Chapter 3 – Welcome to My World
“So,” began the military psychologist during the last of our weekly sessions before my untimely discharge from the US Air Force, “are you happy to finally be getting out of here?”
“Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s been a rough couple months sitting around here in purgatory, sweeping and mopping floors, waiting for the paperwork to go through. Can’t wait to go home. But at the same time…”
“At the same time I’m kinda pissed off because people I know I’m smarter than are gonna successfully make it through this course and be fluent in Arabic. And that hurts my ego. Like, I don’t even give a fuck about studying the language anymore. I’d been telling people that I wanna go to Jordan or back to Lebanon to keep up with my studies, but the more I think about it I don’t know if I really wanna do that. Unlike Spanish, I don’t have any practical use for it. But still. It fuckin’ kills me to see how much everyone’s progressing in class. It’s like…picture this. I entered into this marriage with the Air Force with the best of intentions. But as sometimes happens in marriages, things didn’t work out for unforeseeable reasons. But while we’re waiting for the divorce to become official, my wife and I are still cohabitating. Emotionally, she’s moved on. Or perhaps more accurately, she was never emotionally invested in the first place. She just chewed me up and spit me back out, never giving a shit if any of my needs were getting met. It always felt like she would just take, take, take and nothing I did was ever good enough for her. And even though I don’t want anything to do with this controlling bitch, I still haven’t been able to move on. Because I miss the validation I used to get from her, being at the top of my Arabic class. And so what it’s felt like being here the past couple months is as if I’m this limp-dick fuckin’ loser who can’t please his wife, standing in the corner of my bedroom getting cuckolded, watching guy after guy come in with their nice big strong stiff young dicks, fucking the shit out of her and making her cum in ways that I never could. It’s absolute fucking torture.”
“That’s quite the vivid description,” he chuckled.
“Yeah, well, I’m glad you got a laugh out of it. It always pleases me when I’m able to take my suffering and turn it into something of entertainment value for others.”
“You know, to be honest, Tim, during the first couple sessions I had – and sometimes still do have – a pretty hard time telling if you’re being authentic with me or coming in here and messing around with me, putting on a show or…”
“Well, that’s because it’s really quite difficult for me to trust anyone…especially you. Especially a mental health care professional employed by the government.”
“Is that right?”
“Oh yeah. I don’t trust anybody,” I said. “So yeah, a lot of my interactions with people are more or less just a perception-controlling performance. I think I’m pretty good at reading people and situations and using that info to judge what’s expected of me. Like, if I’ve decided for whatever reason that I want you to like me or I want you to do something for me or that I need to fit in to a certain place to get by, I’m like a fuckin’ chameleon. I’ll give up everything that’s important to me to mold myself to your expectations just so I can get your approval. I mean, that’s what I did here. And who’d have guessed it? I seemed like the real deal. I was an honor grad and an element leader at BMT, as a 30-year-old I had the second-fastest run time in my flight, blowing past guys ten years younger than me out on the track, I had zero disciplinary infractions and an A in my Arabic class up until the day I quit. I seemed like an ideal airman. That’s why it was such a surprise to everyone. No one saw it coming. Because nobody has any idea what’s going on inside my head. Well, I mean, no one can say for sure what’s going on inside anyone else’s head, but most of the time I think it’s safe to assume that their outer-behavior is more or less a reflection of their inner-experience. That’s not the case with me. I’m fuckin’ full o’ shit. Well, that’s a lie. I’m not full o’ shit. What I do show you of myself is truly me, but it’s not the whole story. I just told you what you needed to know to recommend my discharge. I told you that I’d had enough of the military and that I wanted out because I’d been waking up every morning for several weeks with the impulse to put my fist through the bathroom mirror and use the shards to cut myself and then smear my blood all over the white walls of my dormitory. That’s the truth, yeah. But it’s not the whole truth. Because something like that, I’m sure you as a long-time mental health professional know, is just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Why do you think you feel the need to keep things hidden?”
“Because I’m just unacceptable the way I naturally am. No one would ever look at me the same or wanna be around me if I talked about the way my brain actually functions. It took many years for me to openly discuss the way things were in my childhood home with all the drinking and the bullshit, but it’s still just really counterintuitive for me to open up to you about what goes on in my mind all day.”
I stared at the floor for a few seconds.
“I have a question for you,” I said, looking back up at him.
“Did you really stick that bag of hash up your ass while going across the border from Spain to Morocco back in the early seventies or is that just some sort of tactic you employ to get walled-up people like me to feel comfortable enough to start talking?”
“No Tim, it’s not a tactic.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, of course. That actually happened. As I told you I was working in a lab at the time. And I’d step out back and smoke a joint in the middle of my shift then come back in and do my job stoned while listening to The 5th Dimension. That’s just who I was back then, almost fifty years ago already. Seems like yesterday.”
“Oh yeah? The 5th Dimension? You were lettin’ the sunshine in?”
“I’m surprised you know that song.”
“Yeah, I’m a walking anachronism. That sixties shit is what I grew up on,” I said. “So…what made you wanna become a psychologist?”
“I find the human mind fascinating. And I wanna help people. And the military was gonna pay for all my schooling, so…” he shrugged.
“Fair enough. I find psychology really fascinating too.”
We sat for a moment in silence.
“Even though all this shit eats me alive from the inside,” I began, “I like keeping things hidden because…because the truth is that I don’t wanna give you that power over me.”
He laughed as I stared blankly back at him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s funny – I wasn’t expecting you to say that about the power. Most patients would never admit to anything like that.”
“Well, what the fuck? I mean, it’s the truth. It’s a power that I’m conceding to you, ya know? I hold the upper hand when I control your perception of me – listening intently to everything you say so I have information I can use to gauge what type of person you are, build rapport with you, make you laugh, earn your trust and make you think I’m a nice guy and perfectly sane or whatever the fuck. I don’t like showing you or anyone else who I really am because I’m making myself vulnerable and that’s fucking dangerous.”
“Why do you think it’s dangerous?”
“It’s dangerous because you could use the things I tell you to destroy me. Given that I match basically all the criteria, if I told you the whole story you could easily diagnose me with borderline personality disorder and – although I might not disagree with the assessment – I’m terrified of the implications such a label would have on me and the say I have in my own life. Because you could insist I be put on a bunch of shitty medications that will turn my brain to mush the way they did to my father. Like, psychiatrists and pharmaceutical companies don’t give a shit whose head they permanently fuck up as long as they get paid. But just because you’re a doctor and you said I should be on said shitty medications, everyone in my life will start to doubt my ability to care for myself and judge me if I don’t adhere to your recommendation to be a drugged-out zombie, saying shit like, ‘Tim’s off his meds again. He really should be on them. Why don’t you just try them, Tim? It couldn’t hurt. He’s a doctor. He knows what he’s doing. He wants to help you.’ And since I won’t be getting quote unquote ‘better’ because there’s no cure for the way loony bin borderline fucks like me experience the world – this bouncing-all-over-the-place emotional pinballing is a fundamental part of who I am – I’ll grow weary of the nagging and give in to all the external pressure. And over time, with this shit permanently altering the chemical structure of my brain, I’ll lose touch with who I naturally am and lose all confidence in myself as well as my ability to make decisions while becoming more dependent on you and the drugs and the opinions of everyone around me and I’ll pretty much be sacrificing all agency I have in my own life. And that’s not something that I’m willing to give up. Because four years ago I was tied to a bed at the wrists and ankles and brought to a hospital where they threatened to commit me after I’d gotten picked off the street by paramedics for staggering around drunk in public and learned the hard way that having my freedom taken away by people and institutions who don’t give a shit is my worst fucking nightmare.
“And like, I’m already feeling emotionally dependent on you and that’s not good. Tuesday on I can’t wait for the following Monday to roll around so I can come in and get my weekly dosage of validation and reassurance from you, letting me know that I’m okay and I deserve to be alive. This is the same sort of dependence I have to deal with every time I develop feelings for a woman. I don’t wanna be this person. I don’t wanna be this weak-ass needy bitch. I fucking hate it. It’s pathetic. I hate being emotionally dependent on other people. And substances. Which is why I quit drinking and drugging. And which is also why I don’t want any meds. There is no panacea in pill form for the infinite complexities of the human mind. You’re just sweeping the problem under the rug. That shit is nothing more than an instrument of control. It’s a tool used to rob me of my individuality, to break my spirit and to get me to conform to a society that doesn’t work for me but at the same time demands that I work to serve the function of it. I don’t wanna live in A Brave New World and I don’t want any of your fucking soma. I’m the only person I trust in the world. I’m the only person I can truly depend on to look out for my best interests. You feel me? Do you understand what I’m saying?”
“Like I said, I showed you what I needed to show you to get out that shitty fuckin’ six-year contract I was stupid enough to sign up for. Because you’re the one who has the power to decide I’m mentally unfit to serve and recommend to my leadership I be discharged. Because everyone over at the squadron was trying to either browbeat or shame me into sticking around and I ain’t havin’ it. I ain’t no fuckin’ martyr. I’m not sacrificing myself and living without having my needs met all for the all-important needs of the Air Force. Fuck that. Because – if I’m gonna take off the mask and give you some no-holds-barred honesty here – you know who comes first?” I put my right index finger to my sternum. “I do. My mental health. My happiness. Me. Then my family. Then my friends. Fuck everything else. Maybe I’d put my family before myself if it was a life or death situation. I don’t know. But that’s beside the point. This shit is hard to say because I know you served and I know how highly you regard the military and I always wanna stay on the good side of the people I’ve become emotionally dependent on so I can continue milking you for validation, but I don’t give a fuck about this contract or having raised my right hand and sworn in. That shit means nothing to me. But if I was still putting on a show for you, I would never say that. I would never ever ever admit to that. Because that’s not the right answer. I know the right answer. I’ll spout it off for you. I’ll stand tall and proud and throw my shoulders back and say that we need the military because it’s the dividing line between order and chaos. I’ll make you believe I’m a good citizen and a good person. I know how to blend in. But deep down, I don’t feel any of those things in my heart. I just don’t give a shit.
“Like, take September 11th for example. ‘Never forget! Never forget!’ Fuck you. Shut the fuck up. I’m so fuckin’ sick of that shit. Every September 11th the media pumps a bunch of bullshit down our throats about this event that happened more than fifteen years ago. And to avoid getting punched in the face or spit on, I’ll outwardly agree that 9/11 was a great American tragedy instead saying how I really feel – saying instead of it being a uniquely American tragedy, I think 9/11 is more of a human tragedy. If I was being honest, I’d say that people get blown up all around the world on a daily basis over ‘us vs. them’ ideological bullshit and no one gives a damn but the deaths of this particular group of people who were unfortunate enough to have gotten caught in the crossfire between American capitalism and Islamic fundamentalism are being brought up annually for no reason other than provoking fear and a lust for vengeance and shaming me if I don’t ‘support the troops’ which is a slogan that isn’t really about the troops at all, but rather just a shady underhanded way of guilting me into supporting wars in countries I don’t think America has any business in.
“I’ll never say to your face how much humanity disgusts me. I’ll never let you know how depressed I get thinking about the fact that we as a race can’t maintain peace without the looming threat of total annihilation at the hands of our adversaries – that we’re all so fucking arrogant as to think that our way is the right way of living and we’d all rather wipe the enemy off the map than to accept and respect our differences. I mean, I get it. I get that it’s a necessary evil. I get that we couldn’t have any of what we have without the military to defend it. And I mean, don’t get me wrong – I love people. But at the same time I just think that the human race kinda sucks. And like, I never wanted anything to do with this shit. I think it’s all so diseased. I’m not a military man. Yet every day when I enjoy the luxury of walking down the block without stepping on landmines or getting kidnapped by lawless packs of bandits, I enjoy the freedom provided by the military. So what type of freeloading hypocrite piece of shit does that make me?”
“It doesn’t make you a hypocrite at all, Tim. Just because you recognize that having a strong military is a necessary part of maintaining a functional society doesn’t imply that you have to be part of it. Not everyone in America needs to be a warrior.”
“Yeah, I know. I know we don’t live in ancient Sparta.”
“That’s right. This isn’t the movie 300,” he said. “You have the freedom to do whatever you want.”
“Yeah, I know. I understand that on a rational, intellectual level. But I just feel guilty and ashamed of myself all the time and feel like I’m not worthy of anything and try to make up for it by sacrificing myself, doing a bunch of shit I don’t really wanna do. And as far as doing whatever I want goes…I don’t want anything. That’s the problem. I feel like I’ve tried so many different things and like, I just don’t give a shit. I don’t know where to go from here. I’m just really fucking tired. I feel like I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to do within the parameters allowed by human limitation. Like, right now at this point in my life, I just feel like I’m falling and I’m grasping at whatever I can to hold on for a taste of something that doesn’t exist – like transcendence to an entirely new form of being, if that makes any sense to you. Like, something beyond this. The mind’s full liberation of all earthly woes. Like…I don’t even know what that would be because like I said, it doesn’t exist. I don’t even know what I’m talkin’ about here. That’s just the poison of Catholicism bleeding outta me, still wishing I had heaven to believe in. I dunno. I’m fuckin’ confusing myself.”
“Are you religious, Tim?”
“Nah, nah. I’m not into that sorta stuff.”
“But you were raised Catholic?”
“Yeah, yeah. You?”
“Yeah, me too,” he said. “But even if you’re not a believer, Tim, how do you feel about the teachings of Catholicism?”
“Well, fuck. I dunno. I’m still salty about being told as a kid that it’s my fault some fuckin’ Aramaic-speaking hippie got killed two-thousand years ago. Telling me because I was born bad, this guy had to get nailed to a cross so I’ll have the chance to go to a place that doesn’t exist after I die? I think that’s a really confusing thing to teach children. That’s a lot of guilt to deal with.”
“Yep. Guilt pain shame. Guilt pain shame. There’s definitely a lot of that,” he said. “The grammar school that I attended back in Hawaii when I was a kid was called Our Lady of Sorrows and there were images everywhere of Mary crying over the death of Jesus. So, with things like that everywhere I looked reminding me what an awful sinner I am, I definitely understand where you’re coming from.”
“Yeah. See, that’s fuckin’ sick. That’s sick and so is telling me there’s some invisible guy in the sky watching me all the time even when I take a shit and jack off. That’s probably why I’m so fuckin’ paranoid.”
“Yeah, that’s a possibility,” he said. “But aside from that stuff, what do you think of ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ and other teachings like that?”
“I mean, that’s a good standard to live by. And there are plenty other similar messages littered throughout the catechism which keep people from doing bad shit. And so…”
“…and so in that respect I think Christianity is a fantastically incomparable tool for control.”
“Yeah, like, for keeping the herd in line, ya know? It’s a moral code that’s systematically ingrained in young minds that’s more effective than the law at keeping the population from acting a fool because, unlike the law, there’s so much emotion tied into it. The weapons of guilt and shame are powerful leverage to deter you from misbehaving because those feelings are tied to ostracism, being an outcast, being left behind by the group to fend for yourself. And like, the way our brains have been formed from a million years of existing as nomadic hunter gatherers before the dawn of civilization – we’re all hardwired to avoid those feelings at all cost. Because back in those days, being cast out of your clan meant certain death. No one could make it on their own in the wild fighting off sabretooth tigers and whatever the fuck else to survive. You needed your clan at your back to help you take on that shit and fight other clans and get food and water and make clothes and whatever else. And so, if we’ve been properly indoctrinated, if the actions and behaviors deemed immoral by the church have been successfully associated in your mind with the feelings of guilt and shame, we’ll do whatever the group says in order to stay part of it and avoid those feelings because on a subconscious level, we feel like we’ll die if we don’t.”
“Hmm. That’s pretty interesting.”
“Oh hell yeah, I think so. I think it’s the most interesting shit in the world. It’s why Nietzsche was so concerned about God being ‘dead.’ Because if people stopped believing in God, then they’d have no usage for Christianity in its entirety and if people tossed out Christianity then they certainly wouldn’t have any reason to keep going to and sending their children to the churches and schools where, in them, this prepackaged set of moral values would be instilled. And so if people failed to believe in the divine order as dictated by Christianity and if we didn’t have the aforementioned set of universally accepted values that we thought we needed to live up to to get us to heaven which was a place widely viewed as far superior to our earthly existence – ahem, incentive; the proverbial carrot dangled in front of the donkey’s face – Nietzsche proposed it’d create a moral vacuum which he feared would cause humanity to fall into nihilistic despair. And I know what he’s talking about. Because I feel that despair very deeply. But he also said that from this despair we have the opportunity to rise above nihilism by creating our own unique set of moral standards motivated by a love of this world – not some bullshit imaginary one sold to us by Christian doctrine – as well as our lives in it. Along these same lines of finding something meaningful to fill the existential void – and it’s probably pretty reckless to be quoting this guy in a government scenario but I’m gonna do it anyway. Have you ever read the essay entitled ‘Industrial Society and Its Future’ by Ted Kaczynski – the fuckin’ Unabomber’s manifesto?”
He indicated that he had not.
