the way it’s been, all my life.

You see, my mother didn’t want me. It’s nothing personal. She didn’t want any of the five kids she wound up having, but she had them anyway. If she could, she’d have aborted all of us. She even told us that. In fact, she told me she tried to have me aborted, but the guy who was going to stick the coat hanger up her was arrested just before she got the chance.

I was the third kid she had that I know of. I have no way of knowing how many coat hangers she encountered, and I have no idea if she dumped a herd of babies in the fifties into a garbage can. This was before Facebook, before You Tube, all that social media shame and flame. Things were more hidden behind closed doors, which made the world seem rosy and sweet even as it was falling apart and blowing apart deserts with atomic bombs and lynching black men for smiling at white girls.

I don’t know much about my past, as you can tell. But like I said before, I know she didn’t want me. She made it clear to me that it was because of the lawmen that I’m even here. If they hadn’t come to arrest her big hero, she wouldn’t have to deal with the likes of me bothering her sorry ass. She didn’t defend my life, she wanted it gone. I have some unknown cop to thank to have the privilege of walking at all in this world.

Should I be grateful for that kind of intervention? I guess. Am I? I don’t know. But the law is the reason why I’m here on this earth to begin with. That’s just how it goes, at least for me. They defended me once, the law. At least they did, that one time when I was meant to be born.

This is fate that the lawmen defended me from. Over the years, I looked into it. As far as I can tell, if I got offed in the womb, I was supposed to bleed to death from the wire. That’s how they aborted kids like me back then, if they went to the coat hanger and wire specialists like my mother did. My mother was an alcoholic and drug addict who slept around a lot, so I don’t know how far along she was when she went to the fake doctor with the wire. But the point is, one moment before the abortion, I would have been sloshing around in the comfort of her womb (albeit with dope and alcohol flowing to my brain), and the in the next, I would have begun to slowly bleed to death.

Would I have known the difference, either way? Beats me. I don’t remember what happened last week, and I’m in my fifties. Maybe I would have felt a lot of pain back then. It’s possible. Because of the lawmen, I don’t have to worry about all that, though, because they saved me from that fate, and I’m here instead to talk to you on the last day of my life decades later.

So thus, my wonderful life outside of the womb began. Like I said before, my mother had five kids, and I was the third. It’s interesting to note that her last kid was born in 1969, and we moved to Hawaii in 1970 and lived there to 1974. I’ve looked into the law, and Hawaii was the first state that allowed for abortion for whatever reason you wanted, as long as you lived there. Then, we moved everywhere and never stayed in one place.

I don’t know if the timing is coincidence, or not. I do know that once abortion was legal somewhere, my mother stopped having kids. I really have no idea why she didn’t, if she went and got abortions all of the time as a form of birth control, because she wasn’t the kind of warm and fuzzy mom who discussed consequences or life choices to teach us anything at all. But I said it before and will say it again, I do know she never wanted any of us, because that she did make clear to all five of us, each and every one, individually and collectively.

The five of us most likely have different fathers, at least as far as the five of us can surmise. None of us know for sure who are fathers are, because no man was around for more than a few months, at least that we can remember. Sometimes, there were more than one at the same time. It got awfully confusing, and with all of that insanity it was hard to trust either our memories or intuition about anything, let alone adult subjects like the sexual partners of our mother.

When we were thrown together growing up and still speaking to one another, my siblings and I tried to piece together our parental identities, trying to figure if any of us are full sisters and brothers, or not. I guess doing that made us feel like we could figure out why life was so insane for us. Maybe if we could corroborate our memories, we could feel better about what we thought and felt. It didn’t really work, but hope in any shape is still some kind of hope. And we did come to some conclusion, albeit shakier than the San Andreas fault.

Here’s some of our findings. We all look different, so there’s that. My older sister and me are a bit darker than the other three, and my younger sister had red hair and blue eyes while the rest of us have light brown hair and brown eyes. So we decided that maybe my sister Liz and I are full brother and sister, although I never really believed that deep inside myself, but the rest of us are halfsies.

And I don’t know if that makes any difference in the long run, whether any of us are fully related. But I guess it made us feel we weren’t completely blank about who we were. In my case, maybe this is real Disneyland thinking, but if Liz is three years older than me, and we’re full brother and sister, there’s the possibility that my mother actually had a real relationship with some guy for a little while. That there is some guy in our hazy past who actually stayed. Maybe she actually tried at some point to settle down and make a real family. Maybe she was even married. Which means, she could have actually been married to the guy that was my dad.

But I really don’t know, and neither does anyone else. There was never a good time to ask, and I didn’t even want to hope to believe something that might not be true. So I never even researched public records, and neither did any of my other siblings. Besides, even if my mom did try to settle down, it obviously didn’t last too long. And even though it seems like it’s possible that Liz and I are full brother and sister, there’s no proof. Just our childhood fuzzy dream of it. Besides, Liz and I don’t even talk to each other anymore, not after everything that’s happened. She wouldn’t talk to me now, even if I tried. So what good is blood? Not much, so far as I can see.

I never had a permanent home. The plus side was that I got to travel, meet new people, see how different ways there were to live. This education in people came in handy at times during my life afterwards, which is probably why I made it as long as I did considering the way I lived. The bad side was that I really didn’t know anyone my age outside my family, never got to live my life the way most kids did. Just my siblings and me. We’re the ones who raised each other, were each other’s social life until even that cracked and nothing was left.

During my childhood, there were all kinds of men in and out of the places we all stayed at. Sometimes it was the same guys, sometimes it wasn’t. We moved around a lot, depending on whether my mother was with one guy following him around to get him back, or not. She was always running after some guy, or running away from some guy. When I got older, I started seeing a pattern with her. She’d run after the guys who didn’t want her, and would run from the guys who did. We were on the road a lot because of that, but I got used to it. That’s probably why I wound up living the life I did in the end.

As far as the lawmen checking up on my siblings and me, once I got shot out of the womb, no one followed up to see what was happening about me or them. At least as far as I know, but it’s possible my mind has gotten hazy and they did. I guess once I was out in the world, the lawmen decided I was free and on my own. Because I don’t remember any lawmen intervening in my life once they got her not to abort me. I do remember a lot of screaming, yelling. I got hit a lot. Why, I don’t remember. I don’t remember even who hit me, her or one of her drug boyfriends, or maybe all of them. I don’t know. I just remember the pain.

Like I told you, I have four siblings. I have two sisters and two brothers, one each younger and one each older. It would be quaint if we actually were quaint, but as you probably can tell, quaint was pretty far from my sorry life. My sisters, Liz and Charlie, both say they got raped by our mother’s boyfriends. They’re not lying, because I walked in on Charlie being raped by this dealer schmuck Maurice that our mother was whoring for. Charlie was twelve, and I was fourteen. I smashed a vase over Maurice’s head, and he beat me so my entire face was black and blue for days. Then my mother blamed me because he dumped her after that, and she hit me too, but I didn’t hit her back. I left home then, and didn’t come back at all ever after that. It’s the only time I remember ever hitting anyone in my life first, the time I hit Maurice.

But it was too late to do anything to save Charlie. I talked to my older brother Daryl once in awhile after I left home. He said she was pregnant right after the rape, so most likely she got pregnant from Maurice because she’d been a virgin up until then, being twelve and all. Daryl said my mom made her have an abortion, and Charlie hated everyone after that, kept running away from home and no one could find her. She never came to see me, even though I stopped Maurice from raping her anymore. Then again, I was hard to find because I was on the road so much. And I never really tried talking to her, either, because I didn’t know what to say, how to explain why I left and why I wasn’t back. So it was partly my fault, why we stopped talking. And I was her older brother. I should have known better. I did know better. But I didn’t do better, so that’s what I have to live with, thinking about what happened between my sister and me.

This is what happened to Charlie in the end. Daryl said she got into drugs, real heavy drugs, right after all of that with the rape and the abortion. She died of an overdose when she was fifteen and I was seventeen. So maybe I didn’t save her, after all. I do think about it a lot, what happened with her. I wonder if I had tried to talk to her more over the years she was alive that maybe I could have helped save her. I wasn’t much of a role model the way I was living, so she may not have lived any better if she copied me. But at least, if I had tried to talk to her more, maybe she would have known I gave a shit, and that I loved her. Maybe that would have been enough to save her in the end. There’s no way to know any of that though, because that’s not what I did. Now it’s all over, and she’s gone. And after that, the remaining four of us remaining siblings never really talked again at any length. There really wasn’t anything left to say.

So I was on my own at fourteen, although it was a lot better than when I was living at home, at least at first. This may surprise you, or maybe it wouldn’t, but even though I was fourteen when I left and lived with drugs and the paraphernalia that accompanied them, I had never once touched drugs at all in my life while living with my family. Not once, not even the cigarettes or the beer that my older brother Daryl used to offer me. I hadn’t even kissed a girl yet, because I kept myself so shy and hidden. It’s hard to say why I abstained like that from everything, because I was so young and it was so long ago. Best I can say, knowing a little about myself now and the circumstances in which I found myself in, I think I just wanted to keep my wits about me. I think I had some hope that if I did that, I could have control over my own life because I’d be cognizant of my surroundings. But after the shit with Maurice and my mother, I guess I thought differently about that approach, because keeping aware of my surroundings just got me beat up and my sister dead. And I think, like Charlie, I just wanted to not know anything at all after that. Which could explain why I was who I was growing up, and who I became as soon as I walked out of the door. But I don’t know for sure. Maybe it was just the streets themselves that changed me, because it was better than my life at home, and drugs, booze and girls became part of my life almost overnight. It’s hard to tell, but I do know for a short time, I forgot about any pain.

I was literally on the streets the first few nights, trying to figure out what to do. It was pretty screwed up, being hungry, cold and in pain from everyone using me as a punching bag at home, but at least nobody on the streets was bothering me. I don’t remember what went through my head specifically because it was so long ago, but I do remember feeling like I hated everyone. That didn’t last too long, because then I was caught up in more immediate kind of things like the hunger and me shivering from cold, and whether someone would finish me off for good. The only thing I had to eat during that time is when I cased out fast food restaurants, and ate and drank whatever leftovers I could find on abandoned trays. The process wasn’t as easy as it sounds, because even though there were a lot of instances where there was available food, I had to watch out for the personnel so I wouldn’t get arrested or thrown out. I didn’t get caught, by them at least, but maybe I just got lucky and the workers weren’t as concerned as I thought they were. But I still was hungry even after that, and my scavenging did nothing to alleviate my being cold at night. I was worried about my safety a little, but I was already pretty tall at five ten and my build is like a defensive end in football. That analogy isn’t baseless, because I tried out for the team once the previous year, and the coach told me that. I was even chosen as second string for the football team, but then we moved again so I never got involved with that sport. I would have liked to play. Maybe I wouldn’t wound up on the streets if I had. Maybe I wouldn’t be where I am today, talking to you this way.

This is what happened, instead of that happy ending. I was casing out this one place for food on the fourth day, and had my eye on this family that consisted of two parents and five screaming kids. I had gotten just enough experience to know that a large family with young kids was my biggest payload for leftover food, because oftentimes one of the kids would act up and the family would vacate the premises, and almost never took the food left on the table with them. In the case of this particular family, the mother had gotten a chicken sandwich, the dad some kind of double cheeseburger with large fries, and all four kids had gotten the kids’ meals that come with fries and a dessert. I was a pretty desperate kid then, so I’m sorry to say that I just couldn’t wait for the kids to get out of hand so I could cash in.

I was busy salivating over my potential feast when I was startled by this guy sliding into the seat across from me in my booth. It was this guy Tommy, who I’d seen around on the streets. Tommy is one of those guys that the people on the nice side of the streets would be terrified of, because he might say hello to one of their kids and contaminate them for good. He had a motorcycle, tattoos, long hair, long mustache, long beard, and as was told to me, looked like he hadn’t taken a shower for days. Let me explain the ‘as was told to me part’. You have to understand, in my particular case, Tommy didn’t look any worse than any of the assholes that came into my mother’s life. Since everyone was so busy getting drunk, high, stoned and beat up, and the rest of us were busy running away, I had no idea what not taking a shower for days looked like. People in my house took showers all of the time, yet everyone still looked and acted like bums. So I didn’t know what the difference was between clean or not, and considering my life, I don’t know where that would have made any difference anyway.

So back to the story, there I was at the fast food place with Tommy looking directly at me. Even after all this time, I remember exactly what he looked like at that moment. I don’t know how old he was at the time, but his skin was all pock-marked and craggy in the places you could still see skin. He sort of had red hair, which puzzled me because I’d always thought he had brown hair when I used to walk past him. But there he was, sitting in front of me with red hair, so I guess I’d made a mistake. And he’d cut his beard and mustache so he looked almost like most normal guys I’d seen around the bars my mother hung out at. I think he must have cut his hair too, because he was wearing a red bandana decorated with a bunch of girls in bikinis on it, and I don’t remember seeing a pony tail so I guess the rest of his hair had been chopped off at some point.

But what I really remember were his eyes. I couldn’t tell if they were hazel, brown, or blue because they seemed really glassy. Almost like they weren’t real eyes, which I knew couldn’t be true. He sniffed a lot, too. I didn’t do drugs just yet, but that didn’t mean I didn’t know what it looked like when people did do drugs. After all, like I said, my mom was an addict whose drug of choice was coke if she could get it from a guy, otherwise she would just drop acid, smoke pot and drink because it was the kind of drugs she could afford. She never got to the heroin stage when I lived with her, but I saw that with some of the guys she hung out with. I cleaned out some of the paraphernalia one time when I thought Charlie would get into it. I was about eight at the time, I think.

So the point is that I understood what drugs looked like, even though I had never done any myself. I also knew what someone drunk smelled like, and only the most ignorant person wouldn’t be able to tell that Tommy was drunk as all hell, sitting in front of me. In that state, he leaned in so he was three inches away from my face. I was bigger in build than he, but he was five inches taller than me, and his drunk face stuck in mine was pretty intimidating. My prospects for food got up from their table and left, leaving a huge payload behind them just as I thought they would. But I didn’t dare get up and harvest it. Not with Tommy’s nose stuck in mine like that. Please understand, I was fourteen back then. I wasn’t much for standing up for myself back then. It would be not long after that I would not have made the same decisions, and relished the chaos that defiance caused.

But I wasn’t that person yet, and I just swallowed real hard to stave off my stomach gnawing cannibalistically at itself as I caught in the corner of my eye the workers discarding the food, while Tommy stared into my face like he was a human bomb.

This is the first thing he said to break the silence. “You hungry, kid?” The scent of hard alcohol mixed in with unbrushed teeth blew in my face. It took all I could not to vomit in disgust, but yet I was still hungry as well, which was strange.

Numb with passivity and starvation, I just replied “Uh-huh.”

