“I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which ‘Escape’ is now so often used. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?”
— J.R.R Tolkein
By the time I wrote Level 12, the world had gone to shit. That summer the most destructive wildfires in Colorado’s history consumed hundreds of homes and half a billion in infrastructure. Then a madman armed with assault rifles stormed a nearby movie theater killing 12 and wounding 58. Shortly thereafter my cousin Brett died of a heroin overdose. And finally, on August 19, my grandma got into a head on collision with a semi carrying 20 tons of scrap metal. She broke her sternum, shattered her leg and fractured her skull. Her car exploded like so much shrapnel. The doctors put her back together with duct tape and wires then shipped her off to ICU where a bunch of tubes and beeping machines forced her to keep breathing. No one knew if she would live. That same week school started and my disease flared, revenge for the sake I had consumed at Derek’s 25th birthday. By Thursday the pain was so intense I couldn’t walk. I had to drop out of school — again. Saturday rolled around and my grandma was still in bad shape, my mom and her siblings began to contemplate pulling the plug. The poor woman had been through hell that summer and now she had to decide if her mother would live or die.
In the midst of crisis, despite tragedy, in the face of death my fingers kept moving. I closed my blinds, took off my clothes and sat on my ass pillow. Naked and alone, I built a world where pain had meaning, where lessons could be learned and agony made sense. It was selfish. It was stupid. It was all I had.
Katie told me to keep writing. She said she believed in writing. I didn’t. The world did not need my voice.
My mom told me my grandma wasn’t waking up, that she was in pain. Tears filled my eyes. They splashed onto my fingers and soaked my keyboard. I didn’t stop. I couldn’t stop. Like a hopeless addict I kept writing, searching for solace from the pain.
Three months earlier, the world was still fairly normal, Zach left my apartment and I passed the night in agony. Winnie the Pooh’s Tummy Full O’ Honey Belly Rub Technique no longer worked. The place where Sauron laired was now so tender I couldn’t lay on my right side. Rubbing gurgles was no longer an option. All night the Bowie knife tore through my system, ripping from right to left and then back again in an agonizing zig zag of pain. I stopped drinking water. I hadn’t shit in days. The shower was my only source of nourishment. The next day my mom was going to take me to a NUCCA chiropractor who would crack my back until my guts behaved. I just had to make it through the night.
Time passed with typical indifference. Night demanded rest and my circumstances mattered little. The infinite hour glass with its incessant sand marched on. Then, in the deepest darkness, when even Denver had fallen asleep, I awoke to find Sauron hovering above me. The all-seeing eye bathed the room in an ominous, flickering glow. Shelob stood beside me, her fangs glistening — venom, like saliva, dripped onto the floor.
“I will be leaving soon,” said the Dark Lord. Shelob moved closer, staring at me with eight hungry eyes. “You are now weak enough. My lieutenants can manage without me.”
“Why?” I asked again, the question broad and encompassing. Why was he destroying me? Why was he leaving? Why had he not killed us yet?
“We will meet again,” he replied. “And when we do, you will give me what I most desire.”
“What?” I asked through trembling lips.
“Life,” he said, staring down from above.
“I can’t,” I said; my voice less than a whisper. “I can barely walk.”
Shelob placed an awful claw across my forehead in mock imitation of a mother’s touch. A skittering sound rattled across her belly.
“Not yet,” said Sauron. “But soon you will.”
The ancient spider turned her head to one side and hissed. She rubbed her wet fangs across my chest and throat. I gagged and began dry heaving. My insides lurched, my mind went white. I vaguely remembered Sauron saying, “When the time is right I will send my servant. Do as he says and you will be rewarded.”
His form began to dissolve as I lost consciousness. When I came to he was gone, returned to the guts from whence he came. I lay there wondering what he’d meant. Shelob attended me but her blasphemous caresses held no answer.
Eventually, impossibly, the night passed. Morning broke with birds and sunlight. I limped from my bed to the shower for some breakfast. My appointment was at 11 that morning. Dr. Groover said the first visit would take about four hours. $2,000 for four hours. My mom was going to be pissed, but by dinner I’d be eating chalupas and washing them down with Sprite. I couldn’t wait.
In the shower I thought about Sauron. Did he actually believe a sickly man-boy with nothing but student loans and a computer could give life to the greatest of the Maiar? It had to be a joke and even if it wasn’t, I’d never do it. The mother fucker had wrecked me. If he somehow managed to transform my broken body into a demi god with the power to animate illusion, I would turn my powers against him. I’d erase the bastard from existence with the wave of my hand, deleting even the memory of his passing; but first he would suffer. He would feel the pain he had inflicted on me. I would tear him apart, slowly, over the course of millennia and then blot him from the record like the mistake he was.
