Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Minotaur

As it is Father's Day, I'm going to step out of the box that this blog normally resides in, and present one of my most personal works. It has been 'published' elsewhere before, but I feel that it needs to be shared once again.

The Minotaur
(please excuse the lengthiness. life is fleeting, the soul is not.)

On June 20, 1955, the day my father was born, there was a total eclipse of the sun, the single longest eclipse in more than 1200 years. The world was dark for a total of seven minutes and eight seconds that day. But just shy of 46 years later, when my father died, the world went dark once again.

I’m still waiting for the sun to shine.

When I think of my father, the first word that comes to mind is noose. It’s unfortunate that his death overpowers his life so, but trauma latches on to your brain center and leeches all the joy out of you.

He was a good man, a good human being and a good father. Of all the things I inherited from him, these were not on the list. Beyond our physical similarities—both good and bad—we also shared the Curse. And now that he is gone, the Curse is mine alone to bear.

So what is this Curse I speak so freely of? The barebones, strictly speaking, could be summed up as such: manic depressive with suicidal tendencies, homicidal fantasies and chemical dependencies. But there’s more to it than that. There’s oh-so-much more meat on that skeleton.

The Curse runs through our bloodstream, passed on from father to son, and manifests itself as an unseen entity residing within the unconscious. I can’t say for sure how far back it goes, but more than likely it transverses four generations of men.

Not much is known about my great-grandfather, only that he was a drunken and rambunctious buffoon who constantly fought with his wife and eventually cut ties with his family. My grandfather was also a drunkard who cheated on and possibly abused his wife. He killed himself and his best friend in a drunken automobile accident on the way to his mistress’s house only four months before his son was born. My father (named after both men killed in the accident) was in turn born with the Curse and passed it on to me, his only son.

He called his the Village and I call mine the Minotaur.

My father thought that the Village was a blessing at first. Something that separated him from the herd and kept him entertained. Then the Village in his head began speaking to him and it was all downhill from there. In the end, he self-destructed.

As he wrote in his journals, “When I’m alone, I frequently talk to myself and answer myself, often in different voices. I’m afraid someone is going to realize I’m insane…I call it my Little Village, where the opinions that I express are actually the opinions of an individual who lives in my Village.”

There is no mistaking my Curse as a blessing. I was never allowed that luxury. It did not play nice before turning rabid. It has almost always been there, inside me, eating me away.

One may wonder why we bothered giving such a damnable thing as the Curse a name, which could only serve to give it life and form, solidifying its existence. The running theory is that by separating the Curse from ourselves, it turns the enemy from an intangible into a tangible form. It gives it substance, and what has substance can be defeated.

The old tale of Rumplestiltskin comes into play here. That mischievous imp came into the life of a young woman and tormented her to no end. The only way to put a stop to his antics was to guess his name, which she did. He promptly vanished, and his reign of terror was over.

It’s what anthropologist and psychiatrist Fuller Torrey calls “The Rumplestiltskin Effect.” Put a name to the ailment, and the ailment loses its power.

Selfishly, I suppose that by naming the Curse, it may also free us from any form of residual guilt.

It’s not my fault I feel this way. It is the Minotaur.

The name came to me almost as if a dream, while I was chronicling my pain in poetry. It wasn’t until years later that I realized how accurate that title was.

The myth goes something like this: Minos was the son of Zeus and Europa. He grew to be the king of Crete, and married a woman by name of Pasiphae. Minos somehow angered the god Poseidon, who took his fury out on Minos’ wife, causing her to grow lustful for a bull. The bull and Pasiphae bedded down together and she gave birth to the half-man half-bull beast known as the Minotaur.

Knowing no mere cage could hold the beast and not having the heart to kill it, Minos commissioned the great artist Daedalus to construct a labyrinth so vast that nothing could ever find its way out, and that’s where the Minotaur was imprisoned.

Now, Minos and Pasiphae had a son of their own, Androgeus, but he had been killed by Athenians. To avenge his son’s death, Minos appealed to his father Zeus, who then unleashed a plague upon Athens. In order to appease Zeus and cease the plague, Aegeus, the king of Athens, would offer ten of his people in sacrifice to the Minotaur per year, five boys and five girls. And the plague did cease.

