The person I came closest to murdering
September 17, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
Adapted from Ghosts and Ballyhoo: Memoirs of a Failed L.A. Music Journalist. The person I came closest to murdering is a lot like those who now threaten to murder me. Odd coincidence.
So There You Are
I met “Carmen” the Cardinal Ghost on November 6, 1987.
Two days later, she invited me to her apartment to see her recording studio. She let me in with a wry expression.
“I’m sure it really stinks in here,” she said.
Actually, it smelled great, like her.
After an hour or so, her live-in boyfriend came home. He looked exactly like the young Gabriel Byrne.
I’ll call him Hazim. A Tunisian, he was friendly and polite. I wasn’t upset at meeting him, because he didn’t matter. He literally had no role in this. Carmen and I would end up with each other someday, but it wasn’t time yet. I left without a twinge at the two of them being together.
I asked her to join my band, A Window. We began meeting at her apartment once or twice a week to practice. The second time Hazim came home and found me there, he was noticeably unhappy to see me. Again, I bade them both goodnight and left. A block down the street, I heard a male voice shouting, “Tom! Tom!”
At first I thought it was the giant, demonic Japanese crows, whose call sounded like my father yelling for me.
It was Hazim, running up the street. I stopped and waited. A tall, muscular man, he stood very close, almost nose to nose. Though I was afraid of him, all I could think about was how trivial he was. Even if he put me in the hospital, it wouldn’t change anything. I found it hard to concentrate on his words.
“Tom, you shouldn’t be doing what you’re doing, you know?” he said. “Carmen and I have a relationship. It isn’t right what you’re doing. Why don’t you think of me? There’s more than just you and Carmen involved in this situation.”
“Hazim, Carmen and I are just friends,” I said. “I’m not doing anything except listening to her music. I’m a musician too, and we’re just enjoying music together. You have nothing to worry about. Nothing’s happening.” Which was true. Everything had already happened. The thing was done.
He seemed mollified. “All right, then. I just wanted to say that to you.”
We shook hands and I walked away feeling no guilt because Hazim may as well have been telling the moon to not rise. The rising of the moon is neither right nor wrong; it simply occurs, regardless of how anybody feels about it. Besides, it was true that all Carmen and I had done was play and listen to music together.
She hadn’t betrayed him in any way. Hazim didn’t have to know that every time I left her apartment, I was more at peace, as though I were being restored bit by bit. I’d taken so many wrong turns in my life, but now I’d arrived at the place meant for me. It’d been set aside for me, like a seat at a vast banquet; it was mine, but not through any action of my own. I was born with hazel eyes, and I was supposed be with Carmen. These were simply facts.
About five weeks after I met Carmen, she told me at work that she’d broken up with Hazim.
“I’m sorry,” I lied.
She nodded. “The romantic side of it ended a long time ago. We were sort of living together out of convenience.”
We didn’t speak about it again. She’d leave nice notes in my mailbox at school and sometimes call me at home to chat. The next time I went over to her apartment, we had our usual discussion about music.
She went into the kitchen and came out with a glass and a bottle of beer, put them on the coffee table, and then straddled me in my chair, face to face. Linking her wrists behind my head, she pulled me forward. It was as inevitable as moonrise. I was ecstatic but not surprised. A natural law had simply come into effect.
A few days later, she told me that as soon as she saw me, she’d been walloped with the same realization that had struck me: We were meant to be together.
First Brush with a Psycho
In June of 1989, I broke up with Carmen. It hurt me greatly to let her go, since I still believed in my soul that we were destined for each other.
It was the lowest period of my time in Japan. I drank whiskey and smoked hash every night, watching stacks of rented videos. When I managed to sleep, I had the worst nightmares of my life.
A month after I left Carmen, we were both invited to a party. The only people there were happy couples. Carmen and I were so miserable and out of place we soon left. Outside, we spoke alone for the first time in a month. Since neither of us wanted to go home, we went to a club near my apartment, but the band was just awful. We gave up after ten minutes and while saying good night suddenly found ourselves in each other’s arms.
