Alphabetizing Our Victims
Alphabetizing Our Victims, one of ten pieces of fiction in There Is No Rest, really had its origins in three factual events. One of these is my mother’s story, another my younger brother’s, and still a third my own.
My mother worked for a company for some time. She worked with record keeping. On three separate occasions, so I recall her story, she was called into a meeting with her fellow employees. Each of these three occasions was preceded by a buyout from the next largest and latest competing company, so that the name of the company was different in each case. Technically, three separate companies held a single meeting each. But the result was the same. Downsizing. Employees were not the object of investment, and so the sought after return on investment was elsewhere. My mother experienced these three meetings, in which the boss apologized, read down a list of names to indicate those who would be severed from the (latest) company. Her name was read on the third buyout, the third cut. That was her beginning into an early retirement.
My brother, when younger, had a night job. He would ride his bike to work every evening to busy himself loading trucks, unloading, scanning shipping orders and parcel. One particular evening, he road his bike through the park, as he often did to save time. There, near the path, he saw hanging from a tree, a limp figure in the dark quiet. Beside it, and at the person’s feet, there was a trashcan. He called the police, and then he turned the trashcan upside down, climbed, and lifting the body from its noose, fell to the ground with its weight. He tried to resuscitate the individual, but he was already dead. This was a young man, the same age as my brother.
I once lived in a tent in the desert of northern Arizona. I had a part time job in the local town, a post office box, art supplies, and a row of books lining my tent. I often thought about the social contract and how I had now loosely abandoned yet still flirted with it. One night, as I was headed home to my tent, I encountered on the road two feral dogs, a Pit Bull and a Doberman Pinscher. They came from either side of the road from out of the bushes, running towards me. In that quick moment I did not run, nor yell. I roared, which stopped them in their tracks. All three of us waited. I thought, while I had time. In fact I have never experienced thoughts so rapidly, so purely, so unflinchingly, as I did in those 15 seconds like hours. One dog I might defeat, but two was impossible. I knew I could not run, as they would run me down and tear me to shreds. I took out a ball point pen from my pocket, my only weapon, and in the other hand my flashlight, which I shined in their eyes, back and forth between them.
I could not wait forever, nor run, so there was nothing left to do but to take a step forward. I was certain it would work. It was a sign of dominance I suppose, and it was the right move. This is of course the very reason I lived. They stayed where they were, and I shined the light back and forth as I walked between them on either side of the wide road. When I had passed between them, I turned, and then, only then, was I willing to back away from them. The light blinded their eyes still. And when I could no longer see them at a distance in their stationary positions, I turned and ran to my tent. It was this event, as well as the approach of winter, that pushed me to return to my normal living and embraced whatever sort of societal obligations the world might impose on me. The event however left with me a nightmarish fear of being torn to pieces by wild dogs.
Each of these three events are definitive, in that they define the character by forcing upon us a need to make decisions. In some way, there is a loss in each (if only potentially in mine). The loss of skill, experience, training, and investment in “human resources” and the loss of identity in ever lager corporations; the loss of a human being who gave up living for unknown, unknowable reasons; the potential loss of the story of survival on an empty road, turned tragedy as a mere newspaper clipping about a vagrant who was eating alive. Alphabetizing Our Victims is about the loss of our names, in place of a number, a statistic, that tells nothing of who we are, who we were.