by D. J. Herda
A lot of people have written about me these past five score years and more since my untimely demise. A lot of people have said things, and a lot of people have been wrong.
Not that I blame them.
When you have lived as colorful and, as some might say, sordid a life as I, and when you have been gone from center stage for so long a period as I, things are bound to go a bit bug-eyed from time to time.
Still, I have seen people refer to me as though they knew me. As such, they have portrayed me as a cold-blooded killer and a heartless homeless wretch, as a whoring whirl-a-way and a confidence man and even--if you can believe it--a drunk.
Me. Can you imagine?
And of course there is all the talk about me being a lunger. Sick and emaciated, a walking wheezing wobbling wretch of a human being. A man of gray hair and gaunt complexion though barely in his thirties.
That last part, of course, is undeniably true. And probably the part about the drunk. At least so far as I can remember. And maybe a little about the whoring whirl-a-way. But a confidence man? A heartless wretch? A cold-blooded killer? Me? Are they kidding me?
I have spent my life looking for good and eschewing evil. I have searched the world over for the best in humanity and stood up to the worst. I have looked down the gullet of evil and reached out for salvation.
Call me the way, the light, and the truth. I am the reincarnation of the Son of God.
Oh, don’t take that as blasphemy. I am not Jesus, nor do I pretend to be He. There is one blessed Lord and one son the Lord our God, and, unfortunately for me, I am not He.
No, what I mean when I say that I am the soul, the very reincarnation, of the Lord is that I would have liked Him, had I lived in a much earlier period of time; and, I am convinced, not too contrarily, that He would have liked me, as well. Liked me so much, perhaps, that He would have imbued within me those very honorable and lofty traits upon which He was bestowed by his Father.
I say this not so much out of fanciful conjecture as out of the study of mankind and humanity, in all its frailty and weakness, versus the glorious revelations of the Supreme Being: He would have found in me a soul so eager to please, so destined to emulate, so desirous of satisfying those demands He placed upon we humans that I would literally have carried the cross in place of him up from the town to Calgary and, when it came time to strip Him of His robes and boost Him into His place of life forever after, would gladly have exchanged positions with Him.
And with that lofty feeling firmly entrenched within my own pasty, frail, all-too-human entity, I went forth into life, set upon doing His work in His name for His glory and without but a glance back at what was in it for me. For, the way, the truth, and the kingdom are one in the name of the Lord within me. Or, at least they were in the latter part of my miserable and wretched little life.
True, I may have overreacted upon rare occasion, and lost sight of my goals, particularly when having been exposed to the languid effects of too much fine Tennessee sipping whiskey and the stupidity and cowardliness of some of the bullies I have come up against during my lifetime of precocious morbidity, but that is little reason to fault my motives. They have always been pure, I can assure you, oftentimes in direct contradiction to the popular word wending its way along the walk.
And for those times when I did manage to stray from my greater purpose in life, well, I have paid the price, let me assure you. And I apologize. That is another thing I have never been remembered for--my boundless capacity for contrition. And that is another thing I intend to right.
I have wanted to set the record straight for some time, of course. And I have attempted to do just that from as long ago as I can recall. First with Kate, thinking that she would be the ideal bearer of my sword; but Kate was in a world all her own, bless the darling loving scheming conniving little whore. She was far too busy looking after her own selfish interests to pay much attention to voices from the grave. Kate actually sought to cash in upon me as her intimate and, some might say, upon her inspirational relationship with yours truly in exchange for cold, hard cash. She would have succeeded, too, had she not been so damned blessed greedy about the whole stinking affair or had she not overestimated other peoples' desires to pay for the privilege of learning about me from the woman who had stood by me, by most accounts, for lo those many years. Had I known then what I know now, I would have kicked the slut out of my life after that first soulless night, the moment her knickers fell to the floor and she dampened the light for her most dastardly and lascivious of purposes, if truth be known.
But I didn’t, believing in the very bottom of my heart that she could be rehabilitated by the love of a good man. Unfortunately, I was wrong. Had she not turned out to be so insatiably greedy and not sought out the most exorbitant price she thought she could possibly wrangle for her own intimate tell-all tales of her life and times with the legendary gunfighter who went by the name of Doc Holliday, I might have found her receptive to my cries in time of need. I might have been able to reach out and touch her, move her, and in turn be able to rely upon her, even from the hereafter. I might have been able to approach her, awaken in her the spirit that I tried to instill in her while I was still alive. But then she would simply not have been Kate. I realized that when I met her. And I realize it still to this day.
Alas, Kate is no good to me now. She cannot help me right the record now. It is too late for that now.
My good friend Wyatt, to whom I shall always be grateful for the kind words he uttered upon my demise and for the stories he wrote and distributed by virtue of those most fine and honorable gentlemen of the press and for his undeviating devotion as a good friend and confidant throughout the latter years of my life, did what he could to set the record straight. He wrote and traveled and talked and answered those few kind-hearted souls who remembered to ask him about not only the Clantons and the McLowrys and Johnny Ringo and Johnny Behan but also about his good and faithful and devoted friend, Doc. Old Doc. Old belligerent, caustic, itching-for-a-fight Doc.
But even the Earps had little actual knowledge of who I really was and what my life was really like and what happened inside of me when they were not around to act as witness and what I did when in the darkened twilight of my final days I found myself alone...and unprepared.
Besides, Wyatt had his own problems. Split between his genuine love for Mattie and the smoldering he felt within his soul (not to mention his loins) for Josie--and an even stronger bond I can personally assure you for each of the brothers that remained after the fight--I am continually amazed that he lived another score beyond me, and then some. By all that is holy and by all that is right, he should have died a dozen times before me. But by the grace of Almighty God he did not, and he lived on.
