The only real solace I found was in long-distance running, at which I excelled. I discovered this lonely sport in the tenth grade when, at an annual school-wide run around the American school campus in England, I came in second to a high school senior who had won the event four years in a row. I stopped trying out for football as a 140 pound tackle and joined the cross-country and track teams. As a sophomore, I led in first place finishes not only against other American schools in
I continued running as a junior and senior in a 4,000 student high school when we returned to the States. I was
So, I flunked out of college, for starters.
How does anyone flunk out of the
I got out of military service because I had asthma as a child and was treated with the drug “epinephrine” after the age of fifteen. I thought back on my early-age asthma attacks and realized they coincided with my dad being away on one of his many military flying assignments. He left and I got sick. He came back and I got well.
I remember his being away on a trip and coming home with his usual cavalcade of souvenirs for the family. We were stationed in
Slowly, in spite of the rave reviews some of my teachers and other adults heaped on me and told my parents about, truths emerged. I was insignificant and insensitive to their aspirations. I was thankless for all they’d done for me as “first-born” and upon whom the future of the family name depended as the only son. I was told I had no idea how they’d sacrificed for me. I couldn’t “…imagine what my becoming a doctor meant to the family name.” I didn’t understand that I was destined to be the first doctor in the family since my dad had to leave pre-med in college to “…go fight a war on my behalf” even though he didn’t marry my mom until seven years later and I wasn’t even born for another year after that.
Guilt was the watchword by which I lived. I felt guilty if whatever I was doing felt good or made me happy. If those emotions were present, then I was betraying my parents and their ”love” for me. If I was enjoying myself, I would soon feel their wrath. I had to remind myself constantly that happiness and contentment were for somebody else, not me. As long as I was in their presence, being correct was the guiding principle and if I didn’t know what to do, I “…should know by now; My God, haven’t you been listening?” Guilt heaped itself on me, again.
The little child within me, who only asked to be cared for, loved and nurtured, retreated to a safe place somewhere inside, licking his emotional and mental wounds. He didn’t emerge for a long while and when he did as a man, he was creative, imaginative, artistic, sensitive and joyful if only in short bursts. Even though these times overflowed with positive energy, I couldn’t assuage the feelings of foreboding and guilt that came with them, that somehow I would gain my parent’s diminution simply by doing something well on my own. I remember their taking the credit for whatever I did well. After all, it was their genes or their teachings that gave me the wherewithal for my individual success and achievement.
When I told my dad that I flunked out of college, I almost laughed in his face. I did get back at him. Here was something I did all on my own. I really disappointed him this time. I flunked out so I couldn’t possibly go to medical school now. I couldn’t possibly be the doctor he dreamed of my becoming.
For the rest of the time we were a family “unit” in
I decided that since I was going to have to pay rent somewhere, I would at least choose my roommates and I moved out a few weeks before he and my mom were transferred to their retirement home in Florida. So there! A glimmer of courage sparkled although it was dusted over by my leaving home for good. I could never go home again, as has been said. I did miss family life, such as it was. At least the cooking was great.
To this day however, anytime I hear about some group of people being “like a family,” I run the other way. The only family experience I ever had was what I described and no way was I going to repeat that anywhere in my adult life by choice!
And so, I emerged from this family’s cocoon with wonderful memories of things I accomplished outside of their influence (some while they still lived in
I learned how to sail small boats in record time and went on to be named “Corinthian (Sailor) of the Year” by my yacht club, at 21, for my work developing the club’s youth program and for teaching others how to sail as a paid member of
My career in the airlines flourished and I married an artist, whose father was in the Navy as a flotilla commander. We moved onto a 22’ sailboat from an apartment, storing much of our goods ashore. It was a sweet life aboard. We could sit in one place and cook, answer the phone, adjust the TV, eat and wash dishes. We had many friends that moved aboard their boats, too, and we sailed as a fleet on almost every Sunday to
Life was good but I was bad. I treated my wife the same way my parents treated me. If she angered me I gave her the silent treatment. I put her ideas down if they didn’t agree with mine. I sometimes made fun of her in public. I was rotten and ugly. I felt so guilty whenever I treated her in these ways but, I didn’t know of any other example to follow.
