Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Short Story: The Urge

This is a photograph of a skull found in Monte Alban, Oaxaca depicting trephination (the drilling of the skull to allow evil spirits to escape) and the characteristic artificial deformation of the skull that this culture regarded as important in their conception of beauty. The significance of this photograph seems to have some paralles with the following short story that I wrote a few months ago.

The Urge

Yesterday, for the first time in years, I once again felt an irresistible urge to kill.

My first possession by the urge, or at least the first time I remember it, was when my father, that repugnantly malodorous and drunken thing I had for a father, took me out for my sixth birthday. He knew I detested going to that woman’s house; how much I hated that rancid smell of cigarettes and those stupid attempts at winning me over with frivolous and hypocritical gifts, but he didn’t care. We both knew we visited her because it was he who wanted to be there, he who desired to find placid relief from the onerous existence he had with my mother. I was simply the perfect alibi. We arrived and his languid demeanor turned into childish foolishness. They kissed and embraced as if they had not seen each other for ages and completely forgot about me. I was relegated to watch them from an unlit corner seating on a stained sofa, forced to become a senseless spectator of their progressive drunken madness that drilled my senses. They had a ball, drinking wine and caressing each other while exchanging dirty jokes they were convinced I wouldn’t understand. I felt nauseous all the time, mainly after they left me in the living room because they needed “to talk adult things.” Talk? Talk? All I heard were giggles and moaning. I wanted to kill him! I wanted to kill him so badly and I wanted her to be the next! That’s not the way to treat a child, especially during a birthday. Besides, I reasoned, that was not the relationship two cousins were supposed to have.

It was hard not to think about killing growing up the way I did. The silence in my house, which my mother procured with the silent militancy of a tyrant, was so murderous that it awakened similar tendencies in me. Television or radio was off limits. Even murmuring to my sister was out of the question in the presence of my mother. When I became engrossed while reading a story and emitted a faint laugh of amusement, all my mother had to do was look at me with her tyrannically silent gaze to remind me that rules were not supposed to be broken in her house. That absurd silence was so burdensome and prolonged that I grew to like those murderous tendencies it elicited. Killing everyone every night, at least in my mind, gave me some sort of comfort and control over my life.

The few times my parents actually spoke to each other the only thing I heard were blasphemous imputations about how miserable their joint life had been. I particularly hated dinner time. I never understood why we had to engage in such a deceitful ritual if the only thing in their mind was to kill each other. Unable to act on their urges, they displaced their anger on me. As if I was to blame for not wanting to eat, for getting bad grades in school, or for wetting my bed at night.

Over the years, I of course found out that my father and that woman were indeed not cousins. The real aunt showed up at the door one afternoon and she didn’t resemble the Aunt Mary we knew. My mother decided to leave. “Great,” I thought. I was certain that her husband was responsible for all the madness in that house and thus felt truly glad to leave. She grabbed a coat, the car keys and looked me in the eyes saying: “You fucking panderer. You betrayed me.” I haven’t seen her since.

Had it not been for my sister, it would have been really nice to stay in that house, which was, most of the time, empty. Following his M.O. from the time we were a nuclear family, my father continued not to ever care about us. Sure, he paid for everything, but his most important interest was to roll around in bed with his “cousin,” or with the sitter he hired to care for us after he returned from seeing his cousin. Even after all women dumped him, he never became the bitter macho displacing the anger of his impotence on others. He became, in fact, quite harmless. He would come home late and, without even making sure that we were OK, would place his inebriated ass to sleep. My sister, however, was a real plague. She didn’t take our mother’s abandonment well and blamed me for everything. When she wasn’t exploring her sadistic tendencies on me with a knife in hand, she would beat me to the ground, ranting about all the ways I deserved to die because I was responsible for her misery. I wanted to kill her too, really wanted to do it and imagined the many ways in which I would dismember her body and throw the pieces to the dogs, but never acted upon it. How could I? She was my sister, after all. Besides, there were also good times, very few, but nonetheless important for me. She bought me ice cream on my tenth birthday, for example.

The spectacle of death emanating from someone’s eyes with the resolute intention of killing has a terrifying effect on the sight receptors of the potential victim. That’s what my sister taught me the first time I acted on my urge to kill. She had been grabbing me all over the place and, once again waving her puny knife, ordered me to pull my pants down to do dirty things with her. I couldn’t take it. Not anymore. I looked at her with a murderous hatred that she sensed. “Don’t you dare do anything stupid,” she said terrified. Something snapped in my head and I laughed vengefully. She started to cry and I jumped on her, biting and kicking, but not with enough momentum to push her off the terrace floor before she shove the knife into my stomach. “It was an accident,” she yelled as I rested on the floor, bleeding profusely, but still with the determination to show her how much I hated her with my eyes. “It was an accident,” she told everyone hard enough that they believed her. To be honest, I really wouldn’t have minded dying. It felt rather peaceful for a while; no urges, no screams, nobody telling me what to do. Just a plain and soothing little light that the more I tried to grab, the more that it evaded me. I survived, regretfully, but never went back home: I ran away from the hospital the day before I was supposed to be released to my loving family.