But Wyatt, poor torn soul that he was from the very first day I laid eyes upon him, had other problems. Wyatt had the problems of the universe laid upon him. I am not sure to this day why that was. But I do know that he was the single most personally preoccupied soul I have ever known in my life. And perhaps that is one of the reasons for our bond. I am probably the second. You can play with the numbers and do the equations, but it all comes out the same: Wyatt did all that he could while he could, and that was not enough to stem the flow.
If I digress, forgive me. I am like the proverbial child at the candy counter. I can hardly believe my good fortune. At last, I must impress upon you, I have found my outlet. And the foul words of my life and death shall no longer go unabated.
Not that everything has been a dastardly blur. Not on your life. I believe with every breath within me that I did actually come out of a coma, as some have reported, right there in that hospital bed in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, and I believe I remember saying something to the effect of "This is funny," which people took to mean that I had never intended to die with my boots off. That I had looked down at my feet and saw my toes and that I said those by-now immortal words. That was the gunman's credo during my time, you understand. You die with your boots on, and you die ready for action, ready for a fight, ready to right those wrongs against you, ready for anything. You die with your boots on, and you die with honor, standing up for what you believe in to the very end. You die with your boots on, and you die true to your own moral code.
You get caught with your boots off, on the other hand, and you have retired for the rest of the day or the week or your life or whatever it is and are no longer so well prepared as you might have been or perhaps even should have been to handle life as it comes at you, both barrels blazing, which is precisely what happens when things are most likely to go all haywire.
I might have said those words when I awoke in the hospital that day, and they might have ushered forth from these two trembling lips upon my realizing that my death was imminent and that I was ill-prepared for it and that I never should have allowed things to regress so far.
But just think about that for a moment.
Think about a man who has suffered from consumption all his life, from the time he had barely become an adult until his final breath on earth, and tell me how likely it would be that such a man would look down at his feet and think anything he might find there funny because he was going to die. Tell me how likely it would be that he would anticipate the arrival of death, perhaps within seconds, in precisely the same way that a farmer would anticipate the coming of winter--matter-of-factly, inevitably--and I will tell you that you do not understand the nature of the human soul very well.
No, when you live with death hovering over you for all of your adult life, you do not anticipate its inevitable arrival, nor do you succumb to its allure. You fight it. You fight it with all your might. You fight it with everything you have at your disposal, because you have faced it down before, fought it before, Demon Death, and won. A dozen times. A hundred. Perhaps a thousand. You lose count along the way. You lose count, but you never lose hope, and you never stop fighting, and certainly not long enough to look down at your feet and utter, “This is funny,” because you never expected to die with your boots off. You never lose your determination to join the battle yet one more time and, yet one more time, emerge victorious.
No, when those words or something very much similar to them fell from my very lips only moments before I passed out of one world and into the alluring boundaries of another, I meant nothing so flippant or so conceitedly cavalier as what others have interpreted the words to mean. I have never been so glib.
Stories have been written about me--flattering, jack-asinine, self-serving, rarely accurate stories--in one book, in one newspaper article, after another. My own kin several generations removed have struggled to write about the real me and what really motivated me.
Why, that is purely preposterous.
I also read the other day about a relative of Ike Clanton--yes, we have information available to us here, all of us, in a sort--who was castigating me and my friend Wyatt Earp and Wyatt's brothers for our onerous and unwarranted actions at the gunfight at the corral that day and absolving that vexatious scoundrel from any wrongdoing in the matter. I do not know, I tell you, which is to be more pitied, more feared, or more reviled--the relative who writes falsehoods in your defense or the enemy who writes them in your demise. Both are scurrilous curs deserving of no kudos. On that you have my word.
So it is for precisely such reasons as the meaning behind those dying words uttered upon my brief hospital quarantine and for the malignant fallacies of well-meaning apologists and ill-meaning scoundrels and a thousand rumors circulated about me and my friends and consorts that I have been searching for a loquacious manner by which to right the wrongs, to tell the true story, to offer for examination all of the rebuttals to all of the libelous and scandalous tall tales ever written about me, told by so many people in so many corners of the world over so very many of these years.
Think about it. If you had been I and had wanted to set the record straight and could no longer approach the world in person with your story, how would you do so?
through magic? Via incantations? With threats? I considered them all.
Or would you find another way?
Starting things is always the most difficult part of life. I found that out, or rather I had that pointed out to me, many years ago. Once you have started upon your journey, the rest of the trip falls neatly into place. At least that has been my personal experience with life. So when I set about finding the right person to receive the truth, the real story of the life and times of Doc Holliday, and to deliver it to the masses, I knew in a heartbeat that everything would work out fine and dandy. I was my own daisy, and the feeling was grand.
"The medium is the message," a rather intellectually prominent and skillful crafter of the concept of effective communication had said years after I walked the earth about how the process of disseminating information in the modern world unfolds. The medium is the message. It is a funny way of looking at things. I find it very humorous. During my day, it was the other way around.
Nevertheless, I am always open to new ideas, to new discoveries and interpretations, and when I discovered a way to get my story out, the real story, well, I took it.
And I am telling it to you now, right here, as we sit and breathe.
Forgive my play on words. I cannot tell you exactly how I am after all
this time finally able to relay to you the reality of it all due to a
matter of principle. I have allied myself with the forces of
This may be my one and only chance, and I have decided to take it. All whores be damned. Except, perhaps, for the one who struggles to keep up with me stride-for-stride at my side.
Verbum sap sapiente.
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