Tag Archive | novel

The Blood I Cried

Want to read the whole story? Well, now you can! For a limited time (until June 15), Dancing in Hellfire is finally available for sale, for only $3.49. You can buy it here, through this very site, using PayPal or a typical credit/debit card (payment is processed by PayPal, so I don’t see the info), after which you’ll be given access to the book as both a PDF and an ePub.

Introduction

Whether being four years old and watching one of my parents’ friends shoot up peanut butter on our couch and dying before my eyes; whether being effectively kidnapped at the age of eight by my meth-addicted mother and forced to endure a summer of being too poor to buy food, with our water turned off due to non-payment, and with mom being beaten mercilessly by a violent alcoholic; whether coming to terms with her disappearance like something out of a murder mystery show; or whether being transgender in the midst of all of this and trying desperately to come to terms with it while surrounded by a fundamentalist Christian family that forced me to not merely repress who I was but also to forget who I was, I have seen a great deal of tragedy.

It’s strangely easy to forget how devastating all of this must truly have been, even as I was the one who experienced it, because it’s easy to forget how it truly felt to lie awake, crying and listening to the sounds of shattering glass as my mother was thrown brutally through windows. It’s easy to forget how angry I have the right to be at my father and grandmother, for forcing me to oppress myself and attempting to turn me into something that I am not.

Today I am a transgender woman and resident of the state of Mississippi. This is as frustrating, difficult, and dangerous as one would expect, but I survive, and I roll with the punches. I have no choice, just as I had no choice those early mornings as I bore witness to horrific domestic violence.

So this is my story–a story of how low human depravity can sink, but also how the human spirit can stand resilient and refuse to surrender. However, I know that I am one of the lucky ones. The majority of people who endure such childhood trauma, and who are forced by religiously oppressive authorities to repress their own natures, are not so fortunate. Most of the former lose themselves in a sea of drugs that allow them to forget, while the latter often lose themselves to the blade of a razor. Yet I know, because I have lived it, that we can survive the struggles–and not merely survive, but become stronger through them.

Where to begin, in this sordid tale of devils and demons?

My family is exactly what one would expect of a north Mississippi lower middle class / upper lower class white Christian family; it was only a few years ago that I first heard the acronym WASP, but I have to admit: aside from its redundancy, there is no more apt description of my family. They are almost stereotypical in how typical they are of an ordinary white fundamentalist Christian family from the southern United States.

Everyone in Mississippi isn’t like that, however, which is a point I’ve tried to stress in the past: Mississippi does contain many people like myself. As a friend recently put it, “We grew up in an area that is run-down, poor, and stupid, over all, where most of the populace is indoctrinated by religious nonsense to the point where they can’t even recognize rational thought. We pushed through what it takes to fit in here, and we defined ourselves. That’s something to embrace and be proud of.”

My friends and I have reached the end of a long and grueling journey that was filled with adversity and people who would use any means at their disposal—terrorism, fear, violence, and coercion—to bend us to their wills, and we’ve looked back at the paths we traveled and rejoiced that we survived and stayed true to ourselves. Friends are priceless when one is transgender in a family full of fundamentalist Christians.

Both of my paternal grandparents would reject me entirely—they do not yet know, and they will be among the last to know, since I see them only a few times a year. “You don’t know how they’ll react,” I’ve had people tell me. “Give them a chance. Sometimes people surprise you.”

With all due respect, those allies and friends have no idea the type of people we’re really dealing with. My Mississippian friends know better, too; they know that there is no chance that my family will ever welcome me at Christmas dinner as a female. When my grandfather (who, for the record, is on his tenth or eleventh wife) learned that my sister was living with her boyfriend, he wrote her a lengthy letter, wherein he quoted Biblical passages and called her a whore. When my grandmother found girls’ clothes hidden between my mattresses, she wanted to send me to a foster home and asserted that she would not have that in her house. If they had thought I was gay, they would have sent me to one of those awful “pray the gay away” camps.

This isn’t to say that I’m perfect, and acknowledging my own faults and mistakes will be the most difficult part of writing this. I have made plenty of mistakes and stupid decisions that brought people around me severe difficulty and hardship, particularly regarding past relationships.

My memory is also not perfect, and I am likely to make mistakes, and, given that some of the information comes from extremely unreliable sources (like my father), some of that can’t really be helped. It doesn’t matter, though. The point of this is to show how awful parenting shaped me, and the countless lies that my dad told me are part of that. I strive for honesty, integrity, and sincerity in all things. Consider this my vow that everything within is, to the best of my knowledge, the unaltered truth, except that names have been changed.

South Pontotoc

I was born premature, thankfully, since the umbilical cord had wrapped around my throat and I was choking to death. This was surely a result of my mother’s cigarette smoking and eating painkillers while pregnant. My father insists that she didn’t do drugs while she carried us, but… Yeah, she did.

I certainly don’t remember my birth, but I do remember some things from shortly after my birth. Though my family says there is no way I could remember it, my introduction to the world came with overwhelming confusion: I was in some sort of cradle, and the back of my right hand hurt because a number of needles and tubes penetrated my flesh. The details are blurry and fuzzy, as one would expect from such early memories, but the needles burned and itched. They irritated me, and I wanted them out. I was afraid and confused, with no idea why these things penetrated my hand and no understanding of what was going on. I knew only that I was hurting and helpless to do anything about it.

Confusion—pure confusion. I didn’t even have a sense of self. I had no idea that I existed, that I was a baby in a hospital, and that I was a being. I could feel the needles in the back of my hand, and they hurt. The pain, however, was not unbearable, and wasn’t the main facet of that moment. It was confusion. I was not afraid—I didn’t have enough self-awareness for the confusion to make me scared. I simply knew nothing. I was a blank slate, onto which was being written reality in the ink of experience. I didn’t even know that I was a blank slate. I knew only that I hurt, and that I was confused. I was not in the arms of a loving mother whose warmth brought me comfort. I did not stare up and into the eyes of a nurse who was delighted to see a baby growing healthier by the hour. I was not being cooed by an older brother, or rocked in the cradle while a loving grandparent read a story. I was alone and hurting in a room bathed in fluorescent light.

That was my first experience with the world. That was how I was introduced to the universe—in the sterilizing, emotionless light of an empty hospital room, not the gentle and soothing light of a home. I heard the beeps and sounds of monitoring equipment, not the joyous laughter of a loving family. I lie alone in a hospital contraption with the shrill, uncomfortable hospital sheets, not wrapped in a blanket and the arms of a doting mother.

And the worst part—the indisputable worst part—is that I remember this.

The first few years of my life were probably normal, about what anyone would expect from a southern, lower middle class white family that subsisted more on the successes of previous generations than the merits of its own. There were some oddities, though, and signs even then of who I really was, but it was the mid-80s. It wouldn’t really be fair to blame my parents for not recognizing and embracing that I was transgender.

