An American Werewolf In Utah: Another Drunken Transformation
Coming from a Mormon Family, I have a lot of cousins. We all have different personalities and interests but, amazingly, I genuinely care for each of them. There is one, however, that I’ve always been closer to: Tad. At nearly four years his senior, I adopted the role of Tad’s big brother.
Without casting stones or stirring up controversy, I’ll just say that Tad’s mom was way too into disco when he was younger, so he spent more time with my mom and my sister and I than any sane person should. Being the youngest in my immediate family, I was especially gung ho about having a hand in molding another human. My neighbor, Todd — not to be confused with Tad — was nearly four years older than me, and as the most geographically handy child of my gender, had been playing the role of my big brother since my arrival on the planet. Todd, the youngest in his family, also seemed to welcome this chance designation.
Looking back at it now, the circumstances seem less quaint than they did at the time and more like the premise for a sitcom. Just throw in an eccentric, gay patent lawyer and a wise-cracking old lady and you’re looking at comedy gold. But alas, we were deprived of those characters whose guidance and gumption, while clichéd, just might have saved us from ourselves.
I have no doubt that Todd did his best with respect to his part in raising me. He was a hockey player and a smartass. After watching him play in a few hockey games, I decided against ever taking a shot at the sport myself. Todd was freakishly good at hockey. To this day he’s among the most talented I’ve seen. I don’t really care to do anything I’m not going to be the best at, at least within my group of friends, so hockey was out. When it came to being a smartass though, I was a quick study. Had I not been, it’s likely that Todd and I wouldn’t have stayed so close over the years considering the age difference, which now, at thirty four and thirty-eight doesn’t count for much. But when you’re sixteen-years old, attending one of your first high school parties with girls and alcohol, justifying your twelve-year old buddy’s presence is much easier if he’s more vulgar and violent than most of the older guests.
Maybe I didn’t acknowledge it back then, but I’m sure I felt as though I had something to prove. Todd never said or did anything to make me feel that way, it was my own, natural response to the situation. I shouldn’t speak for Tad, but I will, as I’m guessing his reaction to hanging out with me was similar. The age difference was the same, he was an instinctive smartass, my friends accepted him as an equal and we were both genetically predisposed to do bizarre shit, without provocation.
Regardless of any blood-relation or the lack thereof, Todd and Tad are two of the best friends I’ve ever had. As Todd and I have gotten older, endured marriages and divorces and made other friends along the way, we’ve grown apart. But when we do run into each other, we pick up right where we left off. With Tad being family, it’s been easier to maintain a relationship. You could argue (and I’m betting that some people would) that my influence on Tad hasn’t always been good. But I don’t believe anyone would say that my intentions weren’t good. Like Todd, I did my best. And on one needlessly dramatic night, Tad’s actions showed me that no matter how poorly I might’ve done, he still wanted me around.
This night came about four months after I had separated from my wife. As one might assume, I was tits-deep in a pool of booze and unhealthy ideas. A few weeks prior I had given up on freezing to death. It was a plan that had grown from my longing to die without having to do anything obvious or drastic. So I spent a few months flopping around town minus a shirt and shoes. Old people always made catching pneumonia sound so easy. It’s not. My immune system was certainly weakened by the onslaught of alcohol and poor hygiene, and I felt at least seventy-two years old, yet I continued to live. Though I must concede that timing is everything when you’re trying to kill yourself. I had set out to freeze to death at the end of spring. By the time my booze-addled brain could get wrapped around this stupidity, I was frustrated and looking for a better way to do myself in. Plus, it was October in Utah, and it was starting to get cold.
My diet at the time was rather limited. In a scheme to maximize the impact of whatever I was drinking, I was only eating chips and salsa. I would splurge on occasion and eat some French fries, but I often barfed those up within minutes due to my waning struggle with bulimia. At ninety-five pounds, my five-nine frame was sharp and angular, and not in the attractive way. It didn’t help that the skin covering my body had a grayish-green hue to it and smelled like coins in the palm of a sweaty hand. All of that and an increasingly androgynous wardrobe gave me the appearance of a confused Ascetic, stumbling my way to and from the gas station, smoking as though each puff might save an endangered wombat. Had I been able to see myself coming, I would’ve crossed the street to avoid me.