The warm shower pattered across my weakened form, bypassing Sauron and his Death Shit Riders. When my skin was full and wrinkly, I climbed out of the tub and crawled into bed. I didn’t dry off. I just lay there all wretched and wet.
A few hours later my mom arrived. I trudged the 20 poetic steps from my bed to the security door and let her in.
“How did you sleep honey?” she asked.
“Fine,” I lied. The night had been full of suffering and moans. If my neighbors hadn’t heard me before, they certainly knew now. The pain had been so intense I blacked out twice, coming to on my hands and knees. Apparently I’d found it necessary to crawl around my apartment like a baby with appendicitis. I vaguely remembered doing it, but could no longer fathom why. It was kind of funny when you thought about it.
My mom got down to business immediately, hooking me up to the frequency specific machine and trying to get me to take my supplements. I allowed her to wire me up, but refused to take the pills, my stomach was too swollen and sore. Once I’d eaten some Taco Bell, I’d take her potions.
The previous day she’d scoured the kitchen and half my bathroom, but there was still filth to be had. That was good, my mom needed grime. She was one of those people who had to be busy. If there was nothing to do she would knock over a pitcher just so there’d be glass to sweep. I had never seen her watch a movie, not all the way through.
After she hooked me up to the frequency specific machine, she said, “This program helps with pain.” Then she busied herself in the kitchen, clinking and clanging pots and pans. “You know,” she said, “if you dried your glasses after you washed them they wouldn’t get this cloudy haze. I’ll buy you a dish rack later today.”
“Don’t,” I said from my bed.
“What, honey?” I was mumbling again.
“Don’t,” I said louder.
“But Nathan, if you don’t dry your dishes they’ll always look filthy.”
I didn’t have the energy to explain to her that I didn’t give a shit about water spots.
“Mom,” I said. She got the message and puttered about for a few minutes in silence.
Soon she brought a steaming cup of something into my bedroom. “Here’s a cup of chamomile. I put some honey in it. It’s very soothing.”
Winnie the Pooh’s Belly Full O’ Honey Tummy Rub Technique no longer worked, but maybe I was going about it all wrong. Perhaps I needed to coat my insides with golden syrup before I massaged the gurgles. I held the mug in two trembling hands and brought it to my face. I inhaled deeply, smelling the delicious vapors. I took a sip. Glorious music filled the heavens as a billion flowers bloomed on 10,000 verdant hills. My senses came alive. It was as if my entire body took a breath. I had never tasted anything so exquisite.
“What — hiccup — is this?” I asked, slightly awestruck.
“Chamomile,” my mother said. “Do you like it?”
“What’s chamomile?” I asked.
“Tea. Chamomile is tea. It should help you relax.”
I took another sip.
“The second is never so sweet,” said Pozzo, “as the first I mean.” He patted me on the back. “But it’s sweet just the same.” I nodded in agreement. It didn’t quench my thirst and it didn’t fill my stomach, but there was nourishment there, calories my sickened form had not had for almost six days. I finished the mug as quickly as temperature would allow and lay back in bed. The pain did not abate but there was a smile on my face. My mom busied herself in my bathroom.
“What happened in here?” she called from Minas Tirith, the place where I had done battle with the Nazgûl. Apparently my attempt to soak up the evidence had failed. I pretended not to hear her. The story was too long and painful. She kept scrubbing and didn’t ask again. Apparently her question had been rhetorical.
The morning passed in slow motion, as my mom cleaned and I lay in bed listening to Tobolowsky. He told me stories about the Dangerous Animals Club and his former girlfriend, Beth. I found out that he was friends with David Byrne who had written a song about him and he let me in on a few of life’s bigger secrets. The pain continued, the hiccups came and went. Finally it was time to go to the chiropractor. My mom unplugged me and helped me dress and then we shuffled outside to her SUV. Like everything she touched, the Water Wagon was an extension of her paradoxical being; it spread healing. She’d stuck two enormous magnets on either side advertising the fact that she sold the Multi Pure Drinking Water System. The magnets told potential customers what number they could call if they wanted to reach her. I’d always thought a single magnet stuck to the back would have been more effective, but my mom had a shelf full of trophies to prove otherwise.
“I cleared out some space for you and laid the seats down,” she said. “That way you’ll be more comfortable on the drive up.”
