Something I’ve found so hard to say

November 7th, 2013

When I was 16, I was struck by a car, or more precisely, a man, a human inside a huge machine, who decided on an impulse that he would use his machine to hurt me. I was passing in traffic when he cut me off purposefully and  too quickly. I went flying, breaking my collar-bone, my bike, and my sense of invulnerability. I say again he decided. He got into his huge machine that day and he decided to treat me just as he treats the other machines in his insane video-game world: with brute force and the constant threat of violence. He decided to show me as he surely showed so many others that no one would unjustly move before him. He won his way with force, and I scared him shit-less with reality. He could so easily have killed me, so likely as far as he knew in the first moments of our collision did, that he drove off, never leaving his damned machine until forced out by an equal threat. The car in front of him stopped his mechanical flight. He got out, human now, screaming, unable to identify with what he’d just done to another person, screaming, ranting and denying. Saving his name before himself alone among the witnesses, he threw me, bleeding, the best of his accumulated bluster, blaming me, distracting us all from the thoughtless brutality he’d not really meant to commit.

Shocked, I was taken away in an ambulance and treated. I never did see his face again, and I never learned his name from the bungled police report, at first out of thoughtlessness and now, six years later out of real fear of what I might do if I ever found him.

It’s almost impossible that he could have recognized what he’d done in that moment. That’s what cars do to us, both you and even me: They divorce us from our world, literally isolating us with a heavy soundproof wall from all the things that might threaten to come too near: the other machines, the cold, even the other people with their challenging dissimilar humanity. The padded, conditioned, sound-systemed, customized luxury of these machines lulls us all into thinking that we’re in a private space, and we all act accordingly when we’re at the controls which become those of a video game that takes place in some other yet real world, a game of life and death like all the best games, with the participant shielded from the dire effects of the hyperbolic consequences.1

I think I can imagine quite well what rape would be like for I all too often fully understand while traveling about this fair city that my body could be crushed at a whim of most of the so-called people around me. It has I have come so close to being crushed so many times.

It makes me sick and untrusting and so much more it makes me angry.

I’ve found only two people who seem to share this feeling even half as acutely as I do. I just discovered that second one and I want to share a video that he put together on the subject. Mike Price has spent several months now collaborating with my partner, Jeremy. Together, we’ve all been exploring through this shared work the divide between the ‘human’ and ‘animal’, between the corporeal and the ethereal, between us and them and even between us and our bodies.

This video from Mike’s work at the AAC struck a nerve.

I’ve eaten a lot of roadkill in the last year, one of the benefits of dating an exploratory anatomist. It’s impossible now for me to eat these animals, to dissect them, and see them without feeling some kinship with them, as inadvertent highwaymen, struck down and left to die by the humans wrapped in their heedless, rusting bubbles. I know exactly how it is that they died, can imagine so precisely how that man in the red convertible in Indian Hill two months ago struck and killed that buck, now frozen, leaving it there to hemorrhage and writhe while his most precious object stood inconveniently dented and tarnished. It is with reverence that I pass these animals, dead on the street, for what I am now they once were, and what they are now I may yet become. I can no longer pass them by.

I refuse to drive a car for no such half-assed reason as ‘saving the environment’, but because I know that when I’m in one I will have lost all of my humanity, my concrete animality, my only connections with what is real.

Show 1 footnote

  1. Every good game has huge imagined consequences the reality of which are totally shielded from the gamer: Life, Monopoly, Grand Theft Auto, Legend of Zelda, whatever you like.

2 responses to “Something I’ve found so hard to say”

  1. I often make pretty obvious anthropomorphic references in the taxidermy oriented work I do. This is really an effort to get people to see connections with the rest of the animal world by using a “mirror” effect. Whether successful or not, I think that when you place the mirror on the shoulder of a busy street very interesting and often uncomfortable things happen.

    It is particularly meaningful to see someone identify with the road kill aspect of this. There are so many directions to take this sort of comparison, and all of it should provoke both guilt and change.

    It is always interesting for me to answer one of the more popular questions: “Do you stuff animals that you have hit on the road?” The answer is that I have never hit one… perhaps that is because I am hyper vigilant due to either always being on the look out for already dead things on the side of the road and also notice the live ones, or because driving really is not a comfortable activity for me.

    However, I have been with a number of animals as they died on the side of the road. This happens a lot more often than people think. And I WANT everyone to think about that. If you should commit zoeslaughter while driving, you should probably stop and see whether you need to get the animal attention, make him or her as comfortable as you can, or if you may actually have to finish the job. Not doing so is actually a hit and run, by the way, no different than what happened to Nate. Yes casualty happens in the natural world every second. And yes, humanity is a working cog of that mechanism; but that is no reason to remove yourself from culpability in actions that you directly have taken to end a life. (More about meat packing plants later.)

    What is another helpful tip? Stop throwing any kind of food items out of your car window. You may say to yourself that it isn’t littering, and maybe you are right… but you are inviting innocent beauties into the roadways, and that really isn’t a nice thing to do…

    Of course there is so much more I want to say about this topic, but I do have my own damn blog that I suppose I could put it on and stop clogging up Nate’s. ;)

    Thanks for writing this up, Nate. These are extraordinarily important topics to both Mike, you and I. I am really glad that Mike Price’s recording inspired you to give as much personal thought as you did!


    • Nate Wessel says:

      Jeremy, you and I have already had this conversation, so I’ll put this out there for posterity: One of the hardest moments for me, of the last few years even, was watching a raccoon get run over repeatedly by speeding cars. Before that experience, I had literally no sympathy for this silly ‘PTSD’ thing I kept hearing about on the radio. Shit. Watching a life end so brutally and needlessly and thoughtlessly fucked me up for days. I can still hear the sound of it perfectly.

      What really got me was that I could have helped it after the first or second time it got hit, while it lay there shattered and dying, still shuddering and gasping. I was standing right next to it as the next car passed. I could have rushed into the road before it got there and carried the raccoon to the side so it could die just that much more gracefully. But I didn’t. I watched it. I watched it get hit AGAIN at 50mhp, get thrown down the road by the impact.

      I was too afraid to touch it, too afraid I’d get blood on my hands or that it would bite me. ‘Ick!’ said the very weakest, worst part of me. I hate that part and I hate myself for not helping it and I hate the cars for making their servants into murderers. I did not even then move that raccoon out of the road and I left, cowardly, heart racing, thinking about what I’d seen and hadn’t done.

      I walked my bike the two miles home, ashamed and afraid.