Scars and Stripes

2008, my plane arrived in shreveport Louisiana around 3 pm. the sun was beating, an already hot and humid May afternoon.

I’d arrived on a Thursday and although the funeral was still 2 days away, still somehow, I felt rushed and unprepared. I disembarked the plane and along with 2 pieces of luggage, I was carrying this dazed feeling, something that had been with me since I got the news of my fathers death.

I had been sitting in the parking lot of the unemployment office and it was my mother who delivered the blow via my cellphone. That was 5 days ago and ever since that moment I’d had this disconnected, floating, dreamlike feeling gripping me. I’d only been out of jail 7 days altogether, 36 hours after posting bail when my mom had dropped the bombshell, it did a real number on me. I would not realize the full impact for years to come but at that time I knew I was in a  dark place.

As I walked through the airport scanning a sea of unknown faces, looking for an aunt I hadn’t seen since early childhood, I lowered the dark glasses I was wearing just a little to peek over the top. They made it difficult to see inside but i couldn’t fully remove the shades. You see, I was wearing them to conceal 2 badly blackened eyes but had nothing to conceal the 12 staples that ran down the top of my head or the ace bandage that wrapped my right hand where my thumb had nearly been chewed off at the knuckle. I’d be seeing my entire family soon and after decades away I dreaded the idea of having to explain why my head had a zipper on top and my right hand needed an out of order sign hanging from it. Although, well dressed and composed, I had the look of a man who had been in a car accident. Now, I meandered over to a bench and arranged my bags at my feet and had a seat.

The events of the prior 7 days played on a loop in my head. I saw myself arriving, pulling into the parking lot of a run down club and killing the headlights. This was a “hood spot”, a lot of broke thirsty guys and fat chicks were all hanging around drowning their misery with watered down drinks. This is the type of spot where every weekend there was a fight and on occasion someone got shot. But I came not to drink or seduce one of these shabby heifers that grazed the dance floor looking for love, no, I came looking for trouble.

You know the routine, knucklehead gets out of jail after 8 months and there’s money owed, scores to settle, and asses to be kicked. You know, just letting the streets know I’m home. But this time was different, I was heavy with the energy of my fathers death and secretly I wanted to meet death myself. At the time I had no idea how emotionally dead I was or how deep this loss had affected me. I was just a walking dead man searching the city for this clown, for reasons that seem so trivial now but at the time, were my reason for living. That’s what brought me here, some need to release my hurt

So I bounced out of the car single minded, no pistol tonight, which was unusual but i hadn’t fully expected to catch this dude anyway. This was just a casual patrol, a recon to see if this weasel would peek his head out. I trudged through the packed bar nodding periodically to people I recognized and shuffled my way to the back where the pool tables were, all the while searching the crowd for my enemy. With no luck, I made an immediate b-line for my car. The whole foray took a total of 2 minutes. Satisfied that he was not here, I made my way through the crowded parking lot back towards my car. It was then that I heard a voice calling my name… I turned, to be face to face with clown boy himself. “Ohh.. yeah… hey…” he stammered about trying to make small talk. “When you get out?”, he asked. I ignored the question, grabbed his collar and pulled him between 2 cars and commenced to beat him like a drum with him sprawled across the hood of someones Honda. He feebly defended himself while making a yelping noise. I felt like I was spanking a pissing puppy. This is about the time things got “different”, real different…

From  the corner of my eye I picked up movement, a large shadow was closing in on me and fast. I saw a bright light when he struck me. Blindly, I grabbed puppy boy who seemed to be emboldened now and the three of us came clattering to the ground, but not before I violently struck my head on the bumper of another car. It wasn’t pain i felt, it was the impact of the collision that rocked me sending me into survival mode. I lashed out in all directions against my attackers who seemed to be delivering blows from all sides now. In the scuffle, in the eye of the storm, I snatched at clown boys throat, drawing my hand back I realized I’d ripped off his chain which had a thick platinum diamond encrusted crucifix hanging from it. with the jewelry in hand, in the midst of a royal ass whipping somehow I had the presence of mind to swiftly deposit the loot in my pants pocket without missing a single retaliatory swing. Now with the sneak attacker on my back, I straddled and choked clown boy who managed to sink his teeth into my thumb, and that was about the time that security and members of the crowd stepped in to break it up.

Even as they pulled us apart this damn fool was reluctant to release my poor thumb, gnawing at it until finally hearing someone shout police, he released his bite. I jumped up pissed off and pacing, examining my bleeding thumb. “Damn, I wish I had a gun”. Thank god I didn’t have a gun… I payed no attention at all to my gaping head wound until a girl looking at the blood covered face of a mad man declared in a truly concerned voice, “I think you need to go to the hospital”. Her sincerity snapped me back to reality and I hurried to my car. The blood from my head and my hand poured like a faucet now. running freely about the interior of the vehicle coating every surface with a thick sticky glue.

Changing gears and running a red light, my night ended in the emergency room. Even as they stitched and stapled away at me everything had that lofty un-realness. I was numb, far deeper than the anesthetic could ever make me.

I woke up the next morning and stared at the stranger in the mirror. I ran my fingers over the staples that made my head look like a football, laces up. My thumb was the size of my foot. I couldn’t imagine it would ever return to normal and my 2 horribly blackened eyes topped off my new look. Needless to say, my haze had not lifted, everything I was wearing the night before had to be trashed. The shirt ruined, the shoes ruined, and when I lifted my blood stained pants they felt oddly heavy. I gave them an exploratory squeeze and my fingers caught a large hard object in one of the pockets. Bewildered and curious I dug out the crucifix, it too had been saturated in the blood bath. The dried crimson glue had found its way into every crevice and onto every diamond. Sadistically, I found humor in this morbid treasure. Not realizing that like the scars on my flesh, this crucifix and others like it would always trigger the thoughts and emotions of this day.

Five days later I was at the airport in Shreveport Louisiana sweating profusely and wondering how I was going to attend my fathers funeral this way. I was under a cloud of despair and every time i see these scars I am transported back there to see myself lost, self destructive and attempting to cope with emotions I could not understand.

Scars are like that, they have both a physical and mental aspect to them. they can mark the body and reflect any traumatic event in time. They keep a record and tell a story about who we are, where we’ve been and what we’ve seen.

“Is that you Hokey?” someone beckoned to me drawing me out of my thoughts. “Yes, it’s me Aunty” I stood to greet her, holding back tears behind those dark lenses. We embraced and both smiled awkwardly. “Let me get a look at you boy. You so big!”, she said excitedly. I stepped back, removed the glasses and grinned sheepishly then began, “You see what happened was…”


In loving memory of Rodney Charles Hilliard.


One Reply to “Scars and Stripes”

  1. Venita

    Woow! I know that surreal ,faded, floating in limbo felling well. I first ffelt it in 1985it when they came to tell me my oldest son son was dead. Drowned. I walked the earth like a disembodied spirit. My body continued to function but I wasn’t inside. I wish I could have protected you from yourself. I am grateful you survived. Everything.


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