“What do you want?” He sounded like a pitbull. Sad to say, it also sounded like three-quarters of the male role models in my life. But none of them sounded like that while offering me something free. In fact, none of them offered me anything for free, except a really good beating. So Tommy’s offer confused me at first, and I didn’t say anything.

Tommy took two fingers like he was going to poke my eyes out. I jumped, obviously. This is what he said to my reaction, in his pitbull voice, staring me down with those glassy eyes.

“Oh. You are alive. Because usually, when a person asks a question of someone else, that someone else traditionally gives that first person an answer. You didn’t. So I wondered if you were alive. I don’t know what else would explain the fact that you didn’t answer my question.”

I think I said something along the lines of “Sorry.” I felt weak, in more ways than one.

Tommy leaned back, as though the two of us were hanging out like best friends. Not that I had any friends at all to compare, but I knew what best friends looked like from watching others. His voice went from watchdog tone to almost singsong in a hoarse tenor kind of way. “So what do you want to eat? I seen you case out this place for the last few days. I’ve been where you are. You probably haven’t had a real meal in days, right?”

I felt freaky inside, but had a feeling not to show it. You learn how to look invisible in the face of terror when you live with beatings everyday. But I couldn’t hide my famished state, obviously, and my stomach reminded me that I didn’t want to. So I just said, “Yeah.”

Looking back, I wonder if I should have said that simple word, ‘yeah’. In just that word, I told Tommy a lot. It said I was homeless and desperate. Else, why would it be that I hadn’t eaten in days? I wonder if I had said, I just want to go out with a certain girl who works here so I like to keep watch, or that I was supposed to be meeting someone but they hadn’t showed up, or something like that. But maybe he wouldn’t have given me any food if I said one of those things, and in any event, I hadn’t even thought to say something evasive like that to him anyway. And maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference, or maybe he wouldn’t believe me. My beat-up face care of Maurice probably wouldn’t have made any of those deflections sound any better or truthful anyway.

In any event, Tommy’s acute perceptiveness despite his stoned state caught me off guard, and I played right into him. I was only fourteen and hungry. It’s still an excuse I hold onto, which I guess is why I await the fate that’s been assigned to me. Too much evasion of personal responsibility, so others decide for me in the midst of my self-abandonment.

So I said ‘yeah’ instead of some eloquent lie. Tommy responded to this with a little nod. “Thought so. I recognized the look. Have had it myself, kid, especially at your age. How old are you, son? Sixteen? Seventeen?”

“Fourteen.”

He made a look like he was surprised, though looking back I think it was a ploy. I soon after learned that Tommy made it a point to know much about everyone about him, which meant that he probably knew full well that I was only fourteen. But at the time, I believed the sentiment behind look was real, probably because hunger had become my god and I had become its most faithful disciple. “Wow. Fourteen? Would never have guessed it. You’re going to be a big boy when you finish growing. Maybe even bigger than me.” He got up from the table. “And growing boys need lots of fuel, don’t they? Don’t worry. I’ll take care of you.” He got up from the table, and patted my arm.

I could have gotten up from the table and left. Deep inside, knowing who Tommy was, I knew on some level what was happening to me. Teenagers are more cognizant than people realize, even the ones that haven’t gotten proper instruction from their guardians. Many times, they aren’t so naive that they don’t have any idea what’s going on around them. I certainly wasn’t. But I was so, so, hungry. And I had no other choice that I knew of. No one else had helped me, and Tommy was at least buying me a meal.

So, with that, I was bought off with three deluxe cheeseburgers, two orders of large fries, two apple pies, and a jumbo soda, because once I was well-fed I didn’t walk away, but accepted the free place to crash at Tommy’s place. That’s when my life really changed. But it really started out great at first, and at least no one was beating me up there either.

I never went back to school after that. That wasn’t really a problem to me, because I couldn’t stand school because I never did well with the formal classes. I had a lot of trouble concentrating, so even though I liked certain subjects like science I never did well when it came to tests and all that, so I felt no love lost at the idea of not going to school. I was educated in other ways, by the streets. After the first night, when I got my first full night of sleep in what seemed like years, Tommy introduced me to his friend Laura. Man, she was hot. She was twenty-seven, flaxen blonde, tall with really long legs. Not only was she my first kiss, but she was the first woman I slept with. It wouldn’t be long before I couldn’t keep track of who I did on what night or how many I ever did, but I do remember her. I guess you could say she was my first love.

So that was the beginning of my life. Laura would come over, we’d make love, and I was in love. I felt like I was in heaven. I don’t know what fourteen-year-old guy wouldn’t be on some level, even if he was raised by nice parents who would call the police at the first hint of an older woman seducing their child. It’s amazing the power of a hot chick to a boy. Looking back, I have to believe Laura must have known that on some level. But I couldn’t see it at the time, and even thinking of who she was, I don’t know if she really meant any intentional harm to exploit me. She may have craved my desire as much as I needed hers, strange to say. But even if she thought she was a piece of shit, which she told me repeatedly she thought she was, she did have a strange power over me, and influenced me in a way that no other person had before her.

She made me feel special all right, desired and all those good things. But she became the reason, in my mind, why I finally wound up using. I’m not blaming her, mind you, though there had been a long period in my life once she was gone that I did and she was the easiest scapegoat I could find to blame everything on. I don’t blame her anymore, but it took me a long time to get there mentally. So, for the longest time as far as I was concerned, she was the reason why I got involved with drinking and drugs. She’d come over, want to snort lines, shoot up, smoke or whatever. She didn’t like using alone, and I was afraid to say no because I was afraid I’d lose her. I don’t know if I would have, but I was afraid I would. So that’s how I started using then. I didn’t shoot up, but I did everything else, drink, lines of coke, hits of acid, and tons of weed, especially weed. I had been ripe for that way of life, anyway, because as I said before, once I got blamed for the whole fiasco in my family, I didn’t see any reason to stay clean because obviously that didn’t keep me safe enough, and I was tired of the pain and the pain wasn’t doing me any good. With Laura, I felt no pain, whether we were making love or getting high. They usually came in a package deal. But not feeling the pain anymore was the best thing of all.

If I could blame Laura for the reason why I became a user, then I could play the blame game against Tommy too, making him the reason why I became a dealer. I wasn’t the main seller at first, because I didn’t know the machinations behind the business, like how to manage the personalities behind the buyers and the sellers, or how to set prices and that sort of thing. But I did become a runner for Tommy. We all pretended that I didn’t know what was in the packages, in case I got pulled over by the cops. But even high I knew what was in them generally, even if I didn’t know the specifics. I was to deliver x product, and collect y in cash. It sounds like a dangerous game, but I didn’t really have any problems with anyone those early years. Maybe it was because of my size, or maybe because the customers I dealt with were average people who just wanted to get high, sort of like me. I actually got along with a lot of them, and it felt like I had a real community for once. I was just glad to have a place to sleep every night, and that I didn’t have to move around every five minutes, and of course there was Laura.

I got arrested the first time when I was fifteen, so about a year and a half after I started living with Tommy. By then, my family had moved again at least twice according to Daryl when I did talk to him. He had left long ago, and only heard through hearsay where they lived, and didn’t talk to any of them either. I was starting to spiral downward because he’d told me that Charlie was doing badly, and there was no way that either of us could do anything about it because our mother would sic one of her asshole pimps on us. I was doing nothing but getting high, and although Laura was there by my side trying to fix me, she didn’t have the ego strength to carry both me and her. Her sadness made her spiral down even more trying to vainly save me.

So what happened was that she and I were driving home from somewhere, I’m not sure where it was, and then she crashed into a telephone pole. The cops came, and arrested both of us, because I had a dime bag and a pipe on me, and there were packages in the back that were intended for delivery. Oddly enough, neither of us were high on anything but pot that day, but the problem was that we were both drunk as hell. It really was alcohol that made Laura crash; she blew a .15 on the Breathalyzer when she was tested. Somehow, she said to the cops that she was my girlfriend, so she got arrested on statutory rape as well as the drug and alcohol charges. Me, I got intent to sell. I don’t know how you figure that one out. It’s like the law was saying I was too immature to have sex but was more than mature enough to run a drug business. But maybe she talked, maybe I talked. Suffice it to say, I did get arrested and charged. Since it was my first offense, I wound up getting probation and they put me in a foster home with a bunch of other kids like me. It got me away from Tommy and Laura, which I suppose was the point of the probationary charge instead of jail. But maybe if the courts had a crystal ball, they would have thought differently. Tommy and Laura were nothing compared to what I met up with in the foster home.

I don’t want to bore you with every detail. But this is where I learned to simply survive. It was the opposite of home, because like I said before, I was clean and sober every day of my life until I went to Tommy’s house so I could keep my wits about me. Here, survival was the opposite. Maybe because I was so psychologically hooked on drugs that I thought I lost any inner resource to combat using them, but I felt I needed to be high just to avoid everyone in the home. Everyone left me alone, but there was knife fighting amongst the other kids in the home, and I was too stoned to know who they were or what the fight was about. The cops were over constantly, and finally one time there was a scene where two of kids stabbed each other really bad and hard. I think it was over a girl, or maybe not. I just left before the cops came, and hit the road once again.

I found Tommy again, just where I left him. Laura was serving time, but since she never mentioned him, and claimed I lived with her, Tommy never was arrested for any involvement with me or my drug life. Laura covered for both of us, and I’m not so sure that was a good thing or not. Somewhere in there I turned sixteen, and I lived like I was an emancipated minor on my own. It seemed like the law didn’t care what happened to me at that point, at least insofar as being my guardian and protector. As far is it being my nemesis and bounty hunter, that was another story. But that all came later.

So the cops stopped looking for me, and I started running for Tommy once again. There were more girls this time, more than just Laura, and that’s when I began losing count of who I slept with or how many I even did. There were times I woke up and didn’t even recognize the women in the house, and wasn’t even sure if I slept with one of them, or all of them. That’s what my life had become. Getting arrested and surviving the foster home had numbed me completely, and I just didn’t care anymore.

I did get arrested for minor offenses, a couple times here and there. I first served time for DUI and intent to sell when I was twenty. It was a double offense because they confiscated pot on me when I was arrested and found cocaine in my vehicle when they impounded it. I learned about AA and that kind of thing when I was in there, but I never really got hooked on it even though I tried to force myself to do so. I couldn’t understand what a bunch of drunks who kept falling on their asses themselves had to offer me, and just felt I had too much ground to make up for. I tried going to meetings now and again after my probation, even disassociated myself from my old hangouts and friends like Tommy the last time around. I eventually meet this girl Valerie in my early twenties at the meetings who also had trouble with the meetings. So I guess it was worth something.

But sober life just didn’t agree with me, even though I pieced together months here and there of clean time, same with Valerie. I knew my way of life had made me lose a lot of ground as far as making my way in this world. And I had no idea how to gain that ground back so I could attain that life that I should have had, if my life had been more stable. Not that I had any idea what I would have wanted to do with my life, but I thought that if my family had been better, maybe I would have had a chance. I had no idea if that was a realistic way to think or not, but that’s how I was thinking about my life back then.

One problem I had in recovery was coming to terms that my using had something to do with my downward spiral, because I wound up on the streets homeless when I had never touched anything in my life. So because of that, I had trouble digesting the idea that if I were totally clean, my life would get better and better. Every time someone said that, I’d think of Charlie and how she was dead in the ground. I’d been clean and sober then, and my sister getting raped and me getting beat to a pulp by her rapist didn’t sound better and better to me.

So mainly for this reason, even though I tried to clean my act up, I suppose I didn’t really see the point in cleaning up totally. I rationalized drinking and smoking pot just often enough to convince my parole officer I was clean, which wasn’t too hard to do. I knew he was already snowed under by five tons of other caseloads, mostly of heroin pushers, and a kid on alcohol and weed wasn’t his biggest concern. He didn’t test me often, and since this was just before Reagan decided to clean up the world by declaring war on drugs except for the tobacco industry, this might be surprising now but wasn’t so much so then. Despite this, I still tried to clean up now again. I even went to classes to get my equivalency diploma, but it was just another reminder of how far I’d fallen behind, and when I was totally sober that’s all I could see.

But I kept giving this sober thing a try, because it just seemed like there had to be some way to get myself back on track. I even tried religion, and reconciling with my mother, which in the mid-eighties was one and the same. She’d become saved for a short time then, going to church all of the time and trying to convince everyone else to join her in her holy quest. Initially, I got involved in the church because my mother refused to meet Valerie unless we both came to her church. So we did that.

In hindsight, it seems like it was a really stupid idea, probably because it led to the most destructive choices I made in my life. I had no interest in religion, neither did Valerie, and I hadn’t talked to my mother in years. But I guess I saw it as a way to mend fences, one of those half-hearted attempts people in recovery make to pretend they can wipe the past clean in the present. Take it from me, it never really is wiped away, but I think I hoped that my attempt at reconciliation would do just that. Valerie was all for it, too, for the same idealistic reasons. That’s how it came to be that I was there at that church, for six months of my life.

The church my mother attended was one of those born-again places where she got saved, the kind where people fall on the floor because the Holy Spirit knocked the devil and the wind right out of them. She and my brother Damien both became active members there. Like I said, I don’t care much for religion, one way or another. I believe, but I don’t think God has anything to do with us with what we choose to do or not to do. Else, God’s a really confusing dude, because there’s the whole thing of why he would bother to intervene in my prayers like Santa Claus but completely ignore someone else’s. Like, what if one person prays for rain because he’s a farmer, the other one prays for sun because they’re getting married, and there’s nothing but sunshine for days? Does God not give a shit about the farmer, and what makes his prayers less valid than the one who got his wish granted with the sunny wedding? Is he saying that weddings are more important than agriculture?

I’ve presented questions like this to those who think prayers get answered directly, and they give me answers like God’s way is not my way. Which is my point exactly, so I don’t see the point in religion, my mother’s or anyone else’s. If God is so almighty, does he bother listening to ants like us when he’s got a whole universe to run? I don’t think so. But I’m just one person, and look at how I’ve lived.

Despite all this doubt, for six months, Valerie and I faithfully attended my mother’s church every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, just like she and Damien used to do so, whether we were blown out of our faces or not. I never fully understood any of the sermons, which occasionally was about how Jesus came and saved us so we should always be happy with the Holy Spirit, and other variants on the theme, but more often about how the world had forsaken God because abortion had been legalized and we as a nation were losing our blessing, whatever that meant. My mother and Damien, like the rest of the parishioners, would raise their hands when the preacher spoke, saying things like “Yes, Lord”, “Amen”, and “Thank you Jesus”.

Sometimes people fell down on the ground like they were having seizures, and I was told this was the Holy Spirit filling these people. I guess the Holy Spirit never bothered with me, because I never fell down like that on the ground. But what do I know. I was usually high when I went to these things, most of the time felt I had to be just to get through them, especially with all of the abortion rhetoric I kept being subjected to in the name of the Lord.

