I was almost 25 when I left the city of my birth. It was time to go, time to move on and get away. There were new experiences to be had and the pain of what I had once been, what I had once had was too much. Everywhere I looked there were signs of the glory and the fall.
For most of my life I had been a scrapper, never afraid to fight, never willing to give up and not smart enough to get out. It was a self imposed punishment for sins that I had committed but was unwilling to discuss.
It is not much of a description, not very colorful at all. In fact it is rather ordinary, but that is ok, I am ordinary and I prefer it that way. If you stuck me in a crowd full of people you would be hard pressed to pick me out. It was like that in school, never did or said much in class. No need to draw attention to myself I did what I needed to do to get through and nothing more.
And for the longest time that had been enough, an average, nondescript existence. It suited me fine to be a guy who punched a time clock. But sometimes even the average man find himself in a situation that is beyond his control,a time in which he becomes something more than he has been.
But the question is not what he does to elevate himself but how he handles the elevation.
It was Friday night and I had just finished my shift at the plant. There was no rush to get home because there was no one to get home to, no wife, no family, no girlfriend, not even a dog. Just an empty house that was sparsely furnished.
Friday nights were not much different than any other night of the week. I’d go home, pop open a can of beer and stare blankly at the television screen content to let my brain turn to mush.
On this particular night I decided to stop at an ATM. I wanted to order a pizza and I had nothing but the spare change from the last time I had visited the liquor store. It wasn’t enough to buy a pack of gum, so I was forced to go to the bank.
There were two people ahead of me in line, a man and a woman and behind me there were a couple of teenage boys.
I didn’t see him approach. I didn’t notice anything about him including his presence until he was standing in front of us, waving a gun and shouting for our wallets. I have a bad habit of giggling when I am nervous. I don’t like being the center of attention and now was certainly a bad time to laugh, but laugh I did.
5’8 or so and about a buck twenty sopping wet with a bad haircut and a Judas Priest shirt, that is all he was, oh and he had a big gun and an even bigger attitude. He grabbed my collar and asked me what was so funny. Before I could answer he had grabbed the woman in front of me.
She cried as he pulled her in front of him and asked me if I thought that this was funny. I choked back a snigger and told him that it wasn’t. He told me that if I so much as smiled he would kill her. I wiped the smile off of my face.
It was the wrong thing to do, but I didn’t know it. The jackass cuffed me in the side of the head and laughed. It infuriated me, brought back memories of years of being teased and tortured by my someone who had been like an older brother to me. So I just reacted. I kicked him in the balls and smacked him in the head.
In the movies the gun falls and the hero (there has to be a hero) grabs it. Not here, not in my world. In my world when I slap him there is a flash of light and a loud noise. I am splashed with something, but it feels like hours before I realize that he just shot the woman, and that he did it involuntarily. The wetness I feel on my face is her blood.
I stand there in shock, numb and not really aware anymore of what is happening. The guy she had been with is beating the crap out of the jackass, the Judas Priest shirt is stained now, but it is with his blood.
There is a cop speaking to me, but I don’t answer. The real hero is lying, telling the officer that I saved everyone’s life, that if I hadn’t hit him the guy would have killed us all.
I didn’t hit him, I hit Georgie. It was Georgie I saw in front of me. It was Georgie taunting me, I just snapped and reacted. But I guess that somewhere inside I began to hear and to believe that I had been the hero, that when the bell rang I had come out swinging.
And that was really the beginning of the end.
Life offers two types of pain, one physical and one mental. Man still hasnâ€™t found a tougher prison than the one he encages his mind in. There is no greater pain than the mental anguish we inflict on ourselves and there is no tougher warden than the person we see in the mirror. For some there is no midnight reprieve, the governor doesnâ€™t offer clemency. There is only one way out and no two people can share the path.
We all live in our secret worlds, but some of us never have the strength to leave our shelter and walk under sunny skies.
I used to.
I used to live in a place I called paradise. I could look out on the world and from my window and gaze upon waters that called out to me. Deep blue seas that embraced me like a child in the womb. The seas were always calm and at night they would gently rock me to sleep.
But it wasnâ€™t real. I didnâ€™t live on a boat. I didnâ€™t live on the beach or remotely close to the water. It was all an illusion, a mindfuck that I created to make myself happy. The problem was that I hadnâ€™t realized it. I didnâ€™t have a clue as to how precarious my own happiness was and once that was shattered I knew nothing but darkness. I wandered aimlessly in a fog, not knowing where I was going or what I was doing. It didnâ€™t matter, I didnâ€™t care.
