An antique gramophone crackles to life, and after a few seconds of fuzzy sound coming from the brass speaker apparatus, “I Got Stripes” by Johnny Cash begins to play.
There’s a cold chill in the air, despite the interior locale.
Thick plexiglass lines the front wall of the cell, with thick metal bars attached to them on the inside. There’s still a dripping of water in a sink in the corner. No one cares to fix that.
Sitting cross-legged with his back to our view is Jeffrey James Roberts, casually fidgeting with something in his hands. His back is a tattered mess of fresh wounds from his time in the prison yard, with no bandages anywhere. Medical attention is reserved for others less expendable. The pain was unimportant to him, and he paid it absolutely no heed.
On the wall opposite us, and in front of him, there are new small polaroids pinned to the wall: Doozer, QT Reese, Cancer Jiles, Steve Solex, Bobby Dean – all with hastily scrawled x-marks across their likeness. Larger polaroids are above them: Scottywood, Brian Hollywood… These have small marks in the upper right-hand corner of each, a small star – for effort, you see.
A heavily stuffed envelope is sitting on the cold floor next to Roberts, with the words “Rumble at the Rock” in blue ink handwriting on the front, no doubt his reward for doing what was asked of him, but nonetheless still unopened for now.
The record player continues the song, and a peek over Roberts’ shoulder shows that he’s holding the HoTV Championship, his hands caressing it like a newly found puppy. His eyes are closed, and he sways slightly forward back as he hums along.
He has a content look on his face. He is, after all, back to the only home he’s known for the last ten years, and he is very comfortable. Here he will stay, happy until he is needed again.
Roberts picks up the envelope from the floor next to him and tears it open. Inside is written a personal message from him, the one responsible for all of this, and Roberts smirks. Apparently, he’s needed right now.
He drops the envelope to his side and cradles the championship belt, the only new toy he’s had in years and years, cradling it to his chest.
And he sways.
Emotions, in my experience, aren’t covered by single words. I don’t believe in “sadness,” “joy,” or “regret.” Maybe the best proof that the language is patriarchal is that it oversimplifies feeling. I’d like to have at my disposal complicated hybrid emotions, Germanic train-car constructions like, say, “the happiness that attends disaster.” Or: “the disappointment of sleeping with one’s fantasy.” I’d like to show how “intimations of mortality brought on by aging family members” connects with “the hatred of mirrors that begins in middle age.” I’d like to have a word for “the sadness inspired by failing restaurants” as well as for “the excitement of holding another man’s life in your hands as you close your fist and watch his final breath.” I’ve never had the right words to describe my life, and now that I’ve entered my own story, I need them more than ever.
I performed a little experiment out in the yard. I restrained myself from being the obvious person to commit near murder at the beginning of our match and reintroduced myself to the adrenaline rush of pain as it came over me. It was just as I remembered it. I felt it, the rush came, and then it was gone, replaced by unspeakable joy.
Baby steps, you know. There are small but important steps to take if I want to do this correctly and properly.
Pain is the feeling. Suffering is the effect the pain inflicts. If one can endure pain, one can live without suffering. If one can withstand pain, one can withstand anything. If one can learn to control pain, one can learn to control oneself.
I was, and am, the HOW HoTV Champion, but more importantly, I am gaining more and more control of my narrative. I alone get to write it, and everyone else around me is a bit player that I will write as I choose, to flesh out or to kill in glorious fashion.
The next stop for me is in England, it would seem. This hasn’t been explicitly given to me by him or told to me in any way, of course, but I have been reading between the lines. I’ve never been there myself, but I’ve heard it described by others, the only way that has been afforded me, by reading as much as I possibly can.
England is not the jeweled isle of Shakespeare’s much-quoted message, nor is it the inferno depicted by Dr. Goebbels. More than either it resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with skeletons. It has rich relations who have to be kowtowed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon, and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the source of the family income. It is a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family. It has its private language and its common memories, and at the approach of an enemy, it closes its ranks. A family with the wrong members in control – that, perhaps is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.
A family, is that what is being built around me?
No. I am useful so long as I am effective. I’m no fool. But I enjoy this work. It’s the first work I’ve been tasked with beyond arts and crafts or meaningless drudgery in my cell in some time.
Still, I know that meaninglessness still awaits me in the end. It’s only a matter of time. I’m not this way because I’m an optimist or pessimist. I’m a realist, intelligent beyond my station, enough to cipher the truth.
My hatred for all is so intense that it extinguished the very love from which it was conceived. And thus, by effort and choice, I ceased to feel. There is nothing further in which to believe that makes the prospect of feeling worthwhile. Daily I have woken up and cast my sullen eyes upon the gray walls of my prison and I would say to myself with a hint of regret at my hitherto lack of indifference, “All a dim illusion, wasn’t it? Surely it was foolish of me to think any of this had meaning.” I had been afforded tools of art and sketched out representations of blue skies and open fields, and then I would spend hours staring at those skies, wondering how best to pass the time if everything – even the sky itself – were for naught.
I arrived at the conclusion that there is no best way to pass the time. The only way to deal with the illusion of time is to endure it, knowing full well, all the while, that one was truly enduring nothing at all. Unfortunately for me, this nihilistic resolution to dispassion doesn’t suit me very well, and I became extremely bored.