But when Theseus, son of Aegeus, was of age, he made plans to kill the beast, tired of seeing his people slaughtered. When the next time of sacrifice came around, Theseus volunteered and traveled to the labyrinth with nine innocents in tow.

He left behind him a trail of yarn as he walked, until finally meeting the beast in the center of the maze. Then, using a smuggled sword given to him by his love Ariadne, Theseus defeated the Minotaur. He followed the trail of yarn back to the outside world and sailed home a hero.

But somewhere along the way, there was a dreadful miscommunication. Aegeus, believing that his son failed in the mission and had been sacrificed, took his own life in grief.

Symbolically, the Minotaur has always stood for the duality of mans nature and the dangerous, animalistic aspects of his psyche hidden deep within the unconscious. The Minotaur is my curse. This, of course, makes me Theseus, embarking on a dangerous mission to topple the beast. My wife Melanie is my Ariadne, and her love is my sword, the weapon with which I hope to defeat the Minotaur. Leaving my father as Aegeus, who did indeed take his own life, but did not wait until my victory. In order to defeat the Minotaur, I must lose myself in the labyrinth of my mind, and the only way to get back out is to follow the trail I have left behind me—my words.

I like to think that the Minotaur has always been there, lurking in the shadows of my skull and plucking the heartstrings. He did not come into full bloom, however, until the age of six. My mother, sister and I were en route to our new home in Phoenix, Arizona, but had made plans to spend a month or so with an aunt who resided in a small North Carolina town. The memories, for the most part, are hazy. I remember barbeques in the back yard, chasing June bugs and fireflies. I remember ghost stories of a headless ranch hand searching for his visage a few farms over. I remember that same farm catching fire and sending great clouds of black smoke into our yard, and knowing without doubt that the headless ranch hand was the cause.

But most of all, I remember the ditch. A deep drainage ditch ran behind the house and for miles in both directions. My sister and I, along with the neighborhood kids, would often pretend that we were falling into a vast canyon and that it was up to the rest of the children to save us. The girl next door, whose name escapes me but even as a child walked with a dripping sensuality, called this game “Rescue.”

I remember her dark brown hair and eyes, but not much else. I was enamored with her, entranced, and I would follow her all around the area like a lost dog. So when she suggested a new game to me, which she called “Married,” I wasn’t about to turn it down.

“How do you play Married?” I asked, and instead of telling me, she showed me, climbed into the ditch with another boy from the block and stripped naked. My job, she said, was to keep everyone away while they played. When I wasn’t scaring off the other children, I would gawk down at the muddy couple inside the ditch, cavorting naked in the pseudo-sexual act. I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I did know this: I wanted to play.

Finally it was my turn and the other boy took over the role of guardsman. I stripped nude and began to mimic what I had seen the other boy doing. Whereas he had just been going through the motions, so to speak, I became physically aroused and after some coaching and coaxing by the little neighbor girl, our pseudo-sexual act turned into the real deal.

Sex, of course, at such an early age can be extremely damaging to ones psyche. It wasn’t until much later in life that this memory would resurface, or that I would realize the likelihood that she herself had previously been sexually molested. Although the memory would fade, the damage was already done. The Minotaur had been awakened.

Needless to say, I became much more interested in members of the opposite sex than my peers. And seeing as how the first girl I ever liked was also the first girl that I played Married with, I believed that it would be that easy from here on out. Find a girl, let her know that you like her, take off your clothes. But I was a frail kid, pale, with bad teeth, bad hair and thick glasses. Not only did this make me a repellent for females but it also made me the target of bullies.

No girls. No friends. It was me and me alone, which continued for years. I was terrified to leave the house because every time I did, I seemed to be attacked, beaten and humiliated. Sometimes by a single person, sometimes by a large group of them.

Because I was such a frightened child and overrun with hate for my peers but primarily for myself, while at school I would try to blend into the background and disappear into the woodwork, a strategy that rarely worked. But when I got to the safety of my own home, I would act up and act out, throwing tantrums and breaking things with no provocation. My mother’s response was to make me go outside and “fetch a switch from the tree.” She rarely actually used it on me; the idea was that the fear of having to fetch the instrument of my punishment would be enough to set me straight.

