How Many People Have You Killed?
Somewhere between too many and not enough.
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I’ve worked really hard over the years to stop thinking about killing people.
There are times my limits are tested—but, for the most part, I am able to let those thoughts float by. Sure, the hipster kid in front of me in line who won’t stop talking about his favorite kombucha instead of paying for his oat milk latte might deserve to be set on fire.
And yeah, you could justify flaying that girl alive who stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to take a selfie.
As you might do to people who take the elevator down one floor, couples who stand side-by-side on escalators, and people who talk in movie theaters.
You know. Bad people.
I learned at a young age that you’re not supposed to kill these people—even if you want to—even if they are standing right there—just right on the edge of that subway platform watching a film on their phone on full volume with no headphones. It wouldn’t be hard. You could just kinda jostle them on your way by—NO! No.
And, I was well into my teens before I learned I was not the only one who frequently had these thoughts. Almost everyone does—well, all cool people anyway. They’re called “intrusive thoughts.”
But what made me feel different was that I didn’t just have these thoughts about people who deserve it (like guys who play guitar unprompted at parties).
They came randomly—like brain sneezes.
I might be standing, watching a parade on the Fourth of July, happily licking ice cream as the baby in the carriage beside me waves an adorable little American flag. And in this beautiful moment, my brain might just toss out:
Hey, what if you threw that baby right now?
I tried different ways to combat these thoughts—If I felt a ‘throw-that-baby’ thought coming on, I’d try to think something pleasant like:
POPSICLES! I LOVE POPSICLES!
And that sort of worked—so long as I wasn’t annoyed or standing on a roof next to someone.
Then two things ruined my life.
First, I learned about the multiverse. Then, I started reading too much Robert Anton Wilson.
Marvel has made everyone aware of the multiverse, so I won’t explain that.
As for Robert Anton Wilson, he was an LSD-soaked fiction writer from the 70s who had a theory that all thoughts, no matter how big or small, create their own realities.
Can you see where this is going?
I get why it was an appealing concept for a fiction writer—the idea that all fictional universes ever created actually exist! Incredible.
But for me, that meant, instead of thinking ‘POPSICLES! POPSICLES! POPSICLES!’ to push aside the thought of strangling that loud-talker in the middle of a crowded restaurant, my brain said:
There is an alternate universe now where you just did that, you sick fuck.
What to do…what to do…well, I did what I usually do when I have a problem I can’t solve. I went and asked my mother, and she said:
“Sometimes, I think about punching pregnant women in their bellies.”
So then there was that to contend with.
And she wasn’t the only one—any time I spoke to people about intrusive thoughts, they’d share theirs with me. I could tell it was cathartic for them—the feeling of ‘Oh, thank God, I am not alone.’
But no one understood my weird cocktail of problems. So I created a patchwork solution.
Every time I had an intrusive thought, I spent the following 30 seconds thinking up how to fix the situation I’d just put an alternate version of myself into.
So, for example, if someone in front of me was driving very slowly in the fast lane and my brain said: What if you just ram them off of the road?
I would follow that up with: And then I’ll pull over and help them out of their car and it’ll be a pretty girl and we’ll fall in love and get married, and many years later I’ll tell her that it wasn’t an accident and we’ll laugh about it and die happy.
An unnecessary number of my intrusive thoughts now ended in me falling in love with pretty girls.
Depending on how potentially awful the consequences were—the more elaborate my fantasies had to become. Sometimes, I would have to imagine an alien race coming down to purge the planet to cover up an intrusive thought like: what if you set the bedding department on fire?
I felt it was my responsibility to take care of all of these alternate versions of myself I’d kept creating. This became time-consuming and exhausting.
I know this sounds like a cute childish phase that lasted a month or so. But no—we’re talking like five years here, well into my twenties. It’s not as though there are online resources for this or treatment plans for ‘Wilson’s Multiverse Syndrome’.
So. I started screaming inside my head.
If I felt an intrusive thought coming on, I’d scream really loud in my head.
It went like this:
I’d be sitting next to someone as they say something like, “Y’know, ever since I took that trip to Japan, it just feels right to eat my spaghetti with chopsticks.”
I’d look over at them, smile, and my brain would go:
Hey, what if you take one of those chopsticks and—AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
And it worked! Like a mental shock collar.
Over the next few years, I did this consciously until, at some point in my late twenties, I stopped having intrusive thoughts.
I’d cured myself!
Then during a pandemic holiday break, I found myself sleep-deprived at the Toronto airport waiting in line for over an hour to rebook a Covid-canceled layover flight behind two college girls as they asked for the twelfth time if they had to go pick up and recheck their bags.
I tried, I really did. While someone from the outside looking in might’ve taken my blank cold stare as a sign of exhaustion, it was, in reality, one of intense concentration as my brain screamed POPSICLE! at the top of its limitless lungs.
But it wasn’t enough.
So now there is a universe where these two poor college girls are laying in lifeless heaps on the floor of the Toronto airport—and that version of me is sitting, locked in a Canadian prison, with the biggest goddamn smile on his face.