Your little brother came into this world mellow, or “chill” as the kids nowadays say. You arrived here not the least bit interested in participating in this world again. You came early, roughly a week early, and that’s kind of how you’ve moved through life. Chances are, if something was being animatedly discussed at school or in the workplace, you’d already discovered it, looked around, saw no one was trying it, and moved on. In short, you keep getting there early and realizing you still have to wait for everyone to catch up. Some people might say that you keep arriving too soon at the walking stage, when you still have a lot of crawling of your own to do.
People who care about these things say you are a Pisces before you tell them your birthday. You are, in fact, an Aries, and from most of the descriptions you’ve read about Aries, you are every bit of one on the inside and when you are surrounded by intimates. Your temper is hot, you hate getting stuck in interminable ruts, whether they are bad jobs, conversations, relationships or traffic. Yet, your life has mostly been to any outside observer the life of a slow, plodding, methodical late bloomer. That’s because you tend to overcompensate for all of your real and perceived weaknesses. Too much like a stodgy old man at the college party? Act like a twelve year old. Too intellectual? Act like an utter buffoon or deep south white trash man. Too quiet? Run your mouth about irrelEt, random things. Too noisy? Shut down to a state that verges on the catatonic.
At any rate, you were born an Aries, or a Dragon, if you follow the Chinese astrologers. You share a birthday with your long-deceased grandmother, who very briefly deigned to treat you like a grandson for a few years before dying of cancer. That grandmother, we’ll call her Angela, had an image of herself as a kind of Marilyn Monroe type, flirting in Los Angeles during her youth with a playboy son of a wealthy construction contractor. She made your mom with him, then married and divorced him, moving on to half a dozen more husbands. So, you share a birthday with this free spirit who seemed from the stories to be little like her mother or daughter. You were also born during our nation’s bicentennial, a fact your mother reminded you of at least once a month throughout your childhood.
You were born into a family that was already pretty well-built. In other words, you were not some cornerstone son that your father proudly threw up into the air naked with a barrel-chested war cry emitting his lips, screaming that you indeed were the sole heir to the vast estate of the Smiley fortune.
From your father’s telling of it, the two times he successfully (and accidentally) got your mom pregnant were the two times in his life prior to retirement that he stopped drinking excessively for a month or more. Following your parents marriage, they’d tried unsuccessfully to create children, because both of them had reasons of their own for wanting to start and build a traditional family, in spite of the fact that it was the late 60s, and your mother was fully aware of the pill and women’s liberation.
So, your parents adopted two boys who’d been placed in a series of foster homes following the state yanking them from a home where two hippies remained constantly drugged, throwing food at them like they were dogs (to hear your father tell it, anyway). For you, this meant that you joined a family that had over four years of time for the four of them to bond, and not without significance, you also competed for attention with two German Shepherd dogs. At any given time, your mother might have five other beings, four of them male, competing for her attention with you.
This meant you had to develop a unique selling proposition, a means of really standing out from the other males. In later years, when your mom was pregnant with your little brother, she made it no secret that she wanted a girl child to raise–a little female thing to dote upon in ways that she never could with rowdy, unkempt boys. There is no doubt that you picked up on this need quite early, and adjusted your demeanor to a fair degree toward the effeminate to monopolize your mother’s attention. Of course, when you were around your brothers or father or cousins or Grandfather Larry, you had to recalibrate and express a love for cars and football and playing in the dirt.
Some of your earliest memories are dreams, which isn’t that unusual, but the dreams probably are. You’ve written about these early dreams elsewhere, and they aren’t really worth dwelling on.
What did seem to be written into your destiny, was the development of some kind of man’s man, a true king of the playground, athlete of the junior leagues, and someday a quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Craig Morton was your hero, and when your father packed all of you up and moved you to Kansas City, you secretly continued to cheer for John Elway. The best days were spent playing touch football with your brothers in the yard or out in the street. For years, you could lapse into the fondest memories of sitting in the family den with your brothers and father on a Sunday watching every NFL game you could. Your brother Garry liked to distinguish himself from everyone else, and cheered for the Vikings, probably more enamored with the mascot then the team itself.
Right before your family left for Kansas City, you met a cool kid who’d moved in two houses to the right, who was your age and had his own bona fide Los Angeles Raiders football helmet.
