September 28, 2014
I take keyboard in hand today to get something off my chest that's been bothering me greatly for a couple of years now. I am unsure if I will actually share this with anyone; perhaps just writing it out will help. If I do share it, I apologize in advance. This is no joke, and it contains graphic descriptions of some horrible things – one in particular. You don't have to read it, but if you do, I hope it won't bother you as much as the original material bothered me.
In short, what traumatized me was a beheading video I saw on the internet. Why was I watching such a thing? I wonder sometimes myself.
It happened like this: I was just surfing around on the internet, and somehow came across an odd video of a man who just dropped dead in mid-sentence. He was some kind of Middle Eastern professor, holy man or politician. He was giving a speech or answering a question in a forum, and just stopped talking and slumped over. It was sad, but interesting. It got me curious, and I began clicking on similar videos suggested by YouTube. At first it was just old guys dropping dead on video, then there was one of a young woman who jumped off of a tall building. The shot was from above. You could see her hit the ground. That was it. No blood or gore.
So one thing led to another. I eventually came upon a site called “Best Gore” dot com (if memory serves – I don't care to look it up). It had pages upon pages of different categories of death and gore, in still pictures and video. The operator of this vile website had some high-falutin' pretensions about how seeing the real deal might help to engender some sensitivity toward our fellow humans in an increasingly jaded society, what with violent movies and videos games and blah blah blah. I didn't buy it.
Before I go on, perhaps I should explain why I was interested in such stuff. Perhaps I have a morbid curiosity, perhaps induced by my Scorpio birth sign, but it stood me well in a previous job. When I was trying to go to graduate school, I took a part-time job as a mortuary transportation driver. It was my job to pick up dead people and transport them to the local mortuaries. This job soon led to a full-time gig as a licensed funeral director (not an embalmer). As you might have guessed, grad school didn't work out.
So over the course of three to four years, I saw my fair share of death and gore. It never really bothered me much, except when watching the embalmers doing their thing, or especially when I had to assist the county medical examiner during autopsies (my county doesn't have a morgue – instead the local mortuaries take turns letting the ME use their embalming rooms for autopsies). Seeing the aftermath of violence upon the human body was not nearly as bad as watching one being cut and carved, even if I told myself that they couldn't feel anything. I almost passed out the first few times I watched such things.
Most of my business came from hospitals and nursing homes, but there were also crime scenes, traffic accidents and more than a few suicides. Suicides were the most disturbing, if not always as gruesome as say, a traffic accident, or a corpse in the stages of advanced decomposition. There was one suicide however, that really was pretty memorable. A young man had sat on a bench in his yard in a remote part of the county and blown his brains out with a high-powered rifle. I don't know if he stuck the gun in his mouth, or under his chin, but the top of his head was opened up like a Jiffy Pop container, and one of his eyeballs was bulging out of its socket from the force of the explosion. My assistant and I had to go about, guided by the flashlights of the squeamish sheriff’s deputies, and pick up all the parts of the man's brains and skull that were scattered about the yard.
So, you could say that I had a professional curiosity about most of the content of Best Gore. They had a section of torture videos, which I had absolutely no interest in watching. They also had at least one beheading video. That kind of got me curious. I wondered if I could handle it. I thought I was pretty tough, what with all the gore I had witnessed in my earlier job. As I came to find out, I'm not tough, and I couldn't handle it.
It may seem silly to say, but I've always had a particular horror of decapitation. I say it seems silly, because I should hope that most of us would be horrified by that. I mean, our heads hold our faces, and all the organs of our senses, with the exception of touch. It contains our brains, the seat of our reasoning and personality and all that makes us unique.
I remember once when I was young being creeped out by an episode of “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” in which a modern version of the headless horseman was going about on a motorcycle lopping off people's heads. You never actually saw a head leave a neck, but it was well implied, especially a scene in which a man is horrified to watch his buddy lose his head. I couldn't imagine how anyone could witness such a thing and survive.