She spread out my sleeping bag in the hollowed out space to one side of her three suitcases. Three suitcases for a two and a half day stay. My mom never travelled light. I crawled in and lay down.
At stoplights and cross streets men in big rigs with their elbows stuck out their windows looked down at me, bent and moaning. If our eyes met, I’d pull the imaginary chord above me, trying to get them to honk their horns, but we were in the city and I was clearly a weirdo. No one pulled their chords for me.
“You doing alright back there, honey?” my mom asked.
“No,” I said.
“But laying down helps, right?” My mom was always looking for ways in which her voodoo magic had worked.
“Well the frequency program I put you on this morning was for pain so you should be feeling a little better.”
“I don’t,” I said. If she thought electric current could ease six days of vomiting and starvation, she was insane.
“The program I put you on eases pain,” she repeated, as if this settled it. I hoped Dr. Groover had more to offer than nine volt zaps.
My phone rang. Feebly I picked it up, “Hello?”
“Nathan, it’s cousin Mary, how are you feeling?”
“I’m sorry to hear that. I called my friend and he’s no longer practicing, but I did some research and there’s an urgent care center at Swedish Medical. They have an amazing gastroenterology department that I think you should check out.”
“I’m on my way to — hiccup — a chiropractor in Boulder with my — hiccup — right now,” I said.
“Who are you talking too?” my mom asked. She never liked being left out of conversations.
“Ok …” I could hear the skepticism in Mary’s highly-trained voice.
“My mom’s friend’s granddaughter went through this — hiccup — same thing and he fixed her right up.”
“Well, Nathan, I really think you should see a specialist,” she said, “someone who deals with this sort of thing on a daily basis.”
“Ok,” I said, “If this guy doesn’t fix me — hiccup — I’ll — hiccup — check them out.”
“If who doesn’t fix you?” My mom called from the front seat.
“Do you want the number?” Mary asked. “I have it right here.”
“Is it Noelle?” my mom asked.
“Sure,” I said.
“Do you have a pen?”
“Yeah,” I lied.
“Tell Noelle I sent the package,” continued my mom, as if she knew exactly who I was talking to. “I didn’t have any Min Tran so that’ll be coming from Standard Process in about a week. Ask her if Chris feels any better on the Calcium I sent.”
I ignored her and pretended to write down the number Mary gave me. I repeated the last four digits so she wouldn’t think I was lying. “Ok, Nathan, take care and call me once you’ve gone to the doctor.”
“Thanks, Mary. I — hiccup — it a lot.”
I hung up the phone.
“Who was that?” my mom asked again.
“No one,” I replied.
That was good enough for her. The gerbils who controlled her mind had already moved on to other things. We continued the drive to Boulder in silence, arriving on time for once, not that it mattered. Dr. Groover no doubt had a bushel of carrots to eat before he could see me. Slowly I climbed out of the backseat. My mom came around the corner with a bottle of supplements. “I want you to take a couple of these,” she said. “I think it will help your stomach relax.”
“No.” I replied. My guts were a war zone. I hadn’t eaten in almost a week. The first thing I put in my mouth would not be voodoo magic.
“It’s a digestive enzyme.” She shook two gigantic tablets out of the bottle and into her hand. They were tan and flecked with white, twin ovals of destruction. My gag reflex triggered just looking at them. “They’ll help you keep food down,” she continued.
“No,” I said. “My — hiccup — stomach hurts too — hiccup — much.”
“Try,” she insisted. “You need to at least try.”
“No I — hiccup — don’t.” What was wrong with her? She’d cleaned my blackened blood vomit out of the bathroom and watched me soak my nutrition in the shower. I was in no condition to be swallowing anything. Did she actually think two little pills would cure me?
“Take them,” she insisted, pushing her hand closer to me.
“No,” I said pushing her hand away. “I didn’t want your — hiccup — help in the first place. I — hiccup — told you not to — hiccup — come — hiccup — I told you.”
“Nathan,” she shoved her hand toward me, I was too weak to keep it away. I stared into her granite eyes, weighing the merits of continuing the fight. I was wretched, she was behemoth. It wouldn’t end soon, it wouldn’t end well. My mom was like me, she never gave up. I decided to compromise.
“One,” I said. “If it — hiccup — stays down, I’ll — hiccup — take the other.” My mom nodded assent. I grabbed a pill and swallowed it with a gulp of Multi Pure water from one of the bottles my mom carried with her at all times. It grated painfully down my throat and I felt my miserable stomach react immediately. There was no way I was going to digest the thing. My mom watched intently, studying my face to see if the pill was working, as if her vitamin was some kind of miracle drug that took effect in seconds. I turned around and headed toward the chiropractor’s door, but my mom wasn’t done.