I said it before, there are two kinds of pain and mental is far worse than physical. You can always find a way to escape physical pain, but you canâ€™t run from your own mind. Philosophers had long ago figured out that hell existed, that there was a devil, except he wasnâ€™t a guy with horns, a pitchfork and a tail. The church had made that guy up. The devil was someone familiar with you, someone who knew your most intimate secrets and your darkest fears. The devil knew you, knew how to torment your soul.
The devil knew all this because he was, he isâ€¦you.
Thatâ€™s right, the devil is not supernatural. There is no Lucifer, no Satan, and no Beelzebub. It would be better for us all if he did exist. No, the devil is just a man, a person that lives inside us all.
See when they wrote the bible and told the story of getting banished from the Garden of Eden they were not talking about a mythological place, they were referring to the end of innocence. They were talking about that time when life hits you in the mouth, knocks you down and beats you senseless. They were talking about getting hurt in places that bandages donâ€™t stick, cuts that you cannot stitch, they just keep bleeding. And even if you manage to stop the bleeding that stinging sensation never really does go away.
The truth will always come out, or so they had taught us in school. One way or another it would find it’s way to the surface. The problem is that sometimes the truth had all the beauty of a victim of drowning. The weights that anchor the body slip off and it shoots to the surface where it floats and bobs upon the water.
Face up or face down, it doesn’t make a difference until you get close enough to take a closer look. And the smell, the smell is something that you never get beyond. There is a putrid stench that sticks with you, gets locked in the back of your throat and grabs a hold of you like some alien parasite.
Anyway you look at it, that body is not pretty, not graceful, not anything but ugly. And that is what the truth can be like, ugly. Our teachers would have use believe that there was something noble and majestic about it. Movies portray the hero as someone who never falters, who uses the truth to defeat the bad guys. I was a streetwise guy. I knew that the truth was never black and white, that there were shades of gray, but even a mug like me can get caught up believing his own hype.
I wanted to blame the jackass at the ATM for bringing this shit storm down upon my head. If he hadn’t tried to rob us all, if he would have been honest, if he would have done a million other things the girl he shot would still be alive and I wouldn’t feel so miserable.
And then again she might still be alive if I hadn’t reacted like the frightened little boy I had been and maybe still was. If Georgie hadn’t spent years tormenting me, picking, poking and prodding me, she might still be walking. A father wouldn’t miss his daughter and a mother wouldn’t cry herself to sleep.
Maybe if I would have learned how to deal with the bullying I could have stopped myself from just reacting. Goddamn Georgie, he was dead too. Gone for years and still I could hear him mocking me, feel his presence. They say sometimes the absence of someone is palpable. The only thing palpable about Georgie’s presence was that even in death he still walked alongside me.
If I believed in G-d I would have prayed for something, forgiveness, death, anything, something to give me peace of mind. I hadn’t had it since I had left home, if not longer. The very thought of prayer was laughable. Any faith that I had possessed had been beaten out of me.
She was dead because Georgie had proven to me that I was weak and that I was lacking in value and worth. Really it was my fault. Georgie was right, kick a dog enough times and he’ll evolve. He’ll pass through stages of confusion, denial, anger and then he;ll reach a point where he just doesn’t care what happens, he’d just as soon bite you as crap on your porch.
Georgie had made sure that I experienced all of it. He said that he was helping me and I wanted to believe him. He said that he was making me into a man, making me tough enough to deal with a world that bent you over a hot stove and laughed at you.
The first time Georgie beat me I was scared. I didn’t defend myself. I didn’t try to, I just let him kick and punch me. And when he stopped I looked at him through teary eyes, not sure what to expect. He gave me a handkerchief and stuck out a hand to help me up.
I was wiping the blood off of my face when he hit me again. I didn’t see it coming and when I came to I was lying in the dirt and he was gone, as were three of my teeth. Georgie didn’t believe in giving or accepting help, to him it was sign of weakness and he couldn’t have that.
Georgie taught me about burning anger. It was he who trained me, rather molded me into someone who was angry all of the time. Prior to his entrance into my life I was just another Joe, nothing particularly noteworthy about me, but Georgie placed me on his forge and made me into something different. Not someone, something, his words, not mine.
Georgie’s influence was profound in the worst way. He claims that he saw potential and did nothing more than tap into it. And in my darker moments I tend to believe him, but most of the time I think of it differently. Georgie made me mean the way you prepare a pit-bull to be a fighter. Stick glass in his food, kick him, beat him and do what you can to make him feel battered and bruised. Place the animal in a position that makes it feel like it is never safe and never secure.
But humans are not animals, maybe at our most basic level, but even so there is still something more there, a sentient being who can go one of many directions. Georgie once told me that the fact that I wasn’t catatonic said a lot about me. He said it with the sick smile he used to wear when he thought that he knew a secret that no one else knew.