So maybe I was missing something, but I just didn’t get any of it. I didn’t know what anyone was thanking Jesus for, I wondered about if they were all so happy in Jesus, why they needed this preacher to tell them they were happy. Why not go hang out on the beach and talk to God there yourself if you felt he was sitting around and listening to you? I just never understood it, never felt any better than after I smoked a joint and looked at the wall.

But I did try, for the sake of trying to reconcile with my mom and do the right thing. Valerie and I both did. It was a suffocating experience, but I knew on some level just selling drugs and drinking wasn’t the right way either. My mother, I suppose, also tried as best she could in her own way to get me on the right path during her religious phase. But all of this trying everybody did just seemed to get everyone into a big mess. Maybe everybody was just trying too much, I don’t really know.

My mom went on a frenzy with this church thing with as much zealotry as she did when she chased men and drugs around the country. She was some kind of deacon, and became this intense advocate against abortion like a whole bunch of others, which the church she went to had a real fanatical issue with. It seemed like the most important thing in the world, almost more important than the Bible itself. I heard more about how evil it was to off babies in the womb than I heard about Jesus, which confused me because I thought the point of going to church was to hear about Jesus.

I’ve read the Bible a couple of times since then and was stone cold sober when I eventually did so, and I don’t see where Jesus or anyone else for that matter said anything about abortion. I read a lot about don’t put other gods before God and all that, which would make sense, but not one thing about abortion. I saw more evidence in the Bible for the church people to be ranting about gays then abortion, but meanwhile I heard about abortion at least as much about gays, if not more. But maybe I was missing something crucial, then and now. I didn’t even complete seventh grade, so maybe it’s me.

I suppose this is just a really long-winded way to say that my mother had found her new drug, and it was this crusade to be a pro-lifer. I don’t know what compelled my mom do be so determined to pursue that line of activism. Maybe it was guilt on some level. Like I said before, I don’t know if she ever had an abortion herself, and it was Daryl who told me that Charlie had an abortion, not my mom or Charlie herself. Like I’ve said, my mom definitely wanted to abort me, in her exact words. Maybe that explains why she wanted me so badly to get on her crusade with her. Maybe she would feel absolved. I have no idea how to explain the complexity of why people do what they do.

I almost gave up on trying to reconcile with her because of all of this fanaticism. Valerie dissuaded me from giving up. She said, “Give her a chance. Lots of newcomers to recovery are real enthusiasts. Just be patient.” So I took Valerie’s advice, because as an occasionally sober person I couldn’t suppress the desire to have at least some crumb of a normal family, even if the crumb was the size of a quark.

Looking back, my decision to go along with my family’s agenda in the name of reconciliation was a mistake. I should have listened to my instinct and just abandoned this insane undertaking, and if it took getting drunk, stoned, and high for years to create distance, then so be it. That sounds like a crazy thing, doesn’t it? That getting completely obliterated would be a better alternative than reconciliation with my mother and my family? It is, and I also have no evidence that making that choice would have made life any better.

But in my angrier moments, I hate that I went against my initial instinct and yearned for mommy instead of running. Running was not ideal, but it had kept me safe. And maybe, sometimes the instincts of an addict are actually right, because sobriety, I have found, seems to assume that everything will be great if you put your ass on the line without a drink in your hand. I guess you have to sell the lifestyle somehow when life is so lousy you know a joint would do you a lot better than the pain sobriety sics on you without an anesthetic.

Most times, like I said, I was high during the church services. Some people in the church came up to Valerie and me during that time, and I think they were saying something about how the devil was in me and trying to steal my soul. Equally problematic was the fact that Valerie and me were living together while being unmarried, and this seemed to be as much a problem as us taking illegal drugs, especially to my mother, which I thought was awfully ironic of her. Apparently our living arrangement was Satan trying to water us down, too.

Valerie, in her idealistic attempt to mend all fences, set up shop in her sister’s apartment so we could at least tell people we had separate residences even though in reality we didn’t. As far as our souls, I don’t know what we were getting watered down from, but I guess we accepted Christ as our savior at some point in one of their receiving lines when we were drunk and high. So I suppose that’s what they were referring to about Satan watering us down.

I just want to make another commentary, if you don’t mind, about this crowd my mother was teaming up with. They liked to call themselves pro-life, which was like a code for anti-abortion but not much else when it came to ‘life’ issues. People like my mother lobbied for stronger anti-abortion laws on the one hand, but then wanted a bigger military to go off and take on the Soviets and anyone else that they perceived to be anti-Christian on the other, the big exception being Israel for some reason.

At first I thought the Israel thing was for historical reasons, because Jesus was born there, but it seemed to do more with Jesus and the Holy Spirit not blessing us during the Second Coming if we didn’t arm up against anyone who didn’t like Israel. Most of congregants, while being really against abortion, had no real problem with the death penalty or guns either. I understood the gun part, because defending yourself makes sense and people use them for hunting which is a sport. Plus, it is in the constitution as our individual right, and I definitely agree with the premise of being able to defend yourself against tyranny if needed. I was and am no fan of the government being able to tell you what to do and leaving you too defenseless to stop them.

But I didn’t get why this religious congregation was so adamantly for the death penalty if they were so “pro-life”, especially since they didn’t like the idea of secular government telling them what to do. Because of this, you would think giving the government the power to off citizens legally would be offensive to these church folks, but apparently it wasn’t based on their actions. They seemed to forget that it was a secular government that killed off Jesus, Paul and every apostle except for John to fulfill their own whims while masking it as jurisprudence.

Many of congregants were as passionate about keeping the death penalty legal as they were about making abortion illegal. They’d call people who would want to stay executions pro-criminals and socialists, and many times would go to counter-protest those protesters when people were executed. When I asked people why they were so for the death penalty, I usually got an emotional rant about laws in the Old Testament justifying that kind of thing.

That confused me, because I thought they were reading about Jesus and that’s the New Testament, but they said that God doesn’t like sinners and the death penalty was the way to root out evil. I guess that’s a reason as good as any, but with all this frenzy for war and justice through execution, I wasn’t sure if they were really all that pro-life. Anti-abortion and from what I could tell maybe anti-euthanasia, I guess. Pro-life, no. But I was high during half the sermons, having sex and living with my girlfriend without getting married to her and also lying about it, so what did I know. And even though their logic confused me, I did like how they stood for something, unlike me. I couldn’t seem to convince myself to be as passionate as they were, no matter how much effort I put into it. Going to the church kept making this obvious to me. But I had really thought if I kept it up, I’d catch on and then I could be sober and clean and reasonably normal. That was my plan, anyway.

So occasionally Valerie and me would accompany them and my mother to various anti-abortion rallies, and a couple of times I went to executions where the protested against anti-death penalty protesters. Everyone yelled shit back and forth between each other. It mostly sounded like nonsense after awhile, but this is what I gleaned from the loud interchanges. Anti-death penalty people generally felt the justice system was stacked against the poor and people of color, even though many of the activists were white and didn’t appear to be all that poor themselves. Pro-death penalty people like my associates felt that we had to stand up for the victims because there were certain crimes against people that were just too heinous, I suppose as compared to the ones that weren’t too heinous. I didn’t understand the difference. I still don’t. But there apparently needed to be some distinction, so that some people got offed by the state for violence against people, and some didn’t.

Even though I still drank and got high on pot sometimes, the one thing I stopped doing during this time was running drugs. If you’ve ever seen these movies where the guy is forced back into the life once he does time or they threaten everyone they know by their former employers, just understand that wasn’t the group I was running with at the time. Like I said before, when I ran drugs for Tommy, it was just regular people who wanted to get high. There were no gangs threatening violence in the life I was living, the mob wasn’t cutting the break lines to my vehicle once I got my license, and I didn’t fear for my life because I wasn’t running. I’m not saying that kind of gang lifestyle is pure fiction. I just want to make it clear that just because someone runs drugs doesn’t mean they are automatically in that Hollywood gangster life. It certainly wasn’t true in my case dealing with Tommy. So when I got out, no one harassed me or blackmailed me to get back into that life.

But I needed money, and so I got odd jobs, whatever I could to pay the bills while Valerie was a waitress at a diner nearby. I assisted contractors of different kinds, and that seemed to be a bit of a turnaround professionally for me. After a time on the job, I found that I was actually good at working with electricians, wiring up houses and I actually enjoyed the work. Some of my associates suggested that I could get a license and start my own business, and I really was considering going about that until everything got bad.

For a short time, it seemed like things might actually change, and that I would have something to actually strive for in my life. Maybe, I began to think, I had a chance at living a semblance of a normal life. For awhile, it did, and things were good for a short period of my life.

Things turned bad just when I thought they were going good. It started when Valerie got pregnant, and we were in the position of trying to figure out what to do about the whole thing. It was unplanned and unexpected, and I didn’t know what to do. From what I remember, neither did Valerie. We were both in our early twenties and not even fully sober, so we had no idea what to do. Or, at least I didn’t, so I think in my mind I decided we both didn’t, which I found out soon enough wasn’t the best way to go about the matter. But that’s the way I thought about it, through my own confusion.

So, there I was trying to figure out what to do. I knew we couldn’t really afford a kid, but I remembered what happened with my late sister Charlie. No way in hell was I going to push an abortion on my girlfriend, with that in my conscious memory. In the end, I left it up to her, without giving her any input. I just came and went to work, and acted like everything would just work out if I minded my own business.

What I really did was conveniently forget that my pregnant girlfriend was not only my business but my responsibility as well. Admittedly I was really passive about the whole situation, and there is no good explanation for my reaction. I don’t know how I felt about being a father so young. Maybe if I had been more proactive, things would have not gotten out of hand, because I think I might have been able to intervene more. But maybe not. Valerie, of course, was the mother. Maybe she wouldn’t have been able to live with any other decision any better.

I came home one day from work to find that she wasn’t home. It wasn’t a really bad thing, because she worked strange hours. But then I found a note. It said simply, “May not be home until late”, and nothing else. That was weird for Valerie, because she usually told me everything and this note told me nothing. But she was a grown woman, and could do what she wanted, I reasoned. Even now in my fifites, I still think perceiving her as such even though she was only twenty was the right thing. I just wish I’d been paying better attention to detail along the way, because maybe I would have been suspicious, or at least more aware of what was going on with her. But I hadn’t, and just thought maybe she was out with friends and would be home when she was home. Even in this day and age of texting, I don’t know if I would have contacted her. But back then, there was no way of contacting her in a convenient manner like the way people can do nowadays.

So I didn’t contact her, and didn’t think anything of it until it was twelve-thirty in the morning and there was no phone call. I called the diner, which closed at eleven, and got no answer. I called one or two of her friends, and they hadn’t heard from her either. Valerie wasn’t even at her sister’s place in her fake apartment. She didn’t come home that day, or the next, and no one seemed to know where she’d gone.

It almost got to the point where couple other people and I were going to put out a missing persons report, when all of the sudden this dark-colored pickup pulled up in my driveway late at night and I went outside to see what was going on. I could tell it was dark-colored only because the street lights and my living room light illuminated it slightly, but I couldn’t tell you if it was green, black, or blue.

In any event, it was Valerie who got out of the vehicle, and the truck pulled away. At first I was happy and relieved, until I saw how she was. She walked up the driveway towards our apartment like it was just another day, like nothing at all unusual had occurred. There was nothing in her expression to say she was sorry, worried, or anything else.

Then again, I was so blind and so stuck in my own shit that maybe I just didn’t see the point of ascertaining her point of view. Meaning, the fact that her expression said nothing at all meant it said absolutely everything. I should have known that, but I was too stupid and blind to know to even try to look deeper. My ignorance was going to cost me big time with what I was going to say next, and I still regret it today.

“Who the fuck was in that truck?” I interrogated her, right there in the middle of the driveway. Not how are you Valerie, glad you’re home okay Valerie. No, the very first thing that came out was the venomous boyfriend in me. I was always insecure with my women unless I was high. When Valerie came home that night, I most decidedly was not.

“What the fuck do you care,” was her reply. She shuffled past me, eyes down, like I was just some jackass on the street. This made me even more livid, when I should have been concerned. My girlfriend had been missing for two days, and was walking past me like a zombie. But I only had room for my rage.

“Hey! Where the fuck do you think you’re going without speaking to me?” I never spoke to her or any woman like that before in my life, and my words shocked even me.

But apparently not Valerie. She continued to shuffle past me like I didn’t exist. Still, no concern from me. All I did in response was block the front door to prevent her from going inside. I took her lethargy to mean she was stonewalling me. I made it all about me.

Valerie stopped dead in her tracks, one foot from me, still not looking up or speaking. She stood like a stone statue. She moved not one bit. Her frozen state in the driveway was illuminated from the hall light inside.

For a moment, I was freaked out by her countenance, wondering if she was okay. But only for a moment, and my rage remembered itself. I grabbed her by her shoulders and shook her, trying to get her to respond.

“Hey! What’s going on with you! Answer me! Where have you been? Who was in the truck?” I demanded. By this time, our neighbor Todd Grant was outside, I suppose attracted by my ranting or perhaps because he knew Valerie had gone missing and wanted to check in. Or maybe both, I don’t really know.

“Everything okay?” He asked in his bathrobe.

Valerie said nothing. I replied for the two of us something like this, “Yes. Valerie’s home.”

“She okay?” Todd asked.

The way Valerie was behaving, I didn’t know how to answer that, and was panicking at how much attention I was attracting. “I think so. She was with family.” I never fully understood why I lied, seeing that Todd had been part of the search party looking for her. But lie I did. I guess I thought love meant covering for her, or maybe I was afraid if I got into a true explanation my rage would come apart at the seams and getting rid of Todd was the best thing at the time to do. But I really don’t know what my motives were for lying, not then or now. Because I had no idea if she’d been with family, and she most definitely was not okay and I knew that, even then.

So Todd replied to my lie by saying, “Oh, good. I’m glad she’s okay. Hi Valerie.” Valerie still didn’t say anything back, and everyone was quiet for a minute before Todd intervened with “Guess it’s been a long night for everyone, huh?,” before going back inside his house.

Once he did, that’s when Valerie finally looked up at me. Her eyes were really swollen as well as her face, and it was the first time I noticed this. She said, “Guess you were busy telling all of your shithead friends how fucked up I am.”

It was a totally irrational statement, out of context given that someone had just shown concern and friendliness. I should have known something was wrong, seeing how out of place her statement was, because Valerie is normally a very warm and friendly person, which is probably why Todd was so puzzled that she didn’t say hello. But I couldn’t read through her words at all, or at least wouldn’t, and instead used it to justify going ballistic on her, right then and there.