It wasn’t.

Exasperated and unsure what to do next, she threatened to send me to a child psychiatrist. Out of sheer defiance, I collected all of the phone books in the house and crossed out all the listings for psychiatrists with a black permanent marker. Upon learning what I had done, my mother assured me that she had already copied down a number and if I didn’t straighten up, all she had to do was make the call.

I didn’t straighten up. She didn’t make the call. To this day, I wonder how much better my life would be if she had only gone through with the threat.

I don’t blame her. There’s no way she could have known. The Minotaur was my little secret.

By the time my mother—and newly arrived step-father—decided to say goodbye to the gang-ridden streets of Phoenix and hello to the cobblestones of Trinidad, Colorado, I was already so full of fear and hate and self-loathing that there seemed to be little hope of salvation.

Trinidad is one of those God forsaken small towns that seem to revolve around gossip, alcohol and high school athletics. I began my life in town as a 7th grader, still seething with disparity and hatred. As the new kid, I had no choice but to be bullied and sought refuge with my kindred, primarily Jimmy, another 7th grader who would become a lifelong friend. By the time we had made it to high school and I had made friends out of my tormentors, I had entered into a phase of delinquency and drug use in which I would swallow any pill on the table and turn coat on practically anyone if there was anything in it for me, especially a female.

I believe it was early in my sophomore year when I attempted to kill myself. I had an old Aspirin bottle tucked beneath my mattress, stocked with pills of all kinds—prescriptions and otherwise—that I had pilfered from medicine cabinets all across town. On one particular starry night, I climbed out on my roof and looked out at the sky, thinking long and hard about my life, thinking long and hard about my death. I decided that death would be more fitting.

I took the entire bottle of pills in a few mighty gulps and then lay down in bed, waiting to be consumed by the end.

Turns out, the end didn’t want me. I awoke the next morning, jittery and disoriented, and spent the next two days vomiting incessantly. Rather than becoming determined to try again and this time succeed, I concluded that although death would mean an end to the pain, somebody like me did not deserve to escape it. I was born to hurt.

Following graduation and some bad actions on my behalf, the consequences of my past came knocking on my door, demanding blood and retribution. Like a fugitive, I made hasty plans to move to Greeley some 5 ½ hours away where Jimmy was now attending classes at the University of Northern Colorado. With no job, no money and no permanent place to stay, I decided that some serious changes needed to be made in my life. I had to turn myself around, stay straight and sober, and try to be a good person. It was my only chance of redemption.

A few minor slip-ups and a few years later, I’m making amends of my sins while the Minotaur still runs rampant upstairs.

My father had been involved in his own constant battle with depression but had refused therapy and medication on personal grounds. He had contemplated death on numerous occasions in the past, but in 1999 he was diagnosed with Barret’s Esophagus. For three months, he was forced to come to terms with the fact that he may have cancer and could be dying. When the results finally came in, that it was not cancerous, he was not relieved but angry. He wanted to die and cancer would have taken the responsibility out of his hands. He was, as he put it, “all dressed up with nowhere to go.”

But when the Curse took over to the extent that he was unable to get out of bed, much less go to work, he had to look into treatment in order to collect disability to support his family. For more than a year and a half he spoke to therapists, doped himself up on their multitude of pills, and even went so far as to receive electroshock therapy.

The electroshock was an unpleasant experience that my father called barbaric. Besides the pain involved, there was also the severe memory loss and the disorientation to contend with. Although doctor’s claim that it helps in 83% of all cases, studies of patients who have actually received the treatment show that the success rate is much, much lower. Physicians are notorious for not offering full details of the procedure and often neglect to mention the side effects or the fact that it is science strictly by chance.

Nobody understands how or why electroshock therapy “works,” but despite this it is endorsed by the American Medical Association, the National Mental Health Association, and the American Psychiatric Association.

Regardless, it did not improve my father’s situation. In fact, it did the seemingly unprecedented and actually made his depression worse, which the doctor declared was impossible.

