by David Venzor
When I was about 10 years old my older brother (by five years) got a pump action BB gun for his birthday. This was the real deal. I’m talking 1990’s, pump this thing up 12 times and it was going through a wooden fence, weren’t quite the regulations their are today, real deal. My dad would spend a few evenings here and there teaching my brother proper form (dad was prior military, Vietnam era) and I would watch them, absorbing every detail and impatiently waiting to gain the approval from my parents. After safety lessons, and approval from the parents, I was free to cut loose in the backyard with my brother. We lived in Florida at the time and my parents had a decent sized backyard that was fenced off from the front of the neighborhood, a.k.a lots of room for cookbook activities.
Maybe you could’ve guessed, but I grew up in a very conservative, Southern Baptist home. To top it off I was home-schooled until fourth grade, so other than my neighborhood friends, I was really sheltered. I didn’t know that though, and luckily there were dozens of neighborhood kids my brother and I could play with. We played outdoors a lot, but I was always a little different. My parents used to spank us with all sorts of stuff, belts wooden spoons, switches, etc. It definitely hurt, but somewhere along the line I learned that I didn’t care that it hurt.
I began to like that I was pissing my parents off more than the pain and would purposely do things to frustrate them even after literally being told that if I proceeded would be punished. I fit in with and got along well with our peers, but was known to have the shortest temper and actually get in fights over it. Uncontrollable tantrums of anger. I don’t know why, but I have a vivid memory of my mother explaining to me (from a biblical standpoint) that “God gave us dominion over animals.” This random memory, I would later find out, became the seed of much of my hatred towards virtually everything.
It wasn’t long before my brother and I became really good with that BB gun. Our targets became smaller and smaller and it became harder to challenge ourselves. I recall my brother shooting a lizard that was running along a planter box and actually hitting it. We walked over and the lizard had been blown off the box by the amount of force traveling through him. He was dead and I was hooked. Not too much later and I was spending at least an hour in our backyard, per evening, honing my newfound secret skill.
Over summers my family would road trip to my half-brother’s house in Kirksville, Mo. My half brother, was the eldest of us. He was 18, lived on a farm, had real guns, and hunted for his meat seasonally rather then buy it from a store. Practically my idol at the time. It was here that I would develop a greater interest in guns and see the remains of gutted animals around the property.
Soon after our return to Florida, I became bored with just lizards. Over the years it became anything I could justify as being a nuisance to “my” backyard. And it didn’t stop there. I began to mutilate things. Strapping various victims to commercial grade mortars that we would buy on our road trips to Missouri and filming them blow up — then going out of my way to edit the footage into slow motion. My dad would later find the stash of videos on our family computer taking up a sizable amount of space and confront me about it. This would be my first realization that what I was doing wasn’t “normal.”
My fascination with hunter and prey began to bleed over into many facets of my life. Hide and seek, for example, was no longer a light-hearted friendly neighborhood game. I would go around during the days after school and scout new hiding spots, pre-place ropes in trees to climb and escape from. I recruited a buddy and we would run on the streets barefoot to callous them in order to move barefoot like ninjas (this didn’t last long).
We’d carry smoke bombs and flash bang fireworks during our time to hide. I was dead serious. I wanted to hide and not be found and watch everyone look for me and would succeed. My buddy and I would succeed in doing this so often that our neighborhood actually stopped playing it because it was no longer fun for anyone else. I’m not sure if it was the pyrotechnics, full camouflage, or them searching and never finding. But something gave it away that this was no longer a game.
Around the time neighborhood games were becoming less of a thing I found counter-strike. Before Steam. My brother played casually, but it was my life. It was the sum of everything I liked to do, wanted to do, in a game. There was no Twitch or like software, but I swear I could head shot your ass with a Deagle before you even walked around the corner (Bose headset and lack of bullet-stopping walls basically made for wall hacks). I committed weeks of my life to that game.
I was a pretty openly known to be a destructive kid, too. Before I was 10, I thought it would be cool to try and burn down a portion of my neighbors house. It was a terrible attempt, but I still “intended” to try and burn down a wooden pillar of their house. I tied a piece of twine around the pillar, ran it to a bush right near by, and lit the twine on fire and left. Honestly, I often thank whatever you believe in as a Higher Power that nothing happened, and that my lack of knowledge prevented my intentions from happening that day.
Throughout my childhood I was obsessed with Christmas lights. Still love ‘em. My parents were pretty cool and basically gave me what seemed to be a blank check each year for Christmas lights. I would meticulously pre-design, measure, and decide what was needed months before, each year, and set up the Christmas lights. Anyway, a couple of our neighbors started getting ballsy and really out-doing all of the competition. Normally there was only one house better than mine, this one particular year there were like four. Unacceptable. While playing with the owners kids of the well lit houses, I went around and pulled lights from different lines, sabotaging their displays. Little did I know kid’s mom was watching me. Caught red-handed after only 20 minutes of glory.
