Non Fiction

Violent People Games Should Not Play Videos (Especially Children)

It’s no secret that I love to play video games. It’s an imaginary outlet to exercise fantasies. In real life, I would never be able to fly, shoot lightening from my fingers, or take down a room full of Triads. The possibilities are endless.

Also there is a study my mother me about (so I know it’s true, because my mother would never endorse this habit) where scientists concluded that Video Games exercise the part of the brain that doesn’t get stimulated by everyday activity in persons with ADD. Considering the vast amount of my friends with ADD that play video games, I figured this makes sense.

Like all things artistic and related to, I am against industry censorship. NOT APPLYING TO CHILDREN (as I discuss later), I don’t believe that radio, broadcast television, cinema, music, art, literature (especially in libraries) and video games should be censored by the federal government, and threatened with boycotts, NC-17 ratings, or AO ratings (this is why Australia sucks. Sorry, Australia, you’re no New Zealand). The only purpose of this is to justify hindering artistic vision in order to create a product of mass marketing potential. Or the government is jealous that they can no longer behead artists they disagree with. The only reason the American public agrees to this censorship is that it gives them a false sense of superiority and prudence, especially in issues dealing with sexuality (we don’t have topless women in our soap commercials, unlike certain other English speaking countries that will remain unnamed). I’ve written about this before, in an article named Mature, but this isn’t the topic for today; just the segue.

Like my love for horror movies, I also love scary games. Fatal Frame, Resident Evil, Dead Space, and Silent Hill have been some of my favorite series in video game history. In my mind, I’ve justified this participation in grotesque violence by assuring myself that I’m fully capable of distinguishing fantasy from reality, and in real life, I’ve never hurt a soul (at least not since schoolyard battle royals). Besides, in these games I am fighting ghosts, zombies, alien monsters, and demons, respectively.

Lately, however, I’ve noticed a rise in my aggressive behavior, and it seemed to be triggered by video game frustrations. I never blamed the games, however, just the fact that I lead a stressful life, and all the stress gets bottled up until I explode.

But last night I read the following, from a book written by Dr. Dan Baker (though it’s something that appears in medical textbooks everywhere): The amygdala is directly connected to the action portion of your fear system: the endocrine glands, which produce hormones. Hormones have many functions, including protecting the body from danger and ensuring survival. The primary survival hormones are adrenaline and cortisol, which are sometimes referred to as stress hormones. They could also be called fear hormones. These hormones enable you to run faster and fight harder. They trigger the release of excitatory neurotransmitters in the brain that increase alertness. In doing so, though, they create most of the physical symptoms of fear, such as increased heart rate, high blood pressure, the sensation of butterflies in your stomach, cold feet, jitteriness, and insomnia. These physical symptoms, in turn, reinforce the emotional feeling of fear, and can create a spiral of anxiety.”

Lost? Picture this: 4,953. This is my kill-count in a damn-near photo-realistic war game called Call of Duty. I have killed through knifing, sniping, close quarters gunfire, or explosions, nearly 5,000 avatars of actual people playing online. 5,000 images of me killing people are floating around in the unconscious of my mind, from this game alone, and I’ve only been playing since August.

Now, my conscious mind feels fine; I’ve never hurt anyone, and I have no desire to, but the reflex part of my brain, the mammalian part, the amygdala, thinks maybe I have, and has excreted massive amounts of adrenaline and cortisol over an extended period of time (sometimes five or six hours in a day), for stresses my body isn’t actually experiencing, so there is NO RELEASE! This is why all my controllers are broken, my furniture is shattered, and my knuckles are bruised.

And by the way, there are 6.4 million gamers that have a higher kill-count then I do, or to put it another way, have a higher concentration of images of violent killings in their heads. A vast majority of these gamers live in the continental United States.

I guess I could make a side note here about the addiction of video games. Addiction is not the topic I wish to discuss, but I can say first hand that after a solid Saturday of binge gaming, I turn into a mindless anti-social freakstorm, where I start babbling things like “Some coffee help me you,” and “Violent Video People Shouldn’t Play Children (Especially Games).”

I was speaking with a good friend, and immediate supervisor (in an unrelated field) about children and games. She says that not only does she censor her children’s input, but she caps the time they spend playing them as well. Her observation, justifying her concern, is that children who play a lot of games, especially violent ones, are apathetic to such real life violence, and/or just plain emotionally retarded. They don’t play well with the other kids, and creep her out like The Children of the Corn.

