Thursday, March 5, 2009

Esse Quam Videre

On Halloween I went to a party at the American Embassy in Rome. I thought it would be rebellious to wear the costume of a soldier, so I put something together with what I had: imitation combat boots, brown slacks, and a rotting camouflage t-shirt. It was not enough that I wore tarnished mirrored aviators, I also smoked a large cheap cigar. The bar was serving Mickey's malt liquor, in a costume-appropriate "grenade" bottle, and I quickly became intoxicated. The party sprawled out over a large open terrace, where I fell into a tree and asked someone’s date for a dance. I lost my sunglasses. I was asked to leave.

The neighborhood was quite a long way from our lodging, and a group of us staggered out into the street. The night was damp and cold and Roman. One of our party jumped me from behind and I ran, carrying him piggy-back for a few lurching steps until I stumbled. My arms were held; I fell and hit my face directly on the sidewalk. There was an ugly splat of blood on the pavement and I could feel wet blood and flecks of gravel on my face. My head was ringing. Rage, self-pity and adrenaline brought me quickly to my feet. The pale yellow streetlights held glowing halos in the watery air. The wedding cake loomed behind me, immense and inert.

I leaned forward into my anger, howling, destroying my voice, clenching my fists, slowly but distinctly screaming "I'm disfigured! Look at me! Look at me! Go ahead, just look! I know what you're thinking! It's funny to you fuckers; you don't have to live with this!" and on like that—genuine theatrics. The members of my group were laughing, some uncomfortably, others more comfortably. I attacked my assailant but his size and strength allowed him both to defend himself and remain good-natured at the same time—smirking drunkenly and speaking in palliative tones. With no clear plan of action, I knew only that I very much wanted to kill him.

Some Italians pulled up in a luxury convertible to see what the matter was. I approached the car and said,

"Laugh! Go ahead, laugh! That's what you want to do! It's fucking funny—hilarious—when you see an otherwise intact human with his fucking brains spilling out of his head!" (Nonsense, though my nose was broken and I had a good scrape and bruise over my right eye.) I continued shouting after them as they sped off.

I was hustled by my party onto a big red Roman bus. These buses have tires, but run on prescribed tracks with elevated electrical wires, and are open like trolleys. As we passed over the river and up the hill I assumed a reserved air. In a stage-whisper, I repeatedly told my assailant I intended to kill him. When we gained our lodging, I ran up the staircase ahead of him, turned, and sprung diagonally down through the air with my arms outstretched, aiming for his neck. He caught me bodily and set me down. He smuggled me to my room with the assistance of no small part of the group, where I awoke in the morning fully clothed, my bloody face stuck to the pillow. I did not speak until late that afternoon.

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