“Let’s go to your place,” she whispered in my ear.
There was no way I could resist her.
At about 5:00 A.M., my phone rang. When I answered it, I heard only whimpering, the sound of a small child in pain. I hung up. The phone rang for an hour, always with the whimpering.
Finally, Carmen answered it while I was in the shower. She told me it was Hazim. Telephone stalking was endemic in Japan; some of my friends had endured years of it. The next time the phone rang, I picked up the receiver and said, “Go f**k yourself, Hazim.”
“Go f**k myself?” he screamed. “Okay, now I kill you! Just wait, you bastard! Now I kill you!”
I hung up and took the phone off the hook. Carmen swore she didn’t know how he got my number. I asked if she wanted me to walk her home, but she said that wasn’t necessary.
At 10:30 a.m., Carmen called. Hazim had broken into her apartment while she’d been with me. He’d ransacked the place, stolen almost all the photos she had of him, and left her address book open to the page where my number was written. She thought he’d called me from her flat. I asked if she was all right. She said yes, and that we shouldn’t be afraid. He wouldn’t hurt us; his threats were just empty words.
Too depressed to do anything, I stayed home and played my bass. At 5:30 in the afternoon, the phone rang. I picked up the receiver, and an inhuman howling blasted into my ear, the worst noise I’ve heard a living creature make. I realized it was Carmen. She was utterly incoherent, producing a series of gabbling, gasping, choking screams.
“What’s happening?” I shouted. “Carmen! What’s happening?”
“Don’t go out! Don’t leave your apartment! He’s coming after you! He’s going to kill you!”
She was at a police kiosk near her home, crying so hard it took her several minutes to tell me what’d happened. Hazim had come over, and she’d let him in when he said he wanted to apologize. Once inside he immediately commenced beating the stuffing out of her with his fists and the butt of a Bowie knife.
Telling her the knife was for me, he demanded my address. When she refused to give it to him, this strapping six-footer knocked her down and kicked her all over the kitchen floor. She was five feet, three inches tall and weighed 100 pounds fully clothed and soaking wet. He then yanked her up by the neck and choked her until she gave him a fake address.
One hand around her throat, he dragged her out of the apartment, shouting, “Come on! Let’s go! You’re going to watch me kill him!” Outside, she tore away from him, ran to the police kiosk, and called me.
The cops told me to lock my door and wait. They escorted Carmen back to her place and stayed with her until Hazim was arrested at his apartment at 10:30 that night. In Japan, arrestees were generally released on their own recognizance. Hazim signed a statement of apology and a pledge that he’d never attempt to contact Carmen or me again. He was allowed to walk out of the station forty-five minutes after he was brought in.
I went to Carmen’s place at about midnight. Her injuries included a black eye; split and swollen lips; lumps on her head; a cauliflower ear; purple finger marks around her neck and throat; and red, yellow, green, blue, and maroon bruises all over her face, arms, legs, back, and stomach. She was the most severely beaten human being I’ve ever seen in person. It was astounding that despite what he’d done to her and the terror she felt as he did it, she hadn’t given him my real address.
The sight of her made me the angriest I’ve ever been. Part of me hoped that Hazim would come after me. I’d studied shotokan karate for years and could easily have brought him down with one blow, using the heel of my palm against his chin. I practiced that movement incessantly and could snap out my left arm with the speed of a mantis shrimp clubbing its prey. Opponents generally don’t anticipate a blow with the left hand.
Once Hazim was on the ground, I’d jump into the air as high as I could and land on his face with my 200-plus pounds. Since force equals mass times acceleration, that would mean more than 800 pounds coming down on Hazim’s brave, manly mug. I staked out his apartment, but I never saw him.
Carmen soon quit the school and became a DJ at an English-language music station. I’d listen to her smooth, deep voice at night, missing her. One of her favorite songs was Chris Squire’s “Lucky Seven,” off his solo album Fish Out of Water. It was a bass tour de force I’d introduced to her.
