Nate lived up to his name. Almost exclusively dressed in green cargo shorts and sandals with a perpetual beard and emaciated composure, he appeared to be made of granola.
There was one last piece of the outdoorsy puzzle for Nate. He spent most of the money he made working the stand at a farmer’s market on his membership at a bouldering facility where he hung out so much the nickname people there gave him behind his back was “Furniture.”
Nate’s first foray into actual mountain climbing would be the day that changed his life.
The day was also his sixth date with a young woman named Andrea he met on a Christian Dating site, even though he was not Christian in any way. 30 years into his life he realized the modest, rule-following, devout nature of typical Christian women was better for him than the usual free spirits he casually dated since he had graduated from Evergreen State University at the age of 25.
She was an “experienced rock climber” and was going to show him the ropes of actually rock climbing on the first Saturday they both had open. She drove him up the foothills of Mount Baker to her “favorite spot” and they set up on a rare perfectly-sunny day in Western Washington.
It turned out Andrea was full of shit. She was spotting Nate on the rock when he fell and she failed to do her job and it caused him to crash down the hard ground from 15 feet up and smash his face against a rock.
Nate assumed he was either going to die or at least be knocked unconscious when he hit the ground. He didn’t. He rolled onto his back after his crash landing and looked up at that sky that didn’t look so perfect anymore.
He also assumed he was in shock when he laid there on the ground not feeling an ounce of pain, feeling just like the sunny sky that hung above his head, regretting taking Andrea’s anecdotes about rock climbing and her expertise at face value.
Andrea drove Nate to the hospital. He could count the amount of bones he broke in his face on two hands and the amount of teeth he chipped on one hand. He had a concussion, but that was it. He wouldn’t even have to stay in the hospital overnight.
They offered him pain medications. He turned them down. Nate was a proud “straight edge” individual, dating back to his college days when he was in a band called Get The Most.
The doctor thought he was insane and/or a recovering addict. She couldn’t have been more wrong.
It was simply that Nate didn’t feel any pain. He was willing to break his drug and alcohol virginity to relieve himself from pain had he been experiencing what he should have been experiencing given the severity of his injuries.
Nate went back to business as usual once the swelling went down to a point where he didn’t look like The Elephant Man.
He almost kind of forgot about the whole thing, and Andrea, until a few weeks later when he was challenging himself at the bouldering facility and thinking about how she stopped replying to his texts once he got better, and if continuing to communicate with her even though he hated her personality, but thought she was sexually attractive, was ethically acceptable.
The deep thought caused him to lose his focus and his grip on the very top of a 10-foot high wall and he fell backwards. The numb state of his brain also caused him to not think about properly landing until too late and almost all of his 150 pounds landed on his outstretched arm.
Nate had a compound fracture. The coincidence of his terrible injuries happening in the same month made him laugh as he looked at his frightening injury that caused two people in the facility to vomit.
Again, he felt no pain.
He didn’t have to stay in the hospital again and he was home before midnight. This was rather convenient because Andrea finally responded to his texts after she saw his injury posted on Instagram and she came over to have sex before 1 a.m.
He was especially happy she slipped away to go home around 1:45 a.m. It allowed him to conduct an experiment, in private.
He walked into his living room and turned a burner on, high. He looked at the blue flames for a few seconds and then stuck his hand that wasn’t stuck in a cast into the heat.
He left his hand in there for 30 seconds just to be sure. Still nothing. It was clear he felt no pain.
Nate just went about his life for months. He didn’t tell anyone, not even his family. It was just a convenient thing. It didn’t even make him fearless. He was basically the same exact person he was before.
Something changed in Nate. The once introspective and sensitive beta male became a different person, and not the for the better.
Nate quickly became reckless. He started fights with people who rubbed him the wrong way for even the slightest reason. He took what he wanted with Andrea and then kicked her right out the door. He drank. He did drugs. He spent all the money he had in his bank account on drugs and didn’t care about paying the rent at the filthy studio he lived in at the edge of the suburbs of Seattle.
He quickly became a loner, more so. He quickly became someone people were afraid of. He quickly became one of those guys you went to high school no one has seen in five years that now only posts memes and blurry photos on Facebook.
He quickly became a threat.
