Miranda's Dance

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Chapter Thirty-Two

I shouldn’t have wasted so much time fucking around with Troy and Ronnie’s suicide mission. Now it’s a good long walk over to where Carl’s going to be, and I’m not exactly moving at top speed. Oh, well. I might as well grin and bear it and start heading over there. He’d better fucking be there! If he’s not, I’ll head back to where I last saw Irv and give the letter to him. He’ll get it to Charlie. Hey, always have a back-up plan. Believe me, you need them out here. Shit goes wrong with your main plan too often to go without a back-up plan. I didn’t need Charlie to teach me that one. It’s kind of the story of my life.

God, I can’t stop thinking about Ronnie’s head cracking open. That sound! It makes me want to puke! It’s a horrible fucking sound. I mean, it sounds like a lot of things, but somehow it’s different. Maybe it’s because I know that’s a person’s head splitting open and not a fucking coconut? Yeah, that’s probably it. That’s a human skull cracking. There’s a human brain underneath it, and having a leaded flashlight plow into a human brain is a pretty horrible thing. At least, I think it is. I seem to be in the minority, though. People out here cave each other’s’ heads in all the time with all sorts of things. And the cops? Oh, the cops just love to crack peoples’ heads. I mean literally. I’m not talking about the cracks on the head they’ve given me over the years. No, I’m talking about those fucking kill shots. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen them shatter some guy’s head like a fucking eggshell. They really do have it down to a since. Some of them even wrap the tops of their flashlights with a bicycle inner tube so that when they crack someone on the head, it doesn’t leave any tell-tale marks. That’s a public servant for you: beat some poor son of a bitch and make sure you don’t leave any marks. How fucking ingenious, guys! I guess I’m lucky they never did it to me; not that they didn’t try a few times. Oh, I’ve been beaten with those things lots of times, but they never tried to shatter my head like a fucking eggshell. I’ve had a few glancing blows and a couple of what they jokingly refer to as “love taps,” but I never took a deliberate, full-power shot to the head. Not even when they made me run that gauntlet. That Hoekstra gave me a crack on the back of my head once? Yeah, that was bad enough. It definitely scrambled my brain pretty bad, but it wasn’t one of those full-power kill shots like he was dishing out back there. Take it from me: there’s a big difference. I guess they just never wanted me dead like that. Maybe it’s because I’m a woman? Of course, being a woman; I’ve taken a few good shots somewhere else. You know, like tonight. One cop had me sit on the curb and spread my legs. Then he whacked me right in the cunt and asked me if I got off on it. Yeah, pal! It was a fucking orgasm! Jesus, what an asshole! When the cops want to crack my head, they usually just slam it against something – a windshield, a wall, whatever’s handy. Believe it or not, that’s considered lucky out here. I certainly consider it lucky. I’ve seen what those flashlights do to your head. Hell, you just saw it for yourself. I don’t have a particularly hard head. I’ve already had a few concussions out here. Maybe I’ve got one now? Ricky did a real fucking number on my head. I hope I don’t. I don’t need another one. I sure as hell don’t need a stem-to-stern skull fracture, courtesy of the cops.

I never had a really bad head injury, and I’m glad. I know that sounds as weird as hell, but head injuries scare the shit out of me. I don’t mean a bump on the head or a concussion or anything. Like I said, I’ve had plenty of those. No, I mean something that cracks open your skull and tears up your brain. I never had surgery or anything, but the thought of it didn’t scare me unless it was brain surgery. Now that scares me! I always had a fear of having brain surgery. Don’t get me wrong, here. If they told me there was an operation that could cure my depression for good, I’d take it in a second. I’d even offer to hold the fucking drill if it would help. But ever since I was a kid, I was always afraid that they’d give me another kind of operation because I’m crazy. I was always afraid that some doctor would order me to undergo a lobotomy. I know, I know. It sounds ridiculous. A lot of things about me are fucking ridiculous. But for some reason, the thought of getting lobotomized always terrified me, and I’m talking about real fear. Actually, I think I know why it terrified me. It’s because when I was about thirteen, I read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. That was one of the stupidest fucking things I ever did. My mental illness was really kicking into gear about then, so I started reading shit on mental illness. Someone told me about Cuckoo’s Nest, so I figured I should read it. I probably wouldn’t have read it if I knew about Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters. I would have thought it was just the result of dropping too much acid. Anyway, that’s where I learned about lobotomies. I also got a pretty vivid introduction to electroshock therapy and what it’s like inside those big mental institutions. I told you about shock therapy before, didn’t I? Mental health and sanity through electrocution. What a wonderful fucking concept!

