I suppose fear, isolation, confusion and anger can manifest itself in extreme violence, just as I have seen the same emotions explode on steaming, city summer-streets. The August days when the heat sucks the oxygen from the air, unable to breathe, you explode.
You can internalize the violence and take it out on yourself or you loose it on the world. Neither option is a solution, both seem, at times, to somehow be necessary.
My name is Bob, or Charlie, or Fred, or Mike, or whatever. If you buy me a drink, you can call me Mary…
My name and who I am are of little consequence and has little to nothing to do with this tale. I find myself the storyteller now: a disconnected observer of a life and events clouded and twisted by the years, but forever etched in my memory. Maybe not so much etched as dropped there, like beer cans tossed out a car window on a dark back road in the middle of the night.
I was just another Irish kid from a working class family in this dirty little town who spent my days and nights in this bar, The Lovely, growing from a punk kid to a young man to an old man, all within the confines of this place. This place where nothing ever changes: the beer is cold, the whiskey cheap and bitter, and the stories grow more colorful over time.
Now, as I find myself aged and failing, the years of youth and middle age have run into a faded blur. There is no way to make peace with those squandered years. I look around at these dingy walls covered in beer signs and cigarette ads, “art” that looks like it was salvaged from a sidewalk dumpster, then finally, sadly, my gaze stops in the mirror behind the bottles of booze that are arraigned almost like a shrine. In that ugly mirror, I see the old man who has lived his life, spent his precious moments, here in this place.
It seems to me now that my purpose in this life, this place, is to relate this story as it was told to me, or as I directly observed it, growing over time to be much like folklore — a story of some madman who spent many nights sitting right here next to me. Frankie, the guy I am going to tell you about, was a lot like me, cut from the same cloth. The key difference: he left and went out into the world and got drunk. I stayed here and got drunk.
I’ve often wondered whether I was a friend to this guy, Frankie, or just another character in a bizarre and dangerous play, an observer on the sideline watching the clock run out. Frankie used to call me Romeo, a left-handed compliment. He was the stud, the ladies’ man. We all just lived in his shadow and told his stories, like correspondents from some distant war.
It was mid-1981 when these events began to unfold. That summer my friend Frankie began to transform from just another drunk, sitting here at the bar, to something of a madman on a quest for something so simple, yet to Frankie, unattainable.
He walked up to me one night and told me about the dream. Frankie seemed to be a victim of his dreams. Living his life up on a tightrope, seemingly at his own volition, he would dream and the dream became a terror and the terror became his reality. The dream tortured him, it tortured him greatly. He became a young man afraid of his dreams, to dream at all, so he ventured out on his journey to the bottom to escape them.
In his last dream, he told me, she stood there, Pam, stunning, blond and blue eyed beautiful and toxic and deadly. Perhaps she was the great love of his life. Perhaps she was a were-woman bent to eat him alive and destroy him. She would betray him endlessly and he each time he would internalize that pain until he learned to expect it, find comfort in it. He could almost count on it. The pain was his creation not hers. Pam was nothing more than Pam. His expectation of what he needed her to be is what ate him alive.
In the dream he looked up and saw her holding a gun with a dead bead on his forehead. Standing there, a silhouette in front of a blinding white light, only seeing the perfect black shape of her body and the long hunting rifle held up to her shoulder, aimed and ready to kill him. He heard the shot, he felt the bullet pass through and exit his skull. It woke him and he laid there, sheets damp with sweat. That moment he realized his ultimate terror.
He did not fear death, he feared this unattainable, unreachable and silent God. He feared goodness. He feared light. This fear of God that perhaps grew into a hatred of God, and drove all of his addictions and pushed him to long for and at the same time fear an early grave.
Everyone owns a piece of the goodness of the universe, this invisible and silent fabric. Some have a very small and thin slice, some, like his grandma and his friend Alexandrine had what seemed, to Frankie, an overabundance. Frankie had none of it. He couldn't find it. He said he'd not recognize it if it ran him over.
Another guy sitting here at this bar asked me one time what Frankie feared most. I don't think he feared much, I think his life was a quest. It was really that simple. His inability to connect to this godhead, to the goodness. His inability to even feel these simple things drove his unending hunger. He tried to fill that hunger with violence and sex and chemicals on an epic level. Horrifying to the collected, connected. Horrifying to you and me, but to my friend, Frankie this was simply how he maintained. Maintenance, basic tools to get him through the day. His friend Pancho, whenever he'd shoot dope, would say to Frankie, "I'm just going to go update myself." That’s what all this was to Frankie. God, pussy, violence, vodka and pills, heroin, it was all about maintaining the quest to find and connect with these simple things that you and me and, as he would put it, "the sane and the saved," take for granted.
"I got up this morning and I puked again." He said to me as he sat down on the bar stool. "I'm sick all the time, I have a constant headache, everything hurts. I want to go home, that imaginary place. That place of fiction and comfort that drives everyone. I've even lost that, my friend. I've lost it all, I've even lost home."
To me, to many, Frankie might have been the most isolated man any of us have ever seen. But he asked for no pity, far from that. He asked for us to watch and be amazed and amused. There was a deep sadness in watching him go through this dance, but it seemed a dance he needed to do alone. A solitary figure, swirling with no plan or purpose. Just constantly moving, keeping one foot in front of the demons that harassed him and bullied him.
This is the story of a guy quickly running out of time and options. A few seasons in a life that runs headlong to an ending he cannot possibly come to terms with. What a pregnancy must be like, in strange way. In the end, the truths he faces are inevitable.
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