“Okay. Well, even if I agree with a lot of what he says, I just wanna make it known that I don’t condone the means he used to get his message heard by the public. There’s really no excuse for blowing up innocent people. I think he’s an asshole for what he did. And I also think he’s a fool for believing he could make a difference in the world, thinking that he could stop the industrial machine by getting his ideas published in a national paper. The beast has a life of its own. There’s really nothing you can do to stop it. I mean, I don’t like it either. I don’t like the direction we’re heading with all this technology and robotronic bullshit and everyone getting spied on and having data collected about them every minute of every day. It’s horrifying. It’s a bastardization of our essence as human beings. And like – fuck Facebook, man. I got rid of my personal account on there like six or seven years ago and haven’t looked back. That shit promotes connection but for me never bred anything but insecurity and isolation. I’d find myself looking at the profiles of people I hadn’t seen or spoken to in years – and had no intention of reconnecting with – just to see what they were up to and how they’ve aged and comparing myself to them and it made me feel like the digital equivalent of a peeping tom. I felt no better than some creep in the bushes outside your house with a pair of binoculars, masturbating at you while you change clothes. It just felt wrong and I had to get rid of it. And like, sure, I like my cell phone and being able to communicate with my family from anywhere in the world and having instant access to a seemingly limitless stream of information in the palm of my hand – it’s an undeniably powerful feeling – but how far is too far? Where do we draw the line? I’m legitimately very scared and I’m glad I’m gonna be dead before this shit gets out of control in the years to come as I’m certain it will.
“That said, at the same time it’s like, sorry Ted. I know you meant well with your manifesto and all, but no one’s gonna give up their comfortable modern lives to go live in a shack in the fucking Montana wilderness and eat wild rabbits and take baths in the ice-cold river with you, you fucking lunatic. Like, if that’s what you believe is the right way to live and that’s the way you wanna spend your life, go right ahead. But like, blowing up people trying to convince the world to stop from progressing is impractical and totally fucking ignorant in my opinion. Nevertheless, I think this ignorant asshole made some good fucking points in his writings. Hold on, I got a screenshot on my phone about one of the ideas I think he nailed. Here it is, as summed up on Reddit by some anonymous jerk-off whose account has been deleted. It goes…
“‘For the bulk of our existence the primary goal of humans was sheer survival. Now, with the advent of modern technology, survival is trivial. Thus, modern man is deprived of his natural, purpose-creating struggle. Accordingly, we must find replacement activities (surrogates) in order to obtain the achievement necessary for personal fulfillment. The method by which we accomplish these activities can be referred to as ‘the power process.’ The power process can be summarized into three basic elements: goal, effort and achievement. While engaging in and completing the process creates purpose and value, determining what goals one will have in the process defines who we are as people. In addition to the three basic elements is the concept of autonomy. In order to have true fulfillment one must achieve their goals through relatively autonomous means. Without autonomy, a successful completion of the power process may feel more like indentured servitude rather than personal achievement.’
“Alright so…I used to tell myself that my purpose on earth, my ‘why,’ my ‘goal,’ my whatever the fuck you wanna call it was to try and have the widest range of experiences humanly possible – to see reality from as many different perspectives as I can which, in a world that lacks understanding and empathy, I thought was like, the most noble of causes. Because, even though a lot of people will try to convince or even brainwash you into believing that their way is the way – that their beliefs trump everyone else’s – there is no one right way of living. And so for the past eight years, I worked my ass off and spent every penny earned – every penny earned that didn’t go towards repaying fifty K worth of student loans, that is – living up to that value, traveling around and trying out different stuff. I’ve met folks from all walks of life and have seen and done a bunch of shit that most people, in the span of ten lifetimes over, wouldn’t be able to or just plain old wouldn’t have the balls to leave everything behind to go see and do. It’s been amazing. But like, even though I have this clearly expressed purpose and even though I love going out and adventuring and meeting people and getting into fucked up shit in different countries, I am still so fucking lost. I can’t reconcile myself to the fact that any sense of security I feel is just an illusion and that I will one day die and that’s just it. That’s the end of it. I know I should take this knowledge and be grateful for what I do have instead of fretting over my mortality, but I can’t help it. And it’s so fuckin’ demoralizing. Anything I do, anywhere I go seems like no more than an aimless drift. Everything feels like nothing matters. I just can’t make sense of my existence and it’s so fucking exhausting.
“The only place that makes sense to me – the only context in which I’ve ever felt I belong – is the dysfunction I grew up in which is why I always end up going back there. I’ve tried to avoid saying it for so many years because I thought I could run away from the fact that I’m this emotionally-stunted, needy-ass child in a man’s body who doesn’t ever wanna move out of his parents’ house, but it’s true – there is my home. Sometimes I want nothing more than to kick back and watch stupid shows like ‘Flip or Flop’ on HGTV with my mom and sister. Sometimes I just wanna laugh about immature shit with my brother. Living there and eating my mom’s meals for free and being able to come back and jump right back into working with my dad and saving up a bunch of cash that I can use to go wherever I want in the world to do whatever I feel like trying out is the closest thing I’ll ever experience in this life to true freedom. In that respect, it’s great and I love it and I’d choose that option any day over having a place of my own. But the shame of being a 30-year-old loser who lives at his parents’ house five months a year while still struggling with lingering emotions from my childhood while all my contemporaries have been out in the quote unquote ‘real world,’ paving their own way for close to a decade now is unbearable. I feel like friends are judging me and are sick of my shit because I keep going back to a place where I’ll inevitably get my feelings hurt to the point of suicidal panic which is when I feel the need to reach out and use them as outlets to rant and rave at. I’m sure it’s super annoying. And I’m sure they all wish I’d just move out so they’d stop getting those sorts of texts when I lose control of my emotions but, as was proven pretty much any time I’ve ever left home, the truth is that it’s going to happen anywhere I am because my emotional system is broken and it’s just part of who I am and I’m so fucking ashamed of myself because of it.
“I’m so fucking ashamed of never having found a place I fit in, never having found anywhere I belong. I don’t know why those things bother me so much because at the same time, I don’t wanna belong anywhere. I love doing my own thing and standing out and not being labeled or associating myself with any groups or causes or movements or even any romantic partners because I think everyone in the world except for me is a complete fucking idiot. But somewhere along the line, I just reached a point where I felt so rejected by society that, like, I felt the need to compensate for that by signing my life away to the military so I could project this image of myself to the world as someone that really cares about doing his part to contribute to the common good or some ridiculous shit like that. And that way, maybe I’d feel like less of a misfit and I could use my identity as an airman to trick a woman into loving me and having my kids. I don’t know. It’s all so fucking pathetic. I sold myself out, ya know? I sold my fuckin’ soul joining the military. I mean, I don’t wanna learn a fucking language for the sole purpose of spying on people. There’s enough of that in the world already. Like, I wanna use language to connect with people, not to further widen the chasm between us. That’s not what I’m about. And I hate authority and conforming and all that shit. I don’t know what I was thinking.”
“So, in all of what you just said – which was a lot of things, many of which I’d like to address – one thing stood out. You mentioned tricking a woman into loving you and having your kids. Am I to understand that you want a family of your own? Is that one of your goals in life?”
“I don’t think so. I mean, sometimes I think I really want a family, but not because I actually want a family, ya know? It’s more of an egotistical thing. I feel like I want kids not because I’d enjoy watching these unique individuals grow up and flower into responsible, autonomous adults under my loving care and guidance, but more so because I see my potential offspring as extensions of myself that will live on after I’m dead. Like a way of achieving immortality or something. And they’d have to look like me. So, I’d have to find a partner that has more or less the same racial background as me which poses a problem because generally I’m not sexually attracted to white women. I grew up in the days before internet pornography and the closest thing I had to it was the Spanish channel where there were always sexy Latinas dancing around in bikinis on shows like Descontrol or on telenovelas with their tits hanging out of scandalously low-cut dresses and, from those early days in my masturbatory career, that sorta look is what I’d subconsciously conditioned myself to find most sexually attractive. But at the same time, I don’t know if I’d really wanna procreate with a Latina because I think we’d make a weird-looking kid, ya know? These women are beautiful in their own right but if you take their facial features and mix them up with mine the way they do with those celebrity mash-up photos, I think our kid would end up looking like a fucking Picasso painting. And I couldn’t love an ugly kid. I’d probably neglect ‘em. And they’d grow up resenting me and thinking I’m an asshole and they’d turn out just as fucked up as I am, unable to function in society and it’s like, ‘I dunno, do I really wanna do that to another person?’ So to have a family I’d probably have to find someone with reddish hair and light eyes and pretend I love her for a few years and marry her then after I’ve used her up and she’s given me the kids I want out of her, I’d probably go back to Colombia and cheat on her with a bunch of saucy-ass morenas who can move their hips like Shakira while bouncing up and down on my stupid, totally-average-sized white man dick. So, I dunno. Does that make me a racist? Wanting kids who look like me?”
“No Tim, that doesn’t make you a racist.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, of course I’m sure. Everyone’s allowed to have their own preferences.”
“You say that…but are we though? Are we really? It doesn’t feel that way in this day and age. I’m terrified to voice my opinion on anything. And along those same lines, I don’t even feel like I’m allowed to admit that I struggle with mental health issues. You know why? No? You don’t know why? You didn’t know that privileged white heterosexual males in patriarchal racist societies who’ve been given every opportunity in the world to be happy and succeed don’t have the right to be depressed? You didn’t know that? Because I mean, that’s the message I feel I’m being sent in this society on a daily basis. I feel like there’s so much shame being cast upon me and I don’t know what I ever did to deserve it. I’m scared. I’m so fucking scared of being who I am. Because I always feel like someone – I dunno – some ultra-conservative reactionary freaks who don’t like my anti-establishment, hippie-ish, non-religious, non-votin’, do-whatever-I-want travel lifestyle are gonna peg me as an anarchist and have me locked up or some power-hungry wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing social justice warriors are gonna accuse me of being racist and sexist and intolerant.
“Like, take this for example. I’ve literally lost a bunch of sleep thinking about this. And I’m absolutely terrified of talking about it because the conclusion I’ve arrived at doesn’t match what social justice warriors demand of me. I mean, these people are dangerous extremists who would literally kill me if they had the chance just for voicing my opinion. And I felt the same fear when I decided to discuss how – since I grew up in a really racist neighborhood and I like to think I have a pretty solid understanding of how this shit works – how racism propagates from generation to generation in a piece I wrote called “Chapter 11 – White Guilt” that I wrote four years ago as part of my book “Life of a Manchild.” I thought it was an important piece to write because you can’t really combat racism and make positive changes in the world if you don’t have an inside look at it and know how it spreads.
“Like, it’s spread through the intergenerational perpetuation of what’d once upon a time been considered societally-accepted ignorance and it’s stopped by education and awareness on a personal level. And sometimes the enlightenment of people who’d been taught as kids to think in a way that’s now been deemed societally unacceptable takes a while. It’s not an overnight thing. It requires patience. It’s not stopped by bullying and intimidation at the hands of large angry sign-waving victimization-perpetuating social justice mobs. Telling someone they’re bad for believing something they were taught to be a fundamental truth back when they were impressionable children who didn’t know any better makes them feel like they’re being attacked and instills fear. And when someone’s fearful of being attacked…like, picture it in the physical realm. If someone’s coming at you with a knife, are you gonna stop and say, ‘You know what, I was gonna fight back or run away but I think I’m gonna try to keep an open mind here and see this thing from my attacker’s point of view’? No one’s gonna do that because it’s a matter of self-preservation. You’d get yourself killed if you adopted that sort of attitude. The fight or flight response is hardwired into us. And so on an emotional level, since these vitriolic social justice warrior types get so much airtime on TV and in the papers and on social media, I feel like the same thing is happening to a lot of people who are ‘stuck in their old ways.’ On an emotional level, to avoid feeing like they’re going to get killed for thinking in a way they didn’t choose to think, quote unquote ‘ignorant people’ who grew up in all-white neighborhoods and attended all-white schools who never had the opportunity to interact with people of different races or cultures thus normalizing them at a time in their lives when their worldviews were being formed feel the need to fight back or run away when confronted in a hostile manner about polarizing issues such as racism.
“That’s the conclusion I’ve arrived at. And I wanted the world to know that. So I posted it on Reddit and in spite of my good intentions, the few people who came across the piece and decided to comment on it had been online SJWs who turned it into something personal against me, saying stuff like, ‘If you know the neighborhood you grew up in is racist, then why do you still live there? Why do you still associate yourself with people you know are racist? What’s wrong with you, huh?’ And it made me feel so very small and insignificant. It made me feel really stupid. It made me feel like the worst person in the world who’s not worthy of having a voice. And so I deleted the post on Reddit and never told that to anyone. Because I’m ashamed of feeling ashamed for getting shamed for trying to tell my story. Anyway, hold on. Gimme a second. I took the time to do some research and to write this out clearly. Let me pull out my phone again and check my notes so I don’t butcher this shit right here.
“Okay so…as you know, in the Air Force during basic training, we’re taught that we need to refer to everyone as either ‘sir’ or ‘maam’ which I think is fucking stupid but that’s an entirely different issue. What I wanna talk about is that here at the Defense Language Institute is this airman who is transsexual. And this trans person has a female phenotype but identifies as male and prefers we refer to them as ‘sir.’ And I don’t know how to be honest about it without coming across as an insensitive asshole, but it’s the absolute truth that I dug out from the very depths of who I am. I just don’t wanna do it. I never verbalized my opposition or anything because I’m not a dickhead like that, but I don’t wanna call this person ‘sir.’ I’m by no means suggesting that everyone should boycott this person’s request to be referred to as ‘sir,’ it’s just that I personally don’t wanna do it. It fucks with the very foundation of the way I understand reality and I think that that’s a dangerous thing to uproot.
“Like, I understand there’s an array of chromosome disorders that leave approximately 1.7% of the population in biological no-man’s land at the time of birth and these people are referred to as ‘intersex’ but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the overwhelming majority of human beings who are born with either XY (male) or XX (female) chromosomes and whose phenotypes, or outward appearances, are almost always – according to societally-held beliefs and stereotypes defining what makes a man a man and what makes a woman a woman, i.e. a penis and a vagina – a reflection of that. I’m not one-hundred percent sure what the case is here with this trans airman because I have the decency to not pry into other people’s personal issues and ask them what sort of genitals they have. As I mentioned however, in spite of the manly haircut, this person has a female phenotype which includes breasts and stereotypically feminine facial features. Moreover, given that the US military is a big bureaucratic monolith that functions under the dictates of the ‘binary system’ which doesn’t formally recognize trans people alongside the fact that this trans person had gone through basic training with an all-female flight, I think it’s safe to assume in this case that the genitals match the phenotype. Okay? You still followin’? Alright, cool.
“Like all other perceptions, the self-concept known as ‘gender identity’ is formulated in the brain and can be summed up as the brain’s interpretation of itself regardless of the male or female designation the meat vehicle it controls happens to have been ‘assigned’ at birth. Thus, one’s gender identity can either result in the alignment with the body one is assigned – these people including myself are referred to as ‘cisgender’ – or it doesn’t and these people are referred to as ‘transgender.’ Gender dysphoria is the distress a transgender person feels as a result of the brain for whatever reason – there is no consensus among the scientific community what causes this phenomenon; psychological, genetic, fundamental difference in brain structure and/or the prenatal exposure to hormones which conflict with one’s biological sex have been cited as reasons but nothing has been proven – arriving at the conclusion that it exists inside a body that doesn’t match the gender it believes itself to be. Whereas there is no known cure for gender dysphoria, the treatments available include psychotherapy and sex reassignment therapy. Psychotherapy for individuals who suffer from gender dysphoria is designed to help transgender people adjust to and cope with the reality of the body in which their brain exists. Those who suffer from particularly extreme, persistent and well-documented cases of gender dysphoria may opt – usually with letters of recommendation from their psychologist as a prerequisite – to pursue sex reassignment therapy. Sex reassignment therapy entails sex reassignment surgery which involves altering the primary sexual characteristics (genitals) as well as hormonal treatment, hair removal and other cosmetic surgeries to modify the secondary sex characteristics (all the other stuff that makes a man a man and a woman a woman) to appear more like those of the gender the individual identifies with. As mentioned, sex reassignment therapy does not ‘cure’ gender dysphoria but is a proven means of helping individuals adapt to the condition and go on to live happier more productive lives.
“Okay, that said, I fucked a trans person in the ass in Mexico City last year. I had a hankerin’ to get my fuck on one evening after dinner and I picked ‘em off the street and I didn’t know it was a trans person until my dick was already in his ass. The tits, the hips, the butt cheeks, the face, the hair – they all looked like those of a chick. I just thought it was a chick that wanted me to ass-fuck her, ya know? Cuz a couple days beforehand I had this chick from Tinder over to my hotel room and even though she had a vagina, she just preferred it in the butt. I’m not the biggest fan of getting shit on my dick, but if that’s what a girl wants, I’m not gonna deny her it. Because what makes me get off the most is knowing that I’m making a chick get off. That’s what I enjoy the most about sex with non-working girls. Being in control of someone else’s pleasure and watching them moan and pant uncontrollably because of something I’m doing to them with my hands or my penis or even a vibrator – but never really my mouth because I’m just not really into that sort of thing – makes me feel powerful. But when I’m with a hooker, it’s all about me. I’ll treat them with basic human respect, yeah. But for all intents and purposes, they are no more than a walking set of holes.
“As such, a couple days later there I am in some rent-by-the-hour shithole hotel room with this fully-clothed hooker on the bed who I got laid out on what I thought had been her back with what I thought had been her head upside down and tilted back, hanging off the side of the bed and I’m there straddling her head and just face-fuckin’ the shit out of her, ramming my dick down her throat the way they do in pornos. And at one point she taps my leg indicating she doesn’t wanna do that anymore and then stands up and pulls down her pants and bends over and guides my dick into her rectum which I was surprised at but didn’t think anything of it. I just made the huge rationalization that maybe chicks from Mexico City prefer anal sex over vaginal. I dunno. I wasn’t too concerned about it. I was too caught up in the moment to care. Then at one point she pulls my dick out and puts it between her legs so my dick could touch what turns out to be his dick and I’m like, ‘Oh shit, is that what I think it is? Oh well. I mean, I’m not sexually attracted to men but since I still need to cum and I already paid and a hole’s a hole, I might as well get my money’s worth here.’ And so I just put my dick back in, gripped the hips and fucked that dude ‘til I blew my load in his ass then peeled off the condom, hopped in the shower and washed all truffle butter off the surrounding area.
