The hard thing about this world is that everything you've got—every dollar, every breath, every memory of sledding down the big hill in your front yard on a snow day—you got at someone else's expense. The fashion these days is to chalk it up to capitalism, but the truth is, that's just nature. Human nature, and the nature of life itself.
Think, for instance, about going on a nice walk in the park on a mild spring day. You've got squirrels dashing up trees, shaking the leaves, kids shrieking with delight, and on the sprinkler-damp grass a blue jay is pecking a worm from the soil. All in all, a pretty picturesque scene, wouldn't you say?
But not, of course, if you're the worm.
We're surrounded by suffering. So much so, we don't even notice it.
One man's snow day is another man's car crash, after all.
My dad made sure this stuff didn't slip me by when I was a kid. He didn't believe in looking the other way. He didn't believe in flinching at the sight of a little blood.
I remember, the first time I scraped my knee and cried at the sight of the red beading around glimmering pieces of dirt and gravel, he grabbed me by the shoulder and brought me to my feet.
"What're you crying for? It's just blood."
I was five or somewhere near it, so needless to say I didn't find his argument all that persuasive, and I bawled harder.
"Shut the fuck up, kid. Blood's what's inside of you. It's in all of us. Why're you scared of the thing that you're made of?"
He made sure I was looking, then he pulled out his pocket knife. Catching my eye, as if to say, "see?" he drew the blade quickly across his palm. I gasped. The blood trickled and dripped like dew on the grass. The sound of cicadas and birdsong seemed to scream louder in my ears. But I nodded, all the same.
He made sure I understood things like that. Where my meat came from. Why, if you traveled 5 minutes down the highway and took a left, you'd end up going down streets dotted with broken glass that crunched under your tires, where dilapidated houses stood in rows like toothless old men. When I was seven, he took me to the river to go fishing and watch the silver thrash and slap of a life ending on the floor of our boat, drowning in the air. When I was eight, he took me to the same river to drown a litter of kittens.
It was smart, how he did it; how it put me in his thrall. If I'd ever have thoughts of escaping to a more normal life, spent among normal people, it was out of the question. I'd sipped the poison bit by bit my whole life. I knew what I knew.
Once you see the world as it is, you can't live as others do.
Maybe I had regrets sometimes, but there's only so much you can regret the truth. I was jealous of everyone else, yeah, especially during those prime years of petty adolescent dramas, but I felt sorry for them too. How pitiful they were, thinking their happiness was real, and that it mattered. How wretched to live out their sprawling suburban lives and think their hands were clean. Yeah, I'd stolen shit. Yeah, I'd hurt people. And I was going to kill people too—my dad'd always made it clear this was my future. But at least I knew exactly what it was I did. And I owned it too.
These other kids in my school, and their bougie mallaholic parents, would go to their graves denying they'd ever committed a crime against anyone. According to them, they'd earned it all; their frictionless dreamy existences. And the guys living on the street off whatever change they had rattling in a Styrofoam coffee cup? They'd earned that shit too.
Dad had always dangled the possibility of me going off to college in front of me, but it was a carrot we both knew I was never going to catch. It was this fun little bit of make-believe we played. Maybe the only imagination I ever got to exercise in my whole childhood. I think he knew I knew it was never going to happen, but I like to think he thought he might've had me fooled. It'd give me one thing over on him, at least.
But whatever the case, he let the charade go on painfully long before he slipped the knife between my ribs. That was one of the differences between him and me. He loved playing with his food.
I'd done my applications and everything, gotten a few acceptances—Boston, NYU, Michigan—and engaged in pretending to weigh my options, when he finally showed his hand.
"Hey kiddo, I know you've got your heart set on college."
So he let me in on the latest shit going down in his little crime world; more details than he'd given than ever before.
"See?" he said at the end. "You're my secret weapon."
The charade made more sense now. How had I been so blind? All his enemies just saw me as his kid... some normal kid who he was trying to keep on the straight and narrow. I had to laugh.
"You think you got this?"
There were only two options really. I killed this guy, or he killed me. I could get through this and continue on living for this world's simple, animal pleasures. Some deli, an ice cold coke, watching the game. Skating on the frozen river in the wintertime. But if this was it, it wasn't such a loss—nothing I wouldn't lose eventually anyway.
And if my dad's shit caught up to him; if his whole big plan for me that he'd dedicated eighteen years of his life building up to; if that all came crashing down...
Well. That wouldn't be too bad either.
"Sure thing, pops. Sounds like a piece of cake."