It was from that scenery of stability that I launched a plan to starve to death. I was already more than halfway there, so it seemed the logical choice. Just cut out the chips and salsa and I was on a liquid diet. I had once gone for forty-two days with only orange juice and water, but I was nineteen then and in excellent health. By the end of that pointless fast I was in the hospital, coughing up blood with ulcers running the length of my esophagus. The way I saw it, considering my current physical condition, if I swapped out the orange juice and water for Coke and rum, I’d be dead in no time.
Two weeks into the starvation plan, Tad invited me over to his house. He was sharing a rambler in White City with a few other guys. There was going to be a gathering of sorts, grilling and drinking and the hoots and laughter of people who weren’t actively trying to kill themselves.
I didn’t care if they were the most interesting, kindhearted group of gentlemen on the planet — I’d sooner spend a night stapling baseball cards to my leg than getting to know my cousin’s housemates and friends. Frankly, I have no desire to meet new people. It’s nothing personal. I’ve never been much of a social person. My girlfriend these days is just the opposite and I think she secretly hates my guts. She’s always wanting to “go do something”, which, to me, amounts to surrounding yourself with a bunch of people so bothered by the concept of being alone that they build an arsenal of contacts and activities to combat such a fate. Going out to a club or a party had once appealed to me, but then I hit nineteen. At that age, I’d had enough. My best friends would always be important to me, and I didn’t want to dilute their importance by adding to my pool of friends. Beyond that, I was starting to see a growing desperation in the eyes of those partiers, clubbers and “scene” folk. They were defined by the “something” that they were doing, without it they’d be lost, anonymous, aimless. Their lack of identity reflected my lack of identity and that was the last straw.
Being grumpy and judgmental doesn’t require an audience, thank you. So I had upheld a strict social embargo for a number of years before Tad decided I could benefit from spending some time around people who didn’t exist only in my head, and didn’t attack me while ranting in some ancient, angry-sounding tongue, probably Sumerian. Clearly he meant well, but that didn’t matter. What got me was the promise of liquor.
Crystal came over to pick me up. I met Crystal a few years earlier while working online for a law firm that disputed inaccurate marks on its’ clients credit reports. We shared an office and we both smoked menthols, a friendship was inevitable. I thought she was a doll, but I was married and in love with my wife back then. Crystal’s love life was crap. She would often relay her dating stories to me, and I became convinced that she was too good for the idiots she was seeing. My solution: set her up with my cousin, Tad. I mentioned his name to her and it turned out they’d gone to school together. They hadn’t really known each other in school, but she thought he was cute, giving me the green light to meddle. Years later, they were still together and she was picking me up for a night of debauchery at Tad’s place. I was still patting myself on the back when we pulled into White City.
To best describe White City, one needs only to insert the word “trash”, after White. It’s more of a large neighborhood than a city, located in Sandy, Utah. But Sandy is a nice, upper-middle to upper class city at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley. In an effort to minimize their association with the blot of uncouth paupers, Sandy recognizes the area as a separate city.
The Sandy police have arrested me more than any other department in the Valley, so I think Sandy’s lame. On the other hand, I’d have to be putting on a real spectacle for the police to even bat an eye in White City, making it a perfect spot for drunken antics.
A deep ravine cuts through the center of the neighborhood. At nearly a mile long and a hundred feet to the bottom, it’s one of the city’s most distinctive features. No doubt it was carved out by one of the many rivers that fell victim to urban sprawl. Though dry now, some lucky residents have a backyard at the edge of this ravine, adding the excitement of gambling with your life to an otherwise mundane game of catch. Tad and his buddies were blessed with such a backyard.
Crystal and I went in to grab Tad and head to the liquor store. Once inside, Tad and Crystal did their best to introduce me to a handful of people. I did my best to not be a dick, while making it clear that we could find them all slaughtered when we came back with the booze and I’d only offer a quick toast to their memory. “What a shame. Well, shall we have a drink for the dead folks?” Drinking was my default reaction to everything. Why would a stranger’s death break my stride?
Upon entering the liquor store I was reminded of how creepy I’d become. Tad and Crystal had refrained from staring or squirming at my appearance, prompting me to forget how unacceptable I was. But the general public doesn’t spare any feelings. I was a weird, dead-looking guy in a woman’s hat, and they were going to make sure I knew that my image would now be on their lists for drinking away. I was honored, of course, and made a point of twitching and fidgeting more noticeably than usual.
We stopped at a convenience store on our way back and half-filled three of the biggest cups available with soda. Not being a stickler about laws, or very bright, apparently, I had cracked open the rum in the backseat and had acquired the temperament and dexterity of a four-year old by the time we pulled up to the house. The two-week absence of food in my stomach had turned this once competitive drinker into a lightweight.
