This article was last modified on April 30, 2007.

Breathing Together, Part 6

Part Six: Grant: Rage Against the Dying of the Light

In my sobriety, I look back with that 20/20 hindsight you always hear your fucking parents telling you about after they’ve just lectured you for crashing the family car or coming home drunk on a school night. “What were you thinking?” they’d say, and the question was always rhetorical, because they knew you weren’t thinking or you wouldn’t have done whatever stupid thing they were upset about. I have that hindsight now that I have the time to reflect on the actions of my youth, but little good the knowledge does me after the fact, you know?

I’ve always run into this unlucky sort of shit. There’s this natural tendency to be contrary, to fuck the norm, be your own dog, or whatever cliched anti-authoritarian catch phrase the kids are using these days. Throughout high school I was always in black, because that’s what you wear when you’re not like everyone else. You wear black. Black shirts, black jeans, black hats, black hair and the essential Wet ‘n Wild black nail polish. You’re not a real individual unless you wear makeup. You probably hate God, you might even be an atheist. If you’re not, you’re a druid or a pagan. If you’re a chick, you’re a fucking Wiccan. Because being a witch is cool. Even the word “wiccan” is cool. The devil is quintessentially cool.

You might start reading books poorly plagiarized by Anton LaVey. You like to shock people, freak them out, by carrying the Satanic Bible to trigonometry. You’re so Goth that Nine Inch Nails is beneath you — bush league. You’re in that exclusive club that says you found Jesus by fucking Peter Steel in the back of his bus during the World Coming Down tour. You quote Nietzsche in your vain attempt to impress 12-year old girls because you’re too hardcore and you scare off all the decent girls your mom likes, who present themselves as straight-laced but are in reality the most “turned out” of all. Yet, you’re too much of a fucking “sensitive artist” to bring home your Goth female friends, because they might depress you to death. You slit your wrists, and always do the deed the wrong way (across, not down) just to get attention. You burn yourself with cigarettes and say your “abusive” parents were responsible. You’re a fucking poseur, who does nothing more than pick out other fucking poseurs to rip on, while they in turn are ripping on you. You dumbfuck.

That was me in high school. So fucking cool. Running with the bad crowd, and refusing to appear in the yearbook, hoping to retire to an honorable oblivion. There are two contrasting levels of the elite in high school, which we can call the positive and the negative. The positive elite are those ten people who will always get perfect grades, wear their fucking American Eagle shit, and end up in student government and on various pseudo-committees. They think they make a difference, but nothing ever changes. Sure, they get into some nice school and their daddies buy them a car to celebrate. But the high school story never changes. Watch “Grease” and then watch “The Breakfast Club” — set thirty years apart, halfway across the country and the story never fucking changes. Heck, even watch “The Outsiders” or Richard Kelly’s “Donnie Darko” for good measure if you have time.

On the negative end of the pole are what we shall term the anti-conformists. I was one of these. They think they’re so unique, but they create their own conformity. They try to be different, just like everyone else. They even teach themselves to smoke to fit in with their smoking friends. Anti-conformists are, underneath all their hard exterior, just jealous of the conformists. They want to be popular and they want to wear all the nice clothes. But they can’t afford Abercrombie and Fitch and cannot will themselves to be beautiful, so out of frustration they band together as helpless sheep in wolves’ clothing to be rebellious. Rebels, just like Hollywood icon James Dean. Now in reality, Dean himself was a fucking poseur. He became all hardcore because he couldn’t come to terms with his own homosexuality. Thousands of dumbshit greasers who couldn’t deal with their own lives decided to copy his false image. Unfortunately, unlike Dean, these people opted out of the suicide solution and grew up to be worthless shitheads. Which, of course, is what I am now.

Finally, I come to the middle road, what you might call the golden mean: the non-conformists. They are neither the conformists or the anti-conformists. These are people whose souls are actually so strange they have their own category. So unique they don’t even understand each other. I don’t know about these people, they’re total enigmas to me and seemingly all the non-conformists I knew in high school are now lawyers and certified public accountants. Who knew the fucking IRS was founded on the ideologies of a few gifted nutcases?

What is actually the most interesting thing about the non-conformists is that by circumventing the rules required to be in either of the two elites, they end up being able to float freely between the two groups like an independent ambassador. They are, in a sense, Nietzsche’s tightrope stretched between ape and man. If a non-conformist needed something from the negative elites, he could ask without any hassle or expectations. If he wanted something from the positive elites — perhaps a certain photo included in the yearbook or something — this was easily achieved, and he never had to join the actual club or do the douchebag things that the popular clique had to do to remain pure in the eyes of the establishment. Many drawback probably came from not belonging to a strong unified group, but those post-graduation careers I mentioned more than make up for a few years of discomfort.