It seemed that Nate, like many young men, was a fraught stack of Jenga pieces and taking out just one piece, or adding a piece could cause the whole thing to fall down. Apparently discovering that he could do anything he wanted and no longer feel pain was the little wooden block it took to throw him off the deep end.
Now you’re probably wondering why I’m sharing this information with you. Just another disaffected young white male who withdrew from the world, right?
Yes, right, but I was the one assigned to try and make sure he didn’t lash out at said world that he withdrew from. That’s what you wanted, right?
See you thought this was a story about Nate, but it’s not. It’s a story about me, Elisabeth.
My job as a social worker for Snohomish County, Washington was usually relatively forgettable. Mostly welfare checks on families that were flagged for issues. Sometimes talking to troubled single moms, giving them some basic information – Where’s Planned Parenthood? What kind of services can I receive? How do I get your job? Where’s the bathroom?
Then one cold afternoon after an entire day of coasting without an appointment, my supervisor came into my office and told me about how I was going to be part of a new guinea pig program they were going to be starting all around the state.
The government finally decided they were going to monitor the Internet behavior of individuals and proactively get in touch with those who showed concerning patterns to offer mandatory therapy.
They chose the state of Washington, and particularly the places that fell somewhere between urban and rural because they thought they had the highest rates of withdrawn white male aggression that turned into mass incidents of violence.
This is what we all wanted, right? Well maybe in theory, if you weren’t the person who had to go out and try to talk some sanity into these lone wolves.
That person was me, and I was assigned to Nate. An appointment request was sent to Nate claiming there was an issue with his taxes and he needed to come into a general office building at the courthouse where I would wait for him to spring a 45-minute counseling intake session with him. What could go wrong?
I sat across a random desk from Nate, who was rather confused as to what was going on. I read off a script they gave me on an iPad for a few lines before I abandoned it and tried to talk to him like a person.
“I’m going to level with you. The government has been watching what you do online. What sites you visit. How and where you comment. What you post on social media. You’ve been flagged as a potential threat for a random act of violence,” I got all of that out as quickly as humanly possible.
He blinked. Once was all.
“It’s my job to try and make sure you don’t do something like that.”
Just another blink from Nate.
“Have you ever thought about doing something like that?” I asked, determined to not take blinking as an answer.
Nate cleared his throat. Good, an answer was coming.
Nate just threw up on his chest.
Nate and I got some fresh air on the bench that overlooked the parking lot. I leveled with the guy.
“Look man, I know what it’s like to have people think you are strange. This might shock you, but I was a little bit of an oddball growing up in school.”
This seemed to actually part the dark clouds that hovered over Nate. He pushed some greasy hair out of his face and looked at me with his blue eyes truly for the first time.
“People ignored me and when they paid attention to me they weren’t too fond of the girl who was into emo and magna way before it was cool. One time, on the bus, this guy literally ripped my Sailor Moon book in half,” I explained, spilling my guts to a potential mass murderer.
I officially broke through to Nate, getting him to laugh in a way that I didn’t think he was capable, slack-jawed and unapologetic.
Then it dawned on me he might be laughing in approval of the torture the young man (who was long dead of an opioid overdose now) inflicted on me on my school bus.
“But I know how it feels when the world is against you,” I went on, trying to draw some more life out of him. “It’s really just about finding your sweet spots. People, places, that love you for who you are. Do you have that, at all?”
Nate looked down from me and at the filthy ground at our feet.
“Not really, but I guess. My family is dead.”
That didn’t sound true, but I let it slide, instead pushed toward a positive resolution. My trainers would have been proud.
“Do you have anyone you talk to online? I actually say that Reddit saved my life sometimes. It was the only place I could find people who liked the things I like as much as I like them and could keep me feeling connected?” I went on.
Nate nodded his head. I could feel myself winning him over.
“Do you like true crime?” I asked, sensing almost any young man of his nature would be interested in that.
He started to laugh again, not sure why, but I didn’t really like it.
“Yeah, it’s a good site, it’s just, you know, the world sucks, people are shitty,” Nate muttered, so quiet I could barely hear.
“I think someone just needs to watch a few select scenes from Good Will Hunting,” I said, punctuated with a laugh at my own remark. “But maybe I should say that because I’ll be out of the job.”
Nate looked back to me and started to nod his head.
“I’m alright, I just forget that sometimes,” Nate said before he got up and walked away.