The last time I had spoken to my father on the phone, his spirits seemed lifted, he was much more lucid and I even heard him laugh, which was a sound I hadn’t heard in ages. After I hung up, I was thrilled, ran around town telling my confidantes that he was getting better, that things were looking up, that everything just might be okay after all.

A week later, he was dead. I understood then that he wasn’t just calling to talk and check in. He was calling to say goodbye, and I had no idea.

So why, if he was feeling better, did he finally go through with killing himself? Studies show that suicides rarely occur when the victim is at the worst of their depression—they are then too broken and lethargic to take action—but rather when their mood begins to elevate and they finally find the motivation and energy needed to tie the knot.

Consider it one of nature’s cruel jokes, that death and despair can rise out of your hope.

I was only one shot and one scene into a night of drinking and horror movies with Jimmy when the call came in. It was my mother in tears, delivering the bad news that she had received from my sister who had in turn received it from our step-family. The details were sketchy, only that my father was dead, that he had killed himself and life would never be the same again.

Our conversation was short and painful and I was angry at myself that the tears did not come immediately. The anger turned to fury and I demanded to Jimmy, “Let’s walk.”

He followed me faithfully outside and I stormed down the alley, taking swings at street signs, brick walls and anything within arm’s length. In the back of my mind, I hoped that some drunken college kid or rambunctious thug would see me and start trouble so that I would have an excuse to release my rage on human flesh. Whether I won or not, it would have been a fight to the death, murder and suicide in the very same day.

We had made our way to Jimmy’s apartment, my knuckles busted and bleeding, and that’s when the tears finally came. I was suddenly overwrought and blubbering, shouting at the heavens, “How am I supposed to have kids after this?”

The Curse had ruined my life, had ruined and then taken my father’s life. How could I possibly become a father and risk having a son who would suffer the same fate? How could I risk passing the curse onto another young soul who would also be at risk of losing his own father?

Surely I’m not the first man to believe that he is cursed, and surely I won’t be the last. But I will be the last of my blood. To pass this genetic malfunction onto an innocent child, now that it has been fully realized, would be a cruel trick indeed. I have enough on my conscience without adding to the burden. And despite my now-reformed ways and self-imposed mission to earn my proverbial wings, it comes down to the fact that there is no salvation for an old salt like me. I sailed the seas of sin for far too long for that, and left too many victims burning in the wake of my vessel. I don’t need the added guilt of unwanted company in this, my tiny little circle of hell.

With my mother still living in Trinidad, my sister with her family in Alaska, and my then-girlfriend (now wife) Melanie out of town for a family reunion, Jimmy was my primary source of support. He allowed me to punch things when I needed to, fetched me cigarettes and caffeine, and drove me around at all hours of the night simply because I couldn’t bear having to sit still, all the while listening to me bawl my eyes out and preach my hatred against the world. Once the waterworks were opened, there was no turning them off.

Roughly a week later, my sister and her ever-expanding family drove in from Alaska and picked me up, and then we all headed on to Alvin, Texas, once a happy place where a son would be reunited with his father, but now a haunted little town where ghosts of memories reared their teeth at every turn. We pulled into the driveway at dusk, greeted by my stepmother and stepbrother, both of who appeared to be much stronger than me.

The house and all the rooms seemed strangely out of focus, all the furniture slightly shifted only a quarter of an inch from where they should have been. There were too many empty spaces and everything hurt to look at.

We chatted idly through the evening about everything except for my father, even had a laugh or two. But the Minotaur, morbid beast that he is, insisted on seeing where it had happened.

We paused so that I could make a telephone call and I spoke to Melanie, telling her about the solemn vow I had made not to procreate. I had not told her before because I was expecting her to be crushed and possibly end our relationship, as she is a teacher and always wanted children of her own. Instead, she told me that it didn’t matter, that she was with me for me, regardless of whether or not we had kids. I was struck with the knowledge that she loved me unconditionally and the Minotaur whispered that it was a love that I do not deserve. Although I am unable to give her any of the things she wants and deserves, she still stands by me, as painful and difficult as it must be to do so.

Once the rest of the world had gone to sleep, I crept into the back room, my father’s study. The door creaked when I opened it and I leaped backwards in fright when I flipped the light switch. I don’t know what I was expecting to see or what I thought I saw, but my heart stopped all the same.