Of course, I was born male, “with a penis and everything.” But whenever all of my underwear was dirty, my mother would put me in my sister’s panties; it wasn’t a punishment, to clarify. Being the clever child that I was, I began hiding all of my underwear, just so that I could tell my mom that I didn’t have any, and so that I could wear panties instead. Somewhere around three years old, I took all of my underwear and threw them into the back of a closet that no one ever opened, and then I reported to my mother that, strangely, all of my underwear was suddenly gone.

So when I say that I’ve been transgender since birth, it’s as close to “since birth” as one can get. I couldn’t have been older than three years old at that point, because my sister hadn’t begun kindergarten herself. I knew then that I preferred women to men: I loved my mother and sister, and, even at that age, I had a deep appreciation for feminine beauty. I also thought that my Aunt Diane was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen, and my mother used to make fun of me for my enamorment with my aunt.

My experience with men at this point was limited to my father (who was fat and not overly pleasant to look at), my brother (who was thin, but who had nothing on my mother), my grandfather (who was also overweight, and a jerk), and my Uncle Danny (who has always been an asshole). Although it’s typical for young boys to love their mothers, I wanted to be just like mine, and I suspect that had a lot to do it with, but who can say? I was three when it began, and I simply wanted to be a girl.

I had a blanket (what most people would call a “blankie,” though I never called it that), and it was one of those cotton-threaded ones similar to fishnet. I refused to sleep without it and my pillow. The pillow actually wasn’t that important, but the pillowcase certainly was. I rubbed the pillowcase between my finger and thumbnail, sleeping on the central heating vents in the floor and driving my father crazy with all of it.

A Look at My Father

I would love to say that my father isn’t a bad man.

But he is.

That’s a difficult thing to say and accept, but I have to stress that it doesn’t really make me love him any less, and that the dominant emotion I have for my father is pity. Even so, I would be lying if I said that he was a good man who simply made some mistakes; that isn’t the case at all. He’s a bad man who has made some good decisions, not a good man who has made a few bad ones.

His own childhood was no walk in the park, damaged by my alcoholic and abusive grandfather beating the hell out of my grandmother. Though not much of that has been shared with me, I can certainly relate to what he has said, and it’s clear the recollections are as painful to him as it is for me to recall the abuse my mother endured at the hands of alcoholics.

At some point, my grandparents divorced—Go, grandma!—because my grandmother wouldn’t put up with the abuse. My grandmother is easily worthy of her own story, because she is an unsung hero of the feminist movement without even trying. In the sixties and seventies, she left her violent husband and blazed her own path in Mississippi, won the house in the divorce, and then worked at a college until she retired at the age of 67.

True to the family history, my grandmother endured her own screwed up childhood, and was even sent away by her mother to live with Uncle Bill and Aunt Edna on their farm. Evidently, Aunt Edna didn’t like my grandmother one bit, and was very unkind to her. What internal strength caused my grandmother, in what must have been the 40s, to graduate as the valedictorian of her class? What quiet resolve allowed my grandmother to learn the necessary skills to work in the administration section of a college during the 60s?

These are questions to which I would love answers, but I’ll never have them, because they are not things that my grandmother is willing to discuss. Questions about her past are met with short answers, and I can’t blame her for not wanting to talk about it.

On one particular drunken rampage, my father held a gun on my grandfather so that my grandmother could limp out of the house. While I truly hate that he had to do such a thing in the first place, I’m also jealous that he was old enough to do something about it. When my mother suffered under Everett’s hands, I was in the second grade, and too young and weak to do anything to intervene.

For years, my father insisted that he was drafted to Vietnam, and he even talked about how he was called a murderer and spit upon when he returned. Eventually my sister and I realized that there’s no way this is true. Either he was actually the oldest between him and his brother (and thus wouldn’t have been drafted), or the Vietnam War ended when he was 16. In this little alternate reality he had constructed, he had to be older than our mother was (which was blatantly false—she had always been recognized as the older one), his brother had to be lying about his own age, and almost everyone had to have falsified birth records.

He changed his story to say that he was in Vietnam during the 80s, through another offensive that we did, but I have been unable to find any military record for him. Whether he actually fought in Vietnam, he did mislead us into believing he’d fought in the Vietnam War, which is a lie of such magnitude and scope that one has to marvel at it.

He is a religious man, though it’s hard to tell by his behavior: heavy drug usage, constant lies, and steady manipulation. Although he is less religious than other family members are, his secularism is applied selectively, and he’s generally as fundamental as everyone else is. He continues to believe that President Obama is a Muslim, is more or less openly racist, and is a diehard Republican, despite that he’s effectively a ward of the state who benefits substantially from liberal policies.

I obviously don’t see eye-to-eye with him, but we do have some similar interests. It was he who introduced me to Fantasy literature and tabletop gaming, both of which almost immediately became passions for me. In turn, I exposed him to the tenth installment of a popular roleplaying video game, and I’m still happy that I was able to show him to something that he enjoyed so immensely. He must have played through it a dozen times, and he certainly discovered more of its secrets than I ever would have.

There is some kinship between us, and I do love him, despite the numerous differences, and in spite of the fact that he has done me far more harm than good. More than anything, I pity him, because his childhood evidently destroyed him; he is one those who did not escape unscathed. He was swallowed by the mentality that the world owes him something, and oblivious to the reality that the world will never give it.

The rifts between us began because I was not the son that he wanted. He hated that I loved sleeping on the heating vents—I’ve always loved heat. I wouldn’t sleep anywhere else. I had to sleep on one of the floor vents, and the heat had to be on. There in the floor, I had the pillow and pillowcase that I refused to sleep without, and the blanket that I required as I slept.

My father hated all of these things. We went to visit some relatives at one point, and I left my blanket and pillow at home. With no other way to shut me up, my parents took me to a store to get a new pillow, and there I went from one to the next, tearing open the plastic just slightly, and “testing” it until I found one that was satisfactory. When we got back to our trailer a few nights later, dad went outside and told me to bring my pillow.

As I stepped out into the night air, I saw him kneeling just outside the small stone circle beside our front steps. It had once been a flower garden—conceived during one of mom’s highs, when she was bolstered with energy from painkillers. The high wore off, but the flowers remained in that little circle of rocks—at least for a while. Then they died, shriveled, neglected, and forgotten.

Almost like a demon out of a child’s horror story, there was my dad, grinning devilishly and eagerly, urging me to throw my old pillow onto a mess of crumbled newspapers soaked in lighter fluid as he held his flaming lighter above it. “We need to burn it!” he said, but I refused. There was no need to burn it. They were already making me throw it away—they were already making me discard this pillow that I loved and had slept with every night for years. Was that not enough?

“We need to burn it!” he said again, as I ran inside and cried to mom that dad wanted to burn the pillow that I loved. It may seem strange that I had such attachment to a pillow, but I did, and both of my parents knew it. My father certainly knew very well that I loved that pillow.

That’s why he wanted to burn it. Because I loved it.

We didn’t burn random things, and I doubt that we ever burned anything there at all. He wasn’t content to force me to throw away this pillow, the symbol that I was an emotional person and not the crass son that he apparently wanted. The pillow had to be destroyed in flames because I loved it, and because “real men don’t love.” This silly, feminine weakness, this emotional attachment to an object—it had to be gotten rid of, and in the most dramatic way possible.

