I am, and have been, a horrible human being. Although I am capable of recognizing the correct decisions to make, the fear of actually making them causes me to make wrong decisions. A wiser human than I once said that there are only two real human emotions: Love and fear. And although I am a loving creature, it is the fear that dominates my life.
I wish to write this self-critique by way of the “turd sandwich” method. I will begin by stating something I like about myself.
I love animals, and they love me.
Now I will move on to the “turd” portion of the sandwich by saying that I have always been a selfish person. It was always my way or the whiny way, and I could whine with the best of ’em.
I began my life as a happy, chubby baby with a ravenous taste for chicken. I had a very happy childhood, respectively. For the first part it was awesome. My parents were loving and fun, my sister was cool and we could hang out, and our obligatory beagle was one of my first best friends. It got a little dark leading up to the death of my father when I was eleven. Many people, including myself, thought that this was where I went off the rails. In reality, though, it started happening about a year or so before that. After my father died, people began to notice that I was missing a lot of school. Before that however, I can remember fighting with my father, refusing to get out of the car as he tried to drop me off at elementary school one winter morning. He eventually gave in and drove me home. On the way, we passed one of my classmates being taken to school by his dad. My father said, “Look, there goes [Fake Name], on his way to school! I bet he isn’t crying to his father about not wanting to go!” Maybe not, but I was getting the day off, so fuck him.
As a matter of fact, I think it was this day that was the last day I saw my father. He let me stay home, and he did, too, because at that point he was unemployed. He had retired from the U.S. Marshall service due to an injury sustained in a training exercise, and we had moved to Mansfield to be closer to my mother’s family, whom my father did not get along with at all. They managed to hide that from us kids, thankfully, otherwise all of those Christmases would have been ruined. I was exiled to my room, but around 2:00 my father called me out to the living room. One of his local friends had come around to fetch him. and they were heading out to the bar at West’s Motel to hoist a few. From what I am told, my father was a bit of a celebrity among the local crowd for the interesting life he had led, from the Air Force to the CIA to the U.S. Marshall service. His nickname was The Marshall, apparently. He told me to stay in my room until my mother got home, and off he went. The next morning was a Saturday, and that was when my sister and my mother came in to tell me the news. I watched the Smurfs and cried for two full hours, and then I stopped. I didn’t cry again for the whole ordeal. The viewings, the funeral, the sad little flag ceremony. I walked around the funeral parlor cracking jokes, trying to make people laugh. My cousin Jay, who is all of two months younger than me, just shook his head silently at the floor and said, “I just can’t believe he’s gone!” I tend to remember him holding a tumbler containing the remnants of a gin and tonic, although we were all of eleven years old at the time. The weird thing is, he and my father were never very close. I don’t think I ever saw them exchange more than a few cursory greetings. I do recall one time when my cousin and I were sitting at the kitchen table at our house out on the suburban edges of Mansfield. My father came into the kitchen during a commercial break in the baseball game he was watching and said to Jay (who was more into sports than I was) “I finally found a white man who can hit!” and Jay sheepishly agreed and it was obvious that the racist comment had made him uncomfortable.
To be fair and honest, my father was a racist. He did not believe black people and white people should co-mingle. Ironically, he agreed with Malcolm X — separate but equal. I would get in trouble for playing with black kids. We had a black family on our street when we lived in Kansas City. The kids liked us, my sister and I liked them, but if our father saw us playing with them… my father never hit us, but he could still be very intimidating. It got even harder when we moved to my grandparents’ house in Mansfield when he first retired, and our best friend was an adopted black girl that lived across the street. And it only became more awkward when I had what I consider to be my first sexual experience with that girl. Luckily, he had no notion about any of that. He figured we were just riding our skateboards together, and ninety-nine per cent of the time, we were. If they — the spirits in the after-world — had told my dad about the remaining 1 per cent (which boiled down to two experimental rubbing sessions) when he died, he probably went ballistic.
Before you get a totally negative image of my father, I should point out a few things. First of all, I never saw him drunk. I know he drank, but he never seemed like more than a 3-beer kind of guy. Although he was racist, considering that he came out of Bessemer, Alabama, when he did, I think he managed to keep his thinking pretty decent. He was on the Bessemer Police force during the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement. He didn’t agree with the violence against blacks of the day. I found out after he died that he had personally arrested Martin Luther King Jr. twice for disturbing the peace. After he saw his fellow officers — some of whom were members of the KKK — beating Dr. King up while King was still in handcuffs, my father left the force. He once told me, “Never start a fight, but always finish one.”