Anyway, after I read it, I started having nightmares about being locked up in a place like that. I’m talking about serious nightmares. I think they call them night terrors. They were terrifying, all right. They were so real, I couldn’t tell that they were just dreams. I honestly thought they were real. They were as real as anything I’ve ever experienced. Christ, they were fucking ghastly. Every detail scared the shit out of me. I was always the smallest person in the place. Everyone was bigger than me – the doctors, the nurses, all the inmates. They were huge and I was so small. I’d be in there in a room somewhere and a nurse would come and take me into the electroshock room. The next thing I knew, they were holding me down on the table and wiring me up to the machine. I never knew how I got there. The asylum, I mean. I’d look for my parents or my brothers or anyone I knew, but they were never there. I guess they left me there. Either that, or someone just took me there. The room was always this awful pale green color. Hospital green. The paint was peeling. It looked old. It was really dim, too. The light was weak, like in a brownout or something. I could taste the rubber bit they’d put in my mouth to keep me from biting my tongue off. It hurt when they put it in. I don’t know why, but it did. It also made it almost impossible to breathe. I’d beg them not to put it in, but they didn’t listen. I could never see the machine. I knew it was against the wall, but for some reason, I could never see it. I’d see the doctor standing over me with the electrodes and I’d be scared shitless. I’d be crying and begging him not to do it to me and I knew it was going to hurt so much. It’s like I’d try to talk, but the words just wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t talk with that thing in my mouth. I’d try to get up, but I couldn’t. Sometimes there were people holding me down and sometimes I just couldn’t get up. I’d feel people pulling on me. They were pulling so hard. I’d feel the electrodes as the doctor pressed them against my head. Sometimes he’d press them against my eyes so it would hurt more. I was so afraid because I knew that any second now, he was going to shock me and it was going to hurt like you wouldn’t believe. I know some people say you can’t feel pain in your dreams, but that’s a load of bullshit. I know better. I’d scream for anyone to help me, but no one ever did. Then they’d shock me. I couldn’t see anything, but it felt like my head was being squeezed in a press. My whole body would twist into a knot. I’d scream, but it wouldn’t make any sound. And then they’d do it again. And again. And again. And again.

As bad as that was, the nightmares about getting a lobotomy were even worse. Those were the worst fucking nightmares I ever had, and believe me, that’s saying something! Remember: I’m the girl who used to have nightmares about being burned to death. I think I had the lobotomy nightmares more than the ones about the shock table. Can you believe I actually read up about that shit? It’s true. I just had to know all about it. What a fucking idiot! I guess I’m a masochist after all. Do you know how they give you a lobotomy? There’s two ways. The first way is where they drill a hole in either side of your forehead and poke a metal rod through the holes so it tears away the front of your brain. That’s your basic classic lobotomy. Then there’s what they call a transorbital lobotomy. It’s also called an icepick lobotomy. That’s even more fun. They lift up your eyelid, stick an icepick in between your eyeball and the eye socket and hammer it through the bone so they can reach your brain. Then they wiggle it back and forth to chisel away the front lobe of your brain – one little piece at a time. Sounds like a blast, huh? Both of them scared the hell out of me. I still can’t believe a fucking doctor ever came up with that shit. What kind of doctor thinks tearing away the front part of your fucking brain is a good thing? It must have been Doctor Mengele or something.

Whenever I had the lobotomy nightmare, it always started just like the other one. The operating room would be really dimly lit. I’d be on the table. I couldn’t get up. I didn’t know how I got there. The people were dressed in those surgical gowns with the masks. They’d hold me down on the table. Sometimes I’d see them strap me down. They’d say they had to do this. I’d call out for my mom and dad and they’d tell me they weren’t here. Sometimes they’d tell me my parents wanted this for me. I’d see the doctor and he’d be looking down at me. He’d tell the nurses where he was going to start cutting. I’d be screaming that I was still awake, but nobody cared. One of the nurses would pull my hair back and hold my head straight. Then the doctor would put a mask over my mouth so I couldn’t scream anymore. I’d still scream, but no one could hear it. That part never changed. Sometimes I couldn’t breathe. Then he’d pick up a scalpel. He’d be wearing these ugly dark rubber gloves and I could see the scalpel in his hand. It was silver. I could see the blade. I could always see the blade. He’d grab my head with his hand and press down really hard with his thumb right where he was going to cut. Then he’d start cutting through my head: first one side, and then the other. I’d feel the skin tear open. It was horrible. I could feel the blade cutting into my skin. It was like fire. I could feel it pushing against the side of my head. I could feel the blood running down my face. I could feel the edge of the scalpel scraping against the bone in my forehead. I’d beg them to stop, but they never stopped. They couldn’t hear me because of the mask over my mouth. Maybe they just ignored me? Sometimes I’d start choking. And it was just getting started.