I was notorious for breaking stuff around church. Also, breaking and entering into things that were locked off around the premise (primarily abandon school buildings near the church). When I was a little older, maybe around eleven, we got new neighbors in the neighborhood. I didn’t like them because they were new so I took a hammer to their garage and then self admitted to it a week later.
During high school I got involved with the wrong crowd. I legitimately had a promising career in skateboarding, but threw it away for drugs. Not weed. But everything else, except black tar heroin and crystal meth. Literally, I think those were the only things I didn’t do. I was still secretly killing shit and burying it in my backyard, like Dexter. But it was becoming frustrating instead of stress relieving, or “fun.”
I had thought about it. You’re probably right if you’re thinking about it. I wanted to kill someone. This wasn’t actually fixated upon an individual. Rather, I just wanted to experience life leaving another human at my own hands. I remember thinking, “Killing animals doesn’t bother me, would people?” Around this time I saw the first Jason Bourne movie and that was that. That’s what I wanted to do. He’s who I wanted to become. But first, drugs. I would continue down such a destructive road that it was common to hear about someone overdosing, going to jail for X amount of years, getting shot, you name it.
I decided to take drastic measures. I ditched all of my friends and procrastinated at college. I opted for a community college as to not waste my parents gracious offer of funding at a university when I didn’t even know what I wanted to study.
I hated the classroom setting. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t be loud. I felt oppressed and ever since I can remember, if it’s not my will, I will not conform, rather I’ll lash out. My parents could sense my frustrations at home. Although they had no idea to what extent, knew something was up. I revealed a lot to my mother during this time without exposing all of my secrets. I remember her crying, trying to understand me, and all I could come up with was a lame ass cliché, “Maybe I’m just a natural born killer.” She about smacked the evil out of me, shouting that I not say such sadistic things about myself.
Half way through the semester I had had enough self torment. Instead of driving to class I drove to the recruiter’s office. Prior to this day I had done quite a bit of military research and knew that if I wanted to be off the grid, behind layers of tape, assassin status that I needed to be in Special Operations. I filled out an option 40 contract (Ranger contract at the time) and was on my way. I had everything I needed except for my recruiters confidence. She actually told me that if I made it to come back and make her do push-ups… Should have taken her up on that offer.
That year I would attend Basic training, airborne school, the Ranger Indoctrination Program (presently known as R.A.S.P) and deploy for my first time with 2nd Ranger Battalion. The military, more specifically, special operations, met everything I wanted out of life at the time. But at the cost of one thing. Empathy. Empathy? The hell is that? When you’re in a line company who’s primary objective is to kill or capture high value enemy targets, everything is maximum. It is an elite mentality and there is no time for weakness. Weak minds and complacency are associated with death. Empathy? Nah, never heard of it. “Sounds like you got vaginitis.” = Every Ranger at some point.
My first deployment was a good ol’ time, learned a lot. I learned that if a wild dog was barking away our position, it was gonna die by a suppressed Glock. I learned that just because I was in special operations didn’t mean our people wouldn’t die. I learned that I was starting to think average people (civilians) were obstacles. I remember at a point in an argument telling my fiancee (this is six years ago mind you) that “I would eat her friends.” “What does that even mean?” She’d ask. You would probably even ask.
Literally, I was expressing that I was so outside the realm of their normalcy that I would have found no hesitation in consuming them had we needed to for survival. Sure it’s a hypothetical situation, but the mentality is real as ever and I know I’m not alone among my GWOT (Global War on Terror) Alumni. I was an animal. At that level, you gotta be. The problem when you get out is “moderation”.
I would deploy two more times with Second Ranger Battalion (should’ve been three, but I broke my leg on my third…weak genetics, or some shit.) and further sew hatred into my mind as there is such tragedy on all fronts and ends of war. I’m not blaming the military for this, I’m shedding light on the jaded perception that can derive from a combat climate. It’s beautiful and it’s terrible. It’s bliss in chaos and It’s Hell at home. A part of me had changed, though. Maybe not of the most expected. I was now hating the unnecessary hunting of animals. You see, wild animals are merely carrying out what their designed to do, whether you believe in evolution or creation — they’re adapting to their environments, seeking to eat, reproduce, and not die.
We, on the other hand, humans have these damned abilities to deceive (by means outside of just trying to obtain a meal in the wild), to corrupt, to have malicious intent– the ability to know that what we’re doing is wrong. A deer is eating the plants out of your front yard because that’s what it eats. It’s not a thief making the conscious effort to take what isn’t his or hers. I became acutely aware that humans are the cause of all this destruction. And that by screwing around with the animal population we affect the ecosystems, which affect the environment, and in doing such directly impact ourselves. We deserve the punishment. Not the animals (got it, we’re animals you get what I’m saying).
