Learning To Love You More




Assignment #14
Write your life story in less than a day.

Rochester, New York USA



It is 7:30 a.m. right now. I am in Hawaii on vacation with my in-laws. I don't usually get up so early. It is 1:30 a.m. back home in NY and that is when I usually go to bed.
My mother always wanted to go to Hawaii. Our family went to Jamaica, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Antigua. But for whatever reason we never went to Hawaii even though everyone knew that was where my mother wanted to go most of all.
One year, for Christmas, I gave my mother a trip to Hawaii. I made it in our basement. I put sand down there and a spotlight and a lawn chair and some flowers. I made a banner that said, "WELCOME TO HAWAII!" I drew a place ticket and put it in an envelope and gave it to her for her Christmas present. We all went down there and it was nowhere near being anything like Hawaii. And I knew that she would probably never go there. I don't think she ever spent any time in the Hawaii I made her because she didn't want to be reminded of the fact that she wasn't really there.
My mother always tried making me home-made versions of the things I wanted. I was really into stuffed animals and I asked for a Pound Puppy once and she made me one on her sewing machine. When I got it, I looked at it and said to myself: "What the hell is this?" Although I probably didn't say "hell," not even in my head.
Once, I asked for a Cabbage Patch Kid and instead of getting a real one or my mother trying to make me one, she got me one of the generic versions they had out at the time. I liked it anyway and got lots of different clothes for it and stuff. But what bothered me was that my mother bought for herself a genuine Cabbage Patch Kid. She was willing to pass knock-off second-rate things to her children but wanted the real thing for herself.
I had a huge collection of stuffed animals. My favorites I would take to bed with me and sleep with them. I couldn't fall asleep without my arms around one of my stuffed animals. I had to bring them to summer camp even where I was teased mercilessly. One year I started having allergies really bad and the allergist told my mother that I had to get rid of my stuffed animals. Like in The Velveteen Rabbit. I found it hard to sleep without my animals so I put my arm around my pillow and could fall asleep that way. I still find it hard to sleep without my arm around a pillow.
When I was really young I used to play soccer. I really loved it. My position was full back or half back and I enjoyed trying to get the ball away from the offense. I wasn't good at much else but I was an excellent blocker.
I overheard my coach tell my mother how much he valued me on the team and it made me feel really good. And then I got asthma and my mother had me stop playing soccer. Instead I got fat and hated sports. Sometimes I wonder how much differently I would have turned out if my mother had let me continue with soccer. I might have turned into the kind of jock that I later despised.
Here's one more story about things my mother took away from me. I don't want to make it seem like that was all my mother ever did. But I am just floating from one memory to the next.
When I was in fourth grade I got a drum set. It was something I had always wanted and asked for. Before I got the drum set I had drum sticks and I would walk around the house drumming on things. And then I got my uncle's drum set. I started lessons in the summer and my instructor was very encouraging. I practiced even though practicing the drums is much less glamorous and much more boring than the image of eventually mastering the drums. All you do is set the metronome and hit the drum over and over in time. One-two-three-four, tap-tap-tap-tap, over and over and over and over. And I think it probably drove my mother crazy. So when school started she told me that I should take the school year off so I could concentrate on my schoolwork. I think she knew I wouldn't ask for drum lessons the next summer. And she was right. So I concentrated on my schoolwork and I got straight A's and I eventually became the valedictorian of my class instead of becoming the drummer in a rock and roll band.
It's strange how my relationship with my parents has changed over the years. Because most of my memories of my mother are negative. But I feel much closer to her and more positively about her now that I am an adult and we don't live in the same place and I only see her maybe once a year. Whereas my relationship with my father is strained now and very difficult to maintain. But almost all of my positive memories involve him (although he has his share of negative memories as well).
I wasn't allowed to listen to the radio growing up. The only things we as a family could agree on were oldies or NPR - A Prairie Home Companion. My father had a tendency to leave talk radio on so it was barely audible but you couldn't ignore it. It was like a muttering whisper in your ear.