“The moral of the story here is that even if this guy I fucked in the ass may consider himself female, it’s nothing more than the very definition of a delusion. Here, lemme look it up…A delusion is defined as ‘an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is firmly maintained despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality or rational argument.’ Okay, there ya go. And so like, the absolute undeniable scientific reality of the situation is that this quote unquote ‘woman’ I fucked has the sex organs of a male. He had a big hard dick between his legs. Bigger than mine, I swear to God. Despite what any social justice warriors may threaten me into referring to this person as, that was not a woman that I fucked and I refuse to refer to him as such. That was a man. What I did is not heterosexual. What I did was gay. It was a homosexual act. I fucked a real-life dude who had artificial tits. It is what it is. I wouldn’t go out of my way to do it again, but at the same time I don’t have a problem with it. I like to think that I’m pretty open-minded. But here’s the crazy part, there’s still people out there who’d call me a closed-minded bigot for refusing to refer to this man as a woman. There’s people out there who’d say that I’m an oppressor for not referring to that female airman as ‘sir.’ This is the world we live in. A world that thinks I’m an intolerant person for calling it like it is.
“Look…my favorite line from the entirety of the Harry Potter series is from the end of the final book when Harry is in a coma after battling Voldemort and had been having a conversation with the then-deceased Dumbledore in his head. As the vision faded and Dumbledore began to disappear into the mist, Harry called out to his friend and mentor saying, ‘Tell me one last thing. Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?’ And Dumbledore replies, ‘Of course it’s happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?’ I think that’s a powerful fucking line. And I bring that up because I would never invalidate a trans person’s experience. What you experience in your head is very real. I understand that. It must be confusing and scary for your spirit to be trapped somewhere it feels it doesn’t belong. And I am truly sorry that you feel that way and suffer because of it. And like, obviously you have every right in the world to think anything you want about yourself. You have every right to alter your body any way you see fit to externalize those self-beliefs if you think it’ll help you cope. You don’t have to behave or dress or act or adhere to any societally constructed gender roles that you don’t want to. Those rights should never be taken away from you. And you should be able to use whatever bathroom you feel like using. It makes no fuckin’ difference to me. Men’s room. Women’s room. This might be extreme but you could even pull your pants down and take a dump in the middle of the street and I wouldn’t be offended by it. Because I’ve personally shit in a pair of shoes, the middle of someone’s phonebook, a microwave – plenty of places. I consider myself a pioneer of shitting and pissing in places society has told me not to. I feel like the world is my personal toilet, so what type of hypocrite would that make me to say that someone can’t expel their waste in the place of their choosing – especially if it’s a sanitary, societally designated place to do so?
“All that said, in the same way that I shouldn’t have to agree that God exists just so my neighbor who believes feels comfortable and secure with their coping mechanism to deal with the cards they were dealt and help ‘em through this challenging journey we call life, I don’t think I should be bullied into taking on, as my own, other people’s delusions that, as I mentioned, threaten the very foundation of what I believe to be objective reality. To me, language is a reflection of that reality. To me and to many if not all English dictionaries, the word ‘sir’ is a respectful or formal term used to address a man. And as had been succinctly put by some kid in the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick Kindergarten Cop, it’s scientifically believed that ‘boys have a penis, girls have a vagina.’ Accordingly, I apply pronouns and words like ‘sir’ and ‘maam’ to refer to any given person based on their biologically ‘assigned sex’ – as a naturalist, I don’t like this term; it implies that nature is capable of making a mistake which I view as a categorical impossibility; your brain is an inextricable part of your body, one cannot exist without the other; like, nature doesn’t have a customer service line in which you can go stand and complain saying that ‘some clumsy jerk in the HR department accidentally assigned my brain the incorrect body, can I have the right one?’ – which is the generally-accepted objective reality of a human being’s essence and not their ‘gender identity’ which is a totally subjective, infinitely varying concept that threatens to undermine the order of all things as scientifically and linguistically understood by man in the twenty-first century.
“So, what this all boils down to is that I don’t wanna play the Marcie to this particular airman’s Peppermint Patty going around referring to them as ‘sir’ all the time because this particular airman is not a ‘sir.’ It’s that simple. I must note that I never referred to this person as ‘maam’ to openly challenge them and the identity they hold of themself because it’s against my principles to impose my beliefs on other people. In personal interactions between me and you, I’ll treat you with as much human dignity as I’d treat anyone else. Like, I have no problem calling you whatever name you wanna be called. If you wanna be called what’s traditionally considered a man’s name, sure – I can get down with that. I’ll call you Steve or John or Bob or Bill. No problem. And when it comes to pronouns, since you don’t wanna be referred to as ‘she,’ even though it feels kind of odd to use in the singular form, I have no problem using ‘they’ when referring to you in the third person in the interest of keeping this shit as neutral as possible. What I won’t do is refer to you as ‘he’ or ‘sir’ because you’re not a man, you never were a man and, in spite of whatever artificial means you may pursue in the future to make your appearance more closely reflect your subjective reality, you never will be a man.
“That’s literally the best I can do without sacrificing any of my own beliefs. And I think that’s pretty fair. But that’s just not enough for some people, ya know? Like, these social justice warriors demand I give up everything just because they said so. And they’re in my head, dude. It feels like gaslighting. It feels like manipulation on a massive scale. It’s the exact same feeling I’d get when I was a kid and we as a family’d express our concern to my dad about his disgusting drunken behavior and he’d tell us that he didn’t have a problem and if we thought he had a problem, then there must be something wrong with us. These people and their uncompromising stances and their fearmongering are causing me to doubt my version of reality. I literally can’t comprehend how I’m oppressing anyone by applying that which I’d been taught in school and by society as a tool to make sense of the world around me, yet at the same time – by the very same society which’d taught me all those things – I’m constantly being made to feel like I’m a horrible person and I should go kill myself for everything I just explained. And I can’t find peace because of it. It’s driving me totally fucking insane.
“And so then I start talking to myself saying, ‘Alright, let’s remove my fear of the social justice warriors from the equation here. Let’s think about trans people themselves and not about the wolves who are using this stigmatized group of people as a means to advance their political agenda and attain power. So, how do I feel now? Well, this gender dysphoria shit sounds pretty awful. Not only can it not be cured, but the best treatment available is the externalization of their delusion in the form of a nature-defying procedure called sex reassignment therapy? Holy shit. And they can’t even do something as routine as going to piss in the bathroom most suitable to their needs without getting stressed out by everyone else’s reaction to their preference? Damn, that sucks. And the only thing I have to do on a personal level to ease this person’s pain is to refer to them by the pronoun of their choice? And like, I don’t even have to believe it when I say it? I don’t have to go to a rally and wave signs around or create a Tumblr account and steadily be posting a bunch of shit supporting their fight to change the indication of sex on their birth certificate or use bathrooms that aren’t a reflection of what’s indicated on their birth certificate? I could say it just to be nice and it’d make them feel like less of a fucking misfit reject in society? And still I refuse to do it? Why? What type of insensitive piece of shit asshole does that make me?’
“Okay, so yeah,” I said, “that’s pretty much all I have written on my phone there.”
“I see,” replied the doc.
“And so, I’ve literally been losing a bunch of sleep over this shit. I’m up at night tossing and turning and sweating profusely, trying to make sense of this situation, trying to find a solution to this puzzle that doesn’t leave me feeling like an insensitive asshole. I’ve been doing more research and in spite of having spent uncountable hours looking all over the internet for something that really clicks, I could find nothing that’d convince me to change my beliefs. The majority of what I come across is not enlightening in any way. It’s usually just a bunch of either SJW propaganda or some feel-good article about a trans person who always knew they were a man in a woman’s body or vice versa coming out about it and being accepted by their family and beginning the process of transitioning. I mean, good for them. But articles like that aren’t really teaching me what I’m looking to be taught. My opinion hasn’t changed and I’m still stuck feeling like an asshole because of it. And I really can’t live with myself feeling like an asshole, feeling like I’m being insensitive to a marginalized group of people. And so at this point, I’m feeling pretty desperate for an answer. So I start reaching out, texting some of my friends, presenting them with all the aforementioned information on my phone, trying to get their opinion on the situation, hoping they might say something that’d change my view on the subject. Some of my friends made interesting points, but in the end had more or less drawn the same conclusion as I had. There was one exception though. The most thoughtful response I received was from a French buddy of mine – this dude who was my roommate in Colombia – who happens to be a scientist. He replied…
“’For the huge majority of people, sex and gender aren’t ambiguous, they can easily be identified. It’s biological, it’s clear and simple. Or is it? Actually there are 5 known ways to identify the biological sex on someone’s body. The anatomic sex, the chromosomal sex, the genetic sex, the hormonal sex, and the gonadic sex. (The anatomic sex corresponds to the shape of the body, the breast, the hair, penis, vagina… The chromosomal sex corresponds to XY or XX chromosomes. The genetic sex corresponds to the presence or absence of the SRY gene which is the gene that determines maleness. The hormonal sex corresponds to the secretion levels of testosterone and estrogen. And the gonadic sex corresponds to the presence of ovaries or testicles). For almost everyone, these 5 indicators agree with each other, and all indicate either male or female. But sometimes, it’s a mess. You can have 2♀ and 3♂; or 4♀ and 1♂, or even an indicator showing both ♂&♀, or neither. How then, do we define sex objectively? Do we arbitrarily choose one indicator and totally ignore the others? This is what is done in most countries, where the sex of an individual is determined by the genitalia at birth. But what if a newborn has a penis (so the anatomical male sex), but the 4 other determining factors indicate female? Is it still a male? Or are we looking at the wrong variable? What I mean is that – how do we precisely set the boundary between male and female? If we consider 99% of people, there are 49.5% male on one side and 49.5% female on the other. However, there is that 1% in between. The boundary is blurred. We cannot choose with the 5 indicators. And on that same note, what if there are more than 5 indicators? What if science has missed 1 or more indicators that are yet to be discovered?
Science does not know everything, and obviously, today, the human mind and consciousness are very far from being scientifically completely understood. It could be possible that the feeling of being a male/female individual is also biological, and belongs to the body as well. It could be some neural network in the brain. I don’t think it’s absurd. Animals of different sexes within the same species also have different behaviours. It’s logical that the sexual behaviour is induced. Let’s call that feeling the psychological sex. In that case, gender would just be a consequence of the psychological sex, right? And now we have 6 indicators.
Now, what if a person has 5♂ indicators and the sixth, the psychological sex, is ♀. The person would have the feeling of being a female trapped in a male body. I know it’s not the same subject as intersex persons, but I don’t think it’s that far. In both cases, the problem is their inability to fit entirely within one of the 2 sex categories. I’m telling you all this because I agree with you when you said that the mind is not independent from the body. I don’t think that there is a soul, which would be like a little ghost trapped within until the body dies. And because of this, I don’t think a person’s soul can be trapped in the body of the opposite gender. Moreover, I don’t think the mind is intrinsically of one or the other gender. (This is different from the psychological sex which is just a feeling). It’s like saying that the mind could have a race, it doesn’t make sense. Sure, experience builds the mind, and the experience of a black man is different from the experience of a white woman. But all this is cultural, the mind is not born with it. These influences come afterwards. Thoughts are not genetically programmed. Little kids don’t care about gender until they’re taught that boys must be boys and girls must be girls. I think it’s difficult for everyone to get used to this. From birth, these ideas of how a boy or a girl should behave has been socially imposed so hard on us in our Christian culture. We grew up in a world where people who were bending those gender rules did not have any voice in the media, or were only shown as a social freak. So it’s only normal now that we don’t feel entirely comfortable. I think it takes some time. And it’s okay to take some time.’”
When I finished reading the text, I set down my phone and looked up at the doctor.
“So,” he said, “did your friend’s explanation help to change your mind?”
“I mean, it definitely helped me to see the issue in a way that’s understandable to me, yeah.”
“And so, have you been able to refer to this particular airman as ‘sir’ the way they prefer to be addressed?”
“No. I mean, I want to…but I still haven’t been able to.”
“How come? What’s holding you back?”
“Well…I don’t wanna be insensitive to anyone, but I still just really struggle with the concept. My friend made a bunch of good points and, like he said, I think it’ll take some time for me to get used to. But for me right now, as I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this new way of thinking, I still have the concept mentally categorized as a delusion. And I’m wary of validating something that I understand to be a delusion.”
“And why is that?”
“Well, to be honest…it’s because I suffer from delusions.”
“Yes, I do. And the underlying theme in all my delusions is that everyone hates me, everyone’s out to get me and everyone thinks I’m a horrible person that should just kill myself. I mean, I don’t feel this way all the time but it definitely happens pretty often. It starts with anxiety. And I wake up with anxiety pretty much every morning. And I try to combat this anxiety by working out or going for a walk over to the park to run some sprints and do pull-ups on the monkey bars in the playground to get some endorphins goin’ to level myself off. A lot of the time that works and I’m able to face the day without slipping into a downward spiral of crazy bullshit that leaves me feeling lost and desperate and hopeless. It’s hard, though. It’s hard to just get up and go fight my demons every morning. Sometimes I just wanna hide under the covers but I know that that’s only prolonging the inevitable. I just gotta go. That’s just the way it’s gotta be. And like I said, it’s not easy – particularly because I project it onto everyone around me. And it makes me feel like the whole world is attacking me.
“Like for example when I’m out on one of my aforementioned trips to the park, I’ll walk past a dude with his wife pushing a stroller and I get the feeling that the guy is looking at me like he thinks I’m an awful, dangerous person he needs to protect his family from – like he wants to kill me. He’s looking at me like he thinks I’m going to tie him up and make him watch me rape his wife and pick his newborn out the stroller and punt it like a football or something as equally sinister. And so then I get to the playground where I wanna do pull-ups from the monkey bars and there’s some other parent pushing their kid on a swing. And my paranoid side says to myself, ‘Oh, god damn it, now I can’t even go into the playground to do my pull-ups because adults who don’t have children shouldn’t be in the playground and that mom or dad is gonna accuse me of being a pervert. They just want me to go away. They just want me to disappear. They just want me to kill myself.’ And then my rational side that I like to keep grounded in reality – a reality which slips away as the panic continues to mount if not properly combatted – tells me, ‘No Tim. Just blast the music into your earphones, walk into the playground, smile and say ‘good morning,’ do a set of pull-ups, run a lap around the park, come back and do another set, rinse and repeat until the anxiety’s gone. You’re okay, Tim. You have as much right as anyone else to use the park. You don’t have to kill yourself. It’s okay. No one hates you for existing. Just do your exercises and you’ll feel better.
“And so, yeah. That’s just a sample of the delusions I deal with every day. And as I mentioned, it’s essential that I keep them in check and stay grounded in reality. Maintaining a strong grip on reality – keeping it entirely separate from imagined bullshit that exists only in my mind – to me, is the best defense mechanism I have to keep from falling into some fucked-up shit. So whereas it might feel really good and validating for a trans person to externalize what I still unfortunately feel is their delusion and get a sex change and ask people to call them what I still feel are unsuitable pronouns, for me it’s extremely dangerous to externalize my shit. Like, can you imagine me walking down the street and yelling at some young family, ‘Stop looking at me! I will not kill myself just because you want me to! You’re gonna hafta find someone else to tie you up and rape your wife and punt your newborn like a football, because I’m not gonna do it!’ And I spit a loogie in the guy’s face and storm off with my arms in the air, ranting and raving about every lightning-quick anxious thought racing through my mind. C’mon, I don’t wanna be that guy. I’ll end up in a fucking mental institution. So, when it comes to separating objective reality from what I feel is delusion – mine or anyone else’s – I really have no room for compromise. And for now, that’s pretty much the extent of my reasoning. Perhaps with the passing of time, as I more readily assimilate my way of thinking to my French scientist buddy’s point of view and am able to mentally remove transgenderism out from under the category of delusion, I’ll be able to refer to that airman as ‘sir’ like society is demanding I do.”
“For how long have you felt these things that you mentioned? This anxiety and paranoia?”
“I’d say that I’ve always been a bit paranoid – even when I was a kid.”
“You wanna hear about it? It is after all an intrinsic part of me. Maybe it’ll give you some more insight into who I really am.”
“Yeah, sure,” he said. “Why don’t you tell me a bit about it?”
“Alright. Well…Like when we’d be ding-dong ditching people’s houses as ten-year-olds or whatever, I would never touch the doorbell without wearing a glove because I thought the homeowners were gonna take my fingerprints off it and then run them against some secret fingerprint database and come get me. Then when I was a teenager, I didn’t like to go swimming for at least an hour after I masturbated because I was scared that some of the leftover jizz in my urethra that hadn’t bubbled out yet as it normally does when my penis shrivels back up to its flaccid size would come out in the pool and swim around and find its way into my mom or sister’s vagina and they’d get pregnant and then do a DNA test and see that it was me and everyone would think we were a family of incestuous weirdos. This one’s pretty standard for most kids I think, but I had to check under my bed and in my closet every night before going to sleep to make sure there weren’t any generic bad guys in there. Who are these generic bad guys is what I wanna know. What sort of criminal enterprise are they a part of? What are they after? Like, in what way could they possibly be benefitting by sitting around, hiding out all day in some kid’s closet? What’s to be gained? They must have the patience of a saint because to me that seems like it would be so fucking boring to do. And I don’t know if it’s the same generic bad guys as the ones under my bed and in my closet, but someone is always chasing me in all my dreams. I like my dreams though because I can fly. All’s I have to do is flap my arms and I almost always get away from whoever’s after me. It’s not guaranteed though. Some nights they do catch me. And they fuckin’ torture me when they do. This one pair of guys who caught me not too long ago took a knife and sliced my mouth open on each side all the way to the back of my head then put their hand in there, got a firm grip on my jaw and yanked it straight down as hard as they could and ripped it right off of my head. And my arms were flailing and my tongue was just flopping around and then I woke up.