On the surface, the room resembled much of what I had remembered from my last visit: my father’s paintings tacked to the wall, hundreds of classic rock records stacked neatly in wooden milk crates, science fiction paperbacks scattered everywhere. But below that, a menacing specter coated everything in dark shadows. Amongst the paintings which I had seen before and always admired were a small gallery of disturbing new ones: a self-portrait of my father reclining in his favorite chair, wrists and throat slit and gushing rivers of blood which came to rest in a pool by his feet; a landscape of the depths of hell depicting myriad tortured souls being raped and mutilated by demons; and worst of all, a simple black canvas with the words “I want to die!” written over and over again in dull red lettering.

My veins ran cold and against my better judgment, I picked this canvas up and turned it over to read the label. Under the heading of Medium, my father had scrawled: Acrylic and Blood.

Trembling, I returned the painting.

I opened the door to the walk-in closet, cluttered with art supplies and nudie-girl magazines that my father used “to study the female form.” Although I had never been told so, I knew instinctively that this was where he had done it. I was suddenly floored with a painful vision, whether brought on by sheer imagination or something else, I don’t know. But I have never doubted its authenticity.

My father dead in the closet, wearing his blue pajama bottoms and surgical scrubs top from his days as a medic in the army, hands and feet bound together by duct tape, an extension cord noosed around his neck and tied to the clothing rod. His glasses were on but severely cockeyed and his face was blue. His bare feet dangled only a few inches from the floor, and just out of reach is a footstool, kicked away after long moments of mental preparation. Nearby, scribbled into the pages of his sketchbook, was his suicide note. It didn’t offer much in the way of explanation, only said, “I’m sorry,” and gave directions on how to disperse of both his body and his belongings.

As it turned out, I would be leaving with a bit of both.

My father had chosen to be cremated, not out of religious reason but because he never understood the point of burial. To him, once the goodbyes were said, there was no need to clutter the earth with another corpse and suck up the family’s remaining bank account with all those expensive proceedings. For him, it had to be ashes to ashes.

So his body was placed into a cheap wooden box which was in turn slid into the oven for two or three hours at approximately 2000 degrees. When all was said and done, a two hundred pound man had been transformed into five pounds of dust.

When my stepmother pulled out the container that now held my father, I almost lost it completely. It was not a fancy urn like you always see on television, but rather a plastic carton that uncomfortably resembled a Chinese take-out box, with the fold-over flaps and dual metal handles. He had requested that his ashes be scattered in the woods of Brazos Bend State Park, where he had spent so much of his time.

I excused myself and stepped into the backyard to smoke a cigarette and calm my nerves, which were crawling atop one another like beetles. The bird feeders, which my father used to always keep fully stocked, were empty. There were no birds singing or fluttering about. The world was frozen in time. I looked across the yard at the screen shelter my father used to frequent, sort of camping in his own backyard, sometimes for a night, sometimes for a full weekend, sometimes just to steal a moment or two of privacy.

Where it had once been an efficient tent—with running water via a garden hose and electricity via an extension cord—it was now run-down, dilapidated, with gaping rips in the walls and large dents and dings in the support poles. It sagged terribly and I had a definite sense that things had gone terribly wrong somewhere along the way and nobody had bothered to tell me until it was too late.

We drove out to the woods of Brazos Bend 28 miles southwest of Houston. We scattered the majority of his ashes far off of the beaten path, where he would have wanted to be, away from human and society’s reach.

Although he would take each of us kids camping at least once a year at Brazos, when he would go by himself, he refused to “rough it.” He was not camping so much as retiring to his Fortress of Solitude, merely getting away from the rest of the world. The Village in his head was made up of more than enough people to keep him company; he didn’t need or want any more. Just like me, cohabitation raised his stress level tenfold, always feeling like he was on stage and performing for an audience.

He would rent a screened-in shelter, block out any other campers with curtains, recline in his easy chair—which, embarrassed, he always brought—and just be. He would paint if the urge struck him, he would sketch if he felt like it, he would write in his journal even if he had nothing to say, all the while relishing the sanctity of nature song that is usually blocked out by civilization.