I wasn't allowed to watch MTV. When I did watch it, I would change the channel twice before turning the television off so that if my parents happened to hit the "last channel" button, it wouldn't reveal I had been watching MTV. I don't watch MTV anymore, but even a few years ago if I did, I wouldn't be able to turn off the television without changing the channel twice. Even in my own apartment where it was just me and my parents no longer cared what I did.
My father would let me stay up late at night to watch boxing with him. The only things I ever remember my father watching on television were boxing and the channel 11 auction. God help you if you wanted to watch any other program during the week of the auction.
I also wasn't allowed, but sneaked down to watch that awesome 80's sci-fi series, V. I tried watching this series when I was in college but I was bored by it.
When I was in college I spent a lot of time watching television. I caught up on all of the Simpson's episodes I had missed. I watched Gargoyles, Batman, Bill Nye the Science Guy. I was pretty stupid in college, using it mostly as a means to escape my home and my upbringing. I remember one of the first nights I was in college. At like two in the morning a bunch of us went to Denny's and we were so enthralled by the idea of our freedom that it became a nightly routine. So I slept through a lot of classes and I'm not sure how I graduated.
I wasn't one of those beer-drinking, pot-smoking, partying, frat-type guys. But I did manage to fritter away most of my college experience trying to reinvent myself. By the time I graduated I had started to learn how to learn and I realized what a waste I had made of the previous years and how I was totally unprepared to enter the real world.
It is 9:00 here now and probably about 70°. It was 30° in NY when I left. I like the cold. I didn't particularly want to come to Hawaii but it was a gift from my in-laws to their whole family. There are seventeen of us here.
I am married. I got married almost three years ago. I met t at college when I was still running around with different colored hair and plaid pants trying to get people to pay attention to me, not paying any attention to what was happening to me.
I've changed a lot since then. I've become more subdued and more at ease with myself. I no longer yearn for attention but instead prefer to spend time alone, quietly. I am sitting out on the balcony now and I can hear the sounds of the ocean susurrating on the shore and the palm trees rustling in the breeze. But I can also hear the muffled sound of someone's television and it sounds like the radio my father used to leave on. And I can hear the sound of hammering as the construction crew puts on new tile on the roof of the condo across from ours. I smell bacon.
After I graduated from college, a bunch of my buddies got an apartment together. I didn't know what I was doing at the time so I was sort of just crashing with them until I could figure things out. One of my roommates from college was living there and he was going on a prototype of the Atkin's diet. I remember the last stage of the diet had him eating a pound of protein. I knew when I heard that what he would choose to eat. And sure enough, he ate a pound of bacon.
On one of our family vacations there was an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet. I was still in my husky phase. I piled my plate completely with a huge amount of bacon. It was the last time I was allowed to get food for myself at a buffet.
I remember our vacations more than I remember much else with my family growing up. We didn't spend a lot of time together at home. Supper was a mandatory family event but besides that we all did our own thing. I felt alone a lot. My father worked and spent a lot of time away from home. He worked at the naval shipyard and was an organist and always had projects going on. And my mother worked and was involved in her church (my parents went to separate churches, which is something I never really understood). My brother hung out with his friends and did who knows what.
We had tents and campers, a pop-up and a bigger trailer later. I remember how frightened I was during a thunderstorm in Maryland when my brother and I were in our tent and our parents were in the camper.
Most of the vacations all blurred together. There were a lot of trips to Disney World which I claimed not to like as much as Epcot Center because Epcot Center was "educational" and I was such a nerd.
I never really knew what my father did for a living. I knew he worked at the shipyard and it was top secret. Of course, my boy's mind imagined all sorts of cooler-than-reality espionage type things that my father could have been doing. Later, I heard that he was responsible for the disposal of nuclear waste. I imagined him like Homer Simpson accidentally bringing a piece of nuclear waste home on him and glowing in the dark. But it wasn't like that. He was responsible for security for the big ship display on the fourth of July in New York City after 9/11. He owned a caféwhere some of my friends and teenagers from his church and my mother and I worked. And then my parents got divorced. And my father retired and worked for Sherwin Williams.