It was not the pillow that my dad wanted to burn.

It was my heart.

My mother intervened, though my father came inside and continued insisting that we needed to burn the pillow, because he was afraid that I would be able to talk my mother into letting me keep it. One has to wonder why it was an issue that I wanted to keep it. In the end, I placed it gingerly on top of the garbage can in the kitchen and told it goodbye. I hated to do so, and I cried, because it didn’t make sense to me.

It’s understandable that I developed such strong emotional ties to objects, as neither parent spent much time with me, and there was not much hugging in the family. Mom and dad were always high on one drug or another, lying on the couch and borderline comatose. I don’t know how Brandi handled it then, or what she did in order to get through the long and miserable days, but it was surely as awful for her as it was for me. Unlike our older brother, we didn’t have friends with whom we could go hang out. Or, at least, I didn’t. Brandi was friends with a girl who didn’t live too far from us, and I hope that my sister was happy then.

Aunt May and Kay-Kay

For a while, mom did work, as did my father. While Brandi and Eric were gone to school and my parents were at work, I was babysat by our great aunt who lived next door, a relatively kind woman who I remember as mostly humorless. My father fleeced her out of most of her money, just as he did to my great-grandmother, and just as he is currently doing to my grandmother. However, I was too young to comprehend that, and there isn’t much that I remember about Aunt May.

It was horrendously boring at Aunt May’s. There were few places worse for my pre-school self. I wasn’t allowed to take my Nintendo, which left me there alone with an eighty-year-old woman and very little to actually do, because there was no one to play with and nowhere to play at. Aunt May wasn’t unkind, but she was also not particularly joyful. I don’t blame her for that—she was a very old woman, and probably not happy to babysit a four-year-old.

I should have been outside having fun, rather than sitting in a living room with an eighty-year-old woman and playing with paper dolls that she cut out of a magazine. Of course, such things seem droll only from a modern perspective, but I was accustomed to video games and cartoons, the heightened entertainment possibilities of the late 1980s. In the 1880s, a child would have been thrilled to sit on a couch in an air-conditioned house and idle away the hours with paper dolls.

However, imagine the horrified response one would get if a modern child was asked to spend day after day in that environment, with only a very old woman as company. There would probably be allegations of child abuse, though I’m not making that claim. However, many modern parents would likely consider that to be, at the least, borderline child abuse. To me, it was simply boring, and the time passed so slowly that I probably lived more moments there at Aunt May’s house than all the moments I have lived since.

I don’t intend any of this to be disparaging to Aunt May. I have no doubt that she did the best she could, and significantly better than many people in her position would have. Still, I dreaded those days when both parents had to work, and it was routine for me to ask mom each afternoon, “Do you have to work tomorrow?”

Aunt May had a moustache, as well, but I never noticed it. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and I was shown a picture of her that I learned she had a moustache. I was pre-kindergarten when I spent time with Aunt May, so the idea that a woman didn’t have facial hair wasn’t in my head yet, so it seemed perfectly normal to me. My father had a moustache and Aunt May had a moustache. Cars had tires, and houses had walls.

One horrible day, as Aunt May sat in her recliner, concealed from view of the kitchen as I sat on the couch near the front door, there was suddenly a crash in the kitchen. The backdoor entered into the kitchen, and I will never forget the fear that fell over this old woman’s face. Someone had broken in through the back door.

She and I hid in the living room, cowering in the corner behind her chair. I don’t believe she ever called the police (she didn’t have a phone), or did anything about it, but my memory of that ordeal is vague. I recall only the noise, the unmistakable terror in her eyes that I was able to recognize even at four years old, and the hiding.

Because she was very old, it simply wasn’t possible for Aunt May to always babysit me, and I had another sitter called Kay-Kay—a hefty, middle-aged woman who seemed to be doing pretty well in life. She had a house, at least, which I recognized to mean that she was okay—we lived in a trailer, and most of the people we knew lived in a trailer. Living in a house… That was a grand thing to me. I didn’t mind that we lived in a trailer, and I was much too young to know that being the child of two fast-food workers (even if they were supervisors) who raised Confederate flags, shot up heroin, and ate Xanax made me the definitive example of “trailer trash,” but I knew that it was a great thing to have a house.

Kay-Kay was an ordinary woman, and there was much going on beneath the surface that most people never saw. As I sat in one of her bedrooms, playing a video game, there was suddenly a banging on the door and people shouting, demanding to be allowed inside and promising that, if Kay-Kay refused, they would tear the house down.

Although I was shocked and scared at first, Kay-Kay put my fears to rest by handling it expertly. She answered in an almost aloof way, as though she had no concern about it. Even as they banged and screamed, I was unafraid, because Kay-Kay didn’t appear to take it seriously. After a minute or so, the banging stopped, and then the rhythmic pounding echoed through her home, coming from somewhere in the back.

“They’re going to tear the house down!” I shouted to Kay-Kay, scared once more. In my head, I had the image of two enormous, burly, and angry men outside with huge hammers, smashing away the bricks and crashing through the walls.

“Oh, no, they’re not, sweetie,” came Kay-Kay’s reply as she dropped to a knee and hugged me. “They’re just mad. They’ll get over it and leave in a few minutes.”

Sure enough, Kay-Kay was right: they did leave shortly thereafter. In actuality, they probably just had given up on the front door and gone to try the back door. Finding it locked, they banged and shouted some more, and then left. I never learned what it was about, and Kay-Kay asked me not to mention it to my parents, which made sense: that isn’t the sort of thing a mother wants happening at the selected babysitter’s home. I didn’t stay quiet, though, and that was the last time Kay-Kay ever babysat me. It was also the last time that I saw her.

The Rise of Tumult

There was a “friend of the family” called Doc, and I liked him a lot. Everyone liked Doc—he was a friendly, charismatic person. Being my parents’ friend, he was heavily on drugs, but Doc was also in a motorcycle gang, which created a problem, because shooting up was explicitly against the gang’s laws. Just to be clear here: this is the world I grew up in. This was normal to my three-year-old self. On any given day, I was likely to see one or both of my parents shoot up heroin with a buddy who was in a motorcycle gang, smoke a joint or two, and collapse onto the couch in a stupor and droning out “Yeah…” to no one.

I watched my mother, laid out on the loveseat, look to my father on the other side of the living room. She held up, toward my father, a syringe full of some red liquid, and then she asked in a seductive voice, “John, do you want some of this?” And as she spoke, she pressed in the syringe and sent a jet stream of this stuff—whatever it was—flying across the living room. They were both out of their minds, just high as hell.

Disheveled, frantic, panicked, and terrified, Doc stopped by our trailer and wanted to sell my father a half-pound of weed for fifty bucks. My father had twenty dollars he could pay. Knowing my father, it’s amazing that he had any money, but he did, and he explained to Doc what he had.

Doc in turn explained that he had to get out of town. “Had to,” he said, and my father understood what that meant. The gang somehow learned that Doc was shooting up, so Doc had to get out of town before they found him and forced him to run “The Gauntlet.” Because, apparently, that actually happens. My father bought the weed, and Doc fled, but it was to no avail, and he was later found dead.