To maximize the time, he relied on coffee and cigarettes to get through a lot of late nights and a lot of early mornings. If he slept through the morning orchestra of crickets, cicadas and birds, danced to by legions of deer and straggling raccoons against the colorful backdrop of the rising sun, he felt like he had missed something special, one of the last beautiful remnants of a world already ended. It was during these times that he felt most at peace, the closest to actually having something to believe in, even if he was unsure what that something was.

Reading through his journals, it’s easy to see the evolution of my father’s mind. Where he was once a freewheeling hippie, writing poetry and attending protests, soaring through the chemical alphabet with long hair and free love, he grew up and became a scientist. His smile faded as his youthful ideals gave way to physics and binary code and the Big Bang. Whatever he had once believed in and hoped for was replaced by facts, cold and hard data that leaves you little room for free thought.

It wasn’t until my stepmother gave him a heaping box of art supplies for Christmas one year that he began to reclaim his throne as the crown prince of individuality. He had once again found an outlet for his creativity, which had never truly died but been overwritten. His days may have been spent at the space center in Houston, but his nights were spent creating new worlds that even the most powerful telescope could not see. He was pillaging the Village quietly, seeking out answers to questions he was afraid to ask and putting the results into a tangible form.

Unfortunately, not even this could save him.

He attributed his depression to the guilt feelings that he had been living with since he divorced my mother and left us children in 1981. Although we had forgiven him, and he never was absent from our lives, he couldn’t let go of that guilt. If this had truly ever been a sin on his behalf, surely time had granted absolution but he refused to accept it. And so, in his journals, he made note that with his death, he would never hurt us again. Instead, it’s just one big hurt that goes on forever.

It’s fitting that hanging was his method of choice, because of its connotations of capital punishment. It had been used as a method of execution by the Persian Empire even earlier than 400 A.D. and was used to punish common criminals in feudal England, whereas beheading was reserved for people of more noble blood. Ironically, until 1808 in some parts of the world, attempted suicide was punishable by death, and those guilty were killed by hanging. Had that law persevered and my father survived his attempt, the court would have hung him anyway.

My father did not just commit suicide; he executed himself as punishment for his imaginary crimes against my sister and I. Perhaps he is now free of his guilt, but the buck has been passed on to me.

The most common responses to learning my imminent feelings of guilt are that: there was nothing I could do; it wasn’t my fault; it was a selfish act. While the first two statements may be conceived as comforting on some level, even if I cannot believe them, the third statement is prone to set me off. These people, who have never met my father, are calling him selfish, insulting him, insulting the dead. Where do they get off? It would be equally acceptable to tell a friend who is mourning the heart attack death of his grandmother that she was ugly and old.

But they tell me that it’s okay to be angry at my father for committing suicide, to shout, scream, curse and yell at him, that such a catharsis would be therapeutic and could only serve to help. But I will not allow myself to do so, no matter how progressive the end result could be. I’ve always believed that in death, all is forgiven if not forgotten. A clean slate should be granted to all who pass over. Lord knows I have performed my fair share of transgressions and I pray that those will not be held against me even in death.

My inheritance consisted of a few grab-and-bag CDs and paintings, and his collection of journals that he had kept for the most part faithfully since he had joined the army at the age of 18, and then left exclusively to me. Twenty-eight years of his life recorded in roughly twenty volumes of various lengths and sizes, many of them with painted covers so that his life and his art remain inseparable in my eyes.

As we were packing to return home, it looked as if we would not have enough room in the trunk to take the journals with us. “Then we’ll leave my suitcase,” I said. “But the journals are coming home.”

After careful rearranging and streamlining, both journals and suitcase fit into place and we began the long drive home.

A small portion of my father’s ashes were also given to my sister and I, wrapped up in a plastic bag and sealed in small ceramic boxes that my father himself had made. My sister scattered her portion somewhere in the Alaskan wilderness, I’m assuming, and I took my portion to Vedauwoo Park in Wyoming, which I had always envisioned showing him someday.

With its magical rock formations jutting up every which direction in the middle of a hundred miles of nothingness, the appeal of such a place could be seen as simply aesthetic. But the first time I entered the park gates, I achieved a level of serenity that I can only imagine equaled that of my father’s at Brazos Bend. I was at peace, feeling as if I had found the last holy place in America. And with this in mind, Melanie, Jimmy and I hiked to an impossibly difficult to reach cave, and set my father free.

