The Flavor of Life

meat and knifeThe man was born into the palm of luxury – literally.  It’s said he once could fit into the palm of his father’s hand. Born prematurely, he suffered through acute illness and complications just to live. But no one could ever say he didn’t appreciate the flavor of life.

Youth brought him the status that rich parents always bring. He was smart and sociable, but a little odd.  Perhaps his early birth had caused obstacles that would haunt him for life, his parents wondered. But to their amazement, he was a studious young man, compensating for any setbacks he might have suffered with an uncanny intellect and social affability, even if he had few friends. Their proudest moment was when their son was accepted to a PhD program in France. That year, Issei traveled from his home in Japan, to study literature at the Sorbonne.

Four years of study had made him a favorite of the faculty, and earned him respect among his student acquaintances. One student in particular made his heart flutter. What a beautiful name for such a beautiful face – Renee. Issei asked her if she’d like to have dinner with him. It was a huge risk, one he knew he had no right to take, for whatever benefits money and intelligence had brought him, it’s wasn’t enough to deserve her company. She was beautiful. He still considered himself a weak, ugly, inadequate little man.

But she’d said yes!

Renee arrived at his home that evening for some wine, a good meal, and an evening of poetry translation. The talk was mechanical if not pleasant, and soon Issei had convinced her to do what she most feared to do for him – recite her translations of German poetry. She was timid, blushed, but finally began to speak. Her voice was beautiful, built on many layers of femininity and grace, and her voice continued to echo in his house for a few seconds after he’d shot her in the neck with a rifle.

Issei’s dream for her wasn’t to bed her down, or make her his wife. He wanted to eat her.

Taking a few hours to first have sex with his dead victim, and perhaps build up an appetite, he decided he would begin with her buttocks and thighs. They proved terribly difficult to cut away from the bone, so he left to buy a sharper butcher knife. He was surprised at the way raw human fat looked, and more surprised at the taste. He feasted on Renee for two days until, satiated, he took what remained of her to a local river, to dump her in.  But he was weak, and not good at these things. Someone spotted him.

He was arrested by the French police and they quickly began their investigation. How could a man devour another human in just two days, they wondered? There was hardly anything left on the woman’s bones. They found their answer in his refrigerator. He’d packed her up nicely in the finest cuts, and stored her away.

His wealthy father was devastated, but determined neither he nor his son would lose face.  He hired the best defense attorneys to defend his son, but they never made it to trial. Issei was held for two years before the authorities finally declared him insane, and sent him to a mental institution.

It was in that institution that Issei really began to become the man he’d always dreamed of being. He was visited by an author from his home country who interviewed him about his account of what had happened. When the story was published, in an odd way that sick stories often do, he became an instant celebrity.

The French authorities didn’t care for the attention, or the scrutiny of their legal system. They ordered Issei be extradited back to Japan.  When he arrived, Japanese police immediately took him to Matsuzawa hospital, where the attending psychologists found him sane, determining that his cannibalism was the result of sexual perversion, not some underlying mental illness.

It seemed Issei would be finally tried for his crime. However, the requests by Japanese court official to obtain the original documents from the French were denied, the French citing that the case had already been dropped in France, and therefore, the documents were secret and could not be released. Having nothing with which to prosecute Issei, he was discharged from the hospital, a free man.

Issei became a guest lecturer and commentator, and for a time wrote the most poignant restaurant reviews for a well-known magazine. He even tried his hand as a movie actor. He now lives a quiet life, sometimes starring in documentaries, sometimes earning welfare benefits, and providing constant inspiration for copycat killers and horror writers across the globe.

Read more about Issei Sagawa here.

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Part 3

fist 1High school was a place of forgetting and of unbecoming. Stephen had attended five schools in eight years, and had managed not to make a single lasting friend. He blamed his parents, his life, his circumstance, but never himself. He was a young man comprised of parts; the places he lived, the men who’d hurt him, the women who hadn’t given him the ability to see their value, and the hopelessness that comes from being slow. He wasn’t slow, he told himself. It hadn’t been his fault that he’d repeated first grade. It was a matter of starting late. He’d started everything late.

He was the third child of a loveless home. His older brother Reggie had joined the Army before he’d finished high school, and became a hero in his absence. His sister Nikki had a way with men, barely a woman herself, and gave little appreciation to the image she was instilling in her younger brother. She’d had no regard for the restrictions of society and good grace, and instead had embarked upon nightly journeys through the taverns and truck stops of their small town, bringing home strays to make them beg for her. The noises through the wall from her room to his often sounded like a confrontation of dogs. When the parents were away, she’d lock in him his room, his only entertainment being the sounds of laughter, grunting, screaming, and then the drunken requests for him to do something funny, or painful for the sake of entertaining the unknown guests. Stephen observed all of this, and saw what a woman would do for a man’s attention. He learned the lessons she taught very well.

