Quiet Dog (Bite Hard): Thomas’ Story
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Thomas” is a pseudonym. This story was written as a companion piece to Cain’s stories. Originally, Cain and Thomas wrote their stories to intertwine and this story makes reference to the book burning Cain discussed.
“Fuck Martha Stewart.”
~ Tyler Durden
They say my friend Cain is hard to get along with. That he’s sometimes dogmatic in his beliefs, sometimes ungentle in an argument, sometimes a bit arrogant and sometimes insensitive with how others feel. These same people will invariably turn to me and say, “but why do you get along so well with him? You’re caring, and sensitive, and you listen to other people’s opinions and never push others aside—you’re everything Cain is not!”. But this is unfair and a terrible misunderstanding. What they don’t understand is that those very same qualities that make Cain an “asshole” are the very same reasons we get along so well. In fact, I admire the asshole in Cain.
I want to be that asshole someday.
You see, it’s not that I’m nice. Or caring. Maybe I am sensitive, but if I had to be brutally honest (and I do, really, want to be brutal) my sensitivity stems from deep-seated insecurity. I am not kind because I am kind, I am kind because I am deathly afraid. Afraid of what you might think about me, afraid of what I think about me, afraid of what you might do, afraid of what I might do, and afraid afraid afraid of a thousand other fears. Sometimes people look at me and for no reason at all, without any sort of context, without even having met me before, and say, “you need to calm down”. Or sometimes they notice that I seem to shake very subtly all the time and ask me if I’m cold. And I’m so lost in my own head, chasing my own mental tail, that this sudden interruption in my inner-dialogue startles me, and I always look wild-eyed and scared, and I never know what to say in return so I stammer, and mumble, or just say absolutely nothing. Which probably doesn’t help the perception that I need to calm down.
What’s worse is they’re absolutely right. I do need to calm down. But how does one simply tell oneself to calm down? Trust me, in my head I’m screaming at myself to calm down, but that other anxious me in my head will always turn to the yelling me, laugh, and say with the accusatory finger, “No, YOU calm down!”. It’s a vicious cycle, the most morbid sort of tail-chasing invented by dog or man. It’s a terrible circle I’ve been drawing for my entire life, though I can’t necessarily blame any one thing or the other. I don’t believe in cause and effect. Maybe it’s all things wrapped up into one psychic knot. So let me unravel some of the threads before we return to my friend Cain, because in order to understand my relation to Cain, you have to understand me, and to understand me, well… you won’t. But for starters you’ll have to understand the concept of lapdogs, role-playing, and a book called Fight Club.
I was always a sickly child. With this condition and that condition, from infancy to adolescence to adulthood, I had one problem after the next. So obviously I spent a lot of time at home, with my mother, who coddled me. Don’t take this to mean I hold a grudge against my mother for coddling her sick child (who would?), just that God or Fate or stupid Bad Luck or whatever force that dictates these things saw to it that I was destined to become Mommy’s Favorite. I hogged all the attention; from my sister, from my brother, probably even from my father. I was always sent home from school (when I was going to school—later I would be homeschooled), I always had to be rushed back from a friend’s house early, always had to sit on the benches while my little league teammates played the game… essentially I was always in her lap. Like her quiet, dependent little dogs she loved so well. So it was inevitable that as she became so firmly attached to me, I became attached to her. Nobody would ever diagnose themselves with an Oedipal Complex, but I was unwittingly usurping my entire family’s place to be with my mother. And if you knew my mother, she was the Household.