I had picked out the shovel I wanted. A strong, titanium-strength instrument, tinged with filth and what I thought to be rust, but still sharp and perfect for whatever might have been coming ahead. Even I wasn’t so sure what was going on at this point. My only energy left now was pure, pumping adrenaline with some Heineken mixed in to keep me going. So, facing the future with unbridled uncertainty, Sam and I walked back to my apartment. She was the first to speak.

“Do you ever fantasize… about being killed?” She caressed herself as she said this, rubbing her hands with fingers spread all over her torso. If the subject matter were a little less morbid, I might have found this a bit erotic. Why do girls never act like this when the time is right?

My buzz was definitely wearing off now, because I had begun to notice how incredibly cold this short walk had become. I could see my breath, and my fingers were turning a bright red. Maybe Sam had the right idea in rubbing herself if she was looking to stay warm, as she was under-dressed for such an evening. Who walks around outdoors in wintertime without a jacket?

Incidentally, that Sam was apparently one of those Gothic chicks I alluded to just moments ago hadn’t dawned on me earlier. She was old enough to stop dressing that way in public, but her mind was intently focused on the macabre. This should have occurred to me as soon as she told me she was a nurse. All nurses are naturally obsessed with death and pain, or so this seems to me. I never was intimate with a nurse before, but I knew two Certified Nursing Assistants and that’s more or less the same thing, as near as I can tell.

The first CNA I met was named Katie, who I came to meet through an online forum in the mid-1990s. She lived in California — Riverside — and was dating the lead singer of a punk band called 88 Fingers Louie. She had been laid off from her job at the hospital for whatever reason, so guess where this crazy lady goes to work? In a fucking mortuary alongside the human vultures of society. No shit. Her job is to drain the blood from the corpses into some sort of bin, and then pump the formaldehyde into their veins to give the bodies a more lifelike color.

I’m not completely ignorant about how funerals work, but she got into more than I needed to know. She would tell me how the blood settles — this process is called lividity — into one part of the body and to get the gelatinesque ooze out you had to crack each joint. Bending the elbows would sound like twigs snapping, for example. And as the fluid flowed into the body, the old blood would come out in these clotted chunks of maroon. Despite the color added by the dye in the veins, makeup was still applied heavily, because older people simply don’t have skin as fresh as their younger counterparts. Their faces are slit off at the hairline and pulled tight over the back of their skulls, decreasing age by twenty years. Eyelids are sewn shut so they don’t fly open and stare at the people in line waiting to look at the husk before them. Or other times, things called eyecaps are placed under the lids with little prongs to dig in to the lids like cleats on a baseball field, holding them shut.

If the insides are removed as is often the case (for organ donation or other reasons), sawdust is dumped where their heart was. And any liver spots on the hands are carved out and filled with a plastic plaster, giving the skin a mannequin appearance. Most of what makes them human was thrown in the trash days before the corpse ever gets buried.

My maternal great-grandfather passed on a few months later from old age, and when I saw him in the casket all I could picture was his vital fluids being squeezed out of him like an orange by Ron Popeil. I don’t know whatever happened to Katie or her mortuary skills, but her boyfriend’s band still sucks.

The second girl in the nursing field I met was named Melody, which was an ironically innocent sounding name for a person such as herself. I crashed at her house after a party a few years back. I was on the couch, trying not to puke on myself, and the bitch comes over, straddles me, and says she wants to fuck me. She was hot — or so the beer told me — so I started to drunkenly fondle her the best I could in my inebriated state. After the quick and futile attempt at foreplay, she went for Grant Junior and sure enough — like Jello Biafra, too drunk to fuck. My luck always works that way with the hot ones.

I passed out, and woke up in the morning to the sound of the shower running. I thought this would be the perfect chance to make up for my shortcomings, and I snuck into the bathroom. I didn’t know how to react when I saw her there, hanging from a make-shift noose while she vigorously masturbated in front of me with her loofah. I was stunned and she just went on as if nothing was wrong. I had heard about the autoerotic asphyxiation of Michael Hutchence and the untimely break-up of INXS, but had assumed only men were involved in things like this.