If it had been about something else, someone else, I would have felt differently, but this was about me and that made it worse. No one wants to think badly of themselves, even Charles Manson wants to believe that he is just a misunderstood soul. It was just another one of the wounds Georgie inflicted on me. It would have been better if he had hit me, I had grown accustomed to that, was familiar with the pain, but the mental torment never left me. I could drink or smoke the other pain away, but I couldn’t find a bottle big enough to take the edge off that cut, it was too deep.
The funny thing about my relationship with Georgie was the way we looked together. Georgie was only about 5â€™7 or 5â€™8 and he couldnâ€™t have weighed more than 165 pounds or so.
On the other hand I was almost 6â€™4 and weighed a solid 230 pounds. If you looked at us you would have never guessed that for years I had been scared of Georgie, afraid in a very real and tangible sense. And he knew it, he could smell it in my sweat, or so he claimed.
I canâ€™t explain what it was about him that frightened me so, I just know that he did. It might have had something to do with the time he beat David Jackman with a tire iron, or the time that he hopped over the counter at the mini-mart and beat the shopkeeper up for insulting him by asking for proof of his age. He was like a mini-volcano, ready to blow at any time and unpredictable.
In some ways my size had put me at a disadvantage. I had always been bigger than everyone else. In school the bullies had avoided me as had most of the other kids. No one wanted to risk having their head handed to them. The end result was that because I never had any fights I was afraid of what would happen, worried that I could get hurt and quite concerned about what a fist to the mouth would feel like.
Georgie never had those fears and I donâ€™t know why. He came from a middle class home. His mother was a housewife and his father was chief mechanic. It was a blue collar job that paid enough to provide white collar lifestyle. Georgieâ€™s father never hit him, never used any sort of physical threat to control him, so who knows why he turned out as he did.
Psychologists and social workers get paid a lot of money to improperly diagnose people like Georgie. I wonâ€™t waste my time trying to do their job, and who cares what made him the way he was. The more important question was how to stay on his good side because he was mean and proud of it.
Georgie bragged about the fights he got into, showed off his scars and told stories of the past hurts and battles like they had just happened. The chip on his shoulder was never very far from his present.
We must have been around 20 or so when Georgie decided to teach me his life lessons. At first I was shocked and confused. I couldnâ€™t believe that he was hitting and kicking me and then I was too bloodied and bruised to do anything but curl up on the floor and try to protect myself.
If I had any sense he beat it out of me there because the smart thing would have been to just walk away and not speak with him again. Alternatively I could have fought back, hit him, the lack of resistance only encouraged him to continue to batter me longer and harder.
This went on for a couple of years, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. I was in a funny place then, so time really didnâ€™t have much meaning to me. It would probably still be going on if not for the accident.
It was a Saturday morning. Georgie showed up at my apartment at around 9 am, sat there kicking and yelling at my door. When I answered it he told me to get dressed, we were going out.
I threw on a pair of jeans, some Timberland boots, flannel shirt and topped it off with a baseball cap turned backwards and followed him to his car. We were heading into the mountains to â€œsee someone.â€
That was bad news for someone. Any time Georgie said he wanted to â€œsee someoneâ€ it meant that he wanted to see them bleeding, preferably because of him. I didnâ€™t bother to ask who or why, it wouldnâ€™t matter and it wouldnâ€™t change anything. Georgie would do what he did just because and that was the fact of the matter.
Three hours later we joined a half dozen other cars in a campground turned shantytown. If I had been a photographer for Newsweek I could have composed a photo essay about the working poor. The people roaming through the grounds couldnâ€™t have been much older than their mid-thirties, but the tired and weathered looks upon their faces told a different tale. Callused hands and leathery skin spoke of untold hours engaged in manual labor.
I still didnâ€™t know much about why we were here, other than Georgieâ€™s comment that morning about needing to see someone. I wasnâ€™t real happy about it either, but Georgie wasnâ€™t the kind of guy you complained to, let alone about. So I shut my mouth and followed him out of the car.
It was late afternoon and the sun had begun its journey to the other side of the world but somehow no matter which direction we walked I was squinting. I tripped over a pile of empty beer bottles and found myself face down in the dirt. Among other company this might have generated a laugh or two; with Georgie it earned a look of derision and a muttered curse.
In the distance someone was singing along with Springsteenâ€™s Born in the USA. To the right of me a woman was trying to mediate a fight between her children, it canâ€™t be easy when threatening to send your child to their room means the back seat of the car. More sounds drifted in, laughter, a dog barking and something that sounded like the pop pop pop of a pistol being fired.