If I wasn’t in my mother’s lap I was in the hospital. I bet you don’t know what Pyloric Stenosis is, but it’s no fun. It’s when your esophagus doesn’t connect into your stomach for one reason or the other. One reason is the sphincter in your stomach is too loose around the tubing of the esophagus, so your food spits back out of your stomach. The other reason (mine) is that your esophagus is too high up, so my food spit itself back out of my stomach. The results of both is you throw up every time you eat something. Or whenever you are jostled too much. My parents had an affectionate name for those Johnny-Jump-And-Bounce contraptions you put babies in—you know, those little seats suspended by bungee cords babies like to bounce in. Well, they called my Johnny-Jump-And-Bounce Johnny-Jump-And-Puke. I would go down, then up, then puke, then down, then up, then puke. I was a vomit machine, and always therefore crying. Why would they allow this to go on? Because Pyloric Stenosis usually corrects itself if you have the former cause, where the sphincter is too loose. But I, of course, had the latter cause, which doesn’t. So after countless medical examinations, after all the poking and prodding into my orifices, into surgery I went. They said the scar would disappear, but it hasn’t. It simply stretched.
I bet you know what Croup is, though. They call it the “barking cough”, which I believe is terribly ironic looking back. Here I was, the “quiet dog” in mother’s lap, with a barking cough. Oh, but Croup is not just having a bad cough. No sir. Have you ever felt your lungs rattle your entire body? Not just rattle, but shake, shake every fiber and nerve and bone and tissue and blood vessel in your body. It’s like having your own personal earthquake. Do you know what it’s like to have your throat constrict to the point where it is no larger in diameter than a coffee straw? How much oxygen can you get breathing through a needle-point? Have you ever had to sleep outside, in the snow, cradled in your father’s lap just so you can live through a single night? I have.
They say Croup is a childhood illness. I had it until about age 14. Almost every year, at around the same time, from as far back as I can remember I was in the hospital for a week at a time. I once worked at Blockbuster and I was always complemented on my movie trivia knowledge, like that’s such a noble thing to have. They never ask why I know so much about movies. If they could only see me sitting in a Croup tent, isolated from the world by a wall of plastic, watching the world imitated through technicolor tubes eighteen-plus hours a day for a week at a time, they’d probably pity me, rather than congratulate me. I remember one particular movie I watched almost every time, and I can’t watch it now without having a terrible feeling of tightness around the chest. My dad rented it for me, probably not remembering that I had seen it so many times before, and probably not thinking about the irony of the movie’s title and its associations with my condition. Or maybe he did, and it was his subtle way of striking back at all the attention I was stealing from his wife.
It was called The Abyss.
Not that my father was a cruel man. He was simply a passive man. My mother walked all over him, commanded him to sit, to stay, to roll over. She set the rhythm of the family and had the whole house at her beck and call. When her mood was down, so were ours—when they were up, we were up. But the downs seemed more frequent. And no, it was not entirely her fault either. I told you at the beginning that I can’t blame one thing or the other, but all, and my mother is no exception. She too was sick all the time and would spend weekends in her room watching TV, like me during Croup season, only every weekend. She had also been in a terrible car accident and was pretty thoroughly doped up on pain meds most of the time.
Physical illness can do terrible things for the mental and emotional state of a person, particularly if that person has a lot of mental and emotional baggage to begin with—and she had truckloads. Her family was, let’s just say, dysfunctional, like mine only in polar opposites. While we were caught up in religious fervor, ardent conservativism, what Cain would describe as fanaticism, hers was decadent, loud, liberal and with only the smallest attempt at appearing Christian. It’s funny how one moves from opposite to opposite. It’s true what they say, about opposites attracting. But that’s probably because these opposites are extremes, and one naturally leads to the other. Like how hope unfulfilled leads to despair, or unrequited love leads to hate. In my mother’s case, the extremes of liberalism led to the extreme backlash of conservatism, much like what we see happening in the news all the time. “The gays” pass a pro-homosexual marriage bill in California, Christians get it repealed, and Mormon churches get the short end of the shit-stick. Left to right to left to right… but imagine this in a microcosm of the home and you have the buildup of one dysfunctional home to the next in dysfunctional opposition to the first. Presto, neato, you have my family.