Then the doctor would put the scalpel down and pick up the drill. His fingers were bloody. It was my blood. There was something about the drill. It didn’t look like a regular drill. I don’t know what it was. It looked evil somehow. I’d hear it start up. I’d hear the high-pitched whine, like a dentist’s drill. Then I’d feel the doctor’s hand pressing against my head again, like before. He’d push the drill into the hole in my forehead. I’d feel him drilling into my skull. I’d feel the bone crack. I’d hear it crack. That crack was the most horrible thing in the fucking universe. It actually hurts me to tell you about it. I’d feel the drill pushing deeper into my head. Then he’d pull it out and drill through the other side. I’d be screaming my fucking head off by then, but nobody cared. Then he’d put the drill down and pick up the metal rod. It was bright silver. The minute he touched it against my head, the pain would be unbelievable. I felt it going through the hole in my head. I felt every second of it. Maybe it wasn’t pain? Maybe it was fear? I don’t know. I do know that I was so fucking scared, I can’t even begin to tell you about it.

That’s when he’d push the rod through my brain. In one hole and out the other. I felt all of it. I felt how cold the rod was. It was ice cold. I felt it moving inside my head. I felt it tearing away my brain, piece by piece. I felt the blood running down the sides of my head. It was horrible. It was so real. I swear, I felt every fucking minute of it. There’s no way to describe that feeling. Or the fear. I’d be crying and screaming for my mom and begging him to stop and he’d just keep pushing that rod through my head; back and forth. There was this horrible sensation that I can’t even describe, but I knew it was my brain being cut away. I’d try to get away but I couldn’t get up and the nurse was holding me down so I couldn’t move it. I’d watch the doctor take the rod out of my head and it was all bloody and little bits of my brain were stuck to it. Then he’d pick up another one and go right back to tearing my brain apart. Back and forth. Back and forth. It felt like it went on for hours. The doctor would tell the nurses that he was almost done and hold her still. I couldn’t see the rod sticking out of my head, but I knew it was still there. I could feel it. I could feel that rod inside my head scraping against the holes in my skull; tearing my brain away piece by piece. Back and forth. Back and forth. I could feel something evil happening to me. I can’t describe it any better than that. How do you describe it when a fucking demon tears out a big chunk of your brain while you’re wide awake? I couldn’t stop screaming. I’d scream for anyone to please come and save me, but no one ever did.

That’s usually when I’d wake up. You’d think that was a good thing, but it wasn’t. Not by a long shot. I’d wake up screaming at the top of my lungs and thrashing around and tearing at the blankets on my bed. I didn’t realize the nightmare was over. It didn’t realize it was a nightmare. I never did; no matter how many times it happened. I thought it was still happening. I’d be grabbing at my head, trying to pull the rod out and looking to see if there was blood on my hands. A couple of times, I even broke off my fingernails and scratched the shit out of my face from trying to tear out that goddamned rod. It’s a miracle I didn’t claw my fucking eyes out. I’d wake up and for a few seconds, I’d swear I was still in that horrible room in the mental asylum instead of my bedroom. I’d look around and see it just like it was in the nightmare. It would take a while before I came to my senses. My heart would be pounding so hard that my chest actually hurt. It’s a wonder I never had a heart attack. I’d be screaming so loud and so horribly that it would scare the living shit out of everyone. The neighbors actually heard it a few times. God, as if they didn’t already think I was a fucking nutcase! My mom had to explain it to them so that they wouldn’t call the cops. I’d wake up screaming and my whole family would come running into my bedroom and they’d grab me to keep me from hurting myself because I was clawing at my face and thrashing around like I was having a fucking seizure or something. A lot of times, I’d hyperventilate and I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to suffocate. My mom would try to hold me still and tell me to breathe shallow until it stopped. A couple of times, she had to hold a paper bag over my mouth just to slow down my breathing. That actually made it worse. I’d be so freaked out by the nightmare that I’d think my mom and dad were the fucking doctors and nurses trying to keep me on the operating table. I’d think the paper bag was that mask they put on my face, and that just convinced me that the whole thing was real. Trust me, you’ve never seen someone come completely unglued like that. I even hit them a few times. Can you believe it? I hit my mom and dad. Hard. Really hard. A couple of times, I drew blood. I didn’t mean to do it. I thought I was fighting for my life. Some daughter, huh? They were trying to help me and I fucking hit them until they bled. Way to go, Miranda! How the hell did they put up with me for so long? Fuck that! Why did they put up with me for so long?