There are memories of questioning just how much of a boy you really were, though, before your family ever left Denver. A man pulled up to the stoplight alongside your mom, and you were sitting in the passenger seat with the window rolled down. This was, of course, long before people put their children in child car seats until the kid was like, eighteen. “Someone’s a pretty little girl!” he exclaimed, with no hint of malice whatsoever. “Yeah, I’m talking to you, cutie!”
“It’s just your long hair,” your mom would say to you. “We should give you a haircut.”
You also can remember one summer day when you and Garry decided to dress up in costumes, just for fun, as if it were already Halloween. He found your dad’s old Air Force uniform, and you found one of your mom’s dresses she wore when she was a girl.
“You take that off right now!” your mom snapped. “Little boys should not wear girls’ clothing.”
The two of you were just having fun, even then you had the presence of mind to think it was just for a joke. But, after Garry let you put on your dad’s Air Force uniform, he did declare that you looked so much better in the dress. Of course, this was entirely due to the fact that you were a five year old boy trying on a grown man’s Air Force uniform, then a ten-year-old girl’s dress–of course one was going to fit you better.
But, a seed was planted.
The difference between your memories of yourself up until about the age of nine, and the memories of you until you hit puberty, are like night and day.
Something began to grow inside of you the day you arrived at the tiny elementary school in Murphy’s Falls, Missouri. You arrived a fairly handsome, ruddy boy who loved football and had no concerns about being able to integrate socially with a new group of children. Just a few days ago, you’d fallen off the swing on the playground in Denver after doing your damnedest to see how high you could go. This had elicited enormous scrapes and bruises on the side of your torso that caused you to get special bandages from the school nurse, of which you were immensely proud. Only a really tough boy shows up on his first day at a new school bearing bandages from waging serious battles with the playground equipment.
But, a kind of fear, that you had not known in Denver, came forth. First it was Steven Bronson’s “Golden Eagle Gang,” which required a series of initiations across the playground equipment, and perhaps even a battle with another boy (of which you were especially terrified). Then, you discovered playing soccer with the other boys at recess that you really weren’t that good. Sully Nilsworth kicked ferocious bruises and bumps onto your shins–bruises that were every bit as garish and painful as the ones you’d inflicted upon yourself from flying off the swing back in Denver. This made you terrified of trying out for the local soccer team, when a young man came and circulated this information among the first grade classes.
Also, there was Priscilla Chernier, your very first crush ever. You thought perhaps that she liked you, even though she was incredibly mean to you every single time you tried to talk to her. She would tell the teacher about the horses her family owned, and you could keep yourself up for hours at night fantasizing about riding horses with Priscilla through the gorgeous Missouri fall woods. Then, the two of you would stop somewhere, and you would kiss.
Priscilla fantasies were also your very first true fantasies. Once you discovered just how happy these terrible mind creations could make you, you were ever more reluctant to actually approach real life situations. If attempting to talk to Priscilla on the playground brought on the worst sort of terrors, and she treated you rather meanly, then why would you want to bother getting to know the real person when you could have the utmost satisfaction with the fantastical one?
Unfortunately, this too, was a kind of seed that was to grow into a monstrous landscape of demons that you couldn’t get past. You had the most vivid of imaginations, at times completely capable of picturing the noises of your father downstairs while you were going to sleep being the noises elicited by a man doing secret business with various cabals of organized crime.
But, more importantly, these fantasies became an easy way for you to convince yourself that you were vastly superior to the other boys in your class both in brawn and brain. Because you became terrified to try out for soccer, wrestling, little league, karate and any other sports the boys bragged about doing during the summer, you were able to create worlds where at the age of eight or so you won Iron Man triathlons and went off to Latin American countries to assist Navy Seals and GI Joes with special forces combat missions.
Such a divergence from the paths that the other boys were on didn’t seem readily apparent overnight. That would come later, that sinking feeling that you were some kind of monster or cretin, a thing completely outside of the realm of the humanity you interfaced with at school. On the playground, you soon discovered James Keese, an unapologetic misfit who did not fantasize about one day being an NFL quarterback, and at his fantastic birthday party that consisted of swimming AND McDonald’s, you met some other weirdo friends of his from the other first grade classes, that he’d befriended in kindergarten.
For a glorious year, you were blissfully unaware of any real differences between you and the other boys. When the gym teacher Harry Rogers mocked you and James’ inability to climb the rope and do the flips on the trampoline, you just kind of ignored it, thinking that the other boys probably had access to such equipment at home.