“Sure you don’t want another?” She asked in that annoying tone moms used when they wanted to remind you that they knew all your secrets; that they had washed your sheets after you’d wet the bed in high school. It’s funny what makes people snap. After six days of pain and vomiting, her insistence tipped me over the edge. I turned to face her. What was wrong with this woman? I stared into her eyes and limped back, leaning into her face so she could smell my rancid, vomity, breath.
“Fuck you,” I said with as much force as I could muster. The word felt strange in my mouth. I had never sworn at my mom. In fact, I rarely swore at all. Sure I’d let the occasional “ass” or “bitch” slip from time to time, but never the Big Ones; never the shits or fucks. I’m sure that seems weird coming from the writer of Confessions of a Diarrhetic, but on May 18, six days after the Nuggets lost to the Lakers, I wasn’t a writer. I was an engineering student waiting for summer semester to begin. My life was normal. I watched movies and basketball games, went to the club and drank with friends. I never cursed. The swear words and madness came after the doctor prescribed Prednisone and the little pink pill turned my world upside down. In Level 1 when I wrote “And why for fuck’s sake…” I was as surprised as you. That curse word hung in the air like an accidental paint splatter, daring me to wipe it off. I sat there, transfixed by my own obscenity. I stared at the four letters with their attendant singular possessive and wondered what to do.
Good writers didn’t swear. They used other words so the reader got the idea without actually going there. Tolkein never used profanity. Was it more creative to avoid cursing, to work within a limited structure and see how far you could take it? Brian Regan was better than Dane Cook not because his jokes were funnier, but because it took more skill to make people laugh without vulgarity. Was I an exemplar of the Higher Road or a common street thug? When I wrote Level 1, I had been through hell. Sleep deprivation, pain and self imposed-isolation had turned me into a naked, raving lunatic. My world had been obliterated. Everything was fucked. My life had turned obscene. Obscene language was needed to tell the story. At least that’s how I justified it. I saved the document and posted it to Facebook, swear word and all. A floodgate opened. You’re reading it now.
But that came later. There were miles to go before I started writing and cursing and vomiting my sins all over the Internet. At the time I was in Boulder and my mom was trying to get me to take a pill. I was sick and tired and hungry. My sides ached and my throat was sore. My mom was trying to help. She was trying to say “I love you,” but it felt like a punch in the gut.
The Craterhoof Behmoth looked at me, not quite comprehending. She knew the insult could not go unchallenged, but I was weak and thin. Any counter would destroy me. She had brought me into the world, was it time to take me out? I realized this was how her enemies felt when she turned her wrath upon them.
“Don’t you ever say that to me again,” she said. “I am your mother and—”
“Fuck. You,” I repeated. Pronouncing each word separately. I knew I was on thin ice, I knew she could end me, but in my present state death seemed like a viable option. “I’m the one who’s been — hiccup — throwing — hiccup — up and I’m the one who hasn’t — hiccup — eaten in six — hiccup — days. I’m the one who’s been hiccup, hiccup, hiccup.” The exertion was too much, the Nazgûl had found another opening.
My mom watched me convulsing and popped the remaining pill into her mouth, chewing the nasty thing slowly. It reminded me of movies where the hero takes his time finishing his whisky before kicking ass. She watched me, chewing her pill in silence. I dropped my gaze and went into the chiropractor’s office.
The door beeped holistically, unaware of what had just transpired outside. “Hi Nathan, how are you?” asked the cheerful white-haired lady behind the desk. The office dog came up to sniff me, giant stone eggs glowed their welcome.
“Terrible,” I said and headed for the yoga mat. I called to the dog, “C’mere — hiccup — buddy.” He looked at me quizzically. Who is this guy? I snapped my fingers and pointed at the mat to let him know I meant business. I needed lovin’ and I wasn’t about to take no for an answer. Dutifully he padded over to the mat. I lay down beside him and began rubbing my hands all over his body, searching for the sweet spot. Dogs have a love language and for most it involves petting. The details are different for every mutt and discovering that sweet spot is one of my favorite things. For some dogs it’s behind the ears, others prefer the belly and all of them love a vigorous scratch above the tail. The secret to uncovering a dog’s love language is not only finding his sweet spot but touching it in a way he likes best. Some prefer fast tummy rubs, others need it slow. Most pit bulls like it when you slap their sides but Shiba Inus take off if you give them anything but the gentlest of caresses.