I don’t even remember what the hell I said to her in my tirade. I didn’t hit her, but even though this might seem like a sadistic and callous statement, I may as well have. I don’t remember what I said, but I remember letting loose on my rage, and I doubt I held anything back. She just stood there and looked at me. She said nothing. When I was done, all she said was, “Can I get in the house already, asshole?” All I could do after that was let her by. She slammed her shoulder into mine as she shuffled past me, and I assumed she did this to provoke me. I held onto this assumption, as I followed her into the house.

So I ignored her. She went our bedroom, and instead of going to her there, I went to the back room of our apartment where there was a couch, deliberately avoiding her. No way I was going to be conciliatory after that. I spent pretty much the whole night awake, and never went to her once. But she never came to me either, and I felt justified and vindicated in avoiding her.

I must have fallen asleep at some point, because one moment I was tossing and turning in the dark, and the next moment I blinked to a hint of light, like the sun had just rose. I guess I’d slept about three hours or so. Even though I felt like shit, I felt proud of myself that I hadn’t given in and groveled at her feet, begging her to love me even though she’d been the one who’d taken off. As you might have observed, I really didn’t give much thought about how she felt, even though she was two months pregnant because of me. Go ahead, say it. I was an asshole. Because if you were thinking that, you are right. I was.

Apparently, Valerie also still thought I was one hell of an asshole. Because sometime during the three hours I snoozed, she’d taken off again. This time, she left a note. It said, “Took care of our ‘little problem’, asshole. You and your fucked up mother can fuck off. I’d rather die in hell than have a kid with you. I’m living with Matt now. Unlike you, he’s a real man, not a shit head like you and gives a flying fuck about me. Go fuck off and die with your loser friends.”

As you can imagine, I was completely shocked. I had no idea what brought on any of this. I have a better idea now, but at that moment, had no idea at all. I read the note again and again, digesting it. I read it literally and between the lines. The literal message was clear enough. Matt was her dealer ex that she’d been living with before she got clean, and so that meant she was back with him again. Unlike Tommy, he was the kind of bad dude that you really, really have to worry about. He’d been arrested several times for drug violence, including slashing up some rival seller. He slugged around Valerie a few times, though Valerie claimed she’d hit him first so I don’t know if she was excusing domestic violence or if she was super-violent if she was on harder drugs.

In any event, it didn’t sound good at all, and here she was, all back with him again. In typical fashion, I just thought of myself again, and wondered how long she’d been back with him seeing that she got back with him so quickly and easily. I decided there was no possible way she could have only called him in the last two days if she was driving off like that with him. I was apparently wrong, because that’s exactly what happened, but I didn’t know that at the time and decided she’d been cheating on me the whole time because she’d abandoned me the way she did. I also didn’t even think of why her eyes were so swollen, or anything like that. Anyone with half a brain could have figured out that she was either back on drugs, or was getting hit, or both. I just was hung up on her cheating on me, because everyone knew she’d been missing, and now I felt like a fool because this is what had occurred. I wonder if she’d even been pregnant with my kid or she’d gotten herself knocked up by Matt, deciding she’d must have been screwing him all along. That’s what I got from the literal reading.

Then, after a few times of reading it that way as the scorned lover, I read the other message that seemed pretty clear but wasn’t quite as literal as her saying I was a shit head and an asshole. I read through that message even more times, because I had even more trouble believing it than realizing Valerie had turned against me. It was what I believe she meant by taking care of our “little problem”. I had sometimes, in jest, called our dilemma of her being pregnant our “little problem”. So I knew she was referring to the pregnancy in the letter, and I just couldn’t see what she could have possibly meant by that other than she’d gone off and gotten an abortion. Jackass I was, instead of being frightened and concerned for her physical and mental health, or even incensed that she’d chosen to get an abortion without consulting me first, the jealous boyfriend in me decided that Matt was the one that accompanied her. So I decided my suspicion of her infidelity was right, that the reason why she deserted me and consulted in him was that it wasn’t even my baby to begin with. Which meant in my mind she’d been cheating for a few months if not indefinitely with him.

I really had no proof that she’d cheated even one time with him at that point, but I still decided she was guilty of all this infidelity anyway. I used this assumption to justify an irrational anger, that made me feel stupid that I’d committed myself to her for so long while she was playing me. Immediately I used this excuse to cut work, drink all day, and go to a bar that night and pick up the first chick who would go home with me. We had did lines and sex all night and into the next day, and then Valerie came back with Matt in the middle of all of that to get her things. It really got insane, and I don’t even know what the hell happened, but all four of us were arrested with disorderly conduct and drug possession charges. My face was all bruised and beat up, and Matt looked even worse.

I have no idea what led me to go from practically indifferent and blind to what was going on with my pregnant girlfriend to absolutely livid and ballistic in such a short period of time. Maybe I cared more than I realized, or maybe I was mad at myself for being so indifferent, or some combination of both, which I believe it was. I do know that once I began this path of rage and destruction, I didn’t see any reason to backtrack. I tried the clean and sober way, and look what it got me, I rationalized. A cheating girlfriend, a judgmental mother, and a family that couldn’t care less if I was alive or not. Who the hell wanted to be sober for that kind of shit, I rationalized. Besides, my classes for my equivalency diploma were a hassle, I couldn’t concentrate, and I could make a lot more money in a lot shorter period of time running drugs than doing any legal business. So now I was back on the streets, and because of my rage and the baggage I’d incurred as an adult, I was in many ways worse off than I was at fifteen. Because I still had the baggage from back then, just a lot more than where that came from.

After being arrested and dealing with the courts a few more times, I wound up serving time again for two years. I spent most of that time in survival mode, which is a way of saying it was like experiencing my childhood all over again, except I couldn’t run anywhere and hide like I could back then. I didn’t provoke any fights, but was involved in a whole bunch and even saw one or two inmates getting shanked. The life I almost had was a distant memory, and if I thought about it too much it really got to me, like a broken heart. Maybe that’s exactly what I had. After all, my ex-girlfriend had dumped me for her dealer and aborted my kid. I didn’t realize how important either one of them were until both of them were gone. Or maybe, I was just addicted to pain so only in loss would either mean anything to me. I don’t know. Insight into extreme chaos seems like a contradiction, and in any event, would never help me get back either one. So I never really resolved what my feelings were about Valerie and what happened with us.

So to get over the pain of my past, I mentally absorbed myself into my new one. This had the benefit of making me forget my girl and what she did to me, help me not care that my so-called religious mom wasn’t bothering with me now that I was down and out, and helping me survive the new environment I now spent my time in. This had some downsides, of course. I chose to associate with people who I felt would protect my ass, people who had more violent encounters than I did and who I felt could help me get through my time there and perhaps once I left the prison yard. They weren’t particularly nice people, as you can imagine. It wasn’t like they were going to be able to assist me on the outside by giving me a lucrative legal job. They, like me, had lost those ties to society long ago.

Some of them knew a friend who knew a friend who knew Tommy, so my reputation as a runner preceded me without my even knowing it. It was from them that I found out that Tommy had died of a heart attack a month or two after I’d been arrested the last time, so even if I wanted to go back to him to run I couldn’t. I also gleaned from them that my associates were much more violent than the ones I used to know, but I felt my options were limited. These guys were the only ones who were speaking to me, and so they seemed like the best colleagues to help me get through the next stage of my life, whatever that was going to be. I’d given up hoping on anything better.

That being said, I did everything possible to lay low. These other guys were sort of my cover, and for the most part I was not involved with the political machinations that go with the prison life. But I had two years to serve, and I needed to do something with my time. I worked at the prison commissary, because I had an exemplary record while serving, and to maintain my job there, I had to stay out of trouble by definition. So the other thing I did was spend time in the library. There were a lot of people there trying to figure out a defense to their cases, but since I decided I was guilty as hell, I didn’t even bother to try. I first went there just out of boredom, and to do something that didn’t involve gang fights. It wasn’t completely insulated from the insanity that went on with prison life, but it was the closest place to a haven if you wanted to stay away from trouble.

Most people kept to themselves there, I suppose not trusting the other patrons as being as pure as themselves, and I was one of them. I really didn’t know for sure if the other inmates who were there would involve me in some plot if I associated with them, so I steered clear of everyone in there. My only companions there were the books that were there, and the civilian librarians who were working there. The first guy who I met who worked there was someone named Vince. I never got into why a civilian librarian chose to work at a correctional facility, but Vince worked there for three months and helped me get over my initial intimidation when it came to reading. As I’ve said before, I only had an seventh grade education, and the walls and walls of books were more intimidating than half the drug gangs I encountered in my life. I also really held no hope out for education, because I couldn’t imagine who’d want to hire an ex-con like me for anything, because now I was a felon because of the amount of drugs they found during the brawl with my ex and I was a repeat offender.

So when I first went in there, I made a pretense of being some kind of bookworm. I got out the fattest books I could get that sounded important, like this book called The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It’s part of a series of books by a historian called Edward Gibbon. I had no idea it was series of volumes. The library had only one volume, because that’s all that had been donated, by someone named Karyn Blumfield according to the label inside the front cover. I could barely read her name, let alone what was in the book. But I thought sitting there and looking like I was reading it would get me somewhere, and would hide the fact that I had no idea what the hell what I was doing. What was interesting was that I could start to make out a lot of words that were unfamiliar to me, and could even infer what they meant, which was surprising to me. But if someone asked me to recite or even summarize what I read, I would have never been able to do that with any real confidence in my accuracy. But I figured sitting there at least got me out of trouble, and it was nice to sit in the relative quiet of the library away from all the chaotic bullshit that accompanied prison life. It was bad enough I encountered all that during mealtimes and when I worked at the commissary, so it was nice to get a break.

I’d been playing with my pretense of literacy thumbing through this book, not sure how long, when this dude Vince sat down next to me. At that point, I’d seen him working there, this big red-haired Irish setter of a guy, behind the desk. I knew he was a civvie, but I steered clear of him just the same because in prison, you just never know who’s into what. And likewise, he’d done the same, although I observed that he seemed personable enough when the other prisoners approached him, I presume with questions about books as he would many times point at the shelves or walk with them to a particular section of the library, as though he was directing them to books and nothing more. I was still wary of him, but he didn’t seem bothered by me one way or another. He’d nod hello or goodbye if he saw me on the way in or the way out, and that was about it as far as our initial interaction.

But today was slightly different, not only because he sat down next to me but because it was obvious there was something he wanted to say to me. It wasn’t like he was cataloging books, studying something, or anything else like that. He sat down, staring directly at me. He had blue eyes and red scruff all over his face, even though his red hair was cut almost military short. I guessed he was a little shorter than me, but was slightly bigger in build so if we got into it, he’d be an equal match just in build in a fight but a superior candidate if he had even a little bit of fighting experience. My two major scuffles hardly qualified as any real teaching in that arena. So I held my own by simply staring back, saying only, “Can I help you?”, forcing myself to hold his gaze. It appeared that Vince was not suffering from the same difficulty, he was so unmoving in how he stared me down.

“No, but I was wondering if I could be of assistance to you,” he said. His voice was soft and gentle, not what you might expect from such a big bear of a dude. Probably because over a course of a lifetime, he found a way that he didn’t need to punch with his voice. From the lines in his face, but lack of gray, I guessed he was about forty. Which, to a guy like me in his mid-twenties, was significantly old compared to me. Vince broke his gaze by nodding towards the book. “You like history?”

I hesitated. I was going to have to lie, and I hated doing that sober. “Yeah. Sure.”

“I noticed.” He nodded his head. “You seem to read really fast. You seem to read a page every ten seconds, and that sure isn’t light reading there. So what do you think, so far?”

What did I think? I had no idea what that was supposed to mean. “Excuse me?”

Vince nodded towards the book. “What do you think? About what Gibbon had to say about the Romans? You agree with his theory?”

It took me a minute to register who Gibbon was, that he was the author of the book I was pretending to read. But his theory? Of what? Was Vince siccing a trick question on me? It was supposed to be a history book. So why would the author have a theory? Wasn’t history supposed to be about facts? I think I began to squirm, and my face felt hot. It probably was redder than Vince’s hair. He smiled and shook his head.

He got up for a second and pulled another book from the shelf, placing it before me while still standing. It was the good old fashioned Bible. Leaning over me, he opened to the first chapter of Genesis and pointed to it. “Read that.”

I glanced at the first line, about how in the beginning God created heaven and earth. I had just made out the sentence before Vince yanked the Bible away.

“Okay. So, on what day did God create the stars?”

Huh? I only had the book in front of me for ten seconds, max. At that second, I didn’t get what Vince was doing, which was calling me on my shit. I thought he was messing with my head for the hell of it.

Vince smiled. “Okay. Maybe that was a little too specific. Why don’t you just give me the general narrative of the chapter, then? Like, tell me what God created, in chronological order.”

I blinked in response, trying to buy time. I should know this, after going to my mother’s church so long. But I never actually read the Bible at that point, and I was too high to get the specifics of any sermon or Bible reading in church itself, even if it was something as universal as the creation story. I just remember Eve and Adam screwing up at the end of it, because it always made me think of Valerie and me even then. I don’t think that was the first chapter, though. As far as the chronology of the creation, the only specifics I remembered was that on the seventh day, God rested. Other than that? I was lost. And I don’t know if that was the first chapter, either. That was what was in front of me, chapter one. I glanced down, hoping Vince wouldn’t see me doing so.

He did. “Hey. No cheating.”

I just blinked in response. His piercing eyes were just too mean for me to lie to. I felt like a fourteen year old with Tommy all over again.

Vince leaned down and spoke in a whisper that was half the volume of his voice, which I hadn’t thought possible. “If you really read at the speed you keep showing off around here, you would have read and digested the first page of the Bible in no time and been able to give me an answer.” He put his hand on my shoulder, and it pissed me off. Who the fuck was he to say shit like that to me?, was my mental sentiment. Did he have a death wish, being an asshole saying shit like that to someone in prison? And how was it any of his business, whether I faked reading or not? What the hell was the purpose of humiliating me like that?

While thinking all that, I really, really wanted to slug him, but I’d learned to reign that impulse in over my history, not to mention it would land me in the hole if I did and make me lose my privileges. I also was more embarrassed than angry, and it made me want to punch myself more than anyone else. Vince left the Bible where it was, and the words swam in front of me. I could only piece together some of them, which upset me. I couldn’t answer Vince’s question even if I had ten years to read the page.

I don’t know what my countenance looked like, but Vince suddenly changed his whole demeanor. His face softened, and he smiled. Just like it was hard to stay pissed at a big friendly setter, it was hard to stay pissed at him. He then nearly whispered, “You read much on the outside?”

No use lying, seeing that got me nowhere. “I haven’t read anything since I left school.”

He frowned and paused before asking, “Which was when?”

