"The Altered Ego"
Speeding down North Bridebrook Road with the music blaring- undoubedtly not paying attention- a deer sprints across the street. In a flash our eyes met and I see what absolute fear looks like. His big doey eyes shine in my car’s headlights as he freezes in place. Slamming the breaks can’t stop the collision; he dies on impact. I feel like a murderer.
The memory of that feeling stuck with me for quite some time.
I arrived in Amsterdam almost a year after the car accident in late September of 2006. I quickly made some friends at the hostel I stayed in. Originally from Leeds but world traveled, this was their tenth vacation to Amsterdam and they seemed to know far more than any guidebook I skimmed on the train ride in. When I asked why they came to Amsterdam one of them replied, “To party. What else do you do in here?” The rest of them jovially clashed their beer glasses with him. Their excitement and worldliness made me feel like the innocent young freshman hanging out with the jaded seniors in high school: I was being allowed to hang with the “cool kids.” I knew immediately that I found my crew and a new direction for my vacation.
Once I joined up with the guys from Leeds, Amsterdam became a movie-like sequence played in fast-forward with techno music blaring in the background. We moved like lightening through the back-alleys. We stopped at cafes to buy espressos and marijuana. We rushed into bars to slam back shots of Jaegermeister chased with German Pilsners. We partied at dance clubs and met beautiful Dutch girls who spoke little English but loved our accents. The more drunk and stoned we got, the faster the speed of the movie played, the louder and harder the techno music got, and the hazier the memories became.
After two days of non-stop action we sloppily made ourselves back to the hostel and passed out on bunks that probably didn’t belong to us. When I woke up it was dark outside. There was nobody in the room. My head felt several sizes too large and sobriety started evolving a violent pain in my stomach. I needed to correct this at once. I didn’t know where my friends were. It seemed they had woken up before me and thought it better to let me sleep. “Assholes,” I grumbled to myself.
I couldn’t stand to be stuck in the hostel alone at night when I knew those guys were out doing borderline criminal activity with a nearly blacked out frame of mind: it sounded too good to miss. “Screw sleep,” I thought to myself, “Screw the museums of lavish art. Screw the old architecture and screw the history. I’m eighteen years old and ready to party.” I brushed my teeth, changed my t-shirt, and headed out the door looking for the guys from Leeds.
Crossing a canal on my way to the first club I approached a group of black guys shouting at passery-by. Among the croud stood a distinctive leader: a short, black Jamaican man. I thought Jamaican, but I could’ve be wrong. He had an accent like the black guys I’d seen in New York city begging for change near the lower east side or Haitians that I saw on a true-crime TV show awhile back. It didn’t matter that I couldn’t signify his country of origin at that time and still can’t today. I identified his voice with someone I didn’t trust.
“Hey buddy you looking for drugs?” He said.
I laughed at the idea. “Pal, we’re in Amsterdam. Look around you. There are drugs to buy everywhere!”
He ignored my comment and furthured his sales pitch. “I have heroin, coke, ecstasy. What you need buddy?”
Of course he wasn’t selling pot. He was selling the hard drugs. The drugs that weren’t legal in Amsterdam. I considered buying some ecstasy.
“How much for ecstasy?”
“How much you need, mon?”
I contemplated the pros and cons of tripping but ultimately decided against it. I’d only been in Amsterdam for a few days and knew if I decided to roll I would never find my way back to the hostel.
“Forget it.” I figured this answer sufficient to ward off his sales pitch.
“Come on mon. Where you goin’? Ok, you don’t want drugs. You like girls? I know best prostitutes in Amsterdam. Very sexy girls for you mon.” He followed along side me.
“No dude, I’m all set. Thanks anyway.”
“It’s no problem man. You come wit me and I show you da girls. What kind of girl you like? Dutch? French? Black? I know best black girl for you.”
He kept following. And following. I said nothing and he said nothing. But there he was, still walking alongside me down the roads of glistening canals and neon red lights.
Finally he broke the silence, “So where you goin’ mon?”
“Just looking for some friends. They’re at a club right around here.” I slightly quickened my pace hoping to avoid further conversation.
“Oh I show you best clubs round here. Fine girls everywhere. You like girls? You want girl? I know sexy girls for low price. Maybe buy some coke or ecstasy and we party wit da girls.”
