This was the first jacket, the first article of clothing, that I felt emotional about. At eight, I caught a glimpse of the clothes whore I would become later in life. It was the prototype for nearly all other jackets I would wear well into my thirties. It was vaguely military in style, second hand and useless in all weather, being far too thin for warmth and breathing like saran wrap in the spring. It had little flappy epaulets that snapped to my shoulders. I wondered what they were for. What aspect of war was facilitated by these flimsy nylon flaps? Of course, I was more entranced by the strap that went around my neck. An army green length of material that fed through loops around the collar and fastened when you thread one end through two chrome buckles. It was the most remarkable thing I had seen. I could make the seal around my neck water tight at will. Two good tugs. I loved it, my jacket. My brand new jacket with the straps. I loved those straps. I thought about them just before I lost consciousness.
I have no idea what precipitated the attack. I was eight and had no enemies, to my knowledge. I don’t think I had many friends either. I kept to myself, you know, business as usual. Then, on the morning of my new jacket, out of nowhere, this guy, twice my size and clearly older grabs me by the throat and pushes me hard against the schools brick wall. “Please God!” I think, “Don’t wreck my jacket.” Like he’s reading my mind, he notices my neck strap. “Oh God, no.” I gurgle in my mind. I just want him to let go so I can tell him my mother is going to fucking kill me if I wreck my new jacket, but my struggling was useless. My strap provided ample leverage to snap my eight year old spine. I was a goner and I knew it. “Why?” I thought. I had forgotten about my jacket, and now before I go to the hereafter, I just want to know why? Who are you?…… Then everything went blurry… and kind of red, a timeless moment of ecstasy where I felt like I was floating, then nothing for a little while.
Then consciousness crept in like morning light. Shapeless shapes formed. They became formless images like half remembered dreams. Then it was the ground. My assailants face. My fist beating the ever loving shit out of him. Over and over I punched him in the face and I had no idea when our struggle took this turn. If I was a betting man, I would have said it was over a long time ago. I had to stop punching immediately, I thought, or he was going to kill me… Or wait? Do I… Do I have to kill him now? I mean… This will never end, will it? The blood made me stop. Not the crowd that I suddenly noticed, but the idea that I was actually hurting this Goliath. Even though he was an clearly an ass.
We never got a reckoning, he and I. I don’t mean I forgot or that we became friends, but that he just disappeared. Never saw or heard from him again. A bullying wraith who had discovered in me a kind of super power. A boundless strength that would be summoned whenever I was sleeping. I’ll never know for sure, but I think he was maybe my nemesis. A diabolical super villain, trying his hand at our first battle! Perhaps we’ll meet again and now, he knows my one weakness, offbeat fashion. But I’m not here to talk about him. I’m not here to talk about my jacket either. I’m here to talk about that moment of pure ecstasy, of clarity even, just before the lights went out.
What can I say about it? Whatever transpired outwardly to turn the tables on my adversary was nothing compared to the epiphany that occurred in the split second before I was in Neverland. In the aftermath of that day, I tried to explain to everyone what happened and asked them to explain what had happened to me. It was pointless because everyone was speechless, I was a kind of hero. People I didn’t know congratulated me on my victory. I wondered if I wasn’t supposed to die that day. For years after that, I longed for that feeling. I wanted do go back down the rabbit hole. Then maybe three years later, while reading a comic book it came to me, my sweet oblivion.
I had said hello to Gigi, the girl who ran the convenience store for her parents. She was fifteen I think. She always gave me free candy and it made me feel bad for stealing the odd chocolate bar or comic book. I paid for a 35 cent Beckers brand root beer and went to the magazine rack where I perused the Mad magazines and the Uncanny Xmen. This was one of the perks of knowing Gigi. She was beautiful and chubby, to be sure. And powerful. She could dispense free candy on a whim. For an eleven year old boy, that was some amazing shit. I stood in relative privacy in the far aisle, but could hear the boys in front of the register, talking to Gigi. I didn’t know them, but I could hear them clearly. They were talking about this “game” called “knockout” where you would breathe in and out ten times fast while doubled over and then holding your breath while leaning back with your hands on your hips. You faint when you do it.
Root beer. Or blood. It bubbles in my ringing ear. Root beer. Pain. Excruciating pain. Am I dead? “Whoa!” Says one kid. “Are you okay?!” Says the other. I don’t know them but I remember their voices. They’re the boys from the counter with the secret game. The pain moves like a dance from sharp to throbbing to dull and at last to a sharpness localized on the back of my head. My hair and cheek are soaked in the spilled root beer, the comics pages soiled. I’m going to have to pay for that now. Gigi and the two boys standing over my crumpled body, convulsing gently on the ground. I was there. Before the pain. It was beautiful, pure. It was love and it was interrupted by a brain hemorrhage. In retrospect, I can’t think of anything funnier than these guys discussing the knockout game two aisles over and then discovering some kid twitching, ten deep breaths later, in a pool of soda. At that time I couldn’t see the humour. I had just learned a secret ritual that would bring me closer to God. I wanted to tell them, all of them, Gigi too… But all I could manage through the sound of my head swelling was a whisper, “It’s not a game.”
