This is a rare thing, an adventure from the past. It's more of history since it covers a broad swath of time and not some minor adventure over the course of a day or two. Eventually I intend to chronicle enough of my life to compose a coherent work, say novel length, and for true understanding my esteemed readership will require more than a litle backstory. This will be the first three part adventure so be sure to check back soon.
When I get angry, really really angry I tend to have a transient tantrum and then fall sick with depression for a few days. Don't let the delayed response fool you. My brain is an arcade of psychosis and more than a few of my teenage nights I devoted to thoughts of terror and revenge. Part of me is a wailing beast, no more intelligent or merciful than the fucking Nicofiend. There's my human side of course and Subcon manning the engine room.
And then there's Legion.
Legion is a sword rarely unsheathed. I usually only find Him during times of prolonged duress from which I cannot escape or mitigate using my normal cognitive resources. As a child I was prone to violent fits of rage. My brother even coined a term for the pinnacles of unbridled fury that overtook me. Usually he provoked me into this state but as I aged I learned restraint and even temperance. Betrayal was enough to destroy both of these in one quick jerk, not unlike a hangman's noose.
My first encounter with Legion began, as only true misery would allow, with a girl.
We'll call her Alice and she was my first girlfriend, my first kiss and my first real hope at love. Things began well enough. Before our relationship could really develop I found myself tumbling o'er the precipice spraying blood through the knife wound in my back. Allow me to explain.
Alice was very tall girl. Brown hair and eyes with a shotgun blast of freckles and a kind face. She was cute but not a knock out, thin but never dressed to accentuate it and for over a year I paid her little to no attention because I was crushing on her best friend.
Without going off on too long a tangent I have to mention swimming because it plays a vital role in the before and after. Since I was five I have been capable of swimming, every summer at the Beverly Hills Swim Club I did my part for the team. I was always decent but never outstanding. That’s me in a nutshell, competent but never expert. I was always strong but never the strongest, determined but breakable and resilient but not invulnerable. I might score average above people in most areas but I can’t seem to master any one thing.
Freshman year I did not join the school swim team out of fear and the general shoddiness of that time of life for me. Sophomore year I worked up the nerve and did fairly well, but again, no world records were broken.
The season ended in February around the same time that I got my driver's license. One of my first real solo journeys out into the world was to the local Sports Center where I would often go and swim about a mile a day. That might sound like a lot, and I was very proud of myself at first, but come August my longest workout was only about 1.3 miles to date.
In the meantime I had trimmed down about 20 pounds from 200 to 180. I was still pretty chunky but I achieved tone and some gains in muscle mass. My confidence soared and even the modest gains brought me to a point where I could actually talk to girls without stammering like an idiot or running away afterward.
When it comes to hooking up, as I have learned in subsequent years, all you really need is some privacy (sometimes) and a Crucial Moment. With Alice there were several close calls and times when, if the advantage had been pressed, might have yielded an earlier success. However being two years younger and a full foot shorter than Alice I found it hard to believe that we would ever end up together.
Things accelerated one night during movie night at a friend's house. It was her best friend’s house, the one I used to crush on, though I cannot remember which movie we watched to save my life. We had just returned from our family trip to Spain and I sat with Alice on the floor. She was sunburned and had wet hair so she was freezing. I jokingly offered for her to snuggle with me and to my utter surprise she snuggled indeed. We held hands and my arm was around hers until I lost every nerve ending to numbness. Had there not been so many others we might have kissed then and there.
Alas, twas not to be. Later, one week before she left for college to be exact, I called her up to see if she wanted to catch a movie with me. This I do remember for it was "Disturbing Behavior." The movie sucked dog balls but as the credits rolled I looked over and found myself riding the cusp between a Crucial Moment and an Uneventful Evening.
So we kissed, warm and syrupy, until the lights came on and an usher shooed us out. This was back when Clear Springs Cinema was still open on Hwy 29. Out in the parking lot we kissed some more and all was well with the world.
We only had two more dates after that. The first was an afternoon by the lake just walking and making out, talking about how much it sucked that she was going to be leaving soon. School had already started for me and many of my first few classes were lost to daydreams of my dappled darling.
