“It was as if though he had boarded a very long train, heading into a drowsy future, deep in the unfathomable night.”
– 2046, directed by Wong Kar Wai
It was late when I left the club, leaving behind the throbbing electro-rock and gyrating forms across the dance floor, emerging out into the dead of night.
The city streets of San Francisco at dark is a wondrous sight. Its many sidewalks, filled with pedestrians by day, remained unoccupied and quiet. Had I become more familiar with its atmosphere and culture, perhaps I would have enjoyed wandering through the towering spires of its corporate buildings. A stranger, unfamiliar to its night life, I remained vigilant as ever – after all, only a few nights before I had experienced more than one near altercation.
There had been no consumption of liquor that evening. I never drink when I play. Admittedly I was drunk off the adrenaline that coursed through my veins, wide awake and hyper alert to my surroundings. It was a pleasant feeling, that euphoric high that is created through the unspoken activities, and with it came a sense of boldness and thorough encouragement.
It was a necessity apparently – the feeling of loneliness, trapped far away in a place that was vast yet potentially hazardous, kept me on edge at all times. In the days I had spent there in the Golden City, my thoughts returned always to the past, no doubt a means to escape from the infinitely vast horizon up ahead. In hindsight, that same doubtfulness made me hesitant to exploration, left me in want to the satisfactions that I sought. What little comfort I found came from the support of others, strangers entirely, but always in solitude my mind continued to question the long road ahead.
By coincidence I was trapped that evening out in the middle of the city. I had left too late to catch the BART transit which had shut its gates mere minutes before my arrival. I pleaded for a while with the officer, who shook her head, and denied me entry to the last train. Without any personal transport, I was hopelessly lost in the city and far away the shouts and screams of the hidden population echoed throughout the barren streets. Surrounded by these things, I became very much afraid.
Eventually as I wandered through the desolate streets, Annabelle kept close in hand, I found my way to the only source of well-lit activity: a Greyhound terminal. Though I tried to gain access into the waiting room, the security guard barred me from entering on the grounds that I was not a passenger. Likewise if I were to enter, I would also be considered loitering and therefore would also be committing an offense. I was furious from the dilemma I was in. It would cost a fortune to take a cab all the way across the East Bay, to where I was couch surfing then.
The only other option would have been to catch a bus into Oakland. The residents had always warned me about the area at night. When the bus pulled in, the driver took one look at me, and asked, “Are you sure you want to take this bus? Oakland is the final stop.” Unable to argue, tired and frustrated, I decided to remain at the terminal and wait for the BART to reopen again.
At a quiet area nearby the lit Greyhound terminal, I made my way to the smoking area and shouldered my belongings; struggling to stay awake, feeling the adrenaline wear off, I held Annabelle close against my chest and began to drift off. I was afraid, what with the addicts shouting everywhere, but more than anything I was also upset at my poor decisions.
I was upset that I had been carried away with my petty debaucheries that I was stranded.
I was upset that I had not planned my trip that evening more thoroughly.
I was upset that I had came up with these stupid decisions to leave my home.
I was upset, most of all, at why on earth I even began this ‘journey’ in the first place.
From the corner of my eye, a figure approached me and against the glare of the terminal lights, I struggled to make their appearance. I leveled Annabelle slightly and sat upright. He held what appeared to be a stick in his hand; over his shoulders, grizzled with faded camouflage, were patches over his chest. His appearance did not seem unlike the homeless I had met in passing, I wondered if he too was an addict or if he would ask me for change.
Without warning, he sat down across from me and mumbled.
I was young.
They say young people make a lot of mistakes especially newcomers. Sometimes things just happen, bad things happen to good people all the time, no? Sometmes they unfold so quickly that there’s no way to control it but simply endure.
By enduring, grow stronger.
I asked him where he was from and he said Queens, New York. Former Vietnam vet. Lost his wife, he said mumbling, wife of twenty odd years.
Yeah? I’m currently heading to New York. Just seeing the world is all. What are you doing out here?
He leaned the stick to the side and lit a cigarette, blowing out the smoke.
He said Vietnam didn’t kill him. Oakland probably wouldn’t kill him. He’s walked through Harlem at night and that didn’t kill him.
He said he just wants to see his wife again.
You’re a disappointment.
You aren’t good enough.
You aren’t pretty enough.
You aren’t popular enough.
You can’t because its not allowed.
You won’t make it.
Your father, rest his soul, would be ashamed.
You can’t be trusted.
You’re too arrogant.
You’re a liar.
A video game once said: In a hall of mirrors, built by liars, I am a pale reflection of myself.
I’m stronger than you. I just kicked your guts out from under you.
I’m too fast, too bold, and you won’t beat me.
I’m better looking than you could ever hope to be, see the way they look at me.
