I have been condemned. It’s okay. This is what happens. It was a long time coming. Actually, I don’t know how I eluded it for as long as I did. Luck, I guess. But I always knew that someday there would be a reckoning. I always sensed the day would come when I would have to pay. There are consequences to the things we do. This is just the way it is. Without them, it’s not life, it’s not real. We must suffer for our mistakes. For our crimes. This is the way it must be.  

I know how it all came about as well. I knew then. I’m not that ignorant. You’re young, and your heart aches. It won’t stop. You don’t know why. It just does. A drag here, a sip there, looking for a tiny bit of relief, something to dial down the furious turning of your mind, the relentless twisting. Trying to make sense of the contradictory emotions. All of it seems to accumulate in your soul. It becomes the depository for the pain. You try this and that. It turns out to be fruitless of course, and by the time you find out it’s far too late, but for so long it seems possible, to turn a mirage into something real. So you play with the salts, they fade, the half-life shorter and shorter, you start mixing this with that, waving your hands through the smoke.  

Eventually it stops working and still your heart aches. Your heart breaks. It breaks again. And again. You keep taking the drugs because you know it will happen again, and you just can’t bear it once more. You want to stop. But you can’t. It’s too late now. You try this, you try that, but every time the pain seems worse,  heavier, a dull heat somewhere inside, baking a part of you into something solid, a hard shell forming over your heart, fused with the flesh.

One day you wake up on a floor somewhere. You have nothing. Absolutely nothing. The illusions and delusions are gone. You see clearly. You feel like a fool. You’ve wasted so much time. You did. No one else. This is where you should stop. Find a way. Before it’s too late. Stare it down and start over. Shout. Scream. Yell for help. But you didn’t. You couldn’t. It was too terrifying to face. And you felt like a weak, useless, piece of trash for not being able to confront it, and begin anew. So you dig. You begin a tiny excavation, searching for the bottom. For years it goes on, miraculously, nothing happening but things changing hands, you sell and others buy, exchanging death sentences. Somehow it keeps the end at bay. Deeper, deeper, you go. You know that you are going the wrong way and you hate yourself for it. Your mind wants to stop and turn around. Your heart has dreams. But they were locked up now, out of the light, trapped inside the stone. It was your body that was in control now. Your body that was taking you down this horrible path. It was your flesh that caused this. It was the criminal. It must pay. Not for the crimes against society, and not by them either. You must punish yourself. For the real crimes, the inability to be what you wanted to be, what you thought you should be. For not being good enough, for not being strong enough. For not being able to love. For not being able to stop.

I must punish myself. No one else seemed willing to do it. I had to do something. I couldn’t blame it on anyone else. After all, it was I who had thrown my life away. It was I who’d broken the hearts and shattered the dreams of my loved ones, few though they were. It was I. The others, they found it within themselves to give me chance after chance. Try though I did, I could not take them. I felt undeserving. Maybe I have too much pride. Maybe, not enough. Did I deserve forgiveness? I don’t know.  It’s irrelevant now. There must be consequences or it would all be meaningless.

There was no trial. No lawyers, no courtroom. They weren’t needed. You knew you were guilty. And once you sentenced yourself, you knew what to do. Shot after shot, you carpet-bombed your flesh, until the highways were obliterated and all the trees turned to ash. Still, you kept on, wandering from place to place, burying land mines, planting pockets of black tar heroin, dope to be detonated at a later date. You buried them in the muscle, in the flesh. You dug deep. They did not dissipate and go away. They sat there like markings, give-aways, tattoos but deeper, of the thing you truly were. Black. Shapeless. Permanent, like ink. One day it will bubble up through your skin to the surface and someone will use it to write your fate on a scroll, to be read aloud in the public square on the day of your execution.