When my father told me he worked at a paint store, I pictured the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever with John Travolta carrying two gallons of paint. The image of my father as a paint seller by day, club dancer by night was kind of funny.
I am trying to let everything come as it may. One memory triggering another, floating through my life as I have floated through my life. But maybe disconnection is better.
My first dog was a terrier named Lucky. One day I came home from school to find Lucky dangling by her leash that she had gotten up and over the porch railing. She had choked up her innards. I was in first grade. They took Lucky to the vet and stuffed her intestines back inside of her but she couldn't eat very much. It probably hurt her. She died soon after.
My cousin ran away from home and stayed at our house and once he brought Lucky in from the cold and to warm her up, brought her down to our woodstove in the basement. He put Lucky on the stove and burned the pads of her feet.
We always seemed to have people in our house. There was the cousin who ran away from home, a friend of my brother's who ran away from home whose name was "Pink," foreign exchange students, "Up With People" people, foster kids and just plain strangers.
We had three foreign exchange students. The first and the best was Tobias. Tobias came when I was in sixth grade. He was from France and spoke four languages. He introduced my brother to The Doors. Later, my brother would become convinced he was Jim Morrison reincarnated. Tobias was very cool and got along with my family and it was great. Later we visited his family in Paris and he took us on a whirlwind tour of Europe over the course of a summer. His brother Hans Eric came to stay with us and then I went and stayed with their family in Marseilles. We wrote Christmas cards back and forth for a while and then we just sort of lost touch.
Our second foreign exchange student was Martin from Germany. My parents hated him because he was an atheist and rude and mean. They sent him packing pretty quickly.
Our third foreign exchange student was Daniella from Brazil. She had a crush on my father so they got along and so of course my mother hated her. Things were pretty awful while Daniella was around.
We had people from all over the world stay with us through Up With People which is this like singing and dancing troupe that is sickeningly upbeat.
I don't remember how many foster kids stayed at our house. This was when I was in high school and my parents wanted to adopt and I didn't get it because they seemed miserable and hadn't done a very good job raising either of their own sons. And I could already see what was coming in the works in the next few years leading to their divorce.
I only remember one of the foster kids who was an absolute terror. But I guess she had a worse childhood than I did. My childhood wasn't perfect but at least it wasn't awful. Her childhood had been awful, fraught with neglect and abuse. A few years ago my mother told me she had died in a car accident and I didn't know how I felt about it.
And then there was this guy who stayed at our house. I don't remember his name or how he ended up staying with us or anything. But he brought all these strange movies into the house like Red Dawn and Tron.
I was born in California in 1976. My father was stationed there in the Navy. He joined the Navy right after high school and married my mother. They had my brother, and then four years later, had me. We moved across the country to New Hampshire where I stayed for eighteen years.
After college, I lived in nine apartments over the course of five years before I finally settled down in the apartment I currently live in. I've lived here for three years and I am ready to move. During that time, I was also homeless living on Greyhound buses for a month, crashing with a friend in Italy, and basically not knowing what the hell I was doing. I still don't know.
My very first memory is of a ranch house in the woods where I was being babysat. There were a bunch of kids there. I remember I was left alone in the bathroom with a baby. There was a red high heel shoe and I took the shoe and hit the baby over the head with it. The baby started crying and the babysitter came in and asked why the baby was crying. I told her that a broom had fallen on its head. There was a welt that would bruise on the baby's forehead. The babysitter didn't believe me. She thought I had hit it with a toy gun so she put the toy gun where I couldn't get it and I thought that it wasn't fair because I hadn't used the gun. She should have taken the high heel shoe away from me.
I hurt people a lot growing up. But I was also hurt. By bullies and my brother mostly. They liked to get me in headlocks or punch me. Later, in college when a friend of mine put me jokingly in a headlock, something snapped inside of me and the next thing I knew my other friends were pulling me off the guy who I was pummeling. We stopped being friends after that.
