The funny thing about my relationship with Georgie was the way we looked together. Georgie was only about 5’7 or 5’8 and he couldn’t have weighed more than 165 pounds or so.
On the other hand I was almost 6’4 and weighed a solid 230 pounds. If you looked at us you would have never guessed that for years I had been scared of Georgie, afraid in a very real and tangible sense. And he knew it, he could smell it in my sweat, or so he claimed.
I can’t explain what it was about him that frightened me so, I just know that he did. It might have had something to do with the time he beat David Jackman with a tire iron, or the time that he hopped over the counter at the mini-mart and beat the shopkeeper up for insulting him by asking for proof of his age. He was like a mini-volcano, ready to blow at any time and unpredictable.
In some ways my size had put me at a disadvantage. I had always been bigger than everyone else. In school the bullies had avoided me as had most of the other kids. No one wanted to risk having their head handed to them. The end result was that because I never had any fights I was afraid of what would happen, worried that I could get hurt and quite concerned about what a fist to the mouth would feel like.
Georgie never had those fears and I don’t know why. He came from a middle class home. His mother was a housewife and his father was chief mechanic. It was a blue collar job that paid enough to provide white collar lifestyle. Georgie’s father never hit him, never used any sort of physical threat to control him, so who knows why he turned out as he did.
Psychologists and social workers get paid a lot of money to improperly diagnose people like Georgie. I won’t waste my time trying to do their job, and who cares what made him the way he was. The more important question was how to stay on his good side because he was mean and proud of it.
Georgie bragged about the fights he got into, showed off his scars and told stories of the past hurts and battles like they had just happened. The chip on his shoulder was never very far from his present.
We must have been around 20 or so when Georgie decided to teach me his life lessons. At first I was shocked and confused. I couldn’t believe that he was hitting and kicking me and then I was too bloodied and bruised to do anything but curl up on the floor and try to protect myself.
If I had any sense he beat it out of me there because the smart thing would have been to just walk away and not speak with him again. Alternatively I could have fought back, hit him, the lack of resistance only encouraged him to continue to batter me longer and harder.
This went on for a couple of years, maybe a little more, maybe a little less. I was in a funny place then, so time really didn’t have much meaning to me. It would probably still be going on if not for the accident.
It was a Saturday morning. Georgie showed up at my apartment at around 9 am, sat there kicking and yelling at my door. When I answered it he told me to get dressed, we were going out.
I threw on a pair of jeans, some Timberland boots, flannel shirt and topped it off with a baseball cap turned backwards and followed him to his car. We were heading into the mountains to “see someone.”
That was bad news for someone. Any time Georgie said he wanted to “see someone” it meant that he wanted to see them bleeding, preferably because of him. I didn’t bother to ask who or why, it wouldn’t matter and it wouldn’t change anything. Georgie would do what he did just because and that was the fact of the matter.
Georgie in the Mountains
Three hours later we joined a half dozen other cars in a campground turned shantytown. If I had been a photographer for Newsweek I could have composed a photo essay about the working poor. The people roaming through the grounds couldn’t have been much older than their mid-thirties, but the tired and weathered looks upon their faces told a different tale. Callused hands and leathery skin spoke of untold hours engaged in manual labor.
I still didn’t know much about why we were here, other than Georgie’s comment that morning about needing to see someone. I wasn’t real happy about it either, but Georgie wasn’t the kind of guy you complained to, let alone about. So I shut my mouth and followed him out of the car.
It was late afternoon and the sun had begun its journey to the other side of the world but somehow no matter which direction we walked I was squinting. I tripped over a pile of empty beer bottles and found myself face down in the dirt. Among other company this might have generated a laugh or two; with Georgie it earned a look of derision and a muttered curse.
In the distance someone was singing along with Springsteen’s Born in the USA. To the right of me a woman was trying to mediate a fight between her children, it can’t be easy when threatening to send your child to their room means the back seat of the car. More sounds drifted in, laughter, a dog barking and something that sounded like the pop pop pop of a pistol being fired.
Georgie finally stopped in front of a beat up Toyota Camry and motioned for me to wait where I was. I couldn’t hear the conversation but judging from the wild gestures and curses coming from Georgie he was not happy. If I knew Georgie we were moments away from one of his violent outbursts. It might have been warm for everyone else, but I felt a definite chill in the air.
The man in the Camry got out of the car and walked off into the forest. I waited as Georgie followed him. Seconds turned into minutes and I became very conscious of just how long I had been waiting for Georgie. It wasn’t unusual for him to just leave me somewhere with no instruction on how long to wait so I kept waiting.
It was sunset and now there was no question about a drop in the temperature, it was getting colder. Georgie had driven up here and taken the keys with him. I began to grow concerned about how I was going to get back. It wouldn’t have surprised me to have found out that Georgie had gotten back in the car and left me here. There was only one person that he cared about and it wasn’t me.
But running off into the woods to find him had its own problems. To begin with I had no idea which way to walk and for how long and then there was Georgie. With his paranoia issues there was no way to tell how he would react. But I feared a beating less than I feared being stuck out here so I began to follow the trail that he and the other guy had taken.