His father had broken him. His face had become numb to the fingers that after years had become fists, and he learned to retaliate by hating him. The more the man would strike him, the more he would wish the most horrific death upon him. Stephen didn’t know that a son was supposed to love his father, but he did know that a son should follow in a father’s footsteps. What hurt him more than his own abuse was watching his mother, as he peeked from behind a chair or a cracked door, while the old man would lay into her, pulling her hair so hard sometimes it made a tearing sound like a ripping burlap, and her cries sounded like they were coming from the lowest, deepest part of her. This, too, he observed, and learned that despite harsh treatment, a good woman took it and stayed.

In high school he had unbecome. He didn’t want to be the poor kid a grade behind. He had anger. He had retribution to bestow. He joined the football team and no one could hit harder than he could, run faster than he could, or play with such brutality. His violence made him a star.

But a girl had made him question once. She was pretty, and had smiled at him. He’d asked her name and that night had said it a thousand times to himself, wondering if she’d say yes if he asked her for a date. He felt vulnerable, weak, and he began to loath her. Loathing felt a lot like love, and somewhere the two got mixed up inside him until he couldn’t tell them apart.

There were things she did that made him feel like he was flying, and things she did that made him feel like he wanted to kill her.

And then there was Franklin.

The Beauty of Pain

I often wonder why the writing, films, and music I love best are often the darkest. I stumbled upon this quote from a 19th century essayist. For me, it’s an adequate explanation.

English: Despair

English: Despair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Works of genius have this in common, that even when they vividly capture the nothingness of things, when they clearly show and make us feel the inevitable unhappiness of life, and when they express the most terrible despair, nonetheless to a great soul – though he find himself in a state of extreme duress, disillusion, nothingness, noia, and despair of life, or in the bitterest and deadliest misfortunes (caused by deep feelings of whatever) – these works always console and rekindle enthusiasm; and though they treat or represent only death, they give back to him, at least temporarily, that life which he had lost.”

— Giacomo Liapardi (1798-1837) from his diary called Zibaldone 

Something Extraordinary

fork in the path

“I suspect the truth is that we are waiting, all of us, against insurmountable odds, for something extraordinary to happen to us.” – Khaled Hosseini, And The Mountains Echoed

Sometimes we aren’t aware of our own greatness. Perhaps someone told us long ago that it was no so, that we weren’t special. Maybe our belief in ourselves was lost somewhere on the long road of life, torn away by lovers as they left, by dreams as they disappeared. For many, as in my case, our belief in our abilities to be great were worried and withered away in illness.

Whatever the case, we often find ourselves at a place in life much different than the place we’d imagined we would arrive. This is what is nostalgically called “life,” as in “that’s life,” or “life sucks.” But does it really? Can we honestly say that life is bad? We see our circumstances, but we forgot how we got here. We don’t realize that the insurmountable odds we are waiting against for something extraordinary to happen… is ourself.

I’ve had many dreams in my life, and I’ve seen most of them relinquished for a moment of security, or a choice I thought was one well made. As I look back now, I often wonder how different my life would be had I made my choices based on a dream, on a moral ground, on what I knew was the right thing to do. While I’m grateful for the wonderful people in my life, I also realize that I chose them to be there. They are the victories I’ve had along the way. But so many people on that same journey were lost to me.

But mostly, I think I lost myself.

There are times in life when we are faced with setback, struggle or sickness. Of those three setback is the easiest to overcome. It means we’ve lost ground, but have not lost the prize. Perhaps with hard work, with a change of heart, or with a new direction, setback can become victory. Our choices guide us.

Then there is struggle. This is by far more challenging, because struggle is when the road disappears. We don’t know if we are going in the right direction, only that the way is incredibly hard. Struggle lasts, struggle steals hope and heart, and puts us in a shell where our thoughts turn from the good we can do, do the very least we must do. The only way through is perseverance. And we know that those who persevere finally reach their destination, scarred, but safe. But not everyone perseveres.

And then there is sickness. I’ve familiar with them all, but most familiar with this one. This is when the darkness comes. In an instant, we are transformed into mortal beings, and faced with the many days we wasted doing things that made no difference, and also faced with the few days that remain and the choices they hold.

But there is a gift there. There is a gift in knowing your days are fleeting. For you see something more valuable than money, more valuable than all the wealth in the world. The only thing this insight is not more valuable than is time.

