It was a crisp, cool morning. The sunlight of a new day opened my weary eyes to endless possibilities. I got up from where I had been sleeping and arched my back in a deep stretch, groaning as my muscles began to relax and go back to their original positions. I wipe the gravel and dirt off my bare back and climbed over the fence. I looked up as I scratch the debris out of my scraggly beard. “Fucking Lemmings!” I bitterly mutter to myself as I watch the people safely cocooned in their shiney automobiles travel the raised highway nearby on their way to work, meetings, or that “damned Starbucks.”
Someone had recently tossed a still burning cigarette onto the street. I picked it up and quickly put the smouldering, lipstick coated coffin nail to my mouth and inhaled deeply. It was just enough smoke for me to feel the nicotine invade the air in my lungs and send it through my body. It was going to be a great day; I just knew it. As was my custom, I walked the nearly three blocks to the Stop and Go where I had stashed my cardboard sign. I felt quite proud of what I had written on it. “Disabled Veteran. Gave everything to my country. All I have left is this sign.” It was a lie and I knew it. I had never served in the armed forces.
The previous day’s booty had been just enough for a Big Mac, small fries and half of a shared heroin laced joint. I enjoyed the way the marijuana mellowed the euphoria of the heroin. After searching a nearby bakery’s waste dumpster for some day old apple fritters, “The best in the city!” I declared holding my prize high in the sky as if it were a trophy. Greedily devouring my reward, I continued on to the corner where I had the most success panhandling, I-15 and Flamingo where I could usually make close to three hundred dollars on the weekend when all the traffic from Los Angeles and other cities in California came to Las Vegas to play. I am not sure what day of the week it was, but it was close to a holiday weekend due to all of the out of state licence plates from traffic piling up on the off ramp where I carried my sign. “Perhaps I will have enough to see my girl tonight.”
Walking back and forth on the broken pavement hurt my feet and made the arthritis in my knees and ankles swell. As the cars passed by I counted the money I had accumulated so far. The Californians haven’t been nearly as generous as they usually were on this day. A few hours more and I had enough money for a good meal at In-and-Out Burgers and possibly a strawberry shake. Honestly they are the only ones that do french fries correctly. If you dip the french fry into the shake, that’s almost as good as. . . (It had been a long time for that anyway, not sure what a good comparison would be.)
A few more hours, I was beginning to get hungry and I had to pee. I knew that if I left my side of the on-ramp to pee or rummage through a trash dumpster nearby I would lose my spot to some other bastard that needed some cash. I finally let go and I could feel the warm liquid of my own urine run down my right leg into my shoe making a small dirty yellow pool in the dirt beneath me. I really hated doing that. I was going to have to re-line the newspaper in my shoes. I had just gotten fresh paper the day before.
Not sure what happened after that, perhaps it was how I had soiled myself while everyone stopped at the traffic light watched. The floodgates opened and the money came pouring out of the car windows after that. Soon, I had enough for dinner, and a show. I would be able to see my girl at the club where she worked. As the fiery Las Vegas summer sun descended in the west, the casinos and hotels became illuminated in such a way that I felt as if I was inside heavens pearly gates. I took a moment to breathe in the view of gold and ruby red windows reflecting in the late day sun. The song “Hotel California” by the Eagles came to mind. As I began the long walk northward on industrial boulevard, I started to sing,
“Such a lovely place, Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California. . .”
By the time I got there, I smelled like stale sweat and rat feces due to where I had slept the night before. I needed a bath. There was a small hole in the fence surrounding a pool at one of the cheap hotels nearby. Sometimes it was easier to do that than try to clean up at a gas station. I was too anxious to see her. I skipped my usual pool bath, “Too many people nearby anyway,” I told myself. “Hopefully, no one will notice. My money is just as good as everyone else.”
As I approached the club, a sense of euphoria, that I could only describe as the same sensation as shooting horse, came over me. My steps were lighter and my pulse quickened. I knew that once I was inside, I would feel the numbing bliss of sexual excitement and family. Yes, family. This strip club, its girls, and the frequent patrons had become my family. Their familiarity gave me a place to belong without having to interact with them if I didn’t want to. We were all here for the same reason. This place was our drug.
“Is Candi here today?” I asked the bouncer working the door.
“Ya, She’s here. But you ain’t. Boy, you smell like shit.” He stood in the doorway using his girth to prevent me from slipping by.
I could smell the perfume and feel the cool air on my face, I was just so close and this dumbass was in my way. He was right, I had pissed myself earlier that day, I had slept in the sewers with the rats biting at my fingertips. I hadn’t even bothered to rinse off in the pool nearby. I smelled like shit because I was shit. Forgotten by everyone around me, I was that one that they used to know.
I was devastated that I was denied access to my home. It was another shot of rejection from another family. Feeling abandoned and knowing I couldn’t change the bouncer’s mind, I turned and walked away.
The highway hummed busily as the thumping music of Spearmint Rhino faded into the distance. I could just hear the announcer call Candi to the stage. I hopped the fence and walked out onto the busy interstate just as the panicked horn of an on-coming Kenworth announced its squealing his brakes as it rushed toward me. I was awash in bright white light. I could smell the brakes burning and watched in slow motion as the semi swerved as he tried to slow. The tires left long, hot streaks across the highway as they protested leaving their tread behind. I did not yell. I only knew what was coming . . .
I opened my eyes and heard the TV downstairs playing. A child was squealing, “We can go, We can go!”
“To the thingamajig!” Martin Short replies as if on cue.
I descended the stairway and find both children cuddled on the couch watching “Cat in the Hat” on PBS. My wife is making pancakes on the stove in the kitchen.
She turns around and looks at me with love, “Good Morning, sleep well?”
I had a cold sweat clothing my body--a leftover effect from my dream. This wasn’t the first time I had seen it. It was my “what could have been.” I had the place picked out in Las Vegas even before I knew what had happened to me.
I was asked by my group what revenge on AFB would look like for me. With the dream still alive in my senses, I realized that I was living my revenge. AFB didn’t care what the consequences of his actions would be for me or his other victims. He did not see beyond himself and his own base needs. I realized that AFB would never care if I was that homeless guy without a life or if I was what I am today.
My wife and I had a conversation about my healing journey, and as she always does (annoyingly) she helped me realize that a violent revenge fantasy would not matter to AFB because he doesn’t care enough about me to worry about my revenge. She told me that I had a victim’s mentality. If I wanted to grow from a victim to a survivor I would have to let the revenge part go. She didn't force me into believing I had to forgive him. She was helping me understand that in hating him and plotting against him, I was giving him all of the power. I was allowing him to have vengeance over me again. I need to learn how to take back my power.