It didn’t take me long to find them. I had seen Georgie do some horrific things, but this one surprised me. Georgie had tied the guy from the Camry to a tree. His head was hanging and I could see him take a shallow breath. Georgie was talking into his hand, whispering something that I couldn’t quite make out.
That was when I realized that Georgie was not talking into his hand, he was talking into the ear of the man tied to the tree, except the ear was no longer attached to him. Neither were his thumbs or the middle fingers on both hands. They were lying on a rock in front of the man.
But that wasn’t the worst part of it. Next to the fingers and thumbs was a slice of bread, ketchup and his tongue. Suddenly Georgie’s mumbling started to make more sense, he was promising to reunite the man with the “pieces of flesh he had liberated.”
I must have coughed or gagged because until that point he hadn’t been aware of my presence. And then there he was, standing in front of me, prodding me to take a turn, pushing me to show him that I had learned something. I felt sick inside, but I let him press the knife into my hand.
Like Two Prize Fighters
I stood there and looked blankly at the man, my arms dangled at my side like two sides of beef. It was overwhelming me. I stood there knowing that this man had been tortured, knowing that Georgie expected me to torture him some more. And the worst part of it was that part of me was curious about what it would be like to do it. What would it feel like, would I get some kind of rush of adrenaline or would it be the beginning of a nightmare that would haunt me.
It would have been nice to say that I was a nice guy who had never done anything wrong, but that wasn’t true. It would have been nice to blame it all on Georgie and to say that he was responsible for the violence that I had been a part of, but that wasn’t true. He may have gotten me involved, but I always had the chance to walk away, to say no and I never did.
The reality was that I blamed myself for the way my life had turned out and even though I knew that Georgie played a large role in it, I still beat myself up about it. Even though I knew that had I tried to walk away there would have been an ugly confrontation I still thought that I should have, could have done better.
Georgie came up behind me and guided the hand holding the knife to the battered remains of the victim’s face. As he suggested that I cut out an eyeball I realized that this time would be different. I had had enough that much was clear by how I thought of this guy. In the past I never would have used the term victim to describe the people we had hurt. But that was a different time.
I pulled my arm out of Georgie’s grasp and flung the knife into the woods. He grabbed me by the collar of my jacket and asked me “to tell him what the fuck I was doing.”
I knocked his hands off of me and told him that I couldn’t do this. Enough was enough. He spat at the ground in front of me and said that pussies like me deserved whatever happened to us. For a moment his face softened and he asked me to reconsider, told me that the guy was going to die anyway and that we might as well enjoy ourselves.
And that was when I knew that I had to kill Georgie. There was no way that he was going to let me live. Oh, he might let me get off of the mountain, he might not do anything for a while, but sooner or later he would come for me and I knew it.
For a moment we stood there starting at each other, like two prizefighters sizing each other up we shared a moment of silence. Georgie was an animal who could hurt you badly without thinking about it. I was someone who had participated in acts of violence, but I couldn’t escape the sick feelings that accompanied it.
And I couldn’t escape the feeling of dread that was wracking my body. I was scared and I didn’t know what to do. I knew that I didn’t have long. Georgie wouldn’t let this impasse last for long and for all I knew the Tree Man (as I had taken to calling him) might have friends come looking for him.
I knew that in the glove compartment of Georgie’s car there was a .38 snub nosed revolver and I knew that it was always loaded. Of course I had the simple problem of what to do about the Tree Man and Georgie. There was no way that Georgie would just let me walk away and I hadn’t a clue about the Tree Man. He might not survive his wounds and given that Georgie said that he was going to kill him anyway he could potentially be factored out of the equation.
But that left me as an accomplice to murder and I wasn’t real keen on that. Neither was I happy not knowing Tree Man’s history. Maybe I had read too many books or seen too many movies, but I was concerned with whether his death might create trouble for me outside of the many legal problems it presented.
And then it happened. Georgie hit me in the head, knocking me backwards over the stump. I grunted as I hit the stump and fell face first in the dirt. A boot slammed into my ribs. Again I wished that this was a movie or at least a dream. Nightmares ended with you waking up panting and short of breath, but at least you had escaped the monster. I was not so lucky.
This wasn’t a dream, I wasn’t going to wake up and no one was going to help me. It was nightfall and the moon had not yet risen so it was dark. I scrambled to my feet and tried to run only to be tripped.
I fell down again and again I was rewarded with another boot in my rib cage. I stood up and Georgie hit me hard, but this time I fell into him. I’d like to say that I planned it, but it would be a lie. Together we fell in the darkness. I landed on top of him and began punching him, screaming and shouting I pummeled him. I don’t know how long I hit him for, but I know that it took a while for me to realize that it had all been unnecessary. When we fell down the back of his head had landed on a rock. All I had done was make him more dead.
When I stood up I was shivering. Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead, Georgie was dead.
The thing was that Georgie had been like family to me. In some sick, twisted and perverse sense of the word he had been like my older brother, the guy hadn’t always been bad, he hadn’t always been this way, had he. I couldn’t tell, I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t even really sure that he was dead, maybe he wasn’t, maybe he was just hurt, maybe he was just unconscious, knocked out like one of those cartoons we used to watch.
Maybe it was like when Bugs Bunny stuck his finger in Elmer Fudd’s gun and he would sit up, his face covered in black dirt.