Cain was not the only person to experience a book burning. But while his family, at least from what I can gather, stuck to the fanaticism track, mine kind of waxed and waned back and forth between fanaticism and more relaxed religiosity. At times, usually when we were in a Baptist Church, our standards would give a little and I could watch PG-13 movies, or read books that had an occasional dirty word, or play video games with a moderate amount of violence. But when we joined more “spirit filled” churches, like the Pentecostal Church or “non-denominational spirit-filled congregations”, the fervor reached its zenith and we would have to gather all the material we had allowed, all the movies and music and books that had meant so much to me in my prepubescence and angsty teenage years, gather them up in one huge monument to the filth of modernity, and after my father had read a particular passage and explained to us the damage that this garbage was doing to our souls (while my mother would speak in tongues and occasionally repeat something my father had said), we would light the match and ceremoniously watch it burn. The smoke rose up to the heavens, like the sacrifices of so many little lambs centuries before us, in praise of God’s holy sanctification of our home.
During this time I went along with it, keeping my mouth shut, biting my tongue, and being the image of the perfect son. I learned to be passive, like my father, and never say anything against the orders of the day. I did what they told me to do, rarely got in trouble, read my Bible and prayed before each meal and before bed. In a phrase, I was just like my mother’s tame little domesticated dogs, quietly and eagerly awaiting that reassuring pat on the head and to hear the words “good boy”, because I was tired of potentially being bad all the time, I just wanted to hear that I was doing good. In fact, I don’t even remember the items that I burnt, all those things that had meant so much to me. Because when my parents told me they were evil, they were evil. I burned them willingly. But the only item I specifically remember being burnt was my copy of a role-playing game called Morrowind. In the fictional world of Morrowind, I could be anybody I wanted to be, do anything I wanted to do (good or bad) and change the (fictional) world in any way I saw fit. I was powerful.
You see, I remember burning Morrowind because Morrowind offered me an escape from me, because deep down, any quiet dog hates himself for being quiet, for being passive and docile. They desperately want to run around the house, to bark at cats and passing cars, to pee inside, to dig holes in the yard—they desperately want to be a dog, as a dog should be. But for fear of the words “bad dog”, they whimper, they tuck their tails between their legs and spend half their life pleasing their master, and the other half sleeping away the boredom. With the burning of that video game, I burned the last bridge to my escape.
God still has a taste for blood, but now we sacrifice images instead of animals.
And then came ATI. Advanced Training Institute. Which was really just a cute way of saying “Advanced Brainwashing Propaganda”. My science textbooks told me everything in existence was made in six days. That the earth was six thousand years old. My sociology and psychology (though we didn’t call it those “liberal” titles, they represented to us “worldviews”) taught me that masturbation was homosexuality because I was having sex with myself and I was obviously the same gender as me—an offense worthy of hellfire. Being the teenage boy that I was, of course I was masturbating like the world was ending tomorrow. So though I yearned for heaven, I secretly felt I was destined for Hell. Contraception was evil because it wasn’t trusting God to give you what you need. Any music with a beat was evil, because of some horseshit about Africans being essentially demon worshiping witch doctors who corrupted the white man through Elvis Presley because of his association with the black culture. Not that my parents went all that far, but still, these were the people we associated with, and some of it rubbed off on my parents.
Cain was in the same program, as well as the homeschooling speech and debate program we were in, where we met. And I think this is the sweetest revenge, that this dynamic duo of asshole and quiet dog should meet in the shelter of its doghouse. If we start the revolution that burns the world like so many evil books, know right now that it started in the very place that tried to keep us from the world.
Irony is a motherfucker.