My anger took many shapes: sometimes soft and familiar, like a round stone I had caressed for so long that it was perfectly smooth and polished; sometimes it was thin and sharp like a blade that could slice through anything; sometimes it had the form of a star, radiating my hatred in all directions, leaving me numb and empty inside.
But my suffering, you’ll be surprised to know, has freed me more than ever. Faced now with the choice between further boredom and further suffering, I’ve impatiently chosen the latter, with pleasure.
They say when someone is good at something, they are best served to share their expertise with the world. Suffering is all I know. I intend to become a very good teacher.
“You know what I think? That people’s memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn’t matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They’re all just fuel. Advertising fliers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of one-thousand-dollar bills: when you feed them to the fire, they’re all just paper. The fire isn’t thinking ‘Oh, this is Kant,’ or ‘Oh, this is the Yomiuri evening edition,’ or ‘Nice tits,’ while it burns. To the fire, they’re nothing but scraps of paper. It’s the exact same thing. Important memories, not-so-important memories, totally useless memories: there’s no distinction – they’re all just fuel.” – Haruki Murakami
I…. remember you.
You, David Noble, I know your face. You don’t know mind, most assuredly. But I remember you. I remember I was sixteen years old, attending a live wrestling show in Florida, and you were there. You had a six-man match that night. Some names, Nova, Cameron Cruise, others that no one here gives a flying fuck about – they were in that match with you, and I sat in the upper deck, tickets bought with money I had stolen, and I watched.
I remember your strengths, your weaknesses.
Are you still prone to anger, David? Are your buttons still so easily pushed? If I poke and prod you enough, will I find the one soft spot that sends you into a blind rage? Wrath, it seems, is something we both have in common, though we are fueled by entirely different things. Strangely your path has wound its way around and brought you here, with me. How lovely. I suppose you’d like to have a clean slate. Take the eraser and wipe the board clean.
But I remember.
Are you still proud of your “Southern Heritage”, so proudly defending it in DEFIANCE of authority?
Can you still feel the anger welling up inside you when you think of your interactions with Eric Dane, his own overt wrath belittling you and manipulating you into a pawn of his own choosing, then, crossing the line? And you, angry, taking your ball and going home.
Do you remember?
Waiting for the world to change, as John Mayer once said, David Noble, with the patience of a saint.
These things come and go, of course, and as surely as the sun rises, what goes around comes around. It is a universal truth and one you cannot avoid. Fate has brought you to me for a reason, you know.
Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.
It is never fair. You are caught in a current much stronger than you are; struggle against it and you’ll drown not just yourself but those who try to save you. Swim with it and you’ll survive.
Swim, swim, swim.
Today, your fate leads you to me. It seems you are not one of the fortunate ones in fate’s eyes. Not you, you of the brand new start but old name. I am no one to be trifled with, I assure you. This is not the best possible option for you to ‘begin’ your career in HOW.
There is a faltering scream or something that sounds like a scream. There is a sound that I cannot or have never been able to identify: a sound that’s not human or is more than human, the sound of lives being extinguished but also the sound of material things breaking. It’s the sound of things falling from up high, an interrupted and somehow also eternal sound, a sound that didn’t ever end, that keeps ringing in my head from that first day and still shows no sign of wanting to leave it, that is forever suspended in my memory, hanging in it like a towel on a hook. It is the sound of human suffering, and it is what has taken over my mind for good. Or is it for my own good? I forget.
Death, eventually, will be the ultimate release that I am looking forward to. I am prepared to meet my creator if he exists, and I know for certain that they are most definitely not prepared to deal with me.
You, you and those like you, you trained me for this. It’s your own fault. You helped make your own doom, and you didn’t even know you were doing it.
But somewhere along the line, my own fate twisted away into something else, something you wouldn’t understand. All normal expectations went by the board and my daily habits were disrupted by a sense of ever-spreading all-consuming chaos which rendered the future unpredictable, the past unrecallable, and ordinary life so haphazard that people simply assumed that whatever could be imagined might come to pass, that if there was only one door in a building it would no longer open, that wheat would grow head downwards into the earth and not out of it, and that, since one could only note the symptoms of disintegration, the reasons for it remaining unfathomable and inconceivably, there is nothing that I can do except to get a tenacious grip on anything that is still tangible.
When you can no longer differentiate between the insanity spewed out onto the blank page, and the madness evident in the all but shattered mirror, that’s when you know you’re doing it right.
You most likely think this is a simple litmus test for you. Throw you into the deep end, as they say. Maybe this will springboard you upward and onward to some measure of redemption. But I have not brought you the challenge to something better. I have doomed you to something worse.
You see, I am an inevitability, David Noble; an inevitability that is unprepared for. You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming, nor can you stop me from fulfilling my purpose in the end.
You are about to be reborn into the knowledge of death; and the inescapability of change, of things never the same, of no way back, makes you afraid. When you lose the past you’re naked in front of the angel of death. Hold on if you can. Cling to yesterdays. Leave your nail marks in the gray slope as you slide.
You haven’t got for yourself the clean slate you want, not as long as people live who know your past. Like me, you weren’t picky about who got hurt. Still aren’t. So before you even do it, don’t preach at us like you’re some kind of saint. You’re just another sinner.
This is your life as it is today. Life happens whether you’re in it or not, but death doesn’t give you a choice.
I am not giving you a choice.
The world you once knew is no more for you.