They should’ve had me carted off to the fucking nut house for that shit, but they didn’t. They’d stay with me until I fell asleep again. They didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know what to do, either. For a while, I thought I’d actually wind up in a mental institution because I kept waking up screaming and tearing at my face. You know, sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even now, just thinking about those places scares the shit out of me. Since I’ve been out here, I’ve been thrown in the county hospital twice on a seventy-two hour hold, and let me tell you, it was all I could do to keep it together for that long. They just tossed my ass in a fucking cell for three days and pretty much ignored me, but I always had this feeling in the back of my head that they were going to show up with a gurney and tell me it was time for my lobotomy. I was already a mental wreck at the time. I was having one of my episodes where I pretty much lost touch with reality, so I was primed for some pretty wild delusions. It’s a wonder I didn’t completely freak out and end up in there permanently. Anyway, after I had the nightmare for the umpteenth time, my dad sat me down and told me that they didn’t do lobotomies anymore. He even brought some doctor friend of his over to the house to reassure me. He told me One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest was just a book and that mental institutions weren’t really like that, but I already knew that they were. You see, I found this book about mental institutions from back in the fifties and sixties, and when I read it, I found out they were even worse than in Cuckoo’s Nest. The conditions were worse than in prison. Shit, they were even worse than this fucking place! The people in those places were better off dead. So if they were like that once, then who’s to say they weren’t still like that? That doctor couldn’t convince me that things had changed, no matter how hard he tried. Fear of ending up in a nut house caused me a lot of grief when I was a teenager. I knew it was irrational, but that didn’t make a fucking bit of difference. The fear was real. Even my shrinks told me that those places weren’t like that anymore, but I didn’t believe them. They’d lied to me too many times already for me to believe anything they said. No, I was sure I knew better. I was sure there were places just like in my nightmare and I never got over my fear of ending up in one of them. I hate this fucking place, but compared to that hellhole, it’s the fucking Garden of Eden.

Lobotomies aside, I also knew that they used to force people like me into those places. It’s true. It used to be legal to commit people because they were deemed incurably mentally ill. It’s called involuntary civil commitment. See what you learn when you research mental illness? Usually, they only do it to really dangerous motherfuckers because they can’t keep them in prison, but back then, they could involuntarily commit the incurables. Of course, they don’t say incurable anymore, but “treatment-resistant” means the same fucking thing. Treatment-resistant clinical depression never stops resisting the treatment. That’s pretty much the definition of incurable. They stopped most of the involuntary civil commitments a long time ago – unless you fucking took out half the damned neighborhood with a carving knife and you’re about to get out of prison on a technicality – but some people want to change the law so that they can do it again. And a lot of it has to do with this place. Yep, good old skid row! It seems our little slice of heaven and the things we do in it haven’t gone completely unnoticed by the kind folks in the Emerald City. They’re becoming increasingly concerned about us, or so we hear. Hey, you’d be amazed at what we hear out here. We’re not totally out of the loop. Anyway, they’re not getting concerned about our well-being, mind you. They’re getting concerned about the fact that there are more and more of us every year, and we’re spreading beyond the skid rows of the world. They want us out of the picture before we completely fuck up the picture. They’re sick of all of the psychos wandering the streets without a leash, so they want to bring back involuntary civil commitment on a widespread basis. They’re not calling it involuntary civil commitment, though. Now they’re calling it “preventive detention.” That’s where you detain all of the psychos in order to prevent them from interfering with the lives of normal people. They say it’s for our own good, of course. Yeah, right! They promise that it will all be sweetness and tender loving care, but what do they think is going to happen if they start locking people up against their will just because they’re crazy? How do you treat people who’ve proven that they’re untreatable? Easy: you don’t treat them. You fucking warehouse them. You lock them down and you make sure that they don’t get out of hand. How do you think they’ll go about accomplishing that? Drugs; that’s how! Just like in the old days. They’ll whack us up with Thorazine or some such shit and stick us in a fucking dungeon. If they changed the law back to what it used to be, they’d throw me in one of those fucking places in a goddamned microsecond. Me and everyone like me. They’d throw everyone who doesn’t respond to the medication in there. If you’re incurable, you get locked up. It’s as simple as that. And it could happen. Don’t think for a minute that it couldn’t.

