Chapter 10: This Is Your Life
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My face looked like a Frankenstein creation underneath the jaundiced light of the motel bathroom. My left eye was purple, swollen, and the stitches just above it stood out like the wiry hairs of an insect. What little white I could see of my left eye was blood-shot with bright red veins spidering into my cornea. My other scars were just as pronounced in the light, but they were only thin, pale marks in comparison.
The hum of the fluorescent lights was adding to my migraine and looking at my patchwork face wasn’t helping. It was strange how the marks on my face laid out a timeline of misfortunes, like the stilted and scarred rings of a tree. Most people had photo albums. I had scar tissue.
The tiny scar on my chin was from when I was nine.
A friend of mine lived on a farm with his grandparents just outside of the town proper. They didn’t have any crops or cows, or sheep, or even chickens for that matter. All they had were just a couple of cats and about two dozen horses, and not the fancy, lithe equestrian elites that you see prancing around during the summer Olympics. No, these were draft horses. And they were the size of school buses.
During the summer we’d run around and play in the twelve acre pasture out behind the barn where all those behemoths would spend their days stampeding over one another. One particularly hot day, we got a bunch of our friends together, loaded up our BB guns, headed out to the pasture and decided to have ourselves a little war.
Since the pasture was mostly a flat field of dirt and grass, we stayed near the center where there were three willow trees, each about twenty yards apart. The trees were always a favorite place for the horses to find shade, and on that particular day, they were all there trying to keep cool.
The boy who was officiating the event explained the rules thusly: “You can only pump the gun once. And no crotch shots.” That was it. Shooting in the face was okay, but the nads were off limits. Heaven forbid a 9 year old should get pelted in the balls before they had a chance to drop.
We weren’t very bright children.
The war went as smoothly as nine year olds could make it. We all ran from tree to tree, lazy horse to lazy horse in search of cover as the stinging bites of tiny copper balls nipped at us. They hurt, but we all gave as good as we got. That was, until I caught one in the face. The BB actually broke the skin on my chin and ran underneath along my jaw-line, getting stuck about two inches from where it entered. The upshot being that the pain dropped me to the ground just as the horse I was hiding behind tried to kick me. Lucky shot in more ways than one. It saved my life.
I got the hooked scar across my nose the day I saw my first dead body. It had been the summer of my sixteenth birthday and I had been detasseling corn with every other teenager in the state. We had been marching through the cornfields with small spade shovels cutting down ‘rogue’ plants when I had tripped and fallen over something, smacking myself in the face with the spade. When my crew had come over to help, we all had noticed what it was I had tripped over. A smooth, white rock had been protruding out of the ground.
Someone had gone over and had tried to pry it out with a spade, but when he had kicked it up, we had seen that it was actually a skull. It had turned out that I had inadvertently uncovered the shallow grave of the Spilotro brothers. It had been such a monumental discovery that I had my picture in the local newspaper, grinning from ear to ear and standing over the empty hole in the ground, my face covered in blood and dust.
At 28, I got the scar over my right eye. Darby had walked up to me as I was standing in the kitchen pouring myself a cup of coffee. She hadn’t said anything. No curses, no shouting, no sweet or angry good-byes. Just pointed a pistol at my head and fired.
Again, I was lucky. I must have looked up in just enough time to react because the bullet had ricocheted off of my skull instead of repainting the kitchen with my gray matter.
People all say different things about what it feels like when they’re shot. It burns, it’s cold, it feels like needles. I, however, didn’t feel a thing. I just remember the ringing in my ears, the smell of gunpowder, and that everything had gone blue like I was looking through colored lenses. I don’t remember how long Darby stood over my prone form, but I do remember that I had stayed on the kitchen floor for a few minutes after she had left.
By the time she had come back from the corner deli, I had made it to the chair in the living room with a dishtowel full of ice. She had calmly sat on the couch across from me and munched on her spinach and cheddar bagel as I bled. After she had shoved the last of it in her mouth, she asked me for a divorce. But not until she had finished her breakfast.
To this day I don’t know why I hadn’t immediately said yes. For some reason I had to think about it, as if the marriage was still salvageable. I guess no matter how bad things get, how irreparable, how far gone, you just never want to give up hope. You still believe you can fix things.
But a bullet to the head has a tendency to sour the outlook of a relationship. After that, there really was nothing left to fix. Of course, it had taken me longer to come to that realization than it had taken Darby to eat that fucking bagel.
I wasn’t a very bright adult.
I swallowed a few pills with some tap water. But I knew they wouldn’t get rid of the pain, just dull it for a few hours. Long enough that I’d be able to get some sleep. I had been on the road most of the day and still had another day of travel before I hit
Cerberus was on the bed farthest from the air conditioner, burrowed deep under the covers. I laid down on the other bed and tried to relax, but I couldn’t get my mind to shut off. There was too much noise in my head, too many random thoughts, too many dark memories. I concentrated on the pain in my head but it didn’t help. I just wanted to sleep.
I opened my eyes and studied the odd formations of water damage on the ceiling. Whoever tried to cover it up with paint did a pretty piss-poor job. The amorphous stain bled through the single coat making it seem as if I was looking up through muslin from the bottom of a muddy pond. And if I concentrated hard enough, I could almost see the ripples on the surface.
That got me to thinking about Luna and her animal spirit guide. I knew more than enough about the world to know what was real and what was just flaky, New Age horseshit, but the exercise was pretty calming. I’d never give Luna the satisfaction of knowing that, though. One whiff of my acceptance and she’d have me naked in the desert howling at the full moon.
I closed my eyes and tried to picture that nice little wooded area. I really didn’t care if my guide ever showed up or not. Hell, I already had one animal in my life and that was trouble enough. Besides, just the nature of an animal spirit guide bothered me. Not that it was an animal, or even a spirit. What concerned me was the fact that it was a guide. I didn’t really want to think about where such a thing might want to guide me.
In my mind’s eye, I saw the trees under a night sky. I saw stars through their leaves as they towered above, bending over me like angry parents.
The pain in my head was subsiding as the medicine kicked in. I got that fuzzy feeling like my head was filled with cotton and my hands were filled with lead. When I breathed, the air tasted of mildew and old ashtrays. I tried to ignore the smell and focus on the trees.
It didn’t take long to get to that place where I felt like someone was watching me. I could feel something out there, hiding in the shadows of the trees. The problem was that I never knew if this was a genuine spiritual feeling or just me forcing myself to have an experience.
I’ve heard people talk about this sort of thing before and their animals are always exotic or powerful, and always beautiful. Siberian white tigers, fluorescent cockatiels, lions, grizzly bears. They’re always these grand, majestic beasts or some cleverly tiny familiars. But how much of this shit did these people make up? I mean, if the animal chooses you and not the other way around, why are all the animals so damn wonderful? You’d think that every once in a while an armadillo, or a rat, or even a three-legged beaver might want to play ethereal tour guide for an afternoon. Who knows, I might give all this crap a little more credence if I heard someone bragging about their mighty spirit chicken.
But I wasn’t going to hold my breath.
Regardless of whether or not I was just fooling myself, it didn’t feel like a chicken hanging out in my head. But as I tried to concentrate on what was moving in the shadows, my head grew thicker. Everything faded to gray as I started to fall into a drug-assisted coma. I wanted to get up and shut off the light, but my body was too heavy. My mind was finally quiet with the sad exception of my wondering what a beaver would look like with a wooden leg. It was the last thought I had before I fell asleep.
I dreamed of family.