Our third and final date began with Italian food and a trip to the local park. We lay in the grass, her head cradled in my arms. During our hour long make out session it took some time and nerve to steel myself but I took the plunge and brought a hand up to feel my first consensual breast touching since Mom cut me off 16 years previous.
Ah nipples, they truly are wonderful. Anyway the evening ended with us at my old house down on Overbrook where we could be alone without getting chased off by park rangers. Second base, nothing too sexual, and then she was gone off to college over 2 hours away.
Still we talked and emailed and all went well until her first weekend back. I knew something was amiss from a previous email. It was pretty innocuous but still the phrase 'we need to talk' should be treated as an act of open war. Poor me, didn't take the hint, didn't see the train until my brains were pancaked all over the shiny rails.
We were supposed to meet up in the afternoon. I called her house when she said she would be home (if this sounds strange it's because neither of us had cell phones at the time. This was 1998 after all.) When we did speak I could hear the apprehension in her voice. She trembled and quaked like aspen leaves bearing the brunt of gale force winds.
"I really like you and I think that you really like the idea of having a girlfriend," she said. "But I don't feel like you and I are meant to be boyfriend and girlfriend."
"Ok," I said. The horror of the moment had frozen me up. See on our last date I even told her that if she didn't want to stay together that would be fine. She would be off at college and I didn't want things to suffer because of it. But no, she had said. I really wanna get to know you, she said.
A long silence hung between us. There were about a million things that I wanted to say, or scream or beg her to do. I did none of them. I just held fast to the desk and tried not to faint.
"Do you understand what I am saying?" she asked patronizingly. Ooh, snip. Legion just bit through his own umbilical cord and started to claw his way back inside. I just stood there, not wanting to speak because I knew I would just croak out some nonsense or cry. She told me goodbye and I echoed it weakly.
Trembling, I worried the keys into dad’s Ford Taurus and left the house for the open road. We had just moved from the other side of town so it was all pretty strange and unusual. I reached for the radio, praying for some solace in music. Instead I got Cowboy Mouth.
I have seen this for a long time coming I have seen this for a little while In the way she would never kiss me In the way that she would never ever smile Never ever smile She must have been joking To think our friendship would remain unbroken
The tears come at this point. Joining them the chorus joyfully spanks nails into my leaded coffin.
Whatcha gonna do About your lover? Whatcha gonna do About your friend? Whats it gonna take To find another Another one to break Your heart again?
Now since it's the first time I heard the song it sounds like 'without your lover' and I open palm tiger-strike the radio into sweet blissful silence. Nothing but the wind cuts into my concentration and the flames of misery begin to spread, licking their way into my holiest cortical wrinkles.
To my surprise airplanes and meteors do not fall from the heavens, commerce of all stripes does not cease and the entirety of Western Civilization does not crumble into ruin on the spot. By contrast the world seems full of people doing much better than me. Life goes on. That just makes it twice as bad.
I sob, wail and all that other angsty teenage bullshit that I am glad to have left behind. School becomes intolerable and now my daydreams turn not from romantic moments and when we'll reach that third base phase but to dark and twisted landscapes strewn with scorched entrails and chaos.
American History finds me in vastness of space, shredding open cosmonaut spacesuits with oxygen charged RPG's. English is a rolling battle across the plains of some vast territory, grassy but full of huge chunks of ice. Swords clash and arrows fall until my prey retreat onto an icy lake. My army hurls boulders into their midst until they drown and flounder to cruel and chilling deaths. Math involves tossing grenades at tanker trucks full of gas and acetylene.
Weeks pass in anguish. I know what happened. I know it down to the last fucking detail. Alice met some guy, some guy her age, her height, living in her town and without the embarrassing status of being a junior in high school. Strangely my wrath does not turn to this man. I have no name or face to center my crosshairs on.
The pool absorbs the brunt of my wrath, as if it could give half a shit what I do to it. My violent thoughts find purchase on nothing else, no vent or valve to release the howling legions screaming for the blood of virgins and frothing my blood with adrenaline. No harm comes to anyone except for me and I smolder in anguish. Pain becomes sharper along with the rest of the world. I lunge forward into its smirking maw. Teeth gnash at me every day and all I can do is just keep pretending like I am ok until it's time to get into the pool and let the freak show play out where it can do no harm.
