If I am dying, and at this point I have no idea what has been causing a myriad of medical conditions that grow worse (or deteriorate faster?) so, since we’re all dying, then I am dying, perhaps faster, perhaps slower than others but slowing down all the same, I have a confession to make.
Compared to billions of us, very few get to live a life that makes headline news.
Even fewer live that life.
Some of us don’t want to make headline news.
What we’ve done, what we’ve become, what we can’t undo or take away from, I am that person.
I want to live on Mars with Guin, no doubt about that.
But if she knew who I was, would she ever want to live on Mars with me?
For you see, I was once a drug dealer.
I am a fictional character so please don’t compare what I’m about to tell you to the person writing this. This is my confession, not his.
I lived in the Fort Sanders area of Knoxville, Tennessee, in the early 1980s. I imagined myself a future James Agee or Cormac McCarthy. I wanted to be a writer of fame and fortune but settled with writing for writing’s sake, meeting people who could transform the written page into a carnival freak show.
The freaks accepted me into their groups but more than one called me a poser.
They saw me as suburban subcultural vanilla ice cream, pretending to rebel.
Of course they were right.
I’ve never rebelled. I, like them, am part of the system.
Rebels do not exist.
But that doesn’t stop us from acting out the us-vs-them age-old nonsense.
A friend of many decades now had lived the life of the rebel since high school but grew up in the suburban subculture of Oak Ridge, a/k/a Atomic City.
He and I quickly became lifelong friends for reasons he’s never fully understood and I’ll never convince him.
I should give him a name but I won’t. He doesn’t have to have a name, he exists here and in real life with or without a fictional label.
I wanted my writing to have some oomph so I let our friendship play out, taking personal risks of my own, getting to know so-called shady characters who were colleagues of colleagues well outside the circle of friends my lifelong friend thought we both knew.
In any organisation, well-formed or ad hoc, someone assumes control of the legitimacy of the organisation, protecting the rules, circling the wagons when the organisation’s rules or members are threatened.
In the new world I wandered, often alone at night, across the old railroad yard that would become the 1984 World’s Fair, I encountered protectors.
You wouldn’t recognise them as such.
Sometimes they were just old bums, hobos, homeless people, strangers who had chosen the outcast role through decisions they made in the middle of life we all live.
The railroad wanderers were instant friends.
They knew I, too, was lost, never fully buying into the bullshit that society dished out, trying to convince us it was precious caviar.
In the summertime, one can sleep against a tree, on the concrete shelf of a highway underpass but rarely in the confines of a sweltering hot, rusted-out storage warehouse.
I wanted to disappear.
I was ready to abandon all hope that I would ever belong and sat with a few guys down on their luck.
We all have stories to tell but not always the brain structure that allows us to rationally convey our stories.
Such was the case with the guys I met on the railroad.
“Down on their luck” sounds like if they just had been offered a helping hand at the right moment they would live in better socioeconomic conditions.
Many of them would have enjoyed a social safety net that put these guys in a mental institution with regular beds, nutritious meals and activities to occupy them while doped up by Big Pharma.
Instead, they had guys like me, guys who carried a little extra weed, happy pills and needles to distribute, guys who wanted to ease the pain they saw in fellow wanderers.
My lifelong friend thought that I just tagged along with him as a quasibodyguard when meeting with dealers higher up the distribution network.
So that’s what I gave him, and still do.
He didn’t know I was the perfect mark for some of the dealers, an expendable person who could carry out tasks unafraid to die, perfectly paranoid enough to smell narcs and clean-looking enough to avoid suspicion by government authorities hellbent on squashing the illegal drug epidemic while promoting the legal drug epidemic enthusiastically.
I’m not idealistic.
I’m not realistic.
I just am.
I became a rule enforcer for people whose names I’ve conveniently forgotten and whose faces I choose rarely to verify I know them with a nod in large crowds.
I enforced rules in various ways, keeping up-to-date with technology to know what the fuzz was using to track dealers, giving them a few smalltime dealers as sacrifices to protect the integrity of the organisation with no name.
The distributors gave me extra product on the side as a thank you, hinting at people to watch for on both sides of the law, including local politicians who were part of government contracts involving transactions that didn’t need to make headline news.
