I tried to get the old Felix Eberstark out of my system to safely cross over to the other side of life, but it wasn’t completely possible. The Felix who never stopped drifting into trouble, whose past was peppered with violent rows remains and will always remain inside of me. It’s out of my control. I’m completely and permanently deformed by the hatred of mankind. The only way out is by killing myself. But I can’t die — not yet at least. I have plenty of time to be dead anyway.
Words used to flow between my fingers as soon as I’d sit down to write. For many years, I couldn’t. I guess my mind needed a break. Besides, I had to do some living before I could sit down and write again. Now feels like the right time.
I’m surprised I managed to turn my whole life around; this time, things are looking promising. An escort-turned-forensic photographer sounds kind of far-fetched, but I made it happen.
I’ve cursed my sexual desires for turning me away from my destiny. Sex wasn’t just a vital part of me, it was an obsession. An addiction. I’d look at myself in the mirror, gaze at my body long enough until I believed my sole purpose was to give sexual pleasure. I’d touch myself trying to imagine what it’s like to sleep with me. Then one day, it hit me. Sex gave me power, but what would I do a few decades down the road when I’m no longer desirable? Besides, my addiction to sex disabled me from seeing what was going on in my life as it made me feel confused, murky and lost. It was a way to numb and run away from myself. Unfortunately, whenever I managed to control my sexual impulsive disorder, my anxiety would push other addictions my way. Like shoplifting.
Most people are driven by their bad intentions to commit their crimes while others probe into illegal activities to control an underlying psychological disorder. My anxiety pushes me to act impulsively. The thrill accompanied by a criminal act is, in my case, stronger than the fear associated with the potential punishment that could follow. The knowledge of those consequences has always failed to deter me from my abnormal behavior.
Right and wrong are constructed beliefs formalized in laws to strengthen society’s fabric. Fear of punishment is what keeps people in line, though crime will always find its way into the world no matter what we do. Putting aside individuals whose social experiences responsible for building a healthy conscience never take hold as well as individuals who commit crimes motivated by hatred, power and greed, some of us do it simply to keep ourselves together.
After succeeding in avoiding shoplifting for a while, I abruptly got back into it on a random day while I was downtown. I was window shopping, then the next thing I know I’m inside the store, picking up random items and putting them in a tote bag I’ve gotten used to carrying around. I’ve become a pro at casually walking around without causing any suspicions which admittedly turned me a little sloppy. On my way out, a caucasian young man appeared in front of me and blocked my path. He was dressed in cheap clothes and had a cap and sunglasses on. He gently put one hand behind my neck, almost grabbing me from the collar, and held my left arm with the other one. He told me he was going to take me back inside the store and firmly asked me not to resist or try to get away. I respectfully asked him if he could take his hands off me and allow me to walk in on my own, promising him that I wouldn’t do anything stupid, and he said he couldn’t risk it. On the way back in, he grabbed my tote back and snatched my cellphone. Some employees saw us and looked at me with contempt and disdain. I ignored them and focused on our walk back to the back of the store. Before getting there, an African-American tall gentleman appeared and assisted him in dragging me inside an interrogation room. After the initial feeling of fright, I felt relief wash over me. I could finally stop.
