Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Childhood Revisted

So this whole Facebook thing where your past walks up, knocks on your door and wants to know what you're doing now, has set my brain to thinking. Ouch.

It can stir up memories of the last time you saw someone, when you really were good friends, why you weren't friends later, who you were when you knew people versus who you are now. That kind of stuff.

Someone recently found me that I've known since grade school. Since he felt compelled to tag me in photos that may (or may not) have a date stamped on them, I feel compelled to tell you I was a very smart child prodigy and was placed in an advanced honors class while I was still in the embryonic stage. I was very tall for an embryo.

Looking back at things, I think by 5th grade it may have been obvious I was gay. Most of my best friends were girls. We played with toy horses. I had opinions on fashion, "No! I can't wear that shirt, I've already been seen in it in a class photo!" While some took a wait and see attitude around me, others had already made up their minds.

There was a neighborhood friend I had whose dad told him he couldn't play with me any more because I had saltwater sandals. With perspective, what the hell did that dad know? He beat his children with his police belt and poured straight Tabasco sauce into their mouths if he thought they were lying. He was a very bad man. I only know what he said because that friend was honest and told me. We continued to secretly play together in the neighborhood a while longer, but I was never allowed to come over to his house again.
We were staying a week at the beach. The saltwater beach. These shoes were perfect, in the water, out of the water, and so summery! I loved those shoes. By the way, they still sell them for boys.

I'm pretty certain there were other disapproving parents, I got pieces of information but never full stories from friends as they became less available. Friends fell away when we moved from 5th grade to 6th grade and joined Middle School with kids from other grade schools. New cliques, new alliances, new outcasts to be made.

I was okay for a year or so. Gym class arrived with middle school along with communal showering. At both of these, I did not excel. And so began a nudge to the sidelines. I broke my arm halfway into the 6th grade and one of the hallway bullies attempted yet another smartass comment on me and I took my arm with the cast and knocked the wind out of him. Once he was on the floor I stood over him and told him I would kick him in the nuts and finish him off, unless he promised to leave me alone, forever. (Such high drama!) That ended the bullying.

By grade 8, I was skipping a lot of school. I had a lot of "stomach aches". If I knew then what I know now, I would have switched it up with a rotation of excuses, stomach aches, diarrhea, twisted ankles and migraines. Live and learn.

High school arrived and it was the same deal all over again, new cliques, new alliances, new outcasts to be made. I found a group of people I really liked and we did fine for ourselves. I still saw friends I'd had in grade school in the halls and they obviously saw me, (I'm not invisible!) but they became more of the "hey friends" variety. You know, the people you nod and and say "hey" to, then keep walking.

But there was always a nagging in the back of my head, what happened? Why aren't we friends anymore? What did I do? (notice how self centered I am? I, I, me, me, I never wondered about them.)

Finally, college came and then the real world of work and finding your own sense of self and community. I discovered that what made me "weird" all through school gave me entry into a fabulous world of other people just as "weird" as me. I stopped looking backwards and started looking forward.

And now, Facebook arrives. People I thought I would never see again start arriving in my inbox. (Lets face it, I had no plans to go to a class reunion until these plastic surgery scars have completely healed and are virtually undetectable) Since I have evolved, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt that they have evolved. Time and again I am impressed. As one person just told me, "most of us have evolved as much as those who moved to LA or NY or Paris. We just have lower house payments and it only takes us 10 minutes to get to work." A very wise observation.

Yet it doesn't stop the flood of some amazing childhood memories both good and bad. Along with the return of that nagging question: Why did we stop being friends?

I own my part in this. After school ended, I left. I needed to go find myself without expectations. Growing up in a smaller city everyone seems to know your name. You learn that lesson the day you get a speeding ticket and your dad knows about it before you get home for dinner. So I left to become anonymous and create a new version of me. (Younger! Blonder! Just as Gay!)

I think I would have hated Facebook ten years ago when I wasn't so certain of who I was. Can you imagine being in high school now and having Facebook a part of your life forever. Never being able to fully separate from your past to create that new adult you? I think Facebook, like tattoos, should be prohibited until you over 30. I've got the tattoo. As for Facebook? BRING IT ON.


Cheryl said...

Jim, you're beautiful just the way you are. I hated junior high as well. I was always a little bit bigger or fatter than everyone else. I waited until I was 40 to move away and reinvent myself. I'm glad you didn't.

Julie said...

You were gay because you wore saltwater sandals??? That is one of the dumber things I have ever heard. Every kid growing up in Washington had to do the annual saltwater sandal shopping in the spring - they were literally the only shoes that didn't get ruined on those beaches!!! They came in red and blue and I think black. Maybe it was just our family, but I swear we all had them.

Margaret said...

Jim, I always did and always will love you just for who you are. And, for the record, my parents LOVED you, too! You were the friend my mom was sure I wouldn't get into trouble with. (Not that I got in all THAT much trouble, but you were "trustworthy.")

I remember my mom wondering out loud once about whether you were gay when we were high school. I was so stupid and naive, I said "really?" You were just Jim to me, you were my friend, and that was all that mattered. I didn't care if you were gay, green or two feet tall wearing saltwater sandals, you were you. Looking back, I see that it didn't matter to my mom, either, she was simply making an observation. I like to think she was one of the more evolved moms of the 70's and 80's.

Big squishy hugs to you!!!

BTW I had a dream about you and Lyle the other. Weird, since I've never even MET Lyle. It was a good dream, tho.

A Lewis said...

Childhoods are hellish times to have to be growing up! As for the sandals.....well, you know. I had a friend actually return his high school graduation gift to me...."because our friendship is over....god doesn't approve of our relationship." And that was that.

Rachel said...

"one of the hallway bullies attempted yet another smartass comment on me and I took my arm with the cast and knocked the wind out of him. Once he was on the floor I stood over him and told him I would kick him in the nuts and finish him off, unless he promised to leave me alone, forever. (Such high drama!) That ended the bullying."

I always KNEW you were a badass! Go, Jim! I'd want to be in your corner of the playground ANY DAY OF THE WEEK! Yeah!