Your father somehow managed to score the coolest house a young boy could hope to live in–a giant farm house that was almost a hundred years old, and had hints of old Southern plantation charm about it. The house sat on hundreds of acres that were rented out to farmers and ranchers in the area, and you and your father and brothers spent almost every day of that first year in Missouri roaming the acreage, flying kites with little parachute men attached to them, and fishing in the cattle ponds that the owner had stocked with bass.
Gus, your oldest brother, had been in and out of trouble ever since he was adopted, but he seemed to be adapting to his new school in spite of having been the one who protested the loudest about the Missouri move.
Your mother had given birth to Roy just a few weeks before your family left for Missouri, so the presence of a newborn in the house might have made everyone a little less violent toward each other. You had hoped and hoped that Roy would be a boy, and loved to hold him and entertain him with stuffed animals and songs. The notion that you were now no longer the runt was quite appealing. Plus, Roy seemed to have no real opinions of his own about anything, and wasn’t the least bit competitive, not being even one year old yet.
You loved the local Baptist church that your mother settled on, after having dragged you and your brothers to a dozen churches in the area. You saw some of the kids from school, and liked the quaint, small-town worship service because it just felt like something from a storybook, or the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” which a film buff came and showed the school one day before Christmas break. It all held the promise of providing you with an epic American, small town life.
In the next few years, you would certainly get over your reservations about joining one of the local sports teams, perhaps when on the playground you kicked a home run at kickball, or threw a zinger to knock out Steven Bronson at dodge ball. All of the other boys would come to congregate around you after an especially memorable wrestling victory, and you’d go on to be the star pitcher and quarterback through high school before going on to having an amazing time at a university like Notre Dame or Harvard while also joining the military then getting signed by the Broncos to replace the retiring John Elway.
But, things in real life started to get kind of dodgy and not really behave as expected.
Each summer, you and your family would go down and visit Grandfather Larry, and he would make it clear that there was something about you that he just didn’t like. He’d grab Gus and Garry to go shark fishing, and leave you back at Grandma’s with your two girl cousins, mom, grandma and Roy.
Then, in the second grade, you started to notice that the black board was almost impossible to read, while other children seemed perfectly capable of reading everything on it. During the annual eye exam that the school nurse administered, you found yourself lying about the bottom three rows and crossing your fingers. You were safe, but in third grade, the gig was up.
Your mom, ever restless on her spiritual journey, had decided that the Baptists were not religious and spirit-filled enough. She didn’t think they were holding Gus and Garry’s attention, either, and perhaps figured that a church with a rock band instead of a choir would set them back on the path of Bible reading and righteousness. So, in the second grade, you found yourself once again being yanked from church to church–lots of churches that were dozens of miles away and in strip malls and basements, full of shouting, chanting, praying in tongues, and knocking people to floors.
She finally settled on a church in a town twenty miles away, a young church inside a corrugated metal work building, full of people feverish for Jesus, and more than happy to sit for an extra hour and miss lunch and football on Sundays when the pastor was especially full of the Lord. You found this church to be utterly boring and it lacked a Sunday school for kids your age. Other than the pastor’s son, there was really no one else your age at the church. And this kid, Willie, was so prissy and full of himself, that he didn’t deign to speak to you unless he absolutely had to.
Then, to top it all off, your father decided that he no longer wanted to rent the lovely old farm house, but needed to own a place, and the owner of the lovely old farm house wasn’t about to sell it to your father unless he could pony up the cash for the hundreds of acres that went with it. So, he found a bargain of a house in a quasi-suburb neighborhood that a crazy couple had started to build using the cheapest materials available before they divorced and abandoned it. The house looked nothing like the safe, ranch-style homes in the neighborhood. It was an A-Frame house that looked more appropriate in the mountains, where such roofs are designed to let the snow slide off.
This house was completely unfinished on the inside. The mother and daughter had been attempting to live in it like transients, and tried to run a hair-styling business out of it. They’d even had a horse on the property at one time, and had let the entire backyard grow up with six-foot-tall brush, throwing up a ramshackle collection of boards that passed for a horse shelter. The house stunk of mildew and bleach. Your dad contracted in carpenters, electricians, plumbers and people to lay carpet and linoleum. He hired a man with a brush hog to tame the backyard. The house went from being a haven for people who were nigh animals to being a home for a very strange family.