This dog had big floppy ears so I went for those. Jackpot. His neck stretched, his eyes closed. The little beast was mine. My hiccups began to fade.
My mom came in and didn’t look at me. She’d bludgeon an apology out of me later. The receptionist immediately began her verbal sparring, picking up where she’d left off two days prior.
As I lay dying, gurgles ripped across my stomach. The hiccups faded in and out, helped by the loveable dog who curled up next to me and fell asleep. After 20 minutes, the session with Dr. Groover’s previous patient ended and he talked her out the door, firing parting shots of holistic wisdom as she left. “Your short leg is physiological. Keep doing your exercises and come back for a realignment in two weeks.”
She thanked him and left. The giant, bald-headed carrot eater looked down at my sickly form and said, “I need to get the X-ray machine set up and then I’ll be ready to see you.”
I raised my hand to let him know that would be OK and went back to petting his dog. I looked at the giant, glowing egg shaped thingies and wondered what they were. Karen continued to crush my mom at pingpong. I was almost asleep, my hand mechanically petting Dr. Groover’s dog. His wife broke the reverie: “Dr. Groover is ready to see you,” she said cheerfully from behind her desk. I got up slowly and hobbled into his office, stopping on the way to fill a cup of water from the plastic dispenser.
Dr. Groover sized me up as I rounded the corner, “You look a little better than you did on Wednesday.”
“I shaved,” I said by way of explanation. There was no way I was going to give the remotest credit to my mom and her frequency machine.
“Well, let’s have a look at you.” He led me into a room with a giant X-ray blaster. “Sit on the chair. Don’t put your feet on the foot rest until after you’re in or it’ll tip over.” He demonstrated the wobbly nature of the X-ray chair, tilting it back and forth like a magician, proving the premise before wowing the audience. I sat down, lifted my feet and placed them on the rest. Dr. Groover spun me around. “Put your chin on the rest.” The giant secured a contraption to the back of my head, I imagined he was about to send me into the Matrix. “It’s important that you don’t move or the X-rays will come out blurry and we’ll have to reshoot.”
If lying on the floor was painful, sitting upright and holding a position was pure agony. The doctor worked as quickly as he could, shooting X-rays from behind a lead shield, then repositioning me at different angles. My head ached with hunger, my throat burned from vomiting and my guts were bloated and sore. I did my best to keep the groans in check, to remain calm, to sit still. An hour passed and still he kept shooting. In a way it was nice. Most holistic folk relied on simple methods for diagnosis. My mom pushed on outstretched arms, her witchy friends read signs in your eyes or aura but this guy at least acknowledged the validity of science. He was zapping me with beams of energy and recording the displacement on sensitive film. When he was done there would be an actual image that people could look at and study. I didn’t have to go on blind faith, trusting he had read the tea leaves correctly.
“We’re done,” Dr. Groover said.
I lifted my face off the chin rest and spun the chair. “I know Kung Fu,” I said in my best Keanu voice.
“What?” the doctor was confused.
“Go ahead and sit on that table while I process the film.” I went into an adjoining room filled with chiropractic equipment. There were posters with drawings detailing different parts of the body, strange devices for manipulating backs and a table with moving parts and a place to stick your face. I sat on the table and waited. The hiccups returned. Fucking Nazgûl.
Dr. Groover came into the room with the notes he had taken the previous day. He sat down and began paging through them. “What kind of supplements does your mom have you taking?”
“I don’t — hiccup — know,” I said honestly.
“You said she put you on a frequency machine, what programs was she running?”
“There are different programs?”
“Yes, was she treating your stomach, intestines, liver?”
“Uh…” This was no good. I could make up a bunch of stuff but he’d see right through it. He needed information I didn’t have. Only my mom could give him the data but that was a double-edged sword. “You want me to ask my mom?” I hoped I could run relay and keep her at a distance.
“We’ll just bring her in here,” said Dr. Groover, “Karen?” He turned his head and called into the waiting room.
“It’s OK,” I struggled to get off the table, my skinny legs kicked at the air, my frail arms were too weak to move me. “I can just go and — hiccup — ask her.”
“What?” called Karen from behind her desk.
I landed on the floor and tried to straighten my back. A stooped crouch was the best I could achieve but there was no time. I started for the door, “Really — hiccup — it’s no problem.”
“Send in Nathan’s mother, please,” the chiropractor said.