At the risk of being sexually exclusive (I know little girls play video games, even violent ones) boys will be boys. Like John Eldredge puts it: How many parents have tried in vain to prevent little Timmy from playing with guns? Give it up. If you don not supply a boy with weapons, he will make them from whatever materials are at hand. My boys chew their graham crackers into the shape of hand guns at the breakfast table. Every stick or branch is a spear, or better, a bazooka.

Lord knows as a kid I used to play Mortal Kombat on the playground, with my friends, where we would pretend to be fierce ninjas shooting hooks from our palms. We would battle as WarCraft characters (the RTS, mind you, this was long before World of Warcraft). The point is, we spent far more time engaging each other on the playground than actually playing the games we were imitating. Honestly, it was more fun, because Mortal Kombat is really freakin’ hard. Social interaction and complex thought stimulation through imagination. These are real world values.

Boys, and some boyish girls (they’re out there, don’t judge me for writing it), enjoy violence, and we should encourage it, but not for the sake of violence itself, but to reinforce the good that can come of it, like adventuring, courage, and the sense of victory. Saving the princess from a lonely tower isn’t nearly as exciting as saving her from marauding pirates (or ghosts, or zombies, or any combination of the three in any particular order, my favorite being zombie ghost-pirates, which are half zombie, half ghost-pirates). Children are storms of imagination, and don’t you think it’s better to release that creative energy into a real accomplishment, like building a club house in the living room, and not finding all the skulls in Halo? At least encourage their adventuring into social engagements. Despite what they may try to convince you, online “social” games are no more socializing than taking on a cell phone. The conversations are just a little more exclusive [read: nerdier].

Children, including teens, are in the most critical stage of their life: development. There are two ways a child can handle violence in Video Games: they do, or they don’t. Both can hinder development. If they really connect with the characters they are portraying, then they become impressionable to the scenarios, and start absorbing all the negative stimuli. The primitive area of their brain (still developing, mind you) acts accordingly by releasing all the stress hormones, and stores the input in their reactive memory. If a child’s brain doesn’t respond to the violence, they can become desensitized, and not just in some old-wives usage of the word, but biochemically.

The more realistic games become, the more this becomes a problem. No child in the world is scarred from an 8-bit image of Ninja Gaiden being attacked by birds, but I’m sure there is at least one child out there with irresponsible parents that has had nightmares (unconscious memory regurgitation) about being attacked by Resident Evil zombies. As a parent, you should want your children to react negatively to violent images (it’s humanizing) but you don’t want them to harbor those images.

Another quote by Dr. Baker, in regards to a description of mammalian brain, the second part of a child’s brain to develop in the womb after the brain stem: Residing in the mammalian brain is the other important culprit in the neurological symphony of fear: the amygdala. The amygdala is a memory center for emotion. In particular, it stores memories of all of your painful and threatening experiences. It’s a veritable haunted house of memory. The amygdala isn’t as primordial as the brain stem; it does have some power to evaluate fears- though not much. It’s a primitive warehouse for everything that is frightening.

So thanks to the amygdala, you can’t have both. You can’t have a negative reaction to the exposure of violent images without harboring a piece of it in the middle of your brain, whether you can consciously distinguish those images from reality or not. It’s why, though I don’t believe in the boogy-man, I become vaguely fearful of the dark if I’m alone in a house after watching Halloween. The primitive brain remembers that people die if they are in the dark, while Michael Myers is on the loose, and your rational brain, the cerebral cortex, has to calm it down.

In summation, remember what the number one killer in America is? It’s not killers, it’s not alcohol related car accidents, it’s not even cigarettes (at least not directly); the number one killer is heart disease. Sitting and stressing (and not exercising) for hours every day in front of a television will lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can cause heart disease, which can kill.

You, specifically. It can kill you.

So, if you enjoy violent and gory video games, that’s fine; I’m not one to judge. However, I am writing (as a HYPOCRITE) to encourage moderation. Like drinking, smoking, fast food, shrimp buffets, and cheese parties. But as a gross blanket statement, people shouldn’t play violent video games (especially children).