The insight is this: we are the obstacles in our own lives. Every struggle, every setback, every challenge can and will pass. It only takes a choice. It takes no more energy to destroy than it does to build. It takes no more risk to do something safe as it does to do something brave. You can’t add days to your life either way. It takes no more thought to think you can’t than it does to think you can. Something extraordinary can happen to you. But you must choose it.

It would be so easy now, to go back in time and change the things I wished I’d done. It takes no more energy to live with regrets, than it does to live without regrets.

The Flavor of Life

meat and knifeThe man was born into the palm of luxury – literally.  It’s said he once could fit into the palm of his father’s hand. Born prematurely, he suffered through acute illness and complications just to live. But no one could ever say he didn’t appreciate the flavor of life.

Youth brought him the status that rich parents always bring. He was smart and sociable, but a little odd.  Perhaps his early birth had caused obstacles that would haunt him for life, his parents wondered. But to their amazement, he was a studious young man, compensating for any setbacks he might have suffered with an uncanny intellect and social affability, even if he had few friends. Their proudest moment was when their son was accepted to a PhD program in France. That year, Issei traveled from his home in Japan, to study literature at the Sorbonne.

Four years of study had made him a favorite of the faculty, and earned him respect among his student acquaintances. One student in particular made his heart flutter. What a beautiful name for such a beautiful face – Renee. Issei asked her if she’d like to have dinner with him. It was a huge risk, one he knew he had no right to take, for whatever benefits money and intelligence had brought him, it’s wasn’t enough to deserve her company. She was beautiful. He still considered himself a weak, ugly, inadequate little man.

But she’d said yes!

Renee arrived at his home that evening for some wine, a good meal, and an evening of poetry translation. The talk was mechanical if not pleasant, and soon Issei had convinced her to do what she most feared to do for him – recite her translations of German poetry. She was timid, blushed, but finally began to speak. Her voice was beautiful, built on many layers of femininity and grace, and her voice continued to echo in his house for a few seconds after he’d shot her in the neck with a rifle.

Issei’s dream for her wasn’t to bed her down, or make her his wife. He wanted to eat her.

Taking a few hours to first have sex with his dead victim, and perhaps build up an appetite, he decided he would begin with her buttocks and thighs. They proved terribly difficult to cut away from the bone, so he left to buy a sharper butcher knife. He was surprised at the way raw human fat looked, and more surprised at the taste. He feasted on Renee for two days until, satiated, he took what remained of her to a local river, to dump her in.  But he was weak, and not good at these things. Someone spotted him.

He was arrested by the French police and they quickly began their investigation. How could a man devour another human in just two days, they wondered? There was hardly anything left on the woman’s bones. They found their answer in his refrigerator. He’d packed her up nicely in the finest cuts, and stored her away.

His wealthy father was devastated, but determined neither he nor his son would lose face.  He hired the best defense attorneys to defend his son, but they never made it to trial. Issei was held for two years before the authorities finally declared him insane, and sent him to a mental institution.

It was in that institution that Issei really began to become the man he’d always dreamed of being. He was visited by an author from his home country who interviewed him about his account of what had happened. When the story was published, in an odd way that sick stories often do, he became an instant celebrity.

The French authorities didn’t care for the attention, or the scrutiny of their legal system. They ordered Issei be extradited back to Japan.  When he arrived, Japanese police immediately took him to Matsuzawa hospital, where the attending psychologists found him sane, determining that his cannibalism was the result of sexual perversion, not some underlying mental illness.

It seemed Issei would be finally tried for his crime. However, the requests by Japanese court official to obtain the original documents from the French were denied, the French citing that the case had already been dropped in France, and therefore, the documents were secret and could not be released. Having nothing with which to prosecute Issei, he was discharged from the hospital, a free man.

Issei became a guest lecturer and commentator, and for a time wrote the most poignant restaurant reviews for a well-known magazine. He even tried his hand as a movie actor. He now lives a quiet life, sometimes starring in documentaries, sometimes earning welfare benefits, and providing constant inspiration for copycat killers and horror writers across the globe.

Read more about Issei Sagawa here.

Coming Out of the Closet

closet-doorThere was a man who lived alone. He has long passed his youth, and could remember a time or two when he’d been brave. But time had passed, and he’d grown older. Now, he was ready for a quiet life, for days spent in his comfortable home, with no concerns except which book he might read, or which bottle of wine to open.

That was before the food started to disappear.

He noticed it first one morning when he went to make his breakfast. He opened the door of his refrigerator and saw the items had been disturbed. When he looked closer, he saw that food was missing.

He thought it odd, but wasn’t afraid. Before he went to sleep that night he locked his doors, and took one more accounting of his refrigerator, just to be sure. He awoke at an early hour, just as the sun was tempted to rise, and went downstairs. He made some coffee, and walked to the refrigerator for some cream.