We’ll be easy to find, too. They’ll just order all of the shrinks to turn over their records. They’re all on computers, so they could do it in an instant. Just push a button. Which of your patients meets the criteria? Who didn’t respond to medication? Who’s a hopeless case? How about her? Who, Miranda? Oh, she meets the criteria all right! We tried everything and nothing worked. Yeah, she’s a lost cause. She’s fucking hopeless. What a loser! Lock her up and throw away the key. What key? There won’t be any keys. Mental illness is incurable, and since I’ll never get better, I’ll never get out. Not ever. And once they start locking people up for being crazy and pumping all kinds of dope into them against their will, it won’t be long before they dust off the blackjacks and the cattle prods. Count on it. They’ll say it’s for our own good, just like in the old days. It’s not fair. I didn’t ask to be this way. I didn’t do anything to make myself crazy. I tried everything I could to get better, but nothing worked. It’s not my fault. And I’m not the only one. There’s millions of others besides me. But a lot of people don’t care about that. They don’t care about the why or the how. They just want to make it illegal to be crazy. They want to punish people for being naturally fucked-up. They want the law to let them treat people like me worse than convicts. Worse than animals. It’s true. If you did to a convict or an animal what some people want to do to the mentally ill, you’d wind up in prison. But I’m not a convict. Or an animal. I’m a fucking psycho, and as far as most people are concerned, you can do anything you want to a fucking psycho. We’re sort of natural-born guinea pigs. It’s like, do whatever you want to them; just don’t tell us about it. We find that sort of thing upsetting. Yeah, right! How do you think we feel about it?

Some people argue that forced commitment is the only way to make crazy people take their medication. Maybe that makes sense, but what about when the medicine doesn’t do you any good? They still want to force it on you. It’s just that in my case, we’re not talking about therapeutic medicine. We’re talking about poison, plain and simple. We’re talking about shit like Thorazine or Haldol or some other fucking coma-inducing drug. They’ve got a million of them. It really fucking kills some people that I can refuse to take that shit because I don’t want to be a fucking zombie. But if these assholes get their way, they’d be able to lock me up and just start pumping whatever shit they feel like right up my ass and I wouldn’t have any say about it. Why not just kill me? I’m serious. It would be a lot cheaper and a hell of a lot more humane. But they won’t do it. They won’t even consider it. Jesus, not only wouldn’t they kill me; they’d go out of their fucking way to keep me from killing myself. Can somebody tell me where the fucking logic in that is? I suppose it’s because I’d be too valuable to them as a test subject for all of their new wonder drugs. Hey, they’ve got to test it on somebody, right? So why not test it on somebody who doesn’t count? Never mind what it does to me. As long as it doesn’t do it to them, it’s OK. It’s for your own good, they’d say. We just want to help you. Here, try this. Try that. It’s experimental. We can’t give it to the fucking rats, but we can give it to you. We need to see how you react. How else are we going to know if it’s safe to give it to decent people? We can’t very well test it on them. That’s what we’ve got you for. Are you feeling sick? Dizzy? Any pain? Any side effects? Are your insides feeling like they’re going to come rushing out of your mouth? Are you in searing fucking pain? Are you having violent hallucinations? Let us know. We’ll make a note of it. We won’t do anything about it, you understand. That might ruin the experiment. Oops, she’s dead, doctor! I guess this drug’s a little too dangerous. Oh, well, back to the drawing board. Save the body, though. It might make for useful research. Too bad she was a junkie. We could’ve sold her organs.

I know you probably think that I’m being completely paranoid, but I’ve always been afraid that it might happen someday. You tend to fear that kind of shit when you’re incurably crazy. I remember how I felt whenever I flipped out and my parents had me locked up in a psycho hospital. I always thought that was it: I was never getting out. Those places may have been a hell of a lot nicer than a state institution, but that doesn’t mean I liked being there. And I figured that any day now, they were going to move me to a Cuckoo’s Nest place. Once you have that feeling, you never forget it. There’s also the fact that I’ve never had much control over my life. I’ve always been scared to death of losing what little I have left. Living out here really drove that fear home. I have no control over anything out here. I can’t tell you what it was like, coming to realize that. I have absolutely fucking zero control over anything. Everyone out here is stronger than me. This night is proof of that. Well, except for fucking T.C., but you get the idea. Imagine if they could’ve locked me up in a psycho ward just for the hell of it. I think about it constantly. It could happen, you know. If enough people demanded it, it could happen. And if it does, they’ll say it’s for our own good. Some of them might actually believe it. Why not? Who gives a shit about me? Who gives a shit about people like me? We’re crazy. We’re homeless. We’re junkies. We’re parasites. We’re lowlife criminals. The world is better off without us. Besides, they’re not talking about letting them force medication down the throats of decent, normal people in the Emerald City. No, they just want to do it to the Mirandas of the world. That’s why I’m afraid it could happen. I’ve prayed every day that I won’t live to see it, and now I thank God that I’m not going to. After tonight, I won’t have to be afraid of it anymore. I won’t have to be afraid of anything. After tonight, I’ll never find myself on that operating table again, and I’ll never have to feel that cold metal rod tearing through my brain ever again, whether it’s for real or in a nightmare. Back and forth. Back and forth. And all I could do was scream. “One flew east and one flew west and one flew over the cuckoo’s nest.” Never again.


