When sleep flees, I fight the desire to increase the way I am different. I used to puncture my skin with needles or thorns from the bush, building up the scars; the outward spelling of a dream born in fire. Scarification started with the Bul Nuer. I was recovering from an auto accident. A tribesman had taken a pot shot at my bouncing headlights from a distance and the bullet had fragmented on the frame of my SUV and then glanced off my skull. The vehicle flipped in the sand and I awoke in a Bul Nuer village. I was there for two months and they offered to scar my body for defense against djinn. I already had a H’Mong dog hovering over my shoulder, ready to attack enemies, so I thought why not invoke the magic of the Bul Nuer? The scars looked beautiful on them and so I accepted.
I once told someone I had chemical burns, but it was only the raised pattern of the Bul Nuer spirit woman. When I have sex, some women are horrified, while others find it interesting. Hardly anyone thinks it’s sexy. I never show it in public and always wear a shirt when I exercise. Mostly I exercise alone in my house in front of the TV which plays music from live concerts of old, fat rock stars or maybe an exercise routine with a young woman in neon tights that glow and line her physique as if someone has cut her out with a pair of sharp scissors.
First I start with stretches. I do this because my spine is twisted from a fall and I have herniated vertebra and a sacrum slightly moved forward, throwing my spine out of alignment. Most of my friends are tired of hearing about my cliff ledges, so I don’t mention them much anymore, but the pain is constant and I need to warm up the damaged tissue every day. Peg is the only person I know who is always ready to talk about my injury. She fell off her roof and landed in a rock crevice. She probably should have died, like me, but we didn’t and so now we like to talk about the events that caused our lives to take a sharp turn. People say we are lucky and I guess they are right, but it is hard for Peg and I to use that word and anyway, words are like birds, always flying away, just outside our grasp.
With each of my exercise movements, I imagine a government falling: usually a dictatorship on a different continent. A place well-known to me and I can recall people being thrown from the 7th floor of police stations or shot in the street for protesting a rigged election. Three sets of push ups mean that one very bad leader has been dragged through the street and hanged from a lamp-post. By thinking about people who deserve to die, my exercise routine flies by.
I move on to jumping jacks and the boxer shuffle. Famine and epidemics come to me. I think about how people survive or die in those situations. Again the criterion is part of my reality. Young men with guns always seem to endure, while the old and children are thin bone and hopeless dust. Mostly I think about the frail bodies lying in the shadows of huts and tents looking outward, like the scars upon my back, as I walk down the line. This is where my psychology becomes damaged, even deranged. While looking into the faces of those who are about to die, I don’t feel present. I am unaware that I am pushing my heart, my body to run in place for ten or twenty minutes and suddenly I notice the sweat and heavy breathing. Another part of my exercise routine is completed thanks to the cooperation of brain, body, and horror.
My maid is in the kitchen washing the dishes and I say to her: “With every movement of my body a murderous government falls.” She says, “That is a good thing señor.” Then I say, “With every minute of running in place, 100 people starve to death.” She says, “Yes, señor, it is sad.” Then I ask her, “Will I ever change?” She says, “No señor, we are all chained to our past and sometimes you seem like an average gringo, but I know you are not.”
I like my maid because she is fatalistic, a listing ship leaving port, and we share a common world view. Her father and mother died when she was 15-years old and she raised her brothers and sisters. She has seen my back, but never made a comment. We know the only way to escape the fall of everything is to fight and then seek refuge in the mind. In fact, I am here right now sharing all of this with you, deep inside my being, flying above the past; those terrible hills, a thousand hills, a drowning sea, endless desert, dipping and diving, grazing the mistakes of opium and pain and women and drink, down into the dark places where I live, my repellent gift to you.