We frequently drove north to visit my Aunt Diane and Uncle Danny (the man who would later go to prison for murder and, in all likelihood, killed my mother, though there is no body or evidence), as well as our cousins. One of these trips proved to be one of the most traumatic experiences of my childhood.

As Brandi and I rode with dad in his yellow truck, in a secluded area where the road was surrounded by steep ditches that spelled death for anyone who lost control and went over, a truck driver decided to pass us. The trucker blew his horn a few times, and then he went for it. As he passed, he veered to the right—or dad swerved to the left. The enormous side view mirror of the rig crashed through the window beside dad and sent a spray of glass shards through the cab of our truck. Luckily, neither my sister nor I sustained any injuries.

The fault was probably my father’s (driving under the influence of one drug or another), but the reason officially given was that the highway wasn’t wide enough to pass. This excuse came much later in the day, after the trip got significantly worse.

We passed through Memphis as we traveled, and came upon an intersection. Not paying attention, I couldn’t tell you exactly how it happened, but there was shaking and noise. We rear-ended another vehicle. It’s possible that my father didn’t stop quickly enough, and it’s possible that he pressed the gas too hard and too quickly after the light turned green. Regardless, we hit the vehicle hard and sent it careening into the intersection. Reportedly, it traveled fifty feet from the impact.

The woman driving that car died on the spot with a broken neck.

Someone obviously called the police, and they arrested my father. The police placed Brandi and me in the back of the police car with him, which made us feel as though we were also being arrested, and that is terrifying when you’re four or five years old and have no comprehension of what is going on. As though we were playing out a scene in a movie, the very same trucker who had hit us earlier happened upon the accident, and presumably told the police that dad was driving erratically. The next thing I knew, the trucker was banging on the glass beside me, shouting obscenities at us—not just at our dad, but honestly at the five-year-old children, too. I was terrified, confused, and frightened out of my mind, and it didn’t help that dad, with his hands cuffed behind his back, was frothing at the mouth, rocking the police car, and demanding to be let out so that he could fight the truck driver.

My sister and I were taken to the hospital, and police, doctors, and therapists repeatedly questioned us about the accidents. We were separated from our father, but also from each other, and that made the experience more traumatic than it had to be. We were finally told that we would be going into the care of Aunt Diane and Uncle Danny briefly, and they were the ones who picked us up from the hospital. My grandmother acquired a good lawyer for my father, and he was able to go to rehabilitation rather than prison, or something to that effect.

For a long time, my nerves were absolutely shot, and it was nearly impossible to get me into a vehicle, which is probably the normal response of a four year old child after being in two accidents in a single day, one of which resulted in a death, all because the parents didn’t mind driving after eating a bunch of pills. Naturally, their solution was to shove pills down my throat, giving me what they called “nerve pills” that were probably Xanax or Klonopin. This was the only way to get me into an automobile for several months after the accidents, because otherwise I would scream and throw fits. Eventually the anxiety faded, but knocking me out with drugs was the only way to get me into a car for a while.

Things returned to what we considered normal, though that isn’t to say that either of my parents stopped doing drugs. I doubt either parent was clean for any notable period, and they continued inviting friends over. These parties, while they were more or less tame and consisted of people drinking, doing drugs, and playing spades, would not constitute “normal” for most kids.

On one such occasion, one of the people with whom they were hanging out decided that it would be a brilliant idea to inject peanut butter. Presumably, he’d heard that “The high is incredible, man!” and wasn’t much interested in maybe asking a doctor before doing something so horrendously and creatively stupid. According to my father—who is a known pathological liar, it’s worth remembering—the man died on the spot, so they took him home and left him on his couch, dead. I have no memory of this, but it allegedly happened sometime around my fifth birthday.

I started kindergarten, and I loathed it. Up until that point, my life was fantastic. I could wake up whenever I wanted, spend the entire day watching cartoons and playing videogames, snacking whenever I desired, and just doing anything I pleased. Then suddenly I couldn’t do that any longer; I had to wake up at a specific time, go spend the entire day in a boring school, and then only had a few hours afterward to do the things that I enjoyed doing. As early as kindergarten, it struck me as absurd: if the point of life is to be happy, as everyone constantly insisted to me, then why did I have to go to school?

We were poor—dirt poor, as you might expect, given the heavy drug usage. Although both parents were managers at various fast food restaurants at times, my mother eventually quit working altogether and got onto disability for her migraines. It was with tremendous excitement that we were approved for food stamps, and we waited for weeks with palpable eagerness in the air, though I had no idea what it even meant. There are two times that I distinctly recall the entire family waiting anxiously for something to happen, and the anticipation was identical on both occasions; we waited for food stamps and we waited for our cable to be activated with the same sense of impending thrill, as did I, even though I had no understanding of what either meant.

Being approved for food stamps felt like having a birthday, and so did the cable company finally coming out, after weeks of waiting, to connect our cable television. While I understood that having cable meant that we would have Nickelodeon, there was no way that I understood the concept of food stamps, so my excitement was surely nothing more than a mirror of my parents’ own eager anticipations. It was just months after this that I began school, and that mom became convinced that dad was not really working, that he was only disappearing while he was supposed to be at work.

It was a school day when it happened, because we were supposed to be in class, but mom kept us at home. My much older brother, my slightly older sister, and I were told that we were leaving dad, and I’m sure I handled that as well as any six year old child would, which is to say with naked emotion untempered by the jaded self-control we are taught to exercise in later years. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I was devastated nonetheless. First, the life I had come to know and love was wrecked by having to go to school, and then what little semblance of it remained was being irretrievably shattered by this upheaval. I spent the entire day in tears, as did my sister. Whatever was going on between our parents had nothing to do with us, and our lives were being cast into the hurricane because of it.

Too young to truly understand what was really going on, my primary concern was whether to leave my father “the good Nintendo” or the bad one. They both worked, but one of them was much more difficult to get working. Both my dad and I were big on video games, and so was my older brother, and even my mom and sister played occasionally. There were lots of family moments when we all took turns, and we even had a device that allowed four controllers to be used.

I agonized over that decision far more than a six year old should, and my mom didn’t give the situation nearly as much attention as it deserved. My entire world, prior to school, consisted almost entirely of playing video games. That I even debated which one to leave was a tremendous indicator of how much I loved my father, how much I didn’t want to leave, and, above all, how poorly equipped I was to cope with the chaos I suddenly was confronting. Mom was tearing our family apart, breaking it into two pieces, and she never sat down with my sister and me to explain what was happening, to assure us that we’d still see our dad, or to promise us that it would be okay. While to some extent that’s understandable, since she had to pack and load things up, the utter failure to remember that she was literally wrecking her youngest kids’ lives is very difficult to excuse.

To make matters worse, she was cowardly about it, too, because all of this happened while my father was at work. We lived in a trailer on my grandfather’s land, and it’s very likely that my grandfather was the one who alerted my father to the moving truck that was at his home. However, seeing as my grandfather later offered to shoot my mother for my dad, I doubt he would have showed the restraint simply to inform my dad of what was happening.