I actually didn’t remember offhand. I had to mentally calculate back, first by remembering how old I was now. Maybe that seems weird, that I didn’t have a quick answer for something basic like that. But in prison it felt like time ran on a different clock than the rest of the world, partly because unless I kept forgetting what day it was, each day being exactly like the previous one with nowhere to go. Because of all that, I’d lost my automatic perspective of real age. I had to rack my brains to remember the date, and with some calculation, I remembered I was twenty-three. After a few more seconds of digging into my deep past, I remembered the fiasco with Maurice and Charlie, and I think I was just about fourteen when all of that happened. Then I did the math, which was the easiest part of all, and was able to finally answer his question. “I think about nine years.”

“And how old are you?” The surprised tone of his voice was of normal volume. Which for him, I observed, was yelling.

“Twenty-three.”

He frowned again. “You left school at fourteen?” His voice, thankfully, was back to a whisper.

I nodded.

He exhaled a long, long breath. “You were in ninth grade? Tenth grade?”

I felt my face go hot. I had started a year behind everyone, because of my birthday being in December and all, but with all the moving around and absenteeism my mother subjected my siblings and me to, I wound up repeating sixth grade, which is why I was two years behind rather than just one. Not something I liked broadcasting. “No. Seventh.”

Vince just nodded, his expression hard to read. I guess he was just digesting that information, but at the time, his impassivity made me feel paranoid, like a world of judgment was hiding behind a blank screen.

“Do you really want to learn to read, or are you just in here killing time?” Man, this guy had balls, being so blunt in place like this. But then again, I guess he had to have balls to be working in a place like this.

So I just swallowed the anger I had in myself, and thought of his question. Surprisingly, even though originally I was in here just killing time, I found myself answering him by saying, “I think I’d like to learn to read better.”

With that answer, my tutorial in reading began. Vince seemed to take it on personally to be my coach and teacher. He started by handing me a dictionary. He suggested that if I felt so intimidated by words, but wanted to really learn how to read, to read the dictionary so I could get the feel of the English language. And that’s exactly what I did, read the dictionary, from beginning to end in less than three months. I learned all kinds of words and the phonetics that went with them. I fell asleep with words dancing in my head, as basic as carpool and as complex as catoptromancy, which I learned later means foretelling the future by looking into a mirror or crystal ball.

I didn’t really learn many definitions that first time around. If you’ve ever really looked up a lot of words, sometimes the words used in the definitions were more complex than the original word being defined. I tried cross-referencing, as in looking up how to pronounce the words in the definition so as to learn the meanings of the other words, but Vince saw what I was doing and told me to keep it simple and stop playing James Joyce. I didn’t know who James Joyce was at the time, but I gathered that he wasn’t particularly simple and that Vince had caught me in another fake out scheme.

So I finished reading the dictionary, and began reading books just to test my new knowledge. After the dictionary, I had a good grasp of pronunciation and general definitions but had a little more difficulty with comprehension when stringing all of those words together. Vince continued my education, giving me children’s books to read like Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. At first, I felt a little silly reading children’s books. But my wanting to learn outstripped the embarrassment I felt at reading this literature. And it felt like an accomplishment to me to get through Goodnight, Moon, which is as far as I know the first book I ever read from cover to cover. Then I read The Giving Tree, and I felt tears come to my eyes when I finished it. It was a beautiful book, and it’s one of my favorites. It still brings tears to my eyes, even to this very day. That book made me want to be a better person, and at the time I believed the better I could educate myself, the more I would have to give.

After I accomplished this task, I felt much more confident in my reading ability. My vocabulary and comprehension increased the more I read. I began reading a junior high school version of the Bible and found I had no difficulty at all understanding what I read, and perhaps on some level I inculcated some of the sermons I’d absorbed under drugged osmosis from the church sermons I went to. It was interesting to read all those lessons that I’d heard over the years, and it made me feel more responsible and mature because now I could look up for myself if all the things preachers tried to tell me was true.

That’s when I discovered for myself that gays are hardly mentioned in the Bible, and abortion not at all specifically, though many construe various phrases to fit their zealotry. For example, there are 613 laws in the Torah, most with extremely specific codification. Yet in all of that, there is no specific law against abortion. You’d think if Yahweh had been so upset by abortion, He’d have made a much bigger stink about it in the jurisprudence he purportedly handed to his servant Moses. The closest things I’ve heard any resemblance to the Scripture pertaining to life in the womb was in Psalm 139 where the psalmist says how God knit him in his mother’s womb, and the parable in Luke 1 when John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb at the presence of a pregnant Mary. Gays are mentioned a little bit more, but not by a whole lot.

In fact, I read more about God getting ticked off that people forget about him than anything else. It made me think of all the times I heard about Satan, Satan, Satan at my mother’s church and how I wondered if Jesus saved us all we weren’t hearing more about how he’d already won the battle, seeing that he’d resurrected and all that. Every time I read a verse containing God’s jealousy or wrath at being forgotten, I kept thinking of that.

And about all that yammering about the death penalty being our Christian duty, I verified what I suspected that there is no jurisprudence in the New Testament authorizing the death penalty. The only instance where execution seemed sanctioned was when the Holy Spirit killed Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts, but that was God passing the judgment, not mankind. It pissed me off reading what the Bible really said, and made me feel that I’d got nothing but a snow job for months and years from my mother and her crazy friends. Maybe Valerie had been right to chastise them as being such, after all.

Speaking of Valerie and my mother, I didn’t hear from them at all when I was in jail, which was one reason why I threw myself so voraciously into reading. I didn’t want to think about them, and why they abandoned me. When I was in jail, I thought of making amends to people I’d hurt. I read the Alcoholics Anonymous book, the one that many in the meetings called the Big Book. In it I read what I’d heard at some of the meetings, which is to make amends to those you’ve hurt, except since I could actually read it now I could better follow the directions suggested. Being that I was in prison, I figured I’d write letters to those I hurt. I wrote my mother once, but never heard a reply. I wrote to Valerie also, using her sister’s address, but I got the letter back with “return to sender” on the outside.

This whole experience deflated my idealism, and I really had no one to tell about this situation. Maybe I could have confided in Vince, but even though he’d taken an interest in my reading and learning, there seemed to be a wall between us that was pretty strong on his side. Like for one, I never knew what compelled him to work in a prison library rather than somewhere on the outside. Something about him made him seem unapproachable when it came to probing him about his life, even though he was friendly enough, even enthusiastic, when it came to talking to me about reading and learning. I didn’t like going to prison recovery meetings, because they just seemed like places where people looked for drug connections.

It was bad enough that the people I’d chosen to associate with at the meal times were into trafficking. Because I ate with them, I was left alone by everyone else. It made me uneasy, because they seemed to be asking for nothing in return and I knew better. Being Tommy’s buddy could only carry so much good fortune on its own terms. But I had to associate with someone on the inside if I wanted to get out safely and stay out of trouble. They seemed to be the most conservative bet, as they provided that option for me on the inside. I always wondered what they would exact from me in payment, but none seemed to be forthcoming while on the inside. Needless to say, I didn’t confide much in these people, either.

So, I just swallowed my pain, and stopped worrying about the people who abandoned me. After all, they’d fucked me over as much as I had fucked them. I figured, the hell with them and decided to move on with my life. Reading did that, and I read voraciously. I’d been into this new endeavor for some time, when Vince gave me a test on the computer, which was an IQ test. That in itself was interesting, as I had never used a computer in my life. But I found I enjoyed it, loved the simplicity and logic it seemed to create and ease.

I tested three times, and all three scores were relatively similar: 130, 127, and 132, which is considerably above average. This surprised me, seeing that I’d not completed seventh grade. Vince said that this wasn’t strange at all. The IQ test simply meant that I had the potential, but no one had tapped my abilities. It explained why I caught on so easily to reading in such a short time without trying so hard, but it also upset me, because maybe I could have done better in school if only I paid attention, and maybe I never would have dropped out in the first place. But I also feel it’s possible I’m the kind of person who learns better at his own pace. When I tried to take classes at the prison, I just couldn’t concentrate on what the teacher said. It didn’t help that half the inmates kept disrupting the class and perhaps for that reason, the teachers kept quitting and classes kept getting canceled. Sad to say, I didn’t feel that I would accomplish much with them, which seemed to be a waste of opportunity. I seemed to do better if I just read a book and learned on my own terms and my own pace.

I’d been at the prison for just about seven months, when all of the sudden Vince was gone, without any explanation at all. This happened all of the time, people going in and out, but I have to say it was really a loss to me when he did leave. I don’t know why I took it so personally that he left without explanation. I felt just as bad as I did when Valerie and my mom rejected my conciliatory efforts. I felt dazed, and the library, which had been my refuge, no longer felt as safe as it used to. I had no idea how much I’d come to rely on Vince’s companionship, even knowing that he’d held back from me the entire time he knew me. I guess I’d assumed his tutorials were indicative of him liking me personally without knowing it, and his abandonment of me was proof that I’d been wrong once again. Looking back, I really don’t know if this cynical conclusion was correct. After all, he may have liked me personally, but that didn’t mean whatever was going on in his personal life wouldn’t lead to an abrupt departure regardless of his personal disposition towards me. In other words, it could have been both. He could have liked me, but life really just took him elsewhere, and he may have felt bad about leaving me as he did. I really don’t know for sure, and it certainly could be possible. But I didn’t have such a generous attitude to him back then, and assumed the absolute worst. I was of the opinion back then that somehow assuming the worse insulated me from pain. I know now that practice really has no merit, as assuming the worst just leads to a different pain which also justifies things like revenge and the bloodlust that stems from that.

Because of this, I spent the rest of my time inside in a real daze. I stopped being fully sober, and didn’t care as much if I got caught. The pain was just too much for me to bear, and I just wanted to feel nothing at all. And I guess on some level I did want to get caught, because I didn’t care anymore if I succeeded in life or not. I was tired of putting myself out there, trusting people in my life. Why I didn’t get into fights, I don’t really know. It wasn’t a habit of mine to provoke violence, and I was too absorbed in my depression to really think to do that to extend my sentence. That required some foresight, and I didn’t have it anymore.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get caught using, and this in the long run was a bad thing because when my parole came up, I was released on good behavior. I wasn’t ready for life on the outside, and had no inclination to participate in a productive way. Life on the inside had jaded me, and I was so distrusting of everyone I knew that I felt like a cornered animal. Added to that, I had no confirmed skills other than reading, no diploma, and the only connections I had were intertwined with the group who’d kept me out of trouble on the inside. This was a recipe for a disaster, but anyone reading this has to know it was partially because of me. I did nothing to acquire a diploma or even the certification to become an electrician on the inside. I sabotaged my opportunities to better myself by not partaking in them while I had a chance. Even though I now knew I had the intelligence to succeed, I did nothing to help myself. I didn’t have to give up on the classes just because there were people who made it difficult to succeed. That’s the way life is anywhere, but I took it as an excuse to play a victim that there was no hope to change anything in my life. I look back now, and it does seem like a waste. I don’t know if it seems that way to you, but it does to me.

I don’t know exactly why I did that to myself, acted in such an implosive self-destructive way as to negate all opportunities I could have capitalized on. I don’t remember walking around prison saying, Jake, you’re a piece of shit. But obviously my decisions reflected that I thought that. It’s almost like learning that I was smarter than I thought came to me as a curse rather than a source of joy and opportunity, which is probably the worst thing I could have done to myself. I just saw my life up until that point, with all of the rejections and the screwups, and just felt like it was too high a mountain for me to climb up. Probably my family and my girlfriend and Vince just up and leaving me to dry was something I couldn’t get over, and I know it sounds like a mountain of self-pity. But when people collapse and wind up in a place like me, the final rockslide has to start somewhere, and that’s how it began for me.

Terrance was one of the guys who I hung out with in prison, who was the nephew of one of Tommy’s suppliers. He was in for trafficking several kilos of heroin, because he sold to an undercover cop. Terrance had broken up with his girlfriend Kendra a couple of weeks before the bust, and he felt she had tipped the law off, or at least copped a deal to bring him down. So he really got on with me pertaining to women and life falling apart. I didn’t really confide in him about my pain, because I felt something was off with him, but he did know the general facts as to why I was on the inside, and a chick screwing me over seemed to be bond enough that he took me in. As I was approaching parole, he suggested I talk to his brother Michael for a place to live. I was jealous of Terrance, as here he was with a heavier sentence than me, and yet his family was still in contact with them. I wished I could still have that kind of connection with someone I knew. I wanted to see what it was to have that kind of bond, so without thinking, I said yes, and Michael was also happy to take me in as a favor to his brother. I don’t know why I didn’t look into Michael’s lifestyle more, but the prospect of living in a room with a hot plate all alone was just to dismal for me consider if I had any other option at all, and Michael was, if nothing else, a better option than that hole. And maybe my lack of trust in anyone negated the option of looking into Michael. I didn’t know what I could trust, or whom. So if I had found something negative about Michael, how would I know if the information was correct or not? And I would be reneging an unspoken pact between myself and someone who’d been looking out for me on the inside. Michael would take me in, and so I chose to live with him, without any asking any questions at all. I didn’t think I had any other good options, and at that moment in time because of my choices, I probably didn’t.

Michael lived about fifty miles from the prison, but still within the county. This was part of my probation, to stay in county borders. I was supposed to see a parole officer once a week, a guy I called Benson. He really was an impassive person, looked like he was in his mid-sixties even though most likely he was in his fifties, worn out and haggard from years of dealing with scumbags like myself. Benson would just ask if I had a job yet, I’d say no and he’d nod. He took a blood test, but I don’t know why because I always failed it. I had to have, because I was smoking pot and usually at least a little buzzed when I saw him. But just like last time in my life, I passed every time, and eventually I became bolder and showed up stoned and drunk. Benson just asked if I’d found a job, I said no, and he nodded and sent me on my way. I guess he didn’t feel like getting all entangled with the legalese involved in writing me up. Maybe because for the first few months, I was involved with nothing violent, so I wasn’t worth the headache. I don’t really know. But it really was just going through the motions. There was some unspoken agreement that if I wanted to get away with something with him, I could just go and do that. I don’t know if Benson was corrupt, burnt out, or what was going on, because I didn’t ask. I just went there every week, and Benson gave me a pass. That was the extent of my follow-up after my prison life. Then I’d go back to the house that I shared with Michael, drink, smoke pot, read, and watch TV. I looked through classifieds to get work, but I just didn’t have any incentive or motivation to do so.

Michael didn’t seem to have a job either. He came and went at strange hours, and he was my main pot connection. I should have been a little more alert to my surroundings, and it didn’t help that my parole officer Benson didn’t do much digging either. But even though I didn’t have a great PO, that wasn’t much of an excuse for not looking out for myself. After all, my life wasn’t truly Benson’s responsibility, when it boiled down to it. It was mine. But I seemed to have absconded with that fact long ago, and I only had myself to blame. So I was left with a life where I was dying off with no income to speak of, and my perception of reality so skewed that I wasn’t even questioning the amorality of it.