Thus began my true obsession with fainting. I practiced regularly, whenever I had a free moment. I develop new techniques. I have a rope tied to a beam in the basement that I wrap around my neck. I hang limply until the red stars creep in, then stumble like a mini drunk around the basement. After some degree of mastery, I even lure my sister into trying it though she never found the same passion for it. Eventually I get to eighth grade. I attend a small suburban catholic school called St. Francis. It’s hot out on the soccer field. We’re in phys-ed and testing our limits in a Canada wide competition called Canada Fitness. We get badges for demonstrating prowess in certain athletic tasks like push ups, chin ups, and running, and jumping, and bloody running and jumping… Not interested. So while my friends all go off and compete for gold and the coveted “excellence award” I lean forward take ten deep breaths lean back, hands on hips, sun in my face. Feeling good. Here she comes… Yep.
Pain, only a little, the throbbing, the soft grass tickling my cheek. My principal having a cardiac arrest. I was rushed to the hospital where I underwent a battery of tests (I love that expression and never get to use it) and spent three days running on a damn treadmill with wires connected to various points of my pubescent chest. I get a heart specialist, Dr. Folger, who looked in vain for my bicuspid aortic valve. I don’t think I have one, but I didn’t want to tell him that. He seemed happy to let me know that I’d survive with surgery within the next ten years. Seemed okay with me. Ten years is a long way away. I’d just get a clone heart by then. I wondered if there was anything at all wrong with me, I mean, not mentally but if I had manifested a small growth on my aorta, and had done so to get out of gym. But, she’s still ticking. I get these funny twitches sometimes, and I’m particularly susceptible to falling in love, but apart from that, my heart seems fine. If this seems like a pretty dramatic ruse to get out of doing push ups, you’re probably right… Still though, fuck gym.
I haven’t passed out on purpose in a while, maybe 16 years, after a couple of nasty landings (it never occurred to me to do it over my bed, so I’d crack my head on the floor every time, once bringing on a seizure… my babysitter was freaked). Still, thinking about it now it reminds me of how it was commemorated in some way the first week I did RENT. If you know the show, I sing this big note at the end of the show over my girlfriends cooling corpse. It was Julia Santana playing Mimi, lying motionless and me, howling at the moon through a twisted core that lacked the breath support of it’s emotional convictions. I sang through the impossibly long note. I pushed air that had been trapped in my lungs for years before, started using blood when I ran out of oxygen. At least it seemed like it when the red stars filtered into my vision. Then blackness. Surprisingly little pain this time. I had landed softly on a boob. I must remember that. What else was going on? I couldn’t move yet. I was panicked because I was still lingering in a state of semi consciousness. When had that happened, I wondered? Wasn’t I somewhere else, like, moments ago? I felt as if I was dreaming I was doing a show in front of thousands of people, only to realize I was doing a show in front of thousands of people. It was still impossible to concentrate on what had just transpired exactly. The music was still playing, Mimi was still dead. A good sign. No police, or doctors… I had picked the perfect time in the show to pass out entirely, if there is such a thing. I got my wits together and then control of my limbs and finished the show in a daze, surely thinking I had blown it completely. I asked Paul Stovall, who played Collins, what had happened. I wanted to compare notes on my little episode. He said “I just looked up and thought, that boy is living his life out there” after some hellish gasp that erupted as I lost it. My near fatality passed for a questionable acting choice. So, I think that was the last time I actually passed out. Actually no. But the last time I passed out in the show… actually no. There was this other time. But really, I don’t have a problem. I can stop it anytime.
I was born at night by caesarean. After a tough protracted labor the doctors told my mother I had my umbilical cord wrapped around my neck. In another time, this would have meant certain death. Perhaps this has always been my destiny, coiled around my neck. Or perhaps I was just trying to get high in the womb. Dostoyevsky wrote about seizures, as he was epileptic. He described heavenly moments of clarity before the agony of an oncoming seizure. His description was assuredly much better than mine and in Russian at that. Still it’s a kinship I share with one of my favourite authors and perhaps a few sexual deviants. However his affliction was lifelong and for me it’s just a wistful memory of a simpler time when a young boy could hang himself by the neck for hours on end, or best a bully while taking a nap. Here’s how Fyodor put it,
“I would experience such joy as would be inconceivable in ordinary life – such joy that no one else could have any notion of. I would feel the most complete harmony in myself and in the whole world and this feeling was so strong and sweet that for a few seconds of such bliss I would give ten or more years of my life, even my whole life perhaps.” Yeah, he knows what’s up.