I had wanted out of my family so bad that I proposed marriage before my parents left for the Mainland. I thought she would rescue me from the feelings of inadequacy imbued in me. She was a free thinker, pretty, intelligent, charming and loving. I challenged her with deep thoughts and sexy moves. I thought we were in love enough to marry and we did although my mother insisted we come to
I was still afraid of my parents, believe it or not, and when my mom complained that my fiancée arrived on the pre-wedding flight without wearing make up, I went ballistic and confronted her. “How could you fly without make-up? What will people think?”
I write this some 30 years later and still shudder at that last statement, “What will people think?” It has been a thought that hounded me most of my life, up until now. No matter what I did, if it was table manner errors (for which I was often kicked under the table or had my mother’s high heel ground into my foot), a misspoken word or a mismatched pants and shirts, I was always reminded of, “What will people think?”
I was so traumatized by what people might think of me that I began thinking through what I might say or do, rehearsing my behavior, giving up spontaneity for correctness, especially around others. I moved through life as if I was in an airplane cockpit (albeit low to the ground; I’m only 5’7”) and guiding my body-fuselage with available controls over the earth and through my life.
Intimacy was out of the question. To tell anyone what my deepest feelings were risked them thinking I was weird or out of place. Even my two wives never really knew what was beating deep inside me. As long as I could get by commenting on something outside of me like politics or the stupidity of someone else’s actions, I felt safe. I seemed to act spontaneously but I would often review whatever I said or did and wonder how I got away with this or that. Maybe I was louder than anyone else. Maybe I really was original in my words and deeds, saying and doing things no one else thought of. Even as an adult, people seemed to like me and want to be around me. When I got drunk, I was a happy drunk, hilarious to a degree that even years later, others ask me if I remember something I did or said that had them rolling on the floor laughing. I could not remember, of course, perhaps because of being so loaded, though I think something deeper was afoot: hysterical amnesia.
As I grew up I seemed to remember less and less of what went on before. I could remember the pain of living within this family. I could recall the names, the slurs against me uttered by dad and (less often) by my mom. I remembered following one of them around the house trying to get the courage to ask permission to do something like go out with my friends somewhere and needing my allowance advanced. I knew I would get some kind of “no” and yet, I was happy when I did. Maybe I would avoid the turmoil of going out and then dealing with not having done something for which I would be punished. It was almost better to be at home unhappy, than sorry for going out. The good things that did occur, I seemed to forget; unable to recall. While the scientific literature is kind to this condition, saying it usually lasts a few minutes or a few hours, mine has gone on to this day.
Hysterical amnesia usually occurs as a condition of some psychological trauma and is looked on as temporary. It can involve short or long term memory. The two key phrases for me are “psychological trauma” and “temporary.” I’ll admit to the trauma which I’ve described thus far but temporary has me stumped; just how long is temporary?
My sister is the opposite of me in many ways. She is calm while I am excitable. She is thoughtful toward others while I can run roughshod over others feelings. She can remember everything and here I am, hopelessly lost in the land of forget-it-all. My sister can remember if not the full details of any event but, can include the date and what the weather was like. I’m being facetious. Compared to what I can remember about our pasts she is Encyclopedia Britannica and I am a comic strip. I can ask her about our history or more particularly my history and she has the facts and the first and last names of everyone involved. My sister never makes fun of my not remembering, she just answers patiently while I listen, fascinated at her recall.
I asked her a few weeks ago if she and I ever talked with each other about what was going on the family. She said no, we never did. It was like I kept what was happening to me to myself and whatever they did to her was her secret. We often heard, “What happens in this family stays in this family.” We were never to discuss anything on the inside outside the walls of our home. It appears that the two us took that admonishment to mean she and I could not speak about anything inside—inside either.
I’m getting close to the end of my adventure in being down about my past—that which I can remember, of course. Next time on “Brittleliquid’s Journey,” I’ll continue, perhaps with the startling revelations leading to my emotional and actual castration. It won’t be graphic but it will be descriptive.
Until then, peace to you, Gentle Readers.