Learning To Love You More




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

Matthew Gottschalk
Davis, California USA



I was born in a dreary northern California town that's name meant "fortune" in Latin. I grew up in a small town very near to the dreary town. This town was more like a snow globe, very picturesque incased in a glass dome. I came out of my mother with my arm wrapped over my head. It seemed that for the entire fifty-four hour labor, I was struggling, mid-crisis to stay in the womb. When the doctor saw my long fingers, he exclaimed that I would be either a great pianist or an even better gynecologist. The audacity of this remark in every retelling of the story I have been given always blows me away. I was born with yellow jaundice and spent the first few days of my life in an incubator.
I am as old now as my parents both were when I was born. They already had one son, my older brother, three and a half years my senior. In my early childhood, before I used full sentences, I would spend days gravitating along the interior walls of my family's two story, fifteen-room victorian. I have specific memories of a surrounding silence, and the textures of the old wallpaper, wood trim in the doorways. I think I would put my ear to the wall as I slowly moved forward. With such a small size to be, I fit behind the furniture or under the tables, so really nothing stood in my way. If there was a couch, I suppose I just climbed up on and over it.
I didn't start speaking for quite awhile, and when I did it with a fairly strong speech impediment. I was diagnosed with a "central auditory processing problem". Apparently my hearing was fine, it was my brain that was having trouble reading the signal. And so my impediment was a result of my mimicking what I was hearing. Words and sounds have always felt like they have a rounding edge to them, and when you line them up, they bleed into each other. Really, truly I have always felt that I just didn't particularly care to pay attention that closely to sounds. It's an odd thing to be so lazy as to not fully register words or sounds. I am also color-blind. This has always been an interesting experience. I see color, I am a painter, always have been. There was never a time, once I could hold something and use it, that I didn't know that I was an artist or that I was a painter. My uncle is a greater, and I grew up with his paintings all over the house. I could always see what needed to be drawn. So that made being color-blind all the more interesting, interesting more in the observation of how it effects others. I see colors, so I never really worry about. The odd thing is that I have often witnessed colors changing in front of my eyes. It a cognitive issue similar to my hearing, I see and hear, it's my brain that mixes up the information a little bit. But I digress.
In kindergarten I wore a three-piece suit everyday. My father was a lawyer, who wore three-piece suits every day, so it made perfect sense to me to wear mine to school also. I used to carry a plastic briefcase I had gotten with my Constructs toy set. I met my best childhood friend in that small classroom. I sat next to Nicky Weber, and not being able to tell the blue crayons from the purple crayons, or the brown from the green, I had to ask him. He would remain my best friend until I moved from that town when I was ten, and I would never see him again.
By the time that Nicky and I were in the second grade we were allowed to walk to school and back. One day when we were on our way home, letting ourselves get distracted by things in the grass or bushes, small explorations waiting to happen, we came upon a very large, dead rat. After carefully examining it from afar and up close, we decided that the proper thing to do would be to give the thing a church burial. I don't remember exactly whose idea this was, I suspect it was probably mine, I was the one who tended to have the "bright" ideas. Like the time I tied my bike to Jesse Allen's. As I laid in bed with a broken nose and deep affliction towards Jesse Allen, who had slammed his breaks while we were riding on either sides of the street, a long yellow, nylon rope slung between us like a glorious golden banner, like a perpetual crossing of a finish line. Or at least that was how I imagined it happening, Jesse Allen on the other hand didn't quite capture the aesthetic principles, or possess the coordination to pull it off. Instead, he slammed on his breaks and I went flying.