I did keep up with my reading. It seemed to be my one real tether to reality. I wasn’t reading anything profound. Mostly bestseller fiction at that point, and celebrity biographies. Communism was collapsing all around me along with my life, but I didn’t want to know about any of it. Reading at that point probably was more of an escape than anything else, but if I hadn’t had that escape, I may have had more reason to be suicidal. Or, perhaps, I would have thought to get out of my own way. My reading habits, though were not at fault. Even if it was an escape, I could have used my reading habits to educate myself with skills or enlighten my understanding of myself so I would stop screwing up. I didn’t. The murder mysteries and horror stories I drowned in were just another way or running, indicative of the nosedive I was sending myself into. I was running, and I didn’t even want to know what I was running from, even if everything was just below the surface. Like the fact I was being cared for, and so far nothing had been requested in return. I had to know on some level that was too good to be true, and I think I did. Which is why I kept that, far from my mind. I wanted to ride the escape hatch as long as it ran. And I did, until it ran out.

One day, Michael came in from one of his stints, accompanied by another guy. Michael laid out a bag of weed, about an ounce or so. The other guy sat down with us, and he never looked at me once. I had never met this guy before, but we were going to become acquainted today, if you could call it that.

Michael pointed at the dude, a really tall and big beefy guy, and told me this. “Bob, this is Eddie. He said he can help you with work.”

Apparently, I’d been renamed Bob somewhere along the line. I looked at “Eddie”. He was still staring at the table. I looked at Michael questioningly.

Michael just shrugged. “Eddie’s not much of a talker. But he’s someone Terrance and I have worked with, and he’s one of our better workers. Terrance and I were thinking that you need help getting back on your feet, and Eddie’s the best one that can do that for you. Right, Eddie?”

Eddie looked up at Michael. I guess that was his way of saying yes, because it compelled Michael to laugh and punch the guy in his arm. “You’re always a funny one, Eddie!” He said while laughing. I didn’t laugh myself. I didn’t know anything funny had just been said. I looked at the joint I was smoking, and thought maybe I was getting a real tolerance to the drug, because I just didn’t see the joke, even while purportedly being high.

You may notice I gave a little description of Eddie, but not Michael or Terrance. I don’t remember them a lot, other than they were of indeterminate race like me, meaning they could have been white, black, Native American, Latino or some mixture of above based on a hurried prejudiced guess. Maybe like me, they just didn’t know for sure. I mentioned that Eddie was big and beefy, and I remember Michael being a little smaller than that. Other than that, I don’t remember what they looked like. I’m not sure why. It may seem strange, seeing that I’ve described people long dead like Tommy. Memory is a weird animal like that, it seems. Maybe I don’t remember, because I just don’t want to. Like, I don’t remember Maurice either, the one who raped my sister. Some things just are meant to be blocked out, I guess.

Anyway, Eddie was going to take me on a job somewhere the next day. He apparently couldn’t drive at all, Michael told me. It seemed he couldn’t talk either. I was supposed to drive him to these different places so he could make some deliveries. I presumed it was drugs, which I had done before. The places he needed to go were outside the county borders. I pointed out to Michael that I didn’t have a license, and I couldn’t go out of the county. Michael pointed out that he and Terrance had never asked a favor before in my life of me, and the one time they needed help, I was going to turn on them? This was true, and I pretended to not feel my heart sink. I told myself that it was time to toughen up and be a man. I decided I needed to listen to logic and reason by being fair in business and hold up my end of the deal by helping Eddie and Michael out. To seal the deal in my mind, Michael also pointed out that while I had no license, I did know how to drive. Eddie, he reiterated, couldn’t drive at all. Michael said it in such a way that I should feel glad I wasn’t as bad off as Eddie. And so, I didn’t. My reasoning said, What could possible go wrong? It was just a few deliveries. My stomach felt weird, though, and my chest felt tight. I rationalized I was just uncomfortable about Eddie looking at the ground and not saying anything. It must be simply because Eddie was weird that I felt so uneasy, I rationalized. That had to be it. And with that declaration, I ignored any more disquiet that I felt. Tomorrow I was going to work, and that was that.

The next day came. I was supposed to pick up Eddie the next day. Michael showed up at the house with this old Nova that I’d never seen before, and this was the car I was supposed to use. If this whole thing sounds completely suspicious to you, then good, because this means you still have at least an iota of common sense. You can imagine how shot my system was seeing this car show up out of nowhere, one that I was supposed to drive illegally, did not seem suspicious at all. My life was so prevalent with crisis that this just seemed like another chapter in the insanity. I was almost numb to it. Almost, as you may recall how I felt unease the day before. But, I still was convinced that it was because of Eddie’s unusual personality that I felt this way at all. And it was very easy to put it aside, especially when I heard that I would make three grand this day just for driving Eddie around. I was given three hundred dollars as an advance by Michael just as I got ready to drive off. Now, that seemed like a day of work worth something to me.

So I drove off in this Nova, ready to begin my day of work. Eddie lived about five miles away, just outside of downtown on a state highway. He was standing at the edge of his driveway, hopping around and appeared to be talking to himself. The area he lived in was heavily peopled with pedestrians. They walked by him on the sidewalk, all while staring at him. When I pulled over with the car and Eddie saw me, he screamed like a rabid feral cat. This really should have been a sign from God to me to get the hell out of there, especially since I was pushing the legal envelope as it was when I should have been lying as low as possible under the radar. I should have driven away right that second, gone home, given Michael his three hundred dollars back. But I kept thinking of the rest of the money, and the fact that I felt obligated to reciprocate Michael and Terrance’s hospitality, and the fact that Eddie obviously had walked into some deep shit and needed desperately to get out of it. Maybe he owed someone, and Michael and Terrance were using their connections to help him out of the hole. That had to be it, because look how generous they had been with me. So instead of tearing off and getting the hell out of there, I decided to help good old Eddie.

I got out of the car, which was in the long run not a good thing for me. Many people watched as I went up to Eddie, who was still howling and hopping around, and put my arm around his large girth affectionately, like we were really great friends.

“Hey, hey Eddie! It’s your uncle Bob. Remember, we were supposed to go out today? To the park?”

“No, NO! I hear Michael say your name Jake. Not Bob. I not as dumb as you think! I want home! No park!”

This brought chills to me, especially with everyone staring at me. Stupid me, I still didn’t drive away. Instead, I said to the spectators, “Don’t worry. Eddie is my nephew. He gets scared with people. I’m his guardian.” This seemed to appease the onlookers enough that they at least dispersed. And it seemed to quiet Eddie down, too. Too bad for both of us that he did.

When he calmed down enough, I said to him slowly and quietly, “Eddie, we’re supposed to work today. Do you remember Michael saying that to you?”

His head was down, just like it was the day before. “Yes.”

I patted his head, trying to soothe him. Do you as a reader find it strange that I thought I was doing a kind thing? Calming down a seemingly autistic man enough so we could go on a crime spree? It’s amazing what the conscience can rationalize if it wants something enough. And in my case, it was pride that I could do the job, and just good, hard cold cash. The asshole in me was so in charge I couldn’t see it as being the asshole in me. I just thought I was doing Eddie a favor by calming him down enough so he could do his job. Maybe he was upset because he owed a lot of money to someone, I rationalized at the time, and Terrance and Michael were helping him get the cash so he wouldn’t have to owe anyone. I actually was right in that assumption, I later found out. But that didn’t mean I was doing the right thing in encouraging Eddie to obtain money the way he was doing, even if I had no concrete idea of what I’d be doing to help him do it.

Eddie did calm down, enough to snap at me, “Get off of me. I’m not a baby. I’m thirty-nine, you know.” He looked about sixteen. Maybe it was his round face and big eyes, but he looked so young. My irritation at his brusque behavior overrode any compassion I felt towards him, and I said, “Okay, you’re so grown up, get your ass in the car and let’s get going. We have work to do.” Eddie retorted back with something like, “yeah, yeah, I know I know,” but it was hard for me to hear exactly because he said it while getting in the car, plus with the traffic going by, me being paranoid about everyone staring at me, I really wasn’t paying attention to him at all. As far as I was concerned, given the job at hand Eddie wasn’t a real human being, he was just a tool for job. My goal was three grand for a day’s work, not compassion. Compassion got you killed or worse, is what I had learned over the years in my life and watching those around me.

Once we were out on the road, Eddie brought out a crumpled piece of paper from his front jeans pocket. Michael had told me that Eddie would have a list of things he was supposed to do, and that I shouldn’t pay attention as I could be considered an accessory if I did know all the details. I had been used to running packages without verifying the contents, so the clandestine nature of the job was something I was familiar with. I had always operated on the premise that the less I knew, the better. That’s the mentality I took when I picked up Eddie. I didn’t question his itinerary at all. Maybe that was a bad thing in the long run, but I didn’t think to do it then, so I didn’t know what he was planning to do, in the least. I swear, to this day, I had no idea what was planned or what Eddie was scheduled to do, whether you believe me or you don’t.

I had, though, assumed that Eddie was illiterate. I think it’s because he sounded stupid, stupider than I ever did. Meanwhile, I had been illiterate, and if I was smarter than he was, he had to be illiterate, so my prejudiced projecting went. That being said, when he opened the crumpled list and stared at it, I couldn’t believe he was actually reading it. I said, “Eddie, do you need me to read that for you?” I was hoping he’d say no so I could stay ignorant of the plans, but my prejudice made me afraid I’d have to read the note. Because of my assumptions, I was surprised when Eddie said, “Of course not, you idiot! Just because I say dumb things doesn’t mean I’m dumb. That isn’t nice to assume things like that, you know. I can read. That’s why Michael gave me the list. So I could read it and tell you where to go. Don’t you remember the plans?” I said yes, and Eddie just looked downwards in his customary manner after telling me the first destination, but this time he was shaking his head, like he was disgusted by the likes of me. That didn’t make me feel great about his company, at all. That someone like Eddie had the audacity to be disgusted by me.

This arrogance I felt dispelled any seed of sympathy I did have for Eddie. Besides, I thought, he could apparently read. I don’t know why that simple fact made me feel I was off the hook, that his literacy somehow made me not culpable for what Eddie was about to do. Maybe I got dismissive because I was taking his snippy attitude personally, though in hindsight I can understand where his attitude was coming from. It most likely came from a place where he was smart enough to know he was perceived as stupid by everyone including me. I don’t know anyone who finds that kind of experience pleasurable, and I can see now why someone would be walking around with a chip on his shoulder if he perceived this condescending attitude in the people around him. I obviously didn’t care to see this then, which is why I acted and did what I did.

Instead, I was finding Eddie to be an asshole, and I hoped whatever happened, he’d get his ass reamed for. I’d be happy to stay in the vehicle, just to make sure if he got into a brawl, he could get his own hide fried and mine would be intact and free to leave. It wouldn’t surprise me now that he might have thought the same about me. But then, I never would have thought he was capable of such duplicity. I just thought he was an annoying asshole, and I was pissed at Michael for sticking me with such a doofus. I had no idea why Michael would do something like that, after me hanging out with him and his brother for so long. I almost felt betrayed. Silly, right? To get my feelings hurt over a guy that was sending me on a criminal run, thinking he was my friend and after all friends stand up for friends? Well, I had no idea what was a friend and what wasn’t. I lost that perspective long ago, if I ever had it at all.

So I let myself stew in self-pity for my ‘friend’ screwing me over by relegating me to be the babysitter of the worst imbecile in the world. I believed I had no choice other than to psychologically hold my breath and wait out the day so I could collect the cash that might compensate for my pain suffering. So I did just that, thinking of the payout like I did that day all those years ago, when I tolerated Tommy so I could get a fast food meal and a place to crash. It was a behavior pattern that had served me well enough to survive this long, and kicked in automatically at Eddie’s lousy attitude to help me stay put.

That being said, Eddie was, even if one was to be generous, taxing. He kept correcting my driving, almost made me run off the road because he was terrified I was going to crash into cars forty feet ahead of me, and felt that I was a reckless driver because I didn’t slow down when I saw a yellow traffic light and instead tried to get through the intersection before it turned red. Added to this, I was also nervous because I was now physically outside of the jurisdiction I was even permitted to be walking in, let alone driving around illegally without a license. I was afraid he was going to get me into an accident, and I’d be back in jail. So I kept snapping at him, and he at me, over directions, driving, and just about everything else. We were not exactly a stealth crime team, that was for sure.

Eddie had me hit a couple of seedy places, the kind where I used to go to deliver packages. He yelled at me every time we stopped like a broken record, “Stay in the car! I can do this myself! Mike told me to do it, not you!” At first it really pissed me off but it got to be that I just ignored it, even though I was seething under my skin. To help control myself, I just kept imagining my cash, and counted the hours until I was going hit a nice paydirt for the first time in a long time. I still wonder today what would have happened if I’d laced into Eddie, really got into an argument with him. It wouldn’t have been all that hard to truly set him off. Maybe he’d have stormed out of the car, and even though I’d have screwed up the job for everyone, things would be different today. Weird looking at it from that perspective; because who would ever think going out of your way to sabotage something would be the better option, in the long run?

After driving to a couple of typical dives that I’d expect Eddie to be sent to, the next place he insisted was on his list was a grocery store. I had real trouble believing a grocery store was actually on his list, and I made a gesture to grab it from Eddie’s hands because I just couldn’t believe it. Of course, Eddie yelled at me in response. He then proceeded to hit my arm, and I replied by hitting him back. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we arrived at our destination, and Eddie jumped out of the car even before I stopped it. He told me to park out of sight as he left because Michael supposedly said to do so, so I responded to this command by being contrary and doing the complete opposite, which keeping the car running right by the curb where I’d dropped Eddie off, right in front of the store entrance. I couldn’t believe the nerve of Eddie to be such a pissant that he’d pick a fight to tell me where to park a car just so he could pick up some groceries and blame it on Michael. I really figured he had some nerve. I blasted a cassette tape of Ozzy Osburne’s Blizzard of Oz, hoping the loud music would help dull the rage I was feeling. It took the edge off, but I still felt like shit and couldn’t believe the position I was in, dealing with someone like Eddie.

I was busy stewing in my lousy attitude, when suddenly I heard a chorus of loud screams. A swarm of people were pushing out of the automatic doors, both the exit and entrance, running over people who were trying to enter the store through the latter. Then Eddie came out. He stood on the sidewalk for about ten seconds looking around stupidly, before someone tried to tackle him from behind. Eddie was big enough to shove him off, and he spotted our car and ran towards me. Something obviously really insane had just gone down, and I almost took off and left him there, but he got to the car first and opened the door, screaming at me as he did.