Georgie finally stopped in front of a beat up Toyota Camry and motioned for me to wait where I was. I couldnâ€™t hear the conversation but judging from the wild gestures and curses coming from Georgie he was not happy. If I knew Georgie we were moments away from one of his violent outbursts. It might have been warm for everyone else, but I felt a definite chill in the air.
The man in the Camry got out of the car and walked off into the forest. I waited as Georgie followed him. Seconds turned into minutes and I became very conscious of just how long I had been waiting for Georgie. It wasnâ€™t unusual for him to just leave me somewhere with no instruction on how long to wait so I kept waiting.
It was sunset and now there was no question about a drop in the temperature, it was getting colder. Georgie had driven up here and taken the keys with him. I began to grow concerned about how I was going to get back. It wouldnâ€™t have surprised me to have found out that Georgie had gotten back in the car and left me here. There was only one person that he cared about and it wasnâ€™t me.
But running off into the woods to find him had its own problems. To begin with I had no idea which way to walk and for how long and then there was Georgie. With his paranoia issues there was no way to tell how he would react. But I feared a beating less than I feared being stuck out here so I began to follow the trail that he and the other guy had taken.
It didnâ€™t take me long to find them. I had seen Georgie do some horrific things, but this one surprised me. Georgie had tied the guy from the Camry to a tree. His head was hanging and I could see him take a shallow breath. Georgie was talking into his hand, whispering something that I couldnâ€™t quite make out.
That was when I realized that Georgie was not talking into his hand, he was talking into the ear of the man tied to the tree, except the ear was no longer attached to him. Neither were his thumbs or the middle fingers on both hands. They were lying on a rock in front of the man.
But that wasnâ€™t the worst part of it. Next to the fingers and thumbs was a slice of bread, ketchup and his tongue. Suddenly Georgieâ€™s mumbling started to make more sense, he was promising to reunite the man with the â€œpieces of flesh he had liberated.â€
I must have coughed or gagged because until that point he hadnâ€™t been aware of my presence. And then there he was, standing in front of me, prodding me to take a turn, pushing me to show him that I had learned something. I felt sick inside, but I let him press the knife into my hand.
I stood there and looked blankly at the man, my arms dangled at my side like two sides of beef. It was overwhelming me. I stood there knowing that this man had been tortured, knowing that Georgie expected me to torture him some more. And the worst part of it was that part of me was curious about what it would be like to do it. What would it feel like, would I get some kind of rush of adrenaline or would it be the beginning of a nightmare that would haunt me.
It would have been nice to say that I was a nice guy who had never done anything wrong, but that wasnâ€™t true. It would have been nice to blame it all on Georgie and to say that he was responsible for the violence that I had been a part of, but that wasnâ€™t true. He may have gotten me involved, but I always had the chance to walk away, to say no and I never did.
The reality was that I blamed myself for the way my life had turned out and even though I knew that Georgie played a large role in it, I still beat myself up about it. Even though I knew that had I tried to walk away there would have been an ugly confrontation I still thought that I should have, could have done better.
Georgie came up behind me and guided the hand holding the knife to the battered remains of the victimâ€™s face. As he suggested that I cut out an eyeball I realized that this time would be different. I had had enough that much was clear by how I thought of this guy. In the past I never would have used the term victim to describe the people we had hurt. But that was a different time.
I pulled my arm out of Georgieâ€™s grasp and flung the knife into the woods. He grabbed me by the collar of my jacket and asked me â€œto tell him what the fuck I was doing.â€
I knocked his hands off of me and told him that I couldnâ€™t do this. Enough was enough. He spat at the ground in front of me and said that pussies like me deserved whatever happened to us. For a moment his face softened and he asked me to reconsider, told me that the guy was going to die anyway and that we might as well enjoy ourselves.
And that was when I knew that I had to kill Georgie. There was no way that he was going to let me live. Oh, he might let me get off of the mountain, he might not do anything for a while, but sooner or later he would come for me and I knew it.
For a moment we stood there starting at each other, like two prizefighters sizing each other up we shared a moment of silence. Georgie was an animal who could hurt you badly without thinking about it. I was someone who had participated in acts of violence, but I couldnâ€™t escape the sick feelings that accompanied it.
And I couldnâ€™t escape the feeling of dread that was wracking my body. I was scared and I didnâ€™t know what to do. I knew that I didnâ€™t have long. Georgie wouldnâ€™t let this impasse last for long and for all I knew the Tree Man (as I had taken to calling him) might have friends come looking for him.
