The clearest memories consist of some of the worst memories. Unfortunately, this leads me to believe long after the fact my childhood was emotionally traumatic. Oh sure, it couldíve been a lot worse. I grew up in the middle class. My parents had something resembling financial security. And Iím a white male. Supposedly, everything should turn my way. But the neurons and synapses in my brain did not fire properly, and I still donít believe they do. The network of the brain wires itself in the early stages of the womb. And because my parents didnít drink or smoke, I have yet to find a reason for my tangled mental state.
Actually, I do know of one event as a toddler. I have a scar on my forehead from the moment my head met the corner of a wall, with a running start. I needed stitches, and Iím told the gash was deep enough to see my skull. I was only three at the time, so perhaps itís that incident that put me on the track to social ineptitude.
That track of awkwardness started in pre-school. And unfortunately, many of the kids in my neighborhood attended the same pre-school class. So they knew early on that I pretty much had no control over my body, including bowel and bladder functions. Because a number of the kids in my class lived in my neighborhood, occasionally the parents set me up, rather, plotted and arranged for ďplay-dates.Ē For some reason, I was trusted at the age of five to walk up the street by myself to someoneís house. But I was nervous, nervous of ringing the doorbell, nervous of the dog next door. So as I did many times, I took the back way in. In the literal sense, of course, I ascended the deck stairs in the back of the house, entered through the open screen door, and surprised everyone with my appearance. They had been playing right at the front door. On another occasion at the same house, I became the human subject for a make-up experiment by two girls. They found it hilarious. My parents, who had to clean me up, did not. Iím not sure why I didnít resist their advances. It obviously did not predict my sexuality in any way. Itís just another episode in the years where I had no will of my own, where I could not possibly raise my voice in an attempt to have things my way. Oh how that would change.
Before I entered kindergarten, I was scared of everything. It didnít matter the source - dogs, lightning, other people - I feared it. Once again, in kindergarten, my actions did not lead to success. The school placed me in the gifted program, which Iíll explain later. However, the good grades came from the ability to write, read and recall. I had no practical knowledge of the outside world. I discovered this early by arguing the term ďdozenĒ did not equal 12. Of course it does, and I have no power to change it. I tried to follow the same kid around as well, who repeatedly informed me he did not like me. But, the most unhealthy fascination centered around crayons. My parents bought the bare minimum when it came to school supplies - 24 crayons. Crayons also came in packages of 36, 48 and 64. The colors dazzled me - especially the various shades of blue, the gold, silver and copper crayons, and the bigger, multiple-tiered box. The early sense of order, re-order, rank and file became apparent. I was quite taken with the number of possibilities. The careful placement of crayons showed the world obsessive thoughts about lists, series of objects, notations, and not anything practical.
Growing up in the southwest corner of Lawrence afforded me, and my few friends, a sufficient substitute for nature. A creek meandered through the neighborhood. In times of great rain, the creek would rise, nearly breaking the banks. At the age of six, I thought a fast-moving river in our little creek was awesome. During winter, the water froze at the tips of my jeans. If I remained stationary, miniature icicles dangled from the canvas. Over the summer, we shared the creek with snakes, spiders, rodents, and surprises like a crawfish I discovered one day. The water originated north; I donít think I ever waded that far. Occasionally, I would swim under Clinton Parkway. The water north of the street was chest deep. Garbage seemed like treasure. I found a rusted machete. A friend found broken handcuffs. The creek seemed like a sanctuary, where children could dream of living like Huckleberry Finn. I felt more at home here than at any school function.
Change Does Not Suit Me
My worst fear came true. I was an outcast. Not that I had extreme popularity to begin with. But to a third-grader, it compares to death. My parents bought a new house, which forced me to switch to a new school... a school with more affluent kids. Changing schools did not suit me, and probably did not suit many kids. After all, at that level, no kids have the knowledge to rebel against the system. Adults diagnose them with mental illnesses instead.
I initially had a friend, Ben Johnson, whom I knew via my dadís line of work. Ben lived among the popular kids, though. We walked to school together on the first day, but as soon as we entered the side door, he vanished.
The day rolled on in an uneventful fashion, even through the ďnew studentĒ introductions. Another new ďRobertĒ had started that day, Robbie Lindsey. No doubt his red-haired, peach-shaped head placed on his orange-shaped body drew attention away from my drab appearance. The girl who stapled her hand also provided a nice distraction. However, it all came crashing down during recess. Perhaps it was foolish of me to stand with the kickball crowd. I did play soccer, so I reasoned I could play kickball with the popular kids. Thereís always some sad story about a kid who was picked last. I wasnít picked at all. No chance in hell. I stood there dumbfounded for a minute. Had they not noticed me? Or, did my skinny physique and passe wardrobe turn them off? In any case, I didnít follow. I took a soccer ball and kicked it around myself. Eventually a tall boy with thick, curly hair joined me. This was Justin Hamm, who turned out to be a loyal friend for several years.
The reaction of a younger child to being shunned differs. The younger child still yearns for popularity and acceptance. A nine-year-old could be too old to create an imaginary friend but has not fully realized the potential of daydreaming and idealistic thinking. Rejection of a child on the first day at a new school would cause the child to revert to the happier times at his old school. But I had rejected that too. Instead I increased the complexity and disturbed nature of my daydreaming capabilities. They included acts of heroism and unquestionable sympathy. I donít think normal kids daydream about collapsing in class from a serious ailment and forcing everyone express sincere remorse. Conversely, I dreamed of saving a classmateís life, particularly the prettier girls. These feelings increased throughout the year, and progressed from heroic incidents to a virtual life apart from reality.
I did not go home smiling that day, and I did go home alone. Sure, the school placed me in advanced math and reading groups, as it shouldíve been. But that means nothing at that age. Eventually, some other kids would join the group of social rejects. It provided some relief.