I’m tough. I’ll take you on. I’ll rip your fucking heart out, eat it, and laugh as you go down, still wanting.
I’m two thousand years of genetic ancestry trapped into some malevolent form that isn’t afraid to do as I wish.
I’m you. I’m that little voice inside your head that says look at him and see yourself, that part of you that used to be alive, but shrivelled and died. I don’t want to go where you’ve been.
Look at me.
When you talk to me, you will look at me.
I’m a beautiful fucking creature. I’m a destroyer of worlds.
I’m a man in a mask.
Beneath that mask, I’m just that.
“That’s a nice flag you got, bro.” I looked up, pocketing my camera again. “What is it?”
Its the leather pride. BDSM. You know, people who consensually tie each other up, engage in sadomasochism.
The man laughed. He was well built. “Dude, that’s fucking sick. You need help.”
Yeah, whatever, pal.
“I can help. Give me that flag.” He said, reaching out for it.
Immediately I stepped away. No, I replied firmly.
He took another step forward, reaching out. “What? What if I took it from you?”
It was in the afternoon when I heard the screams.
People walked by, groceries in hand, messenger bags over the shoulder, ignoring them. A part of me felt that I should probably leave it too. Maybe it was another ploy to pilfer me of change and guilt trip me whenever I declined to give any. It was a different kind of scream, the kind that is desperate and it caught my attention right away.
“Oh God! Please, won’t anybody help? I can’t get up!” The voice cried out. “Please, I’m starving! Please help! Help!”
They were coming from a large man, dressed in dirty clothes, hugging his stomach nearby the concrete. I reached into my satchel and pulled out a bottle of water and told him to drink slowly. He poured them over his lips, which were chapped from the heat like mine, and thanked me repeatedly over and over again, God bless and all that.
I said, no worries, here have the rest of my lunch.
He tore at it with the ravenous hunger of some starved animal, more of a beast than a man. I saw him blink back tears as he ate, sniffing and choking, thanking me between mouthfuls of lukewarm bread.
Suddenly he reached out and grabbed my foot. He pulled his head towards my shoes and lowered it to kiss them, tongue outstretched as if to lick them, and I recoiled in horror. He bowed his head to the pavement, called me an angel, thanked me for saving his life. I snapped at him, told him never to do that again, and that thanking me was enough.
He was a big man, white, probably in his late twenties, and in his eyes he had the look of complete elation. He thanked me under the name of Jesus Christ, the Lord, and all the saints of Christendom and clasped his hands in gesture. He had starved for three days straight after a man took his bag, after a group of young men kicked him in the park, and today the heat made him collapse and lose the feeling to his feet. Had I not stopped to check up on him, he would have passed out, probably die.
What’s your name, I asked?
“Andrew.” He said, which were the names of a former classmate, a kinkster, a coworker, a family friend. “My name is Andrew.”
I reached out to shake his hand and saw that his fingers were caked in dirt, nails broken somewhat. He was in bad shape. I asked him if he needed any first aid, carrying a kit with me at all times, but he declined.
How long have you been out here like this? I asked.
Eight months, he replied, and from Wisconsin.
How did you wind up out here? I asked.
His girlfriend, fuck her solid with an axe if his story is to be believed, accused him of rape when he threw her out after she cheated on him. Upon hearing the story, his family and friends disowned him, and he never managed to recover from the accusations. He had an alibi but the whole damn community was against him, after him. He lost his job and home in an instant, gathered what little savings he had and turned out west. One night, he lost it all when his first bag was stolen and he tried to find work but they needed some kind of reference from past employers, who all hated him, and he failed to find any.
He started dumpster diving, scrounging cans, tried to make friends and got addicted to heroin to get away from it all. He lost himself to vice in a short period of time, collapsed, tried to kill himself. He went to rehab and shelters and he’s still out here.
One night, Andrew says never looking away, a group of men in an alley – seeing him as being big and strong and handsome, wanting to prove a point, attacked him. First they beat him into submission, then they held him down, put garbage plastic into his mouth and raped him. He tells me that he recovered from that, that he probably has AIDS or HIV or some type of venereal disease because of it, and that he thanks God that I showed up and gave him food.
He’s innocent if his story is to believed. Andrew has this look on this face that he’s all too aware of that.
He then points out that my mouth is still open and the cigarette in my fingers has nearly burnt to the tip.
I am a flag carrier. I have been carrying this fucking flag with me all this time, all the way from Canada. I am proud of my culture.
Normally I would have folded it carefully but in that moment, I stuffed it into my satchel, raised Annabelle in both hands and met his gaze. The man hesitated. People were watching. It seemed likely an altercation would take place.
If you want this flag, come and take it from me!
I dare you.