I was lucky that I never saw a severed head while I worked in the mortuary industry. One of the older embalmers, a very strange guy, showed me a photograph of himself when he was much younger, washing the hair of a woman's severed head in a sink. I don't know why he would want to keep something like that. I said he was strange.
So, I had never actually seen a severed head, much less a video of it happening. So I guess I sort of challenged myself to see how well I dealt with it. I was hoping that it would be a quick slice with a sword or axe, followed by oblivion for the victim. Stupid, stupid, stupid man. It was anything but.
What it was was some radical Islamic terrorists who executed a kidnapped white westerner, probably an American. I think the man's name was Terry. I've tried hard to forget the particulars. I also don't remember what country it took place in, or when exactly. I think it was maybe the '90s or the first decade of the 2000s.
Now I have to describe in as much detail as I can what I saw, because that is what replays in my head every day. There were four or five hooded terrorists lined up with this poor man kneeling on the floor in front of them with his hands and ankles tied. One of them, who was some kind of big wig in the terror business, read something from a prepared statement. I think he spoke in Arabic, not English. When he was done reading, he kicked the man over onto his side. One of the other ones grabbed the man under his chin and pulled up and back on his head. The leader took what appeared to be nothing more than a large kitchen knife – not a sword, or an axe, or even a machete – and proceeded to cut into the man's throat with a sawing motion.
Now, I have it on good authority that pulling back on the head is the wrong thing to do if you're trying to cut someone's throat. Pulling the head back causes the tendons in the neck to come forward of the trachea and veins, making it much more difficult to cut them cleanly. Now, I don't know if these monsters were just too stupid to know about this, or if they just didn't care how long and painful and terrifying for the victim this would be. My money is on the latter.
And the fucking knife didn't even seem like it was that sharp, which may have been intentional, as well. All I can say is that the terrorists seemed to have made a lot more work for themselves than they probably intended to. And the worst of it was that you could hear the victim screaming, even though his mouth was being held closed by a goon. After what seemed an eternity, the butcher finally cut into the guy's main arteries, and then an insane amount of blood began to flow out. The really awful part was that even though his vocal chords and trachea or larynx or whatever must have been severed, it seemed like he was still screaming. It might have been the terrorists screaming with blood-lust, but that sound has been the most persistently troubling memory of the whole thing. I wondered if such a thing was possible. I'm sure death followed with the loss of all that blood, but I guess you might retain consciousness and even some muscle control until your spinal cord is severed. I don't know. I'm not a doctor, and I haven't cared to research it.
Finally the cutter was getting close to the man's spinal column, and his head was almost completely off. This is where the butcher seemed to start running into trouble. It can't be easy to cut through someone's vertebrae with a dull and slippery knife. At this point the video seems to jump ahead to where the man's head is completely off. I wonder if the terrorists themselves edited it because they were afraid of looking incompetent, or if somewhere along the line between this video leaving the hands of the terrorists and arriving on a site like Best Gore someone else edited that part out for whatever reason.
The video ends with one or more of the terrorists holding up the man's head, and then placing it, with some difficulty, on top of his lifeless body, which was still laying on its side.
That's pretty much it, and I hope you're okay. I heard a strange music in my head, perhaps like Doc in Cannery Row heard when he found the drowned girl's body. I closed my computer and got up and went and sat on my bed next to my wife. I think it was a few days before I told her what I had seen. I spared her the gory details. She suggested I should write it out. I wish I hadn't waited this long, but this recent wave of radical Islamic beheadings in the news has made it more urgent to me.
I'm truly lucky that the worst thing I've ever seen was only a video. I've never had to witness a traumatizing event in real life, and I hope I never do. Maybe that website did succeed in its stated intention of making someone more sensitive. But I feel like part of me died inside that day, and the world has seemed a little diminished since then.
And please don't think I'm condemning Muslims, just people who cut off other peoples' heads.