Regardless, dad pulled up while we were finishing and preparing to leave. The next little bit is a blur of anger, hostility, and shouting from which I am able to pull very few details. In a flash, dad went from anger to pleading, but mom refused to listen; her mind was made up, and she cranked the car, put it into gear, and hit the gas. Dad threw himself into the side of the car and then hit the ground, fell onto his back, and then lie there in the grass. My sister and I screamed and cried—our dad had just been run over!—and mom shouted at us to stop yelling. I gazed out of the back window at my father as we drove away, and there he was, lying unmoving in the grass, and all I could think was the horrible thought, “Dad is dead.”

There in the back of the car, crying quietly, having just watched my father die from being hit by a car, I sat at the age of six years old, being shouted at by my mom to shut up because I freaked out when I saw her kill my dad.

Want to read the whole story? Well, now you can! For a limited time (until June 15), Dancing in Hellfire is finally available for sale, for only $3.49. You can buy it here, through this very site, using PayPal or a typical credit/debit card (payment is processed by PayPal, so I don’t see the info), after which you’ll be given access to the book as both a PDF and an ePub.

Two Music Videos

I doubt I’ll normally do this, but I’m really proud of them, so…

That… is fucking bad ASS. My god.

It starts slow, but trust me. If you’re a fan of rock music, then you’ll love the way that builds and builds until, by the end, it’s just… Really, it’s my best improv work ever. I’m sure I’ve improvised better solos and rhythm bits here and there in the past, but that entire thing is just 13 minutes of improv of layering one track on another, starting from a bare scaffolding and building it into… that. It’s really cool, and I think you’ll find it’s worth watching through to the end. Turn on annotations; they explain some of the stuff I’m doing, and why the music drops off like that occasionally (it’s unavoidable with the Digitech GNX3–a phenomenal processor, but with a few idiosyncrasies).

Just so we’re clear… I can play guitar better than you, kick your ass at Call of Duty, pwn you in a debate, fuck your girlfriend, and be hotter than she is while I’m doing all of it.

That’s something I jokingly said to a friend earlier today. It was one of those typical friend conversations, you know–we were each boasting to the other, exaggerating where need be, and just making it a point to work in as many odd, random things as we could. That was the best one I came up with. Anyway. The video.

Celes’ Song and I… have a long history. There is an alternate version of this song that is more orchestral and that is called… Aria de mezzo Carattere. You may notice it looks kinda familiar. That’s absolutely correct–when it came time to select my name, I took one inspired by a song in a video game. But if you knew the song, you knew its context, and you understood the emotional ties I have to it…

Really, it’s the perfect name for me. An aria is an operatic vocal piece sung by a female, so… Obviously, “Aria” is a cool name for a transgender chick who happens to be a musician. “DiMezzo” is not as random as it seems, though, and whether the “i” should be an “e” is something I can’t even say. I don’t speak Italian fluently enough to know.

“de mezzo carattere,” however, translates to “of the middle character,” and DiMezzo translates roughly to “the middle.” Since I’m non-op transgender–a shemale–I will be perpetually between genders; thus, I am in the middle of the genders, but present as a female (tying back to “aria” being a song written for/performed by a female).

And that’s without getting into the fact that this song, and Celes’ Song, never fails to fill my eyes with tears. And this is probably the best rendition of Celes’ Song that I’ve ever played; if I hadn’t been recorded, I’d have had tears pouring down my cheeks by the end of it. Even so, I had to trim the last few seconds because there were tears beginning to fall. It’s a beautiful, powerful piece of music. For that song alone, Final Fantasy VI is worth playing.

The other is Castlevania 2’s bad-ass motif Bloody Tears, which unfortunately has been picked up and ruined by faggot bands like Killswitch Engage who proceeded to butcher the shit out of it because they have no idea how to capture emotions with music. And I can’t capture many emotions with music, but there are some… There are some that I can capture, as Your Fall From Grace demonstrates clearly.

It may be the angriest song I’ve ever written.

How about the raw emotions of this one? This one isn’t “anger,” but I don’t know how to describe the emotions it entails. But… they’re clearly there.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my music. If you’d like to keep up with the stuff I get up to, be sure to check me out on Patreon, because I post everything that I do there. My author’s page on Facebook also gets a link about pretty much everything I get up to, plus some random bullshit. You can download an entire Fantasy novel that I wrote, no bullshit and no strings attached, and read it at your leisure. I hope you do, and I hope you enjoy it. 😀

Now Available For Everyone: The Anvil

It just occurred to me that I can share older versions of The Anvil, since they have very little relation to the most recent draft, except that some of the characters exist in both drafts. Seriously–the changes are enormous.

It’s worth reminding that this is an abandoned draft; I scrapped it because it’s… not very good, in my opinion. It’s possible you will like it. I can’t say. I just know that it didn’t hold up to my standards, but it may still be an interesting story. When the time comes, remember also that this version is not canon.

https://www.patreon.com/posts/5460817

Go there to download the DocX, PDF, or ePub, whichever is easiest for you. If you’re reading from a phone or tablet, I’d recommend the ePub and the app Moon Reader. If you’re reading from a computer, I’d recommend the PDF. If you intend to do more “proofreading” than just reading, the DocX is probably best.

I hope you enjoy it, and I hope it entertains you. Thankfully, this one isn’t obscenely long, and is about the length of any fantasy novel. Free fantasy book, though. Who can say no to that?

Some Random Fiction I Wrote and Abandoned

I’m actually going to return to this at some point, because I think the future is pretty well laid out for us all to see. I’ve been breaking from Dancing in Hellfire because the first draft is finished, and because some period of waiting is always necessary before moving onto the second draft. That officially ended today, though, and the second draft process is quick. One of the primary issues I’ve noticed with it is that I didn’t even try to write it emotionally–I talk about abuse, drug usage, murder, and violence so matter-of-factly, and that hinders the actual manuscript. My next project is the sci-fi story about AI, and it’s already been started (gotta do something in that downtime between drafts!), so I’m looking forward to moving onto it. Of course, both Dancing in Hellfire and “The AI Novel” will be available to patrons. Anyway–here is some thing that I wrote.

Blehk! It’s really sloppy. Clearly this is something I wrote a very long time ago.

Chapter 1

 

North Korea invaded South Korea yesterday, following two weeks of diplomacy breakdowns over recent hostilities. Earthquake in Chile leaves thousands homeless and hundreds dead. AIDS epidemic reaches all-time high in Africa, despite efforts of the WHO to curb the outbreaks. Oil prices skyrocket this week as a result of civil war in Pakistan. Iran making threats to invade Pakistan to end the civil war themselves, while the U.S. prepares to institute a No-Fly Zone over Iran.

John rubbed his eyes and closed out of the webpage. Too much information for it to be so early, he decided, and walked over to his coffeemaker. He helped himself to a cup of the black drink and sat back at the table. He re-opened his Internet browser and once more and flipped through his home page, this time ignoring the headlines and words. John finally stopped on a cartoon that depicted a donkey bending over to receive a brand of ownership from a man wearing a hat that labeled him as, “Corporations.”