Fed up with his questions, I pointed to the next club I saw on my right. My friends from Leeds and I didn’t go there before but I needed to go somewhere where I could loose this guy. I didn’t care if those drunks were in there or not. I mumbled something about it being my destination and rushed straight through the front door.
The inside of the club was dark, near gothic. People sat at tables sipping absinthe out of shot glasses. Ramstein or Lamb of God or some other metal band I’d never heard of blared out of the speakers. Then there was me: wearing a green Abercrombie and Fitch shirt, skinny as a rail, scared for my safety. I hardly belonged in this place. At the bar I bought a light beer and minded my business. Eightteen years old from the Connecticut subburbs, this situtation was definitely out of my league.
Twenty minutes passed from the time I bought my beer. After fighting off threatening looks from several people, I felt comfortable that the Jamaican would be long gone and resuming his lucrative career as independent drug. I walked out of the club ready to continue my investigation of my missing friends.
He was waiting outside.
It was the first time in my entire backpacking trip I tightened up with fear. My muscles involuntarily flexed. I clenched my fists. My breaths became shorter and faster. “Not here,” a voice inside of me spoke, “People will see you.”
I led the two of us towards my hostel. He continued on about buying drugs and showing me prostitutes. I became more drenched with anxiety as the idea of physical altercation grew exponentially. I’d let him know already that I wasn’t interested but it didn’t stop him. His actions and words no longer felt like a sales pitch but more of a creshendo that ended in my own demise. I nervously waited for him to pull a gun on me. I kept my eyes open for any other short Jamaicans to come rushing out of an alley and bash my face in while they rifled through my belongings. I waited for him to put an end to his shtick and do evil against me.
Five blocks from my hostel were dark and desolate. Around 4 in the morning these side roads closed down their shops and voided themselves of public activity. Walking and talking for the past four blocks, he kept directing which way to go for a good time and I kept telling him I’m all set, no thanks, see you later. The anxiety of a stick-up was building up inside of me like can of beans sitting on an open fire: it was going to explode sooner or later. We still went back and forth as we approached the dark alley. The fear became too great, and a life force unbeknownst to me took control and sidelined my normal conscience.
Instantaenously an alter ego not known to me before then, and certainly one that rarely pokes its head up now, reared its ugly head; a blind rage of controlled strength and immediate reaction to survival imminent. Purely animalistic, I grabbed his throat and slammed his head back into a building. With a loud slam his head smashed into the cement wall and his body followed loosely behind him. I tightened my grip. My second hand grabbed his collar. This new person was in control.
“What the fuck is your problem. I told you I’m not interested. Stay the fuck away from me. Get fucking lost you piece of shit.” The words fell from my mouth without thought. No longer did two people belong in this confrontation. A third person entered the argument. Certainly he knew this new person was not to be fucked with.
He lifted his hands above his head. He could hardly speak I had the grip on his throat so tight. What came out was an attempt at speaking English while shitting your pants.
“Don’t tell me to chill the fuck out, you piece of shit. I got something for you.” I removed the hand on his collar to lift up my shirt. Underneath the shirt reasted a black leather sheath. I smoothly unsnapped the button on the sheath to show him my Leatherman utility knife. I slid out the blade like I’d practiced time and time before in my bedroom when I would pretend to pull a knife on an enemy in the heat of the moment. It felt much different this time; the glamour and allure of Hollywood movies now far removed.
Neither of us attempted to speak. Both of us overwhelmed at how quickly the situation escalated, we anticipated my next action. I held the knife in my left hand and his throat in my right. I looked into his eyes and suddenly saw the deer I killed when I was 17. His eyes were filled with similar fear. But what stood out more than the absolute fear of the deer was the cry for sympathy in his eyes. He needed me to care about him. If I cared for him, I would pull the knife away and leave him be. He didn’t speak. He just stared me in the eyes and I knew how this would end. I wasn’t a red-blooded killer. I wasn’t an any-color type of killer.
“You go this way,” I nodded my head to the left. “And I go that way,” I nodded my head towards the right. He nodded in aggrement. I closed the knife and pulled his shirt in the direction back towards where we originally came from. His body loosely followed. He began walking slowly and just as he was far enough away for me to have a good head start I ran the opposite direction; running away from the drug dealer, the weight of the situation, and from the man I never knew I could become.