The Tunnel of Blood

December 7, 2008 at 3:45 am (That's not funny...)

I am an oddball.

I just finished watching the first season of Dexter. It’s about serial killers. While I’ll try to be careful about spoilers, I will have to give up a few key plot points. So, if you feel brave and trusting, walk with me this way and let’s have a little chat…

Between the ages of eleven and about fifteen, I was a disturbed young man. I thought everyone felt ‘that way’ and figured the violent imagery in my head was normal. Being raised to believe the world was soon ending fueled a lot of this. I didn’t want to spend a thousand years cleaning up after Armageddon, and I sure didn’t want to spend it with people who judged my every move and thought. I was developing a strong interest in girls, and the thought of spending eternity without first getting laid killed me, pardon the phrase.

I was fascinated by guns and knives. I inherited my older brother’s .22 Springfield rifle, a clip-fed six-shot. One of the ministers at my mom’s church signed off on a handgun. “A young boy should have healthy boyhood interests.” (He really told her that. Thank you God!) I bought a shotgun at a garage sale, and sawed the barrel down to the supposedly-legal eighteen inches. I had BB guns. The firearms had to be taken to the woods to shoot, but the BB guns were legal to shoot on our property. I loved to shoot.

I had two BB guns, a Daisy air rifle and a Crosman BB pistol that looked like a .45 ACP. I built a shoulder holster in leather class. (At JW school. I learned leatherwork and typing. Thanks again, God.)  I built an ankle holster and bought a small starter pistol. I loved how it shot flames out the end of the barrel in a dark room. It would come in handy. More on that later…

On rainy days, I would practice in The Cabin, a small three-room shed on the back of the property between the garden and the cow pasture. The Crosman was perfect for indoors. My dad saved old newspapers to kindle the wood stove, so I would cut pictures from the ads and practice quick draw. I’d enter rooms, and fire. Plop, in the head. Turn and fire, heart shot. I taught myself point-and-shoot style combat shooting.

Outside was where I shined. While I was good with a pistol. I was deadly with long arms. Shooting paper targets with the Daisy was boring, and too easy. But… we had a wall on the woodshed that attracted flies. A bunch of them would land on a piece of plywood and sit there, like a fly kaffeeklatsch. In no time I was good enough to pick flies off the wall with BBs.

I was fascinated with violence in movies and TV. I went through a Manson Family phase, after meeting some of the remaining Charlie’s girls at Bagby Hot Springs. Xs on the forehead… Her picture was in the middle of Helter Skelter. She was the first grown woman I spent any quality naked time with, and I remember every hair, freckle and scar. She blew pot smoke into my mouth, and I dumped a bucket of river water over her head, cooling her nude body. I wanted my own family, but other people are so unreliable

I got the boot-holster idea from watching Baretta. I immersed myself in Mafia stories. I read a book called Killer: Autobiography of a Mafia Hit Man, by Joey. (Definitely not the one from Friends. How you doin’?) The thought of being able to support myself by coming out of my dark place every few months to rid the world of an annoyance was appealing. I made up targets in my head, plotted and executed.

In my head.

I needed to know if I had the mettle to kill. One day as I patrolled the back yard, I saw a bird flitting around in one of my dad’s makeshift bird baths. Without thinking much, I raised and fired. Of course I hit it. Before I could get over to finish it off, the dog went crazy and it wasn’t pretty. Instead of being thrilled at my first kill, I was overwhelmed with sadness and guilt. I didn’t cry, because I wasn’t a pussy, but I wanted to. Boy, did I want to. I prayed to god, and to the spirit of that little bird for forgiveness. I learned an important lesson that day:

Never kill anything that doesn’t deserve it. For absolutely no good reason, I’d snuffed out a life. Here now, gone now. It was too much power for me. It was without reason. To justify it in my heart, there had to be an outstanding reason. The fact that I had a heart and a conscience comforted me, and disappointed me. A true killer does it without feeling or remorse.

As I passed fourteen, the Armageddon approached, or so I’d been told. By December, three months past Armageddon’s due date, the realization that mom’s church friends were full of shit became more and more obvious. While I believed she meant the best for me, I had to start making my own way now. I’d not prepared for life after fourteen, except for fantasizing about taking out some of the more glaringly irritating people in my world.

Again, who was I to judge? Well, I’d taken a lot of crap from my schoolmates over time, from mom’s whacko religious beliefs to being the fat kid/redhead. (“Chunk!”) When high school approached, I refused to go. I’d spent a year at JW school, where I learned to type and use a slide rule. (Only typing has been useful.) The thought of having to explain where I’d been for a year (“JW school? Loser!”) mortified me, and I’d reached my threshold of tolerance to abuse. I’d snap, and I was ready to act.

Years later, when Kip Kinkel shot up Springfield, I felt for him. I knew, I understood why. I secretly beamed that the town he shot up and my first rifle had the same name.

When Columbine happened, it was the same thing. “Monsters!” everyone called them. I can’t speak for them, because I don’t know what they went through. But if it’s like what I felt, I understand. I don’t condone, but I understand. Years later, I watched Gus Van Sant’s Elephant at a late showing at the Kennedy School. Sitting in a high school auditorium, watching the mayhem in live time rekindled a lot of memories.

But nothing like watching Dexter. I almost gave up on it after the first episode, but decided to give it an honest try. As Dexter lost his bad Miami accent and started unlocking repressed memories, it rang true to me. Oh so true.

Dexter has a code. He rids the world of people who need getting rid of. He doesn’t kill for pleasure, but because it’s an inborn duty.

As I processed puberty, I grew more pacifist. I’d discovered marijuana, and it put a whole new spin on life. A ‘kick back, bring it on I’m gonna absorb it all’ kinda feeling. I thought about things differently. I saw beauty instead of ugliness. I laughed instead of feeling dark. I didn’t wake to a crushing heaviness every morning.