Time after time, countless therapists have told me that I am a rather resilient person. After all, they said, I survived abuse and neglect and lived a few years on the streets managing somehow to be not only street-smart, but also book-smart. I love to read, but—please!—arguing that the mediocre vicarious living I gathered from the stuff I read is what saved me from the streets is ludicrous. I profanely dared every single one of them lazy therapists to try to survive the way I did by simply reading Freud, but they dumped me seconds later. They couldn’t take the challenge because life in the streets is not that easy. A meager little book or the heart-felt blessing of an old lady is not enough. In fact, the second coming of Christ is not enough. Picture this: You want to go to sleep but can’t, because you are terrified that someone—whether of your same luck or a pervert who preys on those of your same luck—will come to grab your ass to decimate it with every conceivable object in the imagination of sadistic sodomy. Or how about this: You haven’t slept in two days but are terrified to close your eyes because you’ve seen how your best buddy gets mercilessly stabbed in the heart in exchange of a lousy blanket and the three dollars he had in his pocket. You think Tolstoy is going to save you from that? You think the Bible is going to give you peace of mind? You think Saint-Exupery will inspire you with the altruistic musings of his little prince? How about the streetwise encyclopedia of drinking-your-
they-fucking-stab-you? For me to claim that those years were the truest rendition of hell would be an understatement. I don’t even wish this to happen to my mother for having forsaken me, as much as I resent her. Having to always watch my back and being forced to be ready to kill at any time was worse than hell. Sometimes I wished I wouldn’t have had to do it.

During the final days of my life in the street the central library was my sweetest refuge. That open space, those high-vaulted ceilings, that remarkable silence that reminded me more of peace than murderous inclinations in my memory coalesced to signify that which I had imagined for a home. I wanted so badly to sleep there, if only for one night. Not only would I have had a clean bathroom and plenty of entertainment, but, mainly, no one threatening my safety. I had to console myself in reading there most of the day and stealing the books to keep me company at night.

The trade of stolen books was, in fact, my main means of survival for a while. The central library, for some reason, had a good number of first editions of famous authors still in circulation. I didn’t come to this realization alone, of course. I was panhandling at a local diner when a disheveled yuppie who wanted to look like me grabbed the copy of Ulysses I was holding in my arm. “You are reading Joyce?” he asked. “Not yet” I said. This is worth thousands, he said after inspecting it. “It’s a first edition!” My eyes glittered. We settled for $200. I was a rookie then. Later that night, with the $187 dollars in my pocket after a nice dinner, I stole a 1960s copy of the same book from a used bookstore that was selling it for $1.99.

Blinded greed, I stole books from the library left and right. It was a rather easy way to survive, supported by the state, which owed me so much anyway. Nevertheless, I felt guilty. So much that when Lucy, the librarian, approached me one afternoon, I almost told her the truth. She came to me, however, because she had observed me and had taken a liking to my reading habits. She had a beautiful smile and a very placid way of saying things. She gave me a tour of areas of the library I had not seen and introduced me to books I would have never imagined picking up. Over the weeks, I grew comfortable to the attention she paid to me. She was in love with mystery and crime novels, which I didn’t care for. The classics are my thing. I learned better survival skills from them than from those stupid crime novels. Most cops sense you are trying to fool them with a tactic you’ve read in one of those books, but few are capable to defy the arguments exposed by Socrates or the morals of Aesop. At least, my quasi-philosophical ranting gave me time to run away. Nonetheless, Lucy explained that those books allow you to run away from everything to become part of an alternate reality. I knew that she would run for cover if she experienced those things in her own flesh, but disregarded such observation because she truly believed her arguments. I appreciated them because she shared them to me with passion and with no intention to convince me. Her nurturing voice was sufficient to persuade me.

Lucy finally adopted me after realizing that, during the day, the library was my home. Life was good afterward. I had a clean bathroom, a bed, the opportunity to go to school, and the safety of a home. More importantly, I had Lucy, who kindly declined my offer to call her mom, and J.P., the best brother I could have ever wished to have. Even then, and as resilient as I was described to be by those therapists, the urge to kill crept up every once in a while. I suppose that was the toll of having to watch my back all those years on the streets.

I don’t remember when the urge finally abandoned me. What I do remember, however, is sitting at work realizing that for several months such thought had not invaded me. It was a rather strange feeling, like losing an organ or one of your senses. I tried to elicit the urge on command, but it didn’t come. I also noticed that I was less paranoid and more trusting. “So this is what true life is like,” I thought. I closed my eyes in an attempt to get used to my new reality, but another feeling of paranoia invaded me within seconds: “What if the urge returns?” I feared. Despite the weird feelings, I felt good, like I never had in many years. In fact, I felt really good for over 15 years. Yesterday, however, my fear materialized.

When I reached the van, parked in an isolated underground level of a convenience store, they weren’t fucking anymore. He was pulling his pants up, playing with his dick and asking her if she had ever tasted so good a thing. The bitch was still naked, pleading for another fuck. My world didn’t collapse, didn’t shatter in millions of pieces, but merely imploded in an onerous feeling of dispossession. She kept pleading for more and the son of a bitch laughed.

-I’ll fuck you all the times you want next week, while your husband leaves for that conference and my lousy wife believes I went on a business trip.

My world exploded in rage. Possessed, I pulled the bitch out by the hair and threw her on the floor. He got out of the van and grabbed me, trying to control me. When I looked him in the eyes, I saw the same fear that afflicted my sister years earlier. Sensing the gun that the years on the streets have forced me to carry for protection, he let go, sobbing and pleading for his life. The bitch ran away. I looked at him and laughed vengefully. My head snapped and I felt something click. Had my head finally come back to its senses? With a peaceful determination and without turning back, I got in the van and drove away, throwing the gun in a dumpster before I arrived home.

He won’t have to complain about me anymore and I won’t have to listen to his stupid excuses, which I tolerated without an inch of resentment. More importantly, the urge will never return because its constant reminder lies in a trash can. At least, that’s what I think, because there must be more than one way of killing a lousy husband.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

very powerful