During your second-grade year, you started school at the old farmhouse, and collected a gang of boys yourself on the playground. Inspired by your mom’s religious fervor, you began picking up all of her random Pentecostal books and bringing them to school. Of course, most of the boys were still of the “Golden Eagle” variety of boy, even though the gang had disbanded after they first grade. While they were busy playing kickball or soccer, you were indoctrinating the two new boys, along with James Keese and his friend from kindergarten, Bob Miller. One of the new boys was a Filipino, the other was clearly from a broken home and messed up beyond anything that Golden Eagle boys would accept into their circle.
First, you got them all to read the Bible with you and pray to the Lord. Then, they got bored with this when Nathan Alvarado, the Filipino kid, declared he was a werewolf and created a game of running around biting kids on the chest. So, because you were mad at your second-grade teacher Mrs. Gramercy for giving you a B on an exercise that clearly should have merited an A+, you decided to get all of your gang together to write dirty notes about Mrs. Gramercy.
“We’re going to fill both sides of a piece of paper with dirty things about her, until it’s completely covered in black!” you cried.
Out of nowhere, a former Golden Eagle, Mickey Jackson, grabbed your note that read “F*** you, Mrs. Gramercy,” and ran with it to give to her.
All of this first trouble with authority happened while your father was in the process of finalizing the move. You had the insolent nerve to cause your poor mother so much stress while she was already dealing with a two-year-old and two rebellious teenagers. Shortly after this run-in with the Principal of the school, you took up showing off on the playground your ability to jump off of higher and higher playground equipment, until your bizarre attempts to prove your toughness were derailed by a broken foot, which saw Mrs. Gramercy and another teacher picking you up and carrying you with a fireman’s carry to the nurse’s office. Your little boy brain was astounded by this, since you’d so recently written such nasty things about her.
Your parents fought almost every night, screaming at each other about religion. Your dad kept a Buddha picture on the wall of his den. It was a wedding gift from one of your parents’ San Francisco artist friends, but your mother had become so ferociously fundamental in her Christianity, that the mere suggestion of another god in her house was grounds for thoroughly righteous anger.
That summer, you witnessed what you would later write about as the “Tea Jar Incident,” a summer’s day in which your oldest brother Gus was ran out out the house by your dad with a gun. You’ve written about it so much elsewhere, that it really doesn’t bear repeating, but you did start the third grade with a fair amount of flux and drama having now passed through your life.
The third grade was probably the last year in school that you were really a normal kid, by your estimation and that of others, until you were a Junior in High School. That year, you had the one male teacher of the elementary school, Mr. Geoffry, who seemed to be the kind of male counterpart to men like your gym teacher Mr. Rogers and Grandfather Larry who refused to acknowledge that a boy was worth their time unless he was athletic and ferociously competitive. Nerdy boys, shy boys, girly boys and just plain weird boys were probably going to go on to become the kind of men they absolutely loathed. But, Mr. Geoffry seemed to see you differently, and it’s unfortunate that you didn’t get to have more male role models like him introduced into your life during your formative years. Quite simply, he believed in you, encouraged you, and made you love school. Not once during the third grade did you ever doubt yourself and your capabilities as an all-American boy destined for great, manly things.
You did continue your playground antics, having discovered a sequence of rings on the other, “older kids” playground, that Mr. Geoffry sometimes let the class play on. Each recess that your class went out to this playground, you had a mission of trying to swing hard enough and far enough beyond the third broken ring to complete the entire sequence. Having mastered this, you would surely prove to the entire class and Mr. Rogers just how clearly amazing you were. Obviously, any boy who made it all the way across the swinging ring set was far more athletic and courageous than those simple fools who passed the Golden Eagle initiation, climbed to the top of the rope in gym, and scored home runs at kickball.
You would go on to complete swing later in the year, but first, you had to break your arm while breaking your fall on one of your many attempts.
Mr. Geoffry was extremely patient with you while you learned in a matter of weeks to write left-handed while your arm was in a cast. When it came time for class pictures, you grabbed the end of your sling and hiked the cast up further so that it would be in the picture. Maybe cute Priscilla Chernier would see that picture, and realize just how fearless you really were when it came to conquering playground equipment.