Inside the room, my belongings were taken away from me. The young man asked me to turn around and face the wall with both hands pressed against it. He asked if I carried anything that could “poke” him, anything sharp, and I said no. He started feeling me going from the shoulders and down to my legs. He took out my wallet and keys and handed them to the other guy. The room was small and painted all in white. There was a bench with handcuffs on the right side of it. Across from it, a desk and computer were located. Above them, a surveillance camera. After sitting down, they asked me why I did what I did, and I said it was impulsive, that I couldn’t control it. They followed their question with the declaration of my rights, the search, the questioning. I kept asking them if the police would be involved, if I was going to spend the night in jail and they kept stearing away from answering my question, asking me to take things one step at a time instead. I was gasping so hard for air, and my mind went completely blank. I made sure to protect my Fifth Amendment right by remaining calm and not saying anything that could further incriminate me, and just answered their questions with the shortest answers possible; precise and straight to the point. As one of them put my info in their computer system, the other one went through my stuff. He opened my notebook and described the first page which I’ve decorated with random cryptograms as “some Zodiac shit” before going through the rest of my belongings. He then took out a box full of pills and asked me what they were. I said they were just basic emergency pills and that among them were pills for my anxiety. He asked for the prescription, but I didn’t carry the whole bottle with me. At that point, I could tell they were becoming more understanding, so I made sure to highlight my impulsive disorder and how the reason behind my act was not out of corruptness and greed but because of the psychological thrill it provided. Regardless of that, they maintained the level of seriousness of the matter and didn’t downplay it one bit. My photo was then taken after the bigger man had to walk out to deal with the situation. The young one stood with his back facing the door and watched me fill out some paperwork regarding a civil demand I had to pay once I received the amount in the mail. I was mostly concerned on whether or not the crime would go on my permanent record and he said it would. Back in the room, the man said I’m no longer allowed to walk inside the store, that if I did, I’d be trespassing. He proceeded in telling me the police was waiting for me outside, and that’s when I started to freak out. I put my sunglasses on to make my arrest less humiliating and the young man escorted me outside the room. He walked me through another set of back doors, and I felt myself fading. Once I stepped outside, though, there was no one. I turned to him and he said:
“You’re free to go. Don’t ever come back here.”
The relief intensified. I looked at the sky, breathed the air, cherished the moment and walked away as fast as I could. I figured out that the whole act was to scare me, that the police wasn’t notified, that my record was still clean, so I embraced my luck, counted my blessings and vowed not to do it ever again.
In my head, the whole incident wasn’t over. Something was missing. Although I didn’t want to be jailed, I knew I had to be disciplined. That week, The Hole, a leather and fetish bar located on the northern side of the city was celebrating its thirtieth anniversary, so I took advantage knowing I’d find a dominant, big individual who could put me back in place. I used to think bondage and kinky sex were for damaged and violent people; people who grew up in bad environments or were exposed to perverted and aberrant things. Although this theory isn’t completely invalid, some did it for the fun and excitement it provided. I did it for both, but that night, I had a very specific reason: I did it to heal.
Dark beat. Dark room. Fierceness. I walked in and the host asked me to strip out of my clothes. I remained in my briefs and walked inside the main room, red flashy lights highlighted the contrast my eyes desperately tried to adjust to. I couldn’t see clearly and every passing flash seemed to abruptly scatter the men around the room; it was like watching some sort of a distorted stop-motion animation. I set my eyes on a man and followed him downstairs to an ominous and barely lit basement floor where everyone was fucking everyone. A long corridor separated individual rooms located right next to each other. I saw the man walk into one of them. I remained outside and watched him engage aggressively with another man. I felt awkward, so I moved away. I could tell someone was watching me. I turned and found a large, beefy man with bright blue eyes hidden under a cap and a voluptuous black and thickly hipster beard starring at me while a boy gave him a deep blowjob. His face was chiseled and his muscly hands were firmly pressed against the boy’s head pushing him deeper in aggressively. I was drawn to him, so I kept making eye contact until he pushed the boy away and walked toward me. He got so close and leaned in to smell me. I didn’t move and let him take me into one of the rooms. He pressed his hand against my chest and started to rub it before moving upward and aiming for my throat. He looked at me, reversed his cap which partially revealed his half-obscured chiseled face and buried his tongue deep in my mouth. My initial resistance led by my nervousness quickly weakened until I became fully submissive. He gave absolutely no tolerance toward any failure to act accordingly with his wishes. His voice had a threatening undertone, but I craved to be debased and treated like his property. I wanted to be punished and cured of my bona fide addictions through the mechanics of violent sex. It was like some twisted sort of therapy.
When he ordered me to turn around and put my hands against the wall, I was instantly taken back into that interrogation room, but instead of the young boy, he was there, feeling me up, pressing my face against the wall, taking my pants down and shoving his dick inside me, dry and raw. It hurt, and every time I let out a scream or pulled my hands down, he’d order me to put them back up again and shut up, his words coming out slowly and loudly in distinct and clear syllables. I needed to be taught a lesson.
