This house used to be nice.
A sprawling ranch-style that was probably a showpiece thirty years ago, but in modern times looks like it needs an update or two… or three.
When I bought it, I didn’t buy it because it’s pretty.
I bought it because it was functional. But it was functional for another time, a time when all I was concerned about was finding a nice out of the way location to train, a nice little getaway in the middle of the Chicago metro where I could escape from the noise and focus on my training.
Once all of the noise of the outside world was silenced, something else took its place. Something more evolved. But the locus of this new voice was within, long buried and forgotten, pushed down with some considerable effort, trained away and covered up like you cover up a stain on the carpet when company is coming over.
The old me? So boring, so trite and lost, foolishly letting everyone around me dig their claws in and make me something other than who I should be — some Troy sister, probably, wrestler or lawyer, grinding into my psyche and making me think I needed to change somehow.
Tell me who I should be, and I’ll listen.
Tell me what I am, and I’ll listen.
Tell me why, and I’ll do my best to appease you.
But everyone reaches a point when they realize they’ve been living their lives based on a portrait authored by someone else. Eventually you come to the crossroads, and you either embrace the choices you’ve made, or you embrace who you really were in the very beginning. Is that nature versus nurture? Perhaps.
I suppose there are people who would call my life choices noble – this idea that I walked away from a career at the top of my game to spend time with family, to raise a daughter, to become a better man, a man who didn’t feed on the weakness of others, a man who tried a little harder to confine himself within societal norms that would allow him to leave behind a more positive legacy.
Think of your daughter.
What will she think of you?
But what of the reverse? What happens when the day inevitably comes where she’s old enough to see through the bullshit? What happens when the veil eventually falls and she sees me for who I really am?
Why run from it?
What happens when everyone finds out that the one you’re meant to protect is much smarter than you ever realized, much more capable of critically thinking through their own realities, not so easily taken in my your illusions and grand charades? What happens when life takes a sudden, hard right, and careens off in a direction you never expected, never even crossed your mind?
Six or seven years at what I thought was the end of my career lost to this, and for what?
What happens when you find out how little control you actually have?
I’m sitting in a room right now, typing this out on a screen, surrounded by what remains of two decades of struggle. Bits and jagged pieces of golden belts from places that don’t matter. Shards of glass from framed pictures of colleagues, smiling, raising their little fingers in a cliched number one salute, family pictures, grinning faces content to share in this illusion, and I’m here, clacking away on this keyboard as if this self-therapy will ultimately come to mean anything.
My wife is gone.
Have I made that clear?
I made sure she went away, and no, you won’t get any further explanations, no more details. Nothing is left in my life that matters to me in any way except what remains in this house right now.
To whoever is hearing these words, or reading them, or having them read for you — know this — control is an illusion — there is only who you really are, and what you can do. It doesn’t matter what you want, what you deserve. You take it, or you don’t.
I can do what I like, and unless you have the means to stop me, nothing else about any of this matters.
This realization has been cathartic, invigorating…
No longer neutered, limping along like some sad veteran on an old timers tour, some aching once-was pushed around in a wheelchair or hobbling around on a cane. Maybe I’m not handicapped, but handicaps come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them looking like a family portrait from Sears, or a benign family trip to the zoo, or a golden ring.
As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been reborn.
Nothing remains that can keep me from who I really am and who I really need to be. Nothing will keep me from being the GoD of this business I was always meant to be.
I’m no longer drowning under the weight of someone else’s hopes. It’s only me, and this is how it will be from now on. I hear my own voice again, and I like listening to it.
In ten years if I read this back, what will I think of it? I like the chaos in my mind and I feel it wrapping itself around my very being like a warm blanket, but will that last? Will it make me something great, something fearsome and horrifying and all of the other things that terrify good people… or will it destroy me?
For the moment, I don’t know and I feel nothing that makes me think I care about that right now.
The future will take care of itself someday, and time will tell, time will be the judge of these choices, whether good or bad.
But that doesn’t matter.
I have resurfaced.
“It’s so fucking hot out here.”