This is where you can probably leave off from the childhood reminiscing, as you’ve done a fairly competent job of outlining the arc of your early life from being the normal, rough-and-tumble American boy to becoming the misfit rebel you were surely to become. Your home life, while not the most traumatic of any child, was not especially average, either. When your father came home from work, he rarely cared to play catch with his sons, or take them fishing. His primary pastime was sitting in his den, reading books and sipping beer he kept hidden from his boys. When you all were put to bed, he would move up to the living room, and continue to sip beer and watch television that all of the other kids in the class got to watch–like Johnny Carson and Matlock, while you were left to descend ever deeper into your fantasy world.
Ever since you got on the bus at the start of your seventh grade year, and felt yourself inside a chasm so deep you would never climb out of it, you’ve been asking yourself the same question: “What the hell happened?” Of course, there was your Junior year in high school, when you seemed to have established a fair degree of normalcy (and worked with Priscilla Chernier at Subway three days a week, searching her face for any signs that she might think of you the way you thought of her). And, you’ve had other “what the hell happened?” moments later on in life after a fairly good run of believing you were finally socially well-adjusted.
“What the hell happened?” you asked, the Friday that you realized you were most definitely NOT invited to the very popular Ramon Arroz’s wedding, or seeing all of the cool kids’ pictures on Rhonda Jarrel’s Facebook page, and realizing that you were not to be invited to any more IAH social functions.
“What the hell happened?” you asked, after Wanda kicked you out of sales.
“What the hell happened?” you asked, after you realized that your current boss, Athena Jester, had taken to simply ignoring your creative input in meetings, and had essentially removed you from any roles where you would be able to provide creative input to the Marketing Campaigns Team.
“What the hell happened?” you asked, after realizing that almost everyone your age now have kids who are 5, 9, 11 years old.
But, it is probably instructive to return your focus to those important first two years in Missouri, and compactly describe everything that happened: one, you developed your first awareness of an utter terror for activities in which you would either have to fight other boys, or ask other girls to be your girlfriend; two, your mother discovered the Pentecostals, and religion became something more than just another community activity, but a thing to underscore your differences from other families in the community; three, your father ran your oldest brother out of the house; four, your eyesight suddenly went bad, almost overnight; five, you continued to receive feedback from pretty much all males except for Mr. Geoffry that you were radically different than other boys; six, you developed a fantasy world that was to one day be more of a prison than a paradise.
It became harder and harder for you to get a leg up on the chasm you were falling deeper and deeper into. In the sixth grade, you briefly discovered you were again a kind of ringleader of boys, having assembled a group of new boys who’d yet to be assimilated by the former Golden Eagle gang members. Having held a long-time contempt and jealousy for the Bob Miller’s friendship of James Keese, you developed a game where you brought a tape recorder to the playground, sleepovers, and Scout meetings to get James Keese to join you in mercilessly making fun of Bob Miller and his dad, recording you nasally impersonations of them on tape, and escalating the abuse the more Bob Miller cried.
In spite of your severe bullying of Bob Miler, he mostly forgave you and became your friend again, though he would go on to play this card any time he wanted to make friends with more popular people in high school.
Following this summer, you stepped onto the bus to discover everyone had changed. You still wore your oversize, old man’s glasses that your dad had picked out for you after you’d destroyed your first pair from jumping off of playground equipment and landing on them when they fell off of your face. Murphy’s Falls was such a small town that you left the elementary school after the sixth grade, and went up to the high school for “Junior High” for two years before being an official high schooler.
The seventh grade brought severe acne, wet dreams, and vivid daytime visions of ritualistic cult abuse that would come upon you like a feeling of sever de ja vu. You were terrified of night terrors, and hypnogogic visitors, along with the kids on the bus who, friends of yours the previous year, were now your bullies. You wanted badly to impress someone with how cool you were, so you stopped being kind to your little brother, and started calling him stupid every time you saw him. Because you had a primitive sense of karma, you let your schoolbus bullies mistreat you into the eighth grade, feeling that you probably deserved it after what you’d done to Bob Miller and Roy.
You were afraid to go out for sports. You now had the opportunity to play football, basketball, baseball and run track, just like any high schooler. This was meant to be your time to become a man and get on the fast track to becoming the next quarterback for the Denver Broncos, but at this point in your life, you were so severely self conscious and terrified of everything and everyone that you played no sports, joined no after school clubs, and went to no dances.
