A Life

James David Cohn


We took what we wanted and destroyed the rest. We killed and we raped, we made slaves of men and women and children and infants and we laughed at their suffering because we took pleasure in it.

There was no stopping us, we spread like a virus that could change and adapt so that when one obstacle confronted us we found a workaround, using the obstacles to our advantage, always learning so we could kill more and rape more and create more suffering.

The universe was as small or as large as we were because we were the universe, the beginning and the end of it all. We were all that mattered and we lived our lives accordingly.

When we felt like it we ate each other. Sometimes we killed before we ate, sometimes we didn’t.

There were those who objected and we killed them too and sometimes we ate them, and when we ate them we loved the taste of their blood in our mouths and we felt their spirits increasing the volume of our own spirits, we grew larger and stronger because of their blood and their spirits.

At first we had no speech and our communication was the better for it, a grunt or a glance was enough to send us on our way. We had no speech but we had laughter and it wasn’t the laughter of a joke well told but the laughter of supremacy, the pure unbridled laughter of victory.

We started small, just a few of us, but we went viral fast. We moved across continents, across hemispheres, conquering the earth and subduing it. When the climate changed we hunkered down and waited. We could wait a long time. We were good at what we did, the best.

Time was on our side and we had all the time in the world.

With time came language and with language came writing and with writing came books and then it only got worse, we were full of ourselves then. We built things and destroyed them. We built things and used them to destroy each other. We were builders and destroyers.

His father was a doctor and when he asked him why did you become a doctor his father did not say to help people or to cure disease, he said I was a teenager during the Great Depression and I had to choose a career and I knew there would always be a need for doctors.

His father had wanted to be among those who eat and not among those who are eaten.

And it was his father too who told him of the horrible history of the grin, how the baring of the teeth is the universal signal of a threat across all the animal kingdom, which is why it is dangerous to grin at a dog because the dog knows exactly what those teeth mean and the dog does not want to be among the eaten.

And this is why he could never enjoy a surprise party, because his father had taught him that surprise parties are fundamentally aggressive acts for the benefit of the surprisers and not the surprised, how when the lights come on and the crowd yells “Surprise!” their grins are the atavistic grins of victory and supremacy over the cornered victim who feels trapped and betrayed and vulnerable. There is nothing that better reveals our primitive nature, his father had said, than the surprise party.

His father loved life and he had a way which was kind and his words too. His words, so carefully chosen for clarity, and clear also the affection with which the words were so often delivered, this man who became a doctor not to help people but who helped them anyway because he couldn’t help but help.

Nonetheless it was his father who said to him one day apropos of nothing, do you know what the worst thing about the world is, and when he asked what, his father said, people.

© 2018 James David Cohn