John laughed a little, though he didn’t fully understand the cartoon. He went back to cycling through the pages when his cellphone, sitting near him on the table, vibrated. He lifted the phone and saw he’d been sent a friend request on Facebook from someone named Mario Valez. He didn’t know a Mario, but out of friendliness, he accepted the request. Seconds later, his phone vibrated again, alerting him that he and Mario were now friends. John smiled a little at the knowledge that he was approaching the One Thousand Mark of friends. He set the phone back down on the table, but ignored his laptop, and continued to drink his coffee in silence.

When he couldn’t take the boredom any longer (which lasted only a few seconds, really), John stood up and walked over to the counter, to his small television that sat in the kitchen. He turned the TV on and grabbed the remote off the counter, then returned to his chair. He flipped through the channels for anything interesting. News, news, talk show, news, talk show. Sighing, he used the remote to turn off the TV and sat drumming his fingers on the table while he finished his coffee. He looked at the counter on top of the television, which was tied in with the other counters on all the TVs in his house (John prided himself on having six televisions). Fourteen hours, 37 minutes remaining according to the counter.

Well, it’s Friday, John told himself. Four hours tonight, five tomorrow, and five Sunday, so I should be okay to get through the weekend. Each house was allowed to watch forty hours of television per week. John had, unfortunately, fell asleep with his television on Tuesday night, which had consumed an extra 8 hours of his time. Sure, John could file a request with the Department of Energy to get those hours back, but they wouldn’t be pleased (he knew from experience) when they learned he’d fallen asleep with his television on. They were unlikely to fill the request by Sunday, anyway, he also knew from experience. Far more likely was the possibility that eight months from now, he would receive an email saying that he was to be credited for those 8 hours sometime within the next 3 months.

John knew exactly how the counters communicated with the televisions and the Allocation Counters at the central offices of the Department of Energy, as he was a networking specialist. It was a rather mundane career these days, but he had learned in school that there was a time a few decades ago when the field of networking was booming. Apparently, this was when home devices were just starting to communicate, when televisions were beginning to access the Internet, when stoves were able to be programmed to turn on from cellphones, and people actually paid for TV broadcasts instead of streaming programs to their televisions from the Internet.

Of course, now all these things were in place. John’s job was essentially to maintain this communication between devices, not to make new communications. Every electronic device that conceivably could be used to talk with another electronic device could already do so. The frontier was gone, replaced with the tedious task of just making sure the status quo was maintained.

When at last he was done with the cup, he sighed in relief, for now he was able to do something, rather than sit and wait to finish the beverage. He walked back to his bedroom and dressed for work. His watch beeped at him as he did, letting him know that it was time to exercise.

John had overheard coworkers joking one day a few years ago about the original function of a watch. Apparently, watches once performed the utterly useless task of keeping the wearer (and everyone else around that didn’t wear a watch and would bug the person incessantly concerning the time) informed of the current time. This truly was, John agreed, a completely worthless concept, as nearly every electronic device (and the average person had four or five devices on him at any given time) would allow the user to know the time.

Now watches actually performed tasks, John thought with satisfaction. Then the sadness hit, for it was another frontier of technology that he had missed out on. Obesity and diabetes in the past had been a great problem in the U.S. due to high sugar diets and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle. To combat this, the Apple corporation had been paid by the government to create personal devices that were worn on the wrist and would remind the person at specific intervals to get up and do some exercises. This was Friday, so push-ups were on the agenda today.

It also meant, John thought as he did his twenty push-ups, that it was now 8:00 in the morning, so he had only an hour remaining before he was to report in for work. When he finished, he grabbed the shirt he’d slept in the previous night off the bed and wiped the sweat from his brow. 70 degrees was still a bit too hot for him, seeing as it was the middle of the summer, but there was nothing he could do about it. The Department of Energy denied all requests for temperature adjustment, having decided some decades ago that 70 degrees was the perfect temperature to maintain in a house regardless of the season. The thermostats were also connected to the Internet, which allowed the DOE to adjust the temperatures of houses remotely, but they never did so.

He sat down on the bed, needing a few minutes to catch his breath and cool off from the brief exercise. He was still overweight. Most people were. At six feet tall and around 200 pounds, no one could accuse John of being skinny, but he was fine with that. The average person was no longer of an average build, he thought ironically, and the average person was overweight between 30 and 50 pounds. However, the goal of the watches had never been to make people skinny. The goal had been to simply make people less fat. Apparently it had worked, as diabetes was on the decline, as was severe obesity, which the WHO defined as being more than 50 pounds overweight.

The goal had been achieved with great success, meaning that the frontier in that area was dead. However, a new model was being developed by the Apple corporation under the direction of the U.S. Government that would expand on the functions of the current watch. Finally, the watch would actually do what its name implied; it would watch the wearer, at least to some extent.

The new model would become available in just a few days (the upcoming Monday, John couldn’t wait!—despite the amount of work it meant he would have in the coming weeks) and would monitor the heart rate of the wearer for fifteen minutes after a notification to exercise. If the person did not have an increased heart rate in those fifteen minutes (meaning he did not exercise), a notification would be sent to the Department of Health, and the person would literally be taken to an Exercise Camp for one week.

John was thrilled at the concept, as he worked with several people who routinely ignored their alarms and didn’t exercise. These people were also rapidly approaching severe obesity, and some were even at an even fifty pounds overweight.

He applauded the level of care the Government was showing in these new watches. Not only did they want to ensure that people exercised and were healthy, they had solved the problem of obesity by interfering into the lives of citizens as little as possible. Another solution would have been to ban the  foods that were so high in fat and sugar, but how many jobs would that have lost? How would the economy have handled the migration of hundreds of millions of people from McDonald’s and Burger King to Wal-Mart for pre-cooked meals that only had to be heated? Considering the average Wal-Mart had between ten and fifteen employees, the job loss would have been staggering. With unemployment rates already approaching 35%, it simply was not a feasible route to go.

John had something that few others could boast: job security. In High School, an instructor had told the entire class that as long as electronic devices communicated, electronic devices would break or stop communicating, and would need to be repaired, or replacements would have to be configured. The average user was too ignorant to configure these devices himself, so the Government would always have an Information Technology department that handled such things. A job in that field was a job forever, the instructor had said. John was the only student who had taken the words to heart and joined the field.

He was also the only student in that class who actually had a job.

The new watch would do other things, too. Given that people were limited to so few hours of television each week, few households were sparing their allotted time to watching the news. To remedy this, the watches would notify the wearer with a beep followed by scrolling text displayed on the watch whenever something “important” occurred in the world. Most users had their personal laptops (bought  by the U.S. Government from the Dell corporation and supplied to every citizen over ten years old) set to open a search page or a random video site, so very few people in the nation ever had any idea what was going on in the government or in the world at large.

