Enlightenment from the Gutter—An Extract from The Hermit
In 2013, Gabriel D Roberts left his wife and the securities of everyday life and embarked on a journey into uncertainty. Heading North into California’s Humboldt hills, he sought work chopping weed in order to gain enough quick cash to start afresh. Things didn’t go as planned, however, and he wound up homeless. But as Dante’s Inferno teaches us, the path to heaven can only proceed once the depths of hell have been plumbed. THE HERMIT is distilled from Gabriel D Roberts’ raw experience of this visceral and harrowing journey.
BACK UP IN THE ROOM he staggered and groaned like a hobo and began talking shit to me, “Hey, whore, why don’t you fix me another drink before I fuck that mouth of yours?” I slapped the back of his head and he head-butted me so hard that my vision went white. The scent of chlorine filled my nose as I reeled from the hit. “Jesus, Hank, chill out man!” “Don’t trifle me you fucking whore, now lets get some girls”. “No, seriously man, I’m not here to be your whore, I’m your friend and as thankful as I am for all this, I will not be subject to abuse!” Hank softened shamefully and put his hand against my neck as I held my nose, waiting for blood. He put his other hand under my chin and raised it for inspection, looking at my nose. “You okay man?” “No, I’m not okay, you just fucking head-butted me!” “Oh shit, I’m sorry man…” He stumbled over to the Grey Goose bottle that was now half empty, “lemme pour you a drink, okay? Is that okay?” “Brother, all of this…”, he waved his hands around at the room with a sway in his gait, “…is for you. I know you’ve had it rough, brother, and I want to show you that I love you”. I morosely acknowledged his apology as he poured the vodka with no regard for ice or mixers. I was really drunk as well and in this space felt a bit more at ease to enjoy the state. As Hank handed me the glass of vodka, I noticed his palm was bleeding down into the sleeve of his shirt.
“Lemme look at that”. “Oh shit, I have no idea how that happened!” A patch of flesh the size of a thumb tack had flapped open where the wound was and I took his hand and kissed it. I then held his bleeding hand to my face, then placed his palm to my teeth. I bit the dangled flesh off his hand and swallowed it, “you are my communion, brother”. We kissed and our stubble rubbed like sand paper, face to face with open mouths, holding hard like we were fighting for dominance. We fell onto one of the beds and just looked at each other like lovers would. “I love you brother and I won’t ever hurt you”. Hank said as he held my head with both hands. “I love you too Hank”. We got up and I took him into the bathroom to clean up his still bleeding hand. We poured a little vodka on it and resolved to head out again.
As I clacked away at my laptop, Hank opened the fridge for a beer, “Hey do you think I could do that DMT? You were saying your friends Albert and Macy had some. Would they be willing to share some?” “Yeah man, I’ll ask Albert and see what’s up”. I wrote to Albert and sure enough they agreed to meet with us the next day at their place. I was bummed because I hadn’t gotten my mail and documents from Betty, so I wouldn’t be able to pick up my bike, without which I was a sitting duck.
I was really fucking exhausted by the onslaught of Hank and was wearing thinner and thinner in my patience with his demons. He asked me to join him at this bar called Redwood to meet a girl from the dating app he was using and I hesitantly agreed. I typed up some poetry on my vintage typewriter and showed it to Hank. “Man, this is so good, dude! What’s this new book you’re working on?” I adjusted myself as I sat, a bit perplexed and stymied, “I thought I knew. I thought it would be about finding enlightenment in the woods, but I don’t know if I’m any better off than I was when I left LA last fall. I don’t feel any more enlightened, or wise, just further down the road, I guess. Can I read you some of it?” “Yeah, please, please!”
I recited the tale of how I felt in those first few days alone without the comfort of home, with the whole world pissed off at me and how low I felt, but also about the newfound strength I had after taking the chance. “Oh my god, dude, I remember when I rode my bicycle from Seattle to San Francisco with a big backpack. I remember it started raining and I didn’t have any place to go. I wasn’t even near a rest stop. I pulled off the road enough to not be seen and curled up at the base of a tree, soaking wet. I thought I was going to die of hypothermia, but I shivered, cold and wet through that night and I saw the morning come. I didn’t get much sleep, but when I did wake, the clouds were gone and the light shone through the trees like a spotlight. The dew was glistening everywhere and I felt more motherfucking alive than I had ever felt before. Nobody understands what it is we are capable of, because they don’t know what its like to die in the cold and live again”. “Hank, that was beautiful”. He hovered over me with perhaps the deepest sincerity I’d seen in a long while, and I saw the man peek out from within the beast.