I watched Nate walk over to a Ford sedan that couldn’t have been made in this millenium, get in, and cautiously drive out of the parking lot.
I felt a lot better than I did before our meeting.
The program set up weekly meetings with Nate from then on out. I admit, I actually looked forward to them.
Outside of my Nate meetings, my work was punishingly-routine. It was the same thing every week, every day, and I sometimes felt like I was living in a simulation.
He seemed like less and less of a threat as he opened up with each meeting and he reminded me more and more of myself in a male form. It helped that he let his hair grow a little longer and seemed to practice more self care than I would assume an average male of his age would in the area where we lived.
I let my guard down.
I usually changed my routine of jogging after work right after daylight saving’s time ended each year, just after Halloween. My neighborhood was about as good as it could get in rural Washington, but even I wasn’t going to go running in the dark as a woman.
But this year, I started pushing the limits. It was a good week into darkness falling before 5 p.m. when I even left work for home when I stopped at the front porch of my little rental house and tried to catch my breath, only to spot a familiar silver Ford Taurus parked down the street.
Now cars parked on my street were nothing out of the ordinary. It was rural Washington, everyone had about 3.5 vehicles to their name and parked them on the street.
A 1999 silver Ford Taurus wasn’t completely out of the ordinary either, even its faded Seattle Seahawks bumper sticker I remembered seeing on Nate’s car didn’t completely give it away either. It just made it highly likely that Nate was parked on my street for some reason.
Something didn’t feel right about it. The air my well-conditioned lungs had quickly put back into my body seemed to evaporate as soon as I laid eyes on it, just about 10 yards up the street from my mailbox.
I must have somehow known it was already too late to panic because I didn’t fight it when I felt someone grab me from behind and drag me into my house.
I did put up a fight to try and keep my keys in my grasp, but it was no use, they slipped right out of my sweaty hands as I tried to scream and get my footing on my wet lawn. All were failing efforts.
It wasn’t long before I was back in my house, completely dark.
I felt his hands all over me, holding onto me for dear life, with a grip stronger than I would have imagined Nate to be capable of. Strong enough to where I wondered if it really was him for my first few seconds back inside.
He let me go.
I should have ran for the door, but couldn’t, I was tethered by something impossibly strong that kept me running in place in the middle of the dark living room.
“You aren’t going to be able to get away,” a male voice growled in the darkness.
He was very right. He was too strong.
“But you can feel this way too,” he whispered into my ear.
I decided the time for physically fighting it was over. I was going to have to use strategy to get away from this madman.
“Okay,” I whispered back, softly. “Feel how?”
He loosened his grip and hesitated.
“You said you know how I feel. I want you to feel better.”
I already knew it was Nate, but this statement was my official confirmation. It somehow put me a little at ease. I felt I could reason with this man as opposed to an unknown assailant.
“Let me show you,” Nate said, raising the volume of his voice.
He pulled me toward my kitchen. The decisiveness in his movements made it clear to me he already knew the layout of my house and chilled me more than any physical harm or threat he could have given to me. How many times had he been inside?
He led me into my tiny kitchen, where my back porch light splashed in just enough light so I could see his face as he led me in. I noticed he looked like he was in much better shape than he was the first time that I met him. He looked like one of those friends you have who starts doing CrossFit and then they have a subtle body transformation.
Was that why Nate felt so strong and had successfully pinned me in my own kitchen?
“I need to show you something,” he said quietly.
I nodded and watched him turn on one of the element burners on my stove.
“Please just think about what you’re doing,” I shot back at him, but quiet and calm, trying to not let the situation get out of control.
Nate watched as the element started to grow glowing red before his eyes, radiating in the near dark. He seemed satisfied once it reached a point where I could feel the heat from across the room.
I watched as he reached over to the block of knives I had on top of my refrigerator and my entire body went numb in a way I had never felt before.
“Please Nate,” I pleaded.
Nate slipped the longer, sharpest knife out of the block and dropped the tip onto the red-hot element. He calmly let the steel sit there on the heat for a good 10 seconds.
“I don’t want to run away,” I said, trying to talk some sense into him.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said and then took the knife off of the element. “I just want to show you.”
Nate took the hot tip of the knife and raked it across his bicep. I winced and closed my eyes, unable to watch.
