Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Italian knife on the couch.

The Italian knife on the couch.

I got groped one night while getting a ride home from a stranger in Italy.

That was probably the hardest sentence of the entire post. I knew if I tried to sneak up on it I would never make it all the way there. I’d chicken out somewhere along the way, focusing on the bloody bar fight that preceded that moment or the hooker conversation that followed it. Either way, that is the worst sentence, so if that one wasn’t too bad you should be able to make it through the rest of the post.

I was in Italy with a friend that will have to go nameless because he’s a minister and ministers shouldn’t really be in stories like this. It was months after college graduation and the plan was to kick around Europe for a few days. We started in Switzerland and slowly made our way to Rome.

While in the city, we played a game loosely called “Biggest Man in All of Italy.” You see, my friend is big and burly, like a fire hydrant on feet, and most of the people we ran into in Italy were a lot smaller. So whenever we were bored we would just see if we could find anyone in the immediate area that was bigger than him. For days we passed the time walking through the streets doing this. Finally on one of our last nights we found someone that was substantially bigger.

We were in an Irish pub in Rome that I think was called “Trinity College.” When you are young and dumb you do things like visit the birthplace of Italian culture and spend your time in faux Irish pubs. I remember pointing him out. He was the bouncer and he was massive, with meat hooks for hands and the kind of shoulders that seem to swallow necks in piles of sinew and muscle. We laughed that finally there was someone bigger than my friend and then we began to drink.

This was BG, before God, so drinking was kind of what we did when given the opportunity. For hours we sat there talking with other Americans until I looked up and noticed my friend was gone. It had been maybe an hour since I had seen him but then alcohol seems to melt watches like wax, so it’s hard to be sure.

I went downstairs to the bathroom, looked in the booths and finally poked my head out the front door. There, hidden behind a bush was my friend, his face bloody, his left eye swelling quickly. He jumped up behind the bush and said, “Jon, Jon, Jon.”

I walked outside and his story unfolded in a tangled mess of words and spit. While in line for the bathroom, someone had cut my friend. Since he was at that point the second largest man in all of Italy, he just picked them up with a gesture that kind of said “hey there cute little Italian person” and moved them out of the way.

They got the bouncer. My friend got booted and when he tried to sneak back in they threw him off the front stoop into a bush. The bouncer then punched him in the face a few times. My friend said he also pinched him in the face, which he theorized was kind of that bouncer’s calling card since it left a small mark on his cheek. I personally suspect a ring but I digress.

Together we stumbled home drunk through streets that were cobbled and confusing. The train station, our landmark of choice, had shrunk with the alcohol and was virtually impossible to find. After a while we were completely lost until a car pulled up next to us.

Some nice Italian man wanted to help us find our hotel. This is stupid, but we got in. I was in the front seat and my friend was in the back. I don’t remember much from the ride except that at one point, as we got closer to our destination, things started escalating. It wasn’t that the car got faster or the lights brighter or the words crisper. It was just that things changed.

It was then that I realized the guy had his hand on me. A friend in Atlanta once told me someone had grabbed his leg in an inappropriate way. I would have loved it had just been my leg. But it wasn’t and I felt underwater. Trying to stop him was like trying to wrestle against the weight of the ocean. My limbs were slow to respond, my reflexes so deadened from the beer and the cigarettes.

Eventually he dropped us off and I started shoving that night or at least that segment of the night deep down into the recesses of my memory.

Have you ever done that? Like a master photographer in a dark room, you hold up a particular memory to the light and then trim out a frame or two with a razor blade. Then you tape back together the two pieces and move on is if you had not just edited out part of the truth.

I forgot about that moment until a group counseling session and then it weighed more than I remembered. By then the residue of life and time had gathered thick upon it. And I felt cut by it. Cut in a way that surprised me.

And that, ultimately is what I want to talk about in a post that has admittedly gotten longer than I intended. I realized in that moment that painful memories that we don’t deal with our knives hidden in our homes. They are sharp, bitter moments that we place in drawers and on counters and in piles of white towels under the sink. We pretend they are not there but they are. We pretend they are dulled by time by they are not. And what happens is that we get an unexpected reminder of that event. Someone in a movie experiences what we did and suddenly we find ourselves bleeding a little.

Someone wears cologne we have not smelled for years but he wore it and suddenly we are right back there. Or we hear a song that holds the memory of her and the mistake you made and a knife slides out of the glove compartment box to stab.

It was my fault. I was drunk. I was stupid enough to get in the car. I was defenseless because I had destroyed my own defenses. I was to blame. I was a bad kid in a bad way and that is what happens to you on that side of the street.

But that is a lie. That is what I believed when I left my knives lying around in my house. That was what I accepted as the truth until I dragged that moment into the light and looked at it a little.

This is all starting to feel a little like a Cure song, but hopefully you’ll hear the one thing I’m trying to say. Don’t hide your knives. Don’t live in a life, a relationship, a job, a whatever, where you just keep getting stabbed over and over again. Get rid of your knives.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you how I did.


Katie said...

My knives sneak up on me when I pass a place where there is a bad memory or see a person who knows the "old" me I want to pretend never existed. You know what I mean, right? Every once in a while I get the courage to face a "knive" be it a person or something else. I am usually pleasantly suprised that people never thought I was half as bad as I did. Hmmmmm...maybe we all are a little hard on ourselves.

JJ said...

What's interesting is when you know the knives. You're familiar with all of their locations. And you go to them like habits. You're use to the cut, the bleeding, the clean-up and the scars. To not be cut is such an unfamiliar feeling and the healing is too uncomfortable that you search out the knvies.

Looking forward to tomorrow's post.

Compassioninpolitics said...

Great post. Very powerful. I can certainly identify.