We made our way to Redwood and met up with the girl and a friend of hers. I said hello and Hank sat beside her. Her name was Dolores, and despite her unfortunate name, she was a charming Scottish woman whose penchant for swearing and talking dirty was very alluring. Hank, on the other hand was uncharacteristically quiet. He could hardly articulate anything at all and sat beside Dolores, nearly catatonic. I held up the conversation and talked him up, but it felt like I was doing promotions at a wax museum. Hank was more like an abandoned Romanian baby than the dickswinging reprobate he made himself out to be. After a couple of hours of awkwardness, we left the place and walked to another spot ten blocks down the road. I asked what happened and he began to snarl like an orc every time I tried to talk to him. So I just walked beside this demon man whose shadow had outgrown his light and tried my best to let what love I could share to be his. “She fucking liked you better, man. I fucked it up, I couldn’t say a fucking word. I was just too nervous”, he muttered again, more quietly to himself, “too nervous… and I just…mruahhhhhhh!” He flailed his arms out and back behind himself, his head flung forward like a vulture, exuding evil like a Satanic power station. I had, over the course of the last couple of days, been able to keep the demon at bay, but there was no containing it. Something was deeply wrong and it could not be corrected by a drunk and confused me.
We almost made it to another spot when he began to shake his head like a mental patient, growling among the crowded street folk. I pulled him by his arm to try to coax him away from harm. “Don’t fucking touch me! You think you’re better than me, motherfucker?” “Well, at this moment I am”, and as soon as I said it, Hank swung his fist to the side of my head knocking me sideways but not out or over. And before he could swing again, a bicycle cop who had doubtlessly been following us for a block or two came down upon us quickly, “Hey, get away from that man!” the cop yelled as he jumped off his bike. Hank leapt up like a frightened cat with eyes like saucers and shrunk back like a vampire. “It’s okay, it’s okay! He was just playing around with me, right Hank?” I looked in his feral eyes. “Right?” “Yeah, officer, I’m sorry, I’m sorry”. Hank whimpered. “Listen, you gotta get this guy home. If I see him again, he’s spending the night in jail”. “Okay officer, thank you”, I said, trying to comfort Hank, who was now almost clinging to me like a refugee.
He was shaking with fear, “You gotta get me home right now man, you don’t understand the jackboot. Have you ever had a cop put his boot on your face and stand on it? You ever looked up at one of them pieces of shit while they take pleasure in beating you minutes from life? You gotta get me home, you gotta get me home”. I tried to calm him with my award winning levity, my arm over his shoulder. “Well Hank, maybe you should stop punching your friends?” “I hit you? Is that why the cop appeared out of nowhere?” I was deeply disturbed by what I had witnessed; in fact the punch to my head was the last thing on my mind. I was legitimately concerned for Hank’s life and wellbeing. To me, there was no way that I could keep drinking with him. I couldn’t give him any reason to use me as an excuse.
It was late when we got home and I laid down on my dog bed to get some sleep. Hank went into the other room and closed the door. The rooms were separated, but you could hear everything and I could tell he was on a live video XXX site. I drifted off. I awoke at eight am with Hank above me with a beer in his hand. He started in a bad Cockney accent. “I find you to be a pretty little thing. Don’t I then? Don’t I? Don’t I find you pretty? So here’s what you’re gonna do. Just stick that little ass up in the air”. Hank’s shadow cast long upon the wall, like a vampire huddled over its victim, and in reality his shadow was far bigger than the man who lurched over me. He was sucking the goodness right out of me, then and there. “That’s right, just stick it in the air, cause I’d like to fuck it, wouldn’t I? Wouldn’t I then? Wouldn’t I? Like to fuck it?” “Dude, we need girls. This is not working”.