The books quoted in this blog are:

What Happy People Know by Dan Baker, Ph.D., and Cameron Stauth

Wild At Heart by John Eldredge

Gaps for Kassey pt. 3 – Betrayal (or how i befriended a predator)

“…and Lord, God, above all I pray that Justice be done, that your will be served.”

It was my hesitation in the words that served as my first warning sign. Every other prayer in our circle was different. Please don’t let Jim go to jail. Please let the innocent go free. They were all for him. I worded my prayer very carefully. In so many words, I prayed for Karma. If the man was innocent, let him go free. If he was guilty, let him perish.

The following people and events may or may not have changed names, dates or locations. This is incredibly considerate, considering…

Considering the events. Because they happened, and they are as much my story as anybody else involved. Why do I have to censor my own story. Nobody censored it for me when I experienced it.

No, I will do it, because I still love those many who were involved in this story. Their relationships may be hurt based on who reads this, and I wouldn’t want that. There would be no gain. This is my therapy, not my occupation. I don’t need to bring others pain to gain self satisfaction.

Despite what some may tell you.

We drove to Carrollton in a very impressive convoy. Jim, his wife Vanessa, their friends Bonnie and Clyde, and even their children, all asked for us to be there. If Jim could show the judge what a stand up member of society he really was (look at all these Christian College students coming to support me), maybe he could earn some sympathy. It’s all really sadistic when I think about it.

The students consisted of Ebony and Robert…

I went to college in Missouri. That much is true. That much is innocent. I went to a Christian College. That was what I wanted; positive influences to heal a self scarred youth. Self scarred because I can blame no one but myself for how I chose to live my youth. This isn’t the moment for pity. Not just yet…

The people I met at this college were unbelievable. There was so much energy, so much positive emotion toward the glory of God. I could actually feel my soul healing. I made more friends in a month than in my entire life. I honestly didn’t know what to do with them all.

It was while attending a college soccer game (a rare task for yours truly do to an absolute absence of school spirit) that I met them… a collection of girls that would lead to my downfall. One of my downfalls, at least. But that’s another story, for another time.

One was an overenthusiastic mocha colored girl, named Ebony. She is wonderful, and married to a strapping young gentleman from Alaska named Robert. They have a child now, and I wish them all the love and happiness in the world. This much is true.

Christie…

Ebony introduced me to Christie, a warm smiled photogenic girl wearing a baggy t-shirt, who was crazy enthusiastic that a tall, grumpy looking man with a shaved head was such a huge fan of hugs. That was me. I was tall, scary looking with a recently Bic’ed head, and enjoyed hugs. Christie became a huge part of my life then, and even now is my eternal soul twin, or some other cheesy cliche. If there is anyone who can even remotely understand me, it’s her. She’s been married almost a year now, and I wish them all the love and happiness in the world.

Jen and Ted…

Christie introduced me to Jen, a short girl wearing jeans, a shirt with horses, and cowboy boots. She was dating another fine gentleman named Ted. He has and always will have a trimmed “pastor’s beard,” the mustache-short goatee combo. He too dressed like he rode a horse to school. For him, dressing nice meant wearing a bolo tie, which he did for his first sermon (he was a pastoral major) of which I attended. Jen is now married to a Rodney, and Ted, as of the last time we spoke, was close to engaged to a different Jen, and I wish them all the love and happiness in the world.

Sarah…

The fourth girl I met was roommates with a friend of mine. Though she was at the soccer game, she gave me the cold shoulder the whole time, and I didn’t actually meet her until the following weekend. Her name was Sarah. She had dark red hair, frizzy and curly, with very light freckles. She was the most beautiful girl to ever give me the time of day. It just took her a few days to do so.

and Keven…

Kevin was a tall and well built, and well chiseled, friend of mine. His story is this, he loves God, is on a foreign mission trip as I write this, but is one of the crudest individuals I know. I don’t remember how we met, but I remember we parted ways shortly after he joked about something inappropriate involving my mother. I’m sure whatever you can imagine he said is only almost as bad as what was spoken in actuality. He always made me laugh, but it won’t be a bad thing if we never speak again. Some friends are like that.