“Dude, seriously,” I said. He had no idea what he was in for. My hiccups increased in frequency. I could hear the distant murmur as Karen relayed her husband’s message, and then footsteps, distant and powerful. She was coming. “I mean, the — hiccup — thing is…” How could I explain? How could I make him understand? He had not invited a woman into his office, but a force of nature and not just any force, he had summoned a Behemoth. Her jaws were the size of glaciers, her bulk would destroy the room, she had the social skills of a pit bull and the grace of a gladiator. I looked at the doctor, searching for words. My mom came around the corner, small and innocent, larger than the world. “I’m sorry,” I said.
“For what?” The chiropractor looked at me funny.
“Karen told me to come in.” My mom looked at me, vindicated that she was needed and my desire for a mom-free session had been thwarted. The hurt of my “fuck you’s” was written on her face.
“We have a few questions about the supplement plan you have Nathan on,” said Dr. Groover. “What pills has he been taking?”
“None,” my mom said. “He refuses to take them.”
“I’m — hiccup — taking as many as I can.”
“If you don’t get on the full plan you’ll never get better.”
“I’ll take all the — hiccup — pills you want as soon as I stop — hiccup — throwing — hiccup — up.”
The doctor looked from my mom to me and then back again, processing the awkward anger boiling to the surface.
“You won’t stop throwing up,” said my mom, “if you don’t start taking your pills.”
“I can barely — hiccup — keep down water and you’ve — hiccup — got me on 40 pills a day!” I turned to the doctor, “She’s — hiccup — got me on 40 — hiccup — pills — hiccup — a day.”
“I cut back as much as I could,” countered my mom, “you wouldn’t let me prescribe what you needed.”
Dr. Groover saw his opening. “What pills do you have him taking?” he asked.
Oh man, he’d got her talking pills. “Food enzymes to aid in digestion, bee pollen to decrease inflammation, mineral tonic to replace lost nutrients, black currant oil for some fatty acids, a colloidal cleanser and stress j for adrenal support. I tried to give him hi-lipase but he wouldn’t let me,” she looked at me accusingly. “Do you think I should give him any slippery elm?”
The doctor was writing furiously, trying to keep up as she rattled off my supplement regimen. “I don’t supplement,” he scratched his enormous, bald head. “My goal is to get the body realigned so it can absorb the nutrition it needs. I don’t discourage supplementation, but it’s not my focus. As to your regimen, you’ve pretty much got the bases covered,” my mom beamed, “but I wouldn’t start him on the program until we know what we’re dealing with.” My mom looked at the chiropractor like he was from another planet. “There might be an emotional component as well,” he looked at me. “What was your home life like as a kid?”
“He grew up in a warzone,” my mom said.
“Really?” The gleam came into the doctor’s eye again.
“Not literally,” I said. “She’s — hiccup — speaking in metaphor.”
“Oh.” The twinkle faded. I wasn’t into extreme sports and I didn’t grow up in a warzone, there was just no pleasing this guy.
“His father and I fought constantly.”
“Mom,” I tried to get her to stop.
“And he and his sister were caught in the middle,”
“Mom, please stop talking.”
“He refuses to go to counseling. I’ve offered to pay but he won’t do it.”
“Mom, seriously! Hiccup, hiccup, hiccup.” She looked at me with contempt, I turned to the doctor, “I’m fine. I’ve — hiccup — worked through that stuff. It was — hiccup — a long time ago.”
“You’ll never be whole if you don’t deal with your generational curses,” my mom said. She turned to the doctor, “He refuses to deal with his generational curses.”
The term “generational curses” embodied a philosophy based on a Bible verse that talked about the sins of the fathers being visited down through the seventh generation. The basic premise was that if your great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather fucked a pig, you would have to break the curse or suffer the spiritual punishment. It was a great way for losers like my dad to blame their ancestors for their problems instead of accepting responsibility for their actions. The doctor was clearly weirded out and decided to change the subject, “Would you like to look at his X-rays?” Would my mom like to look at X-rays? Did a Craterhoof Behemoth have trample?
My mom immediately started babbling about all the X-rays she’d looked at, name dropping her college to increase her street cred. The doctor went into the other room followed by my mom and fired up a light box with pictures of my spine clipped to it. I hobbled in and sat down on a chair.
“His C-3 and 4 are out of whack,” said the doctor, “and it’s putting pressure on his lower back, pulling on the pelvis. She how the curvature has been displaced?”
“Oh my!” my mother said, aghast at the black and white images.
