A cautionary tale about why it is a bad idea to be an asshole
|It was a rainy day, much like any other rainy day. I was visiting my cousin Dan and his family in the dull and dreary little bureau called Deffro, Pennsylvania. The very essence of small town America. Friendly neighbors. Morally upright church-going citizenry. The kind of place you could drop a twenty-dollar bill on the ground and expect any random passerby to pick it up and give it back to you.
I know, because that's exactly what happened. I had just wandered out of Omalley's Pub. We had been celebrating Dan's firstborn child. A squalling, little, red thing with wrinkled skin and the ugliest face I had ever seen. Of course, I told Dan she was beautiful. And he full of pride had offered to take us all out for drinks. Who was I to argue with him? Dan had asked me to leave the tip, when we left so I tossed a five to the waitress and walked out the door. It must have been when I was putting my cash away that the twenty fell out of my pocket. I didn't even notice it, but some punk kid walking by calls to me as I was walking away. Running we swoops down and catches the bill. Turning back to me, he holds out the bill and says, "You just dropped this, Mister." Meanwhile, behind this kid I see a car swerve out of control, barreling straight down on this unsuspecting kid and me. I dive out of the way, but at the last minute, the car veers again, away from the kid and right into me. The last thing I remember thinking was, Fuck!!! Why me?
Weeks later, I wake up in a bright room, smelling of pine oil and antiseptic. Closed greyish-white curtains surround my bed, and wires and tubes run from my right arm to a clear plastic pouch hanging from a metal stand, and a beeping metal box on a nearby cart. As my eyes begin to focus, the curtain is ripped apart and a rather stern-looking woman in blue-green scrubs, hispanic maybe, glances at me and turns her head to shout behind her, "He's awake." A man in a white coat and several other people in those blue-green scrubs rush in and poke and prod and shine lights in his eyes.
"Mr. Revere," the man I assumed was a doctor asked. "Can you understand what I am saying?" He was a young guy, younger than me. Handsome, I guess. The kinda guy the girls always seemed to go for. I didn't like this young doctor, but I tried to answer him anyway. But all I managed was a hoarse, cracking sound. "Just nod your head if you understand. Don't try to talk," the doctor warned. I nodded. "You've been unconscious for several weeks. You were in an accident and were hit by a car. A drunk driver. You have several broken bones, and suffered quite a blow to the head. We actually weren't sure you would pull through. You're a very lucky man."
I heard a snort from behind the doctor, and saw a tall man in a dark trench-coat. No one else seemed to be paying him any attention, as the doctor explained I was in Tennant Mercy Hospital. Ironic, I had just been in the very same hospital just hours before this accident. I should never have left. The doctor explained all of the things that were damaged in the accident, and how I was going to be treated, but I couldn't concentrate. The man in the dark trench-coat just stood there, with flinty grey eyes, full of contempt and loathing, but at the same time full of understanding and compassion. He looked to be about middle-age, with dark brown hair, streaked with white and grey. He had a hooked nose, that appeared to have been broken at some time in his past and never quite healed properly. And he just stood there staring me straight in the eyes, never saying a word. And all around him medical staff came and went, never passing within more than a few inches of him, but never looking at him.
It took me a few seconds to realize that the doctor was speaking to me and seemed to be repeating himself, "Are you hearing any of this, Mr. Revere?"
"Paul," I croaked. "My name is Paul."
"Well, Paul. Get some rest. We'll leave you alone, but if you need anything, press on this button." The doctor indicated a joystick like device attached to a wire that extended from the wall. "Someone will help you." And with that the doctor and his retinue retreated from his sight, closing the curtains, leaving him and the tall, dark man alone.
Why didn't he leave, too?, I thought. He creeps me out. I wish he'd get the hell out of here, already.
"Believe it or not," the man said with a voice that felt like winter. "I'm here to help you Paul."
Closing my eyes, I just wished him to disappear.
"I'm not gonna disappear, Paul. Like I said, I'm here to help you. Not with your broken bones, of course. Those will heal with time, and our young doctor friend has everything well in hand. I'm here to help you with an even bigger problem." There was a pause. I heard a chair scrape across the floor and the man's voice startled me with it's closeness as he continued. "I'm hear to cure you of your assholeness. Because believe me. If you keep this up, it's gonna kill you." Opening my eyes, I could see, the dark-clad man sitting beside me. I thought to grab the call button and ask them to remove this crazy, but something gave me pause.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you. No one but you can see me. No one but you can hear me. If you told them about me, they will think you're the crazy one, not me." Somehow, I knew what he said was true. In fact, I began to doubt my own sanity. He was obviously a figment of my imagination.
"You're not crazy, Paul. You're just an asshole. Let me tell you a story." He waited for my assent, and when I nodded, he began again. "Let's for the sake of argument assume that there are such beings as demons. Chaos demons, let's call them. They meddle with reality, usually in just minor ways, and cause bad things to happen. I believe people used to refer to them as Gremlins, but I prefer Chaos demons, or Chaons for short. The name doesn't really matter. They interfere with the normal flow of the universe causing ripples that cause people harm." It sounded crazy, but I decided to let it go. My delusion probably wouldn't stop, until I let the man finish his story.