Well, if that didn’t creep you out and send you running for the hills, then you’re officially the best friend I’ve ever had after Charlie. My obsessing over shit like that is why I spent a good part of my adolescence alone. I wasn’t what you’d call the life of the party; even when I was drunk. I learned early on that mental illness tends to creep people out, and that’s even if they don’t know that you’re mentally ill. They just know that something’s wrong with you and they don’t want any part of it. I don’t blame them, but since I’m being totally honest on the last night of my life, I have to say that it hurt. I think it hurt worse because I was the only one in the family to get hit by it. My brothers are all normal, well-adjusted guys. It just made me stand out even more, and I hated it. I never hated them for being spared this shit, but I was plenty jealous of them. How could I not be? I’m jealous of everyone who doesn’t have to deal with this shit. I’m jealous of everybody who had a mental illness that was treatable. I’m jealous of everybody who took a fucking pill and felt better. Does that make me petty? If it does, then I’m sorry. I can’t help it. Misery and hopelessness does that to you.

Do you know what else it does to you? It makes it impossible for you to gain any courage. It’s true. After the shit I’ve experienced out here, I should be the bravest woman on earth. I’ve survived more threats to life and limb in a week than most people do in a lifetime. I’ve endured hell on earth. I’ve become a fixture in a violent world full of alpha predators where the men vastly outnumber the women. And yet I’m terrified all the time. Does that make me a coward? Epicurus said, “The greater the difficulty, the more the glory in surmounting it.” Charlie’s teaching at work, again. Maybe it is for normal people, but not for me. When I overcome a great difficulty, I usually can’t stop shaking. Or screaming. Or even crying. I overcome an obstacle or a threat and I don’t feel a bit stronger or braver because of it. I feel like I’ve been chewed up and spit out. And the next one terrifies me just as much as the last one did. I don’t know why. I have to chalk it up to being crazy because I don’t have any other explanation for it. I usually try not to use being crazy as an excuse for anything, but I use it a lot to explain things. I think it really does explain things. A lot of things. Unfortunately, if it really is the explanation, then it means there’s not a damned thing I can do about it. Jesus, if knowing that doesn’t make you a coward, then I don’t know what will.

I’ve come to believe that fear and misery are sort of twins. They have the same effect on you. They paralyze you. They devastate you. They overwhelm you. They make it so that you can’t think about anything else. And try as you may, you can’t just make them go away. They’re immovable, like the concrete and steel of this place. They’re stronger than you. They can outlast you. They don’t care how smart you are or how clever or how tough. They win. They win and you lose – every time. Just like this place. It always wins. It breaks you. It overwhelms you. It sucks you in and makes it so that you can’t think about anything else. And it’s all concrete and steel to remind you that it’s stronger than you are. It’s been here since the city was built and it’ll be here long after all of the fucking normal people have gone the way of the Dodo. It wins. You lose. That’s how it is, how it was, and how it will always be.

So I’m scared and miserable almost every minute of every day of my life. You’ve seen this place at night. Are you surprised? Is it any wonder that I find dying preferable to living? Hey, everything else in our world is turned upside-down, so why not life and death? Or the desire for life and death? The total absence of peace and serenity that you have when you live on the street makes you realize that they’re among the most valuable and desirable things in the universe, and when you don’t have them, you’ll do anything to get them. Even die. You can tell yourself that things will get better for only so long before you realize that they won’t. What then? What do you do when more of the same is more than you can handle? What do you do when you’re facing a lifetime of it? That’s when the idea of a lifetime becomes one of the scariest things you’ll ever encounter. It’s like an eternity. And what are you waiting for? To die? You’re going to do that anyway, eventually. So why not just cut to the end and see what’s on the other side? Hope and pray that it’ll be better. It’s a chance. That’s more than you get out here. Out here, there are no chances. Under those circumstances, isn’t death the better bet?

All right, enough. Enough of listening to me babble. I’ve got a lot to do and not much time to do it. I’ve got to get as far away from this area as I can. A righteous break-in at Metropolitan Hardware will have every cop in the neighborhood crawling around out here. It always does. They’ll roust anyone and everyone they see. And there’s no guarantee that Troy and Ronnie won’t give me up. After what they went through, they’ll probably do anything to keep from getting another beating, and the only thing they’ve got to trade is me. Loyalty doesn’t exist out here, except among the old-timers. People will sell you out for a cigarette. I’ve seen them do it. I’m not going to let that happen to me. Not tonight.