“Watch,” Nate’s voice boomed across the room.
I kept my eyes closed, tight.
“WATCH,” Nate yelled across the room.
I opened my eyes and saw the tip of the knife stuck into Nate’s bicep, but he was standing there, expressionless.
He then took his palm and smashed it down onto the hot element.
“No!” I screamed out instinctually.
Again, Nate had no expression. He just looked at me.
I wasn’t that startled. I just figured he was on meth or something and these circus freak antics were connected to that.
“You can be this too,” Nate said ominously.
I had no idea what that meant. I can get lit as fuck on meth or something and then fuck up my body, but not feel it, with a psycho client? No thanks.
“I just want to be safe,” I whispered back.
Nate stepped across the kitchen. I lost my breath before he reached me, the knife still in his grasp.
“Please, please, please, please, please.”
“You will feel no pain,” Nate whispered into my ear. “Inside or outside.”
I have to admit the man finally piqued my interest. Inside or outside. I waited for Nate to go on, feeling that’s what he wanted.
“I don’t know how it happened, but I no longer feel hurt. I can feel light, but not the dark. I swear to you,” Nate explained.
He looked into my eyes, intense, for a good 10 seconds. I couldn’t believe it in that moment. He was starting to win me over.
Then he pulled a small mouse out of his jacket pocket.
He must have seen the pain in my face once I looked at the animal, because he went back into selling/explanation mode.
“And I’m contagious,” he said, clearly thinking that little line would erase all my fears about the mouse, and to a lesser extent, myself.
He shook his head, realizing he didn’t have me fully on his side yet.
“This mouse feels no pain either,” he went on.
He grabbed the mouse’s little tail and squeezed it as hard as he possibly could. Yet, the mouse seemed to not be affected at all, it just sat in his hand, looking up at me.
“I promise,” Nate said softly.
“If you do it, will you let me go?” I asked.
“You’ll come back once you feel it.”
“Okay, how do you do this?”
Nate answered by dropping the knife carelessly onto the hard floor and then grabbed my neck.
Oh fuck, this guy was full of shit. This whole thing was just some magical mouse ruse to get my guard down so he could strangle me to death.
His hands were soft on my neck. Gentle even, and he just left them there. It may have been the most-careful anyone had ever held me since my mother. I started to cry.
He held his hands there for about 30 seconds and then pulled away.
He stared into my eyes. I didn’t feel like anything had changed. I actually just thought about where the mouse had gone. Did it sneak into his jacket pocket?
“You have it now,” Nate said.
He dropped down and picked up the knife off of the floor.
“Sorry for dropping that,” he said as he handed the knife over to me.
I held the knife loose as Nate kept staring into my eyes.
“Test it. However you’re comfortable,” he insisted.
I took the knife and tested the tip with one of my fingertips. I didn’t feel any pain, but that could have been the case the day before too.
I was scared to test it anymore, but I could also tell Nate wasn’t going to let me get out of there without doing it, so I had to appease both crowds.
“But can my body still be harmed, even if I don’t feel the pain?” I asked the question you’re probably thinking about right now yourself.
“Yes, be careful. You won’t feel it, but you can still draw blood,” Nate explained.
Nate showed me his arm where blood was trickling down his bicep.
I took the knife and ran it across the inside of my hand, deep enough to where it definitely should have hurt.
But it didn’t.
I dug it deep enough to draw a little blood. Still, nothing.
I ran the knife across my bicep where I saw Nate do his. I drew blood. I felt no pain. All I felt was that I was losing my mind, but I wasn’t fighting it. Or, I may have actually been in a dream.
I needed to test the dream theory immediately. I stormed across the room with my eyes locked on the red-hot element then counted out in my head…
I slapped my hand down hard on the element. I heard the sizzle, but I felt nothing.
My hand instinctively came off the element rather quickly. I swear I saw smoke coming off of my palm as I pulled it up to my face and looked at my scorched skin.
There was no pain though. Just the wound.
I ran out of the room. I ran out of the house. I jumped into my car and dug in the keys. Turned on the ignition.
I saw Nate run out of the house and sprint at my car. I realized only at that time that I should have locked the door.
I locked the doors. I put the car in reverse. Nate jumped onto the windshield of the car, splintering the safety glass right before my eyes.