The rat funeral came before the broken nose, not long though, perhaps the same school year. Nicky Weber and I found a paper towel to pick the lifeless, dirty old rat up by its tail. Down the street on the corner, along the main street that led to both of our houses, was a large Catholic church. Nicky's family went to the church. My family didn't go to church. My father had been raised almost orthodox Jewish and my mother was a product of the Southern Baptist persuasion. I think that they mainly had married each other in order to escape from their own family's intensities. So my brother and I were raised with a reasonably spiritual awareness but no religious structure what so ever. I used to love to sleep at Nicky's house on Saturday nights, so that I could go to that big Catholic church with his family on Sunday morning. I never really cared much about what was being said during the services. I just liked the way that it looked like a stage, and it was very quiet, like the closets I would sometimes sit in while I was making my rounds along the house walls.
Nicky and I carried the dead rat by its tail about three blocks to the church. We went up the big cement stairs, pushed the heavy, thick wooden door open and went in. We were carrying the dead thing down the isle towards the altar when a priest came upon us. I remember that he was very calm, and seemingly disinterested in what we were planning. He wasn't angry at all, nor was he helpful with disposing of the rat. After being escorted out of the church, Nicky and I found ourselves seated on the big steps, holding a stink ridden, dead creature by its hairless tail.
At that very instance, for luck or the probability factor of a small town, my mom drove by, gaping at the site of her son and friend sitting on the church steps holding a diseased carcass with contemplation. She parked, and after hearing our plan for a proper bureal for the creature, she assured us that it would get to heaven regardless of how it was sent from the earth, and that we needed to just put it down immediately. In the car ride home, my mom told Nicky and I about the bubonic plagued, I thought that she had said the "bionic" plague, which didn't sound to bad to me. I imagined leaping super far, or having incredible strength just like Lee Majors or what's her name, the bionic woman. That evening, my brother, as was his habit, set me straight about the difference between "bubonic" and "bionic". He told me that I was not going to have any of the cyborg benefits but rather potentially might die a horrific, disease-ridden death. I spent that night laying in bed, thinking about the two options, and about the priest who didn't care about the soul of the rat. At least my mom had had the decency to tell two small children that the rat got to go to heaven.
By the time I was nine years old, both my brother and I had weight problems and fairly negative temperaments. My parent's marriage had not been especially joyous for a very long time. So besides being around a lot of yelling and screaming, my brother and I spent a lot time disconnected, eating and watching T.V.
My parents eventually divorced, by that time, my brother and I had seen it long coming, so it was no surprise. At first, they had the very standard separation (their third), where my brother and I lived with my mom and my dad would come over for dinner or pick us up and we'd go bowling or to the arcade or something. He moved to a town that was about thirty miles up from the 101 where his law practice had always been. We didn't stay long in our town after the divorce. My mom moved my brother and I south east to the sierra foothills. I remembering mainly being pretty tuned out. I definitely didn't want to leave my house or friend, but I think by this point I had pretty much given up, and turned over to a kind of hyper-reality, where like my colors or sound, I just wasn't really paying attention. We moved to this new town and played out all of the cinema-worthy, stereotypical roles. My mother the sruggling, single mom trying to start over, my dad doing the same, but totally depressed and having health/mental problems while his sons lived many miles away. Really sad stuff. To not dwell and to sum it up, we had a lot of visitation disputes, screaming in parking lots, therapists and the lot. Finally when I was fourteen, my dad moved to the new town I had been living in with my mom and brother. He would stay in that town, with a new wife, for the exact amount of time it took for me to graduate high school, no more, no less.
