Once upon a time there lived a girl named "Liby". "Liby" wore an American flag design handkerchief tied around her face so that it covered everything below her nose. Not just every now and then but all the time. No one that I knew had ever seen her without it.
She was pretty tall for a girl and she had a sort of punk rock attitude. She wore her hair in thick, foot-long, spikes that were died a patinated green. I don't know if she was sick or what but I swear her skin was kind of greenish too. It was kinda hard to tell exactly how old she was. She never spoke a single word... not one.
I asked "one eye Jerry", one time, why "Liby" never talked. He said "Liby" isn't her real name. "It's short for something but I don't know what".
Apparently when she was younger she, or rather her well being, had been entrusted, by her father, to his brother Samuel. He was not a nice person. Samuel, like the devil, was a businessman. "Sam", apparently, would take money from his buddies and, in exchange, would let them do basically anything they wanted to poor "Liby". They did all kinds of terrible things to the poor girl.
So Jerry says to me that one time, after getting tied up and sodomized for several days, her uncles friends went to work on her with some tools. He said that one of the guys took a box cutter and sliced her lips completely off. Then, he said, the other one started to cut under her tongue, with the intention of removing it entirely, when his accomplice stopped him.
Apparently the revised idea was to cut her tongue down the middle to make it look like a snakes tongue. That, I was told, is why "Liby" wore the bandana and didn't talk. At least that's the way I heard it. Straight from the jackass' mouth.
About two weeks later I ran into "Liby" at "El Refuego". I fought it as hard as I could but I couldn't resist. I sat down next to her and said "wuzup". She reciprocated with the standardized universal tilting up of her head.
I stared at her intently for a moment until she responded. She shrugged her shoulders and held her hands out in front of her, palms up, as if to say "what?". I looked at her for a few seconds more. My eyes moved back and forth between hers... left to right to left.
Can you talk?, I blurted out, about as smoothly as 20 grit sand paper. She rolled her big green eyes up at the ceiling and sort of cocked her head off to the side a little. She then sighed deeply as her eyes dropped slowly down to her lap. She shook her head listlessly from side to side and began to cry.
I must say I was pretty bamboozled when, with one of the more pronounced speech impediments I had ever heard, she said what the hell is wrong with people? Huh?... What the hell is the matter with you? What did you hear? Huh? Did you hear that I was born without a mouth? Or... or.. did you hear that I could only make groaning noises because my mother poured boiling water down my throat when I was little?
On top of her sort of "hair lip" manner of speech she had somewhat of a stutter also.
I said "Jesus" no... the version I heard was much worse than either of those. But along the same lines.
I told her that I was really sorry, but it was precisely because I had heard something, that I didn't want to believe, that I decided to ask... plus, I told her, I really liked the hairdo.
I relayed the fictitious series of events, like they had been told to me, but used a sort of half baked Cockney accent. As I went along her crying morphed into a sort of snickering sniffling and then to an all out, full-belly, snot-spraying laughter, when I got to the part about the forked tongue. I made her laugh so hard that she spilled her heroin... which made her start to cry again. I gave her mine.
After we both got well I had to ask... so I did. "What's up with the star spangled bandaner?" Oh that? She chuckled. That, you see, my good man is a p'p'p'pollitical s's'statement, she stammered. A clever punk rock satire.
A form of protest specifically designed to draw attention to the fact that we can say a lot without saying anything at all. To point out the fact that we are beginning to have our freedoms of speech and artistic expression subtly leeched away from us.
She explained that it is illegal to beg in almost every city in America... oh... so basically you can say anything you want to... so long as you don't say "hey brother can you spare a dollar?" You can stand on the street with a sign... so long as that sign doesn't say; "hungry homeless please help."
In America we have the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech... so long as we don't say certain things.
In America we have the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of expression... so long as we express ourselves within the predefined vanilla guidelines.
In America we have the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of assembly... so long as we get a permit first... and so long as what we assemble isn't the truth from the fragmented lies upon which our society is so precariously balanced.
America is a free country... or so I've been told.
"Liby", it turns out, is short for Liberty. And yes she really has an Uncle Sam. He really is a bad man.