My friend Tyler was there as well. My Judas, although I am no Jesus, nor was his betrayal as significant. I confessed to him a sin of mine, and he told the exact people that I wanted this to be kept from. He did it knowing it would hurt me, because he was mad at me for my sin. He was envious as well, that it was my sin, and not his. He discovered something that could have died of old age, but decided to drown it in boiling water, making sure it’s end was quick and painful. It breaks my heart the things that he did, but that is another story for another time.

Jen had a proposition for me. Her parents had a house not an hour and a half away, and it was tradition to gather students and visit for the weekend. They always had something to do, like ride horses, BBQ, or play Xbox with her older brother. To do this, to go to a complete stranger’s house, was was very much out of my comfort bubble. I didn’t do such things.

So I went. I had a car, which helped a lot, because half the people wouldn’t have been able to go if I didn’t own a vehicle, and that includes myself. We planned on leaving right after lunch on Friday, because Fridays were half days for the entire college. This much is true. Plans change, and we ended up leaving a little later, putting us up there after dark. That is when I met HIM for the first time.

Jen’s father: Jim H. He was a slightly portly fellow, with a buzzed head, a peppered pastor’s beard (which was fitting because he was a pastor), and a kind smile. We shook hands, and I liked him instantly. Shortly after I met his wife, Vanessa. I became quite fond of her because she was young, her being slightly younger than forty whilst having children in college. In this way, she reminded me of my own mother, and in doing so became a sort of second mom.

We stayed the whole weekend, and did such things as riding horses with Bonnie and Clyde (friends of the family that owned a large enough property as to keep Jim and Vanessa’s horses), throwing burgers on the BBQ, and playing Fight Night Round Four with her older brother.

It was the perfect getaway. We had study sessions, homemade food, I slept out under the stars on a cot. I learned how to ride horses, and raced Sarah (whom was a semi-pro). Sarah and I eventually became more than friends. She was there with me that day, innocent to the evil that conspired around her.

The courthouse in Carrollton is pretty easy to find, if you ever decide to go. It sits right in the middle of the park, right in the middle of town. If you romanticize a small Midwestern town’s courthouse, you will imagine about what one would find in Carrollton. Much of the rafters, pillars, and railings were carved of not so recently polished wood, and almost everything in the building groaned when touched, walked upon, or sat upon. We sat and watched the proceedings in Southern Baptist pews.

Before I knew sat on the uncomfortable wooden bench, I knew next to nothing about the case, and I knew a lot less about the man. I sat down on the uncomfortable wooden bench (with Sarah, my then girlfriend in hand) thinking that I was sitting in defense of a man who was wrongfully accused by a spoiled brat; by an attention whore. He had been there for her in her time of need, then at the coaxing of her friends, she turned back at him with false accusations of inappropriate behavior. The situation escalated, and now he was in court.

The court sentence had almost no proceedings, so I learned very little. That day was his defense, and his sentencing. His defense consisted of character witnesses, and a time line of “I have been a pastor at X church for X amount of years and have befriended X amount of students (waving behind him at us) who have come out to show their support.” That we had. Some old evidence was brought up again. Evidence of certain 900 number phone calls, certain confessions he had written while under the duress of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Also his plea of guilty.

The girl, the prosecutor, the victim: I can’t tell you her name even if I wanted to. I only remember it was something generic, like Kelly, or Jennifer, Stacy, or Susan. I’m legally obligated to remain quiet about any details regarding her identity. She was fourteen when she was raped by the man sitting a few pews down. She was not present that day, but was replaced by her lawyer (a very poor-spoken state appointed attorney), a social worker, and her entire extended family. I felt bad for them, and felt bad that they though all of us on this side of the courtroom were horrible people. Maybe they didn’t feel that way, though. Maybe they felt the same as I.

The truth started to unfold before our eyes. It was so obvious, at the time, but remember, we were there with a different understanding of the situation. Sarah and I asked Bonnie why the guilty plea, if he was being falsely accused.

“According to the law, when he hugged her, it is considered Sexual Misconduct, so he is pleading the lowest form of guilty that he can.” The web of lies was so thick I wonder now if she actually believed it. Of course I had no idea that she was having sex with Jim, or that Clyde knew about it, and would turn to the bottle instead of facing the situation. She was the first character witness, describing her own shady past, and explaining how false the accusations were, how riddled with inaccuracies the news stories were. Her witnessing, though done with good intentions, probably hindered more than helped. It was uneven, unstructured, and she ended up breaking down crying.

