Monday, July 8, 2013

Born to Lose

By 16 I already knew all there was to know. I wasn't a good son, I couldn't help either my father or mother cope with their difficulties, all I felt I could do was run. I wasn't a good student, I was given genius status as a child and proceeded to c and d my education into oblivion.

I'd found and joined a group of guys who imagined themselves to be outlaws one day, when they got a little older of course. Even manic depressives don't want to spend ALL their time alone, so seek out peers with similar substantial neuroses to "chill" with. Their particular brand of collective fuck the world was that of the motorcycle meanie, the Hell's Angel syndrome. It really wasn't me, but everyone needs a group to feel wholly uncomfortable in, so in that light it fit me perfectly.

Yet, I was a lousy biker; I felt compassion for those we oppressed, I shied away from mindless violence. I wasn't a reasonable drunk, unable to hold liquor in quantity without emotional breakdown or physical expulsion. I wasn't a good druggie, prone to bad trip paranoia on LSD and obliviousness on pot. I wasn't even a good lover, which at 16 you'd think wouldn't be an issue, but that would only show what you know (as they say).

All in all I self admittedly was pretty much a useless waste of the human printing "Born to Lose" on my arm seemed only reasonable as everyone who was anyone had a tattoo, and without a job I would never belong to the cool kids club without doing something about it on my own. Yea, well, the 16 year old mind... what a fascinating mystery...

As I remember it I'd been drinking and was likely weepy as was my common mood while under the influence. I also recall having shortly before finished a meal consisting of spaghetti noodles, watered down ketchup and peas; the only three food items in residence and therefore tossed into a pot as is the custom of the poor. The meal, I'm sure, only added to the woeismes I was sniveling, and may have been the very fuse for what was about to happen.

The knife was a Chicago Cutlery 10 inch meat blade; there are some things I'll never forget and the particular shoddy and dull knife that scarred me for life is among them. That would make you believe that I remember what I was thinking at that moment I suppose, but as I'm nearly always thinking a bit crosseyed, I tend to forget what is only commonplace to me. I'm sure there was some love lost, some cross words, maybe a hurled insult or sexually humiliating doesn't matter really, depression needs no trigger of consequence; any port in a storm.

The blade was so dull I had to make straight lines as curves were impossible, even in skin. Think of cutting yourself with a screwdriver and you'll get the idea, each staff needed to be redone again and again before drawing the tiniest droplets of blood, the signal that I'd reached critical depth.

Yes it hurt; God it hurt! But once I'd started there was no turning back and the longer it went on the more assured I was that I'd finish. It was hardly artistic, I was looking down and sideways and gripping my tool with a meaty fist around the blade for maximum traction, squeezing so hard it's a wonder I didn't cut my "weapon" hand in half.

It must have taken an hour, the hardest part being the inevitable swastika that sprang from the "s" in "Lose", a bow to bikerdom that forced me to figure out how it was actually made and then translate that into being upside down.

No, I wasn't truly aware of what it meant. Hell, I'd worn a patch with the number 13 on it for nearly a year before I learned that 13 stood for the letter M and that, for Marijuana. I was oblivious to concentration camps and property defacements and religious hatred beyond the country's seeming contempt of Catholics as demontrated by JFK's run for president, and that only because I'd been raised Catholic.

I'd dwell on that disturbing mark if it would matter, but the truth is it doesn't anymore; I was a kid, it was a horrid mistake to use symbolism of that ilk. It's only ironic now that I feel more shame for having had a scarred swastika on my arm for a few months, than for the desperate act of having carved a self fulfilling brand into my body in its entirety.

After the hour's sketching I needed to make my art permanent, something that had slipped my mind until I sat there in candle light, bleeding and sniffing back my tears. I spotted a bic ballpoint, and without a second guess, snapped it in half and cut the cartridge to release its purple bounty.

Again, as the ink didn't exactly flow I had to rub it into the flesh, annoyed that the sharp edges of the broken plastic were making my wounds ever deeper and wider, but too obsessed to change my method even to avoid the serious pain created.

I figured that soon enough, the broken skin would grow back over the ink I wanted, so I could wash off the ink I didn't want; so though I was a bit sloppy about staying within the lines, it would all come out in the wash so to speak.

About 3 weeks later I noticed, while unable to sleep for the second night in a row, that blue lines were making their way up my left arm and across my shoulder; seemingly intent on finding my heart and squirting some voodoo juice into it as punishment for my stupidity. I'd have let that slide had the pain caused by my canteloupe sized bicep not been forcing me to think of nothing else every waking moment.

So I suppose it'll be no surprise to anyone (at least anyone who remembers at this point that I was sixteen, and had assumed rightly that in spite of living away from home as often as not and in spite of being drunk or high most of my waking hours, I was still in high school) that I finally broke down and saw the school nurse. I must have stood outside that door and then walked away a hundred times before stepping through and offering myself to whatever screams of God have mercy I figured were in store.

She said little as I remember, save whispering "Oh my Lord" over and over as she tried to clean and dress what was infected beyond her capacity. I also recall the tears in her eyes as she asked me why I'd done this to myself and I answered "because it's correct." Women's tears always get me to believe something's more serious than I might have imagined, and luckily hers did as well or I'd have ignored her advice to have a doctor look at my handiwork, and taken my chances with the fates.

It was months before it healed completely, the ink having been washed from the cuts and tylenol with codiene proscribed to keep my spirits intact. My parents never knew; I used a free clinic doctor and the school never reported my slight. I have to imagine they didn't have a clue how to deal with me so they just backed slowly away and let me wander off.

The crossbar for the Germanic device had healed first and completely, so the effect vanished, much to my current happiness. Had I a clue at the time I never would have entertained it much less made it a permanent mark on my body and perhaps my soul.

I can still see some parts of it as we speak, a "B" like one box atop another here, a square "O" there; it's light but if you concentrate you can visualize Freddy Kruger catching me off guard and gouging at my strength in hopes of my dropping resistance and succumbing to his passage to hell. I didn't obviously; but I wanted to at least emblazon my reason for letting go when I do, in a place that would remain with me until that day came. A day I thought at that time and a few times since, couldn't come soon enough.

16 If A Day

It's hard to be sure what I thought as the blade pierced my skin
It was so long ago
it was less sense than show
But I know "Born to Lose" was my message, advanced by cheap gin
it was misery's mark
crying out from the dark
a dramatically loud violin

It wasn't a week 'till infection made blue every vein
poison crept toward my heart
from my sophomoric art
As my bicep swelled up I took refuge in powdered cocaine
no, the drug wasn't cool
but I hated high school
and the coke made a pleasure of pain

Then it finally became so diseased I had no other choice
but to guess which was worse
amputate...or school nurse
Yea, I'm sure that she heard the embarrasment deep in my voice
she was googly eyed
as she unwrapped my pride
she stood silent, her eyes getting moist

It likely was ink from a ballpoint that caused all the fuss
kids, remember this tome
don't do tattoos at home
What remains are deep scratches, it could have been quite hideous
pain obsession is bad
stow your knives when you're sad...or...
you might move to a hospital, trussed


  1. How awful! A lucky escape, I think, both from infection and permanency.

  2. "By 16 I already knew all there was to know." True of all at that age, I think.

    I wish you'd put all of these into a collection.

    Another story that leaves me speechless with fear, love, and gratitude.