Our Hearts Are Filled With Razorwire
There are places in our hearts we don't often visit, dark corners that wall us in during the early morning hours. You've been there, just as I have. You snap awake and the room that should be familiar is strange and you're unsure of yourself, shrouded in twilight memory, slipping into blackness. The void calls to all of us.
I bought The Crow graphic novel again. This will be the seventh copy I've either worn out or given to a friend. Maybe I'll hold onto this one awhile. It has been too long out of print. It's back now, like an old flame you haven't seen in a long time. Someone who shares secret things with you, things that you keep locked away in the dark corners of your heart, tucked deep within the places you don't like to go. Everybody knows tragedy of some form. The void calls to all of us.
I can't tell you much of anything about James O'Barr's masterpiece that you don't already know. After the movie came out, everybody read it. Everybody reviewed it, dissected it, and reinterpreted it. The Crow captured the hearts and minds of everyone it touched, leading us up from the dark places in our souls by giving us revenge and more importantly release.
The movie, Brandon's tragic death, and the endless sequels have all become grist for the mill of public consciousness, the comics likewise. There is no point in giving you yet another review of a story you know. Tonight, I offer instead a story told in snapshots. I offer a bit of tragedy locked away within a dark corner of my own heart, which, in the final analysis, illustrates perfectly why we are all so touched by The Crow.
It's early morning, about three by my clock radio. Green neon numbers stare impassively at me, admonishing me. I should be asleep. The room is cold and abuzz with the quiet hum of our air conditioner, the purring of our three cats, and the soft snoring of my girlfriend and our dog. Tonight I draw no comfort from these familiar sensations. I'm awake, dancing with the ghosts of my past. Eric Draven's cold raging eyes stare up at me from my nightstand, and I pick up my new graphic novel. Twice in my life, this story has helped me when I needed a hand up from the depths.
Tonight I'm thinking about Katie. It's not something I do much any more. She's been gone for a long time and her ghost has faded from my life. But tonight, a flickering of memory brings her back to me, and I hear the sound of wings.
We first meet in a comic shop.
I'm living in Santa Cruz, two months out of the Air Force, still recovering from military programming. I'm staying with my friends, Shane and Debbie. Shane is teaching me how to surf, and I'm enjoying not having a job. Katie and I both frequent Atlantis Fantasyworld. We run into each other on new comics day. We say hello. We always make it a point to check out what the other is buying. We often get into good-natured arguments. She's a freak about superhero comics. I think the genre died in the early eighties. She's warm, funny, and she never looks up when she's listening to you, which drives me crazy.
It's early on a Saturday, and I'm hanging out, chatting up the guys at the counter. The topic of the day is some inane bullshit about David Sim and Cerebus. I'm in mid rant and I'm stopped cold when a 5'6", gorgeous, redheaded vampire bounds across the room and bites me full on the neck. I short circuit. It's one of the few moments in my life where I have absolutely nothing to say. Later, we're out having coffee, and I ask her why. She laughs and remarks that it was the only way she could think of to shut me up. From that point on, we're inseparable.
And it's six months later. We're living together now. We're a couple, and it seems to agree with both of us. Shane and Debbie adore her and for some bizarre reason Katie's parents like me. We're not perfect. We fight occasionally, and one time I inadvertently make her cry. Most of the time though, we're good together. We love each other, and we're happy.
And it's a week into our seventh month together. Katie leaves to pick up her sister from her parents house in San Jose. She makes it there okay, and she calls at about noon. She tells me she's going to stay for dinner, and she asks if I could join them. I tell her yes, I'll be there directly after work. I'll join them at the restaurant. Our conversation ends happily enough with my cracking wise about her mother's stubborn refusal to cook, even though she's a professional chef. I love you, and I'll see you soon.
Then the void opens up and swallows Katie whole. The next time I see her, she's small, pale and lifeless. She's smiling peacefully. It's a look that will haunt me until I die. Her parents and the police lay it all out for me later.
She had a headache that afternoon. There was no Tylenol in the house, and she was stubborn about not using anything else. There was a market close by, so she walked. On her way back, a young man who had made a bad judgment call, lost control of his vehicle. It careened through an intersection and into the crosswalk, just as Katie was stepping off the curb.
And it's a week later. Her funeral is rainy and cold.
And it's a week later. I've withdrawn completely into a dark place.
And it's three weeks later. I've long since been fired from my new job. I've been thrown out of every bar in Capitola. I'm still trapped within the void, drowning in a bottle of the same thing that killed my girlfriend.
And it's a week later. I'm still miserable, but I'm starting to think that maybe I should go get some help. I'm sitting on the beach at Capitola by the Sea, staring off into the bay. Shane is sitting beside me. I have no idea how long he's been there. I haven't seen him since the funeral. I've done my best to push everyone away and disappear down a bottle of Mescal. Shane knows me; he knows where I am all the time. He's been checking up on me, marking time and holding my place in the world open for me. He sits beside me for a while, long enough, I think, to be sure I've started to bring myself up from the dark place. Finally, he hands me a stack of comics and he says, "Here, these might help a little. This guy went through the same thing you just did, and he did a comic book about it. When you're done being alone, come home. We miss you and we want you back."
Sitting in the sand at the edge of Monterey Bay, I read The Crow for the first time. It hits me like ice water as I see every ounce of pain and rage that I feel at the world spread out on the pages before me. It forces me into a moment of clarity. Eventually I work through the pain. I continue on.
And it's seven years later. Time has dimmed the pain, as it always does, and I no longer wake up with Katie's name on my lips. The void doesn't call to me much anymore. I'm comfortable, a bit more settled. I'm half a world, and six years away from Santa Cruz.
And the phone is ringing. There's an unwelcome sense of foreboding as I pick up the receiver. It's Debbie. She's telling me that Shane is gone, swallowed up by the ocean that he loved so much. The void opens up before me. Once again I pick up The Crow and read it through.
I can't go to the funeral. I have responsibilities, work commitments I can't break. I ask Debbie what she needs, and she tells me she wants to go home. I make the arrangements and I send her a plane ticket to Seattle. As an afterthought, I grab up those four original issues of The Crow and send those along too. I write her a brief note that reads, "Here, these might help a little. Shane once gave me these at a time when I really needed them. When you're done being alone, go home to your family. They need you. We all need you. The world is a much better place with you in it."
And it's two years later. I'm awake, it's late and I'm staring off into the black void of my past. And it's okay because I'm not alone. For the first time in my life I finally realize I was never alone. I reach over and I stroke my girlfriend's hair just slightly. She murmurs and stirs a bit. The cats snuggle in closer, sucking in body heat against the chill of the room, and all is well.
The Crow graphic novel is always in print. The original four issues remain undiluted, expanded into graphic novel, but unchanged in form and substance. They are still an affirmation of life and what it means to have to be the one who goes on living. James O'Barr has given us a tether to help bring us out of the dark places. We will always have The Crow to show us that we are never alone when the void reaches out to us.