“What else, what else? Okay. There was a Wendy’s near my house growing up and down the block from Wendy’s is a cemetery and like, every time my mom suggested we get a meal from there, I’d say that I didn’t want it because I didn’t like Wendy’s. But that was a lie. I really do like Wendy’s. I think it’s really good. Unhealthy as shit, yeah. But good. The real reason I didn’t wanna eat there is because I was convinced that instead of serving all-beef patties to the public as Dave Thomas claimed to be doing, I just fucking knew deep down that the employees from Wendy’s were going over to the cemetery at night, digging up bodies, butchering ‘em in the back of the restaurant and turning ‘em into burgers. I’m not exactly sure what it was about the thought of eating ground-up putrid corpses that was such a turn-off for me. Was it the ‘ick’ factor? Was I afraid that the soul of the deceased person whose body I was eating was going to assume control of my being and kick me out of my own body? I don’t know. I just knew that eating dead-body-burgers from Wendy’s was something that I wasn’t interested in doing.
“That one is pretty goofy, but I dunno – where do you draw the line between experiencing a delusion and having a wild imagination? Because this one I’m thinking of right now…I think it’s the weirdest delusion I’d ever experienced but I don’t remember any paranoia per se. I don’t remember any fear or suspicion involved. It was just something that happened. It was back at my old house. And we moved from there when I was seven, so yeah – it was sometime before that. And like, I used to have terrible digestive problems when I was a kid and wouldn’t shit for weeks at a time and would have to take a spoonful of this pink doctor-prescribed laxative every day and sometimes even that wouldn’t work and my mom would have to give me enemas. And she was so worried that it was gonna make me turn out gay. And like, I don’t know if this is where I got the idea to stick things up my ass or what, but I had the top bunk in my bedroom above my brother and the bedposts up there – I don’t know how to describe them and I don’t think I need to, but the point is that they were a suitable size and shape to fit in my five-or-six-year-old ass. This wasn’t something I remember doing often. I remember it being a one-time thing. And so, I was up on my bed one night after lights-out and was pretty sure my brother was sleeping when I imagined this family of cartoon bears – I don’t know if it was the family from the Berenstain Bears or the ones from Goldilocks or what – but they were telling me that I was bad and as a punishment needed to pull my pants down and sit on this bedpost. And I did it. And like I said, I don’t think I ever did it again, but for the months to come, every now and then when I was in bed, I’d crawl over to the bedpost I sat on and sniff it to see if it still smelled like shit. And it did. It smelled like asshole. And we eventually donated that bed to Salvation Army or something like that which is hilarious for me to imagine some poor family somewhere reassembling that bed for their kids then getting a whiff of something and being like, ‘Uh, why the fuck does this bedpost smell like shit?’”
I laughed at my own story.
“And so then a little less than ten years later I’m a freshman on the bus home from high school. There was this one kid named Andy. I went to the same grade school as Andy too, not just high school. He was one of those dudes who always had a hard time getting picked on by other kids and shit like that. In high school, much didn’t change. In fact, I’d say it was probably worse. Because even our gym coach would openly make fun of him. Our gym coach – this guy Doyle – was a crotchety old grey-haired red-cheeked racist alcoholic who’d referred to a Middle Eastern kid in my class as either ‘King Tut’ or ‘Assyrian kid’ and would penalize students who he caught with dip in their mouths not for having dip in their mouths, but for not offering him any. I mean, to be honest, I thought all that shit was pretty funny. Because King Tut had a sense of humor about it and would give him shit right back and whatever. But with Andy, he’d just humiliate this kid. When we’d be playing softball outside in the spring and picking teams before the game starts, he’d single this kid out and go, ‘Andy, get outta here. Go play with the girls.’ Because there was a girl’s gym class that played right alongside us. And Andy’s like, ‘But coach, I wanna play with the guys.’ And Doyle’d yell, ‘I don’t care! Go play with the girls!’ And he did. And what an emasculating punishment it’d been for the crime of being who he is. I always felt terrible for the guy.
“And so anyway, I don’t know how this happened, but one day on the bus home from school, it got out that Andy had for whatever reason – I don’t know if the Berenstain Bears paid him a visit as well or what – had also once upon a time stuck a bedpost up his ass. And everyone was taunting him going, ‘Mr. Bedpost! Mr. Bedpost! Oh yeah, Mr. Bedpost!’ and stuff like that. And like, perhaps I could’ve eased his pain and humiliation in a show of solidarity by standing up and saying something like, ‘Hey, there’s nothing wrong with sticking a bedpost up your ass. I happened to do the same thing at the behest of a family of imaginary bears. Why don’t you all lay off him!?’ But that’s just not practical. I mean, as a thirty-year-old man I don’t give a fuck who knows about the bedpost or my delusions or what they think of ‘em, but back then admitting to that sort of thing would’ve been social suicide. Everyone would’ve been making fun of me right alongside him and at the time, that’d been my worst nightmare. Other people talking shit about me, other people making fun of me and my cold sweaty hands and my basketball-sized sweat stains under my armpits that I always tried to hide and my ‘invisible eyebrows’ and my ‘fire-crotch’ and the ass-shaped sweat marks I’d leave on the seat every time I stood up. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t sacrifice myself to save him from humiliation and sometimes I’m still bugged by it.
“As an adult, what I experience is like a combination of what I just mentioned I felt in high school as well as what I described earlier in my walk to the park. Drugs and alcohol would for the most part numb these feelings out which allowed me to have a social life in college without my neurotic bullshit getting in the way, but sometimes those things would also blur the lines between my paranoia and reality. Like, I remember this one time when I was eighteen and I’d just pounded a bunch of beers and smoked a blunt at my buddy’s sister’s house in college and left everyone behind to go be by myself in the bathroom because I was having a panic attack. And so I got in there and this voice in my head was telling me to drown myself in the toilet. And I said, ‘No, I’m not gonna do it.’ But the voice insisted. And the only way I felt I could defeat the voice and survive was to take the plunger and break it in half over my thigh. So I did it and I think I hid the two pieces of plunger behind the toilet so no one would see ‘em and went back out by my buds, never mentioning a thing about what I’d just experienced.
“A few years after that, I went out to an Asian karaoke place and got totally fucked up on sake and got home around three in the morning whereupon I went into my mom’s bedroom to wake her up and tell her something along the lines of, ‘The Asians are outside spray-painting our house and once the Asians have spray-painted our house, it belongs to them and we must move out.’ She freaked out and ran outside to confront them and I followed. No one was there. ‘Where are they?’ she asked. ‘Where’d they spray-paint our house?’ I just stared back at her and shrugged and that was that.
“And then maybe a year after that, I’d been down in Mexico for spring break my senior year of college. I was a drunken mess that whole trip, neglecting to eat and smoking like three or four packs of cigarettes a day. Fuckin’ disgusting. So by the time my last night rolled around, I was so fuckin’ strung out, all alone in my hotel room unable to sleep and paranoid as shit that the hotel manager was in my room farting and laughing at me. I looked everywhere for him and I couldn’t find him. I checked under the bed, I checked every drawer, I checked the shower, I checked the cabinets under the sink. He was nowhere to be found. But he kept farting and he kept laughing at me. Like, I could actually hear them. I could actually hear the farts and the laughter. And I was horrified. I didn’t know if the man was wearing an invisibility cloak or what was going on. So, it was the middle of the night and I picked up the hotel phone and made what turned out to be like a fifty-dollar collect call to my mom back in the states, crying and telling her about the hotel manager and his sneaky farting antics. She talked me down until I stopped crying and we eventually hung up. I made it through the night. All the withdrawals I went through the next couple days I remember being some of the worst in my life – hands trembling while feeling cold and sweating with non-stop anxiety. It was brutal. That’s why I don’t drink anymore. Because even if booze temporarily relieves anxiety, it makes it ten times worse coming down from the escape. It’s not a good way of managing my condition. Nevertheless…
“A couple years after I graduated, I was drinking at my cousin’s place. Me, him and his roommate drank a couple bottles of whiskey and were totally fucked up and I just remember sitting there and being convinced that the two of them were going to rip off all my clothes, tie me to a chair naked and electric shock my testicles the way some villains did to Daniel Craig in one of the James Bond movies I’d recently seen. So, to save myself from that awful fate, I threw my cousin on the ground and started kicking him in the head until his roommate pulled me off of him and they held me down and beat the shit out of me in return. I woke up the next afternoon on the couch bruised and sore as fuck and had my mom come pick me up and I swore to her in the car ride home that I’d never drink again.
“The last major drunken psychotic episode I remember having had been maybe a year after that when I was in Azerbaijan. I’d stayed up all night drinking and it was like two in the afternoon and I was staggering down some alley in Baku when I fell under the impression that I’d been on the way to the airport to catch my flight to Ashgabat and that my taxi driver ditched me and some random carpenter had stolen my bags and locked them in his work van. So I charged into the storefront where this guy had been working and threw his ladder on the ground and was kicking his tools around and then shoved him against the wall and demanded that he open up his van so I could get my bag out and continue on my way to the airport. Police were involved, the van was opened and of course my bag wasn’t in there. The cop spoke very good English, was most patient with my insanity and put me in a taxi back to my hostel where I found my bag exactly as I’d left it the night before at the start of that bender, and also where I discovered that my flight to Turkmenistan didn’t leave until sometime later that evening.”
“Yeah, I know. But stuff like that never happens when I’m not drinking, thank God. And I wanna keep it that way. That’s why I feel it’s so important to keep a strong grip on what’s real, ya know?”
He affirmed with a nod.
“Alright, so – back to when I was a kid. When I was a kid I’d sometimes get really paranoid about my parents dying – about them leaving me behind, about me having to fend for myself when I really needed them to be there for me. Perhaps this is a reflection of the mini-abandonments I’d feel every time they’d get drunk and fight and be emotionally unavailable – when they’d be in a state in which I couldn’t reach them and they couldn’t feel me. And along those same lines, on the other end of the spectrum, during the times when I was mad at them for drinking or fighting or whatever, I kinda wished they were dead. I told myself that I don’t need them anyway. I’m better off without them. But then I’d get super paranoid about what everyone would say and think about me if they really were to die and I didn’t cry at their funeral because I felt that I didn’t love them anymore. And what type of bad kid doesn’t love his parents and wouldn’t cry at their funeral? I feared everyone would think I was some sort of inhuman, soulless monster that should be thrown in the fuckin’ zoo or something. I dunno. I was really fucking scared. And when I think about all this stuff now, it’s really not that much different from what I experience as an adult in every last one of my romantic relationships.
“I know a few sessions back you said to me, ‘Tim, you realize you see people as objects, right? You see people as either objects you can use to help you attain your goals or as obstacles that get in the way of them that need to be discarded. You see that, right?’ And it’s like, of course I see it. And I’m ashamed of it because it’s emotionally hardwired into me. It’s not something I can change. I can do my best by remaining mindful and not outwardly acting on what’s going on inside me, but my inner-experience remains the same and wears me down over time. I know you weren’t referring to romantic relationships at the time when mentioning it, but that is the area of my life where that sort of thing is most prevalent. Because the goal I pursue more than anything else in life is to feel loved and accepted – most notably by a member of the opposite sex. I know that I see women as a drug whose love and affection or whose bodies I can use to make me feel good about myself who I can quit whenever the effects start wearing off and I don’t get as high as I did at the beginning when I first started using it – when it no longer can be applied as an effective tool to keep away the paranoid anxiety that runs my life. I mean, this is not news to me.
“I remember being like this as early as third grade when I’d arbitrarily get a massive crush on someone who I’d never even talked to before and had no intention of talking to and picture them as the love of my life, the person who was going to save me from myself and make me happy and I’d obsess over them, thinking they were going to complete me…and then they suddenly meant nothing to me. Maybe I did actually talk to them or observe their behavior in real life and who they really are didn’t align with my fantasy of them or something like that and they were thus devalued and I’d move on to the next infatuation. I remember this very clearly. And so when my parents would be drunk and fighting, I’d sometimes think about the object of my desire and it would make me somewhat happy. I’d cry thinking about them. And at the same time, because I felt on an emotional subconscious level that I needed them to survive, I’d grow terrified of losing them. And so in my paranoid state, I’d go from one window to the next and peer out to make sure that whichever girl I was obsessed with at the time wasn’t looking into my house and seeing the violent nature of the yelling and the ugliness of the things said between my parents because if she had, I feared she’d reject me for it and I’d lose the object I possessed with the power to take me away from my pain.
“In my adult life, whereas relationships in their initial stages have the power to save me from my anxious paranoid bullshit, at a certain point they start contributing to it. When I’m in a relationship with someone and I really care about them – like, I’ve emotionally invested myself in her – any time we’re apart I can’t imagine her doing anything but being in bed with someone else – someone stronger and better-looking and funnier and more intelligent than me – and having awesome sex then rolling over and laughing together about what a pathetic loser I am. Another thing that happens once I reach a certain level of intimacy with someone is that I can no longer see my partner as her own separate entity, but just as part of my ego, as an extension of myself. And I’m a terribly harsh self-critic. I’m unbelievably cruel to myself and the conclusion my emotions always lead me to is that everything about me sucks, everyone hates me, I’m no good, I never was and I should go kill myself. And as I mentioned, once we’ve reached that point where I fail to see the distinction between my partner and myself, my mind will then start to attack the person I’m with in the very same way. And the things are horribly cruel that my mind says about them. Like, if I wasn’t so self-aware and didn’t work so hard to keep an iron grip on reality, making sure it stays separate from the insane bullshit going on in my head, I think I’d be one of the most cruel woman abusers of all time. But even though I never say those nasty degrading things, I start spending more time than I would if I was single staring at and longing for other women – all of whom suddenly seem to be superior options. And at this point it’s hard for me to be around my partner. Not only am I resentful of being stuck in a relationship with someone I’ve convinced myself I no longer find attractive or personable, I also feel so fucking ashamed of myself for mentally belittling and wanting nothing to do with someone who is objectively a decent person whom I was pretty certain I cared so much about. I’d like to note that this tendency is not limited to romantic partners. My mind has also been known to tear apart friends, coworkers, family members and anyone else I end up spending a lot of time around.
”So like, can you imagine what a nightmare I am to be in a relationship with? Like, picture this. This woman that yesterday I was convinced I wanted to spend the rest of my life with, today I don’t wanna see ever again. It could be because I feel that she has too much power over me because I love her too much and don’t trust that she won’t abandon and destroy me or it could be because while evaluating her as an extension of myself, I decided she wasn’t smart enough, was too much of a bitch, her ass isn’t as nice as this other girl’s ass, she probably won’t be good-looking in ten years like this other chick might, I didn’t like the way she talked to that waiter in the restaurant, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It could be anything and it’s always something. I’m very good at finding things I don’t like instead of appreciating what I do like. And so, since I’m a coward and can’t break up with anyone straight-up because I’m not sure if it’s what I really want and can’t allow myself to be responsible for the decision to end what’s objectively a decent relationship, I emotionally withdraw and/or do something shitty to push them away like talk about all the hookers I’ve fucked in the past to evoke disgust and elicit a breakup. And I get what I want. But then two days later, I’ll panic about how alone I feel and I’ll want her back. And if what I did wasn’t too shitty and/or they’re an emotionally vulnerable person with low self-esteem who values being in a relationship – even if it’s with an emotionally unstable person who’s bound to jack them around endlessly – more than being by herself and having to deal with feelings of existential loneliness, she’ll take me back. And although I’ll be happy initially, a day or two later, for taking me back, I’ll inevitably arrive at the conclusion that she’s desperate and pathetic. Because I wouldn’t have taken me back after what I’d done if I were in her position. And I feel I’m above being in a relationship with someone who’s desperate and pathetic. So I devalue her again and withdraw. Rinse and repeat ad nauseam.
“Like, I’m totally fuckin’ nuts, dude. I swear to God. Back when I was twenty, I was with this one girl for like three or four months but then out of nowhere one night while she was in the middle of giving me a blow job I told her she had to leave because I was still in love with my ex-girlfriend. I wasn’t still in love with my ex-girlfriend. I hadn’t thought about her in months. And as this girl took my dick out of her mouth, I’ve never seen a look of such utter confusion in all my life. She was baffled and hurt and humiliated and cried as she put her clothes back on before leaving and we never talked again even though a few days later I missed her and wanted her back again but convinced myself that I did enough damage to this poor girl and should just stay the fuck away. And so then to cope I convinced myself that I never felt much for her in the first place and went out, got drunk and found someone else I could stick my dick into, whose emotions I could fuck around with as I see fit.
“I’m just so fuckin’ tired, man. My moods are constantly shifting and along with it go my opinions of people and things as well as my general outlook on life. Like, what seemed to be a great life plan or career move this morning is now seen as totally unacceptable. It’s all so very confusing. I just can’t keep up. I don’t even know who the fuck I am. I feel like a different person every day. I just have so many conflicting ideas about myself that I can’t make sense of. One minute I feel like I’m the fucking greatest and I’m smarter than everyone around me but then the next I’m the stupidest most worthless piece of shit on the face of the planet. On the one hand I can do anything I set my mind to and I’ll never ever let myself down, but on the other I hate myself and think everyone else hates me too because I’m not normal and can’t do anything right and don’t care enough about anything to hold a job or wanna be a functional member of society. I wanna feel a sense of home but I can’t stay in one place or do one thing or be around the same people for too long before getting bored and feeling trapped and wanting to blow my brains out. I’m so very, very sensitive to everything around me – the environment I’m in, other people’s moods – and I feel them all very deeply. Like, other people’s anxiety stresses me way the fuck out, dude. And although I wouldn’t show it, other people’s anger – even if I’m not the one they’re angry at – frightens the shit outta me and immediately flips me into fight or flight mode, usually fight mode. I feel so very threatened that like, it causes my stomach to drop and I’ll go from super calm to ready to take a baseball bat and beat the shit outta anyone who’s yelling just like that.