But it was through ATI that I came upon the book that changed my life. It was called Fight Club. And yeah, it’s a little cliché now, what with the movie and the subculture that surrounds it, but fuck it, if it reaches so many people so deeply, that’s because it has something to say goddammit. I read that book while I spent a year in Taiwan with ATI, supposedly “teaching” kids English (though we were really undercover evangelists). Not that they would have approved, but for the first time I was away from home, with people that didn’t really know me. I could be anybody I wanted to be, do anything I wanted to do (good or bad). Taiwan was my Morrowind in the real world, and for the first time, I was considered the bad dog. Me! The quiet dog turned bad. I took a note from Tyler Durden and made it my personal quest to upset the precarious little perfect psuedo-world these little undercover evangelists lived in. And like the unnamed narrator of Fight Club, I wanted to destroy their beautiful world. Not that I didn’t like them to an extent, or that I didn’t even make friends with some of them—in fact, I still am friends with some of them and I cherish those friendships. It’s just that I felt they were misled. They worried about the wrong things. They knew what a duvet was. So I made it a habit to tell one cannibal joke at dinner, every dinner. I wouldn’t go on all their stupid little church visits, though I was forced to attend the “house church service” we held together (though then I wouldn’t sing along, wouldn’t share).
It was in this silence at church that I learned to turn my curse of being the quiet dog into a virtue. Sometimes not saying a damn thing communicates the most. All these empty words of God, and grace, and sin, and all their piddling little “daily struggles” to “overcome the sinfulness inside them” taught me that what these people considered hallow were really hollow. Little did they know that all those hours I disappeared in I was taking a train to the nearest city, going to the dingiest bars I could find, reading all those dirty little books, watching all those forbidden movies, starting up a healthy smoking addiction—my “daily struggle” was not against sin, it was to find the next! I was struggling with sin to overcome righteousness. While they were trying to overcome the world, I was trying to become it. While they were trying to convert the world, I was trying to embrace it.
And then came the day that I returned home. To my fence. To my leash and the patting patronizing hands who expected me to be such a good boy. And unfortunately I had not yet gathered enough strength to bark at my masters. It’s one thing to be whoever you want to be to people you don’t know, where you have the freedom to make yourself, like a character out of a role-playing game, before they can have an image of you pre-formed in their heads, but when you return back to the people who helped make you out of an egg and a sperm, who impressed upon you the concept of evil and good, who trained you, who clipped your nails, scooped up your poop, taught you to sit, stay, lay, and roll over, who know you… then they see only the quiet dog. They only see the unnamed narrator before he fabricated Tyler Durden for himself. Still weak, still pushing paper at his job, measuring days by the color of his boss’ tie, still stuck in conversation with himself as himself. Whereas the unnamed narrator could kill Tyler in the end but keep the better part of Tyler, the admirable part, and be OK in a mental asylum—I had simply lost Tyler and returned to the beginning.
But if Cain is an asshole, if he is dogmatic in his beliefs, sometimes ungentle in an argument, sometimes a bit arrogant and a bit insensitive to how others feel, that’s only because he’s living in Morrowind. He actually believes his beliefs, and if that conflicts with yours, then yours have to either conform or make way or simply accept it and walk your way. Maybe this isn’t all positive (nothing is), but at least he made himself and carries that with him, no matter how hard that image slaps the face of the image people expect him to carry. He’s the Tyler Durden to my “Jack”, the leader to the follower. And when someone turns to me and expresses incredibility that the nice, kind-hearted little boy that I am could be such good friends with that prick, Cain, I’ll just smile and say, “woof”.
This project Mayhem was his idea, and whether or not he’s subtly making me or I him, or both, or whether we stand alone on the same turf of ground, we can both share the delight of a good bonfire.
Burn, baby, burn.
tired of the gallivanting,
tamed and domesticated
sort of love.
The love we buy in shops,
with pitiful eyes from cages,
please take me home,
take me home
and keep me there until
you put me down.
This sick puppy love begs
for the little leftover scraps
of having nothing better to do.
if only it took it, instead of asked.
I want to grow out my hair,
file down my teeth
and sharpen my trimmed claws.
No more birds,
I want to leap onto a gazelle
and tear it apart,
I want to chase down a zebra
to see how it tastes.
I want to rip off our rotting skin,
and spell love
and lust and hate and fear and joy
in intricate letters
with our intertwining entrails,
then gather them
back together with new-grown arms
and make ourselves anew.