I used to bike up to kids from the neighborhood and kick them off their bikes. I would kick kids on the backs of their knees so they would fall to the ground. At the Y, I coaxed a kid who couldn't swim to go into the deep section hoping he'd drown.
I wasn't strong and I was constantly being picked on by those older and stronger than me so my victims were a very small selection of the mentally challenged and physically handicapped.
I was not a very popular kid. My only friends were always other losers like myself and I always hated them. I despised my friends for being representative of the worst. We were losers and outcasts. We didn't fit in and we were fat and ugly and no one wanted us around even those who were like us who called us friends.
My parents wanted me to do anything I desired. But I had no desires.
I think I grew up fairly normally. But something happened along the way that set me apart from most people I know. I don't feel as if I have the same values.
I don't know what it is I value, but I just can't seem to get worked up over the same things that other people are naturally taken by.
Everything now seems tinged with sadness and I would like to change that. I remember growing up and how it seemed like a steady decline from being a happy baby.
I need to spend some time on this vacation to figure out what to do with my life when I get back. I'm tired of my job. I've been working there for seven years. I don't have any real experience doing anything else. Every time I think about this, I come to no conclusions. My job is fine, it's not hard, it pays the rent. And I don't know how I'm going to get another job. But I'm tired. I want to do something I'm interested in even though everyone tells me that's not how it works these days. You can't expect to like your job. I hate thinking about that.
I had the same haircut for almost eighteen years. Whenever I would go to the Greek barber, he would cut it exactly the same. Once I told him to give me the usual but leave the bangs. "Leave the bangs? That's not the usual." "Ok, then don't give me the usual. I want to keep the bangs." "That's not the usual." So he gave me the usual haircut. Once I got a crew cut. And for a while the "bowl" or "mushroom" style was popular and I had that. When I got to college, I was ready to experiment with different hair styles and colors. So I did that for a while.
When I was maybe eight, I helped my grandfather kill a chicken. I held the chicken and my grandfather cut its head off. I don't think I knew what was going to happen and I let go of the chicken and it really did run around with its head cut off.
When I spent a semester in Russia, I lowered a bottle of Fanta by a rope out the window to keep it cold.
Sometimes my coworker gets the need to tell me, "There's more to you than meets the eye" or, "I'd like to see what a day in your life looks like." And now that I have the opportunity to show some of those hidden things, I don't particularly feel like it. I've become more and more private. I find it hard to give of myself to people.
I don't know if I really believe that other people exist. Or maybe, I only want to believe that other people don't exist because I am lonely and other people make me lose faith in humanity so that I'd prefer to think they're just an illusion or a figment of my imagination.
I read a poem in a magazine that I brought for this trip and it said, "I wanted to get to the point where what I'm allowed/ actually feels like what I desire." And, "I expected more from myself." I read the second line to t and she said, "That sounds like something anybody would write."
Our room, here on Maui, is mirror-lined. It looks like a vast chamber expanding into infinity.
My brother has a family now. A wife and an eleven year old daughter. I used to send my niece all kinds of books because books are what I'm interested in. But then I gave her all the books or I stopped giving her books or I realized she was too young for the books I was giving her. And then I started forgetting when her birthday is and every year I have to ask.
I can't think of a single thing either of my uncles ever gave me.
When we lived in our first house, my uncle John came to live with us. He is my mother's younger brother. He lived up in the attic. He taught me how to make paper airplanes.
I wrote a lot of awful poetry in college. My brother wrote poetry. I read it but didn't get it. So I started trying to figure out what poetry was. I wrote and wrote. I started a zine with my college friends but did most of the work. I wrote a lot of awful poetry for it. I started making zines for myself that I photocopied and I kept one copy of each issue. I still have those. There are twelve issues. I majored in English Writing because it had the least requirements and I had done well in English in high school. I wrote a lot of garbage. I didn't learn how to make a living with writing. I didn't really like poetry or understand it. I think I wrote over a thousand poems over the course of maybe eight years. And then I threw it all away. I wrote some more poems and I liked those and I made a little book of them that I still have. I think they are pretty good but I don't know what to do with them except keep them in the book on my shelf. I wrote an awful novel when I was in Italy. I wrote another novel that was maybe a little less awful but I didn't know who I could trust to read it because it was too personal. And I published it online and I have a copy of it next to my book of poetry. And I started writing short stories and I wrote thirteen of them and I liked the stories and I wanted to do something with those so I sent them out to a bunch of different magazines and I got one published. And I want to make a little book of those stories and put it on my bookshelf next to my novel next to my book of poetry.