As for my personal views, I think everybody should be together: Black, white, Jew, Gentile, Muslim, Asian, Gay, Straight, Transgender… whatever. As long as we are happy. I have two rules that I try to live by: The first is “Never hurt anyone else” and the second is “Never enforce your opinions or beliefs on anyone.”
Back at school a week after the funeral, I felt like the odd man out as everyone was walking on egg shells around me. Finally, as two of my classmates and I walked up to the teacher’s desk to have our work checked at the same time, one of them asked me what the funeral was like. I was relieved that someone was finally willing to talk to me like I was really there again. Then the other student punched him in the arm and hissed “We’re not supposed to ask him about it!” It had all been a ploy! All of the awkward silences, kids too young to know what to say running from you simply because they were told not to say things like “Your dad is dead?” and “What was it like seeing your dead dad?” All natural questions, and the school had decided to take them out of the conversational equation, which only made me feel more unnatural at being back at school.
For three yearbooks running, my photo was a little sign that read “No Photo Available.” Do you have all of your old yearbooks? I have none of mine. I had one until I left home for college that my friends and I had thoroughly defaced. My mom threw it out with a bunch of my high school artwork (joke pamphlets and cartoons my friends and I would write) after I moved out.
I have met a lot of people who tell me they were drinking and getting high as early as age eleven. I didn’t try any of it until I reached age seventeen. Oh, sure, there was the sip of Budweiser my father game me as I sat on his lap as he watched football (I didn’t become a football fan until later in life, and the only games I give a crap about are the ones that involve the Pittsburgh Steelers) and the half a can of beer I was allowed to drink on New Years when I was thirteen, but that was it. When I was seventeen, a friend of mine slept over at my house. We were crashing in the furnished basement, calling girls at the local college on the phone (it was a small college town, and any number that started with 5 was a dorm room). My friend called someone he knew that he said would get us a bottle of rum. I was horny from thinking of college girls, and therefore feeling adventurous. We went out, picked up the bottle of rum from an apartment building, and then broke into a school bus next to a rural Christian school, popped a Doors cassette into my sister’s little 1980s-style boom box, and proceeded to get hammered. The evening ended with us both being wasted, knocking on random doors in the afore-mentioned apartment building, looking for the rum-giver to ask for a second bottle, and finding my friend’s boss instead. I just leaned up against the wall, half-gone, and let my friend do the talking. He was pretty upset about having the misfortune of knocking on his boss’s door on the walk back to my house.
I didn’t drink again until I was nineteen and starting college. Before we get to that, however, I should mention that I dropped out of high school when I was sixteen. I bullied my mom into giving up. She got tired of fighting with me every morning to get me to go to school. Considering that she was working as a nurse and raising two teenagers on her own, I just added to that stress in a very unkind way. One morning, the school even sent my guidance councilor out to retrieve me. I had locked my bedroom door and gone back to bed. Around 9:00 there was a knock on my bedroom door and I heard a voice on the other side of the door say that it was my guidance councilor. I tried to play it off — I just over-slept! Nothing to worry about! I’m not avoiding school and being weird! As he drove me into school, we listened to the Bible on tape. When we walked into the school building, he directed me to my locker and told me to get my book for second-period geometry where I could join my class. He went into his office, and I walked down the hall to my locker. I opened my locker, dropped my English book and picked up my geometry book. I closed my locker, walked out the back door of the school, and went home. I think it is funny now, but at the time I was terrified. To this day I still have a reoccurring nightmare in which I am back in high school and missing a geometry class.
After I dropped out of high school I started spending more time on the local university campus. I met people that had never grown up in Mansfield (the town I did my growing-up in… or, I guess, the town I avoided my growing-up in). I met people from Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, and they had interesting things to talk about. I wanted to do what they were doing, so I got my GED and used it to enter college on the Act 101 Program. I got straight A’s during my first semester, and I was instated as a full student. I began to feel better about not fitting in during high school. Apparently, all of those people were inbred redneck idiots anyway! No wonder I fit in better with the college crowd.
As I look back, I see a stark similarity with my attitudes when I left the U.S. altogether and went overseas and met people from all over the world. Another reason I am a horrible human being: I don’t do much, but what I DO do, I let go straight to my head.
[Sorry. There was a Part II link here, but I removed it before I even read it. I will leave this one up just for some informative purposes… Kinda regretting deleting Part II, but hey — it’s gone. We’ll all just have to deal with it. Go ahead and read my latest post here.]