Like the Troubled Sea
I couldn't stop running.
The pain inside that I couldn't explain. My mind chattered relentlessly. My head exploded into shrieking migraine headaches that lingered for days, making me vomit. During these times my head felt like it could split open at the slightest noise or motion.
I tried numbing my brain with drugs -- psychedelics, barbiturates, speed, marijuana, alcohol, tobacco. I tried soothing it with wild music. I sought security in girls. I turned to stealing for thrills. I tinkered with eastern religions and the occult.
Like a terrified animal, I rushed madly into the fire I was trying to escape. At first it felt good, but soon I was trapped, panic-stricken. I couldn't find a way out.
I pursued pain. Painful writing and music. Painful drugs. Painful relationships. Painful memories. I found security in pain. I created my image around pain. I kicked and abused my mind and emotions -- constantly demanding more this time than the time before -- till my mind, emotions, and personality were stretched, bent, and twisted beyond normal human limits.
I emulated poets and musicians who used their pain and rage to gain them recognition. I was the King of Pain, and could out-pain practically everyone I met. I didn't know how to get people to love me, so I used my pain to manipulate them into relationships. But these intensely painful relationships soon burned out, leaving me feeling rejected once again, adding another layer to my intense pain.
I called myself a hippie. But I was so intense that even the hippies thought I was too wild for them. So I ran and ran and ran.
I ran faster and faster, trying to outrun the pain that was waiting for me wherever I went.
Where was I running? I didn't know. I was searching for something. What, I didn't know. But I knew I had to find it.
Or die searching!
Between 1970 and 1974, I drifted aimlessly from New York to California, from Florida to Oregon. Often homeless and penniless, I spent sleepless nights walking the streets, talking to myself, trying to find purpose in life. I would silently cry into the empty darkness, Where is God? Is there a God? What is life? Is there any such thing as love?
A vicious demon whose name I didn't know was devouring my heart, soul, mind, and body. I plummeted deeper and deeper into a bottomless pit. Never had I imagined I would become so destitute. My innocence was gone. I hated myself. I wished I had never been born. When I looked into the mirror I saw the face of a rat. I was the scum of the earth. Strung out. A vagabond. A street punk. A wild monster.
Once I had been a likable person. Now I was defiled, disfigured, and rejected. Most people either despised or pitied me. My soul was raw, bleeding, and infected. Instead of finding the peace I longed for, I was being sucked into the black pit, clawing for something to hold onto.
And I tried to drag anyone with me who would come along.
In December of '72, about two months after Wally's murder, I was considering suicide again. But a kind student from Blacksburg befriended me and renewed my hope a little.
So I struggled on. By the spring of '73, I was desperately lonely. I was living with three other confused youth in an old farmhouse we had rented in the back hills of Virginia. We were living communally and had named this place Planet Earth. We tried finding peace through eating health foods and playing wild music. Many people wandered in and out of Planet Earth.
My emotions swung back and forth between ecstasy and depression. Back and forth, back and forth, up and down, around and around. I built a little compartment under my bed, about three feet tall. I often withdrew there, and thought about how empty, lonely, and hopeless my life was. My body would convulse with sobs. I wept until I was too dry to weep anymore.
But the pain wouldn't go away.
A little boy inside me was crying for love -- an ugly little boy. He was hungry and hurting, trying to find some food, some drug, some music, or some person who could fill that hunger and ease that pain. He was standing in a dark, lonely place, with no Daddy to wipe his tears and no place to call home.
Voices shouted inside the little boy's heart: You're no good! You'll die in the gutter. You're a monster! I wish you were dead!
I tried to silence the shouting inside by screaming. I had read a book called The Primal Scream. In my own words, the book's theory was that if you could scream out all the pain you had been forced to suppress since childhood, you would rediscover your childlike innocence. So I would scream and scream and scream. I didn't care where I was or who was listening. If I felt like screaming, I would scream.
Lustful and violent thoughts tormented me. Intense thoughts, compelling me to commit shameful crimes. When I described these thoughts to my friends, they became frightened and backed away from me. So I went to a psychiatrist. She told me I was dangerous and needed to check into a mental hospital before I hurt somebody. But how could I listen to this little woman who claimed she could help me with my mental problems, while she puffed on cigarettes and spoke to me from behind a makeup-painted face?
I needed help -- but from someone who was real!
While at Marlin's, my hair was still long, to the middle of my back. Since pictures of Christ portrayed him with long hair, I thought it must be Christlike. The brethren tried to explain from the Bible that long hair on a man is shameful. Since Jesus was a perfect example of what the Bible teaches, the brethren believed the pictures must be wrong. I was gradually melting to their appeals, but I didn't let it show on the outside. My ponytail was especially unhandy when it tangled in the wheels of the mechanic's creeper.
Marlin kept after me about my hair. I awoke one morning and told myself, If they say anything today, I'm going to let them cut it. I'm not convinced that long hair is wrong. But I'm so grateful for the love they're showing me, I'm going to let them do it, just for love's sake.
The day passed and Marlin didn't mention my hair. That evening as I was leaving the kitchen for bed, Marlin popped the question.
"When will you let me cut your hair?"
"Right now," I answered.
He must not have heard me, or maybe he didn't believe what he heard.
"The Bible says it's a shame for a man to have long hair."
So I said it again, "Go ahead and cut it."
"What'd you say?"
"I said, 'Go ahead and cut it.'"
Marlin burst into a big grin. He set a stool in the middle of the room and gestured for me to sit. He must have had his barber tools hiding close by, because before I knew it, he had clippers, scissors, and comb in hand, and was plugged in and ready to go.
Marlin pinned an old sheet over me while the family watched. Embarrassed, I closed my eyes, resigning myself to being the object of everyone's attention. I peeked once and saw Marlin and his boys grinning so wide their mouths looked as though they would stretch out of shape. Marlin appeared as though he could float away.
I heard snip, snip, snip. He soon had my ponytail whacked off and placed in my lap.
I groaned a little.
He proceeded to finish the job.
"Hey, don't cut it too short," I complained. "I don't know if I can handle it."
Marlin left my hair a little long. But he had conquered his objective -- my first haircut in more than four years.
The next day I wrapped my ponytail in paper and mailed it to Mary, who was still in New Jersey. All over the paper wrapper I wrote Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha . . .
Excerpts from Weeping May Endure for a Night
© Copyright 1998, Harbor Lights Publishing
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