Even though you remained active in Scouts with James Keese and Bob Miller, you were rapidly descending into your own world, far removed from the social conversations that happened in the halls and classrooms, and certain that you would probably be abducted by aliens soon. You continued to pray fervently to God to help you out of your miserable state, but you had little faith left in your mother’s religion at this point. Sometimes, when you look back on the kid you were from the fourth grade through your Junior year, you wonder if in today’s climate of adults quick to diagnose the weird kids that you would have been diagnosed as having had Asperger’s.
For too many years, from high school through college, you worried that you were gay, though you found no boys to be attractive, and often found your decade-old crush on Priscilla Chernier flaring up again. The fact is, a small, Midwestern town in the eighties and nineties was full of people who saw things pretty much in black and white. If a boy was that much of a misfit, he could find his niche with the science nerds who would go off to Rolla to become engineers. Or, he could integrate himself into Band, which you tried to do off and on, even though your ear for making music was virtually non-existent. If a boy didn’t want to play sports or band, and didn’t want to be active in the Science Club, then he was likely to join the other kids behind the school getting drunk and smoking cigarettes. You tried this as well, even getting your first girlfriend out of the deal–a short, chubby girl who was kind of built like Priscilla, but thoroughly white trash while Priscilla was clearly college bound.
It should really come as no surprise each time you find yourself friendless at a new workplace or church, experience the bulk of the people in these places as being full of scowls and judgment of you, much the same way Grandfather Larry, Mr. Rogers and so many others were. These people are likely initially reacting to your own scowling face, and then quickly averting their eyes when you scowl back at them more ferociously.
The truth is, you have never developed the ability to properly make friends and integrate yourself socially. James Keese was kind of just the default weirdo that first year in Missouri. Thanks to him, you were generally introduced to whatever friends or girlfriends he picked up, and usually treated like the sad sack sidekick, sometimes being openly accused of having gay crushes on him. Another friend, Harry Erler, was a default friend who lived across the street from the ramshackle A-frame your father moved you all into, and would hide you in a back bedroom when one of his real friends or brother’s friends came over. In college, you made friends with Jerry Kringle, who was in so many ways a college freshman version of James Keese. It took you almost a year to become friends with the Ahmis crowd, sealing the deal by getting drunk one night and performing karaoke. All of your girlfriends seem to have just kind of shown up into your life, and once again by default, you were the only single guy available for them at the time.
The number of people who have actually liked you just for being you is probably countable on one hand, if that. Of course, your parents liked you because they felt like they had to, but you’ve caught your dad too many times to count simply shaking his head in utter puzzlement at the strange son he sired.
You’ve always tried to be fair when performing this kind of analysis: if you were too afraid to be the kind of person you truly saw yourself becoming, then you had to settle for the kind of person the world sees you as.
You have these constant companions of memories when you were on the verge of becoming that much better person. There is your Art History teaching assistant, Barbara Kathwell, a gorgeous young graduate student just a few years older than you and already engaged, but you just knew that when you first walked into her class that unseasonably warm January day, she ever-so-briefly had a thing for you. Same with Stella Anderson at Subway, a sexy college student in town the summer after your Junior year in high school: for a period of that first impression, you were confident and charming, and then you stumbled back into your miserable world of preferring your fantasies to fixing what was broken about you. How about Esther Cunningham at the IAH, a sweet, soft-spoken blond bombshell, and that evening right after her boyfriend of six years left her, and the two of you left work together, and somehow you were both on the same wavelength for all of five minutes?
Then, of course, you set about to systematically and thoroughly trying to prove yourself to her, like you’d done so many times before, and doing it in such a way that only a narrowly-focused kid with Asperger’s might go about approaching such a task. You quickly made your ears and eyes deaf and blind to any words and body language that might suggest an opportunity to ask her out in a casual, unhurried way, and started blasting in her face any and all of the things you’ve accomplished that she might remotely find impressive.