Dr. Groover pulled out a pointer and swept it along the length of the black and white image. “The downward pressure is twisting his hips placing pressure on his entire torso. This could be the reason for his digestive problems.”
“Awful, just awful,” my mom said. The pictures didn’t look that bad to me. If the doctor hadn’t drawn a bunch of lines and pointed out the displaced vertebrae, I would have had no idea anything was wrong. “No wonder he’s been throwing up,” my mom said.
Was she kidding? It was a spine. Maybe a vertebrae or two was out of place, but I’d thrown up blood for four days. I hadn’t eaten anything but Ex-Lax and a digestive enzyme in six. I didn’t know anything about X-rays or spines but something wasn’t adding up.
Dr. Groover and my mom talked about the images for half an hour. I could see that something was a little wrong but to hear my mom’s reactions you’d think I’d broken my back. Why was she so eager to embrace the chiropractor’s theory?
“If it’s alright,” said the doctor, “I’d like to start realigning Nathan today.”
“Oh, definitely,” said my mom, “we need to fix this right away.” She didn’t know the realignment would cost her $2,000. I kept my mouth shut and thought about Taco Bell.
Dr. Groover led me back into the room with the posters and contraptions and sat me down on the table. He washed his hands and then set about moving my bones from where they were to where he thought they should be. He was aided in this endeavor by mysterious gadgets that seemed archaic and out of place, like an old television in the corner of a kitchen. There were spring-loaded ramps he placed under my back then released with leg pulls and explosive results; he clicked key points with a hand held steel syringe that delivered tiny thumps instead of medicine; he loaded me sideways onto a table with a hinged head rest and dribbled my head like a basketball; he laid me down on a table for some cranial sacral work and then snapped my neck like a whip. For three hours he poked and prodded, cracked and massaged. At one point the giant, bald-headed carrot eater asked me to sit up and raise my arms above my head. I complied and he wrapped me up like a present in his enormous limbs, moving me like a rag doll in the hands of an enormous baby. I found myself lost in his mighty grip, my movements chosen for me, my will subjugated to another. It felt good. I finally understood what Brad was talking about when he told me girls liked to be raped.
The Ocean Part 1
Brad was your typical long liner; 30 something, scrawny and tough as hell. Long lining was the oldest fishery in the world, invented in ancient times when hooks were carved from bone and you hauled in your catch by hand. In the 6,000 years since its inception, many things had changed, but the basic premise was the same. Fishermen sent out quarter mile strings of line with hooks dangling at three foot intervals. Each hook held a chunk of bait and the length of the line rested on the bottom of the ocean. Hook-less running lines ran from either end of the bottom-resting baited line up to the surface, held in place by bright buoys and an attendant, floating flag. The contraption resembled a squared off letter ‘U’ with a deadly fishing bottom. After a six hour soak in which the fishermen cast more quarter mile strings into the ocean, the boat returned to haul up the line from one end. If the fishermen were lucky, each hook held a glistening halibut or cod. If they were unlucky, the hooks were empty or filled with octopus, sting ray, flat fish and sharks. Brad had been fishing for more than a decade and in that time he had collected more stories than he could remember. Unfortunately for the other crewmen of the Fishing Vessel Tenacious, Brad liked to talk.
Out on the water everyone eventually earned a nickname. Brad’s was The Mouth because he never shut up. His over hand serve was the best I’d ever seen, no one could return the thing. It could be the 32nd hour of the fourth consecutive 30-hour day with the crew falling asleep where they stood and Brad would be babbling on about some stupid thing he’d done to get in a fight or out of a fight or the time he was on a boat that filled it’s hold in 12 hours; exactly the kind of thing you wanted to hear when the lines were coming up empty. Brad hated his nickname, but that was nothing special, nicknames were meant to be derogatory. Urchin, Deck, Big Wave Dave, most nicknames were based on embarrassing situations your crew mates didn’t want you to live down. If you managed to get one that wasn’t humiliating, it was as good as gold, a cherished token of your superiority as a fisherman.
I wasn’t sure what the circumstances of The Mouth’s confession were. I didn’t remember if he told me on a trip or after a trip or in a bar somewhere in between, but I did remember the look of fear in his eyes. Most of The Mouth’s stories involved him being awesome and applied to the situation we were in.
“36 hours without snooze is nothing. This one time I was crabbing and we worked for 42 hours straight, didn’t even stop for chow. I started hallucinating and couldn’t feel my toes. Thirty-six hours is nothing.”