“Sometimes I’m super empathetic and caring and might break into tears for a solid five minutes while reading a book or listening to music and thinking about the lyrics in a song – Elton John’s ‘Indian Sunset’ gets me every time – and other times I’m an ice-cold, hollow, emotionally constipated son of a bitch who can’t feel anything and doesn’t care if you’re alive or dead. This indifference to the well-being of others isn’t unique to my feelings of numbness. It’s also a primary characteristic of my rage. Like, when I’m pissed off I could run your dog over right in front of you then get out the car and stab you in the face and not give a damn.
“To paint a picture of what this is like, I was working with my dad in the fall doing gutter cleaning four years ago and we were having trouble finding a house out in the suburbs. This was before either of us had smartphones to look it up and we didn’t have a map and were getting pissed off at one another and my dad said something that I interpreted as an indication of it being my fault we were lost. And when someone says something like that to me – an accusation of me being at fault, right or wrong – I feel it not as something situational, but as a direct attack on my self-worth. I took it as him saying I’m not worthy of being alive. And my rage is a maladaptive tool my brain thinks is a good idea to use in these sorts of situations to protect itself from these perceived attacks. Like, at this point mindfulness and rational thinking have gone out the window and the lizard brain is at the helm, gearing up for war. And so I start punching the dashboard over and over and over while shouting, ‘I’m going to kill myself! I’m going to kill myself!’ until my knuckles are bleeding and my entire system just shuts down on me. My eyes closed, my brain shut off and I just fuckin’ checked out.”
“Does that happen to you often?”
“No. That’s the only time that I’ve ever been so enraged that I passed out. No one can piss me off like that except my parents. I don’t usually let myself get that carried away. I usually walk away from situations when I know I’m losing control of my emotions because when I lose control of my emotions I lose control of my grip on reality and when that happens I might do something that – although it seems like a good idea at the time – I’d otherwise regret when I return to a rational state of mind. Like here in the Air Force for example. It’s not the same emotion but…” I paused. “Ya know, maybe it is the same emotion but instead of acting out, I’m acting inward with my rage and just violently attacking myself from the inside out because I hate myself so much. I never thought of it that way before. That would make sense. Whatever it is, like I’ve told you, before the day I decided I needed to quit the Air Force, for weeks I’d been waking up every morning with the same impulse. It was always smash the mirror with my fist, cut myself with the broken pieces of glass and smear my blood all over the walls of my dormitory. The same fuckin’ shit every day. And I’d do a workout to get some endorphins goin’ and shake it off as best I could and push forward, go to class, do my homework, go to PT, go to squadron events and have mandatory fun, study. Everything. Everything I was supposed to do, I did. But it just wasn’t going away. It was getting stronger. The voice was telling me I hate this place and I hate myself for continuing to force myself to stay in this place that I fucking hate. The walls of my mind were closing in on me. I felt backed into a corner. I’d reached my breaking point. And so one morning I got up and looked into the bathroom mirror at the reflection of a person I couldn’t recognize and started thinking real hard about how I saw my current situation unfolding. I saw four scenarios. I said I could stay here and remain sober and keep pushing myself to the point of actually losing control and giving in to the voice in my head, I could stay here and drown out the voice in my head by throwing away my year of sobriety and going back to becoming a self-loathing alcoholic piece of shit as a coping mechanism to get me through something I don’t really wanna do the way I did back in college, I could run away from here and go AWOL as I heard some non-confrontational Airman had in the past or I could grow a pair of balls and march into the chief’s office, be honest about my feelings and tell him that I’ve had enough and that I fuckin’ quit and that there’s nothing he could do or say or threaten me with that could convince me to stick around here. And as you already know, I chose the latter.”
“Hmm…So what you did really was the healthiest choice you could’ve made in this situation, yeah?”
“Yeah, all things considered, I think so.”
“Yeah, even though I was taken away from the squadron in handcuffs and thrown in jail, I felt totally at peace with myself. I hadn’t slept in days leading up to the confrontation that Friday morning when I walked into the chief’s office and laid it down, speaking up for myself for the first time since I joined the military back in March. But I shit you not, as soon as I was in my cell I laid down on that rock-hard wall-mounted bed, I shut my eyes and I slept like a fuckin’ baby. Feeling mentally one-hundred percent free while physically locked-up behind bars – can you imagine that? The fucking irony of it all.
“So anyway, back with my dad. When I start to get that pissed off – when I get to that level of punching-shit-fucking-up-my-hand enraged – I need to go be by myself and take a walk through the woods or the cemetery or just go to my bedroom, lay down and sleep it off. That’s the only cure. It’s not good for me to be around other people at all. But it was the middle of the work day. And we were far out in the suburbs somewhere. I couldn’t just walk off and go be by myself, I had a job to do. So we eventually find and show up to the property. It’s massive. It’s a five-unit condo building that’s like seventy-five yards in length and the gutters are always packed full of shit. And as we’re showing up, we see this old hag landscaper bitch is about halfway done cleaning up all the leaves and debris from in the bushes and off the lawn and everything. And we ask her to hold on and wait before she cleans the rest because we have to go up on the roof and blow all the shit out which is further going to fuck up the property. Understandably, she doesn’t take this news very well. She’s quite angry and yelling and I disengage because her anger is like a match getting dangerously close to reigniting my powder keg within. So I let my dad deal with it and I go up on the roof and start cleaning out the gutters, blowing shit down. And my dad tells me that we’re going to help her clean up the property once we’re done. This is not something we normally do because we tell homeowners to wait to have their landscapers come until after we’ve come and made a big fuckin’ mess cleaning out their gutters. Because we don’t have time to do extensive clean-ups. That service isn’t included in our price. The best we do is blow all the shit off all pavement and stairs and window ledges and hide it under your bushes where it can mulch over the winter. We’re very busy. Between around November 15th when all the leaves are down and Christmas when all the snow starts to come, we have four-hundred properties on which we have to clean the gutters. Time is money. This shit is my bread and butter. During the hours of sunlight, we go one house to the next seven days a week for this month-and-a-half and that’s my money to live off the whole winter. But since she was there and alone cleaning up by hand and not with a team of like seven or eight hard-working Mexican guys with every piece of landscaping equipment ever invented at their disposal which they could employ to have that property spotless in a matter of five minutes, it seemed fair that we stick around and help her clean up.
“So we finish blowing out the shit from the gutters and start raking it all up. This takes like an hour. We bag the piles and since they’re full of sopping wet sloppy gutter bullshit and are too heavy for my skinny-ass fifty-nine-year-old dad to lift, I carry the bags behind the property to the alley and leave them alongside all the other bags that the landscaper had left out there next to the garbage cans. We go back out to the front and are about to leave when the landscaper comes out shaking her fist, bitching at us, saying that the garbage men won’t take what we left out there because they’re not the correct type of bags as decided by the city of Evanston and that we need to take them all with us. We get in the truck and I tell my dad that we’ve done enough. It’s not our problem. Let’s just leave and go to the next job. He ignores me and drives around the block to the alley.
“We’d left about five bags back there. Each was at least fifty pounds. I tell my dad to just stay in the truck and that I’ll load ‘em up because I don’t wanna see him get hurt. He again ignores me. I put the first bag in the truck and am walking back over to get another when I see my dad – who’s staggering under the weight of this bag and can’t see where he’s walking – step into this foot-deep pothole full of blackened rainwater and go crashing to the ground. I rush over to see if he’s okay. He’d smashed his hip real bad and gets up but can’t really walk. My rage is kicked back into full-gear. ‘I’ll kill you, you fucking bitch!’ I shouted. And like, instead of going looking for her, I saw that she’d left a leaf-blower and a rake right by the gate leading back into the yard. So I boot the leaf-blower as hard as I can then pick the rake up and break it over my thigh then I think I stabbed open and started kicking around all the bags of leaves the landscaper had left out there, leaving a total fucking mess for her to clean up. And we hopped back in the truck and we left.”
“How’d that make you feel?”
“I didn’t feel anything at the time. Like I said, I don’t feel anything but rage when I’m in rage mode. And I was locked in until I’d gotten a good night’s sleep that night. But then the next morning, yeah, I felt like the biggest piece of shit in the world and felt like I needed to somehow rectify the situation. So I called up the property owner and explained what I’d done and she said she had no idea. I assured her that it did in fact happen and asked her that if I mailed a letter of apology with a blank check in it to pay for a new rake and whatever damage I may have done to the landscaper’s leaf-blower, if they’d pass it along on my behalf. And she said that she appreciated my honesty and owning up to what I’d done and that, yes, of course she’d do that for me. And that was that.
“Another one of my moods – the rarest and most elusive; my personal favorite – is when I feel like God. Every now and then – pretty often actually – I feel happy and confident and like I can achieve anything if I applied myself and I get along well with everyone around me and it’s definitely a good feeling but that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is kinda like that feeling, but that feeling to the absolute extreme. It’s when I feel like God and like the entire universe is just my plaything to fuck around with. Like I’m untouchable. Like I’m invincible. Like anyone could say anything they want to me and I wouldn’t be fazed. No artificial high from any drug I’ve ever tried has ever come close to this feeling.”
“Any history of bipolar disorder in your family, Tim?”
“Not that I know of. Maybe one uncle on my dad’s side. My godfather. He’s pretty out there and definitely fits the criteria, but I’ve never asked him about his diagnosis.”
“I see. And when’s the last time you say you felt this sensation?”
“The last time I felt it was a year ago. Last September.”
“And how long did it last?”
“Just for the day. Like the rage episodes, it goes away after a good sleep.”
“You wanna hear about it? I see we still got enough time left in our session here but it’s kind of a long story. You up for it or are you getting bored with this shit?”
“Tim, no, you’re not boring me. If you feel it’s something you’d like to talk about, then yes – I’d love to listen to what you have to say.”
“Okay, yeah, I’ll tell it,” I sat up in my chair. “It’s actually one of my favorite stories.”
I took a sip from my water bottle, screwed the cap back on and set it on the rectangular coffee table between the doc and I on which it’d been sitting.
“Alright, so, last September I went on this six-week trip to East Africa. I planned the whole trip as a clockwise loop through the region. It started with a few days by myself in Kenya where, a few days later, my brother met me in Nairobi. After that we took a bus across the border to Tanzania and did the whole Kilimanjaro thing which took like a week to climb then went on a safari to Ngorongoro Crater, flew over to Zanzibar where we spent a few days and then took a ferry to back to Dar es Salaam on the mainland from where my brother flew back to Chicago. This left me with four weeks which I planned on using to bus straight west across bumblefuck Tanzania into Burundi, then Rwanda and then into the Democratic Republic of the Congo before ending the trip in Uganda where my buddy’s sister had been doing some Peace Corps shit at the time. I know you’ve traveled a pretty good deal. Have you ever been in any of those countries?”
He shook his head no.
“Alright. Well, the bus trip from Dar to Burundi ended up being probably the worst travel experience I’ve ever had. I broke it into two parts with a couple-days-long stay in Mwanza on Lake Victoria, but still. It was just the worst. It was like fifty hours on ass-bruisingly-bumpy roads and the bus broke down for sixteen hours in the middle of nowhere and while we were sitting there, I and all my belongings got infected with bed bugs which I had for the next four weeks until I took the time to boil all my clothes and bags in a big steamy cauldron to kill all those little fuckers. The bites were so god damn itchy and covered my entire body. It was fuckin’ miserable.
“And so, the bus journey ends in a place called Kabanga in far western Tanzania. It’s probably like two in the afternoon. I get off and the sky is pretty dark. It looks like it’s gonna start pouring any minute. At the bus stop, there are no car taxis, only a bunch of motorcycle taxis known as boda-bodas. I tell one guy that I wanna go to the Burundian border. He says that he’ll balance my backpack up there on the handlebars and tells me to hop on the back. I do just that and we’re on our way. It begins raining. Because of the sting I feel in my eyes as each droplet of rain smacks me in the face, I’m not paying too much attention to my surroundings. One thing that I hadn’t taken notice of that I want you to remember is that on the westernmost edge of this town called Kabanga had been a governmental building in which they conduct immigration processes into Tanzania from Burundi. Like, they actually have Burundian officials inside who can stamp you out of their country and you go to the next window and Tanzanian officials will stamp you in there. I didn’t know that. I thought the place we were heading to was the one and only border where they handle immigration going both ways – from Tanzania to Burundi as well as from Burundi to Tanzania. That wasn’t the case. But definitely remember that.
“So it turned out to be like a five-mile ride. This Tanzanian guy took me like four miles and then in the middle of nowhere there’s a sign on the side of the road that says Burundi. On the side I was on had been a group of Tanzanian guys sitting there on their motorcycles and on the other side of the sign had been a bunch of Burundian guys chilling out on their motorcycles. ‘I stop now,’ the driver said. ‘They take you from here.’ So I pay the guy, walk to the other side of the sign, hire a Burundian motorcycle guy, we go another mile and I finally get to the official border crossing which’d been located in this tiny shitstain of a village called Kobero.
“I didn’t get a tourist visa beforehand because it’s a several-week-long process and because I read in a post from some Russian blogger who’d done this route a couple years ago that they offer three-day transit visas on arrival which would be all I needed to pass through the capital Bujumbura and head over into Rwanda. I get to immigration and they tell me that three-day transit visas are only available from the airport in Bujumbura. I say that that’s bullshit. They say that it’s bulltrue. I see if there’s anyone who I can bribe to let me in. No one’s showing interest. They tell me to go back to Dar es Salaam to get a visa from the Burundian embassy there. I don’t have the time for that. And even if I did, there’s no way I’d spend another fifty hours on a bus going across Tanzania and then come all the way back out here again. That’d be complete fucking insanity. And so I reason I could just skip Burundi and head towards Rwanda but don’t really wanna do that because I had a plan. And I don’t like when other people or bureaucratic douchebags fuck with my plans. So I decide I’m gonna go ahead and do what I set out to do even if I didn’t have the Burundian government’s formal permission to do so.
“While walking around this border town, I meet some shady on-the-street currency exchange guy named Job and tell him I wanna get into his country. Like most Burundians who primarily speak Kirundi and French, Job’s English is not very good but it’s passable. And he says that for a man named Timothy, because I share the name of his father, he’d be willing to help me out. He says to follow him. So I do. And we go sit down in some shitty outdoor restaurant where a bunch of people are staring at me and this midget comes up with a fat wad of Burundian francs in his hand. Job tells me to exchange some money with the midget so I’ll have enough to get me to the capital. So I do. Job tells me to stay right where I am. I say I will and he walks away.
“Burundi is probably at the bottom of most people’s travel bucket list. Most Americans have probably never even heard of this country. And those who have probably know that it has a terrible human rights record and is run by some asshole named Nkurunziza who’d illegally ran for and helped himself to a third term in office and had been making anyone who opposed this move disappear. Like, I know I’m a paranoid person, but I can’t compare to this Nkurunziza guy. This fuckin’ dude – I shit you not – banned jogging. He banned jogging because people there started jogging in big groups during the early nineties when the country was amid a civil war and they’d get together to run and sing and feel a sense of community with one another in spite of all the ethnic strife and atrocities that surrounded them in their own country and neighboring Rwanda and he feels threatened by these groups. He thinks that when people get together to jog and sing, that they’re not only jogging and singing but also conspiring to overthrow him. So he took away their right to do so. The guy’s a psycho. So, like I was getting at, they don’t get many tourists there. A white man in those parts is probably a pretty rare occurrence. As such, more and more people kept crowding around me in that restaurant there just to stare at me as if it was something to do. And a bunch of attention is the last thing you want when trying to sneak across an international border unseen.
“A few minutes later Job comes back and says, ‘I have a taxi. Let’s go.’ So I get in a cab with this guy and begin the twenty-mile journey to Muyinga from where Job said he’d help me buy a bus ticket to the capital and I’d be on my way. It’s a nice ride. I’m enjoying looking out the window at all the lush green hills of the Burundian countryside. We get to town, pay the driver and head into the bus station which is no more than a three-walled tin-roofed shack on the side of the road. Job heads over to the counter to buy the ticket. I set my bag in the corner behind me and pull out my camera to snap a quick photo of my surroundings because I like photographically documenting the places I visit. This may have taken about ten seconds max. I turn back around to put the camera away and notice that within that time frame, someone had reached into my bag and stolen my iPhone.
“This whole phone ordeal is a long story with a bunch of details we don’t really have time for because there’s still some other stuff I wanna talk about before our session is up, so I’ll just summarize it for you as best I can. Turns out the Muyinga police chief got his hands on my phone within an hour of it being stolen and wanted to meet up with me to talk about it. This I was told by Job who heard it from one of his contacts around town. So the guy – with armed escorts – comes to meet us at the bus stop and had been dressed like a gangster rapper from the mid-nineties, wearing a fresh pair of bright-white gym shoes and an all-white Adidas tracksuit and like, the only thing this guy was missing was a fuckin’ furry Kangol hat and maybe a gold chain around his neck to complete the look, I swear. And we’re going on a casual stroll around town being escorted by police in these royal blue uniforms with berets on top who are strapped with AK-47s and this guy who never makes eye-contact with me, through Job as a translator, is making me discuss hypothetically how much of a tip I’d be willing to give him for using all his police resources to get me my phone back. And knowing he already has my phone, I throw a number out there – something like twenty bucks – and the guy, upon hearing me say it, tisks in disgust. He turns and finally looks at me and says in perfect English how that’s not enough and how he’ll need at least a hundred dollars in order to find my phone. I say that that’s kinda steep. He suggests we go out to dinner to further discuss the matter. Since I didn’t really have much of a choice, I concur.