I came to know Melody better over the years, but the more I knew her the more I discovered that sexual deviancy was the least of her unsavory idiosyncrasies. She had a background in hard drugs to cover her mental health issues, which were primarily depression and low self-esteem. After she kicked the drug habit — which was before I had met her — she turned to self-mutilation, cutting across her thighs where others would be unable to see. This was combined with what she called EDNOD — Eating Disorder, Not Otherwise Defined. She would binge and purge on some days and on others simply not eat at all, trying to achieve her perfect body. But she was not able to achieve this, as she was either too fat or too thin, with her bone structure working hard against her. Like most people with eating disorders, her friends all found her to be very beautiful and couldn’t understand why she was behaving the way she was, but there’s no convincing someone when they have this state of mind.

And now there was Sam, another apparent nutcase, completing the trifecta.

We had just crossed the train tracks, and not a minute too soon as the large Canadian boxcars came thundering over the roadway. I had fond childhood memories of these tracks, crushing pennies with my little brother and trying to make my sister believe I was going to tie frogs and other nasties to the tracks to be obliterated. I never did, but she probably thought I would have. My mother used to tell us that if these trains weren’t passing by at all hours of the night blasting their infernal horns, none of us would have been conceived. The “baby train” kept her awake. If a train and its insomnia-inducing power is the source of her sexual desire, though, I have no idea what that says for the charms of my father.

Sam was speaking again. “Do you ever wonder about all the different ways of dying? You know, violently? And wonder, like, what would be the most horrible way to die?” She said this slow, with a husky voice, enunciating each word.

“I try not to think about dying too much.” Slowly approaching thirty is bad enough, I didn’t even want to imagine what Mister Bumstead was feeling like right now.

“Mmm… Well, for me, the worst way would be for a bunch of old men to get around me, and start biting and eating me alive.” She clutched herself as she spoke, and not in a warming gesture. Her hands were formed into little claws and beaks, nipping at her flesh, tearing the skin from the body in a pantomime of animal violence.

I stayed quiet. How do you respond to that? Luckily I didn’t have to, as we were back at the apartment. I handed her the shovel while I ran in to grab some fucking Candy Apple cigarettes. This shit’s gonna take at least a dozen smokes. I had watched a British police film recently where the main cop says, “It takes forty minutes to bury a body… longer, if it’s still alive… tougher, if it’s your best friend.” And while Bumstead was not my best friend, I had to assume the time figures were more or less accurate. I found the smokes in my bathroom sink of all places — another sign of too many drunken nights.

Returning outside, I couldn’t find Sam anywhere. So I walked into the carport — which is thankfully not a shared one — and there she was already. Shovel in one hand, human head dripping fresh blood in the other.

“Jesus Christ! What are you doing!?!?!?” You know I’m upset when I invoke a savior I don’t accept.

“I tried to stuff his ass in the trunk, but the porker wouldn’t fit. So I cleaved off his head with the edge of the shovel.” Sure enough, the shovel was smeared with cranial matter that must have leaked out from the homeless man.

“You… sawed… the…” I stood there stunned, repulsed and not sure whether to be sick or afraid.

“I’ve done worse,” she said plainly.

“You have?” I replied with forced words.

“Well, sure. You know what really turns me on?” Sam was again accentuating her words individually as if this was something I would be interested in.

“Do I want to know?” I think I was getting pale now.

“Imagine a boot… stepping down on a human face.” What was she, a sadist or a full-blown fascist Nazi? I may as well be calling her Ilsa, She-Bitch of the SS.

“You’re fucking serious?” I couldn’t hide how I felt.

“Yeah, where are your trash bags?” She changed the subject from irrational violence to pragmatics so quickly, as if this were her weekend hobby.

I threw up on the headless corpse, right into his hollow and deflated, eviscerated entrails. Seeing what I had just done, I fucking puked again, splashing Sam with my regurgitated, hircine bile.

“Ewww… you sick fucker. Go get the trash bags.”

I did as she asked, too involved at this point to question anything. She tossed the head at me, and I quickly opened the bag to catch the dismembered object. His lifeless brown eyes stared up at me, condemning me as if to say my life was now forfeit. Somehow she fit the entire body in another bag, puke and all, and tied the plastic loops shut. I followed her lead and put both bags in the trunk.

“Sam, I’m not just going to let some bloated-ass fucking corpse rot in my trunk. One cop sees my window smashed to shit, he’ll pull me over and I’m fucked.”

She licked her fingers. “I know, that’s why we’re going to the cemetery.”

Also try another article under Poetry and Fiction
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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