The Suburbs of Babylon Chapter 11

Well it’s Friday once again, and a weird Friday at that. We here in TLOS are experiencing a rescheduled Songkran holiday, sans water fights and everything else that makes Songkran Songkran. But it’s a government holiday, so instead of working I’m going down, down, to Pattaya town with a loaded god complex and a pocket full of cash. I’ll report on what transpires next Sunday. In the meantime, suffer through yet another chapter of my heretofore barely-noticed and barely-palatable literary babble titled “The Suburbs of Babylon”…

“Chapter Eleven

We have fallen from our shelves, to find the truth about ourselves,

and we have tumbled from our trees.—Annie Lennox


            Now would be an appropriate time to tell you about Cris and let you in on a few secrets that may go far in explaining my twisted neurosis.  It may also shed light on the mess to follow.

*   *   *

            Girls.  Women.  Kisses.  Intimacy.  Love.  The greatest preoccupation of my life, from around four years old on, has been the pursuit of the various incarnations of said vice.  I say vice because I have no other definition for what eludes me, and the relentless search coupled with my eternal longing had made it so.  I suppose a shrink would give it a name, say it had something to do with being an orphan, replacing the mother figure, or any intimate contact for that matter, but the diagnosis wouldn’t help me either way.  So it is a moot point.

My first fantasy of a woman came in kindergarten with Miss Wexell, whom I mentioned earlier.  During nap time, I would position my mat at the foot of her desk so I could gaze at her stocking-clad legs and un-shoed feet.  In first and second grade, girls would chase me around the yard at recess.  They were too young at that point to shun me for being an orphan, but eventually they would.  When I got bored, I’d let them corner me and plant kisses all over me.  I accepted this as my role in the world, to be wanted by many, and thought it would never change.  And even then, the aura and scent and taste of a female seemed to me to quench an intangible thirst—a longing for something unseen but all-powerful.  There was something about their eyes—they way they looked at me, or saw me in their imagination—that made me feel comfort, made the world more small and defined my place in it.  I cannot say what it was about me that at that time made me so desirable.  I suppose it’s why I’ve spent so long looking for it since—but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Then, tragedy struck.  In the third grade, severe nearsightedness (discovered when I had trouble seeing the chalkboard from my seat) secured for me my first pair of glasses, which abruptly ended any and all attention from girls.  The state paid for them, and they were cheap, large, and brown.  I had become ugly—a non-entity.  Not long after that, someone in my class learned what the word “bastard” meant, and that it somehow had to do with me.  And this is where the misery began.

The following elementary years were wrought with angst.  Rejection gave way to a tremendous hallucination of existence, devoid of self-confidence, brimming with self-delusion and self-hate.  My feeling of worth dried up in the burning, laughing gaze of beautiful children, once friends, who relegated me to the company of other losers and outcasts.  I spent my days yearning for and never receiving acceptance, growing used to the black bitter taste of solitude and loathing every inch of myself.  I watched my ex-friends have at the girls I wanted, wondering why I couldn’t be or wouldn’t be allowed to be happy.

Then in the eighth grade something happened.  I got contact lenses.  I remember the first day I came to school un-bespectacled, no longer a spectacle, anticipating reactions no less than spectacular.  And what should happen, in the glow of my shining hope, my iridescent expectation, but nothing.  In the eyes of my peers, I was still the imperfect, the unworthy, still out of reach of love.  I had changed my outside, a thing that seemed so important to those around me, but it had done no good.  Meanwhile my inside, a muddy mix of bruised innocence, stunted pride, constant pain, and hopeless rage, turned darker and darker.  I had become dependent on the opinions of people who were not, in the intellectual sense, worthy to lick my shoes (says the nerd, triumphantly), yet who held within their circles and parties a world of smiles and long golden hair that I would have maimed and killed and God help me died for.  (Again, a shrink might say that this is nothing out of the ordinary for an adolescent, that it’s part of growing up.  But this had been the color and ilk of my life since conception, and it proved to follow me well beyond adolescence.)

Still, I pressed on.  Each day was agony, an increasing knowledge that all I wanted in the world was all that I would never have.  Not wanting to live but fearing death, I began to abuse myself, which provided little but immediate gratification.  The chief vice I employed was alcohol.  I kept a bottle of vodka in my locker in the tenth grade and made screwdrivers at lunch, all the while grinning wickedly and weirdly at how jaded and rebellious and bad I was.  I found a loud joy in rejecting the world that had rejected me (much like the man who quits his job after having been fired), and warmed my cooling heart with the humming, whispering smirk of Kamchatka.  And so my bitterness and self-hate took hold.  This continued for a while, forming an existence devoid of completion and littered with unrequited attempts at what I determined to be an ugly thing called love.