That reminded John—his laptop would be two years old next Friday. He’d have to take it to the Department of Technology (which wasn’t a big deal, as he worked in that department) and exchange it for a newer model. They would copy his data and settings over to his new laptop, then erase the hard drive of the old laptop and sell it back to the Dell corporation, who would in turn sell it to some other country with fewer resources to be used by its people. Or so people said. Other people said that only government officials from other, poor countries (like Iran and North Korea) had laptops! This was something John couldn’t understand fully, as he’d seen his entire life virtually everyone carrying a laptop case everywhere they went. To think this wasn’t the way of the world, that it was only the way of the U.S. was unfathomable.

He’d heard this before, but found it hard to believe. Even if it was true, it only strengthened his belief in the U.S. and its benevolence toward the other, poorer countries of the world. After all, if not for the U.S. and its corporations, third world countries like North Korea wouldn’t have laptops at all, if it was true! John laughed a little at the idea of using a laptop that was over two years old (how slow his laptop was by the current standards!), but he figured it was okay for poor saps who wouldn’t know the difference anyway. Saps like the North Koreans.

Hadn’t he seen something about them? He couldn’t remember at the moment. He knew it wasn’t important anyway, and went back to getting ready for work. It ate in the back of his mind, though, and he tried to remember what he had read about North Korea recently. They’d just had an earthquake, hadn’t they? Hopefully we are donating them money for the recovery! thought Jon. Or were they at war? Bastard North Koreans, that was probably it. Always starting fights with someone! The only thing he truly remembered from the glance at the day’s headlines was the the U.S. was finally, after years of arguing over Iran’s increased hostilities toward Israel and their questionable “peaceful nuclear program,” going to do something about the country that was, by all accounts from the CIA, the U.N., NATO allies, and other independent media sources, full of terrorists and people who burned the U.S. flag.

Coincidentally, his watch beeped. He looked down to see the daily advertisement for the U.S. Navy. “Have you considered a career in the U.S. Navy? Job security and good pay!” said the scrolling text. John ignored it. He’d served his time in the armed forces, as had every U.S. citizen. At any time between the ages of 18 and 24, a male citizen was required to spend at least 2 years in service to the armed forces. In contrast, women had to spend at least 2 years (during the same age range) as either intern nurses or “entertainment” overseas to the armed forces.

John shook his head sadly. Very, very few women chose entertainment, and those few who did rapidly switched to nurses as soon as they learned what was meant by “entertainment.” He had only been entertained once in his two years of service, and most people he’d been stationed with hadn’t been entertained at all. The government was on the verge of fixing that, too, though, by instituting a new random draft where roughly one third of women would have to serve as entertainers, while two thirds would continue to serve as intern nurses. It didn’t do John any good, as he had no interests in going back to the military, but it would hopefully help future young men from having to suffer through two years of private droughts while they fought and died to protect the very women that refused to look him in the eye while they did their duties for the country.

Selfish, John thought as he walked back to the kitchen and put his laptop in its case. He took his cellphone and put it in his shirt pocket, then grabbed his wallet from the table. With a quick look around, he surveyed himself.

Laptop? Check.

Watch? Check. Not that he could take it off, anyway. One needed a special key that only workers of the Department of Health had to remove a watch.

Anklet? Check. Another device that couldn’t be removed without a key from the DOH. The Anklet, as it was called, monitored a person’s steps each day. It ingeniously reset itself after a period of 4 hours of no movement. And the daily vitamins contained a supplement that kept people from restlessly moving their legs around in their sleep. John, at roughly two hundred pounds, was only required to walk a total of one mile per day. He usually did double that during an average work day.

Cellphone? Check. It was a miniature laptop itself, capable of nearly everything that a laptop could do. The cellphone, however, served one important role that, for whatever reason (probably due to corporate bureaucracy or government copyrights), couldn’t utilize the Internet without connecting to Wi-Fi networks. The cellphone would give him access to the Internet, as well as other devices he carried that connected to the Internet through Wi-Fi (like his Anklet and Watch) the same connectivity. It was a wireless access point as much as it was a cellphone. It, too, was supplied to every citizen over the age of 10, and was bought from the AT&T corporation by the Government.

That was everything he needed. He clipped his keys to a belt loop on his pants and left for work. He had only to walk a few hundred feet to the end of the street corner to catch the 8:15 to the DOT. Unfortunately, because of all the other stops, he’d arrive at work only a few minutes before his shift started. He would have preferred to have ten or fifteen minutes to come in and collect his bearings, but the only other bus that ran to the DOT was the 7:15, and there was just no way he was going to work that early.

 

Chapter 2

 

The upgrade to the new watches was being handled so smoothly that John was hardly able to tell that it was scheduled for the coming Monday. The watches were already in stock and were being delivered to every major workplace in the city. The bosses at those workplaces were required to collect the old watches in exchange for the new ones, then deliver them back to the DOT. In theory, the watches would configure themselves by pressing a button on the watch while pressing a similar button on each electronic device that was to communicate with the watch.

John looked at his laptop screen, which was busy pulling his tasks from the server. His first task appeared on the screen. He turned in disbelief and saw a co-worker named Brady walking by. “Brady,” John called. Brady approached. John pointed at the line in question and said, “They can’t be serious… We’re replacing everyone’s watches Monday!”

Brady read the line quickly aloud. “1214 Ninth Street, Apartment 117, Communication with Device B of Resident 6 has not succeeded in 72 hours. Please investigate. What’s the problem?”

John sighed, thinking it obvious. “Device B is a watch. So it’s not communicating with our servers through Resident 6’s cellphone. Big deal, he’ll be getting a new one Monday. I really don’t think it’s the best way to use time and energy, going to an apartment in the slums to repair a device that’s going to be replaced on the next working day. Do you?”

Brady shrugged. “Take it up with Mike, not me.”

“I’ll do that,” John said. Brady left.

Ridiculous.

No one in the DOT enjoyed making a trip to the slums, and Ninth Street was right in the middle of the slums of the city. The slums were full of people who didn’t have jobs, who had probably never had jobs, who relied on ANF (Assistance for Needy Families) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and Wazzup (so they called it) (actually called WSUP—Weekly Supplement for Unskilled Workers). To make matters worse, these families usually had more children than anyone who had to pay their own bills would ever reasonably have—sometimes in the range of 8 or 9 children.

The household in question had at least 4 children. Resident 1 was the father, Resident 2 was the mother. Further residents were numbered in the order they were born. Resident 3 was the oldest child, Resident 4 wass the next oldest, and so on. This number could also be misleading (at least in non-slum households), as when a child moved out from the house, he became Resident 1 (and she became Resident 0, even if she lived alone, but never Resident 1—how odd) of his new household, and his siblings all had their numbers lowered by one, when determining how many children a person had. This wasn’t an issue in the slums, though. No one ever moved in the slums, unless the family itself had grown to proportions that simply could not continue in their current apartment, and were relocated to a larger one.

John knocked on the door of Mike’s office. Mike, as a Department Director (for the city) had his own office, not just an opening in one of dozens of workbenches onto which he could set his laptop (like John had). “Come in,” Mike called from the inside of the office, and John pushed the door open.