“So I’m just sitting there at the best restaurant in town and watching this guy and Job eat and drink all they want on my dime – Job gets completely shitfaced; he was pounding one after another – and they’re having a conversation in Kirundi and laughing and pretending I don’t exist and after a while I’m like, ‘So, do you even have my phone? Can I see it or…?’ And the chief reaches in his pocket, pulls out my iPhone 6s minus the case which someone had decided to keep and says, ‘Is this your phone?’ I say, ‘Yeah. Can I have it back now?’ ‘Yes,’ he responded, ‘but later,’ and puts it back in his pocket and calls the waiter over to order dessert and another drink.
“So anyway, I got my phone back for like forty bucks on top of the cost of dinner and gave Job a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses from my ex-girlfriend I’d been looking to get rid of as a way of thanking him for his help sneaking me into the country. I spent the night in Muyinga and got on a bus towards Bujumbura the following morning. Along the way there must’ve been at least ten police checkpoints at which the cops board the bus and make everyone hold up their personal documents for them to see. The trend seemed to be that two cops would come in and take a perfunctory glance at everyone’s ID and each select two or three identification cards at random to have a close look at before hopping off the bus and telling the driver to get going. At one of these stops, one of the officers decided to have a look at my passport. He spent a good two minutes flipping through the pages containing fifty countries’ worth of entry and exit stamps looking for a Burundian visa I didn’t have. While he was nose-deep in my business playing this unwinnable game of Where’s Waldo, the other dude had finished up and called out to the officer with my passport from the front of the bus, saying what must’ve been the Kirundi equivalent of, ‘Hey, cmon, let’s go.’ And so the guy handed back my passport, scurried off the bus and we were back on our way.
“I got into town and took out two-hundred dollars’ worth of the local currency from an ATM machine and found a pretty nice hotel to spend the night at. As I go to pay for my room, I’m told that they don’t accept Burundian francs. I’m confused. ‘You guys don’t accept your own currency?’ I asked. ‘No, it’s not good money,’ she said. ‘We accept American dollars or credit card.’ So I paid with my credit card and asked her what I’m supposed to do with all these francs I just took out. ‘You can use them for small purchases at local stores or try to exchange them for US dollars somewhere.’ I’m irritated but shrug it off and eventually exchange those francs a few days later in Rwanda, getting only forty bucks for what showed up on my checking account as a two-hundred-dollar withdrawal. Total fuckin’ bullshit.
“So at that point it was the early afternoon and I was pretty worn-out and didn’t feel like doing anything and ordered a big fancy chicken cordon bleu meal and then chilled out in the hotel all day. After all the stress of that morning and the night before, the only thing I wanted to do was get the fuck outta that country and into Rwanda. And so I asked the lady at the desk from where I could catch a bus that heads that way. She said that direct buses from Bujumbura no longer run to Kigali – the capital of Rwanda – because lately there’d been a lot of violence and fighting along the border. She said that it could be done with small local transport but the safest option would be heading back into Tanzania and then into Rwanda from there. This news gave me a headache. In addition to the potential for violence I was also concerned that I’d never be able to convince the people at Rwandan immigration that the officials at the Burundi/Tanzania border had forgotten to stamp my passport. So even though I so badly wanted to go directly into Rwanda and for all this to be over with, I was too burnt-out on all the adventure for another reckless roll of the dice and decided to take the quote unquote ‘safe route’ of sneaking back to where I came from.
“The next morning I got on a bus back to Muyinga and from there took another bus back to Kobero border town. After exiting the bus I stepped aside and got a good look at my surroundings. I took notice of where the police were over near the immigration office and saw that I had an opportunity to walk past all them unnoticed if I were to stay on the other side of a long line of big trucks on the road that’d been waiting to cross the border. I did just that and kept walking and passed several more police on the way and wasn’t questioned by anyone. After a mile or so, I’m out in the middle of nowhere and I see a sign that says Tanzania. It’s the spot I was at two days beforehand when I switched from a Tanzanian motorbike to a Burundian one. So I walk past the sign, hire a Tanzanian boda-boda and tell him to take me back to Kabanga from where I planned on catching a bus or a shared taxi over to the Rwandan border. I think from Kabanga it was only like a twenty-five mile ride or something. And as we’re rolling away from Burundi on this hilly-ass road overlooking beautiful scenery, I got my phone out and my arm fully extended and I’m taking a snapchat video of myself giving the middle finger on the back of this bike and write the line ‘Fuck you Burundi’ and sent it to everyone I know.”
“Is this where you felt like God?”
“I felt pretty damn good in that moment, but no. This was more a feeling of sweet relief. The other feeling is a feeling of absolute infallible triumph and it’s only ever stemmed from me exercising what I feel is my superiority over other people. We’re not quite there yet. It’s coming though,” I assured him.
“So, we’re riding along and I’m smiling and enjoying the wind in my hair as we pass nothing but hilly farmland on each side of the road. I see the main strip of Kabanga up in the distance. As we enter town, the boda-boda man slows down and turns off the main road onto this hundred-yard-long road that leads up to some big building I don’t recognize. ‘What is this?’ I asked. ‘This isn’t the bus station I arrived at. Why are you stopping here?’ And as we get closer to the building I see that it says something like Kabanga One Stop Border Post. And I’m like, ‘Oh shit. Hey,’ I’m tapping the guy’s shoulder from behind, ‘just keep going. Drive right past it. I’m good. Let’s go.’ He doesn’t understand and pulls up to the entrance of the building, stops and tells me, ‘You go in. I wait there,’ and he points at an exit gate a hundred yards up ahead in the distance.
“I’m standing there and like…I can’t think of a lie fast enough. If I were in this position again, I’d just go into the building and say, ‘Oh hey, yeah so I went to see if I could get a transit visa into Burundi and they said they don’t offer them at the border so here I am returning. See, I never got stamped out of Tanzania, so no big deal. We good? Cool.’ But I just couldn’t think of that in the moment. My brain was shutting down on me. So I pull out my phone and, even though I don’t get reception in this town, I pretend I’m scrolling through something really interesting to buy me enough time to come up with a plan. The only thing I could think of had been to just go jump on the back of the motorcycle taxi and go. So I put the phone to my head and fake like I’m having a really in-depth conversation with someone and walk right past this building which is like all-windows and everyone inside can see me walking past. And so I get past the building and am like halfway to the gate when this big fatass guy comes running out, yelling, ‘Hey, excuse me sir! Sir!’ I don’t look back. I just keep up with the fake phone call charade, give my driver a thumbs-up, hop on the back of his bike and tell him to take me to the bus station.
“So I get to the bus station and am sitting in the office of this guy – real intelligent dude who wants to talk to me about the way things are in America – trying to buy a ticket to Rwanda when the fatass from the immigration post pulls up on a motorcycle, walks into the office, grabs my bag and tells me we’re going back to the border. The ticket salesman is concerned for me and wants to know what’s going on and asks the immigration agent if it’s okay that he give me a ride to the border on the back of his own bike while following close behind. The guard agrees to that arrangement. I tell the guy the story along the way, we get back to the One Stop Border Crossing and the guy tells me to let him know if there’s anything he can do to help me. I thank him, but tell him there’s really nothing to be done. I’ve dug my grave and now I must lie in it.
“At this point I’m brought into some office and am sat at a table across from two immigration agents who tell me to empty every last item from my bag and my wallet onto the table for them to sort through. I do and they find nothing incriminating except for maybe a passport-sized photo in which I’d cut my face out and replaced it with the penis of Michelangelo’s David. Because I guess you might be able to consider things that are questionably gay as incriminating in homophobic East African countries. Like, back in Dar es Salaam this guy had been following around me for like an hour trying to get me to hire him as a tour guide and I didn’t want a guide and I made that clear and no matter what I said he just wouldn’t leave me alone until I decided to walk past a really crowded bus stop where there’d been a bunch of fancy-looking educated people in suits who I knew would be fluent in English and turned around and yelled at the guy, ‘Will you stop asking me to have sex with you!? I told you I’m not gay, okay! Go find another man to have sex with!’ And everyone looked at him and he was so ashamed that he just turned around and walked away. So when these agents found that photo they looked at each other and then over at me and said, ‘What is this?’ I told them exactly what it was. One of them said something in Swahili and they both laughed while shaking their heads disapprovingly. After the chuckle, they continued to rummage through the rest of my belongings.
“Only after this had been done did they begin asking me why I tried sneaking into their country. ‘Why didn’t you stop at the border post here?’ they wanted to know. I told them I didn’t know it existed. ‘It was raining two days ago when I drove past it. I thought the official border post was only in Kobero on the Burundian side. I dunno. This One Stop Border Post system you guys got here confused me.’ They didn’t understand how I could’ve driven past this building two days beforehand. I explained to them that I’d been in their country legally up until a few days ago and even had the stamp to prove it and that it was Burundi into which I’d snuck illegally and today had just been trying to come back in so I could exit the country legally into Rwanda. They still didn’t understand. They thought that I’d been in Burundi legally and for some reason was trying to sneak into Tanzania illegally, perhaps with some sort of contraband. ‘No, no, no – you got it all wrong,’ I told them. ‘I’ve been in your country for at least three weeks already. Seriously, look in my passport. I entered from Kenya. Two days ago I got here on a bus from Mwanza and then went to the Burundian border from where I tried to get a transit visa and they denied me. They said no. But I just went into the country anyway, spent a few days there and am now coming back.’
“After a minute, the story clicked with one of the two guys. ‘So you are saying that you have already been here in Tanzania and you entered Burundi without a visa and now you are trying to come back into Tanzania?’ I told him that that was exactly what I was saying. He wanted to know why. ‘Because I had a plan to visit there,’ I told him. ‘And I don’t like my plans being fucked with. So I did it even though they said I couldn’t do it.’ ‘They told you no, but you still went in anyway?’ The guy laughed. ‘Are you crazy? You know in Burundi they make people disappear, right? People go missing all the time.’ I told him that I know and reiterated that I had a plan and felt the urge to carry it out in spite of all risks involved. The guy said something to his partner in their language and again shook his head, this time in disbelief.
“The guy eventually told me to pack up all my belongings. ‘What’s gonna happen now?’ I asked. ‘Is there a fine to pay?’ ‘You’re in big trouble,’ is what he said in return. ‘The boss will decide how he wants to deal with you later. You’ll be lucky if we don’t hand you over to the hungry dog Burundian officials who I’m sure would love to know your business in their country.’
“I was brought to a different room with a handful of chairs where I sat for several hours. It seemed to be the room they were using to stick Burundian refugees they were dealing with. There must’ve been like ten or fifteen of them throughout the day. I mean, I’m pretty sure they’d been refugees because whatever was going on didn’t seem to be your everyday, welcome-to-our-country, here’s-a-stamp-in-your-passport sort of interactions. Those were being conducted out in the main area of this building. These people had all of the belongings they were able to carry by hand and like, I don’t even know if any of ‘em even had passports. None of them spoke English either so I couldn’t ask ‘em what was going on. I don’t know if they got into the country or were being sent back or what as I wasn’t allowed to leave the room to go investigate.
“As I sat there I began pondering the threat of being sent back to Burundi. And it did scare me. There’s no way the officials there would believe that I’d sneak into the country just for the sake of sneaking into the country. Given how paranoid they are, they’d probably think I’m a journalist who’s trying to write a story to spread international awareness about the families of all the political opposition that Nkurunziza has done away with. And that could be very, very bad for me. I mean, Tanzania’s an African country with its fair share of human rights problems, sure. But at the end of the day, they’re not Burundi. Tanzania maintains a pretty solid international reputation as a safe place for foreigners to come visit and go on safaris and climb Kilimanjaro and dump – literally – billions of dollars into the economy annually. On top of that, I think the United States throws at least another half-billion into the country in aid every year. Burundi doesn’t get that shit. Burundi has nothing to lose. They could do whatever they want with me without fear of any tangible repercussions. So this begs the question, would Tanzania really be willing to risk that reputation on which so very much annual revenue is based by turning an American citizen over to a repressive regime with which the US has had shitty relations since the rigged 2015 election, thus creating a huge international incident just because of some silly illegal border-crossing? I would have to say no. It’s not worth it for them. They have too much to lose. So, in spite of it being scary, I reasoned that it was no more than just a bullshit threat.
“Eventually, like three or four hours after the guys had dug through my bag – it was probably like two or three in the afternoon at this point – the head honcho of this immigration post comes in to have a chat with me. Very friendly. He tells me I’m going to pay a six-hundred-dollar fine. I ask him where that number has come from. He says that it’s always six-hundred dollars. I want to know if that applies for Burundians who they catch trying to sneak across the border as well or just for me. He doesn’t respond. I ask if I could see this monetary value written out somewhere in an official rulebook. He tells me that I can’t and that they’re going to hold on to my passport and yellow vaccination card until I pay the six-hundred dollars and that’s that. I tell him that I don’t have six-hundred dollars – that I only have two-hundred dollars’ worth of Burundian francs. He’s very disappointed that I don’t have the money on me. He tells me that I’ll be going to an ATM later to get the money I need to pay the fine. He asks me if I understand. I say that I do, he bids me a good day and leaves the room.
“After the boss has spoken to me and established the punishment for me and has gotten me to agree to it, everyone else who works there has suddenly warmed up to me. They’re offering me food and telling me not to worry, that they’re not actually going to turn me back over to Burundi. They’re telling me that I’m okay and I can relax. Outwardly, I do. Outwardly, I act like I’m okay with this six-hundred-dollar ‘fine’ I’ve been hit with. Outwardly, I start making small talk and asking everyone about their families and their educational backgrounds and their lives in Tanzania and being all nice and friendly. But inside, I’m fuckin’ pissed off. Because I know what’s going on here. Like, I get it. I broke the law. And I was willing to pay the fine for having broken the law and then I’d go on my way. But these fuckers aren’t about upholding the law. They think they caught themselves a real big fish. They see the opportunity to make themselves a nice little bonus offa me and – after what I went through a couple days beforehand with the Muyinga chief of police holding my phone for ransom – I just ain’t havin’ it.
“So, I don’t know at exactly what time the border closed, but they had me sit there until long after they’d finished conducting official business for the day. It was dark out and everyone had left except for three immigration officials – one of whom had been one of the guys who originally interrogated me and went digging through all my shit. He was the driver of the car they made me get in the back of, sitting in the middle sandwiched between the other two guys – one of whom had been the fatass who came after me on the motorcycle and caught me trying to get away at the Kabanga bus station. It’s pitch-black out. We’re still making friendly small talk. This song called ‘Love You Die’ by some Nigerian guy named Patoranking featuring a Tanzanian guy named Diamond Platnumz comes on the radio. I’d heard this song a bunch of times on the long bus journey across the country from Dar to Kabanga. It’s a good song. I really like it. I tell them I like the song and they’re surprised I know who Diamond Platnumz is. They feel comfortable with me. They think they got me. After a fifteen-mile drive through the cover of night, we arrive in the town of Ngara where the nearest ATM is. I take out the Tanzanian shilling equivalent of six-hundred US dollars and walk back to the car, around which the three men are standing, smiling and laughing about their ensuing bonus.
“Now, as I’d mentioned, I’d been talking with these guys, gathering information the whole afternoon after I’d spoken to the boss. What I knew about them – all of them – is that they’re family men. They’re family men who got young kids to look out for and they’re men who are educated and have worked very hard to get where they are. In bumblefuck western Tanzania where typical employment opportunities consist of being a farmer, a mechanic, a motorcycle taxi guy or a guy operating a fruit stand, these guys are the elite. They get to sit in an air-conditioned building all day putting stamps in passports and shuffling paperwork. Compared to those around them, they live pretty comfortable lives. They got a lot to lose. So here, unlike in lawless-ass anything-goes Burundi with my phone being held for ransom, I have major leverage I can use against the people trying to extort me. And in building my case against them, here’s my first piece of evidence – an ATM receipt with a time stamp that’s a couple hours past the border’s official closing time, when I’m officially still under their custody for crossing the border illegally.
“’So where do you wanna do this transaction?’ I asked the driver. ‘We could do it here in Ngara,’ he said, ‘or we could do it back in Kabanga. Wherever. It depends where you want to be dropped off.’ I told him that it doesn’t matter to me where we do it, as long as I get an official Kabanga One Stop Border Post receipt with his signature on it. ‘A receipt?’ he asked. ‘But those are back at the office. We’d have to go back there to get one.’ I told him that I don’t mind. He says, ‘But the border is closed right now. And since it is closed, we cannot conduct business until tomorrow morning so we’d have to put you in jail for the night.’ I tell him that that’s fine because that way I wouldn’t have to worry about paying for a hotel. ‘But if we do that, then there’s a chance we will still hand you back over to the hungry dog Burundian officials. And who knows what they’ll do with you over there. They won’t treat you as nicely as we have.’ ‘Listen dude,’ I said, ‘it’s too late for that shit. You yourself said earlier that you guys weren’t gonna hand me over to Burundi. Call up your boss and put him on the phone.’