And then—Cris.  I met Cris in the eleventh grade, just at the point when women, for some reason or other, started to find me attractive.  Perhaps enough time had passed since I rid myself of the glasses, and people had begun to forget.  But there was something else.  Being unloved is a catch twenty-two.  If no one loves you, you eventually stop trying to be loved.  Which makes you even less lovable.  But some girls actually find that lack of effort attractive, and when that happens you’re not sure whether to start trying to be someone worth loving or continue to feign indifference.  If you’re lucky, you find a way to not think about it, and in so doing begin to be something worth paying attention to.  And that’s what happened to me.

Cris could be called my first love.  She pined for me, naïve as she was, worshipped my seemingly deep intellectuality (ironically brought about by all my dark bitterness) and saw in me something worth caring for.  I locked onto her like a barnacle, thinking I had finally been redeemed, hoping for a lifetime of bliss with this divine creature.  She had light brown hair streaked with gold, light brown eyes, skin that looked like the caramel on a caramel apple.  Her young body was strong and slim, flawless with tiny golden hairs like down that tickled my lips.  She smelled like a blend of sex and candy, and tasted even better.  Every kiss was like making love.  Her silky voice and breezy expression always displayed a wide innocence, which disguised the passionate, explosive goddess panting ceaselessly beneath.  Our physical contact was cataclysmic.  My body still cries for the lost sensation of her in my arms.

We remained more or less together for two years.  But Cris was young and fickle, as all females are, and eventually saw more potential for herself in the hungry eyes of other boys (all beautiful girls sooner or later do) and began to stray.  She was quite dysfunctional, however, thanks to an absentee mother and drug-addicted father, and her co-dependent attachment to me was as strong as mine was to her.  So, to make an old story brief, she cheated on me time and again, each time being forgiven by my pink, quivering heart, until finally the pain of being with her exceeded the horror of losing her, and I left her.

Let me interrupt right now to confess and inform the reader that I am presently quite drunk.  My wine cellar at home has dwindled down to the stuff I keep for company that’s too cheap and disgusting to drink, and the French reds I’ve been saving for ten years that are to valuable to open up alone.  Thus I am writing this in a dive of a bar between glasses of claret, so please bear in mind the state of my mind as you witness the following.

OK, so to be truthful, I didn’t exactly leave Cris.  I obsessed over her, making her the hub around which my blind life hopelessly spun, stalking and pleading and humiliating myself at her feet in a suffocating attempt to regain what was never mine in the first place.  I was able, as all dysfunctional people in relationships are, to manipulate, harass, and blame Cris, thereby keeping her around long after we should have parted, because we were too weak to do what was right for ourselves and each other.  If I hadn’t done that, we might have been friends down the road, but instead I ruined things beyond repair.  The ordeal reached a climax one night at a football game, where she met my pleas with a fed-up retort, something akin to:  “I hate you.  Leave me alone.”  After which I found myself in a dark parking lot with absolutely no reason to live.

All right, at this point I must change location, as the bartender has cut me off.  I was prepared to drink until midnight, but instead I stumble off. . .

Well, after a short weaving journey to Chili’s I am again seated and drinking—margaritas, this time.  The place is littered with people I know, or knew in high school.  People I never really wanted to see again.  Coincidentally, one of Cris’ best friends is a waitress here.  The reader may find it interesting to know that the girl, we’ll call her Abbie, was an old flame of Norman’s who, after high school, got knocked up by a fifty-five year old man and is now living the single mother life, much to the disgrace of the entire family.  And to further push the irony, Cris, I just found out, just married the son of the old man who knocked up her friend.  Apparently it was a shotgun wedding.  Which sets a dark pleasure twisting around within me, since Cris’ family and friends all looked at me as the worst thing in her life (no parents, no goals, no friends, no future).  Not that I’m happy with her misfortune—I wish her the best.  I just find it ironic that, had she stayed with me, she’d have been better off.  But let me get back to the tale.

So after being told by Cris that she never wanted to see my face again, I was left standing alone and wondering why, when I tried to be happy, I only created more misery for myself.  This led to the thought that maybe if I didn’t try to make my life better—if I just sat in one place and stayed very quiet and still—nothing else bad would happen to me.  I wandered down to a liquor store where I knew they’d sell to minors and picked up a bottle of Smirnoff.  As I continued to work through my theory—the theory that the more I tried to succeed, the more Fate (or God) would beat me down—I concluded that, if doing nothing would at least stop making things worse, then logically, abusing myself might force Fate (or God) to bring good fortune, if only to balance things out.  Kind of like Karma’s photo negative.

So I proceeded to consume the vodka in the hope that something good would come of it.

