I spent my summers during my early school years mostly home alone. There were times when my mom wasn't working and was there especially when I was really young. And my grandparents were ever present next door if I ever needed an adult. But for the most part I spent my days alone. My closest friend in temperament and distance, Bruce, lived about a mile away and I did see him pretty often but there were lots of days all by myself. Our school was miles and miles away and it was even a long distance expensive phone call from my home to connect to any of my school friends that way. Because of that I never learned to have a phone attached to my ear 24 hours a day like a lot of teens of that era. There was certainly no need for a Brady Bunch pay phone in the den...like I even had a den. I didn't really connect with my peers beyond the classroom before I was 14 and had my own transportation.
I was comfortable in my semi-isolation. I never really had a sibling to play with or to connect with because my sister was so much older than me. I had Legos and comic books and toy cars and an Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle and a bicycle and miles of open land to keep me occupied. It's funny how there are no real boundaries when you are a kid. Trespassing just meant don't climb the tree in your front yard and don't mess with my livestock but the other 35 acres behind your house was fair game. I crossed from field to field and owner to owner without concern of any kind. There were times when you may get yelled at but it never meant much. Open land was free land.
I am not a herd animal. I'm not comfortable hanging out with the crowd. I never was. I don't know if the chicken or the egg came first but it is the way I am regardless. As an adult I require my alone time and open space around me from time to time to reset my batteries. Everyone in my family and most all my friends understand this need so nobody gets offended if and when I disappear from time to time, sometimes for days at a time. I will run off and spend hours on my boat or drive in my truck somewhere or go to Vegas and just hold up in a hotel room till I am cleansed. When the world overwhelms me I begin to shut down. It's like there is a room with a hundred levers that go straight to my battery and somebody just starts clicking all the levers to the off position one by one. I can tell when it begins, and it has a bunch of different triggers although I don't always recognize what the trigger is at the time. But I do have outward signs. One of the most obvious is that I pace like the sad old Tigers you used to see in cages in old zoos. I get that 100 mile stare and just start moving from room to room. I try to let everyone in my life know about this up front before I ever begin a relationship. I don't want to scare anyone. Sometime my wife sees me begin the pacing process and she escorts me to my pillow and my overnight bag and kisses me on the cheek and says go have fun. LOL. She is outstanding and she knows I will come back all bright and cheery and renewed and ready to take on the world again.
Despite my comfort with being alone there is still an overriding desire when you are a kid to seek out other kids. I'm guessing it's in our DNA. It almost never failed if I was out riding my bike and I happened upon other kids I would cheerfully engage them and try to be included in whatever adventures were happening at the time. If you look back on my previous posts GOD NEVER CAME TO DINNER and THE McGILLS you will see a lot of this behavior in action. Unfortunately, except for my friend Bruce, all of my attempts at fraternization or socialization were disasters. It always seemed to me that every one of the other young people who lived within ten miles of me were all bullies, the sons of wannabe preachers and backwoods farmers.
This story has never been told........One fine summer Oklahoma day with the south wind blowing the 100 degree and 100 percent humidity air through the sunsoaked trees I was out riding my bike on our little country road looking for adventure. I'm guessing third grade. A ways down our road I was passing a driveway to one of the preacher families when I spotted one of the sons and another boy who lived farther away playing in the driveway near the entrance to the house. The boys were older than me by a couple of years. They had a big cardboard box and were in the process of constructing some sort of structure. I had become wary of the neighborhood kids but a cardboard box is nearly irresistible to me. I pedaled just inside the driveway and stopped. The boys yelled for me to come play with them and seemed genuinely friendly and glad to have me join their reindeer games. My little brain jumped at the opportunity. I pedaled down the gravel driveway to the concrete paved section where they were setting up their clubhouse or fort or store or whatever it was going to be. They were busy cutting holes for windows and they wanted me to help them so I jumped right in and did whatever they wanted, happy to have a little social time. There was idle chitchat and I wasn't exactly included in the conversation but I wasn't excluded either. We got the windows all cut out of the box. It was pretty hot sweaty work on the exposed concrete as there were no trees next to the house. Then when I was getting most excited to begin our make believer whatever-it-was-going-to-be one of the boys produced a pellet gun. Pellet guns are much more powerful than BB guns and have the ability to take down small game like any small hunting rifle. The gun was pointed at my head. I was told I was their prisoner and this was their fort. I tried to run away but they were bigger and faster and they tackled me and tied my hands and feet and dragged me back to their cardboard fort. I was instructed to sit and stare directly at the sun or I would be killed. And there I sat. For hours. With a gun pointed at my head. I panicked but I didn't cry out. In my mind I had assumed that there weren't any parents to rescue me and if I yelled out and the boys parents came out they would do the same to me only much much worse. 100 degrees. Probably from about noon to 5pm. When I was just as abruptly untied and told to go away. I got on my bike and rode home as fast as I could. And sat there trying to make sense of what had happened. There was no retaliation to this event. I internalized it and made it all my fault because I was probably just a weird creepy kid that nobody liked. I was probably 9 or 10 years old. I'm going on 46 now.
So now I sit and wonder where that fits in my puzzle of a life. Was it a defining moment? Did something go click inside my head? Was this the beginning or a middle point in my long long road of social inadequacy and ineptitude? It certainly wasn't my only experience of that genre. I had run ins with many bullies and generally I fought back. But somewhere in that supercritical kid age between about 8 and 10 my paradigm shifted in the background noise of my brain somehow and someway. At that place in time and space I felt very alone and very vulnerable and very controlled. I spent 20 years of my life trying to control everything and I mean absolutely everything and everyone. I had some revelations in my thirties that changed that somewhat but I still struggle daily with the overwhelming need to control my environment. Now I can moderate it but for a long long time it prevented me from ever being able to be part of the crowd. It made me a jerk in high school. I made me a real dick in my twenties. I have difficulty making real friends. It feels like people are firecrackers with short fuses and I am constantly flinching and running away so I won't get hurt. There are a handful of people who made it behind my wall with me and they describe me as the greatest person they know, the pit bull that tears open asses but will lay all night with the newborn. I only wish I could have shared that greatest person with the rest of the world for all those years instead of being so focused on control that it made me inaccessible. I am ashamed and saddened by my history.
I have four wonderful children, by marriage, to whom I present the worlds greatest person in all it's naked vulnerable glory. They are rare individuals who didn't have to live with the huge wall of control from my early years. And they all love me incredibly, by their own choice and admission, and I feel like I may have been able to do something so worthwhile by them that maybe it makes up for all the ugliness that I presented to the world for all those years before.
Thank you. Thank you to all who are with me today and believe in me and look past my wall to the real person inside.