For foreigners, Tokyo is a village instead of a giant metropolis. Inevitably, Carmen and I ran into each other at a bar one night and had a wistful conversation. It hurt so much to be with her that after a few minutes I told her I had to go. When I hugged her, she clung to me fiercely, and without knowing I was going to do it I kissed her. She responded enthusiastically, crying and laughing. We took a taxi back to her place, and I stayed with her. For the next four years.
Farewell and an Order that was Obeyed
In April of 1990, I finally moved in with Carmen. Soon after that Hazim began stalking us. We’d find the sentence “Someone is watching you” written on our utility bills in our mailbox. One morning we discovered it in heavy felt-tip ink on our front door. Detailed itineraries of our days and nights were left in our mailbox, along with the times we’d been to these places. He followed us everywhere, and we never saw him. He was like a special-forces operator doing reconnaissance. It terrified Carmen and gave her traumatic flashbacks to the beating he’d administered. Whenever she saw one of Hazim’s messages, she’d burst into tears and wail, “Oh, no! Oh, no!”
As I left the apartment at around sunrise on a Wednesday, Hazim pedaled past me on a tiny pink girl’s bicycle with a white basket and tassels on the handlebars, his knees pointed out to the sides in a grotesque, insectoid way. He wore a full tuxedo and a leer. It was like a scene out of a surreal Italian film from the early 1970s. I was too shocked and disoriented to attack him. After much deliberation, I told Carmen; she cried and trembled.
I began fearing for Carmen’s cat, convinced that one day we’d come home and find that sweet, eccentric, trusting, oddly humorous little animal hanging from our balcony or cut open and nailed to the front door.
Japan had lost its luster.
The hardest person to leave was my former lead singer Steiv Dixon. We hadn’t seen each other very often after the demise of our band, but I still liked him a lot. As I discussed him with Carmen, she flabbergasted me by saying that Steiv had once told her that he loved me. I found that almost impossible to comprehend. He simply didn’t love people. We had a last beer together in August, a day before I left. Although we were comfortable, I think we both knew we’d never see each other again. He wasn’t a letter writer. We talked about my plans to pursue a career in voiceover work and maybe writing someday, and he wished me luck.
“It’s been really great knowing you, guy,” he said as we clinked bottles.
“Likewise,” I said, trying not to weep.
Steiv did send me one letter after Carmen and I found an apartment in San Francisco, but that was all. In 2011 I Googled his name for fun and was horrified to learn that he’d died of an asthma attack in Tokyo in 1997. I remember those episodes and the barely concealed terror they induced in him. It broke my heart to imagine him dying in panic, suffocating and alone because he didn’t let people get close to him. I was the only one. And I’d abandoned him.
In August, after weeks of feeling just horrible about Steiv’s death, I had the most vivid dream of my life. Steiv and I were walking down a street wearing long, heavy coats. It was fall; the trees were bare, and a gentle, cold breeze blew, ruffling our hair. He gave me his vulnerable Barbra Streisand smile as I told him I was so happy to see him, and I’d missed him for the past twenty-one years. He looked off into the distance, listening without looking at me, the way he did. It was one of his many idiosyncrasies. When you spoke to him, he became a ship’s captain scanning the horizon.
We halted beside a low concrete wall. On the other side there was a large field covered with orange and yellow leaves. Steiv faced me and said, “Look, you have to stop being upset. I’m fine! I’m much happier where I am. Don’t worry about me anymore. Seriously, now, Tom. Stop it, okay?”
He gazed at me with a warmth and open affection he’d never shown in life, and I realized that he did love me after all. That was the only time I’ve ever dreamed about him. Steiv was so vain when I knew him that he dyed his prematurely gray hair jet black; in my dream, his locks were as white as Einstein’s.
I think he really is fine, and I’ve stopped being upset, as he demanded.
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