It was all he could think about as he trudged up a dirt path from his big brown UPS truck, package in hand, toward the house.
Sweat was starting to pour down from his temples, down his back and under his arms. This already incredibly uncomfortable brown shirt was starting to become made more so by now sticking to his skin through force of perspiration.
Postal work had never been a high paying job, but it was becoming less and less worth it lately. Only a few more weeks though, and there was a nice little mini-vacation in it for him. They’d been planning it for months, and if he could just get through this, the hottest month of the year, he’d have his break.
He followed the inclined pathway, shifting the package to go under his other arm and squinted through beams of hot late afternoon sunshine as he approached the porch.
He climbed two small steps, standing directly in front of the door and saw a hastily scribbled note taped to it. He snatched it from the door with his free hand and held it up, again squinting in the sun.
“Leave package on porch”
He sighed in annoyance. He looked back at the door and saw a Ring doorbell and camera on the door jamb just to the right of the handle. He shifted the package back to his original hand one more time and pressed the button. The blue LED light flashed and traveled in a circle, indicating the camera had activated.
He waited for a voice, for some sort of indication from someone inside, but after a few seconds, the light faded, and he was back to square one.
Oh, come on…
Again he shifted the weight of the package in his hand and pressed the button, and again it lit up as if making a connection to something inside. He figured he’d take a chance this time and speak up.
“Hey um, good afternoon. I have a package here, and I saw the note, but I need a signature before I can leave it.”
He looked down slightly, waiting for a response, the muscles in his left arm starting to cramp up from holding the package so long. It wasn’t exactly a weight set, but it wasn’t light either, and this heat was really starting to drain his energy at a rapid pace. There was a nice cold jug of water back in the truck that he couldn’t wait to get back to.
Finally, he made the decision to put the package down…
He grunted under his breath and pressed the button again, in fact, he pressed it three times, not that the two extra button presses would actually expedite things. It lit up again, and he sighed.
“Listen, I’m sorry. It’s just… I have to get a signature or else I’ll have to leave and come back tomorrow.”
He tried to look through small picture windows next to the door but they were covered with some sort of dark blue or black material, and he couldn’t see around it.
Almost ready to give up and leave, he suddenly heard a distinct crackling static noise from the speaker on the camera, and it gave him pause. He looked around more carefully, looking the front of the house up and down, then noticing over to his left a paved driveway that went under a portico on the side of the house. Sticking out into view a black truck was parked there, with the back left tire flat, causing the vehicle to lean over to that side. A thick layer of dust covered it, and a slick veneer of oil had stained the concrete, leaving a shimmering rainbow sheen upon it.
The whole thing started to make him uncomfortable.
Looking back at the package, he looked for the label and read it.
“Who the fuck is Dan Ryan, anyway?”
From inside a sudden noise startled him. It sounded like metal clanging against… what? Brick? Tile? It was hard to be sure.
But that was it. He’d seen and heard enough.
He picked the package back up and turned to leave, unclasping the cell phone from the clip on his waist, and hitting the number for his supervisor to report all of this weirdness. He put the phone to his ear, and then… he thought he heard the sound of the door opening.
It was the last thing he heard.
A blinding shot of light and intense pain shot through him like a bullet ripping through wet tissue paper as hard metal met his skull. The package under his arm tumbled away, and the cell phone on his ear crashed to the cement, and the glass of it cracked, chipped hard plastic scattering into the grass around the porch.
And the world was gone, empty and black like the void.
Dan Ryan clicked the little ‘save’ icon in the upper left corner of the screen, and closed the window, another bout of self-expression complete, and stared at the monitor for a few moments. The room was already dim, with the light from the screen making most of the room’s light.
He let his eyes slowly close, and he breathed deeply.
A large old-style wooden clock hung on the wall, and he heard the ticking reverberate through the stillness, clicking away, its once-a-second beat keeping time in his head as his thoughts threatened to swirl away from him again.
