Sunday, February 13, 2011


Yesterday, my wife and I took in a movie at the new cinema that recently opened over on Haddon Ave. A matinee. It starred Liam Neeson as an ex-CIA operative kidnapped and then brainwashed to assassinate the newly elected American president. I'd give it three stars (out of four). It was what it was, and it did what it was supposed to. My wife called it "political exploitation porn," and maybe she's right (matter of fact, she definitely is, because she's a Republican), but I kind of liked it. It didn't insult my intelligence, was aptly directed, and contained a number of -- three or four, I believe -- big-action set pieces that reminded me of early John Woo. Minus the doves.

Coming out of the theater, a woman behind us groused to her date -- husband, boyfriend, or brother, I have no idea -- that she was starving. An innocuous statement to be sure, but it set off in me such a wild flurry of bad memories that, for the remainder of the day and all of this one, I haven't been able to relax or stop thinking about my awful past. That a random quote from a stranger should set my nerves aflame must be explained by the partial subject matter of the film I'd just watched; for I have been kidnapped, and during that horrible encounter I nearly starved to death.

Five years ago, I worked at a publishing house in Portland. Our bread and butter was tech manuals, but occasionally we took on small-time ad campaigns. Flyers, mostly, for furniture stores and pizza joints. Sometimes sex-toy shops. I didn't exactly loathe the work, but neither did I love it. It was a vacuous form of livelihood that took more than it gave, and after only four months I was ready to call it quits. I handed in my resignation shortly thereafter, and Paul, my boss and bi-weekly drinking companion, said he was sad to see me go but wished me luck in future endeavors. Paul was the best.

On my last day, I turned down co-workers' offers of dinner and carousing to instead head home and lose myself in the ether of a Michael Crichton novel. At least that was the plan. I left the building at 7:02. By 7:05 I was a missing person. Over forty-eight hours later, I was declared as such.

To this day, I have no idea as to my captors' motive. The last thing I can recall about that fateful evening was stepping out from under the building's canopy and into the moonless, rainy night, to look for a cab. Then, I suppose, I was tasered and taken off in a vehicle. That's what my mind has recreated about my abduction in lieu of actual memory. Since then, I've been trying to make sense of what, no matter how hard I consider it, seems senseless.

I woke up -- or regained consciousness -- blindfolded. My legs were tied taut to the legs of a wooden chair. My arms were similarly bound behind me, the chair's high back cutting into my shoulders the further I struggled. I learned not to do that much.

Hours passed. I would shout "Hey!" and when that didn't work opted for a more polite "Hello?" Never did my abductors speak a word to me, but I often heard them talking to each other, whispering away from me, their words heard yet impossible to decipher.

I was indoors, that was for sure. No wind blew save for the rush of air that would brush my face following, almost as an afterthought, my tormentor's fists, which came in hourly spurts. I think I was in a basement. The air seemed damp, cool, and reason told me no one would kidnap a person and torture him in broad daylight. I certainly wasn't in Times Square.

My nose was broken beyond repair, I knew, and my face was so swollen that I assumed I was rendered unrecognizable to friends and family. The word "punishment" holds a very special place in my lexicon in that it sounds, to me, as bad as it feels. I was punished, friends, and I wish I could say I got used to it. I didn't.

But while the violence inflicted on me was horrifyingly painful, it paled in comparison to the abject torment that would come. If I was tortured for as long as I believe I was, it amounts to no more than three or maybe four days. Afterward, I guess my band of ersatz terrorists knew they were being hunted and fled, leaving me alone, because for days I remained unmolested in my chair, immobile and without nutrition, my cries for help unheeded.

Water. I wanted water. God help me, when I was at my thirstiest, I bit my cheek, hard, to drink my own blood, which makes me a self-cannibal, but that's what people in desperate situations are forced to do. I suppose. I've never met anyone who's had an ordeal similar to my own.

My hunger would ebb and flow. It would roar like a caged animal, then it would lull. The minutes between, when I wasn't hungry, were peaceful yet far between, and when the pangs would reawaken I became nearly apoplectic, unable to sit calmly despite my inert position. It got easier to deal with as time passed and I grew weaker, though, until I forgot about it altogether and realized I was dying.

"I'm pretty tall for my height" is a malapropism my brother, a professional volleyball player in Korea, said once during one of our many cross-state trips through New England as kids with our parents, and it's one we revel in laughing over when we meet up. Which hasn't been as often as I'd like. But the resonance of that statement has stayed with me over the years. For two weeks my body literally started eating itself. And when there was no more to consume, it shut down. But I guess it stayed tall for its height.

I don't know how or for what reason I was kidnapped, but I do know how I was found, although it wasn't from memory but rather newspaper articles. There's a photo from the Portland Press Herald in which I look like a skeleton exhumed from an ancient crypt, and every time I look at it, it always makes me shudder. I weighed 48 pounds. My wife scolds me, telling me to leave the past behind and not to dwell over old ghosts, but it's easier said than done.

I have demons. And those demons won't leave me alone. No matter how hard I try, they always force their way back.

They're pretty tall for their height.

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