I’m not sure how, because my memory of that night is hazy now, but by some turn of events I found myself on a bridge connecting a private road over the 118 freeway.  It was in a less-populated part of the Valley, so the bridge had no protective fence canopy like the ones over the 101.  Feeling indestructible I sat on the railing with my feet dangling over the edge, watching sporadic pairs of headlights stream past.  The night was clear and cool, and I could hear the sounds of the city far off and echoing, like ocean waves.  It caused in my mind a flash of memory—a series of snapshots from childhood to the most recent scenes of the sea—a montage of oceans, beaches, seascapes.  Lonely sandcastles on a 4-H trip to Malibu; high school kisses on a moonlit beach with Cris; getting lost in the barrel of a perfect wave while surfing in Newport.  Making love to Jane on an empty stretch of sand near Oxnard.

The memories flooded my senses, overpowering them, and as my eyes slowly came back to focus on the gray concrete, the glimmer of distant streetlights, the slow ebb and flow of traffic, it struck me that I may never leave this Valley, never fall in love again, never amount to anything, and to hope for more and work for better would be futile.

Without another thought, I put my hands on the rail, and in one quick movement, heaved myself over the side.

Now, I realize that at this point there is no real suspense.  Obviously I survived, since I am here to tell the story.  And I’ve had plenty of time to recover, as it has been over ten years since the incident.  However, I feel the need to take a dramatic pause, especially because now, in recalling the event, I am dismayed to find that not a whole lot has changed.  Certainly nothing has improved, which begs the question why I haven’t again attempted suicide since then, although I’m sure it has something to do with tenacity and the force of will to hope for something better sometime down the road.  That, and the persistent notion that happiness might be a location rather than an emotion, and I have only to find it.  But I digress.

So I pushed off, feeling the cold steel of the railing slip from under my buttocks, and abandoned the bridge.  For a moment I seemed to be frozen in the air—though I could hear the rush of wind in my ears, and the push of my weight toward the Earth, I didn’t seem to be moving at first.  Then, in the blink of an eye, several thoughts passed through my mind.  First, I told myself that no matter how out of touch with reality I was, I could not and would not fly.  Then in a flash I seemed to be completely sober.  Then I realized I was going to die, and then I reasoned that the bridge was not high enough and I’d probably only break my legs and later die from being hit by a truck.  And then, in the same moment in time, I felt a violent jerk and realized I had stopped falling.

The hood of my sweatshirt had caught on the metal bar that held one of those green freeway signs that tell how many miles to the next exit.  I looked up and saw above me the illuminated words “Topanga Cyn ¾.”  The soft glow of the sign’s lights must have lit up my face, too, because as a car passed below me, its windows down, I distinctly heard a woman scream.  To her it must have looked like I had hung myself from the overpass.  But I had been nowhere near that efficient, or successful.  My sweatshirt began to dig into my armpits, and rode up to expose my chest and back, but showed no sign of tearing free.  I looked down and realized that I was now hanging only about fifteen feet off the ground.  So I reached up, unzipped the sweatshirt, lifted my arms, and slid out of it, still gripping the sleeves, which flipped inside out.  This lowered me about another four feet, and from there I was able to jump down.  Luckily, there was a break in the traffic, so I just hobbled to the side of the freeway, ankles stinging, whereupon I promptly threw up.  So much for my attempt to cheat Fate.  So much for shaking ones fist at God.  It seemed I would live to be miserable for at least another day.

The following months were filled with psychologists (mandated by my guardian, the State of California) and their pediatric soliloquies, in harmony with my own, in the name of mental health.  And through the years, not a single day goes by that I don’t think of Cris, and of my weakness and the cruel joke life has played on me with my spineless consent, and of the completeness that it seems will elude me forever, and of the truth that even death has failed me.  To this day, through all my broken relationships, love has remained as distant as starlight, gleaming like a sun and leaving me cold despite all my effort to cling to it.  To me it has become a fairy tale—something to believe in as a child but not to be brought into the real world.  The world of everyday life, where nothing has purpose and only the dream of something that isn’t real can break up the monotony.

There are a few more examples of my love failure between Cris and now, the most significant of which being Jane, but it will suffice to say that until her the others were for killing time.  I only recently regained the will to try again, having found brief solace in womanizing and cruelty, and my renewal reaped Jane, who has gone the way of the others.  Though I have managed to grasp hold of the coattails of a friendship with her, and am presently suffering through that.  But more on that later.

There was also another thought that plagued me after the overpass incident.  It was a quiet, small, unintimidating thought that held onto the possibility that God might, after all, be good, and that the freeway failure had been divine intervention, and that He actually had a plan for me, something to look forward to, something not entirely heartbreaking.  But to believe that would be far too dangerous, so I drank it away.”

I don’t think I’ve written anything else that so perfectly describes the despair of my young adulthood better than this chapter. It’s also a precursor and catalyst for why I now live in the greatest country on Earth—Thailand—and spend my time in the company of its gogo dancers.