I was honorably discharged from active duty in 2013 and my parents were eager to have me home in Florida for a few weeks before I made my final move out West. One of the first few days home, a squirrel climbed up a tree in my parents front yard that has an owl box on it. My dad stopped playing the piano, grabbed a bb gun, and shot at it. In my opinion, luckily he missed. And he was pissed! He boasted, “I’ve been practicing at home since I don’t get as much range time as you.” I scolded him, “That squirrel has more of a right to live then we do.” I still argue, that with modern society, it does. Think of all the evil I just admitted to, I can think of hundreds of reasons why people would want me dead. But that squirrel? It was just trying to find somewhere to sleep, bro.
But seriously, and fast forward through a year of college and some of the brutal realities of a Ranger transitioning back to a civilian life, we got a cat. She’s great. And ya she’s a feline, not a K9. But check it out: I’ve worked with large breed dogs and they submit. Humans have artificially bred dogs to such a point that they do what we say and want, at all times (who’s a good boy?), and the ones that don’t tend to be neglected. Cats, though? Cat attacks are devastating. Not to say that the average house dog can’t land a mean bite. I mean that the average house dogs aren’t as likely to do this intentionally. In my experience, the average house dog that’s biting my arm is still going to submit when it realizes it’s about to die— that average house cat that’s biting my arm doesn’t give a shit and is also slicing my eye balls, throat, wrist, and femoral artery while pissing and hissing everywhere. You can’t mess with cats. They won’t let you.
Again, I understand that dogs can be vicious, but try to make a dog do something it doesn’t want to, and then try making a cat do something it doesn’t want to. Nor is the domestication the same. Felines still have much of their predatory drive. So much so that you can’t move anything too quickly without a potential boop of the paw. Cats and dogs are onto us long before our actions take place.
Gracie, our cat, was the first pet I have ever owned. She’s kind of a mood balancer around the house. When we first got her, not having been a pet owner, only knowing how to work with operating dogs, I was exerting maximum displays of dominance around the house with zero effect. Gracie didn’t give a shit. She was ‘gonna cat and if I was in her way of that I became victim, or I’ve read online, they’ll just get up and leave your ass and find a new family. As I gave Gracie her space to live without fear of being pointlessly reprimanded, she began to warm up to me. At first it was like this weird power struggle in the house hold where I was Alpha male and she was an intruder type scenario— then I realized she may actually be the Matriarch and I am beta male AF. But back to the point, we had to figure out how to coexist with one another and eventually she re-adopted me.
One day after after playing with Gracie in our apartment I realized she couldn’t get high enough to see out of any of our windows. Fail. I noticed that she’d hang out under them laying in a seemingly longing-for-something-manner (probably that high ground advantage, though). It dawned on me that she knows there is a life outside of the apartment, and I could actually imagine being that small in a new place, never being able to see outside again. I promptly went to Home Depot and crafted a perch for her so she could take in some scenery. The whole time I was constructing it she knew something was up. She’d come sniff the wood as if to give it her approval or disapproval before I mounted it on the wall. But as soon as I did, she hopped up and tilted her head for some pats and I felt such an immense amount of satisfaction. She also gave me that wince approval, like the Oracle from the Matrix when she tells Neo he’s not the one.
This was the first time since 2009 I was actively engaged in, and aware of, having empathy towards something other than myself or exclusive inner circle. Off and on I would have these moments with Gracie that I found a lot of comfort in. Something about just being and letting be. A little more empathy and now I’m starting to sound like a paranoid cat parent. Is Gracie lonely? Does she remember that there are other cats in the world? Seriously.
Before she got too much older we decided to adopt Commander (Faux Black Cat). Commander is hilarious. He’s a few pounds bigger than Gracie and since he’s male (the neighbor also has a female cat. All of our cats are spayed and neutered) and has all this territory/ food /ladies his instincts are telling him to step up to the bat and be the Alpha. Simultaneously his DNA is coded with the infamous scaredy-cat syndrome. Oh there is food being poured into my bowl? I will beat everyone there and claim all sustenance.
*Commander violently exits room in fear of life*
Then he’ll come swaggering back out of the other room like, “Sup, bitches?”
He’s my little dude.
If you or anyone you know are struggling with any type of isolation, depression, anger issues, PTSD, virtually anything, I strongly suggest considering getting a pet. It doesn’t even have to be a cat or a dog. Studies show that just by bringing aquariums into homes, stress levels can decrease. Pick whatever you’d like. Build a bond with it, implement the time into your routine. Make an effort to make its quality of life better.
I do not regret who I am, what I’ve done or who I’ve become. We can all progress. We can all regress. We are the sum of every interaction, transaction, accident, loss, and victory in our lives. Our belongings are expressions of our internal manifestations. We are what we spend our money on. What do you stand for?
Your consciousness is a roll of the dice. We all could have been born into far worse circumstances. Be humble, and be grateful for everything.
This article originally appeared in The Havok Journal September 29, 2017.