I’m sure there was a little truth in each of Brad’s stories but, as with all fishermen, most of it was exaggerated bullshit; this time was different. I knew he wasn’t lying because the story was kind of embarrassing and involved him being vulnerable.
“You ever been with an older woman?” he asked one day.
“You know I don’t have sex.” I replied. At the time I was a Christian, smack dab in the middle of a seven year stint of self-imposed celibacy.
“Well someday you’ll get with an older woman and it’ll be different. She’ll want different stuff.” A strange look came into his eyes, something close to, but not quite, fear.
“Like what?” Normally I just tuned Brad out, saying “yeah” and “uh-huh” at the appropriate times so he’d think I was listening, but every once in a while he had something good to say. I could tell this was one of those times.
“Like rape,” he said. The words left his lips like an ominous prophecy.
“Rape?” I didn’t believe him.
“Rape,” he confirmed. “Not rape, rape, but almost rape. Older women want you to control them. They’ll try to resist and want you to force them into fucking. You’ll have to smack them and shit.” His eyes took on a far-off look as if he was remembering the atrocities of a distant war.
“I don’t believe you.” I could tell he wasn’t lying, but I didn’t like it or hoped it only applied to the women Brad liked to date. I sort of got a sick feeling in my stomach.
“You’ll see,” said The Mouth, “when you get older sex will start to get boring and then the freaky shit comes out. I was with this girl once?” His voice got quiet, I leaned in closer so I could hear him. “She wanted me hold her down while she struggled to escape. We trashed the hotel, broke a TV and everything.” He was no longer looking at me, lost in the fearful lust of that night so long ago. “I didn’t know what to do. She was biting and clawing and yelling, ‘No! Stop! Please help!’ but when I’d back off she’d yell ‘Fuck me, you asshole. What are you, a pussy?’ I didn’t know what to do.” He put his head in one hand. “I didn’t know what to do.”
“Dude,” I didn’t know what to say. I had never heard of such a thing. There was no way it was true. Brad insisted that it was.
“She wanted me to rape her,” he said as he trailed off and got quiet. I stared at him for a while, trying to process what he’d said. We both came to the same conclusion, quietly and in our own minds. Women were strange. Terrifying. Beautiful.
In time we went back to whatever it was we’d been doing, but Brad’s confession hung over the boat like fog. Our movements felt forced, like a camera was watching, we jumped at loud noises. In silence we worked, scared of the next time we came face to face with an older woman.
For years The Mouth’s story stuck with me. Time passed and eventually I was as old as he had been the time he revealed his discovery. Back then I didn’t want to believe him, but the look of fear in his eyes was hard to forget. As I got older, I eventually gave in and started having sex. In the beginning it was normal sex, just like you’d expect, but as the years passed something changed. Girls started getting violent. They wanted me to slap them and choke them. Timidly I would lay a hand on their throats or tap the side of one cheek with my open hand. The results were awkward and unsatisfying. I’d think back to the look in Brad’s eyes and wonder if maybe he’d been right. What was wrong with these girls? Had they been raped as children? I didn’t understand until the day Dr. Groover wrapped his gigantic body around me and held me helpless in his arms.
“Raise your hands above your head,” he said. I sat on his table and dutifully obeyed. He grabbed my scrawny form and held me like a baby. “Relax into me,” he commanded. “Let me take control.” I let myself go limp, held in place by his giant bulk. “I’m going to move your body for you. Don’t resist. Let it happen.”
I sat there, helpless and controlled, my ego subsumed into one greater than myself. He stretched and moved and cracked my bones, and like a dancer lost in the rhythm, I allowed myself to be dominated. It felt warm and holy, cradled in the arms of someone whose sole purpose was to heal my broken body. I released myself into the giant and let him twist and turn and touch and move me in whatever way he chose. Lost in his embrace, I thought about Brad and realized he had been mistaken. His lovers didn’t want to be raped, they wanted to feel safe, to place their fate in the hands of another and be controlled by someone who cared for them. I imagined the effect compounded by the physical act of love and multiplied by dinners and jewelry bought. Brad’s lovers weren’t bored with sex, they had finally come to a place where they could trust their man enough to give up control. To abandon ego and place it in the hands of a lover. Brad had missed the point entirely, exaggerating events like every good fisherman and turning something beautiful into rape.
I let myself go, lost in the arms of an older man. My hiccups fled, never to return, the Nazgûl had been defeated. Whether this was the result of chiropractic know-how or happenstance, I didn’t know, but I had been set free. That, at least, was worth the trip to Boulder.
to be continued