After that incident, I started to appreciate life more. It’s like my perception had been rebooted. When I returned to being an escort, I lived one day at a time instead of planning for the future because I believed I’d end up killing myself before reaching a normal and sustainable way of living. But the idea of being weak enough to end my own existence was repulsed by this other part of me that thrived to survive.
I was always meant to be a photographer. An artist. I have what it takes, I just needed to openly acknowledge it, say it out loud until I believed it’s true. In my gut, I had an unrelenting need for change. Photography didn’t seem to be doing the trick because I was stuck practicing the mundane kind; regular portraits and landscapes.
“Your photos offer a voyeuristic view into things we wouldn’t normally pay attention to”, Anita once said. “The things you capture are things that openly exist, things that are accessible to everyone; elements and places we’re so used to seeing we no longer stop and notice they’re there thus making us unable to see them. There’s a lot of mystery there. Even in your regular, spontaneous photographs, you capture moments between people only the eye can physically capture and only for a split second. You make that second count by preserving it.”
Documenting things has always been a passion of mine — a necessity, but the excitement that alone brought me started to wear thin at some point. Forensic photography has captured my imagination and enthusiasm ever since Anita pointed out how the style of my photography corresponded to forensic photography, not to mention my twisted intrigue in decay, crime and violence in general. One day, I decided to put an end to all the dirt. I took down my escort online profile, deleted all my clients’ contact information, changed phone numbers and made myself completely unreachable. I packed a suitcase and took a trip to Perth to recuperate. It’s fascinating how a change of scenery can make you feel like a whole new person. My life in Freiburg, Iowa City and Chicago was completely blurred out and thrown to the back of my mind. I spent a whole month rebounding and polishing myself up before heading back to the city and starting my life from scratch.
When I got back to the city, I enrolled in the Criminology program at the University of Chicago. The first few months were exciting, and I was learning a lot, but soon, reading and engaging in theoretical exercises became kind of redundant. I was reading a lot about crime and psychology in disturbing individuals that I became eager to experience what it’s like to actually be inside that world. During my last year, I found myself slowly lapsing in a state of extreme apathy and lethargy. I was hungry for action and risk. I was becoming numb, bored and passive. Chronic boredom was making a comeback as my awkward, little companion. Wherever I walked, whatever I did, I was aware of its imperceptible presence that sullied any experience with an infuriating clinginess.
My journey into the world of lowlives started one day at the mall. My phone was running low on battery, so I stopped by a charging station. There was a homeless man, a middle-aged African-American man charging his phone before me. He looked tired and was talking to himself. As soon as I stood in front of him, he started eyeing me; that made me uncomfortable at first, but he wasn’t causing me any real discomfort so I kept to myself. When he got over my presence and got back to messing with his phone, I started inspecting his mental state and physique; his teeth were in awful shape, as far as I could see — they were all silver crowns that released an unpleasant chemical content mainly consisted of a metal liquid mixed with his saliva which seemed to make him uncomfortable. It looked as if he was suffering from a trench mouth with the infection spreading deep inside his gums, eroding and making them bleed. A layer of dead, gray cells was visible on the surface. I don’t know why I was so focused on watching him swallow and making myself nauseous and disgusted in the process. I guess I just wanted to familiarize myself with the extreme suffering those people went through but from a distance; that somehow made me feel grateful and more alive. It wasn’t too long before he broke the ice and offered to sell me some cheap perfume, but I declined. He said he was really hungry and complained about being homeless. I asked him why he didn’t try to get a blue collar job and he said he was ill and blind in his left eye; during an intense argument with his ex-wife that increased his blood pressure, his retina burst. He said he used to be a mechanic before that happened. After losing his job, his wife left him, and his disability made it hard for him to pursue other jobs. His impairment became an obstacle that pushed him to start dabbling in illegal substances, mainly heroin. He got addicted to the drug that he became fully dysfunctional.