You’re married now, so much of your ineptitude with the opposite sex is moot, but remains instructive for how and why you can’t ever seem to fit into any group, anywhere, much less realize the dream of becoming a highly successful, all-American manly man. Of course, now that you’re thirty-five and have only played a little touch football in college, your dream of replacing John Elway as the next great Denver Bronco quarterback has long died. But, the funny thing is, in spite of every single meeting where you want to say something or speak embarrassingly out of turn, in spite of every workday that goes by where you aren’t invited to join the other people in your department for coffee, lunch or happy hour, in spite of each year that goes by where so-called “friends” on Facebook do not reply to you, in spite of your thinning, graying hair, and your general lack of any new ideas about who you are going to be when you grow up—in spite of all this, you still at times see yourself as being nothing more or less than the man who lays carpet or tile, fixes plumbing or wiring, wearing a ballcap from house to house, driving a pickup truck, drinking Budweiser and watching football, cheering on the Broncos or Cowboys or whomever, barbecuing, attending a Baptist church, taking road trip vacations to the Grand Canyon of Florida, having a few good buddies to play poker and go fishing with.
All that is so weird and broken and lost about you often feels like old, musty garments you simply can’t seem to cast off. And, so much of your sad attempts to become a writer, artist, singer songwriter, web designer, etc., were simply acts of adding more like garments onto the old musty ones until you had absolutely no idea who you really were underneath it all. But, underneath everything that might have not gone right there might just be a normal, average boy child who liked cars and football, and thought he’d be back in Denver in no time at all after getting to see a little bit of some other part of the world.
What exactly were you thinking at that moment that you were thrown into this world for the first time? Were you full of all of the uncut psychic bonds that happen with Mother during her pregnancy? Did you absorb the tension between her and Father and your brothers? Or, did you really exist in some previous incarnation as a man or woman bent on returning to this world to become a great man? Or, did you really exist in some angelic, proto-human, quasi-divine state, lapping up the timeless state of God’s Love, not wanting in the least to come down to this plane of existence to have to experience all of the pain and weirdness of growing up as a human boy?
Or, was it none of these, and simply the cards you were dealt in the form of the genes that assembled you, with all that was and is you being the only way you could ever be, given said cards at said time and place in the universe?
You still hold out too much hope for a thirty-five year-old man that the best is yet to come. You hold out hope that your oldest brother Gus, little brother Roy, mom, grandmas, aunts, pets and other friends and family who have gone on are waiting up in a Heaven that is beyond the petty judgment of most fundamentalists you’ve known. Such hopes are quickly dismissed and laughed at by most people–how shocked you are each day to discover that almost everyone around you is an Atheist. James Keese is an atheist. Your current and previous bosses are Atheists. Your dad flirted briefly with God after your little brother and mom died, but he’s pretty much an Atheist. Your Aunt is an Atheist. So many people follow the same trajectory–they reject their childhood religion, seek out various spiritual systems, then cash out and become agnostics, then wake up one morning pissed off at God and ready to reject him in a more codified fashion.
You almost became like them, but life has been too weird for you and unlike the realities those around you seem to agree upon most of the time.
A few years ago, when you got on Facebook for work, two of the first high school classmates to friend you were James Keese and Priscilla Chernier. He was now a rabid Atheist, gleefully posting every rant by Hitchens or Dawkins and every news story about a telEgelist or priest caught with a boy. Priscilla was engaged, and initially seemed fairly interested to know what you’d been up to. She got married and pregnant shortly thereafter.
In any other time of Mankind, you might have gone the rest of your life having never connected again with thise people. But now, you have a connection to them as “friends” in this strange new world, where there is really nothing at all to say to them–nothing more than there ever really was. It could be kind of sad–that your very first crush ever, the one you had when you still thought you were a normal boy and arrived at the small town, might have gone on to become the single love of your life. But it’s not sad, it’s surreal. It’s like this is but one of an infinite number of alternate universes, and in some you are already dead from overdosing on pills or booze, and in others you are locked up in prison for having gotten busted with crystal meth, and in others you are already retired from a successful career with the Denver Broncos, and in others you are practically President, and in others you are a licensed plumber, complete with crack and ballcap and pickup truck. In some universes you married Priscilla Chernier, and in other universes you married James Keese, and in others you stayed so closely aligned with God that you are now a Trappist Monk living in a countryside monastery.
But, one thing is for certain: in this universe you are still screaming in protest of your situation. You have not completely settled, you aren’t completely comfortable with the clothes you wear and the way you are and the way people thing that you are. Something still isn’t quite right. What you wouldn’t give to be able to walk into some small town situation, find a gang of Golden Eagles, and play a few rounds of touch football. You haven’t watched an NFL game in almost a decade, but maybe you will someday soon, when you wake up and you are no longer screaming.