He didn’t and backed down.
From out of the corner, a hispanic man joined us, sat down on the smoking bench and lit up a cigarette. First, apologizing for interrupting our conversation, he told us his name. I forgot it.
Afterwards I asked where he was going to. He replied, San Diego.
Yeah? Family and friends out there?
No, he replied, not really.
What are you doing out here, I asked.
He explains that three weeks ago he discovered his wife of ten years had been cheating on him. She woke him up in the middle of the night, sat down and explained that she was pregnant with another man’s child. They had been seeing each other for about a year.
He was furious. He wanted to hit her right then and there, which I could understand, but he knew that would only make things worse. Instead he began to pack his bags and while she asked where he was going, he said anywhere but here.
He adds that they have three kids. He believes in God and order and divine work, so he prays every single day for an answer, asking simply how to get out of this situation. He found work recently, made a few hundred dollars, but now he’s only got two hundred.
He’s not sure when he’s going home but he just wants to leave for a while before sorting things out.
He bowed his head, excused himself, and wandered off inside the Greyhound terminal.
The world was spinning wildly out of control.
I coughed and retched, hands pressed over the bathroom walls, and felt the nicotine burning inside my lungs. I had drank too much, smoked too quickly, and somewhere in the dank washroom stalls I was coughing it all out. Drool ran down my mouth, my eyes stung and my stomach had knots inside of it.
Outside the music of a salsa club throbbed against the entrance. My friend had taken me to a salsa club and he was an older gentleman, whom I befriended during my post-secondary courses. My grades were shit after high school, I needed the extra credits for college, and somewhere in that friendship I wandered off in search of company with people I never connect with.
I felt sick of everything, the smell of clogged stalls, the alcohol I could taste in the back of my throat. I felt alone, more than ever, unable to find a peace to my world. I hated every moment I spent waking up, unable to determine which direction I would go, and often spent the days between waking, studying and living the toll of ordinary adult life contemplating fate.
My knees began to give out. I didn’t want to sit on the floor which was wet from some kind of liquid, maybe piss, I don’t know. Instead I leaned against the sinks and felt the water seep over my trousers, coughed, and ran off to retch again. This was the best time of my life, I thought, maybe the finality of it all. Just living life, one meaningless shuffle to the next, angry and resentful about my mistakes.
This is just another small price I’m paying for the person I’ve become, like people said, and how wonderful I’m doing just that. Adding to the fact that I was somewhere beyond the suburbs, sick as a dog, this was just some small part of my life that I would never regret. It was wonderful, being alone and disoriented, staggering out there into the parking lot, berating said friend for abandoning me, and eventually passing out in the passenger seat.
It was wonderful, going back home, hating myself for not making the most of things, balled up on the floor of the bathroom and wanting to close my eyes forever. There’s no place for someone with sick fantasies about sadomasochism, someone with a penchant for hot tempered attitudes and being miserable.
Life is pain, I always said.
Life isn’t fair.
It was near morning when the security guard let me in, roughly another hour or so before the transit reopened again. It felt surreal standing out there, thinking about those two gentlemen, and the coincidence of encountering them. I wondered out of the goodness of my heart if somehow I could bring myself to say something.
A woman, draped in a loose coat, crosses patched along her sleeves and a crucifix around her neck sat next to the three of us inside. The news was broadcasting about a mother who gave her eight year old son a .22 rifle as a gift for his birthday and how he shot his two year old sister in the head with it. Everyone was fixated on the news.
I tried being courteous and asked her how she was, where she was going to.
The woman replied that she was visiting from the LA area to see her grandchildren.
She asked me where I was from and where I was going to. I replied simply that I was heading to New York.
She lowered her gaze and said, “Vietnam took my brother and father. Iraq took my son.”
I said nothing.
“I believe in the kingdom of God, that within this year or the next, our president Obama will be cause of the apocalypse, that we’re living in the end of days.” She smiled, turned and looked at me. “I was a nurse for fifteen years, taking care of the sick, getting sick myself. Now I’m sick and won’t recover and I pray to be reunited with them again.”
I continued to remain silent.
“Are you a Christian?” She asked me, politely.
No, but I believe that if God exists and is as merciful as people say, then perhaps he’d understand and forgive certain folks. Given a choice, I said, I’d burn in Hell with my friends if it meant lifting their pain from them.
The Vietnam man looked at me, asked then, “You’re going all the way to New York.
You’ve come a long way. How far have you walked?”
I replied, I don’t know. Too far.
“What are you running from, young man?” The woman asked.
The three of them turned to me then and looked at me intensely. I felt small at that moment, absurdly small for my size, and without thinking the words came out of my mouth.
I’m not running away from anything.
I have hope.
Hope from all the people I’ve met and the people who inspired me in the first place.
