During one of my purges of my mom’s boxes, I began to notice something. My parents had corresponded regularly with many friends and family that they had known from their years together living in San Francisco, where they first met. The correspondence seemed to drop off about the time we moved to Missouri from Colorado. In the cards and letters, there were plenty of hints that my parents used to be sociable people. Indeed, my dad had no trouble finding a best man and groom’s men to participate in his wedding. When we moved to Missouri, I was six years old, and had a few memories here and there of family and friends who’d come to visit us at the house in Aurora.
But then, something happened. All of that dropped off. I don’t know if the intensity of conflict between my dad and older brothers had heightened to such a degree that it, coupled with the stress of a new baby (my little brother), and his new career, was just too much for my dad to handle by including making new friends in Missouri. Occasionally, he would go to a poker night with some work friends, and one time, a work friend came up with his son so that we could go waterskiing at the lake. Of course, I wasn’t permitted to waterski, and rode on a wakeboard with my dad one time.
One time I asked my dad why they never had anyone over, and he told me that this was just the way things were when he was growing up. However, I don’t think that his parents, who both had many siblings, ever lacked for having people visit at least a few times a year. Sleepovers at our house were forbidden, so I eventually stopped being invited to other kids’ sleepovers because I could never reciprocate the invitation.
My mom went on to make some church friends, but my dad seemed content to not really associate with anyone from our town or from his work after awhile. I was banned from watching most television shows and was never allowed to go to the movies, theme parks, or professional or collegiate sporting events, and so after awhile, I really had nothing to discuss with the kids at the cafeteria table or out at recess. Even the ones who were growing up in fairly religious homes didn’t want to talk about Jesus TV shows all the time.
By the eighth grade, I got it in my head that if I grew my hair out long, and listened to a lot of Classic Rock (by then I was allowed to have my own radio and listen to what I wanted to on the radio), and pretended like I was high on drugs, I might be seen as a cool kid, and become accepted by the popular kids. Looking back, I could see an almost autistic sort of obsession with one particular thing–if a cool kid was wearing a collegiate shirt, I became certain that if I could only be permitted to own a shirt with the name of a college on it, then I would suddenly be wildly popular with everyone. If some cool kid mentioned a particular band or musician they liked, I bought all of the cassette tape albums of that group and would memorize all of the lyrics and try to impress that cool kid with my great knowledge of the band. Usually, the cool kid had probably just heard a snippet of a song on the radio, was muttering it under his or her breath, and knew little or nothing else about the artist. There were any number of other things like that–I was always trying to figure out what the magic, secret key was to being initiated into the popular kids’ club, but always ended up baffled and confused when my serious and obsessive professed love of one random thing didn’t pay off for me.
I’ve written a lot about all of this before, and all of this was written to say that I honestly don’t think that I’ve changed very much–or haven’t changed as much as I would like to think I have. The cool kid groups have shifted around, and I’ve gotten better about not coming off as being overly obsessive of one particular facet of whatever it is that they like, but I am still trying too hard to belong to groups that have little or no interest in seeing me participate with them.