I got him to leave me alone and I just laid there quietly for another couple of hours. It was Valentine’s day and I was alone, scared, hung-over, broke, and living with a psychopath. This was not my vision of the enlightened path. I began to cry hard, but quietly, so as not to attract Hank’s attention. Hank walked into the room, “Hey, I’m gonna get this cam girl to shove three dildos in her pussy, hey? Hey? Brother, what’s the matter?” “I miss my fat wife, I miss my children, I miss betty, I don’t wanna be a fuck up!” I blurted, sobbing as Hank crouched beside me, having returned to his kinder self. “You had to leave her man, you didn’t love her anymore. You and her were no good any longer. Look what you’ve done so far. Look at what you’re gonna do. You’re my hero, man. Don’t cry”. Hank’s eyes got really sad as he began to well up too and he put down his beer and hugged me on the floor. I sobbed into his beer stained shirt. “Okay, okay”. I caught my breath and calmed down. “I know I’m not supposed to be with Betty, I know I’m supposed to get into college and put out my book on consciousness, but I’m just exhausted! I can’t drink with you. I can’t do it! I don’t want it and neither should you. You’re one of the smartest people I know and you’re fucking up!” “I know, brother, I know, but I’m gonna make it okay. Here, I’m gonna put this beer down, and we’re gonna go to see Albert and Macy and I’m gonna do the DMT and it will be okay. Okay?” “Okay, Hank”.
“I’m just so lonely, dude, so fucking lonely. These girls don’t do it, the beer doesn’t do it. I know it wasn’t right, but with Betty I was home and now I have no home. I have no home and I don’t know when I’m gonna feel like that again. It’s why I stayed with her for so long, I was scared to not have a home. That deep love that comes from the very heart of a person. No matter where I’ve been, I’ve not been home. That clueless woman is the only place I know, the only safe place I’ve known. But it’s dead. It’s fucking dead and I can’t bring it back to life, no matter how hard I try. I tried so fucking hard. So fucking hard to bring it back. It’s just dead. And now, here I am on your floor, weeping like a bitch because I left a dead life, but it was my dead life. I don’t regret it, but I’m lost without it”. I just whimpered and wept with Hank at my feet.
Hank had tears in his eyes. “I need to read you something. It’s about me and Jenny”:
I cross the street against the light and take the last half block in long strides, cig dangling from my lips, bag of McDonalds in one hand, pack of Marlboro Mediums and a Vitamin Water in the other. This is my classic offering. I wait outside the back alley door in the slight rain, it’s not as easy as a text or a call… those lines have all been shut down. I send an email, a couple minutes added delay, cause we are miles apart…time zones… universes. It amazes me that we try to communicate at all, and then I remember that it’s not by choice that we are bound together, it’s something else. We each have our other ones, hers a loyal boy in a band, a calculated coincidence, slow and careful, quietly cultivated and nursed from seed to sapling over years; mine a stunning blond, a frantic scramble, snatched up midair and blindfolded, all style no substance… my sprint to her jog. When she finally opens the back gate I’m half wet. She pretends she doesn’t know the booty shorts and wife beater disheveled look is how I like her best, complains that she looks terrible, but inside she is smiling at my racing heart.
Her small apartment is cluttered with the ruins and wreckage of our old love, and sprinkled with the monuments and hidden treasures of her new one. I concentrate on pulling out a smoke. Block it all out with that first drag. We sit and smoke. Most days that’s about it, we share a couple cigs and we say a couple words and I’m gone, but not today. Today with each smoke we drift a little closer. Today each word is spoken a little quieter. The distance between us is halved and the attraction is more than doubled. We both fight as hard as we can…or maybe it’s just me fighting it, maybe she is toying with me, making sure she still has the card to play. A little closer and it doesn’t matter who has what card, we are in each other’s arms, and oh fuck it’s like the first breath of air I’ve had in months. It’s the only thing we have left after all the betrayal, this magnetic force, this brilliant spark that I couldn’t reproduce in a million years with a million different girls. It’s so hot and so bright, and it goes on getting brighter for what seems like forever, filling up the void in my guts like a god damned supernova…but nothing lasts forever. A spark is just that, it’s good for one thing…starting fires”, [Hank began to weep profusely] “and our fire has already burned, it burned hot and it burned up everything in its path. There’s nothing left here to burn. The ashes are fertile, good for planting, but I ain’t Johnny fuckin’ Appleseed, that’s drummer boy, so I get dressed, light another smoke and hit the door”.
And there we were, two tough guys who had faced the threat, ran the drugs, tried the scary things and came inches from death on many occasions, but now we were dancing with insanity and crying as those who mourn for we had seen the death of love.