We entered the house and the problems started immediately. I was not a fun drunk. I was mean, confrontational and, as a certifiable psycho, I was blessed with divine, indisputable arguments.
The barbequing had begun and the smell of burning meat filled the house and most of the backyard. I had been a passive vegetarian for years — if you wanted to support the torture and murder of animals just because they’re yummy, I had learned that there was no reasoning with you. In my youth I had been an outspoken voice for animal rights and an active participant in bringing about change. I put the zeal on mute though, when my friends and I were deemed domestic terrorists and the FBI and ATF started to monitor us from conspicuous white vans. That wasn’t just the psychological disease talking either. The government presence was pointed out to me by a relatively sane buddy of mine. Plus, the arrests were increasing in both frequency and validity. So I got out of the public damnation business while keeping an iron-grip on my beliefs.
Seeing as I didn’t get out much anymore, my capacity to tolerate blatant ignorance hadn’t really been tested. That first test came when I walked out to the back patio for a smoke and was offered a burger. It wasn’t the first time someone had offered me a burger, nor would it be the last. But this time, after I politely declined, saying “No thank you.”, the dipshit manning the grill said, “Uh oh. You’re not one of those vegetarians, are you?” The question itself was innocent enough, but the way he presented it, the way he said vegetarians, suggested that he thought he was better than me, which was impossible. So I pulled a knife on him and threatened to serve him his own ass, on a bun, no less.
The test was over. I failed. He was holding a sizeable spatula and was far more physically imposing than me, but I was plainly bonkers and sporting a dashing sun hat, giving me the coveted fashion advantage.
Perhaps fortunately, we never got the chance to pit brawn against panache. Crystal entered the scene just as the grill master found the words we were all looking for: “What the fuck, dude?” I had to admit, he really had a way of putting things in perspective. As I lowered the knife, Crystal grabbed me by the arm and escorted me to the other end of the yard. I was in trouble. I felt like I was about nine-years old, getting busted for stealing some fat kid’s bike. Crystal repeated the griller’s question — Rick, it turned out his name was — and as I went over the events leading up to threatening Rick’s life, I confessed that I might’ve overreacted a bit. She agreed.
Like a mother dragging her wayward child back to the scene of a crime, Crystal placed me in front of a still bewildered Rick, and nudged me in the ribs. “Sorry dude.” I mumbled, “I just get a little sensitive about animals n’ shit.” Rick said “It’s cool.”, but his expression was thoroughly stuck on What the fuck, dude? Satisfied, Crystal took me inside where we refilled our drinks.
In spite of her best intentions, Crystal failed to use any of her brain when she brought me back inside to reload. More drinks always equaled more drama. As the night progressed, Tad and Crystal were constantly putting out fires, explaining why I was telling people that I would eat their souls, how I was compelled to take a “sample” of a girls hair because I was a part-time wigmaker, that I didn’t actually want to kill anyone, I was simply a method actor, practicing for a role. The majority of the party-goers left well-enough alone, I was still a miserable psychotic and Tad and Crystal were exhausted.
As the party began to wind down, the backyard cleared and I headed out there for a smoke. Crystal found me only seconds after I’d lit up. I was pacing back and forth on top of a three foot tall jumble of rocks and mortar that bordered the edge of the ravine. It was probably supposed to be a wall, one that some weekend warrior had erected to the palliative applause of his wife, maybe twenty years earlier. Now it was just an ugly line of crumbling shit, which, as luck would have it, actually blended well with the rest of the yard.
Though heavily intoxicated, I know that I was offering my audience an unprovoked lecture on the perils of love. I know this, because that was all I cared to talk about for close to three years. Crystal endured my yammering as she puffed away at her cigarette. Also quite drunk, and rightly fed-up with my behavior, her expression wasn’t all I wanted it to be. There is wisdom in these words, I thought. I have suffered and I continue to suffer. I should be looked upon as a living martyr, a man who sacrificed his heart and soul and body and mind, his very life, to love. And that’s when it occurred to me: I was still alive. In shambles, certainly, but alive; still able to breathe the crisp night air that came gusting up at me from the ravine at my back. I could feel the malnutrition and booze turning my legs into spaghetti. My heart was still beating in my chest, tired, strained, broken, hollow, but beating.
Gravity has always hated me. So when I felt it tugging at my back, I knew what it wanted, and for once, gravity and I were in agreement. Crystal’s expression changed as she noticed a calm coming to rest on my face. I smirked my goodbye to her, bent my knees and launched backward, out over the ravine with all of my strength.