She second character witness, Amy, was shady at best. She was a 19 year old former student of the College, and, upon grievances with her parents, moved in with Jim and Vanessa. In her testimony, she bended the truth while remaining plausible, and kept a confident smile the entire time. Of course I didn’t know that she was having sex with him. Maybe at the time, I don’t know, but certainly within the few years that followed.

His sentence came down to prison time, or four years of no tolerance parole.

He achieved parole, most likely due to me. And the others around me, that were deceived into supporting a monster.

Back at the College I was speaking with Ted about the whole case. He was furious. His girlfriend, Jim’s daughter, had no idea about the things her father had done. She knew about as much as we knew. But her love for her father could never be broken. Even now, I’m worried that these words will jeopardize our friendship. It’s a part of her past I’m sure she wishes to forget.

“How do you think it went?” Ted asked me that night.

“Good. I’m glad he didn’t do jail time. Don’t you think?”

“Yes…” he answered hesitantly. The next part he chose he words carefully. “I believe he got what was best for him, because I don’t think jail will change him.”

It was at this point that my vision of him was a man that had made a few mistakes, being in a position in the community where he couldn’t make those kind of mistakes, and was deeply regretful of all his actions.

Ted continued, “Have you looked at the evidence against him?”

“I’ve only known him a month. Almost everything about this I learned tonight.”

“The confession he wrote while under supposed PTSD is disgusting. I’m very open minded, and I found it shocking.”

“I haven’t read it. In fact, I don’t know a whole lot about this case.”

“Did you read the newspaper article? The one that got him fired from the his last church?”

“No.”

“It’s online. All you need to do is Google his name.”

I did. And I read.

My prayers went unanswered. Maybe a more spiritual man was needed to pray a louder prayer, to be heard amongst the others, wicked prayers prayed with pure hearts and good intentions. True Justice was not to be found that day.

Perhaps he has asked God for forgiveness. And perhaps God has given it to him. And if God can forgive, I guess so can I.

That is the end of the story, but I have some follow up notes. I Googled his name again, and came up with a few more recent articles. His mug shot was posted right under the large title Voice to Stop Baptist Predators. Apparently he was the poster child for a pedophile in the church. Jim’s no nonsense parole is a lot more flexible that the judge made it out to be. I could fill pages with how often he broke his parole almost immediately after sentencing. Once he attempted to but a house that was too close to an Elementary school. Another time his daughter in law and Amy went though his computer to double check he didn’t have any pornography, a task his parole officer was supposed to do on a regular basis. It was so full of porn that it took them all morning to erase it. They did not tell me everything they found, but told me he was without limits in sexual desires. It was like reading a book in the old testament about entire cities being burned to the ground. They had to purge the straight, the gay, the preteen, the elderly, and the little nude boys made to look like Harry Potter (the one example they chose to share with me). He was not to have unsupervised access to the internet, but of course he had direct access to the internet, and used it most hours of the day. He spent increasingly longer periods alone with Amy. Amy confessed to me the lies she told in in court that day, and it was then that I knew they were sleeping together (confirmed by another source later). Jim would miss lie detector tests, fail the ones he went to, not inform businesses or churches of his registered sex offender status, and move without mentioning it to his parole officer.
Like I said, pages. And he never changed. Nothing was more frustrating than slowly learning how sick he truly was, and watching him not change.
I remember a conversation I had with Sarah.
“You going to Jim and Vanessa’s this weekend.”
“No, I really can’t.”
“Do you care if I go?”
“Sarah, I don’t think you should spend any time alone with Jim right now.”
“Why not?” God I loved her; she was so innocent that the evils of the world had a slow time trying to get at her. I didn’t have the heart to break hers, so I lied, sort of.
“Because of his parole. It wouldn’t be the best situation for either of you if a bunch of girls came over to stay with him.”
“Oh, your right, I didn’t even think about that.”
It wasn’t until a month later, lying next to her on a couch, watching movie credits roll, that I told her the awful truths about Jim. She was in tears by the end. She felt betrayed, and foolish. Everything seemed so obvious once a different lens was taken to the courthouse, the lens that showed Jim guilty.

I have had many relationships end poorly, but none has made me more jaded to love or more closed off to affection than my relationship with Jim.

