Before I begin, it’s important I make something clear. This is not an honest telling of what happened. In fact, it’s so full of lies I’m not entirely sure why I feel compelled to tell it, but I do and I am going to. History is full of stories, many of them more full of lies than what I’m about to tell you, and because the statement – history is written by the victors – is true, we assume that beyond the self-aggrandizing rhetoric of those victors, there is a sugar cube of truth in all the saltiness and lard. I find this to be a shortcoming of history-telling, an unavoidable reality that wears the limits of human understanding thin as the ice of the Arctic in a hundred years, but we make do; we have to, for if the defeated told the stories of history, our cynicism would be greatly more justified and not merely an extension of the inherent cynicism of being conscious in a world that eagerly dismisses the weak and unfit, regardless of moral fiber or social contribution. We need the victors of history to tell us what happened so that we can feel as if there is a reason to fight, to strive, a natural instinct of all living things. But what if the losers told the stories of history?
I often wonder about God. It’s an exhausting train of thought to conduct and it consistently drives itself into a brick wall, at which point faith becomes as useful a tool as fire. So you’re a Roman citizen, the city has been sacked, the Empire is crumbling, barbarians use your homeland as a warehouse to pillage when they get bored, and then comes along this tribe of occultists carving fish on caves walls and swaying your leaders to conversion. Your family is wiped out, your friends, your beloved systems of governance, economics, all gone. You’re wandering the road, wondering what happened, how the greatest city on Earth could’ve been so easily erased from the face of the world as if it were some blemish in need of peroxide. In the egregious desolation, wary and disillusioned, you stumble upon some paper and charcoal and you begin to write the tale of mutiny, of infiltration and subversion; tears in your eyes, ire in your heart, pain in your loins, you remember in broken script the wealth and grandeur of that fabled mecca as though it had never passed into the hands of pagan idolaters.
It’s after midnight. The rain from the day is sinking into the depths of the soil and the scraping purr of a train is like an autopsy syringe to the corpse of what’s said and done and now only a memory, a story as of yet untold. Humidity makes everything a sauna; my hands are jelly, the cigarette in my mouth is too sweat-soaked to smoke. I saw a man killed once. He was a skinny man with prematurely gray hair, a vestige of a lifetime of needy chaos begging. He had been sent by a drug dealer to steal steaks from the local supermarket. When he returned empty-handed, his lips crusted to a chalk, the drug dealer shot him twice in the chest. He didn’t die instantly. Instead, seemingly characteristically, he lay foaming at the mouth, too stubborn to greet death like a gentleman. I was seated on a sofa with a bottle of whiskey in my hand and a few grams of cocaine sizzling on my cortex, and I watched. I watched his frail frame convulse as he struggled futilely to drink a few more drops of a life that had only been sad and disappointing, marked by incessant run-ins with the law, a loveless life. He looked at me pleadingly and I asked him, “Why do you want to live? There is nothing for you here.” As if suddenly realizing the veracity of my statement, he closed his eyes and exhaled in relief like I’d given him permission to pass away from the pain of the world of suffering.
I met the Roman citizen on a sidewalk one afternoon as I was walking to the gas station to get cigarettes and whiskey. The tattered toga that hardly kept him warm made him look like a rape victim who had managed to crawl out of an alleyway in a delirium befitting such a hopeless effigy to the wantonness of the desires of men. We spoke briefly and when he departed in the opposite direction, I pitied him as he embarked on an adventure to where the solace meets the sanctuary. That was the same night I met Elvie Anastas, the soft-spoken daughter of the drug dealer I would later watch murder the worthless junkie. That was not her real name, and though I never learned what her real name was, it mattered less than the fact that she was an untouchable in the most disorganized caste system ever devised. Remnants of a former addiction pockmarked her arms in a way that told a story written by a loser. And she knew it, didn’t care even to attempt to hide it, but her beauty was immutable as the will to strive. She was unlovable as she was untouchable, too discouraged by her own corruptibility to care to be loved, and sad as that sounds, she hadn’t become that way by any process of which nature is an executor. You see, some people are born without feelings; others lose them accidentally along the highway; and others happily feed them to the blood-thirsty dogs of time. That was Elvie. That was me. And this undeniable commonality proved a worthwhile bond, as worthwhile, say, as an enemy with whom you share a common enemy.
Those were dangerous times. All times are dangerous. Despite our access to history now, we behave willfully ignorant of the trials and tribulations of the past. There have been people in every age, every generation, who have looked upon the present standing of the world and been disgusted, embodied by rage and fueled madly to revolt. It can be said that history is not, in fact, written by the victors, but rather by the dissenters, for the dissenters are not always the defeated and vice versa. There are those who sit on the sidelines, on the outskirts, neither friend nor foe, observing severely the barbarism and hysterical inanity of their respective societies; they care not for war or for change, harbor no hope nor despair, but are content to tell the story of history from an objective, apathetic perspective. They are not obliged to engage in the reforming required, nor do they pretend with the shoddy idealism and humdrum egomania of activists and revolutionaries that there is change to be overseen, justice, though such a thing doesn’t truly exist, to be exacted, or hope to be disseminated. These are the men and women of truth, as near to truth as mere men and women can come without unhinging the doors of mere observation.
So I am going to lie to you, for I am not a victor, nor was I ever defeated. I was there, whether willingly or unwillingly, and I never had an investment in the outcome. And while this seems to make me the most apt candidate for the telling of this story, it in fact disqualifies me. The discordant orchestra of history is composed of the dreams, greeds, lusts and hopes of those foolish and audacious enough to bear them. Dreaming was a courtship with the absurd I never welcomed warmly, and my greeds and lusts were too minimal to fuel anything akin to the madness that makes men stutter and redden; and my hopes were subliminal, as my faiths; necessary constructs of a consciousness abstracted from the all-glowing brightness of the dastardliness of exemption from mortal folly. When the story is finished, you may ask yourself which parts of it were utterly false and which of them warranted further dissecting, but I bid you to avoid such trivial exercises. There is no utility in pondering what can only be pondered, a truth, as much as a lie, I learned when the benevolence of existence was too remote to have me on my knees, carving fish in cave walls and idolizing kingdoms farfetched and faraway from the upheaval of waking up on a dewy Saturday morning in a life that otherwise had no purpose or sense for being.