Mike was an aging man, probably about seventy years old, but no one had asked Mike his age in decades—it simply was rude to do. This made John remember something he’d learned back in school about something called, “Retirement,” when people got so old that they became too cranky to be valuable members of the work force. With whatever the government put in their daily vitamins, though, this “crankiness” was a thing of the past, as most people were in a good mood around the clock. This, John had been taught, meant that people could continue to feel useful and not feel like burdens to society, regardless of their age, as they would work and contribute until the age of 100. At 100, it was said a person could retire to what was known as the Beaches of Florida and live out the remainder of his or her days watching the sun rise or set over the ocean.

John shivered at that. Imagine the boredom!

“Are you cold? It’s an even 70 degrees in here. Perhaps you’re getting sick?” Mike asked.

John shook his head. “No, not at all. I was… thinking about something else.”

“Oh?” Mike asked, leaning back in his chair. Mike had the habit of making himself comfortable with people, which caused people to become comfortable in turn. When people were comfortable, they revealed themselves. Mike was constantly watching for Dissenters, and this was the best way to discover them. “Do tell.”

“It was nothing,” John said. “Look, Mike, you can’t be serious about replacing Device B at 1214 Ninth Street. They’ll be getting a replacement in three days, it’s such a waste!”

Mike shrugged. “Protocol is protocol. You know that.” Mike winked at his joke.

Protocol was a term used in the technology world to describe a given method that devices use to communicate with each other. John didn’t appreciate the humor at the moment, though.

“I know, but—“ John started.

“The device in question hasn’t communicated with our servers—or the servers at the DOH, which is more important—in over 72 hours. Protocol dictates that we send a technician to examine the problem. The meeting has already been scheduled, and Resident 6 has remained at home today rather than going to school. I know, John. Believe me, I know what’s it’s like to go over there,” Mike interrupted.

“It’s not that so much as it is the fact that in three days—only one of which—today—is a work day—will be fixed anyway.”

“Well, just pretend the world isn’t getting new watches Monday,” Mike said. Mike also winked again, something that John was finding increasingly irritating under the circumstances.

“But we are getting new watches.”

Mike shrugged. “Maybe not. There could be a problem in shipping them out, there could be a universal flaw in the new devices that causes them to not function properly. Who knows?”

John conceded that point, even though the odds were very, very steep. He doubted most people remembered a certain event about six years ago, though it had been a major event that caused a great deal of problems for the DOT. People were usually so busy trying to do a million things at once that they had no time to remember things that had happened, which, being in the past, no longer even mattered.

John remembered, though. Six years ago, the DOT passed out new laptops on exchange for laptops that were two years old. As it turned out, the wireless on these new laptops didn’t work, and DOT employees ended up working about one hundred hours a week trying to fix all the laptops before they were given out, and giving priority to laptops that had been given out and returned already. The U.S. Government had sued Dell for negligence and faulty craftsmanship. After a lot of legal mumbo jumbo, the Dell corporation packed its things and moved its headquarters to Japan, becoming, instead, a Japanese corporation. The U.S. Government promptly dropped the lawsuit, wrote off the losses, and pretended the event never happened. John, in addition to not getting paid for his overtime hours (over 60 worked hours in a given week), saw a 2% increase in the amount of taxes he paid in. This brought his total taxes withheld to about 84%.

Once, fleetingly, many years ago, about two years after that lawsuit with Dell, John had wondered why his taxes had not gone back down. He never remembered it when it was important, so he could ask Mike about it or someone in the Department of Revenue, and in time he forgot about it completely.

John sighed. “Suck it up and deal with it?” he asked.

Mike nodded, and John left the office. He checked the time on his cellphone. 9:20. Thirty minutes for the bus ride to Ninth Street—it would, without doubt, be the loudest and smelliest bus—one hour for the actual service, thirty minutes for a trip back—once again on the loud and smelly bus (all buses that went to the slums were loud and smelled awful)—fifteen minutes to collect his next assignment, then fifteen more minutes to get something to eat. That would put him eating his first bite that day around Noon, which was completely unacceptable for a guy that didn’t eat breakfast. His stomach was growling at him already.

He reworked the times, factoring in a side trip to McDonald’s. He nodded his satisfaction at this new time frame, then left the building and caught the bus to the fastfood place. He walked in to have the smell of grease and fried foods assault his brain. He licked his lips hungrily and was pleased to find no one in line.

He looked at the menu and told the worker (after the worker gave his initial and routine greeting), “Yeah, let me get… Two Freedom Burgers, an order of Freedom Fries, and… a Diet Freedom Coke.”

Freedom everything. John had heard once, from where, he didn’t recall, that during a war long, long ago, the French government did not wish to join the U.S. in going to war with someone. As a result, Americans starting calling, “French Fries,” as, “Freedom Fries.” It was a gesture John thought was elegant—a slap in the face to a country that refused to ally themselves with a beacon of hope and freedom while the rest of the world went mad.

The word Freedom was formally attached to everything before John was born, when the U.S. Government began its move to supplying the citizens of the country with what they needed by purchasing the goods and services from corporations, like they did with Dell, Apple, and AT&T. McDonald’s was no different. Its workers were government workers (unskilled government workers, John thought with contempt), and the money made was delivered to the government. The government in turn paid the workers themselves, then paid the corporation McDonald’s the profits. Why the corporation was paid at all, John didn’t know.

Bureaucracy again, he assumed.

Some complicated lawyer mumbo-jumbo that no one fully understood.

After receiving his order, he carried his bag and drink back to the bus stop and waited for the next bus that would carry him into the slums. He ate as quickly as he could, hoping to finish his meal before the bus arrived. He succeeded, and, feeling a little nauseous, he swallowed the last bite and threw the bag away in a nearby trash can as the bus came to a stop.

 

Chapter 3

 

John hadn’t been alive then, but the history he’d been taught in school regarding the Corporations’ takeover of, well, pretty much everything was very simple. Basically, the corporations grew larger and larger, and thus more and more powerful, as they had continually more and more wealth, until they were concentrated in the hands of a few larger, mostly unknown Megacorporations. These Megacorporations, of which there were about five, owned every smaller corporation, which gave the illusion to the public that there were thousands of distinct and separate corporations, when, in reality, there were but five.

These Megacorporations, through employment and the sheer resources they commanded, easily outweighed the U.S. Government in terms of power to direct the people. It was said that the government hated competition, and that was probably true, but competition grew up around the government while the government was wholly unaware of it, and before anyone knew what was happening, a handful of Megacorporations essentially controlled the world and all its resources, making the tiny-minded U.S. Government look rather foolish to the People of the country.

Any threats by the U.S. Government to rein in these rogue, nation-less Megacorporations resulted in direct debasement of the workers—the Megacorporations would close, would raise prices, or would exercise any other power they had in getting what they wanted. It eventually became very clear what they wanted: profits.

The Megacorporations and the U.S. Government worked out The Deal, which was that the U.S. Government would manage the smaller corporations in a business sense and would pass the profits of that operation onto the Megacorporations. Through working this out, the Megacorporations would relinquish their power to influence so powerfully the lies of the citizens, because the employment and prices and wages would no longer be in their hands, but in the hands of the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government would, in turn, control employment, prices, and wages, and would also pay the Megacorporations the profits for the privilege of controlling these things.