I hit the gas hard and accelerated backward, running over my mailbox, hitting a car parked on the side of the street, and nearly totally my car.
Nate remained on the windshield somehow when I came to a stop in the road. I screamed at him as we made eye contact.
I put the car in Drive and stomped down on the gas as hard as I ever had.
Nate flew off of the windshield and I raced down the street, quickly getting to freeway speeds on a residential street, still screaming.
I slowed down to a somewhat-reasonable speed and kept going running a Stop sign at the end of my block, then pulling out onto the highway.
Then I drove, and drove, and drove, until I felt safe. I think I made it 50 miles out of town, actually into another state, before I felt good.
I pulled into a truck stop, still numb, not thinking about what I was doing. I sat in the car for another hour, just listening to the radio, not paying attention to the music.
I went into the truck stop and grabbed some food, figuring getting my blood sugar up might help me think more clearly. It didn’t work. What could I have expected? I still felt crazed.
A shower. A shower would clear my mind, and truck stops had them.
I got some quarters and got into the surprisingly-clean shower. I prepared myself to bathe in hot water until I felt right again. Maybe I’d be in that plastic chapel of solitude until I died if I needed to. I had $10 in quarters. That would be enough to take a shower for 60 years, right?
The water wasn’t as hot as I wanted it to be. I wanted boiling-hot h2O that would borderline scald my skin, since it wouldn’t hurt me, but I was just getting bath water. Alright, what should you expect from a Flying J station in rural Oregon?
You’re probably wondering at this point, and throughout this story, why I haven’t called my family and asked for help. Just know what Nate did to me wasn’t much worse than what my family emotionally did to me after my mom died when I was young. I was happy on my own.
I was 15 minutes into my shower when the horrible feeling someone was watching me came over me. Had Nate somehow followed me all the way to this truck stop?
More important question…had I locked the shower door? Oh shit. I hadn’t. I could feel it.
I turned around to see the brief image of a fat trucker masturbating just inches away from me.
I say I just saw that image briefly because my being only allowed me long enough to take it in before it went into attack mode. I rushed the man and threw him into the hot water before he could even get the sick grin off of his face.
The amount of power I now had was shocking. The man was at least 250 pounds, but I threw him so hard into the hard plastic wall of the shower he looked to almost be knocked unconscious
He was at least “knocked silly” though because he laughed. Maybe he was trying to laugh off the impending horror of getting his ass kicked by a 120-pound girl, or maybe I had knocked a screw loose.
Either way, it wasn’t a good idea to do that in front of my newfound self. I charged the man in anger and grabbed him by his greasy hair.
I used one hand to start knocking his face against the steel coin machine that was at chest level and used my other hand to crank the hot water even higher.
He started to scream. It was music to my traumatized ears.
I kept beating him and cooking him in the hot water until I heard those screams stop. Then I walked out of the shower area.
It didn’t seem anyone noticed what happened before I could calmly drive out of the place. I kept driving for a few more hours, until I got fairly close to the California state line and I stopped at a rest stop.
Where to take my life from there? I couldn’t just go back and be a social worker. No way. Just go on the run? Become some kind of vigilante hit woman? Break barriers? I wasn’t sure.
To start, I just followed the one desire I had. I drove back home and cruised endlessly until I could find Nate.
It only took a day-and-a-half. A rare perk of living in such a small area. There were only a few places to go. He eventually had to go to the grocery store, and I watched him come out, loaded up with a few bags of bachelor meals, mostly frozen chicken fingers and potato chips.
I watched him get into his car and drive away, fighting back the urge to take him on. Who would win in a battle of two people that could feel no pain?
I was actually just about to get out and catch him off-guard when something startled me – something running across my cracked windshield. I looked up and saw what looked like that little, gray mouse that Nate had demonstrated to me with scurry across the glass.
Was that Nate’s mouse?
The distraction was good enough. I didn’t see Nate drive away.
Instead, I got out of the car and walked around to the windshield. The mouse waited for me there, tucked beneath a windshield wiper.
I extended my now-scarred arm and the mouse ran up onto me eventually nestling underneath the fabric of my long-sleeve shirt.
I got back in the car and drove out of the parking lot, ready to hit the freeway. We had a lot the two of us needed to do, we just didn’t know what it was yet.