I never thought I’d stop and speak to a homeless man, but I admired his willingness to stay on the right path after everything he’s been through. He wouldn’t even steal to eat; if he didn’t have money for food, he’d go to a police station or a homeless shelter which occasionally provided him with some food. Otherwise, he went to bed and woke up to an empty stomach. I can’t imagine how that would feel like.
I stood in front of him in complete silence, contemplating my past and future. I have more than enough and I still don’t like it. And although I don’t think my pain and worries aren’t valid, being able to live comfortably with a roof over my head and a stocked fridge felt like heaven compared to his situation. My gut was urging me to give him a helping hand, something I’ve never really considered doing. The only time I’ve stopped and gave a homeless man some food was years ago, and my reason for doing that was because I thought he was good-looking and had a cute kitten in his lap. I had my eye on him months prior to that; the first time I saw him was at a public restroom. He was giving his kitten a shower in the sink before cleaning himself up. I couldn’t help but glance at him when he took his shirt off and started cleaning his armpits with liquid soap. Obviously, that experience doesn’t count because I was somehow physically drawn to him. So the second time around, I decided to help someone purely out of human kindness. I was already feeling bad for him listening to the way his life took a tragic turn and was willing to give him money for food but didn’t have any cash on me. We exited the mall and I asked him to wait for me by my bank’s entrance while I withdrew some cash. He thanked me repetitively, calling me a good person, which made me cringe.
“How do you know I’m a good person?”, I asked.
“I know it. I can tell”, he answered.
“I don’t think you can tell by this one conversation. Besides, I could be good to you and bad to others. What kind of person does that make me?”
Ever since that encounter, I found myself obsessively delving into an unusual almost life-threatening hobby of hanging out around questionable neighborhoods known for their susceptibility to crime. I’d sit at low-quality dinners, observing unsavory-looking individuals eat and chat, knowing they were criminals off-duty. One day, I left campus and took the bus down to the south side. The African-American population which is predominant in that area, has been desperately trying for many years to wipe off the misconception about it being home for crime and violence. The idea itself generates a lot of negative views toward the culture itself which adds to more racism. However, I’ve decided to investigate the location myself and for the most past, found that it was indeed too dangerous. I walked around and entered a crowded 24-hour diner. I walked inside and looked up at the menu. The pictures displaying food options weren’t exactly too appetizing, and I had gotten food poisoning in the area before, so I settled with french fries and soda. As soon as I grabbed my tray and walked over to an empty booth, I could feel everyone’s eyes set on me. I felt like I was being singled out by the prying eyes of my surroundings; I was the only white male in the room. I was also dressed nice which obviously served as a disadvantage. I don’t know what I was thinking showing up in that area dressed in my nice, university clothes. I sat down and stared at my food for a while before grabbing my phone and snapping pictures of my surroundings. As I focused on the individuals sitting in the room, one of them immediately capped my attention. He was eating his food like a vulture. I watched as he stuffed his head inside his disgusting cheeseburger. He chewed with his mouth wide open, his tongue making an unpleasant smacking sound as it continuously sucked the food off the roof of his mouth. He then proceeded on sucking on and between his teeth to clean out all the leftover meat stuck between them before washing his food down gulping his gigantic cup of soda. Out of annoyance and ultimate disgust, I left my food on the table and walked out. Even then, I could still see and hear him in my head. I had to stop in the back alley, my face right above a dumpster as I felt an uncontrollable level of nausea rising, almost making me puke my guts out.