Sometimes I just want to live in a squalid studio apartment and embrace the cliché of a failed writer. And smoke and drink a lot and destroy myself. And other times I am curious about the flow of my life because it is like a river I am watching that reveals itself in strange and sometimes painful ways. And I hope that one day I will be happy and I am watching to see how that will happen.
Sometimes I worry that I don't relate to other people enough. It is hard for me to find others like myself. Maybe I hate others like myself. A lot of things frustrate me about people I see around me. But I don't want to go on and on about the things that frustrate me about other people. I frustrate myself in that I am not the person I want to be. I'd like to be more mindful and content and clear-headed. I'd like to have a purpose and to have meaningful conversations. I'd like to feel as if I'm not just passing the time or wasting my life or waiting to die.
I'm not religious or political or enthusiastic about anything. I don't have beliefs I'd be willing to die for or even stand up in a crowd and exclaim about. I'm cynical and skeptical and doubting and curious and open to ambiguity. I like to think about things. I like seeing things from different points of view. I like to work on creative projects.
I asked t what I should write about. She said a bunch of the things I've already written about. She said some of the things that I'll probably get around to writing later. I just don't really feel like it right now. I feel like reading the Proust book I brought with me because I wanted to finally read Proust.
I tried to have other people write my life story. I asked eleven people who were close to me to write about different eras of my life.
I asked my mother to write about my birth. She did.
I asked my father to write about the next few years. He told me that it was the hardest thing I have ever asked him to do. I told him to try but I'm not sure if he has.
I asked my brother to write about the years leading to high school. These were the years that he was off doing god knows what when he wasn't tormenting me. So maybe he doesn't like to remember that part of our lives. He has since apologized to me and he realized he was taking his anger out on the wrong person. But we are still far from being close.
I asked my friend Josh to write about high school. Josh was the friend I crashed with in Italy. He is not much of a writer.
I asked my college buddies to share the college load. None of us did a very good job at staying in touch after we graduated. The first time I saw any of them in about seven years was when the last one of us got married. But none of them have sent me anything.
I asked my friend Stacey to write about the years after college. She's in grad school in San Francisco. She told me she was having a hard time with the assignment and I told her to just think of one time that we hung out that typified her understanding of me. But she hasn't done that either.
I asked a friend I mentioned in my novel to write about the time we hung out in Philadelphia. He just plagiarized my novel.
I asked t to write about the last few years. She gets anxious when she thinks about writing. But she says she's working on it.
I thought it would be interesting to have my memoir written by a bunch of people who knew me but didn't necessarily know each other. I thought of it as my life through other's eyes.
Sometimes I think I'm like one of those old people who won't accept the fact that things are changing. I see everything changing around me and it doesn't seem like for the better. There is no respect of consideration for other humans. I mean, on a daily basis I am constantly reminded of what people value. And it is money and themselves and petty pathetic trifles. People want pleasure and instant gratification. They don't want to think or feel. And then there are those who rally behind causes. And I don't know if they are sincere or if the causes are worthwhile or if the way they want change is the right way or if it just means more of the same. And on and on and on until I don't feel like I can do anything. So I don't do anything.
The fans are rotating around and around. I am sitting in the condo. I haven't been out much because I don't like the sun. I don't like to be hot or to walk around with my shirt off or in shorts or even a t-shirt really. I don't like sand and crowds of people. Although there aren't very many people here unless I'm out with the whole group of my in-laws. I don't like swimming. But I'm trying to relax and enjoy myself. I don't drink alcohol but I keep thinking I should be drinking rum.