Some time later, right around the 3 month mark, I realize that I have been swimming almost 2 miles a day, five days a week. I make a decision, the first non robotic thing I can remember since I picked up the phone to call Alice. Instead of swimming every day I will dedicate Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday to the pool. Maybe with rest in between I can do more total.
Seven months after Alice I am swimming 12 miles a week. Legion is an army of rabid wolverines that I let out for my workouts and occasionally during swim meets. The swim season is halfway over and so far I am undefeated in the 500 yd freestyle and the 100 yd butterfly. I weigh 165 pounds and have grown about an inch since I got my license.
Given the struggles behind my eyelids, under the lonely sheets in my strange and unfamiliar room I have grown accustomed to torment. Compared to that thrashing some dorks in the pool is easy enough. I remember a few of the highlights from the beginning of the season.
Our first meet there was this guy, I'll name him Chris, but I never learned it. Chris was decently in shape, he was about 3 inches taller than me, lean and muscular. He would be my very first opponent in the 500 yd free. The only reason I was swimming it was because no one else wanted to and everyone knew I had the endurance for it.
Twenty laps, no idea how long it will take. I am not really nervous because there's no stake in winning. It's a first race. We'll see what happens I think. Then I meet this Chris fellow. Did I mention he's got his chest hair shaved into a big ass cross?
That's right. Of course I ask him about it, he seems distant and pious, like he hadn't noticed it until now.
"I couldn't win without the strength of god helping me along the way," he tells me soberly. Not laughing in his face proves difficult. I ask if he really thinks god is going to help him win. "With the power of god how could I lose?" he asks. Legion licks his teeth with delight.
Whatever it takes I know I have to beat him now. Not that I was confronting god, or out to prove something I just saw a grand opportunity to crush someone's self esteem without any ill action. His average time is about 6.5 minutes. Mine is listed as ‘n/a.’
The race begins and I have no idea what kind of pace to swim so I figure I will just try to keep up with the jesus fish two lanes to my right. Hope I don't get steam rolled by this freak, I think. Two girls from my team have a metal lap count book that they dunk in whenever I approach the far wall. This prevents the need for counting mentally and ensures I know exactly how much I have left to swim.
At first I find myself struggling to keep up with Chris, he's hammering away about a body length ahead of me until lap 07. Then I realize why I am struggling. I normally swim laps a little faster than the pace he's setting. I smile during my flip turn and decide to break the pace. By the time the lap counters dunk 09 I am more than a body length ahead. By the end of the race I have won by about a length and half. Not a body length, a pool length. I slaughtered him even though my time was only 6:27. Apparently Chris was in better shape last year.
Victories roll in and begin to pile up. Every race goes by a little faster.
I date a girl named Janine for a while but she proves too catholic for us to last long. Ironic considering catholic means ‘universal’ but she was a terrible fit for me. Janine was only 1 year older than me and wasn't keen on moving past 1st base. We ended things mutually and I filled the abscess with chlorinated water. Legion prodded me along the way.
My social standing grew and I established a reputation for being freakishly devoted to swimming. That was who I was inside and outside of my silicone swimming goggles. Work outs increased in distance and complexity. By the time summer rolled around I was swimming 20-25 miles per week.
An unforeseen side effect of this was nasal trauma due to the over chlorinated water and my increasing exposure to it. Some days my nose would run uncontrollably during class and I had to just hold a paper towel over my face until was saturated with thin mucus. I drank voraciously, usually at least 2 gallons a day and though my waistline was taut with muscle I found myself eating everything that crossed my path.
Summer found me working as a lifeguard part time at the BHSC. I earned minimum wage, worked about 25 hours a week and found it utterly tedious. Between shifts I continued my work outs and without school to encumber me was able to up my workouts to about 30 miles a week. This only lasted a few weeks because school rolled around and senior year was about to start.