For a moment I was content. I was sailing through the air, looking at the stars as I descended casually toward a fitting end for one of Love’s greatest heroes. Knowing, that any second now the back of my head would be cracked wide-open on one of those big, beautiful rocks at the bottom of the ravine.
Clearly that didn’t happen. You see, when one hurls one’s self into a ravine, there are a number of factors competing against one’s hurl ending in a successful (and classic) suicide. Among these factors are physics, geometry, trajectory and a bundle of other subjects I had neglected to consider as I got shitfaced and threatened people. Had it been a cliff, things would have been far less complicated. A ravine, however, has a very subtle, albeit vital, slope to it.
That slope found the top half of my bony back about twenty-feet from the bottom of the ravine. The recent starvation and booze-blitz had somehow negatively affected my jumping prowess. After sixty-feet or so of free-fall, I hit with enough force to turn my shoulder blades into a pair of chisel-plows. I came to a stop all of three-feet from the big rocks I’d been counting on. From the back of my head, down to my calves, the scrub oak and other assorted shrubs had taken a bite out of me, some leaving slivers like broken teeth embedded in my smelly, now-bleeding skin.
It’s funny what comes to mind as you lie bloodied and drunk at the bottom of a ravine. My first concern upon realizing I had failed to kill myself, again, was to locate my drink. I had noticed the fifty-six ounce cup still clutched in my hand when I hit the wall of dirt. I flopped my head a bit, looking for it. No luck. Damn. Then I became aware that my sun hat had weathered the suicide attempt. Almost dying had sobered me up a bit, and I began to wonder how I looked. I had stolen a few strands of hair from some rather cute chicks at the party. If they were still there, I didn’t want them seeing me all disheveled. Great! I thought, My collar is totally stretched out. I was seriously thinking about trying to move.
Wiggling my toes and fingers to make sure I wasn’t paralyzed, I heard a rush of dirt clods spilling down the ravine wall. Looking for their origin I found Tad, zigzagging his way down a series of sweeping cut-backs. He was standing over me in no time. It would’ve seemed forced, had I tried to explain myself. So, instead, I informed him that I had been looking for my cup, and asked him if he might have seen it on his way down.
Somehow, God, or the universe or whatever you want to call it, had foreseen this event and blessed Tad with a six-foot plus frame, packed with over two-hundred pounds of muscle and loyalty. He reached his hand down to his surrogate big brother — showing no concern for the whereabouts of my cup — and hoisted me to my feet. Kind of.
To say I was actually standing on my feet would be too generous. Most of my weight was being supported by Tad. I was just doing my best to fling my legs in the right direction as he dragged my sorry-ass back up the ravine. At one point I was delightfully distracted by what I believed to be my drinking cup. Unfortunately it was a good ten yards off from the course Tad was navigating, earning my joyous exclamation a “Fuck the cup, dude! I need you to use your legs a little more.”
The instant we reached the top, Crystal transformed into a triage nurse. She was quickly examining the injuries, making decisions and plucking some of the larger bits of debris from my back. To my surprise, nothing really hurt. I crawled into the back of Tad’s 4 Runner, laid on my stomach, and could hear Crystal sucking air through her teeth, wincing as she continued to operate on me while Tad drove us back to my house.
The drive provided me with another opportunity to think. I still would have been happy to have my cup, but I was becoming vaguely aware of something else that deserved attention. My little cousin had dragged me up and out of an impossibly difficult place, and Crystal was tending to my wounds with an urgent sensitivity one normally reserves for their children. Granted, I hadn’t been behaving like a grown man for quite a while, but I don’t believe they mistook me for a child. No. After the night of hell I had put them through, those two still loved me. That was the only way their behavior made any sense. In spite of my many recent sermons on love, I had forgotten — in my ego-centric stupor — that other people are capable of that thing called “love”, as well.
I felt no pain, not because of the alcohol, not because I was paralyzed, not even because I was in shock, but because I was overwhelmed by love. It was love that brought me to the bottom of that ravine, and it was love that pulled me out of it, and was trying to put me back together.
In a way, they were successful. My insanity remained and, at times grew much worse. I took a brief vacation from trying to die, but was eventually back at it with a vengeance. But through all of the madness and pain that came and went, the love that Tad and Crystal showed me that night, continued to pick me back up and nurse my wounds. Now, many years and many lives later, I just hope I live long enough to properly express my gratitude.
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