He may have tied her up and thrown her in the basement for a long time... but she can talk. He may have let his friends do bad things to her for money... but she survived. He may have denied her some fundamental and rudimentary rights and freedoms. However...
Her spirit cannot be broken. She stands tall and proud and indomitable. Right up in the face of oppression like the tough rebellious youth that she has always been. Unflinching...
She was a nice girl... and smart. I'm glad I got an opportunity to meet her. Her face, by the way, bares only a small scar where she once had an operation to repair a cleft palate. Overall not a bad looking girl at all... or maybe she was just a dream.
Maybe she was just something I wanted to believe in because I couldn't believe in anything else anymore. Maybe she never really existed at all. A belle from... oh well.
I don't know why but, for some reason, that story brings to mind something else. A sad tale for all involved. A true example of don't let this happen to you.
I started high school when I was fourteen years old... or at least I was enrolled then. I would go to school at first but usually I would wind up spending the greater part of the day hanging out at "cancer corner" smoking with the rest of the "stoners". Thats where I met Jim.
James Flansburg was tall and lanky and he had a largish nose that looked like it had been broken at some point in the past. We became quick friends and spent a lot of time together.
We would ditch school basically every day and go to his parents house and drink and smoke pot. His dad had cases of champagne in the garage and, while not good quality, it was free.
This lasted the better part of the first semester until we both got kicked out and sent to continuation high school. Serra Continuation High School was where we wound up. We used to hang out, do beer runs, and get high every day. Jim was there when I lost my virginity out in the San Juan Creek bed under an old oak tree. In fact he had sex with her too. First...
Over the years we remained friends. We knew a lot of the same people and we would see each other here and there. Every now and then we would hang out and have a few beers for old times sake. I hadn't seen him for a couple of years when I moved to Mexico.
I had only been in Juarez a few months when I got a call from my sister. She said that I should look on the internet and do a search using "James Flansburg Mandalay" as the criteria. I could barely believe my eyes when I saw what came up.
I guess Jim had been working as the manager of a self-storage place. Apparently he had gone to Las Vegas for a convention of the same theme. I don't know how long he had had that job.
As I understand it he was drinking in a bar in the Mandalay Bay in Vegas when he met some young hooker. They agreed on a contract of sex for money and went to his room. When they got there I guess he didn't have enough money because he had to go back downstairs to the A.T.M. When then returned to his room all hell broke loose.
According to the police report what happened next is Jim came out of the bathroom and found twenty two year old Bridget Grey stealing money out of his pocket. He said in the report that he "saw red" and grabbed her by the arms. He spun her around and they began to struggle. He put his hands around her throat and squeezed until she quit moving.
He then took her naked and lifeless body and dragged it out into the hallway on the twenty-fifth floor of the casino... where he left it. He hid her shoes and sweater in the box springs in the room. He flushed her dress down the toilet but the sweater wouldn't fit.
I have no idea what really happened there that night but I'm relatively certain that there was more to it. The police also found two condoms hidden in the air conditioning duct... he was arrested later at his home in Santa Ana CA. He confessed as soon as he was asked.
My whole family knew this guy... my parents used to drop us off at the bowling alley. I just don't get it. Stuff happens sometimes but... damn Jimbo you really screwed the pooch that time.
As bad as my situation may have been... it made me feel fortunate when compared to Jims. Jim eventually plead guilty to murder and is currently serving ten years to life in Nevada somewhere. I doubt if I'll ever see him again.
I was in my own sort of prison after Teresa and the girls left. Incarcerated by grief and self loathing. Held in an inescapable self imposed solitary confinement of addiction. Shackled hand and foot by chains wrought from weakness and fear. A slave in the purest sense of the word.
In the fortress of my sin I was not even allowed to bath more than once a month. The warden was a cruel and unforgiving jailer. Indeed he hated me so much that he actually delighted in my suffering... he truly thought that I deserved it.
I was only allowed to wash myself when I began to smell so bad that people walking past me on the sidewalk would grimace in passing. I didn't care... I wanted to stink. I didn't want anyone to get close to me.