But, like Dexter, when duty calls, I’m here to make things right. A friend had rodent problems earlier this week, and it reminded me of a ‘good kill’.

My mother was deathly phobic of rats and mice. (“A squirrel is just a rat in a nice coat!”) We had outdoor cats, so it wasn’t a problem most of the time. But there was this one time…

We’d seen evidence of rats in the back yard. Our property was laid out like a small western town, with five small buildings to the back of the house. The cabin to the back, woodshed on one side; the doghouse and two storage sheds were across the “street.” I’d see rats run back and forth between the two buildings. I’d probably better do something about that…

One afternoon I sat on the back porch. I loved reading the old newspapers. They went back years sometimes. I’d sit outside and learn local history from the Oregon Journal. As I sat on the loveseat, quietly minding my own business, a scratchy, slithery feeling crept over my bare foot. Holy crap! It was a rat the size of a chihuahua!

He or she ran off. After I stopped hyperventilating I went to my room, fished around under the bed and pulled out the .22 Springfield. They’d violated the code…

I was a big fan of sniper movies. I’d studied Charles Whitman, the Texas Tower killer. I watched JFK movies, which made people find me even weirder. (I was all over it when my Uncle took me to the Book Depository/JFK Museum in Dallas.) The first Dirty Harry movie was sniper-themed. I’d practiced for this moment. It was *my* time…

I sat at my bedroom window for hours. I only had a second or two per chance, but wouldn’t shoot unless I had a clean shot. (There were neighbors a mile away, with a grove of trees for a buffer. No accidental ricochets.) I learned they liked crossing between 4 and 5 PM, as the sun set. The way the sun angled, just before they crossed the path between buildings, a small spot of light would disappear. They were good Rodent Scouts; they looked both ways before crossing the street. It was their downfall.

I got the first one with one shot. It was clean, got him in the body just behind the shoulders. I dug a hole in the garden and tossed the carcass in there. I waited; there’d be more.

I got two more the next day. It seemed there weren’t as many trips being taken between buildings. They’d gotten smart; there was no dawdling between buildings. When the light blocked out, they’d sit. Wait. Zoom!

They were on to me.

My Dirty Harry training came in handy. After tiring of letting him get the upper hand, I got aggressive with Mister Rat. As I sat in my room, my sister played out back, messing with the dog or swinging in the apple tree. I saw the light black out, and knew he was ready to run. Instead of waiting, I shot through the board. There was a puff of dust, and the light stayed dark. Did I get him?

Rifle in hand, I marched calmly, determined. My mom was used to gunfire from upstairs by now, (“Did you get him, dear?”) but not used to the scary look of determination. This time it was personal. I walked quickly toward the tunnel, telling my sister to get back. As I approached, I saw the board wiggle. I shot again.

My leetle friend scooted out into the middle of the path. I’d hit him both times, but he was still fighting. I lowered the rifle to my hip and fired three times, missing twice and hitting once. Still moving, and I had one shot left.

I walked up, stood over him and fired the last round into his chest. He flew three feet into the air, and landed on his back in perfect tits-up fashion. There was a hole where his heart used to be. (There was a jackhammer where my heart used to be.) I gave it a few minutes before picking him up by the tail and depositing him with the others. I covered the hole; I had a feeling this was the last of them. He was the biggest.

The path and the hole were a bloody mess. My sister has forever referred to the incident as the Tunnel of Blood. I left the blood, as a warning to other trespassers. It worked. There were no more sightings. And I looked. Believe me, I looked.

Soon I was legal to drive, and I took out aggressions on the road. Swearing at stupid drivers replaced the fantasy of shooting their ass, although I’d line up bug splatter like a gun sight if they really pissed me off. I spent more time reading Easyriders and Zap Comix, putting aside Guns & Ammo. I bought a bong. I spent nights in the cabin getting stoned and listening to Steely Dan and Pink Floyd. Their lyrics began making sense to me. I began to see the good in my fellow man, instead of thinking of them as sinners who needed teaching a lesson.

At seventeen, I traded my guns off. I got a half-ounce of weed for my sawed-off. (It was time to get that out from under the front seat. I could get into trouble…) I traded the other guns for a VW Bug, which took me to the beach twice before it blew up. I sold its remains for $100, and partied my ass off with an older woman and a few friends at Dean’s beach cabin. It was my spring break, and a story I’ll probably tell someday.

Watching Dexter (and my friends vector problems) brought a lot of this to the surface. I was amazed at how much I’d suppressed, and how it came flooding back. If Hollywood is writing about this stuff, it must be more common than I thought. Do all young men go through this? Do kids in the ‘hood shoot each other because there’s no dump to target-practice at? Do we all have a killer inside us?

I’ve recently been talking with a woman, socializing. She specified right off that she wanted nothing more than friendship. (At least she didn’t tell me she was a lesbian, heh.) As we shared life stories, it became clear that either she’s way too normal, or I’m as batshit crazy as I pretend to be.

She called, and got my voicemail, the “Cereal Killer Hotline.” It’s a nonsensical ditty I’ve had on message devices since about 1990. Hmm… I gave her a picture of me with green hair, brandishing a butcher knife. Tonight she asked, “Are you doing this to impress me, or are you really this weird?”

I asked her how she felt about clowns.

“I hate clowns…”

Oh, boy.

I’m not going to change myself to make other people happy anymore, not that much. If she thinks that’s odd, I’d love to see her reaction to my house. My room is a museum of the macabre, and there’s a lot of spooky imagery.

Instead of trying to hide all the weirdness that is in me, I choose to wear my darkness on the outside.

It’s probably safer for all of us that way…

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