“Why the hell did you park here? I told you to park far away! Mike said we were supposed to park far away and you didn’t listen. Now everyone knows who we are!” The door flailed as he jumped in, and people were running towards the car as he did. The closest was only about two feet away from Eddie as he climbed inside. But I guess Eddie was flustered by whatever he’d just done, because he didn’t close the car door and it waved backwards from the force of his panicked actions, clipping the guy right on his tail. Eddie paid this assault no heed, screeching at me, “What’s the matter? Go, GO! GO!”

“Eddie! You gotta close the door! I’m not driving off in someone else’s car with an open door like that!” Now I was panicking as badly as Eddie seemed to do doing. Then Eddie started wailing, and I realized that I was going to have to do exactly what I said I was not going to do. Which was, drive off in someone else’s car with an open door like that, as the one person who’d been two feet away had recovered from his fall and was five inches from jumping on the hood, along with another female customer who had caught up with him in my momentary shock. I practically ran them over as I put the Nova in reverse and they fell, as I was parked behind a delivery truck. Not looking behind me to see what was happening in the melee, I tore out of the grocery parking lot and sped down the street as fast as I could.

Somehow, in the mayhem, as I was driving Eddie managed to close the car door. I caught this action in the corner of my eye, and that was also when I noticed the blood all over Eddie’s hands, as well as on a whole bunch of cash that I hadn’t known even existed. I instinctively braked the car for a second before realizing that was exactly the opposite of what I should be doing in this situation, and began driving as fast as I could, before I remembered that wasn’t what I should be doing either as I could be pulled over for speeding with a blood-covered passenger next to me. So I pointedly started driving at just about forty-five miles an hour, five miles above the speed limit. I reasoned that if I was driving too slowly, I was afraid that would call attention to me, but if I did absolutely the exact speed limit, seeing that I was a Chevy Nova that had been spotted driving away from some kind of violent crime with a mentally challenged person as a the passenger, it may call attention to me as well by making it seem like I was trying too hard. Slightly above the speed limit was the best bet, as I’d observed that people who called themselves law-abiding citizens liked to stretch the envelope by speeding just a teeny, weeny, tiny bit.

So that was the stance I took, speeding just a teeny, weeny, tiny bit. Once I settled into this getaway stance by averaging about five miles above the speed limit, I redirected my attention to what I knew to be a very grave situation, in the guise of Eddie my passenger.

“What fucking happened? What did you do?” I screamed.

“Stop yelling! I need to concentrate. I’m trying to count the money and you made me fuck up. Now I have to start all over again. Stop being such a dick!”

That’s when the gun fell out of his lap onto the car floor. Seeing that, I nearly crashed my car into the vehicle in front of me. I had to veer right onto the road’s shoulder to avoid an accident, before I got the car back in control where it was supposed to be on this road. Apparently, this emergency action to protect us met with Eddie’s dire disapproval.

“Watch the road, asshole! No wonder you don’t have a license. You drive like shit. I can’t believe they won’t give me one, seeing the way you drive. I’m getting out of here. Stop the car. NOW.”

His righteous indignation was pissing me off, especially since he was the one who had apparently screwed up major big time. So I snapped back, “What? We’re trying to get away, jackass. What are you going to do, hitch a ride with all that blood on you?”

“Don’t call me a jackass. I’m tired of you. I think you’re an asshole. I’m getting out.”

I’m traveling about forty-five miles an hour as he’s saying this. Just as I make the decision to go along with his crap and get rid of him, deciding I’ll sort it out later, this was when Eddie decided he had enough of me. He opened the door, and jumped out of the car, all while I’m still driving at five miles above the speed limit. I have no idea what went through his mind when he did that, and I never would.

I made a critical decision right there and then when he jumped. I don’t know if I made a different decision, things would have been different for me now. Suffice it to say, because of the day’s events, I would be locked away for years anyway if I got caught, one way or another. I had no idea that this one critical decision would put me in a category I’d never imagined I’d be, here talking to you.

At that particular moment when Eddie jumped, there was no one else coming from either direction on the road. Not a soul in sight, or so I thought. I did pull over, briefly. After all, I needed to shut the door that Eddie had so carelessly opened. He was splayed face down on the shoulder of the road, and there was blood seeping from under his head. His head appeared to be bashed in on the right side, and he was immobile. I didn’t stand around all day looking at him, but I saw no indication that he was breathing at all. But admittedly, I took the cheater’s way out. I didn’t check for a pulse, as I didn’t want to touch him, and I didn’t scrutinize him to see if he was breathing in a very shallow manner. He just seemed immobile, so I decided there was nothing I could do. Besides, he had made it clear he didn’t give a shit about me and was only concerned about himself, I rationalized. There was no reason why I shouldn’t return the favor, now that my ass was on the line.

So I left Eddie there and got back into the Nova. The gun and the cash were still on the car floor as I drove off. In my rear view mirror, I saw a vehicle approaching from far away, and I felt a sense of relief. I had gotten away just in the nick of time, and it felt good to breath long breaths. Oxygen and the release of adrenaline felt like a great high after that near miss.

But after that brief initial high, I wasn’t exactly sure what to do next. I was driving around in someone else’s car. And once the adrenaline of my big spree had run down, it occurred to me that the vehicle might be stolen. This realization didn’t help my decision process. I had been hired to do a job, and this car had been provided for me by someone else. I was assuming this car was stolen, and had no way of dispelling that suspicion. What if it wasn’t, and belonged to Michael, Terrance, or one of their buddies? If I just took off in the car, I might have them out after me. And besides, there was a whole bunch of loot next to me that I presumed at that moment was supposed to have been delivered to them, and my partner was most likely dead.

I don’t know why I did what I did next. I decided to go to a pay phone and call Michael. I’m not sure why. Maybe I thought he wouldn’t want a hot car coming back to the house, which made sense in its own right, but that logic meant that somehow I thought it was okay for me to be stuck with the hot car instead. But even though I thought I was thinking logically, I was panicking. I was just doing whatever came to my mind to keep this anxiety at bay. I was acting impulsively, which by now shouldn’t be all that surprising to you the reader that I tended to operate in this fashion. It’s probably why I was in this position to begin with.

I don’t remember exactly what I was thinking to justify this weird action, but I believe I thought my car was common enough that it didn’t stand out. After all, it was Chevy Nova, not an Aston Martin. I believe by the time I pulled over, I was about twenty miles or so from the scene of the crime. I guess I figured a little space and time between me and what just happened would give me a little time to regroup.

I remember pulling into the lot of a convenience store with a gas station, looking at the evidence that was sitting next to me on the car floor. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me to stash this evidence under the passenger seat to begin with. But once I saw it there I realized my error, I quickly did exactly that, hoping I could cover my tracks in time before someone saw what I was doing.

Unfortunately right at that moment, someone drove a black pickup truck into the slot right next to me. A big blonde guy with a trimmed beard and mustache, sort of like clean cut in a blue collar way got out of the vehicle. He saw me leaning over as he got out of his vehicle, and glared at me. This made me really, really paranoid. I remember my heart pounding so hard it was though my whole body was throbbing from its strain. But then, the dude just slammed his truck door and proceeded into the convenience store.

I thought I was safe then. I thought he had seen nothing, so now I could just continue to hide the evidence under the car seat. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do about the blood that stained the upholstery and the floor carpeting. Seeing that most of the interior was black, it wasn’t severely obvious it was blood unless you knew what you were looking for, but it was there and a lot of it. I wonder if Eddie got shot himself. I had no way of knowing then. Little did I know that I’d find out soon enough.

I must have been like that for awhile, contemplating reality while bent over the passenger seat. I was much more in a daze than I could possibly admit, so I lost my perspective of time. I apparently also lost my perspective of what the hell I was doing, because someone rapped on the window as I was lost in thought. My heart had really never stopped raging, so this unexpected happening almost shut me down for good, I was so startled.

I managed to look up, and saw my guest was the blonde guy. He gestured for me to roll down the window. That’s when I realized I never turned off the car engine, which I now proceeded to do. I suppose I could have torn out of the lot. But this guy obviously suspected something, and I’m not sure if I’d made the break it would have made it any better. My belief today is, probably not. I’d been on this guy’s radar from the start, and my conversation with him only corroborated that. I think I already knew that, which is why I rolled down the passenger window and talked to him. But consciously at the time I figured that maybe talking to him would let him know what a really, really, nice guy I was and allay any suspicions of me. I guess that’s what I was thinking. I don’t really remember, but that is what makes sense to me now.

“You all right in there?” His smile was warm. His face looked like a scruffy angel. His voice was full of levity. But he still wore that glare, and it froze out any of the good will those other attributes could have brought. If I was guilty of nothing, I would have torn off. If I had switched cars, I would have torn off. But neither fact was true. So I stayed, hoping if I could sound reasonable enough, he would lose the glare and I could pretend that I was in the clear again.

“Yeah. I’m fine.” I said simply. I wondered if I sounded guilty. I had no idea. Nothing felt right about what I was doing. Probably because nothing was.

“Oh. I just wondered if you were passed out or something. Your car was idling and it looked like you were slumped over. Rough night?”

“You could say that.” I managed to laugh, relieved to actually say something that could pass as truth.

“Well, I guess we’ve all had one of those. Take care.” He slapped his hands on the lowered window, I guess in a gesture of lackadaisical confidence, still with the smile. But as he turned away, the smile immediately disappeared. I should have known I was in deep shit then, and on some level I think I suspected it. Like for one, once he got in his truck, he didn’t leave. That’s when I should have, but I didn’t.

But I was still desperately hoping I was being paranoid, because this day was getting to be just too much for me to handle. And suddenly I was just so, so exhausted. I had to piss, and was surprised that in all of this paranoia I had managed to hold on to the minimal dignity of not wetting myself like a toddler.

Clearly, I needed to refuel and regroup, at least get myself a pack of cigarettes to take the anxiety’s edge off. Trying to shake off the guy next to me and trying to look I was just a normal dude just like him, I decided to get some coffee and cigarettes. I figured after I got a smoke and chugged down some caffeine, I’d be in better shape to call Michael and could better explain to him what was going on.

So instead of following my suspicious gut by taking off, I got out of the car and headed into the convenience store to obtain my staples and relieve myself. The whole time I went about that activity and when I returned from the restroom, I could see in the corner of my eye the guy in the pickup truck. He still didn’t take off, and that made me even more paranoid. I tried to convince myself that it was a coincidence, but the more that I did that, the more paranoid I got, and even then I was still exhausted as all hell. It was a sick combination, and I knocked over the coffee I was preparing in the midst of all this, and this drew attention from the teen-aged clerk, who swore at me and then I swore back. He threatened to call the police, and I stormed out of the store without buying anything before I went and killed the guy. That’s what I remember happening, but the details are a blur, but the next thing I remember happening with absolute clarity.

I was standing under the awning of the store, just in front of where the pickup truck and the Nova were, when I saw two state police vehicles drive into the lot . One parked in the slot right next to mine, the other in the slot next to the pickup truck. Everything inside me went cold, and even though it had to be at least sixty degrees outside, I felt like complete and total ice. I couldn’t believe the shit that was happening.

The cops proceeded to get out of their vehicles, both big brawny white guys about six feet in height. The blonde guy left his pickup truck simultaneously. It was then that I noticed the truck was outfitted with a blue light on its roof, the kind that volunteer emergency personnel have on their vehicles. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed that before. It made me suspect that the blonde dude heard an APB or BOLO about Eddie and me on a police scanner, and radioed me in while I was busy spilling my coffee everywhere in the store. I felt like an idiot for not listening to my gut telling me to leave the area, but it was too late for me to listen to it now.

The cops and the blonde guy proceeded to walk to the back of the Nova, and the blonde guy pointed at something on its back. They all nodded, and the cops started writing something down. I knew that I was in the deepest shit imaginable. They hadn’t seen me yet, and I was thinking of bolting but my legs wouldn’t move. I cursed in my head, but apparently I lost all capacity to monitor my own conscious actions, because my purportedly silent swear got both of their attention. The blonde guy pointed at me, and with that, both cops walked towards me.

Without a backwards glance, the blonde guy got in his truck and drove away. I was that incidental in his world that I could be given up, and totally forgotten about. This is what I was thinking as his truck was driven out of the parking lot. Perhaps it would have been more rational for me to focus on the approaching police officers, but my rationality was long gone and I was morosely contemplative instead, fixating on the disappearing truck as a metaphor for the life of freedom that was slowly disappearing from me. Once it was gone from view, I saw this a symbol of the empty cage that would be mine for good.

Morbid? Perhaps. But it was also eerily prescient, and with nothing left but the cop to focus on, I felt like the hangman was coming to finally snag his prey, and I felt utterly defeated by the doom that was closing in around me. That feeling would never truly go away, ever again in my life. I feel it even now. Because in many ways, my life ended that day. I know something in me died, because I’ve never gotten whatever it was I lost back.

The events that transpired afterwards, from that day with the cops to the years ahead, all flew by in a weird blank slate. Apparently, when Eddie jumped to his death and I thought I was in the clear, someone had been walking on the side of the road and was able to get a partial on my license plate. That partial corroborated with what the witnesses in the grocery store parking lot were able to glean from the car, and thus the APB was out on the Nova. And yes, it had been stolen. I’d been driving a hot car from the start and never questioned it, idiot I had been.

As to what had transpired in the grocery store? Apparently, Eddie decided that it would be a great idea to hold up the place. One of the witnesses claimed Eddie said he was tired of being taken advantage of and being ripped off as he was holding it up. I can only guess what that meant, and I suppose one of the customers he dealt with on our rounds ripped him off and now he had come up short with the cash, but I’ll never really know. Eddie apparently wasn’t carrying a real gun, and it appeared the cashier either suspected that or was just plain nuts and tried to talk Eddie down in a calm way.

But Eddie, being Eddie, snapped at what he perceived as the cashier’s condescension, and dealt with that experience by jumping over the conveyor belt, putting the cashier in a chokehold, and putting the gun to his head. Everyone screamed, and the cashier tried to escape, and Eddie dealt with that by taking the gun and beating the cashier over the head before proceeding to smash the guy’s head into the register itself.

I have no idea how someone as big and clumsy as Eddie managed to do all this. Perhaps he was high on something that I didn’t know about. There was nothing in future reports that alleged he was high on anything at all, at least insofar as I was informed. It certainly seemed otherwise from this account, but unfortunately, I wasn’t there to witness or learn much about the circumstances, although they would determine the course of my fate as I would soon learn.

In the midst of this insane assault, there was the bad luck of this off-duty cop being right there on the scene. He was there in order to restock the beer for his football party. Witnesses supposedly reported he tried to convince Eddie to drop his fake gun by pointing his real one at him, and Eddie responded to this by pointing his fake gun at the cop and making a gesture like he was going to pull the trigger.