Gaps for Kassey pt. 2 – Butterflies in the Mist

The sun had been up for two and a half hours, yet it was already insanely hot. North Carolina always had a history of humidity, but it was ridiculous in the Spring. I slammed a four ounce bottle of water like it was a shot of whiskey at a bar. I reached into my over sized cargo pocket, and did the same with three more. I was still thirsty, but I had no more water. I looked at my watch.

My companions and I had been working for five hours on what had been respectfully called “Baggage Detail.” It was our job to assist with the transportation of the baggage of a deploying unit. The job started at the unit’s company area, at 3:00 A.M., where all the families were gathered to say goodbye. We would make a sort of assembly line from the piles of baggage to the back of an LMTV, which is less silly than calling it a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle. The ruck sacks and duffel bags weighed on average 120 pounds.

We spent the rest of the morning unloading the baggage from the LMTVs onto a large flatbed baggage carrier. This was in the parking lot of the airstrip, an airstrip named the Green Ramp. Our duties were supposed to have ended there. We were tired, and we just wanted to enjoy our Saturday, like the rest of our peers. But all of us knew that because we were still waiting, and because of the characteristic laziness of many Air Force personnel, we would have to stay and load the baggage from the carriers onto the birds as well.

We didn’t finish until 1:00 in the afternoon, and even then, the bus’ battery died, leaving us stranded for another hour. But the story isn’t about the work we did. It’s not even about me at all.

This story is about a story; one that was told in the in-between times.

It was too hot to just sit on the bus, so we stood in it’s shade, swapping stories, smoking cigarettes, and sipping on Full Throttles.

The gear of a soldier is never “as is,” per se. Let me explain, when you are given an E-tool (a small shovel that folds into itself), you don’t just put it in it’s pouch, you must tie a lanyard to it, to the pouch, and to the ruck sack. You are taught to do this with everything: magazine pouches, optical scopes, night vision, water canteens. The reason behind this is that while moving through the woods, or jumping out of planes, items can become detached, and lost. Equipment becomes snagged on other equipment.

While on deployment, there was a boy who was attempting to get into the back of a truck. Out of laziness, forgetfulness, or stupidity, he had forgotten to tape down the pull pin on his grenade. It snagged on a piece of the truck, and was pulled out.

Now the anatomy of a grenade is this. There is an explosive chemical called a filler inside in a steel ball called a body, with the primer attached to a four second fuse. The fuse only ignites if the little Butterfly clip is released. The Butterfly clip is only released if the pin is pulled, and the clip is released. Though pulling the pin does not ensure detonation, the trigger device for the fuse is extremely sensitive. While holding the clip in place, something as subtle as shifting your fingers, called “Milking”, could ignite the fuse, if the safety pin is pulled. At grenade ranges, if the range instructor sees you milking your grenade, he will repeated bash your hand onto the edge of the concrete bunker, until you drop the grenade on the other side of the wall. Then he will shove you into the dirt and wait for the fireworks.

The point is this. If you are vice gripping a grenade, and you pull the pin, it’s not the end of the world. You reinsert the pin, or you throw the grenade. If it is on your person, in your loose grenade pouch, designed for easy removal in combat situations, detonation is almost guaranteed. You then have four second to take a breath, and say a prayer.

The end of your world.

The squad leader, who was helping his soldiers into the back of the transport vehicle, saw what happened, and without hesitation, put a boot the chest of the soldier, and kicked him out the back. He screamed for everyone to take cover, which they attempted as best they could in the small space. There was a boom, a red mist, and then nothing. The soldier was dead.

So it goes.

Everyone nodded, and the stories continued. They had heard or seen worse. Even I had heard or seen worse. Yet out of all the stories I’ve ever heard, this one is forever etched in my mind.

I made the comment to my friends that it must have been a hard decision to make. They were all quick to retort that it was the only decision to make. I tried to explain that the types of decisions weren’t mutually exclusive. It was in vain. They had already moved on to different stories, with more tragedy, and more lives lost.

I hated my tendency for empathy, especially in the Army. I could feel the boot in my own chest. The few seconds of my life where I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I was going to die. The idea of such helplessness is overwhelming. I am in such control over every aspect of my life that such a thought ties my stomach in knots. My heart will refuse to beat, just once, to remind me that I’m still alive. That I no longer have to worry about such things.