OK, here’s a skid row landmark: do you see that post sticking out from the iron fence at the mouth of that alley? We call that the Gallows. I’ll give you three guesses why, and the first two don’t count. Yeah, that’s the semi-official hanging spot. Oh, I don’t mean that the cops execute people there. No, we call it the Gallows because more than a few people have hanged themselves from that post. Not everybody wants to jump to their deaths. Some of us take the old-fashioned ways out, and hanging is about as old-fashioned as it gets. It’s also cheap and easy. All you need is a strong rope and a beam tall enough and strong enough for the job. That post has probably been there for at least seventy-five years, so you can bet it’s plenty strong. And it’s got to be at least ten or twelve feet up, so it’s tall enough to kill you for sure. In fact, a couple of people have hanged themselves there and I guess they miscalculated the drop, because it pulled their heads right off. There’s actually a science to hanging yourself, and it’s not like they teach you that shit in high school. Too much drop and your head gets ripped off. Not enough and you end up slowly strangling to death. It’s one of the reasons why I never even considered hanging myself.

As much as I’ve heard about the Gallows, I’ve only ever seen one person hanging from it. It was a woman. I don’t know how old she was. Maybe forty, maybe sixty? I couldn’t tell. About the only thing I can say for sure is that it was fucking gruesome. She must’ve been up there for a while because her skin was grayish-white and her lips were dark blue. That told me she strangled to death. A slow, painful, lonely death. Plenty of time for her to wonder if she made the right choice. She was dead, but I could still see the fear on her face. The cops were there, but they didn’t cut her down for what seemed like forever. I just stood there, staring at her like everybody else. It was like it didn’t look real, and yet it looked too real at the same time. I felt like all of her pain and suffering and humiliation were on display for everyone to see. It was as if she couldn’t escape it; even in death. She killed herself because she couldn’t take it anymore and instead of finding peace, she became a freak show for the denizens of skid row. It seemed like the ultimate humiliation. Like the final “fuck you, honey!’ of her life. She’d probably suffered more humiliation and degradation in her life than most people would in a hundred lifetimes, and even in death, she couldn’t escape it. It was so unfair. We don’t ask for dignity in death, but a little respect is in order. The cops know what life out here is like. They know what we go through. They know why we kill ourselves. How could they just leave her hanging up there in broad daylight like a fucking piñata? They were laughing and making jokes like it was a goddamned sideshow. I wondered if she could rest in peace after that. The final humiliation. God, why did she choose to go out like that? All that pain? Why?

I didn’t know her. I never learned her name, and I didn’t want to know it. Knowing it would’ve made the whole thing hurt more. For me, I mean. Her pain in this world was over. The cops certainly thought so. One of them said she was autopsy bait. Very funny. She was a woman and she lived out here and she killed herself and all I could do was imagine every horrible thing that happened to her on these streets. Every beating, every rape, every cheat, every dashed hope, every little misery that drove her to climb that fence with a rope and strangle herself to death. I could feel them all as if they were happening to me all at once. And even then, I couldn’t turn away. It was killing me to look at her and I couldn’t stop. I always was something of a masochist, but this was taking it to a whole new level. I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. I wanted to run away, but I couldn’t. I don’t know why. Even now, I can still see her hanging from that rope. I wonder if I’ll meet her in the afterlife? By sunrise, we’ll both have a lot in common.

My death won’t be much different. I know that. I just know that I won’t suffer the way she did. Mine will be fast, painless, and messy. Very messy. That’s one of the good things about doing a half-gainer over the side of a tall building: it shatters your body so bad that the cops won’t leave it on display when they find it. They’ll throw a tarp over it as soon as the paramedics pronounce you dead. I guess they don’t want to upset everyone with all of that blood and gore. A hanging? Sure. Leave it up and take selfies with it. But a pancake? No way. Cover it up. It’s too messy. Too disturbing. And it should be. Disturbing life; disturbing death. We don’t live fast, die young, and leave beautiful corpses. Not by a long shot.

I know I’ll end up on an autopsy table just like she did. Mine will be different, though. For one thing, there probably won’t be too much left to autopsy. A fall like that makes your body burst like a water balloon. It literally tears it apart. It bursts. Your bones break apart like a Lego toy dropped on the floor. Believe me, I’ve seen enough jumpers to know what it does to you. But it’s fast. It’s instantaneous. Jump from high enough and the devastation is so severe that you die before you know what’s happened. So the doctor won’t have to cut me open because I’ll already be opened up in a hundred places. There won’t be any question as to the cause of death. The only question they’ll have is whether I jumped or was pushed. That won’t be a problem. Once the cops realize it’s me, they’ll know I jumped. They know me well enough to figure that out. They probably wonder why I haven’t done it already. For that matter, so do I.