"And let's also assume that there are other beings, called angels. More specifically, Guardian angels. They, also, meddle with reality, again, usually in minor ways. But whereas chaos demons try to cause people harm, Guardians try to protect people from harm. Sometimes from ordinary harmful things that happen naturally in a world governed by various scientific laws and populated by living things possessing free will. And sometimes, Guardians protect people from the not so natural harm caused by the Chaons." So far this seemed like some weird, fairy tale, but again I let it pass. The quicker he finished, the more likely it would be for him to leave.
"I know what your thinking, besides wanting me to finish up and leave. If the Chaons are constantly causing harm and the Guardians are constantly saving people, how is it that some people still get hurt. You for instance." The stranger, held out his hands and scanned up and down my body, for effect. "Well, let's, also, assume that there is this thing called Karma. Good Karma and Bad Karma. when you do good towards others, you receive good Karma. When you do bad things to others, you get Bad Karma. But here's an important note. You have to do good, for the right reasons to get Good Karma. You have to do good, without wanting anything in return. You have to do good, because you want to do good and for no other reason than that. By the same token, doing harm to someone unintentionally does not give you Bad Karma. You have to knowingly do something that you know will cause someone harm to get Bad Karma. You may justify what harm you do with a good reason, and that may reduce the amount of Bad Karma you get, or it may not. But if you knowingly do something that you know will harm someone, your gonna receive some Bad Karma." Ok, sounds interesting. But what does this have to do with anything and most importantly, ME.
"Well, you see. Most people have fairly neutral Karma. They do some good, some bad and it averages out more or less. But there are some people, Saints, who consistently do good, and start accumulating tremendous amounts of Good Karma. And some people, like you, Assholes, who consistently do bad things and accumulate a huge bank of Bad Karma. Well,you know how I said that Chaons and Guardians can usually only interfere in minor ways. Well the more Good Karma you have, the more protection the Guardians can give you and the less harm the Chaons can do. This doesn't mean that bad things never happen to good people. There are limitations to what each of these beings can do. But they can do some miraculous things at times. Which brings me to you. You, being the Asshole that you are, have accumulated a tremendous amount of Bad Karma. As a result, the Guardians can scarcely see you and even if they saw you they could do hardly anything to help you. Your Bad Karma repels them. Chaons on the other hand can do a great many things to you. They can't outright kill you, but as this accident shows, they can bring about death. They nearly did this time. Except that kid who was returning your wallet, grabbed you and ALMOST yanked you out of harm's way. His Good Karma saved your life, if not your health. Oh, he's been visiting you every few days, since the accident occurred. He blames himself for not reacting sooner. Doesn't he just make you sick." He did. It annoyed him for some reason that this kid was butting in on his life like that.
"That's because you're an asshole. And as long as your an asshole, bad things will keep following you and one of these days, one of them will kill you. Well, that's all I came to say." And with that he got up and walked toward the curtain.
"Wait," I tried to say. Is that it? Didn't he say something about curing me?
Turning back, the dark man said, "I told you my story. That's all I can do. Only you can stop yourself from being an asshole. You have a lot of debt to repay. I don't know if you are truly able to work that debt off. But now you know. Perhaps in time you will. We'll see. I'll try to check up on you from time to time, but I can only do so much. Some may say, I've done too much already." And with that he passed through the curtain and I never saw him again.
The next day, as I began my rehabilitation. I tried to be courteous to the doctors nurses and therapist. But a wintery voice sounded in my ear "It's a start, but you're only doing that because you want to work off your debt. Trying to gain Good Karma is not the way to Good Karma."
Several days later, a skinny teenager came into my room. He handed me a twenty dollar bill. He looked sad and guilty. Suddenly, I recognized the kid I had passed on the street the night of the accident. "I'm sorry," he said. "When I saw the car, I tried to pull you out of the way, but I was too slow. It's my fault you got hurt." He looked almost in tears, and I felt my own heart wrench to see him in such pain. and my own guilt came crashing down upon me.
"Look kid, It's my own fault. I saw the car coming towards the both of us and I just turned and ran. I should be apologizing to you. I could, at least, have warned you, but I didn't. I'm sorry kid. I'm a selfish, asshole, who doesn't give a damn about anyone but himself. Can you forgive me?" And he did, and he hugged me and then he cried on my shoulder. And for some reason, I found myself crying too. What the fuck?
And, then, a chime sounded in my ear and that wintery voice said, "Perhaps there's hope for you yet."
Well, truth be told, I'm still an asshole. But I like to think that I'm becoming a little bit less of an asshole each day. It's hard work. But, I think I'm a lot happier with the way things are now. Hello, my name is Paul Revere. And I am an Asshole. But hopefully not forever.