After my stomach calmed down, I turned around and saw a brown minivan park across the street from where I was standing. Two men sitting in the front glanced at me for a while. I didn’t want to make eye contact and proceeded in walking over to the nearest bus stop or train station but they immediately pulled out and drove by me, a man opening the sliding back door and jumping out of it. He gave me a threatening look and cornered me inside an alley. The man sitting in the front seat by the driver came out and joined him. They ordered me to give them my wallet, and I resisted. He took out his gun and pointed it at my face and I didn’t react. There was no way out, though, and so my wallet was taken away from me. I urged him to take everything, the cash, the cards, whatever he needed, and give me back the wallet grandpa gave me, and surprisingly enough, he did. As soon as the let me go and disappeared, I called my bank and cancelled all my cards as soon as I walked over to the the train station. In situations like these you just want to take the streets and start screaming but I didn’t. I wasn’t even really that scared. As far as I know, I got the insight I was hoping for for my research. On the other hand, judging or cursing them would’ve been ironic from my part, being a semi-criminal myself. I’ve attracted this situation to me. I made it happen. The thoughts, the energy I put out there, it couldn’t be denied nor questioned. So after the initial reaction of shock and despair, I gathered my strength and persuaded the CTA employee to give me a free ticket so I could make it home, and he was nice enough to do so. The next day, I walked over to the bank with my passport and withdrew some money to get myself to State secretary office to get myself a new copy of my identification. Losing a wallet is tragic when the item holds a sentimental value. Although the whole incident had caused a minor inconvenience that lasted a couple of hours (sure, I had to wait a week to get my new cards, but that even wasn’t a big of a deal), I couldn’t get over the idea that grandpa’s wallet, the wallet I’ve carried my whole life, would’ve been gone forever.
When you constantly put yourself in a hostile environment, swooping down empty alleys in the most dangerous areas of the city, gathering and capturing evidence in the dirtiest corners where disease and crime become more than facts of life, it’s a necessity to be able to wipe away all the bad energy and cleanse yourself before you get back to your safety net. My friend, Sven, as well as his girlfriend, Natalie, were my two main sources that always helped ground me when I needed it.
After finishing up college, I was craving a change of scenery and so instead of moving to another neighborhood, I moved to New York City. I don’t know why, I just felt like starting over someplace else. Sven was the first guy I befriended; I met him through my boxing coach, Robbie. It was a Friday night, and Rob had gotten us tickets to go see a boxing fight at the Barclays Center. Sven was up against a former middleweight champion on only a two-week notice after his original opponent dropped out because of an injury. The fight was the most intense I’ve ever seen and the entire audience was shaking in their seats from the start until the final knockout. The fight began with his opponent doing a good job at using his lengths to keeping Sven at a distance, but three minutes into the first round, Sven got him good with a left hook causing him to fall down. He then tried to get up but Sven didn’t give him a chance and followed the first punch with another left hook before getting on top of him and almost beating him to death until the rep ripped him off. A lot of people lost a lot of money on that fight as Sven was the betting underdog.
Sven Edelman moved here from Sweden fifteen years ago and lived in Denver before moving to the city. He splits his time between working in IT, bartending at an Irish bar on the weekends, and coaching. After taking a few training sessions with him, we became instant friends when I realized that he understands, just like me, that violence is a way for us to tame our extreme desires and keep our internal rage in check.
“You can erase your bad history but not your impulses”, he once said to me. “Those never go away, you only learn to deal with them.”
For him, violence is wired in every human’s being’s biological predisposition. That’s why we enjoy watching violence been inflicted; it’s the excitement that comes with it. Otherwise, action and horror movies wouldn’t be so popular. Sven gets off on taking risks. After we became friends, I’d hang out with him before his anticipated fights and see the adrenaline overflow almost pushing him off the deep-end. He manages to keep things fresh and exciting for me by just being around which I find exceptionally captivating that I didn’t think twice to ask him to take residence in my guest bedroom after his pyromaniac roommate got arrested after continuously setting fires to abandoned warehouses.
After getting my Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology and adding it to my Photography degree, it didn’t take me long to find a job. After graduating, I jumped at the opportunity to network by taking a few workshops. One of the people I befriended helped me submit my portfolio to an agency who then required a written exam to be considered for an interview. Using my mature and strong work ethic as well as my decent knowledge in technology to nail my job interview, I then went through weeks of training before officially landing my first job as a forensic photographer and becoming part of the forensic field. My initial position was assisting two other photographers at crime scenes. My skills in video-recording allowed me to do that for over a year before getting promoted to a higher-up position as a photographer. My superiors, renowned Special Agent at the FBI and head of the Behavioral Science Unit, David Casserly as well as the head of the CSI unit, Jared Parker still review my work and sometimes report to the Chief of Unit, Mr. Grant Northington.