There's the tell-tale sound of the crackling that can only come from a hi-fi phonograph player in the air, giving way to the high-pitched sound of a man's voice."In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight..."
...and he dreams. And Remembers.
1992. Winter. Snow on the ground, a rare occurance in the land of Texas where there are but two seasons, referred to as "Football" and "Christmas." Even rarer in the desert city of El Paso. Due to ongoing difficulties with my stepmother, I'm out in it at six in the morning.
A little background on that seems necessary.
See, this woman, who's name begins with the letter "Charlotte" wasn't the nicest of ladies. She had (and likely still has, but I'll never know) my father tightly in her grip. For a time, she had me also, with my adolescent will sapped by the troubles that came with the rite of passage known as puberty.
Yes, I was seventeen. I also developed slowly physically.
No comments about emotionally.
Charlotte couldn't seem to tighten her grip on me. That's largely because she and I, or more to the point, the rest of the world and I don't live on the same plane of reality. Even in an addled state, there was only so far I could be pushed.
I'd learn more about that later that evening, though at the time, I had no clue.
This woman whose name may or may not be Charlotte (it is) had decided that she would use good old Mother Nature to break me. My father worked construction, so she decided that because I played role playing games (Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (first edition, the only true D&D. Fuck off if you don't agree.) that I was not allowed in the house when he was not present, as I was obviously preparing myself for a life of cultdom.
Problem is, it didn't seem to be the cult of Charlotte.
So when Dad left for work, and on the days he didn't too, I was exiled from my domicile at six am. Unsupervised, unlooked after, and generally unnoticed unless I accidentally said something out loud. Rain, sun, heat, cold, and on this day, yes, even snow, I was cast out into the streets, and largely unfed to boot, unless my father remembered the son he had "fought" so hard for in a battle with my mother needed to eat every other day or so.
There's nothing like being a trophy, folks. Nothing like it. You sit on a shelf and collect dust, because the winning was more important than the prize.
I wonder if she ever realized that she was running the cult playbook page by page. Weaken the subject through malnutrition, exposure to the elements, and isolation from his fellow man. Continue to erode his defenses through repetitious "lessons" while encouraging him to leave "whenever he wants." Good thing I played D&D, and knew about saving throws. Rolled a 19, bitch. Take that.
That's a joke, actually. There was another reason I survived this.
And his name is Eddie.
Eddie was always a good friend to me, even when he didn't want to be. He and his family opened their home to me and gave me a place to weather the elements, even feeding me when Mom noticed my ribs through my shirt. There was never anything said about it, it was just "taken care of." Had it not been for them, I might not have made it, or worse, made it and come out a person so hardened and cold that there wouldn't have been a man left.
I even learned how to shave from Eddie, even though it was just from watching him do so as we talked before going out. I learned what to do (and not to do, sorry bro, it had to be said) in matters regarding the opposite sex. He showed me more than he knew, and reaped the advantage of my nimble mind in showing him new ways to overcome problems. And walls.
So off I went on a snowy day to Eddie's house like normal. If normal is the word for a kid kicked out of his house on a daily basis to fend for himself, and having no working knowledge of how the outside world worked and how to interact with people in it. It had snowed, so I stole a pair of combat boots off of someone's porch to keep my feet warm and dry.
Yes. I stole. It was their feet or mine, and they were allowed inside. I call it a fair karmic trade.
It took about an hour to walk the five or so miles to Eddie's house from where I lived with my dad, and it was quiet. I learned to appreciate the quiets in the morning on those long walks to Sherman Park., and I learned to appreciate the snow even more, because it made it even quieter. Often I would even read as I walked, burning through half a novel on the way there, and finishing it on the way back.
Yes, I know it was dangerous. But I somehow, in spite of all things, lead a charmed life and am here telling you about it, so it obviously must have worked out alright.
So on this Saturday I arrived, and stepped inside silently as I often did, knowing the door was unlocked, and watched some tv in the living room before people started to get up. As the day grew on, people slowly started to gather at Eddie's house as it was the generally recognized hub of our Loser's Club. We decided we were going to go practice stalking and sniping techniques with our air rifles and pistols out in the snow.
We sort of were preparing ourselves for the apocolypse, the fall of civilization, and so forth. There wasn't much to do in El Paso, you know.
I had an air pistol I had bought at Wal-mart that shot darts, pellets, and bb's, and there were a few air rifles as well. I was a better shot with the pistol than Eddie, but he could always smoke me with a rifle. We always balanced out that way somehow. We were a group of noncomformists sitting around in the dining room getting ready to go pretend to play war.
Somehow, I picture Pentagon Briefings operating in a strikingly similar manner.
So the camofluage came out, and we started to get dressed. Eddie had loaned me a set of fatigues, and as I got dressed, I felt wierd. Wrong, somehow. I couldn't explain it, but I simply couldn't wear them. Even among nonconformists I was a nonconformist. I felt terrible, so I had to do something about it.
So I took them off. Eddie asked me what was up, if i was ok, and I said yeah, I just couldn't wear them. He seemed mildly disappointed, but shrugged it off and said "That's okay man, we always need a guy in the private sector anyway. Let's go shoot some cans."
So off we went, and fun was had, and I never thought much of it again. I went home, and had the usual browbeating brainwashing session and banishment to my room without dinner (little did they know I'd already eaten that day. Twice.). Near midnight as I lay sleeping, the door opened as it often did, and Charlotte loomed in the dark at me. This night, she made me take down and tear up my Alyssa Milano and Batman posters, and also made me cut off my beloved ducktail from my hair.
Then she stood in the doorway and stared at me, looking for a weakness.
"You don't really think you're going to win, do you?" she asked me.
"I don't have to win," I told her. "All I have to do is survive."
She slammed the door. The rest of that year, and the one after that would go badly.
But that night, I slept well.The lion stirred, remembering ferocity and the will to survive. He remembered that even basic survival instincts were rooted in Defiance, in this case, of death.The roar grew louder.....