Justice, freedom, faith, love … so many words from which to choose. Each one and many others like them a starting point for enlightenment and inspiration. But somehow, we never reach the bottom of the well do we? There is always that angle unconsidered, that nuance unaddressed.
When time is your prison, the mind begins to contemplate. It contemplates its own survival. Not just remaining intact or sane, but continuing to grow. In a word, it contemplates living; living and growing in spite of … everything.
Innocence crosses my mind constantly. I'm innocent. I know it and have known it for sixteen years, four months and twenty-four days. Hours? Minutes? I'm not crazy enough to count them. Guilt occupies every molecule and every fiber of my being. And it isn't because I'm feeling it, it's because I have been convicted of it. A jury of my peers has judged me guilty. Peers … ha … I'm not a false accuser. I don't judge based on suppositions, conjecture or little wingless fairies whispering in my ear. No, there were no peers on that jury.
They played Clue and figured that I did it and I used a knife, a Ginsu kitchen knife I bought at the Los Angeles County fair. I laugh now when I think about that knife. I remember walking to my car with that knife held in combat ready the blade forward along my forearm out of sight.
It was dark and several unsavory types dotted the landscape. I carried a giant yellow banana proudly won throwing darts. My wife walked beside me fully secure in the knowledge I would protect her. It amused us both that I perceived danger. We both knew there wasn't any really. We had the kind of fear you get in a haunted house. You jump when the ghost appears out of nowhere, but you laugh because you know there is no danger.
Even though I was ready for anything, I was still startled by the voice appearing behind me. "I'll take that banana, homes, my daughter likes it. You can just drop it as you walk. Don't look back. If you see me then you become my enemy. You become someone that can mess with my life."
It isn't my nature to back down. It isn't my nature to attack either. I'll stand before you neither willing to retreat nor threatening to take action. I'm neutral and my actions depend on your actions.
I turned to face the source of this softly hissed threat. He was big. His wife and daughter were with him. They didn't seem surprised or worried about the turn of events. They stood calmly behind him as though this was business as usual. I dully noted that fact. I should have dropped the banana and continued to our car. But, it isn't my nature to back down.
I handed the banana to my wife. "Hold this, honey", I said calmly. I became keenly aware of the knife handle gripped tightly in my hand. I could feel the blade against my forearm knowing how sharp and lethal it could become. I'd seen it saw a stainless steel rod in half. I can hear the man in the booth still saying, "hardened stainless steel … strong enough to support a hundred pounds of pressure without bending". For some reason that impressed me. I watched him follow that feat by slicing a hard-boiled egg as thin as a piece of paper.
I could feel my anger growing. I wasn't angry that this idiot wanted to take my banana like I was some punk. I was angry that he didn't contemplate the consequences of what he was doing. How could he know whether I was dangerous or not? He made the assumption I wasn't. He didn't realize I had the amazing Ginsu knife at the ready. He didn't know what that blade could do to him if the need arose.
He laughed and smiled at my wife. "You just hand it over to me and keep on going to your car. You're lucky, I should kill him for looking at me. But I know if I let you go unharmed that he won't say a word about this to anyone. Am I right, bro? You won't try and turn me in, will you."
I stood there in silence. I wasn't moving and I wasn't answering. I was waiting. I had gripped the blade even tighter. Fear is a delayed response for me. I allow myself fear only after the danger has passed. And then, I only indulge my fear in private. I don't react until I'm home and my wife is asleep. No one ever sees any sign of fear on me. That can be a powerful incentive not to mess with me. It usually works too.
He paused. I noticed him slipping his hand inside his jacket. A gun? Pretending to have a gun? I realized it didn't make a difference. My wife was telling me something, but I wasn't listening. She walked up beside me with that stupid banana and started to hand it to him. He smiled.
I said, "No."
"You best listen to your lady, home boy. She's smarter than you look."
I thought to myself, that doesn't make any sense. What a moron…
"Are you listening, dude? I'm taking it and going home with my heina and daughter."
"No", was all I had to say.
"No hell, puto". He began to pull his hand out of his coat.
Gun ran through my mind. I knew how to use a knife in a fight. My Uncle Earl taught me, old drunken Earl, Korean War Vet. As the years passed by more and more stories of battles and hand-to-hand combat scenarios came from him. I estimated he killed the entire population of North Korea all by himself. At least that's what the bottle of Gallo wine told him.
Still, what he told me about knife fighting made sense. He said, "Hold the blade along your forearm, that way no matter what your assailant does, he'll get cut. Any direction you go is a cut. He grabs for it, he's cut. You swoop up with your arm" he'd pause and demonstrate each move, "you slice through whatever is in front of you, arm, chest, throat, face. If you miss you come back down stabbing".
I'd never had the opportunity to put his instructions to the test. It would never occur to me to take a knife to anyone. I wouldn't even strike anyone unless he struck me first. No one ever did. Not backing down or moving forward left all the decisions on my tormentor's head. They usually couldn't decide a course of action and left with a false sense of victory, calling me names, but leaving nonetheless.
A moment later, he pulled the gun. I saw it long before it was in a position to shoot. I reacted before thinking or contemplating my next move. The blade of my knife went across his rising hand causing it to drop the gun. The momentum continued up across his chest and through the side of his turning neck. As he staggered backward, I reached down retrieving the gun.
-to be continued-
Part Two Is Already Posted