He walked his mind through long mental corridors, on one side, his past ‘as seen on TV’, on the other, reality, scratching and clawing at the doors from within, threatening to burst through and devour everything else. And in front of him, his future, a roiling miasma emanating from something unseen, and he walked toward it, drawn to it. It grew and formed as he approached, new branches spreading out exponentially from the center as it enveloped him.
Eagerly he breathed in the atmosphere in this formless place as if taking in air for the first time. It filled his lungs and he felt emboldened, strengthened, renewed.
A deep rumbling came from some corner of his consciousness, a low rolling thunder that seemed to be approaching like an oncoming train whose track was everywhere at once, but nowhere he could specifically discern.
His eyes were opened here, and they flashed in anticipation. It grew closer, louder, and it seemed it would overtake him…
His eyes — his real eyes — snapped open suddenly. The room was still quiet save for the same ticking clock, dim, but a phone on the desk next to his keyboard was buzzing now.
Someone at the door.
He didn’t know how long it had been active, but he saw someone there now on the screen. A large package was on the porch, just in the edges of the picture, and the man was looking around the front of the house now.
Something turned in him, something between concern and pride, somewhere between anxiety and excitement, and he rose to his feet. The sound of the glass and bits of plastic and metal all over the floor crunched under his feet as he crossed the room and threw the door open.
He stepped out in the hall, passing the kitchen, and paused.
A small stream of light was coming into the foyer and living room area from the direction of the front door, and he heard something like a dull thud, and it thunked something in a rhythm, not unlike the clock in the other room.
Ryan slowly turned the corner and saw the door there, slightly open.
He opened it the rest of the way then, and what he saw was someone, slight of build, barefoot, with pink shorts and white hoodie which was pulled over their head. A baseball bat was held high overhead, and they brought it down onto the lifeless form of a man, dressed all in brown and sprawled in a prone position, halfway on the porch and halfway in the grass. Specks of red dotted the sides of the hoodie, and a pool of blood was forming under the man, dripping over the edge of the concrete and covering the green grass with a crimson coating.
His voice rang out, and they stopped, pausing and looking down at the victim below. Was he dead? Hard to tell. If not, he wasn’t gonna be okay for a long, long time.
“Cecilia… that’s enough!”
She turned around then.
Dan Ryan’s daughter looked up at him, her hands bloodied, the bat bloodied, blood smeared on her face from using the back of her hand to wipe sweat from it. Her breath was measured, steady, and not marked by any sense of adrenaline rush.
She walked forward, held the bat out and handed it to her father.
Dan Ryan’s only daughter started past him, but he put his hand on her shoulder, and she looked him in the eye. He smiled.
“You have blood on your face.”
He raised a thumb to his mouth and wet it slightly, then used it to wipe away the blood on her cheek. She returned the smile, pulling the hood of her hoodie down and letting her shoulder-length hair tumble out. There was one last look over her shoulder to the formless pile of nothing she saw on the ground, and she turned away again, walking past her father and into the house.
Ryan stood there, then dug back into his pocket for the cell phone. He touched it once, then held it to his ear.
Within seconds, a muffled male voice answered, and he kept his eyes on the trails of blood continuing to empty from the UPS worker on the ground. Unfortunately, some packages might be late today. Shame. Dan Ryan abhors lateness.
“Hey, do me a favor and get over here. I have something I need you to take care of. Yep. No, the other one…. “
A barely audible ‘understood’ came through the earpiece, and Dan Ryan clicked his phone’s side button before stuffing it back in his pocket.
He walked back in, lightly closing the door behind him, looking at the bloody footprints leading across the carpet and around the corner. He followed it, stopping at the kitchen island, where the sink was, and a row of mugs were lined up on the draining rack to dry. He looked at it as one particular mug caught his eye. Tilted up for excess water to drain, and turned slightly, the words on the side were clearly visible.
“World’s Greatest Dad”
He remembered something…
Turning in a hurry, he opened the door again. He gingerly climbed over the gentleman on the ground and reached for the square brown package lying haphazardly in the grass, then clambered back onto the porch.
“Almost forgot my package.”
He turned his back, entering the house and, leaving the dying late afternoon light behind him, closed the door.