“If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” Lao Tzu
So, as we used to say in the Navy…this is no shit, it really happened. This time of year, I always feel just the hint of cold breeze at the back of my neck.
I was on the run. In my left boot was a sheathed dagger, and in my left ear was the residual ringing caused by the passage of the .38 that had whizzed by just a few days earlier. If this sounds like a passage from a Bukowski poem, or a line from a Tom Waites song, it might be. In 1970 that was the low I had risen to. Without need for further prelude, let’s say that I had succeeded very little up to that point, and it seemed that I was headed fast for a new six-foot low.
It had started several nights previous in a basement apartment in Boston’s Back Bay. I honestly did not know that she had a boyfriend. She insisted that she did not even after her, supposed, ex-boyfriend insisted he had never agreed to the severing. This was after he had attempted to kill me with a single shot. That shot had perforated the bedstead inches to the left of my ear. After several moments of them screaming at each other, he turned, and we started a dialog. We both were scared witless by what had happened; me because it had been my life that had almost been forfeit, and him because murder was not something Daddy could fix. We wound up professing a sort of twisted brotherhood, and he allowed me to finish dressing, and exit the apartment. As I climbed the stairs, they passionately continued their argument without me.
I spent the next day trying to figure out what had happened. Then the word came via a friend. Brotherhood was forgotten. They had split up, and I was to blame for it. He was looking for me, and he still had his .38. So, I was on the run, dagger in boot, and buzz in the ear.
In those days, I was a known habitue of the backside of Beacon Hill’s working-class neighborhood. The fact that I was a fugitive made it challenging to find a couch to sleep on; nobody wanted the trouble I was bringing with me. I wound up in the next best thing to a squat, the immensely sartorial Beacon Chambers Hotel, where the rooms had wire cages for you to store your possessions in, and the cockroaches had high standards. Even for me, this was a new low.
Several days into my fugitive status, an old girlfriend ( a different one) had taken her boyfriend to my woodcarving shop to feed my cat. He was flipped out on something he had consumed and added to my misery by trashing the shop. She met me in a Harvard Square coffee shop to tell me that the cat was OK.
During the next several months, I used all the tricks you read about to make yourself invisible. I avoided all my old friends on Beacon Hill, stayed away from all the places I routinely dined and drank. I even avoided the Harvard Square bookshops I regularly visited. Some of these changes became habitual, and it was decades before I returned to my old haunts on Beacon Hill.
Eventually, I forced some significant changes in my life. I worked hard and managed to put myself through Boston University ( yeah, it was a lot cheaper in those days). As happens with these things, the trauma slid into the rearview mirror of life, and I thought less about it except at anniversaries. Then one evening in 1980, I was pulling into the parking lot of a supermarket. As I pulled in, I noticed a man and a woman walking out of the liquor store. The style of the screaming and yelling instantly transported me to Back Bay in 1970. They noticed me looking at them, glared at me, and hollered, “what the hell are you staring at idiot!” I smiled, backed out fast, and peeled away from the scene as I saw him struggling to remember why I looked familiar.