Chasing Wolves

English: Engraving of a black wolf by J. G. Ke...
English: Engraving of a black wolf by J. G. Keulemans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was a boy, my grandfather gave me a slingshot. I used it almost everyday in the open field near his house. One day I set up range with rusty tin cans and dirty old beer bottles near a giant oak tree. Perched on one of the long gnarly limbs of the tree was a dove. It was sitting so still, gazing down at me. I don’t know what got into me, but I grabbed a jagged rock, loaded it into the slingshot, pulled back as far as I could, and aimed at the bird.

The dove wasn’t like the cans, it didn’t just fall over when the rock struck it; instead its lightly feathered breast absorbed the sharp rock with a soft thump; the dove cried out with dull and painful murmur as it struggled to heave itself into the sky. With its chest crushed, it couldn’t fly, pulsing wildly in the air as it tumbled into a patch of tall grass near the base of the oak. I sprinted over, watching it beat its wings back and forth against the dirt and grass, trying to breathe into its smashed breast, its strength slowly fading from it, dark blood trickling from its beak. I remember looking into its eyes, they seemed to say to me “Why did you do this to me?” I had no answer. So I just stared at it, stunned. Slowly the stroke of the dove’s wings waned until it lay still, its outstretched wings facing heaven. The moment it died, I sensed the presence of my ancestors, watching me from above, scowling down with disapproval.

I felt heartsick. Something snapped deep inside my being, a flood of guilt and shame rushed into my soul. I felt dirty, sullied, unclean. I clutched at my chest trying to wipe the feeling away, but the stain remained.

I ran into my grandfather’s house crying. He gathered me up in his big carpenter’s arms and held me, rocking me back and forth in his burly armchair. My head against his chest with tears in my eyes, I told him what I had done. He let me cry for a while, and when I had calmed down, he told me this story:

He said inside everyone is a black wolf. And this black wolf is cruelty, fear, ignorance: everything evil. But also inside everyone is a white wolf. And this white wolf is love, courage, curiosity: everything good. At some point in everyone’s life, these two wolves start to fight. When the black wolf is winning, he said, you’ll feel the way you do now: confused, sad, unfulfilled. But when the white wolf is winning you’ll feel focused, happy, fulfilled. If you’re not careful, he warned, the black wolf can gradually take control of you, leading you down very dark paths. I knew that I didn’t want follow the black wolf; so,  I asked my grandfather what I could do to fight it. He put his hands on my shoulders and said, “To fight the black wolf, you must feed the white one, giving him more power and strength than the black one.” Then he told me to find the body of the dove, apologize to it, dig a grave for it and to bury the slingshot next to it. I did what my grandfather told me to do and I felt much better. When I patted the last scoop of dirt on the grave, I could tell that my my ancestors and the dove were pleased.

Sometimes when I’m alone on long barefoot runs on the remote trails of the  Oregon wilderness, I feel a powerful presence leading the way, guarding me from the black wolves prowling in the dark shadows.

Which wolf are you feeding?

My Secret 19

When I was 19 nothing could divide me except 1 and myself; I was a prime number: invincible, impractical, and energetic.

I “attended” DeAnza college in Cupertino, CA where I majored in skipping out on class to drive a few hours to Woodland to skate with my friend Troy, drinking coffee with girls who put scars on their faces from drunk driving, and eating poppy seed muffins full of chemicals that would make me fail a drug test.

Some nights, I drove myself to a chain-link fence. I used my tattered coat to cover the bared wire; behind the fence was a prime loading dock called “Memorex“. It featured a smooth asphalt embankment with a curb on top. I would grind the curb and catch air quarter pipe style on the bank. The huge bright, lamp above the bank made Memorex and excellent night spot.

Nietzsche, 1864
Image via Wikipedia

Most of the time, the security guard on duty chased me away; unless the security guard was Johnny. Johnny didn’t care. And I always knew Johnny was on duty when I saw the orange glow of his cigarette at the end of the loading dock. He wasn’t supposed to smoke and I wasn’t supposed to skate. When I got tired of skating, we’d talk about our lives and occasionally about philosophy. Johnny was surprising well read, but miserable. He had a wife and a child to support. He felt locked into his job, but found a ways to bear it, like sneaking a smoke and letting some crazy 19 year old catch air on the bank.

One time, instead of skating Memorex, I made the three hour drive to Troy’s house in Woodland, CA. I didn’t care that my brake lights were broken and that I didn’t even bother to call Troy to let him know I was stopping by. We skated an empty pool in a slum apartment complex for a few hours, then I headed home. As soft magenta hues dwindled from the vibrant evening sky, my eyes drooped. A loud blasting horn and shriek of skidding tires jolted me awake. The person behind me narrowly missed my car. Luckily, both of us were OK and there was no damage to either car. I popped on my headlights and used my parking lights as substitute brake lights until I got safely home.

The next time I went to Memorex, Johnny wasn’t on duty, he wasn’t on duty the time after that, or time after that.  It was annoying because the other guards were total a-holes. One of them even brought a German Shepard with him. I told my friend, Mike, how f-up it was that Johnny wasn’t on duty.

Mike lit up and said, “You don’t know!?” Then he told me that Johnny  was smack addict and that he ODed. Johnny didn’t seem like the junkie type and Mike was the BS type.

It was difficult to picture Johnny sticking needles in his veins. But when I think back, Johnny did seem depressed the last few times I saw him and he did mention how it would be nice to just “fall asleep and never wake up.”

I’ve never fully trusted Mike; he was after all a drunk and liar. To this day, I hope he was lying about Johnny’s OD. Even though I never did see Johnny again, I still hope that it was because Johnny got promoted or found another job. But laced inside my hopes and in this memory is a deep residing sadness.

Yet a part of me, still imagines Johnny is out there somewhere in the crisp evening air letting some punk kid skate a well lit bank, smoking his cigarette and quoting Nietzsche: “The true man wants two things: danger and play.” I hope danger didn’t overtake Johnny–that somewhere he’s still out there, playing the way he did when he was 19.


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