Of course, the names of lawyers and cops in times of need.
I quickly learned the names of all dispatchers, including ones working for the University of Tennessee police department — getting to know them was like owning my own goldmine, collecting information at informal gatherings in bars or at offcampus parties, knowing in advance when a raid was going to happen, earning a lot of extra product when I passed along tips to the right people.
If that was all I did, I would live today with a clear conscience.
If I am dying, I would like to make a confession.
Some people are not alive today because of me.
And no, I’m not just talking about sweatshop factory workers in a tropical climate dying because they were exposed to toxic chemicals all day.
I’m talking about the ones I had to take care of myself.
Ones whose lives and deaths were not going to make headline news.
People who could disappear without a trace and no investigators would snoop around to solve a crime.
In the pre-Internet days, it was easy.
Not a lot of closed-circuit television in the student slums.
No inadvertent audio or video feed from a smartphone.
Just strangers passing through town on empty boxcars looking to make a dollar or two, get a free bottle of cheap booze (or mouthwash) and maybe score some weed or heavyduty upper/downer.
Unreliable as can be.
But more expendable than me.
Hey, self-preservation is the name of the game, after all.
If they messed up, and, say, I got a little angry, their disappearance was a small price to pay to make me happy again, finding another mark down the food chain to complete a task assigned to me or I had dreamed up myself to protect the organisation that didn’t exist.
My problem is and was my writing.
If I don’t “confess” to myself in my writing, then thoughts will fester and grow cancerous, eating away at my insides like spiders that enter your nose every night, feeding on microorganisms living in your mucous membranes.
For decades I have hinted at my years of drug dealing, working as an enforcer, a snitch, a hitman.
I wanted to wait until I knew I was dying before confessing here to you as a fictional character.
I’ve let my paranoia get the best of me sometimes, sure that I’m being followed by guys from the old neighbourhood, seeing them pop up unexpectedly in my world travels, or reading headlines on websites I frequent that make me sure my phone is being bugged.
It comes with being successful, afraid that someone wants to steal my success from me, turn me in, or take me out as revenge for someone I never got to know before his demise because of me.
In those days, I should have carried a black book but learned quickly, as I think I’ve told you, to quit being a student and clear my brain to store information and connections in relation to my real “job.”
I’m filled with more guilt than I want and less than I should have.
I know I shouldn’t say I take pride in what I did but it made me who I am, carrying over just a few of the connections to help me succeed while hiding under the cover of a normally depressed intellectual.
I also hid under cover of a childhood friendship that turned into a marriage of 30 years, something I wasn’t expecting to happen but accepted I don’t always get what I want when I’m hiding incognito in plain sight.
If I’m dying, I don’t need to hide anymore.
I can just move into a van down by the river and hang out with my kind again, the seriously unreliable, unpredictable wanderers, living out my days in bliss, maybe helping out the organisation again because I sure don’t need to worry about my life getting cut short now.
I still want to go to Mars or whatever the fantasy of Mars means in a life with Guin.
But I don’t know if Guin can handle who I was and might still be, needing to quench my thirst as an enforcer every now and then when I wander off for hours or days, out of touch with the always-on, fully-connected tech that I don’t want tracking my paranoid self.
I am not who people think I am.
I am connected to people you probably don’t want to know because if they need to have a reason to get to know you, it’s not for your own good, possibly for your sudden, unfortunate demise, disappearing in ways that investigators won’t question — car accidents, terrorist attacks, plane crashes, heart attacks, rapid cancer, accidental overdoses, etc. — perfectly natural in today’s world (in fact, fully aligned with actuarial predictions). Untraceable becomes a lot easier when there’s no suspicion.
That’s one advantage of being fully immersed in computer modeling. Not only can I be a fictional character, I can act out test scenarios for the real me before he carefully carries out the trash himself.
If I’m dying, I’ve fully confessed.
I feel a lot better.
I can go back to imagining a life with Guin, go back to looking up jobs in other cities, find a flat that someone is letting, move on, get away from the local organisation that’s putting pressure on me again to get back to work with/for them.
I’m a wanderer.
Sometimes I’m even a happy wanderer.
If I’m dying, I want to wander happily to the end.