“So this guy calls the boss and explains to him what’s going on before handing the phone over to me. ‘Hey,’ the guy says, ‘what’s going on over there? I thought we had a deal.’ And I’m like, ‘A deal? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was under the impression that I was paying an official fine for having broken the law. But then I get out here and you guys aren’t even willing to give me an official receipt? That sounds illegal. That sounds like you guys are trying to collect an illegal bribe of six-hundred-dollars from me. You could probably get in a lot of trouble for that. You could probably lose your job.’ Upon hearing this, the guy’s totally pissed off and cuts me off, demanding I put the driver back on the phone. And so I do. He talks for a minute then hangs up and tells me to get back in the car. We start heading back to Kabanga.
“The two guys sandwiching me in the back have nothing to say but the driver keeps eyeing me in the rearview mirror. At one point he says, ‘What if you just pay part of the six-hundred-dollar fine – maybe just four-hundred dollars?’ And I look right back at him in the mirror and tell him no. I say, ‘How about you give me my passport and my yellow vaccination card back and let me go and we’ll pretend like this never happened?’ ‘I can’t do that,’ he responds, ‘because you’ve broken the law and you must pay.’ ‘Look,’ I said, ‘after what just happened, now you’ve broken the law too. And if I pay, I’m gonna make sure that you pay as well.’ He stares at me in the mirror and for the rest of the ride back to Kabanga, tries to convince me any way he can to just pay him the money. I tell him to fuck off. We arrive into town and the driver pulls into the lot of a motel down the main street from the border post. ‘What’s this?’ I asked. ‘I thought I was gonna get to spend a free night in jail.’ He told me that this is where I’ll be staying. He told me to come to the border post tomorrow morning to pay the fine and that’s when they’ll return my personal documents. They left and I went into the motel’s outdoor restaurant area to grab some dinner.
“I didn’t have a plan at the time and so wanted to get on the internet to do some research on how to approach the situation but I didn’t have any reception and the motel didn’t offer wifi so I figured I was fucked. But then looking around the restaurant I saw these two guys who’d been dicking around on their phones and went over and asked if by chance they’d be willing to create a wifi hotspot for me to use. They said it would be no problem and that I’m welcome to come and join them. We get to chatting and I don’t even really end up looking at my phone because the conversation turns out to be more valuable than anything I’d have been able to find on the internet. Turns out the two guys I’m talking to – Kelvin and Geofrey, both Tanzanian – work for United Nations and are in the process of auditing the Kabanga border post. I tell them my situation and they sympathize. I ask them if they’d be willing to make sure that, if I were made to pay a fine the following day, it ended up actually going to the border post and not into the pockets of the officials. They say that they’d be happy to do that for me but that in the meantime they’re heading off to bed. I thank them for their kindness, eat my dinner then head off to my own room where I don’t sleep at all. I stayed up all night drafting a handwritten letter and steeling myself for the following morning’s confrontation.”
“You wrote a letter to them?”
“Yeah, I did. I thought it was really important to have my case against them clearly laid out to show how fuckin’ serious I am, ya know? Here, I got a snapshot of it on my phone. Lemme read it for you.
“’Attention authorities of the Tanzania Kabanga border post,
Last night, after holding me in detention for ten hours, three border post officials drove me more than 20km to Ngara to an ATM machine from where I was told to make four withdrawals of 400,000 Tanzanian shillings, 1.3 million of which they wanted me to give them with no intention of offering me an official government receipt. I refused to pay anything without a receipt and was subsequently informed that I didn’t need a receipt for the equivalent of $600USD that I was to give them because it wasn’t a fine for violating Tanzanian immigration law but for the “protection” I was provided against the “hungry dog” Burundian officials they threatened to hand me over to if I didn’t give them the money. I was also told that they would not return my passport or my yellow vaccination card to me until they received the money which they still refused to give me a receipt for, but was informed it would be okay if I didn’t pay the whole fine – that they could possibly return my passport and yellow card for three or maybe four-hundred dollars, without an official receipt of course. I still refused to give up any money without an official receipt and was brought to New Free Park Hotel in Kabanga. They told me I could stay there and that they’d hold my passport hostage until I pay the ransom.
Two things happened last night after I was dropped off at the hotel. The first is that I saw two Tanzanian men sitting at a table using their smartphones and I asked them if I could use their connection to the internet via a wifi hotspot. They agreed and upon connecting, I immediately went on the US Department of State’s official website and got the emergency contact number for citizens experiencing diplomatic problems abroad. I used my Skype account to make that call and explained my situation to agent Dennis O’Shea in Washington DC. Mr. O’Shea informed me that what was done to me is highly illegal and that any officials involved in the extortion of money from a US citizen are subject to investigation and punishment. Mr. O’Shea also said I should not leave the border post without the names and photographs of the three officials who brought me to the ATM machine and faxing them to the US embassy in Dar es Salaam as soon as possible for a joint review between the US and Tanzanian governments. He also said that if I am again threatened to be turned over to the “hungry dog” Burundian officials, I am to demand immediate assistance from the US embassy.
After making this call, I began talking to the two Tanzanian men whose internet I borrowed. Their names are Geofrey M—- and Kelvin A—- and they happen to be the two men currently doing a financial audit of Kabanga border post. They told me they’d be more than happy to have a look at the official receipt you give me for the payment of my fine to make sure my money ends up in the Tanzanian system and not the pockets of any officials.
Upon hearing this, I again called Mr. O’Shea in Washington and told him about my plan to hand the receipt to the auditors for inspection. Mr. O’Shea concluded that in addition to all the aforementioned information about my passport being held in exchange for a massive 1.3 million shilling bribe, official proof of a forged government receipt used in the illegal extortion of money from a US citizen would be more than enough evidence to convict and punish all parties involved to the full extent of the law.
Timothy J. Lally
September 16, 2017’”
“Wait,” asked the doctor, “were you actually in contact with this agent O’Shea or…?”
“Oh no, it’s total bullshit. Dennis O’Shea is the name of a guy I went to grammar school with. It’s just a massive bluff to scare the shit out of ‘em. Because like I told you, everything about me is perception control. And I thought I’d appear much more threatening with the US government at my back. Because like I said, these men are very comfortable in the lives they live with these nice little government jobs they got out there in the countryside. They don’t wanna lose what they have. That’s their weakness. And in recognizing that, I have the upper hand. Because I know damn well, if you wanna come out on top, you gotta strike people where they’re vulnerable. Like, I’m not a naturally aggressive person. I don’t like taking advantage of people. But I definitely have the capacity to do so. And the second you back me into a corner like that and make it a me-or-you situation, what choice do you leave me but to destroy your fucking life?”
“I see,” said the doc. “So, what’d you end up doing?”
“Well, the following morning I ate breakfast with Geofrey and Kelvin and let them read the letter I wrote. They were a bit doubtful but said it seemed like a pretty good idea and wished me the best of luck. After that, I sat around the motel waiting for the border to open, then I walked over there and marched right into the boss’s office without even knocking. He’d been sitting there having a meeting with some guy and I walked right up to his desk and threw down the letter I wrote. ‘What’s this?’ he asked. I told him to read it. He did. He looks up at me and says, ‘But you’re the one who broke the law.’ ‘Yeah, I know,’ I told him. ‘And I was willing to pay the fine. I still am willing to pay the fine. But at the same time, the three men who you had drive me to the ATM machine last night, they broke the law too. And you can’t have government officials abusing their power like that. Because if you can’t trust the law to do what’s right, then who can you trust?’ He told me that I’m being ridiculous. ‘I’m gonna need their names and their photographs and I’m sending their information to the US embassy today. They need to pay for what they did.’ ‘But these are good men,’ the boss said, ‘and with families to feed!’ ‘I know,’ I told him. ‘I know they’re family men. And lemme tell you something about that. I don’t give a shit. I don’t give a fuck if they lose their jobs and their homes and their wives have to sell their bodies in order to feed their starving children. I want their fucking names and I want their fucking photographs. Do you understand me?’ ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘you need to calm down. Just have a seat and…’ I cut him off. ‘Don’t you tell me to calm down. Where’s my fucking passport? Give me my fucking passport!’ He tells me he doesn’t know where my passport is. ‘How the fuck do you not know where my passport is? What type of operation are you running here? You’re too busy trying to steal money from people to keep track of where you put their fucking passports? This is unbelievable.’
“So now, after that performance of a lifetime, this guy’s on the defensive. All the power is in my hands. He’s again asking that I calm down and not ruin the lives of the three men he sent me with to the ATM and he’s telling me to take a seat in the other room where I’d spent the day before and not to worry because he’s going to get my passport back and whatever else. Ten minutes later, he calls me back into his office. He’s got my passport and vaccination card on his desk. The other guy with whom he’d been having a meeting when I stormed into his office is still sitting there. I’m told to take a seat next to him. I do. He tells me he just contacted his boss in Dar es Salaam to see what to do with me. He tells me that the guy recommended I be let go immediately and be offered an official apology on behalf of the Tanzanian government for what was done to me. I tried not to, but upon hearing this I couldn’t help but smirk right in this guy’s face. And so he gives me his personal number and says that if there’s anything he could do for me while in the country to not hesitate to contact him. And I thank him and take my documents and start walking towards the exit of this border post building when I run into Geofrey and Kelvin, one of whom says, ‘Oh my god, it actually worked?’ I told them it did. ‘You’re very clever!’ I again thank them for their support, shake their hands and wish them all the best in life. I go back out to the main road through town, walk to my motel, grab my bag, check out, head to the bus station, tell the guy in the ticket office how the situation turned out and, with his help, get myself into a shared taxi heading for the Rwandan border.”
“Yeah, ‘wow’ is right. What I felt in that moment is in-fucking-comparable. I felt like fucking God himself. I felt like the smartest man in the world. I felt like no one could fuck with me.”
“And you said that feeling lasted…”
“The rest of the day. I showed up in Kigali that evening just after the sun had set and walked like three miles to the hostel at which I was staying with all my belongings on my back and my knife in my hand as I traversed unlit tin shack slums on unpaved roads that my phone’s GPS told me to walk through. I wasn’t worried about anyone trying to rob me though. I felt like I could take anyone who stepped up to me. I felt invincible. Man,” I said wistfully, “I love that feeling. But like I told you, it’s extremely rare.”
I took a deep breath and blew it back out.
“That said, at the opposite end of the spectrum are the all-too-common feelings of insecurity which tend to go hand-in-hand with anxiety, depression and the earlier-described paranoia. When I’m feeling insecure, I’m nothing like the confident man that walked into that immigration boss’s office and basically told him to go fuck himself. When I’m feeling insecure, I’m a total fucking bitch. I can’t handle criticism or rejection at all. I don’t feel comfortable making eye contact with people and feel very distant to reality and the people around me. When I’m insecure, I find it hard to concentrate on anything but how not-okay I feel. I can’t read about crimes in the newspaper without feeling the world is accusing me personally of everything I read about. If I text a friend and they don’t immediately respond, I’ll think they hate me and never wanna talk to me again. If I tried really hard at something and someone tells me I did it wrong or I feel very strongly about something and someone whose approval I feel I need doesn’t agree with me or if I’m in desperate need of validation and I reach out to make a connection with someone on Tinder and they tell me I’m boring them or I’m ugly and have yellow teeth or tell me I’m a loser when I let them know that I don’t have any interest in being their sugar daddy – all these things are experienced on my end as someone telling me I should go kill myself, telling me that I don’t deserve to be alive. And part of me believes it. And then I get so mad at myself for being such a pussy. I mean, what sort of grown man lets some stranger’s petty insults ruin his entire day like that? And so then I mentally join the digital strangers in berating myself for anything and everything. When this starts to happen, it’s almost as if I get a physical sensation of my mind closing in on itself. I feel it right here in the front of my head. And like, listening to this shit all day in my head makes me tired and I start to feel that I have nothing to look forward to in life. I get overwhelmed by the feeling that I’m a horrible person and everyone just wants me to kill myself. I become absolutely exhausted and just wanna be somewhere alone where I can lay myself down and let these awful feelings run their course through my body and mind.”
“Why do you feel like you’re a horrible person? What makes you think that about yourself?”
“Well, there’s a ton of things.”
“Well, it’s like – what type of sleazy piece of shit has fucked as many hookers as I have? I was honestly quite surprised when they did all the blood tests at MEPS before letting me join the military and I came up negative for all STDs because I went nuts with that shit in Colombia. I moved down there to Bogotá with the intention of becoming an English teacher, finding a wife and starting a family. What a fuckin’ joke. I hated teaching English and unless I can get blackout drunk while doing it, I find dating to be boring as shit. So after I eventually gave up on my dream – after maybe, I dunno, two months or so – I started spending a lot of time in this red light district called Santa Fe. Real fuckin’ shithole neighborhood just outside the city center with a bunch of riffraff spillover from an absolute slum full of bums, drug addicts and criminals adjacent it called the Bronx which they actually ended up tearing down while I still lived there. It’s a seedy and disgusting place – a two-block stretch of wasted lives and squandered dreams – and, to be honest, I fuckin’ loved it. I felt right at home. I would just walk up and down the street and there’s women of every shape, size and color standing in doorways calling out to me as I walked past. There’s a ton of strip clubs too that are open all day long where if you like a girl on stage, you can invite her to sit with you and if you still think you like her when she’s sitting with you, you can take her upstairs for a quick shag for twenty bucks.
“My personal favorite service had been massages with very happy endings. A woman’s caress speaks to me in ways that her words can’t. Like, getting an hour-long full-body rubdown that ends in sex is the ultimate validation for me. It’s so soothing. It’s so calming. I don’t care that I had to pay for it. It doesn’t matter if the woman giving it to me actually likes me or is just acting and thinks I’m a fuckin’ loser – that shit’s irrelevant. If she’s good at her job, I’m getting exactly what I need. I really genuinely do enjoy all these things immensely. I find them to be more satisfying than any relationship I’ve ever been in because I never feel like these hookers are trying to change me as a person to suit their idea of who I should be and since I haven’t emotionally invested myself in the other person at all, I’m not paranoid about them abandoning me. It’s good because I feel safe. But at the same time…”
“You feel guilty about having slept with so many prostitutes?”
“No, that’s not what I was gonna say. I mean, I find it hard to believe any sort of decent woman would ever wanna be with a man who is as, euphemistically put, liberal with his sexuality as I am. So yeah, that does pose a problem. I feel like it’s always something that I’m gonna hafta keep hidden from my partner and if they were to somehow find out – I’d probably bring it up casually in conversation because that’s just the way I am – I’d have to put on a big show to appease them, pretending I feel really ashamed of myself and making up a narrative about it having been a desperately lonely time in my life so they can make some sense of it and mentally create a past scumbag version of me with which they can contrast the present relationship version of me who they can trust to not do those things anymore. But honestly, I don’t find it morally wrong. Like, not every woman who’s a prostitute is some sort of oppressed sex slave. There’s just a lack of opportunity down there for uneducated women and I think a lot of them prefer doing that sort of work over what else is available to them given their education levels – at least while they’re still young and hot and the demand is high. In fact, a lot of the women I was with were either single mothers fucking strangers to support their children or college students gobbling nuts to pay for their education. Or so they claimed. The way I view it is, these girls are gonna be out there selling themselves whether I pay for their services or not. I want what they’re selling. They want my money. They’re good to me. I’m good to them. We’re two consenting adults. I don’t see a problem there. I’ll pay to play any day – at least in the third world where it’s legal and dirt cheap because the supply outweighs the demand.
“What I was gonna say is that what bothers me the most is not all the hookers that I have screwed, but rather an urge I had while living in Bogotá that I did not act on. This one time hanging out on the corner in the middle of the day – this is when I always went to Santa Fe; I think I’d probably get murdered hanging around there by myself at night – had been this real slutty-looking pack of what looked like fifteen and sixteen-year-old girls straight from the ghetto with a bunch of makeup on and their midriffs showing and their little teeny titties hanging out. And they were drinking and smoking weed and yelling rude things at all the men who walked past and then laughing about it before taking another swig from the bottle of aguardiente they’d been passing around. They were total ‘guisas.’ That’s the word they’d use down there to describe this uncultured, uneducated, trashy type of girl. And I just wanted to fuck the shit out of ‘em. Like, all of ‘em. One after another. Just fuck ‘em from every angle and cover ‘em all in jizz – drown ‘em in my jizz essentially. I mean, I didn’t. I didn’t do it. What I did do was go back to my apartment and jack off about the fantasy to get it outta my system. But even so. Even though I didn’t outwardly act on it and try to fuck these girls – I’m not sure whether they were even actually selling themselves there or just hanging out on the corner getting fucked up – I just feel so fuckin’ disgusted with myself for being attracted to these little foul-mouthed, Lolita, jailbait, teenyboppin’-ass hos. I feel like a despicable person. I just hate myself so much for it.”
“Look Tim,” the doc readjusted himself in his seat, “you’re very well read. I assume you’re familiar with Freud’s theory on human nature?”
“Yeah, I know the basic gist of it.”
“Well, what’s Freud say? What’s he say in his theory on human nature?”
“I mean, he says somethin’ like, ‘We as humans are all basically just a bunch of selfish-ass motherfuckers who are programmed to fulfill our animalistic drives and that good and bad are just manmade concepts imposed on us through our parents and our societal indoctrination to – in the interest of maintaining order and promoting safety among a population – interrupt said natural, individualistic drives that may prove harmful to the interests of the group as a whole.”
“Exactly. You’ve got this superego that’s just so…punitive. It does its job of keeping you from engaging in behaviors that are societally looked down upon, but it doesn’t stop there. And you shame yourself relentlessly for having drives that are totally natural even though you had the decency to not act upon them. These things are all relative to the society you’re living in. I was born in the fifties, Tim. My parents were from the Philippines. My father was thirty-two and my mother was sixteen when they wed. It wasn’t a big deal at all. Believe me, it doesn’t make you a bad person.”