Having the journals in my possession was both a blessing and a curse. Whereas it was a chance to learn more about my father, reading them became my only obsession. All I wanted was to understand, to find the missing piece to the puzzle that would answer all my questions and pull the whole picture into focus. I read them, I re-read them, I read between the lines. I poured over his old poetry, stared deeply at his paintings, looking for some hidden meaning, some clue, something, anything.

But there was no missing piece. There was no hidden answer; there was no greater truth to the matter. He hung himself in the closet, case closed.

As the entries went on, they became more and more disturbing, detailing my father’s deepening descent into the abyss of depression. The images he laid out and the ones I made up stuck with me and lost themselves in the labyrinth. While I slept, these transient images were hunted down and devoured by the Minotaur, but rather than being destroyed in the process, they became a part of him, exploding into graphic nightmares that prevented me from being at peace in what had once been my only state of refuge.

The first, and one of the most frightening, came almost immediately upon my return home. My friends and I were lined up outside of a circus tent, waiting to see the sideshow. An old fashioned and grotesque carnival barker captured my attention, shouting offers to show me my future in perfect detail. I excused myself from the line I was in and approached the barker, paying him the two-dollar fee. He led me to another smaller tent around back and pushed me through the entrance.

A gypsy woman sat at a scarred wooden table and motioned for me to sit across from her. As I did this, she shuffled a deck of Tarot cards and pulled one from the center of the deck, placing it face up on the table. There were no arcane symbols or etchings on the face of the card as one is accustomed to seeing in the Tarot, but rather a photograph of me. Wordlessly, the gypsy scooped up the card and placed back on the top of the deck, turning them so that I could see the pictures.

Her bony fingers flipped quickly through the deck so that a movie seemed to be playing before my eyes, in which I watched myself grow older, turning into the spitting image of my father. At first it pleased me that my father’s image could live on with me, but the final card shattered my heart. It was my father—me!—with a noose around his neck, hanging in the closet.

That sealed my belief in the Curse, that I was fated to end the same way as my father. I refused to do it willingly, to go down without a fight, but it takes a hell of a force to defeat an entity such as fate.

My father himself stated that if he could only have found something to believe in, then he would have had something to live for. This became my quest, the only conceivable way to win the war. But every school of thought and every system of faith had its flaws, which prevented me from full devotion. I tried at various times in my life to live on faith alone, but failed.

So I developed my own philosophy in which I’m bound to no single belief but incorporate tidbits of wisdom from all areas under one umbrella that I call Amalgamism. It’s not enough to simply pick up these tidbits as I go, I must actively seek them out, from such varied sources as ancient literature, religious texts, and graffiti on the men’s room wall.

A few years went by before my next visit to Texas. The town looked familiar and yet oddly different, as if it had been torn down and then rebuilt by memory. My stepbrother was doing fine, excelling in his computer classes but still keeping his bizarre sleep schedule. My stepmother had gone back to work and somehow looked younger than ever. The screen shelter in the backyard was gone and the rest of the house had been repaired and revamped. My father’s study had been gutted and turned into storage. The whole world had moved on while I was still stuck in the past.

Time trudged onward and lack of employment in Greeley led me to find yet another home, this time in Denver. It was less than a week later that my father’s mother died, making the month of June even more unbearable than ever. My father’s birthday, death-day, father’s day, and now the death of my grandmother all lined up in a neat little row. June has come to be known as Hell Month in my world, the center of the storm. Each year, the nightmares return and the Minotaur grows larger and more powerful, waiting for the day that he can escape the labyrinth and take control. And on that day, I will be the one lost.

William S. Burroughs was one of the most influential and prolific authors of the Beat Generation. While living in Mexico in 1951, he accidentally shot and killed his common law wife Joan during a foolish game of William Tell. Once the bullet entered her forehead and she fell to the floor, Burroughs felt a Curse of his own take hold, a creature that he called the Ugly Spirit.

He claimed that only through writing could the Ugly Spirit be exorcised.

I can only hope that he was right.


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