And now it is over. The sentence was real aloud and carried out. It was not as severe as I had expected, merely to live with the destruction. I have paid. Maybe, a little too much. Maybe, not enough. Only time will tell. I paid a pound of flesh from one side of my buttock, and another pound from the other. Just to be sure I took some from both arms and both calves as well, along with a few shards of bone for good measure. You always felt like an open wound, unprotected, vulnerable, and so it makes sense that is what you became. What remain now are scars, where the cavernous wounds once were. The things I will have to live with, fragile, delicate, ugly. Bloodless tissue, shiny like plastic. My hip is damaged, the bone dissolved from infection, one leg now shorter than the other and my hands don’t function correctly, the wires severed. This is my punishment. And yet it did not end me, as I had thought it would. I am still here, wondering why, and how.  Playing with words instead of smoke. Hammering with a hammer called hope, trying to break into my heart.

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TOM HANSEN writes books, fiction and non-fiction. Not newspaper articles, poems, movie reviews, computer code, long rambling emails, text messages, philosophical essays, fortunes for fortune cookies or anything else. Just books. It's why no one hears from him for years at a time. His first book, American Junkie, a nonfiction account of his life as a heroin addict and drug dealer, will be published by Emergency Press in March 2010. Tom has three principles that guide his writing. “A writers’ duty is to give voice to the voiceless,” (Nelson Algren) “It should always be about the art not the artist,” (Tom Hansen) and “I think we need to read books that wound or stab us.” (Franz Kafka) He likes writers who write because they're too crazy to do anything else. He likes writers who don't flinch. He likes writers who carve their words on their readers' souls. You can tell who they are. You don't forget their books after two days. He does not like much contemporary literature. Tom Hansen is an editor at KNOCK Magazine out of Seattle.

12 responses to “The Merchant of Seattle”

  1. Tom Hansen says:

    as you can tell I’m in an exceptionally cheery mood this xmas. Blech

  2. Zara Potts says:

    This is a brave and brutally honest piece, which I’ve read a couple of times and I still don’t feel like I have the right words to leave you.
    “You always felt like an open wound, unprotected, vulnerable so it makes sense this is what you became.” They say that heroin is a kind of cotton wool for those who feel too much, and this line says so much. Thank you for this piece, Tom. Keep on hammering with that hope.

  3. Jesus, Tom, this was one of the rawest pieces I think I’ve ever read, and there’s so much blood and bone and pain here that I don’t even know what to say. Apart from I’m staggered by your honesty and your bravery.

    So, in accordance with Zara, thank you. And keep hammering.

  4. Tom Hansen says:

    Thanks Zara. It’s not my usual style, that heavy poeticism, but I became possessed by something. Maybe the spirit of an outcast reindeer….I do however love playing with second person. I’ve never read American Psycho which is in second person, but I was moved by Marguerite Duras’ The Malady of Death, with is a short 5000 words novel all in second person. It gives a kind of distance, and at the same time an unique intimacy

  5. Tom Hansen says:

    Thanks Simon. I’ve been feeling a little raw so that makes sense, I suppose. The holidays or something. Bad juju from the moon. Anyways…thanks

  6. Great piece, Tom. I’m a big fan of brutal honesty in writing. Whereas you seem to enjoy the second person I like to do it in the third. Either way, it brings a new dimension to the confessional approach – making the reader think more about the author’s revelations.

    It reminded me of things I’ve not yet written. I’ve had similar experiences – in particular, my hip is permenantly fucked thanks to my own mistakes. But it’s these things that guide us clear of making the mistake again.

  7. Marni Grossman says:

    This is so powerful, Tom.

    It’s funny, isn’t it? I’m such a Good Girl. Always have been. Never smoked pot. Didn’t drink until I was 21. Never even smoked a cigarette. And yet. It all comes to the same thing: scars.

    I have a million of them. Lining my arms and my stomach. We’re not so different, you and I.

  8. Tom Hansen says:

    David: Thanks. Marni-yeah, we artists are very good at finding ways to torture ourselves for whatever reasons

  9. Aaron Dietz says:

    Tom–this feels like the text version of a trailer for your book. Wonderful!

    For others: this kind of straight-forward, honest approach is exactly what you can expect from Tom Hansen’s book, coming out in March. It’s terrific!

  10. Tom Hansen says:

    Thanks for the plug Aaron. You rule

  11. jonathan evison says:

    . . . yes, dietz is right– all of american junkie is this good . . .

  12. Tom Hansen says:

    Wow I forgot all about this piece. It’s kind of good. I can’t believe I wrote it haha

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