If it sounds like a joke that a cop was punked by a fake airgun that a Joe normal cashier discerned immediately, I can understand because at first I couldn’t believe it either. There was the fact that the cop was a little buzzed, but as his blood alcohol level was only .05 he was far from what was considered drunk at the time. In fact, he tried to follow protocol by standing what he believed was twenty feet from Eddie, or so say witnesses. As the gun’s barrel tip had been painted black and the cop was a little off his game being off duty enjoying a beer or two, he probably had no idea that the gun was a fake.

So the cop, understandably not knowing whether or not his and someone else’s life was in danger, panicked and fired a warning shot into the conveyor belt, and this in turn panicked Eddie. So Eddie smashed the cashier’s head into the belt, and proceeded to beat the guy more. The cop fired his gun at Eddie, and the autopsy report apparently concluded that he grazed Eddie’s shoulder. So, in perfect cornered wounded animal frenzy, Eddie turned his rage upon the cop, by catapulting over the belt again and charging at him. The cop fired again, again apparently according to the autopsy report grazed Eddie’s other arm, but not enough to stop Eddie, and with fatal and dire results.

The cop, whose name was Scott Harmond, was not a small guy, but he was smaller than Eddie. Harmond, from what I heard at the hearings, was twenty-eight, a five year veteran of the nearby city police, a former high school quarterback, and at five foot eleven and a muscled one hundred eighty pounds was a championship amateur light heavyweight boxer. No slouch, to say the least. But Eddie, though soft and fleshy, was astronomically heavier at three hundred thirty-five pounds. He was also my height, six three, four inches taller than the jock cop. And, also incredibly pissed and frenzied. Harmond, brave as he was, would be no match for the monster out after him. Before Harmond could get a third round off, Eddie jumped him. He punched Harmond’s face, bit Harmond’s gun hand in a manner described by witnesses like a rabid animal frothing at his mouth, so much so that Harmond lost his grip on the gun, then proceeded to take it and shoot it point blank into the doomed cop’s throat, making Harmond die by bleeding out on the floor.

Eddie then ran with the gun to the register, cleaned it out, went to the customer service area and screamed at the manager who’d stashed away a bunch of scared people inside, and compelled him to open the safe inside his office and cleaned that out as well. Then Eddie decided it would be nice to leave, and that’s when he decided to come out and hitch a ride with me with everyone screaming at his heels.

So, as the getaway driver, albeit unwittingly, I had just become an accomplice to first-degree murder, both because it was felony murder because of the robbery, and because Eddie had just offed a cop. Meanwhile, I heard none of this shit, stupid fool I was, because I was numbing myself listening to Ozzy’s Suicide Solution, and I’d heard absolutely nothing at all. If I’d heard the shots from inside, I might be a free man today. But nope, that’s not what happened, care of me and not being aware of all the details. Now, a cop’s blood is on my hands.

And, so is Eddie’s. Eddie did die at the side of the road, if not right away, soon after. Even if I had called the EMT, who could have possibly been my blonde friend in the pickup truck, Eddie would have been dead already. Because I just left him on the side of the road, at the very least I was guilty of negligent homicide in best of circumstances. Given Eddie was autistic and involved in a felony homicide with me as an accomplice as his getaway driver, I was guilty of second degree homicide right there.

It only got worse from there on end, because Michael, my PO, and Terrance disavowed me completely, with Michael and Terrance saying that they didn’t know me, and my PO said he’s reported me as a drifter and that I hadn’t been to any appointments for a month, which was a patent lie. Not only that, the pedestrian who had witnessed Eddie’s accidental suicide was unable to dispel the suspicion that I had been the one who pushed Eddie to his death. Ominously, as the investigation went on, she decided that the more she thought about it, yes, I pushed Eddie out of the vehicle. She was a science teacher at the local high school, biology specifically, married with three children. I was, well, you already know what I was. Whose testimony held more weight, do you think?

Because of all these fabrications and the circumstantial evidence that surrounded them and the crime spree, I was seen by the prosecutor and the grand jury as the mastermind behind Eddie’s valiant actions. It was pointed out from the records of my prison life that I had an IQ of approximately 130, while apparently Eddie had a record of testing at 65 despite basic literacy. Given no one was backing my side of the story, and Eddie was dead as well as another cop, plus my being a felon, I was tried as someone who decided to take advantage of a mentally challenged person, send him on a crime spree under threat and manipulation, and then killed him when he became a liability by throwing him out of the car that I had personally stolen.

The entire legal proceedings were a blur, and there was no way I was going to get away with a cop and a borderline retarded man’s blood on my hands with less than at least one first-degree murder on my hands. And with the outrage that this crime caused, I was convicted of felony murder, sentenced to death. I don’t remember if my legal team were any good or not, but they would have to some hell of a bulldog to be able to overcome the righteous indignation that was stirred up by the death of hero cop Scott Harmond and my buddy Eddie whose real name was Steven Johnson. Everyone called him Eddie, because Steven was his dad’s name and Eddie was Eddie’s middle name.

I find it ironic that I was indicted for both murders, and yet I never touched either one in offensive violence. I hadn’t even met or seen the cop. But someone had to pay for this carnage, and I was the only one left to do so. I’d get to be the one who got to pay for the full outrage, lucky me. That’s why I’d be having a meeting with the needle one day, because I was too stupid to drive away because I never heard the shots. Ironically, if Eddie hadn’t jumped out of the car, or if Harmond had survived even if Eddie hadn’t, the first-degree murder charge would probably have been too weak for me to get the death sentence. But the circumstances looked too much like I orchestrated this violent spree that caused the death of a cop, and then offed my retarded accomplice to get rid of him like so much baggage. Like I said, someone had to pay, and that someone had to be me.

My family had long deserted me, long before I even wound up here in jail. My mother actually testified against me, saying that I was a no-good degenerate who deserted her and the family to sell drugs. She even accused me of the one who beating and raping my sister, saying the reason why I left the family was because her ex-boyfriend Maurice confronted me and then I beat him and her. It really doesn’t help things when your own mother testifies against you in a murder trial. My attorneys apparently cross-examined her and it was then that I discovered that she was back into the drug lifestyle, her church days long behind her.

The cross-examination didn’t do enough to mitigate the damage, though. My brawl with my ex Valerie and her boyfriend came to light, and that lent credence to the whole powder keg persona that the prosecution wished to create, and added more weight to their argument and less to my defense. People wanted someone to pay for Scott Harmond’s death, understandably so. I’d have to have mount some defense to overcome that sentiment, and a low-life drug addict and low-end dealer who got into fights constantly was not going to have enough to do that.

After the trial, I never saw my mother or anyone from my old life ever again. They had their own lives to live, I suppose. Although I had a lot of antipathy for them for things before my sentence, I feel at this late stage I can’t blame them for deserting me once I was sent to death row. I would prefer not to see me either, but unfortunately I’m stuck with myself so I don’t have the same luxuries that they do to run away.

So, I am now on death row. That’s where I’ve been since they sentenced me, for over twenty years now until all my appeals ran dry. It’s not quite solitary confinement, but as cut off from the world I am, it may as well be. The one shining light was that I was fortunate to have been able to read a great deal, that the library here has an ample amount of material. Also the guards who have dealt with me have shown me a great deal of latitude for some reason, and obtained additional material for me.

From what I’ve learned, not all death penalty facilities have as abundant a library as I have access to. I know the world has changed astronomically since I’ve been locked up. I know that there are cell phones, e-mail, websites, social networks, smart phones, and all kinds of gadgets which have normalized tech like the way I programmed my VCR. I know about 9/11 and all the destruction and hell that it created for absolutely everybody from that point on. I know that Timothy McVeigh was executed, and I personally know a few people who were eventually executed. It’s strange to see them one day, then next week you know that they have gone. But that’s the way it goes in this world. And now it’s finally my turn, or so it seems.

My life and visitors have mostly been confined to the usual suspects you would think would hang around for too many years to deal with a hopeless case like me. There’s these lawyers who fight pro-bono for death penalty inmates, lawyers who use prisoners like me to agitate against the existence of the death penalty, and men of the cloth who are very concerned for the state of my soul. I have to say at the very beginning of my stay here, I used to get excited at seeing them, hoping that their visit would mean that I’d see the outside one day. But nothing has changed, and my appeals yielded no reprieve. So they come to the prison, I meet with them. And I did talk on occasion in the early days when I was on a different cell block and albeit supervised, with other inmates. But for over twenty years, I have not been hugged or embraced by one single soul. It may not sound like much, but now that it’s happened to me I know it’s a lot.

I’m not really trying to get anyone to feel sorry for me, because I’m not truly innocent. I did knowingly participate in a crime spree. I did take advantage of a mentally challenged person, and was callous about his state of mind and being. I was on drugs, albeit only marijuana, when I participated in the spree. But I really believed I was only participating in the capacity that I’d always had, which was to deliver drugs to non-violent customers who wished to use them as they would perhaps alcohol and cigarettes. I have no idea if this is argument for legalizing drugs, but if I’d gone to the store to buy a keg of beer for a football party, that would have been fine by the law. Selling a z of dope? That gets you a felony charge most days of the week in most states that I know of. I personally haven’t seen a lot of more dire consequences for smoking dope than getting drunk, but you know, I am just a felon with an seventh grade education who has an appointment with the needle. I probably have no idea what I’m talking about. The law sure would agree with that.

I have had ample time to read and complete Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, my original reading material all those years ago. I understand now what my old friend Vince means by asking what I thought of the historian’s theory. I know now from my life, and my reading, that nobody is objective about anything. If anything, people are probably the least objective when they claim to be just that. Sort of like the religionists who claim to have the pure message of God, saying people like me were worth saving when we were in the womb but not worth all that much when we killed someone that was considered more worthy than killing someone else, sort of like the difference between first degree murder or second degree murder. Take my case. What if Eddie had been retarded as he is, but black? What if Harmond had been a drug addict like me, instead of a cop? What if I had an education, or visibly appeared to be Caucasian, the latter of which I am not? Would I have been convicted of first-degree murder? Drug addicts die of murder all of the time. If people are so pro-death penalty because they’re so outraged over murder, why aren’t their murderers sent to death row, like me? Doesn’t sound like equal under the law to me. If life is so precious, when it’s taken violently and deliberately, it should receive the same penalty. But, you’re talking to someone who’s on death row with an appointment with the Grim Reaper.

So, to my old friend Vince, if he’s around somewhere, I have this to say about Gibbon’s work. The big thing, for those who haven’t had ten million hours on their hands or who aren’t enthused historians who’ve read the complete set of Gibbon’s treatise, is that Gibbon attributed Christianity as the reason, at least in great part, as to why Rome fell on its ass and never got up.

My take is that Gibbon believed Christianity, as it was practiced back during the Empire days, to be a rite of superstition which contaminated the bloodlust and powermongering that was needed to maintain the empire. That in the long run, this sacrifice of logic to the magical thinking that faith needs to breathe was one of the biggest contributors to why the Romans fell.

Great reading for someone like me, considering how much superstition I’d heard over the years from the preachers who manipulated the likes of weak people like me and my family. Followers become so blind and paranoid that they are going to lose their salvation, that they can’t even see the faulty logic with their supposed pro-life agenda that dominates half of their agitation for the causes. Their agenda wants to make sure the government interferes just enough so people like me are born, and conversely, to interfere enough so I die. In and of itself, that sounds nothing like pro-life to me.

In between? The good men and women of God in this nation say the government should do nothing, even though it’s oh-so-Christian in its foundation according to them. From my experience, most of them are so bent on the Founding Fathers being deeply perfect fundamentalist Christians that they probably actually believe George Washington’s cherry tree myth in the most literal sense possible, that he was such a good Christian that he would never tell a lie.

I have read many of the Founding Father’s readings, and while they appear to be far from being atheists, I have my doubts if they were en masse running around clapping their hands saying “yes Jesus”, “praise the Lord” like a big tent meeting on that fateful day in Philadelphia in 1776. The Christianity I’ve encountered is just as pick and choose as the other philosophies it cites as profane, secular or satanic. They are pro-life when it seems convenient to their sentiments. For all else, just invoke Satan as the enemy and bring out the battle axes. Or in my case, the needle.

So, Vince wherever you are, here it is. I agree with Gibbon that Christianity was the death knell of the Roman Empire. After all, Christianity in its current form is the death knell of me, and I have nothing to lose by being provocative and incendiary. This is what I will tell the court-appointed chaplain who will supposedly come to save my soul later on this day. I have nothing to do with his god and what that god has done for my life.

I don’t believe that’s the real God, anyway. I believe the God that created this world laughs at the silliness of human prayer. Religion is all about playing God with wordsxc. Except prayer is even worse than that, because it has the audacity to pretend it’s down on its knees in humility when everyone knows in his or her heart it’s all about one’s ego taking God to task.

The law has set tomorrow as a day for me to die, and it will be at their hands. In the old days I would scheduled to die tomorrow at 12:01 in the morning, but my sentence has been commuted to later this evening local time so those who wish to witness my execution won’t be inconvenienced by the ungodly hour. The positive of this is that I can spend more time cleaning up my soul for my guests when they do arrive. My last meal will consist of three deluxe cheeseburgers, two orders of large fries, two apple pies, and a jumbo soda from the local fast food restaurant, reminiscent of that long ago defining moment I had with my good friend Tommy. It’s what started me on this path, and seems fitting me to send me off it as well. I suppose I should I feel badly that my alleged victims Scott Harmond and Steven “Eddie” Johnson didn’t get a choice in what their last meal is, so I’ll enjoy it for their sake, though I have no idea how that helps anyone. They’re still dead, and most likely I will be too very soon.

Unless the governor stays my execution, this is what will happen to me when I die. There will be a physician in attendance as well as my buddy the chaplain, and there will be three people there to inject drugs into my system. I will have an anesthesia, then a paralyzing agent, and then potassium chloride will be injected into me by special people who will remain anonymous to me and practically everyone but God.

I will supposedly feel no pain, sort of like what happens when people put down their beloved Fido or Fluffy. This kind of experience I will undergo will supposedly vindicate the deaths of Scott Harmond and Steven “Eddie” Johnson, having the government euthanizing me like a beloved pet.

In addition, I will supposedly not see the faces of my killers. Supposedly, none of my death angels will know which one will administer the dose that will end my life. I will die with ghosts surrounding me, and ghosts on the other side of the glass will be there to watch me die. I don’t know who will be there on that other side of the glass, but it is my guess they will be all glad that I will die. I suppose I will be to, to get out of the pain I have felt.

I have been scheduled to die at the hands of the government that saved me from dying, one day long ago in 1964. The lawmen saved me from being killed before I was born, but they want me dead now. They defended me once, but it seems like once was enough for them.

This was the story of the life I lived because they saved me then, and I suppose it’s not life enough for them to care about extending anymore. I guess that’s all I have to say, and it’s time for me to say goodbye.

It’s almost midnight, time for another day to begin. New days are supposed to be about fresh starts. But I have run out of any more chances to begin again.

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