Part 1 of a sporadic saga. Part 2 is here
A while back, not very recently, I had a rather disturbing experience involving a gun, my girlfriend, and a bloody mess in my bedroom. I’m not going to go into the details here.
I’m not clear on the sequence of events for the next few days. Some people came by to say whatever it is people say at times like these. The local police department sent an expert over with a business card. The phone rang. I let it ring. At some point I ended up at a friends house. I lay on her sofa for six or seven days. Finally, one day, my best friend and his girl coaxed me into the car. I didn’t ask where we were going. They didn’t tell me. I didn’t care. They drove me to the office of a psychologist and brought me inside. They left. I sat in a very comfortable chair and waited. The psychologist, her face almost lost in hair the color of a lion’s mane, leaned back in her chair and watched me. Eventually she spoke.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
They’re going to put me away, I thought. They think I’ve lost it. I thought about being locked up, tested, evaluated.
“My friends brought me. They didn’t ask me.”
“They’re concerned about your behavior,” she said. “They said you wouldn’t clean up the blood.” She held my eyes with hers. “Do you think they might have a good reason to be concerned?”
I turned my head and looked out the window. It was an ugly view.
She waited. I waited longer.
“They told me a little bit about you. What kind of a man you are. What they know about what happened. The reasons they wanted to bring you here.” She said no more for a while. I felt like I should be saying something, but I couldn’t.
“Do you want to talk about what happened?”
I watched her face. She had flawless skin.
“I came home. She was waiting for me with the gun. When I was close enough to see into her eyes, she put it to her head and pulled the trigger.”
I could sense her, watching me, waiting. She leaned forward in her chair.
“Is that everything?”
She waited. That woman could probably out wait a rock. Then she startled me with a question.
“Do you like movies?”
“Films. Do you watch many films?”
“I want you to pick one, a violent one. Something you’ve seen with violent death in it. Don’t tell me. Just think about it.”
I don’t know what my expression was, but I know what was going through my mind. I tried to focus and think about what she was asking. After what seemed like an eternity, she spoke again.
“What are you thinking about?”
“Those scenes are lies.”
“Those movie scenes where somebody gets shot. And the other person screams or cries or something. That’s crap.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because I know. I’ve seen the real thing. I’ve seen it up close.” I could feel my eyes burning.
“So you know,” she said.
I looked up. There was the faintest mist of a smile in her eyes.
“You know what it’s really like. You know it doesn’t happen the way the movies portray it.”
“What I saw…what I felt….I’ve never seen that in a movie.”
“No. Because the movie makers are looking for drama and excitement. But you know there’s nothing dramatic or exciting about the real thing. You know better than them.”
“I know. I was there.”
“You were there,” she echoed me. Her voice was very calm. I was aware of my heart thumping. It felt like it filled the room.
Then she spoke the words that saved my life.
“It seems to me that you know better than anybody what you should do, or what you should say, or how you should be reacting.” She leaned in very close. I half expected her to take my hands in hers. “Or what you should be feeling.” Her eyes seemed to be inches from mine. “There is no such thing as a rule book. There are no experts.” She said my name. I looked up. “You have to find what works. You have to. All I can do, all anybody can do, is back you up.” She held my eyes with hers for a long moment. They were a deep chocolate brown and full of questions.
“What’s it going to take for you to survive this?”
I had no answer.
Later, when I finally went back to my house, I found my friends had thrown out the brain spattered rug and cleaned up most of the mess. There was a stain in the carpet, where the blood had soaked through the throw rug. I spent the evening soaking and scrubbing, soaking and scrubbing. I found tiny slivers of bone under the nightstand. There was a photograph with blood splatters. I still have it, blood spots and all.
Much later, after things looked fairly clean and normal, I sat outside and lit a cigarette. I felt like I was thinking clearly for the first time since that day. I thought about the things some people had said to me, the way they had looked at me, the expectation and the disappointment in their faces.
They don’t have a goddamn clue, I thought. And it’s not my job to explain myself to them.
My best friend and his girl, by stuffing me into that car, had saved my life. That psychologist had shown me the way to save my sanity.
The least I could do was save myself.
The end result of this sitting and thinking was a very strong conviction that my view of the world needed some drastic restructuring. I felt the only way to do this was to dump my life and start over.
I put what I wanted in storage, gave the rest away, quit my job and told civilization to kiss my coals. Then I left. I carried a guitar, a duffel bag full of clothes, my camping gear and cameras, and a fairly shredded soul.
I had no itinerary. This was not a mission. I wasn’t out to “find myself.” I was out to see what would find me.
I was gone a long time.
I think I came back okay.