Smelling bad, while an effective method of emotional insulation, also made it hard to beg for money. One day, I recall, in particular was really bad. I had started out flying a sign but the cops told me stop.
Frustrated I retired to a nearby parking lot to panhandle but was having little success there either. After about three fruitless hours of bumming I resigned to praying. God, I said, please help me. I know I'm not worthy but I really could use a shower and a night in a hotel. Lo and behold.
At that very second a young man with short black hair came rolling in to the parking lot. He was wearing surgical scrubs and ridding a 70's Harley sportster. He looked sort of like Mike Myers.
I approached him in the parking lot and gave him my spiel. It was good luck that he was truly concerned and inquisitive. He gave me five bucks and was asking a lot of questions.
I was trying to figure out a polite way to end the conversation when another five dollar bill came blowing up on the ground. It was about four feet away and stuck under a car tire. Obviously this demanded further investigation.
When I bent down to pick it up I spotted another ten dollar bill a few feet away. Once I could see past the car I saw, to my amazement, that there was a trail of money blowing across the parking lot. All told there was about a hundred and forty dollars... mostly in twenties.
When I was done collecting the manna I walked back and asked the guy I had been talking with if he had seen what happened. He said yah, it came from a car a few yards away, he thought. When I looked I saw an elderly lady, standing outside of a Mercedes, arguing with someone inside.
I sauntered up to her and, with great pride, said "excuse me ma'am but that gentleman over there said that this belongs to you." I held up the folded currency for her examination. She looked at it and said "no it isn't mine." I asked again "are you sure?" "Yes... quite" she responded. I said, "okay then... sorry to bother you," and walked away.
Apparently what had happened was that the woman's autistic granddaughter had locked herself inside of the car and commenced throwing money, from an envelope, out of the window. Well what can I say... I tried. It must be said that this was a most astounding example of kinetic prayer.
Not even five minutes had passed between asking god for help and receiving the help that I needed at that moment. I must say that, even though I have been blessed with a fairly high rate of success, in regards to small prayers, this was one for the record books. Thank you God!
After finding the money I got on a bus and headed back to Juarez. Once I got across the bridge I decided that first I should go and score before getting a hotel room. It must have been later in the year because I remember I was wearing sweats under my jeans.
I remember this so distinctly because, after walking about a half mile, I very suddenly had to use the bathroom. There was an empty field, past some houses, about twenty yards ahead on my left. With my but cheeks clinched tight, and my legs stiff, I waddled as quickly as I could. I didn't make it.
After only a few steps I completely lost control... unrestrainable volcanic catharsis. The combination of my underwear and the sweat pants were enough to keep it off of my Levis. More or less.
And so right there, on the side of a busy street in Mexico, I stripped down bare ass naked. In full public view... I used one of the three t-shirts I was wearing to clean myself up as best as I could.
After abandoning my soiled garb on the sidewalk I hastily made off for the dope man. I wound up getting a room at a cheap hotel on the main drag and about eighty dollars worth of heroin. I never thought I could enjoy a freezing cold shower so much.
I had previously been paying "one eye Jerry" five dollars a day to share a bathroom-less dwelling with him, his dad, a small dog named "Chuco," twenty or so chickens, and about five roosters. I had a room in the front of the adobe structure. It was full of wood for the stove and had a barred three foot by six foot hole facing the street.
I don't want to sound ungrateful or anything but it really sucked living there. Jerry's dad kept the bucket that he used to ferment the chickens' food in my room. You can imagine the constant stench of, weeks old, decaying vegetables in water. It made me smell good by comparison.
To top it all off he used it as a shooting gallery rental. Anyone who didn't want to stay at "El Refuego" could go there and shoot up for a few "drops" of their stash. There were junkies in and out all day and all night.
I know I was a junkie then too but I was a different sort. I wasn't the steal from an old lady type of junkie. I wasn't the rob you at knife point type of junkie.
I didn't shoplift, I didn't rob, and I didn't share needles... small but important differences. Throughout it all I somehow managed to retain at least a meager semblance of sanity. Again... if only by the grace of God, I guess, I was lucky.