“I get it. I know it’s a cultural thing. It’s documented that Muhammad, founder of Islam, married a girl when she was six or seven and proceeded to consummate the marriage when his child bride purportedly started ovulating at the age of nine or ten and almost two billion people still revere him and his teachings. They say that David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Mick Jagger and other legendary rockers were sticking their dicks into fourteen and fifteen-year-old ‘baby groupies’ like Sable Starr and Lori Mattix back in the early seventies and it hasn’t tainted their legacies in the slightest. And that’s fine and dandy for all them but these are not the cultures I live in. I live in a culture where, if I were to screw a fifteen or sixteen-year-old girl as my – if we’re keeping it Freudian here – id is telling me to do, I’d be put on a sex offender list and for the rest of my life would be legally required to go door to door letting all neighbors who live within a certain radius of me know what a loathsome sexual deviant of a child predator I am. That’s really the lowest of the low in our culture – a true scarlet letter of this day and age.”
“But you didn’t do it.”
“No, I didn’t. But I wanted to and that’s pathetic. I just feel like I wanted to do it so bad because I didn’t get any pussy when I was in high school because I was so painfully neurotic that I could never just be a normal person and talk to girls or have a normal relationship with anyone because of all this crazy bullshit I’ve always been dealing with in my head. I didn’t even get my first kiss until after I graduated and I couldn’t do it without being completely shitfaced to numb out all the negative self-talk. It’s just…I’m just such a fuckin’ loser. I was a loser in high school for not being able to connect with girls my age and now I’m loser sitting here across from you reminiscing about being a twenty-eight-year-old loser wanting to screw girls half his age to make up for being a loser in high school. It’s just pathetic. That’s the only word for it. Pathetic.”
“But you didn’t do it, Tim.”
“It doesn’t fucking matter!”
“Look,” he said a moment after the outburst, “what defines a person’s character is not what they think and feel, Tim, but how they choose to act.”
“I know. I fucking know.”
“Then let it go. Learn to forgive yourself. Beating yourself up about thoughts that passed through your head years ago – thoughts you didn’t even act on – accomplishes nothing. It can only do you harm.”
“Fine. But what about all the bad things that I have done? What about all the harmful drives over the years that I have acted on? Breaking people’s property, urinating on the crotches of strangers at parties who’ve passed out from having had too much to drink, microwaving my feces until it’s a bubbling, smoking mess and leaving it for other people to come clean up – whatever. What about that warehouse I told you about that my friends and I broke into and burnt down back when we were fourteen and fifteen-years-old? I wasn’t some child that wasn’t mature enough to make decisions for myself as everyone likes to say of people that age. I knew exactly what I was doing.”
“Why do you think you did those things?”
“Well, I mean, I know why – it’s just not easy to say. I did those things because…because I genuinely enjoy doing them. I really do like breaking other people’s shit and acting like a huge asshole. And I don’t regret it at all. That’s just who I really am. And I like myself. But at the same time I’m ashamed of myself for being this way.”
“Well, you’re not gonna go out now smashing people’s belongings and breaking into buildings and setting them on fire, are you?”
“No, I’m fuckin’ thirty-years-old now. I think it’s wrong to hurt people and break their shit that they work hard to pay for. Even if I don’t agree with their lifestyle and think consumerism and working away your best years only to spend all your money amassing material possessions instead of experiences is an egregious waste of the one life you have, I wanna give them the respect they deserve in pursuing whatever sort of life they wanna build for themselves.”
“Well, there ya go.”
“Yeah, but, I mean…that shit doesn’t just go away because I’ve made the conscious decision that I wanna try to live in a civilized manner as best I can. And sometimes I just need to act on it and I try to do so in ways that wouldn’t get me in too much trouble if I were to get caught. Like three-and-a-half years ago when I was living in New Orleans I got this idea in my head that I wanted to go over to the old abandoned naval base along the Mississippi and whack a bunch of golf balls at the windows so I first went to the thrift store and bought a shitty old driver and a golf bag for five bucks and then I went to the driving range and ordered the biggest bucket of balls they offered. I hit like two or three of the balls there at the range while looking around for cameras and when I decided I didn’t see any, I dumped the rest of the balls into the bag and walked outta the place. I then stopped at the liquor store and bought a sixer of tall boys and a pack of smokes, stopped back at my apartment to drop my roommate’s car off and to grab his dog then headed over to this area next to the naval base known as ‘The End of the World.’ Once I got there, I let Reggie off his leash to go run around and piss on things as he saw fit while I got buzzed and smashed windows. It was quite literally one of my life’s proudest moments. It’s right up there next to having shit off a second-story fire escape directly into a cereal bowl on the ground below, and throwing a rowdy-ass midget stripper party back when I was twenty-two, and trashing the B96 van with green peppers full of mustard while DJs Stylz & Roman were broadcasting live out of it from my neighborhood in Chicago. Like, I’m way more proud of these things than I am of having a college degree or being part of the military. I’ve never admitted that to anyone, but if I did, what would they think of me? That’s not something that would make my mother proud. What sort of loser does that make me to have a value system that’s so fuckin’ ass-backwards like that and not wanna change it?
“Sure, one can argue that those things are not that bad because I didn’t really hurt anybody. But what about the story I told you a few sessions ago of when I’d been living in Bogotá and was walking back to my apartment around four in the morning after going on a drunken date with some chick when that stupid asshole tried to rob me? That fuckin’ guy was dumb enough to try and rob me by himself without the use of any weapons. He weighed at least thirty pounds less than I do and thought I’d be intimidated when he grabbed me by the shirt and told me to give him my phone. Can you believe that? I just stared at him. Because it’s like – when I’m drunk, I don’t feel fear. I’m ice fuckin’ cold. And I’d been waiting for an opportunity like that all my life – to have a valid excuse to really fuck somebody up. And so when he again demanded my phone, I took it out my pocket, held it up for him to see and threw it on the sidewalk beside us. Just as I suspected it would, his head turned and his eyes followed. In this exact moment both my arms shot up and my hands wrapped around his neck, my thumbs digging deep, crushing his windpipe and squeezing the life out of him. I picked him up by his neck and he began flailing. I was in total control of his body. Just like what I’d experienced in Burundi, this had been another one of the times that I felt like God.
“As you know, I didn’t end up killing him. I just dragged him into the middle of the street and threw his body on the ground in front of a car whose driver slammed on the brakes, threw it in reverse, backed down to the nearest intersection where they quickly turned and sped out of sight. They didn’t want anything to do with the situation. And so, this happened a block away from the presidential palace and there’re soldiers on patrol everywhere and this guy got up coughing and wheezing and ran over to the nearest group of ‘em accusing me of being a crazy crackhead that was trying to rob him and whatever which they knew was total bullshit and they ended up taking him off to jail where he probably spent the night and would be back on the street robbing people again in no time.”
I took a deep breath.
“So, my question for you is…how could someone who’s not a bad person enjoy doing that to another human being? What type of good person enjoys the feeling of strangling the life out of someone else?”
“You know, Tim,” he began after a moment, “I like to think of myself as a good person. And as you know I spent a decent amount of time living in Turkey. And while there I had this acquaintance. I’m normally a very trusting person. I like to think that people are for the most part good. And this acquaintance…I thought I could trust him. I was looking to buy a house and, since I don’t speak Turkish, he offered to be the intermediary for the purchase. And so I gave the guy the down payment for the house and he just decided to keep it all for himself. It was a lot of money too. And so I took him to court. And the Turkish legal system is unorganized and inefficient and it took like three years to get this guy convicted. And after all the hassle, I didn’t even get any of my money back. And so the day they finally sent him to prison, I found myself reveling in the demise of this person. For what he did to me, I was so happy to see his freedom taken away like that – to see him be hauled off to a place with as nasty a reputation as a Turkish prison.”
“Is he still in there now?”
“I don’t know. And I don’t care. He already took a bunch of money and the three years of my life I spent trying to retrieve that money and I don’t care to waste any more of my time thinking about this guy. He could be dead and it wouldn’t matter to me. And still, Tim…I still consider myself a good person.”
“I mean, that’s a pretty good story and all but I don’t think it’s the same as putting your hands around someone’s neck and…”
“Look Tim,” he interrupted me, “you’re not going to be able to convince me that you’re a bad person. The very fact that you’re concerned whether or not you’re a bad person for engaging in these behaviors is proof that you’re not one. And again, although you may have wanted to do it, although you may have wanted to kill this guy – you had a clear opportunity to do so and probably get away with it too – in the end, your conscience held you back from following through. You’re not a bad person. Let me tell you what I think a bad person looks like. Back when I was first starting out as a psychologist, I worked in a prison. And there was this one inmate who – I don’t know if he screwed him first and then strangled him or strangled him and then screwed him…”
“Maybe he screwed him then strangled him then screwed him again?”
“Yeah, maybe. It’s possible. I don’t know. Either way – totally unprovoked, by the way; he wasn’t being robbed by a stranger in the middle of the night the way you were – he raped his cellmate and strangled him to death and then casually called the guard over, saying, ‘Hey, come get this dead body out of my cell.’ The guy showed no remorse for what he did and cared not one bit what anyone thought of him for it. To me, that’s what a bad person is. And that’s not what you are.
“Tim, I’ve gotten to know you these past couple months better than any other patient I’ve ever had and…”
“Well, I mean, I guess that makes sense because most people who see you probably wanna keep their jobs here and would probably get disqualified from them if they talked about the sort of stuff that I do in here so…”
“That’s not really it. What I’m saying is that you’re very self-aware and introspective and I truly have learned a lot talking with you. And I appreciate you letting me ride along. But what I’m seeing to be the trend here and what you’re suffering the most from is that you see yourself as this inherently defective person that’s unworthy of being loved. And to compensate for these feelings of inadequacy you try to get validation from any outside source you can. And as a means of doing so, you’ve internalized everyone else’s standards of what you should be, how you should act, what you should do with your life, et cetera, et cetera. And when you fail to live up to every last one of these conflicting, unrealistic standards you’ve decided you need to achieve to be worthy of love, you just…hate yourself because of it. And even if you do live up to these standards you’ve set to gain the approval of others, you still end up hating yourself because you feel like whatever you’re doing with your life is not authentic and doesn’t align with your values and that you’re living a lie. And you project your self-hatred onto everyone around you and you isolate yourself and you get depressed which causes you to see life as boring and pointless and to go out seeking thrills and doing crazy stuff that’ll make you feel alive. I don’t think you’re a defective person, Tim. You just gotta love and accept yourself for who you are. No one else can do that for you. Everything else falls into place thereafter.”
“I get what you’re saying,” I replied. “And I know that that makes sense from your point of view – like, openly declaring that I love myself would be the cure of all my problems. But that’s not the way it works. Because I do love myself. That’s what you’re not really getting. Like I’ve been trying to show you…I don’t have any control over the shame I experience. It’s not something I consciously impose on myself. It feels like I just get assaulted by it out of nowhere. And it’s always triggered by my relation to other people and society as a whole. It tells me I’m a bad person because I have a mean brain that thinks rotten things about other people and that I’m a bad person because I have drastically different values and don’t care to live life like everyone else with a place of my own where I ‘belong’ and having a steady job I’d have to suffer through year-round just to pay for said place I don’t want. And as far as jobs go, let’s not forget about how important it is to have one with good benefits so we can all get that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from having a solid insurance plan to appease the deep-seated fear we all have that something bad might happen. Of course something bad’s gonna happen. We all get sick and die eventually. It’s inevitable. But does knowing this basic truth mean I should sell myself out and live life in a way that’s not suitable for me, giving myself a false sense of security and tricking myself into thinking I can cheat death by having insurance? The majority of the population seems to think so. And anyone who doesn’t think that way is made to feel like an ignorant asshole. I’d personally rather follow my heart and end up dying younger than I otherwise might’ve because I didn’t have the money to pay for treatment than to spend the entirety of it doing something I fucking hate because I let my fear get the best of me and bought into the illusion of death denial as packaged up and sold to us by the society we live in.
“So, that said…I’ve made the painful discovery that my love for myself is incompatible with being around the same people for extended periods of time and forcing myself to fit into society and function as what most everybody views as ‘normally’. Because when I’m around the same people and am doing the same shit for too long – usually after three months of doing something is when I start to break – I inevitably feel this overwhelming sense of shame for not fitting in. I’m ashamed of how I think that whatever job I’m doing is so intolerably stupid and so fucking boring that I’d quite literally rather burn my place of employment to the ground than suffer through another day there. But then I force myself to go in anyway and feel so isolated from my coworkers because I don’t take interest in any of the same distractions from our day-in, day-out nightmare as they do and am exhausted from pretending like the stuff they say to me isn’t putting me to sleep. I don’t care about sports or politics or the gym or memes or partying or concerts or fashion or video games or comic books or basically anything that your average person turns to for a sense of entertainment. Put it this way…the day a coworker comes up to me and suggests we smear some feces on braille and then watch blind people get our poo on their fingers when they go to read something will be the day I consider staying at a job longer than three months. But you know that that’s never gonna happen.
“And so…when I stay in one place for too long, because of this incompatibility I feel with other people, my brain starts saying really mean things about everybody. It’s exactly what happened here in the Air Force. Like, really just tearing everyone apart in my head because I think they’re all boring people who live boring lives and have no imagination and always do what they’re supposed to do and are all idiots who never question anything and all that stuff. And the shame hits me so hard. It’s like – why am I such a judgmental prick? Why can’t I care about the things that normal people care about? Why does pursuing a career in modern society make me feel so alienated from my essence as a human being? Why do I wanna punch my coworkers in the face when they’re talking at me about how the ref blew a call in last night’s game or when they’re telling me how excited they are for the new DC or Marvel movie to come out? Why does everyone else piss me off so bad? What’s wrong with me? Why am I such a miserable person? Why am I such a fucking freak? The shame of it all is so painful and so overwhelming. It makes me hate myself so fucking much. It makes me just wanna kill myself.”
“Do you actually want to kill yourself?”
“No, I don’t wanna kill myself. And I don’t wanna hate everyone either but that’s just how my brain works. I can only tolerate being in the same situation, experiencing the same emotions day-in and day-out for so long before this happens. And so, this travel lifestyle I’ve developed of three months at home working, three months on the road is the best balance I’ve been able to come up with to deal with this hand that I’ve been dealt. This way, I haven’t cut the people that I love – my friends and family – completely out of my life and at the same time I get to learn about foreign cultures and be in new situations with new people every day while getting much-needed, extended breaks from the shame I feel of not fitting in. I’m still not fitting in, but I’m doing it on my own terms. You feel me?”
“I do. I understand. I get how you don’t wanna ‘drink the Kool-Aid’ and be like everyone else. But don’t you think with help you could stay in one place for longer? And don’t you think that if you were able to do that, it might lead to a more fulfilling life?”
“Hmm…No,” I shook my head. “No, I honestly don’t think it would.”
“Really? You don’t?”
“Yeah, really. Because it’s like this – you’re telling me that the solution is to love myself and then I won’t feel the need to isolate myself from other people. But what if being by myself makes me feel less isolated than being around other people? What if being by myself – free of obligations to other people and to bosses that I need to sell myself out to fulfill – is what I need to do to repair my relationship with and to keep loving myself? What if the self-imposed months of isolation while traveling – I’m not really isolated when travelling as much as just taking a break away from everything and everybody that constitutes my ‘real life’ – is what I need to reenergize myself so I can come back and have the patience I need to be the best version of myself when I stop in to say ‘what’s up?’ to my family and friends and to make the money I need to sustain this carefully balanced lifestyle I’ve designed? You ever think of that? You ever think you’re looking at this situation the wrong way by prioritizing – as the only way for me to be happy – this one-size-fits-all solution of stability and permanence in one place for the rest of my life? With one job I’ll do year-round that’ll suck so bad I’ll wish I was dead? And with one woman who’ll treat me right but who I’ll get bored with and grow to resent and mistreat and won’t give the love she deserves or with one who’ll excite me that I’ll worship but who’s gonna treat me like shit and cheat on me while I’m at my job, working to pay for the house that she lives in and will get to keep and I’ll continue to have to keep working to pay for after we inevitably divorce? I dunno, man. That whole way of living just sounds like hell on earth to me. Always has. I don’t see how it could possibly work out for me. I just don’t want nothin’ to do with it.”
“Well,” he concluded, “if that’s the way you want to live your life, that’s perfectly fine. No one says you can’t travel. But when it comes to your happiness – in whatever you decide to do – I still think it’s a matter of learning to love and accept yourself for who you are instead of basing your self-worth on whether or not you fulfill other people’s expectations of who you should be.”
We sat and stared at each other for a moment. Eventually the doc stood up and indicated that we’d run out of time. I stood up too.
“Here,” he said, walking over to his desk. “I have something for you.”
From one of the drawers he pulled out a small, neatly-wrapped present and a greeting card then walked over and handed them to me.
“Do you want me to open them now?” I asked.
“If you’d like to,” he shrugged.
I decided to open the present first. It was a copy of Le Petit Prince.
“The Little Prince?”
“Yeah,” he said, “all you gotta do now is learn French.”
“The one where the little guy feels unappreciated on his home planet? And he leaves to go see what else is out there only to find that adults everywhere are just a bunch of absurd narrow-minded assholes? The one that shows how we’ve all lost that sense of wonderment towards life that we had when we were kids? And how we’ve replaced that wonderment with unwavering beliefs in some or another sort of dogmatic bullshit?”
He nodded and I looked down to begin opening the card.
It was a great pleasure getting to know you. I learned much from you and truly respect who you are. I hope that you find the happiness you are seeking. You deserve it. Have a good life.