I was talking with a close friend of mine, Adam, about the event. He agreed that it was a hard decision, and he agrees that it was the only decision, but he said as a leader he would have felt a tremendous amount of guilt. Only there was nothing to with that guilt. He couldn’t be mad at himself for saving so many lives, he could only be mad at the victim. A victim of his own stupidity. Carelessness.

In his words, “I would be, like, f*** you for making me feel like s*** for killing you.” The thought may be strange, but there’s not much more you can do, so I said I suppose so.

Gaps for Kassey pt. 1 – Bullets

The flight was exhausting. It was almost midnight. Usually I extend the effort to find a decent conversation, but I wasn’t in any sort of condition to talk to anybody, let alone a stranger. The events of a few hours before continued to run through my mind. It was my dad dropping me off at Denver International Airport. It was when I said I love you, that I was close to losing control. When my voice almost cracked, I was terrified that my deceit was exposed. When the tears almost entered my eyes, I was afraid that he would know, just like I knew, that it could be the last time he would ever hear those words from me. Or any words for that matter.

I’m glad for the window seat on the plane. Almost everyone was asleep, so no one saw as I tucked my head in the corner and silently wept.

I picked up four bags from the baggage claim. Everything I owned was stuffed into one military canvas duffel, one cheap blue walmart duffel, and a gigantic backpack. It was the third time in as many years that I had to pack up my entire new life and start from scratch.

I hailed a cab. It was past midnight. I asked him to take me to the train station. My train south didn’t leave for another seven hours, but I planned on getting my first few hours of rest that night on a hard wooden bench in the train station.

The cabbie, with a thick German accent, asked me which train station? I swore in my head, and told him I didn’t know. He hesitated. The last time I was at a train station in Chicago I was in sixth grade, and the only name I could remember from that trip was Penn Station. While I was at Penn Station, in New York, in the sixth grade, I happened to be reading Cat & Mouse by James Patterson, in which the infamous serial killer Gary Soneji kidnaps an infant in his escape from the hero detective, and disguises himself cleverly before slipping away on a departing train. There is even an ominous train right on the front cover. So the name stuck, and I had to tell the driver that I had no idea the name of the train station in Chicago. He apologized and informed me that it was his first day driving a cab in Chicago.

Perfect.

He TomTom’d the location, and asked if Union Station sounded familiar. I told him yes, and told him it was the station I thought was in D.C. I still might not have been wrong, as there is a Union station in Denver and L.A. We took off, and I watched all of the cash in my pocket slip away on the meter. We pulled up to the station just four dollars short of wiping me clean. I paid my driver after thanking him, and he took off.

That’s when I noticed the crowd huddled on the sidewalk outside the station. When I inquired as to what they were doing, they told me that the train station was closed, and they kicked everyone inside out into the cold. It was March, so the Chicago nights were still bitter, especially with the wind.

A man started shouting at me. He was a skinny black man, poorly dressed, a little dirty but not homeless dirty. He pegged me as Military right away, which wasn’t difficult considering the clean shave, haircut, and luggage. He introduced himself, and said his brother was in the army. He asked me if I was interested in finding a hotel room. He needed to split the cost of a hotel room, to get his old lady and baby out of the cold. All I cared about was that he had a car.

My new friend helped put my luggage in his trunk. I sat in the back while his girlfriend drove. She was also black, skinny, and poorly dressed. I asked if they new of any hotels in the area, like a Hilton or Holiday Inn. They said no, those places were way too expensive, and they knew a place called the Jefferson Hotel that was right around the corner from Union. Fair enough, I said.

The door they stopped in front of was in the middle of a block, and the only sign it had indicating it was a hotel was a small paper sign tapped to the glass on the front door.

The check in counter was enclosed with reinforced glass, maybe bullet proof I didn’t know. There was a plump woman behind the counter. I politely asked her if she had any rooms available. She said it was fifteen dollars a night.

Perfect.

She said that she can’t take a credit card, only cash.

Perfect.