The shelves were half empty.

You’re not alone. What an irrational thought. The doors were locked, he’d checked immediately after his discovery. There was only one possibility. Someone was sneaking in at night and stealing from him.

He went out and purchased strong locks, latches for his windows, and hired a man to install everything just right. He checked every room, the crawl space, under the bed. There was no one. He felt safe until the next morning when the food disappeared again.

His resolve hardened. The man made a trip to the nearest electronics store and purchased a security camera system, one that could be monitored using his cell phone. It was about noon the next day, while he was at work in his downtown office, that he decided to try out his new cameras. He hit the app on his phone and the screen opened on his kitchen, and a figure moving within it.

The man called the police. Someone had broken into his house. They had somehow done it without leaving any trace of their entry. Officers rushed to his house and moved cautiously toward the front door. The first one tried the knob, and found the door locked. They surrounded the house, and finally broke down the door and stormed inside. They went room to room searching, but they found no one. The search expanded to the grounds around the house, and then to the neighboring houses. But none of his neighbors had seen anything, and there was no evidence of a break in.

The old man confirmed to the police that he had locked every door before leaving for work. He showed them where he’d placed the cameras, and told them that for a week he’d noticed that food was missing from his refrigerator. That’s when the officer saw it, at the end of the hall. A cabinet door was slightly open.

The officer stepped cautiously toward it, and drew his weapon. He placed his fingers on the corner of the door, took in a breath, and threw the door open.

She didn’t scream. She just stayed curled, her knees up to her chin in that compressed space high off the floor. Her clothes were dirty and tattered, and the smell that traveled on the air rushing from the door was sour, an intensely human smell. They pulled her down from the closet, the thief who had lived in the man’s house undetected, watching him, hearing him sleep, sharing his house and his food for an entire year.

The man had locked himself into the house with a woman he didn’t know, who lived in his closet.

True story: read it here. 

The Long Road Back

Railroad-stretching-through-the-countryside-near-Prague,-Oklahoma...-painting-artwork-printI haven’t posted in some time, but that isn’t because I didn’t have anything to say. I believe it was because I had the wrong things to say. Life twists and turns and we wonder sometimes where we’ve managed to wander to.

Sometimes the road ends. Sometimes the road is just long.

For those of you still listening, I appreciate your patience. I’ve a lot to tell you, but for now I just want to assure you that the long road leads back.

It always leads back.

To Save a Dream

Endless road

Endless road (Photo credit: BuBcSek)

How do you save a dream?

You know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t had the moment, you will, someday. You might find yourself on the edge of a failed relationship, and all of the hopes you had for the future feel like they are dying. All of the unrealized things you will never be, all of the forever you planned your life around.

You may be facing the loss of a job, a job that gave you your identity, provided stability to your family, and allowed you to be who you’ve become.

You may even be facing the loss of your health, knowing that there’s no turning back to the way things used to be. No rescue from the suffering that has come, and will come.

Or, you could have that moment, that realization, that your possibilities are still farther away than you’d hoped they’d be by now. You look into the distance, and see only miles of road, when you’ve already walked for endless miles. And you know other’s have already made it to their destination. You begin to wonder if you’re on the wrong path.

It would be so easy to stop, and begin the walk back home. So easy to sit down on the roadside, and wait for the first car to take you back to where you started.

What do you do then? There are as many answers as there are people, and I’m interested in yours. How do you save a dream?

Today

Driving Into the Sun

Driving Into the Sun (Photo credit: Travis S.)

Today, someone will wake up and be afraid.

Today, someone will wake up and know they can’t change what’s wrong.

Today, someone will see someone they love in pain.

Today, someone will not see the sun, for they thought the wrong thoughts, and have been imprisoned for it.

Today, someone will learn that love is a hurricane, and not everyone survives hurricanes.

Today, someone will wake up and have no one to say ‘good morning’ to. Or ‘good day,’ or ‘good night.’

Today, someone will hate God, but not know why.

Today, someone will hate themselves, and blame God.

Today, someone will wish that they were someone else, maybe someone like you.

But today, you have a chance to change the world. Today, you can redefine yourself. Today, you can be someone to admire, someone to respect, someone with strength. Today, you can help someone in need, you can comfort someone who is sad, you can fix something that’s broken.

Today, you can do what you’ve always wanted to do, you can try something new, you can start over.

Today, you can forget what you can’t change, and start living to never want to change another thing.

But most of all, today, you can be thankful for what you have, and if you have nothing left, you can be grateful that you have another chance to have something. Because someone admires you. If no one does, they just haven’t met you.

Because some people will wake up, and have nothing to dream about. But you do.

So be thankful that, at least, you can dream.