Since I’ll be such a mess, they’ll probably cremate me. Good. I couldn’t stand the thought of my mom and dad seeing my body like that. Not even a picture of it. No, they’ll get my ashes in the mail. Here’s your daughter – or what’s left of her – in a can. Put it on your mantelpiece next to your flowers. It’ll be like she never left. You’ll be able to look at that can and know your daughter’s back home with you forever. You can take the can and shake it to make it seem like she’s talking to you. Have a nice day. God, I can’t stand it! I can’t stand thinking about it! I’ve caused them so much pain my whole life, and now I’m going to cause them more. Maybe even more than when I disappeared on them. Some daughter I turned out to be. I deserve to rot in hell forever. I really do. I pray that I don’t, but if there’s any justice left in the world, I should.

Ever since I got here, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to convince myself that suicide is a perfectly normal, acceptable thing to do. I’ll be honest: I’d like to get my hands on whoever started the idea that it was wrong and sinful and whatever else and kick the living shit out of him! I’m pretty sure it was a him. For some reason, I think that women have a better understanding of these things. I think that if it had been up to a woman to make that decision, she’d have been a lot more flexible. Don’t ask me why. I just do. But we’re all conditioned from birth to believe that living is always better than dying. I wonder why? As fucked-up as my life has been, I know for a fact that compared to some other people out there, my life is a fucking bowl of cherries. So why the fuck do we think that no matter how bad it gets, we’re always better off living? I guess it’s because whoever made that decision had a nice life and it really was better than dying. For them, at least. But what about the rest of us? What about those rare individuals such as myself who know nothing but pain and fear and misery? Who speaks for us? For that matter, does anyone speak for us at all?

I’ve scoured the Prophet’s Wall for answers. When you live on skid row, that’s where you go for the answers. There’s wisdom there. Real wisdom. The questions we all ask and the answers that people who went before us figured out and put down to guide us. But there’s not much to help you decide if ending your life is a rational act. Maybe it’s because most people out here don’t need to think about it? They already know the answer. They already know that dying is a hell of a lot better than this shit. I can’t tell you how many times I wished I’d been raised by atheists. Then I wouldn’t worry about pissing off God or going to hell or any of that shit. I’d be certain that once you die, you just cease to exist. No more anything. Just total nothingness. No pain, no fear, no regrets. Just oblivion. Unfortunately, I wasn’t that lucky. Or unlucky. I don’t know for sure. I’ll find out pretty soon which side was right. I know what I believe, but that’s a lot different from knowing. Unless your faith is rock-solid, faith comes with a certain amount of fear. Fear that you might be wrong. Fear that you might be right. Fear that there might be a hell of a lot more to it than you were taught. Fear that you don’t have enough information to make the right decisions. Yeah, I know all about that fear. It’s been my constant companion for a long fucking time. I hope it’s one of the many things I get to leave behind once I’m dead.

It’s my life. That’s the one thing I know for sure. It’s mine. It belongs to me, even if I don’t want it. And if it’s mine, then don’t I have a right to decide when it ends? Don’t I have a right to decide if it’s worth sticking around? I don’t believe that God has a mission for everyone. He’s got a plan, but that’s a hell of a lot different from a purpose. Some people have a purpose. Charlie has a purpose. He’s here to teach the select few what’s really important. He’s here to help them develop their minds because that’s the only thing we’ve got that we can improve. Anyone can improve their body. Just work out and eat right. But that doesn’t count for shit out here. The only thing that matters is your mind. Your soul’s already dead and your body’s just a source of constant pain, and anything else in life costs money to improve. But not your mind. Your mind is the one thing you can improve for free, and when you’re living on the street, free is all you can afford. So Charlie’s got a purpose and for me, he was a Godsend. But it’s still my life, and I don’t have a purpose. I serve no purpose. I have to accept that winding up out here at night, wandering the streets and alleys and asking questions for which there are no answers is my plan. But purpose? Zero. So if I’m not needed, then don’t I have a right to shut it all down permanently once I reach the point where I can’t take it anymore? Because if I don’t, then it never really was “my” life. It’s just something that belongs to someone else and it got assigned to me. And if that’s the case, then whoever assigned it to me was pretty fucking cruel. It’s like giving me a disease. Hell, it is giving me a disease! The disease of mental illness and utter hopelessness. No, I don’t believe that God deliberately infects people. Not like this, at any rate. So I’m hoping that he sees the big picture just like I do. I’m hoping that when I get there, he says “I understand. You got a bad lot in life. You hung in there as long as you could. I’d like to have seen you make something of yourself, but I understand. Come on in and leave that shit behind you.” God, please say that! Please say that you understand. Please don’t hold it all against me. I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t good enough. I’m sure you’ve heard that before. And you know I’m not lying about it. Just cut me a break, OK? I’ve taken all I can take. I can’t take it anymore. You understand that, don’t you? You understand everything. I’m asking you to understand me. I’m sure that’s not a pleasant task, but you can handle it. You can handle anything. I envy you for that.

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