Waking up from a world of pain was harder than I thought.
I had a condition. They call it a disease, but it’s a neurological quirk where something (in my case a vein) interferes with the trigeminal nerve (which controls your face). The vein strips the nerve and you become susceptible to extraordinary bouts of a white-hot, untreatable, electric nerve pain that’s roughly tuned to your heartbeat…so, of course, it’s constant and unrelenting.
I have many descriptions for the pain, but I get tired talking about it. When I talk about the pain I feel like I’m summoning a demon. Like I’m inviting it back into my life. Speak of the devil and all that.
The pain started in 1995, and it persisted until 2008 when I underwent invasive brain surgery. It took me months to recover physically from the surgery, a year to kick the drug habit the wonderful doctors at Kaiser had made me embrace, and probably about five years to recover psychologically. Though that’s being optimistic… Here I just said that I’m afraid to write about this shit.
While I was in pain, I lied to everyone. I tried to hide it. My mother always taught me that I must hide every weakness – love, fear, faith, pain – or else I would be kidnapped by the agents of evil aligned against us. Agents who would brutally rape me. When you say this – and describe the rape – to an eight year old, the lessons learnt tend to stick. I spent an adulthood unlearning much from my youth…but I also spent an adulthood crippled by pain, and I realized that hiding it was a good thing. I despised people pitying me even while, secretly, I craved it. I despised people treating me differently even though, secretly, I screamed for it. I wanted to be an invalid and just fade away, die under the porch like a dog. Instead I ran headlong into life with a burning desire to prove that I was alive, and that I could achieve great things even when, it seemed, the very universe was aligned against me.
For some reason, people were attracted to my cause. I started Great Society with the idea that it could be some sort of outlet for my anger, my need to express what was going on with me in the relative safety of words. I’ve always felt that here, on the page, you can say and do whatever you want. That’s what Reading Rainbow taught us. The adventure can always continue in a book, and, if you can write, you can craft your own adventures. You can breathe life into characters and send them to Mars, or kill them in a gutter.
It took me a long time to understand that these words can hurt. I was always told that it takes sticks and stones to break bones. I was always told to be a man, to be strong. Words will never hurt me.
But my compatriots in the early days of this blog thought differently. The persona of Nacho so offended them at times that they would rise up against me in sometimes dramatic and hurtful ways. And, in the screaming twilit fog of my chronic pain, I didn’t pay attention or care about the problem. Fuck them if they can’t take a joke. But their resentment at the ideas I presented as Nacho (which, nine times out of ten, were really just about my penis wanting to go to the opera) seemed to drive them mad.
First there was J.B, the guy who ran the webpage. He went crazy one day after 9/11 and was never the same again. It didn’t help that, in December of 2001, I started mocking the tragedy of 9/11. But, then again, we all mocked the life-defining Challenger disaster within a week…
Maybe it was the girl. He started a twisted relationship with K, a writer on the page, and she did her best to pit us against each other. She’d fuck me and tell me all of J.B’s dirty little secrets, and then go fuck him and do the same. She was the sort of girl who sat up all night watching you sleep.
J.B went down this weird path where he quit everything, shaved his entire body, turned into a militant vegan who still ate at fast food joints, and ended up working on a tour boat in the Baltimore harbor. He and K then fucked off to Tennessee and squatted in a burned our building for a few years.
Before J.B left, he insisted that I pay him $1500. And here is a testament to the power of the agony I was going through – I didn’t care about the money. I wrote him a check thinking it was the cost of our continued friendship. Smelling blood in the water, perhaps, he then asked me to pay his utility bills, and then he asked for all my video games. I handed everything over to him and never heard from him or K again.
And then there was J and N. A strange parallel to the J.B/K relationship. I think they were just crazy to begin with and I didn’t need to actually write anything awkward.
N once told me that she was either going to marry me or J and it was up to the two of us (me and J) to choose! The relationship went south in much the same way except that N, who had been brought in on a publishing venture that I had started, took things a step further. Not only did I pay out money to them, but she destroyed all of my files and thousands of dollars of original book plates. She destroyed my mailing list and they held both Great Society and my corporate webpage hostage for more money. At that point, I was paying their utilities, as well, and their Netflix subscription fee. When she destroyed everything and nearly forced my fledgling company into bankruptcy, she said, in reply to my outrage, “Good. You deserve it.” (It would take me 7 years to undo the damage she did to the company.)
When I finally extracted myself from that bullshit and cancelled their Netflix account, J emailed me and said “Good job, asshole.”
Then, every six months, for a decade, N would email me under a series of aliases offering to meet me for sex at various clandestine locations. I never replied. I was then, and remain shocked today, at the level of destruction they committed.
I gave in to the whims of these people – and so destroyed my own credit and my savings for them – for reasons I can’t explain today. I would never do these things. But in the haze of drugs and pain, such actions make sense. When in pain, everything has a machine-like grace. There is no logic, there is only routine. There is only avoidance.
I try to describe myself as I was then and it feels like I’m writing a book report about a character in a book. Every aspect of the pain years was unreal, horrifying, and alien. My so-called friends took advantage of my state of mind for their profit.
But I’ve survived. I’m alive now. I look back on the people who preyed upon me when I was at my weakest, when I thought I was going to die any day, and I wonder how they can live with themselves. Or do they even know what they did? Are they representative of the real, pain-free world? Are they what people are like? If so, I’m not sure it was worth fighting to get to this point of life, to embrace this freedom.