I knew that in the glove compartment of Georgieâ€™s car there was a .38 snub nosed revolver and I knew that it was always loaded. Of course I had the simple problem of what to do about the Tree Man and Georgie. There was no way that Georgie would just let me walk away and I hadnâ€™t a clue about the Tree Man. He might not survive his wounds and given that Georgie said that he was going to kill him anyway he could potentially be factored out of the equation.
But that left me as an accomplice to murder and I wasnâ€™t real keen on that. Neither was I happy not knowing Tree Manâ€™s history. Maybe I had read too many books or seen too many movies, but I was concerned with whether his death might create trouble for me outside of the many legal problems it presented.
And then it happened. Georgie hit me in the head, knocking me backwards over the stump. I grunted as I hit the stump and fell face first in the dirt. A boot slammed into my ribs. Again I wished that this was a movie or at least a dream. Nightmares ended with you waking up panting and short of breath, but at least you had escaped the monster. I was not so lucky.
This wasnâ€™t a dream, I wasnâ€™t going to wake up and no one was going to help me. It was nightfall and the moon had not yet risen so it was dark. I scrambled to my feet and tried to run only to be tripped.
I fell down again and again I was rewarded with another boot in my rib cage. I stood up and Georgie hit me hard, but this time I fell into him. Iâ€™d like to say that I planned it, but it would be a lie. Together we fell in the darkness. I landed on top of him and began punching him, screaming and shouting I pummeled him. I donâ€™t know how long I hit him for, but I know that it took a while for me to realize that it had all been unnecessary. When we fell down the back of his head had landed on a rock. All I had done was make him more dead.
When I stood up I was shivering. Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead.
The thing was that Georgie had been like family to me. In some sick, twisted and perverse sense of the word he had been like my older brother, the guy hadnâ€™t always been bad, he hadnâ€™t always been this way, had he. I couldnâ€™t tell, I wasnâ€™t sure. I wasnâ€™t even really sure that he was dead, maybe he wasnâ€™t, maybe he was just hurt, maybe he was just unconscious, knocked out like one of those cartoons we used to watch.
Maybe it was like when Bugs Bunny stuck his finger in Elmer Fuddâ€™s gun and he would sit up, his face covered in black dirt.
But I knew that wouldnâ€™t be the case, knew that this time he wouldnâ€™t get up. Part of me wanted that to happen so badly, even knowing that there would be one hell of a beating involved.
To this day I donâ€™t know how long I lay there on top of Georgie, panting, shivering and in shock. My shirt and hands were sticky with blood, Georgieâ€™s blood. I stood up and walked over to the Tree Man. He was still tied to the tree, but he wasnâ€™t moving, dried blood marked his body and when I grabbed his head in my hands it felt cold and limp. I shook him, told him to wake up, demanded that he answer me.
His silence mocked me and I couldnâ€™t deal with it. I was out of my mind, overwhelmed with emotion and I hit him in the mouth. I felt his head snap against my fist and then the tree and I could swear that he groaned. â€œHey, hey asshole, answer me, say something,â€ I screamed, but no words came out of my mouth and so I grabbed him and shook him again. But again his silence mocked me.
â€œGeorgie, you better stop playing,â€ I shouted and then I kicked him over and over, slapped his face and grabbed his throat and began squeezing it until I realized it wasnâ€™t Georgie. Georgie was dead, his body lay a few feet away.
I started to laugh and shake, giant gales of laughter wracked my body. There in the dark I stood the worldâ€™s newest murderer. Life hadnâ€™t been great, but now it was distinctly worse. Georgieâ€™s death was an accident, it was self-defense. He had been trying to kill me, but the Tree Man, how could I explain that.
How could I tell anyone about this. Who would believe me? When they saw him they would look at me and that would be the end of it. I couldnâ€™t imagine any scenario that didnâ€™t end with me in a cage and that wouldnâ€™t do, couldnâ€™t do, it just wouldnâ€™t.
That sick cackle that had been emanating from my mouth returned, bubbled forth like the hiss of air escaping a punctured tire and then it turned into sobbing. Beneath the moonlight I lay in the dirt and cried. A soft wind blew through the trees and the rustling of the leaves painted a picture of desolation. What else was there besides me and the two corpses, my world was destroyed.
And then I heard Georgieâ€™s voice. Even in death he taunted me, ridiculed me for being weak. I could see him standing in front of me, grinning at my pain, the contempt he held me in apparent for all to see. Except that he was dead and I was alive and in hell.
But like so many times in the past the self-pity turned to anger and I stood back up, sucked up the anger and stuffed it back into the pit in my soul it came from. I had to go, had to get out of there and off of the mountain. Now all I needed to do was figure out what to do with Georgie and the Tree Man and go home.