Jun 3, 2007

In Mortmain

I’d been lingering in the mirror when over my shoulder, with the images bending around to eternity, I noticed myself a long time ago, a man in his 20s.

I’m at a bar, one of those blue collar joints on a frontal road in a town on the make, where girls named Betty tease boys named Rodney, until one night Rodney goes too far. There’s a loud juke box with flickering blue light, a TV on the wall with subtitles, empty bottles of cheap gin stacked behind a long wooden bar. The Iceman Cometh here, every night.

There’s a pool table in the back; a layer of smoke, a bartender and bouncer ,with a Boston accent. The clientele is an uneasy blend of college kids and townies, furtive, envious men with jaunty girls looking for anything at all.

But this is not about college boys and townies, I’m a college kid dancing with a college girl. I’ve known her for the last four years. She’s blond, it’s the end of college, we’ll never see each other again. We’re dancing for old times sake. It means absolutely nothing. She has someone; I have someone. Our future is on a remainder table.

But of course the situation is not entirely harmless. This dancing could be perceived as threatening, and it wouldn’t be the first time.

Maybe that’s it; maybe her boy friend feels threatened by me. He’s always worried about losing the girl and so he does. it’s a situation that repeats itself endlessly.

I see him at the last minute, coming hard across the dance floor. He’s a rich-kid, with his father’s pedigree and a mother’s pedicure, from a second floor bedroom looking down on a front yard with oaks and maples. In his room, pendants on the wall, tall plastic trophies and freshly vacced carpets.

Coming out of the shadows and at the very last second I catch him out the fish eye. He cold cocks me just like that, like I’d been hit with a brick. But I don’t go down. I stagger, the pain is wicked, I might as well have been asleep for the shock of it.

But I stay up, I’ve taken blind sided hit, once, at 13, I got knocked out running a crossing pattern. I never saw that coming.

But this was so unexpected, caused such a ringing of old bells. Plus, such a violation of the moment and the place I’d gotten to in recent days. I had and arrived , just when I’m beginning to enjoy the very last days of college. I said I would do it and I did. And then this maniac, as though to say, ‘you will not end on a good note, you will not remember this well....’

I tackle him right away and a broken beer bottle breaks his fall and it that takes 30 stitches to mend the rip. People pull me off. The bouncer kicks me out. The cops arrive. People tell them what really happened. Cops ask if I want to press charges. I don’t.

I go home, I’m still seething. I cannot, I simply cannot help myself.

I find out the kid’s gone to the emergency room.

I want to finish him off somehow, get in one more good punch, so I get to the hospital and there’s the girl I was dancing with and she sees right away what’s up. She knows right away and says she’ll get cops if I don’t leave.

And what about you, I’m thinking. Why are you suddenly this fool’s defender?

I wake up the next morning and I’m thinking to myself, ‘okay, it’s over’, but then I start reliving it again, I get tangled up in what this kid did for no good reason, and I think about these rich kids like him, with their sense of entitlement, with all their confidence and ease. how they’re soft, how I’ve known them all my life, how they never see me for who I am.

A few hours later I get a couple of friends and I go over to this kids house. He lives with other rich kids. We get to the house, they’re half a dozen but they don’t want any part of this. He’s upstairs they tell me and I go up and there’s the kid in the bathroom, peeing.

I say to him, “you have five seconds to explain what the fuck you did to me last night.”

He mumbles something. I can’t hear it. Whatever it was it sounded condescending, as though he hasn’t figured this out yet, as though he doesn’t owe me an explanation.

If he would only say, “you know what? I acted like an asshole last night and let me buy you a drunk.” Or, “look, I'm sorry. I’ve had a bad week.”

But he just mumbled in this condescending way and that’s when I let the dogs out. I punched him once in the face, he went right down and I followed and kept hitting him and hitting him, in the face.

How many times? I have no idea. Twenty, thirty times. Blood everywhere. I thought I might have killed him.

It’s like going leaving the bridge of yourself and slipping down into the engine room of yourself. That place is a blur of noise and motion, yet at the same time I can see everything that’s happening, I suppose I could slow it all down if I wanted. But I don’t; I have absolutely no control and I don’t want any. I just want to keep hitting him. Suddenly, I am graduated from everything I believe in myself, from everything I am not afraid to know of myself.

A minute goes by, a minute and a half and then it’s over. The kid goes back to the emergency room, gets more stitches. It’s not as bad as it looked.

Now I’m like a pit pull after the ring, lathering, shaking, jowls drooling but slowly sick at the thought of what I’ve done. No matter the history, the genetic predispositions, all the excuses, explanations and qualifications.... I could offer it all up, but would that make a difference?

Still, there is enormous pleasure in it, what can I tell you. To prevail, to clean the dirt off of something. To get things righted again. Kayo would understand. He would know exactly what this was....

Years later perhaps I will deeply regret it. Or maybe not. Or maybe I will flinch in horror, I will confess it all up, over and over. I will feel badly for a long time. And that won’t be the end of it.

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