Interview: Sean Davis’s Obsession

Editor Matty Byloos, Interview, November 20th, 2015

" brains and blood turn from blue to red when they hit air..."

Marcin Owczarek


NAILED MAGAZINE: Tell me about the thing you’ve been obsessed with for the majority of your life. What’s the one thing that’s always playing in a loop somewhere in the back of your mind?

SEAN DAVIS: The fear of a major earthquake ripping cities apart keeps many people up at night. Super volcanoes exploding from under Yosemite, tsunamis a half mile high hitting the West Coast at one hundred miles an hour, or maybe a new super virus that’s resistant to antibiotics and ends up killing millions: these are horrors a civilized person wouldn’t wish on their worst enemies, but through bad luck or fate, I’ve spent most my life in extreme situations. I not only survived, but found I was skilled at dealing with them — and more than that, I loved living through them.

Some people do better after the world ends. I’m one of them. This is my obsession.

At twelve years old, my father took me and my brother out of school to pan for gold, and as far as he was concerned, we were going to pan for gold for the rest of our lives. We lived a Jack London lifestyle. No electricity. All water was from the river. We cooked over campfires twice a day. Shit in the woods. We lived solely off the gold we pulled from the earth, and we did this for months until my father met a group of hippies who’d been hired to look after an illegal pot grow. He befriended them, but after a few weeks, ended up sleeping with someone’s girlfriend or wife.

I remember hearing his far-off screams as he sprinted down the bank of the Sixes River, holding his ass. He’d been buckshot, stung by a hundred steel little bees, right in the ass. He was yelling at me to grab the gold and get in the car. We were leaving.

The first time I saw a man die, I was thirteen. He stood on a flatbed of a truck and the driver let the clutch out too fast making it lurch. The man landed on his skull and I’ll always remember how brains and blood turn from blue to red when they hit the air.

By the time I was eighteen, I had driven across the country from east to west and from north to south. I tried to get a job and stay put at twenty, but needed more, so I joined the army. I spent my twenty-first birthday patrolling with an M16 in my hand through Port au Prince in Haiti, during their revolution. I patrolled their largest city after their revolution during Mardi Gras. My little nine-man squad forced our way through thousands of drunk and dancing Haitians, full of anger and excitement.

For my second tour in the military, I was a desk sergeant for a police station in a small Bavarian mountain town. This was back when military police did law enforcement. I arrested people, investigated rape cases, and was involved in a car chase. Some civilian dependent kidnapped his own baby and tried to get away.

I left the service and tried hard to go to art school and start a career. I took a job as an incident responder for the Oregon Department of Transportation. Most days, I’d drive in circles on the highways, but when there was a fatal accident, I’d be there to help out and clean up. I once saw a man in a convertible decapitated by a lifted truck. Once the traffic in front of a semi stopped faster than his breaks could slow him down so he pulled the wheel, sending the semi on its side on the shoulder of the road where I was parked. It slid right at me, stopping only ten feet away. When I ran to it, after it’d finally stopped, I found the driver had broken his neck but was still alive. More than once, I sprayed blood off the asphalt of the public roads with a solution of bleach and water.

Then the attacks of September 11th happened. The horrors of that day gave me an excuse to go back. The first thing I did in the Oregon National Guard was train how to fight wildland fires. A year after that, I led infantrymen in the combat of the Iraq War. Did that until I was blown up.

I thought that would have gotten whatever it is out of me, but then the biggest hurricane in U.S. history hit landfall, and soon as I was able to walk unassisted, I volunteered to go wade through those flood waters in New Orleans. It was harder than I thought it would be, mentally and physically. So I made a deal with myself to finally buckle down and find a career.

In five years time, I had a Master’s degree, and in seven year’s time, I had a wife, a new daughter, a book, and I supported us by teaching writing. I did it. I had pulled away and made a life. But this last year, it called me back. I went through wildland firefighting training yet again, passed the physical tests, and headed out for almost three months.

This summer I lit my cigarette on the largest wildfire in the state of California. Pissed on it too.

If the world ended tomorrow, I would find my way home, put on my kit, and rally. I’ve said on multiple occasions that the only way I’d join the military again is after the world ends. I’m sure I could be at least a colonel in whatever army we survivors create. This isn’t crazy; this is my obsession.

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If you enjoyed this piece on obsession, then you might also like “#1: Lavinia Ludlow” which you can read here.

Header image courtesy of Marcin Owczarek. To view a gallery featuring his work, go here.

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writer sean davisSean Davis has fought in a revolution, a war, and helped save lives in New Orleans during Katrina. He currently teaches writing at Mt. Hood Community College and Clackamas Community College; he volunteers as the post commander at American Legion Post 134 in the heart of the Alberta Arts District in NE Portland, where he paints and writes plays, articles, and books.


Matty Byloos

Matty Byloos is Co-Publisher and a Contributing Editor for NAILED. He was born 7 days after his older twin brother, Kevin Byloos. He is the author of 2 books, including the novel in stories, ROPE ('14 SDP), and the collection of short stories, Don't Smell the Floss ('09 Write Bloody Books).