This isn't a party resort. It's not like spring break with loud music and people shouting and splashing in the pool. It is nice in that respect.
I think the reason why I wrote poems and novels and stories is because I don't want to feel alone. I feel alone a lot and maybe it's my own fault or a result of the way I was raised (which I haven't even begun to describe). But I'd like to think that I'm not alone. I'd like to think that there are people who think and feel out there. I'd like to meet some of those people but I'm also afraid to.
I used to throw myself down the stairs.
I never wanted to run away from home because I knew I wasn't ready to have to provide for myself. I didn't want to be cold and hungry and to have to earn money.
I used to break into my neighbors' houses when they were away on vacation.
I'm wearing pants and a long sleeve shirt which is what I always wear to the beach. I don't like the way my body looks and I hate all of the people who walk around with their flesh exposed. I don't want anyone to see me but I probably attract more attention by covering myself completely. I think I'm ugly and fat and only one woman has ever found me attractive so I married her.
I used to have lots of weird dreams. Dreams in which I was crucified on the back of a crucifix and my blood poured out of Jesus' wounds. I used to do weird things in my sleep like move furniture around and look out the window and one time I sliced my hand open with a knife and woke up sweating on the kitchen floor with my hand bleeding like crazy.
A lot of the time I feel totally disengaged from life. I feel as if I'm watching a movie and there is nothing I can do to become a part of it. Even if I'm participating and laughing and talking and trying to be there, I am still in the back of my head watching myself laughing and talking and trying to be there. Every once in a while I become overwhelmed by feeling real. I get this panic in my chest that everything around me is real and that this is life and I am messing it up.
When I was working at my first job at Dunkin Donuts, I was convinced I was the Antichrist. I used to do various duties like fill the creme donuts and think to myself: "Would the Antichrist be doing this?" It really bothered me.
When my brother went into the Navy, I went into his room and remodeled all of his model airplanes and cars. I melted parts of one to the other so that his 57 Chevy had F-15 wings.
I think my brother joined the Navy to please my father. He had always been the problem child and I think he wanted to prove himself. I got good grades and it was always assured that I would go to college and get a real job and be successful. My brother had to work harder at proving himself. So he went into subs like my father had. I don't know how long he did that before he tried to hang himself and got a dishonorable discharge.
My brother tried culinary school but didn't succeed with that either. Finally he found his niche in computers. Now he's like a web programmer for an insurance company. Since he found something he enjoys doing and is good at, he has been much happier.
At 6:06 everyone comes over to the condo for supper and I locked myself away in the mirror-lined room.
I get overwhelmed around lots of people and I feel further and further removed from myself so that I can't say anything or feel like I'm there. I need to relax. I just watch and observe like I'm not even there so I don't feel under pressure. And no one looks at me or asks me any questions. And if I need someone to pass the salt I whisper in t's ear, "I need the salt." And she asks for it. I feel I hide behind t a lot when dealing with other people.
I am tired and I want to go to sleep. But I feel like I have to keep going until I tie up all the loose ends. But I haven't even begun to unravel all of the knots.
I feel like I need to have some concluding nugget of truth.
I want to write poetry again although no one values it. I want there to be beauty in the world. I want to see it and to make the world a more beautiful place. I want to stop being overwhelmed. I want to make and to love and to give even though those things scare me and I would rather hold and keep and hide those things within myself. I don't want to have to trust or to tell or to believe. But I must do these things. I must forgive my parents for being humans. I must forgive myself for being fallible and fragile. I must forgive everyone for only being able to do that which they are doing. I have to believe in growth.
I am in my mirror-lined room. It is 9:38 and I am looking at myself looking at myself looking at myself.
Just before I left for this trip I watched my favorite movie, The Cruise. It's about a New York City double-decker bus tour guide who waxes philosophically. And one of the things he says is that the pursuit for individuality is fraught with failure but it is the most beautiful failure he can think of.
So I think if my life thus far has taught me anything or could teach anyone anything it is not to be so afraid of failure.