I looked around, and saw a living room sized lobby filled with minorities (only, in this part of Chicago I was definitely the minority), most prematurely aged by heroine, or crack. This was obviously the perfect place to deal out of. I was the only white guy in the entire building, and probably the only one that wasn’t high, and that includes my newfangled companions. Obviously the four dollars in my pocket couldn’t cover even the worst hotel rooms, which I’m sure the Jefferson had to offer, so we left to find an ATM. I tried telling him that my card was frozen, that I couldn’t withdraw money, just make purchases. He tried telling me that it wouldn’t hurt to try.

While I was at the airport a few days prior, flying into Colorado, I tried emptying my bank account through an ATM, just because I needed to deal in cash, and there isn’t an actual Bank of America anywhere near Ft. Collins. The attempt triggered a security measure (they assumed the card was stolen) and the card was locked. It was a debit card, so with my pin I could make purchases, but any cash withdrawal, included “cash back” at walmart. Later I was thankful that it was the bank watching out for me, and not the military cutting me off. Civilians are and always will be much easier to deal with.

Sure enough, even at a Bank of America ATM, I couldn’t get cash out. So we stopped at a 24 hr grocery store. I received wicked stares as I walked through the store with my friend. I needed a Gatorade, and he needed snacks for his baby. For his daughter, that I hadn’t seen yet.

I asked him where she was. He hesitated, and said with his mother, with her nanny. He was lying. I was tired, so I didn’t care. It was one thirty in the morning.

Apparently snacks for his baby meant Sunny D and Ice Cream bars. Get his baby out of the cold, while feeding her ice cream. I guess it made sense to him. It occurred to me that I had at least $2,000 worth of stuff in my bags, and that if they were smart they would run off with it. But no, I had money, cash, the good kind, and I was their meal ticket. They wouldn’t ditch me as long as I had the money that they wanted. Though once the credit turned into cash I knew they could try and mug me for it. But I was Military, six feet tall, who knows how dangerous. Plus I was a nice guy. Even in their coked out minds they understood that money was much more likely to find it’s way to them if they just helped me out.

The trick worked at this small grocery store in Chicago, and I was able to secure $60 in cash. I asked them to just take me to the Holiday Inn. Are you sure? Yes, I said. I am very, very sure.

The car wouldn’t start. The woman started shouting, because she knew that she shouldn’t have turned the car off. She knew it wouldn’t start again. They popped the hood. Their battery cables were loose so I held it on while she started the engine. The engines roar masked my sigh of relief.

As we drove around the maze of one way streets, we passed a corner cafe. I counted at least seven squad cars, and two ambulances. There were policemen like ants covering up and down the block, with little pen lights, peering into alleyways, canvasing, searching for something. Or someone. They were trying to interview a screaming woman in a white apron. I saw her eyes shut tight and her mouth in a grimace, like a smart alec child acting goofy for a photo, except her face was covered in tears that even at the distance I saw reflect the flashing blue and red lights. I saw a body under a white sheet being pushed by two paramedics. My first instincts told me that it was a robbery gone wrong. Or a robbery gone right from the criminal’s point of view. The way the cops were looking around the area, I was sure he escaped. We didn’t stick around to find out much more than that.

I remember everything so vividly, because the sight hit me with a dose of reality, and I knew that I wasn’t invincible. I was incredibly vulnerable in an incredibly dangerous situation. I knew that I could die.

Perfect.

They dropped me off at the Holiday Inn, even helped me carry my bags in. The door man was very worried that my friends would be joining me. He didn’t have to say anything, but I saw the uncomfortable look in his face. He was unwilling to touch the unclean. I had been around worse, maybe even done worse, been in worse places than my companions. For one night, he was my brother, and she my sister. Which was appropriate, because it was the first night in my entire life that I didn’t have a family. Or so I believed at the time.

I gave my new family fifty dollars, leaving me with fourteen. They asked for more, but I told them that I still had to eat. Their daughter I never saw; I believe she exists somewhere, but I am almost without a doubt that the only person who saw any of my money was the nearest crack dealer.

They settled me in a room for eighty-four dollars, with their express conditions (no check out). The room was five stories up, had a single bed and a large shower. Before stripping off my clothes and passing out on the king-sized bed I made sure I knew the direction in which I needed to walk in the morning. By the time I closed my eyes it was a little past two, and I had less than four hours to sleep before checking out. Before exhaustion overwhelmed me, I heard two consecutive gunshots outside my window.

Perfect.