Saturday, November 28, 2015

Adam No. 8

                                       Tough Guts

A couple years ago I saw a documentary on television about a little girl who was born without the ability to feel pain. In a sense, she was physically numb to it. As a result of her condition, she had to be quite careful in extreme cold or extreme heat as it was easy for her to get frostbite or flesh searing burns and not even realize it. That is the easiest way to explain why it is so dangerous to not feel a thing. You’ll expose yourself to the extreme and not realize you’re killing yourself. Or rather, you won’t realize the world and all of its intangible elements are killing you.

In the months after Art died, somewhere in the foggy and unfeeling days after Lou and I returned from Pamplona, I met Tuff.
I was walking along the sidewalk mid-afternoon on a day that began with every intention of finding a job. I was in one of those head fogs in which you move and go forward but don’t remember the second before. You’re suddenly three blocks further but you can’t remember the last two. There’s no telling if time is moving faster or slower, you can’t even articulate what you’re thinking about but something is distracting your mind from any kind of meaningful focus.
I hadn’t noticed a tall girl with inky dark hair ahead of me until she turned, revealing wild eyes and a rather painful looking piercing through her septum. She was holding an actual switchblade and jabbing it in my direction.
“Try it, motherfucker.”
I almost pissed my pants when she swung that blade in my direction but oh man. What a way to feel alive. What a way to feel impactful. I shit you not, in those seconds, with that blade slicing the air in my direction, my one resounding thought was: I must seem really tough.
Don’t misunderstand. I wasn’t proud of seeming like a threat to woman-kind in general. But what it meant was I was noticed as someone who might be alive enough to be capable of something.
“Don’t you take a step or I’ll gut your nut sack like I’m prepping my fish dinner,” she said. “I promise.” Her knuckles were practically throbbing around that knife and they were smeared with inked letters, obviously done in ball point pen.
“Okay,” I said easily enough.
“Why are you following me?”
“I’m not trying to hurt you,” I said. “I’m just looking for a job. I promise I’m not looking to hurt you.”
“Never make a promise to the kids unless you are positive you won’t break it.”
I held out a hand in peace or maybe preemptive defense. It didn’t go over so well and she stabbed me right in the fleshy web between my thumb and forefinger, then she seemed just as surprised as I was that she actually stabbed me.
“You stabbed me!” I shouted the obvious while I was standing there, bleeding in to my shirt.
“You took another step and I promised I would!”
“Please don’t call the police,” she said, snapping her knife closed before she stuck it in her back pocket. “Oh god, are you okay?”
“I’m stabbed!”
“I’ve never actually stabbed anyone! Oh god! Why didn’t you dodge it?” she shouted it, accusing and full of fear, brows arced in worry as she reached for my arm to inspect the wound.
“I didn’t take a step, I held out my hand. In peace!” I barked.
“Don’t play with semantics when someone is holding a knife—“
“Are you really going to try blame this on me?”
“It takes two to get stabbed,” she said dubiously.
No, it doesn’t. I didn’t tell her my friend, our Art, a beautiful, bright and crazy person who personified actual living was stabbed and dead and now all he was is a pile ashes and bits of bone stuck in a wall out at Hasberg Cemetery. And he didn’t do anything to bring that on but be there.
“I think you need to go to the hospital. You need stitches,” she said and pulled the handkerchief from her hair. “County is a few blocks from here. I’ll walk you.”
She yanked my arm and wrapped her red rag around my hand while I just let her.
“That’s not true. All you have to do is exist and you can get stabbed.”
“Are you in shock or something? Listen, don’t die. It’s been a helluva week. My plate is full of shit and problems. I don’t need a side of homicide. Cool?”
“Cool. I won’t die. Not today.”
“Thank you,” she said with a relieved sigh then she took a step back and actually looked at me, standing there, sagging with her rag around my hand. “Oh shit. Look at you.”
“You’re exactly my type. “
“You don’t know me.”
“Defeated by life, too sensitive to really live, everything hurts, witty on your best days, brooding at your worst. Faded jeans, faded mind, fading heart. I bet you have a great if not pretentious music collection and I bet you own a ton of cardigans but only wear one daily. You give shitty, nonsensical, pseudo-deep excuses about why you can’t be in a relationship right now but at the same time it won’t stop you from spending the night and saying all the right things to a girl.”
“I don’t make a habit of
“Oh God. Listen, by the time we get to the hospital, I’m going to be convinced I can save you with chicken soup and hand-jobs.”
That tripped me up. That was a strangers perception of me. That is what I’ve turned in to. That is what happens when you lose and lose and lose everything; you become a caricature to the general public. You become one of two options: Would I fuck it or would I harm it?
“I only own two sweaters,” I muttered defensively.
“But you only ever wear the one.”
“Shut up. Did you get that nose piercing as an ironic fuck-you to the man?”
“No, I lost a bet. Wanna see what’s next?” she asked.
I kept still, pinching down on my wound while she turned to walk backward in front of me and held out her fists, so I could see the smearing ink on each of her knuckles.
“You’re going to punch me post stabbing?”
“That wasn’t a stabbing, it was an accidental flesh puncture. And no. Read my fingers,” she said, thrusting her upturned fists toward me again.
“It’s blobby ink.”
She turned her fists in and frowned then stuck her hands in her pockets.
“I stenciled it myself. I’m getting tough guts tattooed on my knuckles.”
“That’s a terrible idea.”
“You approached a knife wielding lunatic, you have no authority on what’s a good idea or not.”
“I did not. I stuck my hand out like a non-lunatic. Then you stabbed me.”
“Can you stop saying that?” she hissed. “Geez. Do you have a problem letting things go?”
“It happened five minutes ago! I’m still bleeding! And no. On the contrary, things keep slipping away.”
“You’re lucky. I’m always trying to shake everything off,” she said. “Tell me what’s slipping away.”
“Fine, I’ll share anyway. I’m getting tough guts written on my knuckles because my name is Tiffany Goetz. When I was little, everyone called me Tiff, but then it changed to Tuff and I started telling everyone my surname was Guts. Get it? Tiff Goetz, Tuff Guts?”
“What makes you so tough?”
She paused before throwing her arms over her head. Her eyes went wide like she was so exasperated at having to explain the obvious.
“I’m alive, aren’t I?”
“If you say so.”
Sometimes, something pivotal is happening and you know it. You think here I am, standing on an invisible line and once I cross it things will never, ever be the same. Like losing your virginity or moving across the country or something. This was not one of those times. I felt no shift, I could feel no wavering as I balanced on a precipice of change. But still, without really knowing it, I was branded by her, right in the fleshy parts; for life.
And I hadn’t even lost a thing. Just some blood and a few bits of skin.

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