Just before the year began I got my senior portraits taken in the gym. It was 100 degrees outside, bright and merciless. Sweat broke out through my red polo shirt as I shouldered my way inside.
The gym was dim and dreary by comparison but the ambient temperature was only in the 80's. The Color Guard was practicing and took a break as I strolled inside. I looked over at the girls in their practice gear. Ashley, who I would have dated in a heartbeat had she not been attached at the hip to some douche bag already out of high school caught my eye. I waved but only received a concerned look, like she didn’t recognize me. I nodded at Stephanie and even Karen who would later marry my best friend. My entrance synchronized with a short break. Whispers broke out as the girls clustered up and began to talk.
At the time I couldn't fathom it but apparently quite a bit of talk was about me. That's right the dude with a drippy nose still tucking in a chubby self-image into his belt every morning. I got the pictures taken and went to leave. As I went to go Ashley and a few other girls watched me as I sauntered out.
What the hell are they looking at? I hope I don't have something on my shorts.
As I reached for the exit I gave Ashley one last parting glance. She had turned her attention back to her flag but the girl standing next to her was still looking my way. Helen something, I thought. She was all right.
Little did I know the carnage that would ensue from that sweet smiling face. It began a few weeks later.
One of my cohorts in high school was a fellow named Matt. Matt's dad worked at a local car dealership and conned some of us into helping out with their annual inventory. We worked about 8 hours for 100 bucks and thought ourselves quite well to do as we broke off.
Matt's brother suggested we make a stop on the way back. Helen lived just down the road from them. Now I don't know details but there was some level of romantic involvement with Helen and Matt's brother. All I know is that shortly before we got there I decided that I was going to flirt like hell with this girl just to piss off Matt's brother.
So I did, and apparently with some effect. Helen and I could talk freely and easily about . . . well whatever the hell high school kids talk about. It's hard to remember though we did spend a prolonged phone call talking about all the different hygiene products that we use. There was an interesting moment which I recall here:
Helen: So now that I know what kind of toothpaste and deodorant you use I can imagine what you do in the morning and what you'll smell like before you come to school.
Me: And I know that you'll smell like one of four types of perfume when I take you out.
Helen: When? You mean if you take me out. Now what kind of shampoo do you use?
Me: I don't use shampoo.
Helen: Ha, ha. Seriously what do you wash your hair with?
Me: I am being serious. I haven't washed my hair in over a year. There's no need. Every time I go to the pool I get a chemical scalp scrub. My hair would be dark brown if I didn't (at the time it was somewhere between amber and blonde.)
Helen: I just can't believe that. You seriously haven't washed your hair in over one year?
Me: Well I still use conditioner. . .
Around Christmas there was a party. It was a 'parents' party but the parents in question were friends of my parents as well as Helen's parents. I was rocking khaki cordoruy and a carolina blue long sleeve shirt. Helen was there, of course, and every chance I could pry her away from friends and family I did.
Sadly though it came time to leave and I just had to give her a prolonged goodbye hug. I knew that I wouldn't see her until school started back.
Me: I'll be counting the hours until I see you next, Ms. Helen.
Helen: Gosh. Are you falling in love with me?
Now I REALLY wished that I could have been suave and cool and laid some exquisitely cloying bit of melodrama but like a complete asshat I just botched it up.
Me: Not falling, no. But I'm leaning . . .
I kissed her hand and left. The nanosecond I was out of sight I felt like kicking something for such a failed attempt. Alas for me, had things been done differently that night my life might have changed significantly.
For when Helen returned to school from her trip to Georgia she left behind a long distance boyfriend. A dark chapter of my life began to unfold though it seemed very normal at first. As I spent more time with Helen my affections grew deep and wild. She never appreciated it but I told her once that my love for her was like kudzu. It can be trimmed and tamed at times but is impossible to eradicate completely.
This became more of an issue as I delved into the deeper parts of getting to know her. See Helen was the daughter of a preacher and religion was very important to the family.
And so I found it becoming more and more important to me as well.
Stay Tuned for Part II, coming later this week. And I know that I said I wouldn't use 'meta' in the title but this is my shit, bitches SO IT GOES.