Some of the things you remember when bleeding to death, border on the obscene. A sense of remorse for things you did or didn’t do.
I killed a frog as a kid. I found it in the rocks by the mud puddle outside our swimming pool. I held it in my hands while it tried to escape. Glassy, wet eyes, wide with fear, pried against my palm, struggling against my lifeline. The memory is ephemeral, never coalescing in its entirety, but I remember gripping it tighter as its slimy arrow of a form struggled toward the light.
I fought and I squeezed, back and forth, we struggled; I to keep it from jumping loose and falling to the cement; it to gain freedom.
Bubbles came out of its mouth like a child’s soap wand, except they didn’t float, but instead dripped to the ground. My friend and I thought it funny at the time, until the animal pushed more, forcing me to tighten my grip and again the bubbles came and we laughed. I didn’t think the animal was in pain. We thought it was funny that it was full of air and foam.
The next time it struggled and I squeezed something happened. Something else burped out; a green transparent sac connected with tissue that hung sickeningly from its mouth with amniotic resilience. It didn’t make a noise but sat there in my vice grip, still struggling.
There was this time I was five. My brother was older and bigger than I was by three years. He was a kind child, quiet and satisfied to wander the endless lands that books took him to. He was bigger than Billy Jack too, but that didn’t matter.
I remember Billy Jack, and his memory sticks to my brain like a used condom on the floor of a public restroom. He was smaller than my brother, with long stringy brown hair that hung in oily strands straight down. He was just a kid, but he had a jaundiced menacing look, enhanced by the smell of piss, that intimidated us. On the corner sidewalk, Billy Jack knocked my brother down as he rode past on his bike. I hated watching my brother tumble and crash, his bike clanging to the gritty black asphalt of the street. My brother was wearing shorts and his leg was scraped badly. He was bleeding a red that matched the anger rising with his child’s sense of injustice. Little Billy Jack laughed at my brother, calling him names. Fag. Pig. Nerd. Billy Jack’s friends laughed, if such a creature had friends.
I stood there just looking on. I wasn’t sure what to do. Billy Jack just kept intimidating and insulting, cowing my brother. I stood there and did nothing. I watched.
Steven was the social embodiment of the little fat Jewish kid, complete with black cupid curls and random prepubescent freckles randomly dotting his cheeks in all the wrong places. I was the tether ball champion. I owned the circles around which lines formed to play. I had a special blue and white striped sweat band I wore on my hand, a sign that I was serious about this game and a warning to all the other pretenders on the playground that had aspirations to confront me in my element.
Steven was next in line, but I wanted to play next, so took my place ahead of him and the other children. No one spoke but Steven. He put his hands on me to push me out of the line. I stepped back and football kicked him in the stomach, taking satisfaction in the feeling of my foot sinking into his fat and stealing his breath.
I considered removing the knife, but satisfied myself by poking a finger in alongside of it to see how far it might have gone in. I felt the fleshy lip of the skin flap back to the painful ministrations and what I imagine was the feeling of a thin layer of fat before the sinuous muscles of my abdomen. More blood poured out, and imagined the knife as a ship at a great port city, a crimson tide faded to black in the night that surrounded me. Perhaps now I had lost my innocence, if I ever had it in me.
This was my wedding night, where I was too tired from dancing and alcohol to make love to my new bride, a point of contention that lasted the whole year and a half of our union.
This was my penance for calling Kay King ugly in the third grade. “Kay King, the Ding-a-Ling!” I recited it as a mantra each day at school, not because I had any reason to resent her, but to join the other children in their dislike for her, founded on nothing I was ever aware.
I looked on the irony that actions had affected others, even my friends. Robert. I knew he was schizophrenic. On a trip out to California, he talked of the devil coming out of the television set and reaching for him, drawing him and his sinful nature into some perverted aspect of Dante’s. He had decided to kill himself. As we drove the dusty trail to St. Andrews Abby, I said the only thing I could think of to keep him alive. I told him I was a warrior of God, and that I was there to tell him he must trust in the lord and he would be forgiven and saved. I told him how the devil wanted him to end his life so that he would be denied heaven.
Those words left my mouth like the oily slicks dumped by oil tankers into the Gulf of Mexico, which I imagined was the same tactic used my hucksters and televangelists from the dawn of time to take advantage of the weak and mentally ill. But my purpose wasn’t a conversion and a constant rain of lifetime donations to my cause, but to keep a troubled friend alive.
The end result was the same. He grew to become a fanatic Christian, damning Carl Sagan to hell with the homosexuals in the Pennsylvanian congregation he sought out. I told him later I wasn’t religious, and when he found he couldn’t convert me, we never spoke again.
I had no desire to rise, to find help on the lonely walking trail in the dead of night. Instead I thought to leave a message to the only humans who loved me unconditionally, so I used the waning strength in my arm to dip my finger in the thick tide that flowed like a stream along the pavement cracks. I wrote two names in blood next to my face, which lay comfortably on the sandy pavement and carried the death mask of resignation.
I looked at those names, wondering what men kind of men they would grow into, hoping they would remember me as stern, but kind; recalling the lessons of morality and goodness I worked to instill in them since before they could speak.
It was difficult to keep my eyes open, but I kept them fixed on the names, black in the waning light of the waning gibbous moon hiding just behind the Cottonwoods and Russian Olives. I looked at those beautiful names unable to stir. All physical sensations ceased to affect me, not the knife in my stomach, nor the bruises on my face or head, yet strangely I could still appreciate the slight evening breeze, cool with spring promises, that washed me and bathed me in leaves disturbed from their fall rest.
I couldn’t fail them, I needed to be there in their lives.
That was the moment of one last memory of regret and love.