I’m running with hope.
Hope is all I have.
I’m running to an unknown future.
That future is looking very, very bright.
I had pulled a muscle trying to put my pants on that morning.
My right wrist ached because of dragging my heavy suitcase along the baking heat of the afternoon, the days prior, somewhere out in Denver. The night before I ate too little, attended a play party, freaked out the hostess when I began to get dizzy and have cold sweat. It was food poisoning from the watermelon which made me gag upstairs.
In Utah, I grit my teeth whenever I participated in a scene, not because I was being flogged or spanked or anything. It was the blisters on my feet from walking, in cheap semi-formal shoes no less, and the weight I applied whenever I was standing still for very long.
Once in Las Vegas, I had returned to my hotel and did not realize I was dragging my feet. At a local cafe, I stumbled and felt dizzy, noticed stars in my eyes and had to sit down. Later I discovered that it was a sign of dehydration, on the brink of heat stroke, and had to spend the entire day drinking water in front of the air conditioner.
Recently in Chicago, an escalator swallowed the tip of my shoe lace, tore off a piece from my leather shoe. I have yet to replace them at some point, but at a recent TNG munch someone pointed out the strange outlandish look it added, along with the impossibility of my journey so far.
Back home in Vancouver, I often carried a cane for appearances. Now it became commonplace that without Annabelle, I was shifting left and right, mostly to keep pressure off my feet. The adrenaline from Top space helps deter the pain from them but not long enough.
All the stories I had heard, from the homeless, from the people in the fetish scenes, from the people outside of it, and elsewhere had an effect. At first, trying to shield it away, I dismissed them and focused on other things. Positive energy, optimism, keeping away from sinking into the feeling of loneliness of traveling alone; trying my best to keep from worrying about matters back home, about family and friends.
I had left in March for reasons other than exploration. The year had been turbulent, full of drama, from friends and family. Relationships fell apart. The catalyst came from a combination of feuds, making human errors, and most of all being in a state where no improvement or resolutions came. In the end, deciding to pursue a single lifelong ambition I had packed my bags and walked out the door.
At first I thought little of my adventures, documenting them by their context, but in time that began to change. Along with that came a minor toll, I began to eat less and found difficulty sleeping; whereas that came in the past from poor sleeping habits, now it came from thinking far too much of metaphysical things, wanting to convey universal thoughts to readers and followers and changing things for the better.
A person at a cafe pointed out, once, that I was staring off blankly as I ate and that it was unnerving to see. They sat down and asked if I was alright and my answers, not wishing to complicate their concerns, were vague and blurred. It seems necessary to suppress my experiences at times lest they resurfaced again at the worst moments.
Levelheaded, I ate solemnly, focusing on the decor and the outside windows. I hadn’t showered or washed my clothes that week, the smell of sweat and cigarettes was remarkably strong. I was tired, checked my eyes, noticed the little bags beneath them. In those moments between parties and wandering, I found comfort at some small trivial part that stemmed from some unremarkable interaction.
It was determination, I believe, that kept me going all this way. Some profound determination that only emerges in sporadic shifts, but for once in my life has remained constant. I quit often, gave up too quickly before, and at times there have been moments of doubts during my travels.
There is doubt at times.
There is, however, no fear or regret.
The road is still quite far ahead.
I’m looking forward to it as it is.
Don’t ever give up.
Don’t ever think for a moment that life is miserable and that you can’t make it. Don’t ever think that you aren’t pretty or smart or strong enough, not able enough, and not suited enough for anything. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that you don’t belong because you’re not skilled enough, not popular enough or simply don’t fit in. Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re alone out there, that you don’t have a place, and don’t let someone ever convince you that you’re not meant to be the way you are.
Don’t ever give in to the idea that you don’t identify with any one culture, that you’re strange and sick because of it, and don’t let anybody fool you into thinking that there’s a definite way to anything.
Know all that you are capable of and all that you can achieve, pursue that ruthlessly, and change it to how you wish to follow. Perceive what truths that call out to you the most and with it, shape your world as you see fit. Know that there will always be people that will love and support you for who and what you are. Put all the love you have for anything and hold onto it, for that is the essence of hope, and if this journey was testament to anything – that it should take me across an entire continent – so much can be said for it.
Know yourself and be yourself, no matter what, because that is integrity and never once forsake that for anything – it is more precious in this day and age, surrounded by so much influences, that even if your culture is shunned or despised, considered taboo or forbidden, live it. True honor is a vigilance to anything that is never once misplaced. Be brave and even the world should despise you for it, be proud of it and nothing will ever break that.
Know yourself and in simply knowing, that it is such a simple thing, there is very little you cannot do.
For the strength, spirit and courage inside of everyone, this flag still stands.