Before any of that happened I had gone through junior high school, which served as neither memorable nor enjoyable. Mainly I remember junior high being the way movies portray high school to be. Cool clicks, an incredible amount of attention given to brand names, idiotic teachers and an all-encompassing juvenile immaturity. Once, in the sixth grade, I was "called out" by a friend of mine, which meant he wanted to fight on the baseball field after school. The reason he had called me out was because I had stabbed his hand with the eraser end of a pencil when he was trying to get into my trapper keeper. This aside, the idea of us actually fighting was utterly ridiculous to me. The fight got talked about all day at school, always the question came back to me, "are you going to fight him?" My reply was always that we were friends, and that it was silly to fight. "Well are you going to the field after school?" , they'd say. I replied that I would go there but that I wasn't going to fight. By the time three o'clock came around. My friend and I, who was still sticking to his jock about fighting me, walked up to the field together. No one was there. We looked at each other, I said that the whole thing was stupid that we should walk home. He agreed. Right as we were leaving, another boy walked up expecting to see a fight. As soon as my friend saw the boy's inquisitive look, he threw up his mitts and pronounced that the fight should begin. I looked at him and said I was a pacifist, and that I was sorry I couldn't accommodate his wishes. There was a certain intensity for a moment, and soon it vanished, not without the announcement of my being a "pussy", which really didn't offend me. It was junior high after all. The three of us walked home together. The next day at school, it was well known before homeroom that I was a "pussyfist", but hey, like I said, it was junior high, what could I do?
By the time that I was graduating from eighth grade, I had traded groups of friends a few times. My weight was down, and over all I was in a better headspace about myself. I was still fairly detached emotionally, but I was at least enjoying myself. It was around this time that I started smoking pot. The first attempt was in a friend's garage one night, smoking a cross between dirt-swag and Lipton's English Breakfast tea. Needless to say it took a few attempts to get high. The first time I actually got "high" was the summer between eighth grade and freshman year, at a Bob Dylan show with my mom's boyfriend. And thus, living the life of a stoned, apathetic kid became my shtick. Somewhere in the fog I remember dropping acid for the first time after a Grateful Dead show my dad took my friend and I to on my fifteenth birthday. My dad didn't know about the two of us "tripping balls" in my bedroom all night.
Looking back now, six months before the Grateful Dead show, in December of 1993. A friend and I went to our first show in San Francisco, unattended. It was the Violent Femmes at the Warfield. I was fourteen years old. It was such an awkward age to be, everything new, a hole new world of social interaction. It was at this time that we were all very much engaged in the pursuit of girls, or at least the idea of it. I have always been a bit reserved, so at that point back in December of 1993; I was totally inexperienced with the opposite sex. When my friend Tom Mullen and I got to the Warfield that night, the mere excitement of being alone in San Francisco should of sufficed for entertainment, but we had girls on our brains.
We got to the show totally early, so we sat down in the very front and waited with all of the other young fans (though we definitely were the youngest). When the show started, we all crammed to the front, against the stage. I remember seeing a girl standing down maybe one or two people from me, and like a scene out of the "Wonder Years", we made soft eyes at each other just before the lights went down. When the opening band, "Canton DeForest and the Death-Groove-Love-Posse" began to play. I felt my hand touch another hand. Throughout the show, I held hands with the girl with the soft eyes. We just held hands, never spoke. In between the acts we both talked with are friends in the crowd, but never let go of our hold of each other. Occasionally, now and again, one of us would give the other hand a squeeze, and the other would reciprocate. I remember being so nervous, I kept wandering if she new that she was holding my hand. And I would look at her and smile, and she would look back. Now in memory I see her face and soft eyes through a cloudy haze of time. She had dark-olive features, and I think that she was wearing "hammer pants" (they probably weren't hammer pants, but I definitely remember they reminded me of them).
When the show was over, we released our grips. Suddenly our hands, which had been locked together for three hours, were free again. Everyone began making their way like cattle into the lobby. I knew that I had to talk with her. I managed to ask her name. It was Natasha, that seemed appropriate, I told her my name. When we got to the lobby, it was a zoo of people, and Natasha turned to saying, "There's something I have to do". I took this to mean that she had to go to the bathroom, and right when I was prepared to see her go, she kissed me. What a shock that sent through me. My eyes closed, I felt the click of her teeth on my teeth. I damn near levitated; I fell backwards and was luckily saved by the wall. I opened my eyes to see Natasha being dragged away, waving to me. So that's the first kiss story. I have told that story many times. I have always liked remembering it. It makes me feel like there will always be mystical, cosmic romance around any corner. Meeting a stranger-soul mate in a random meadow on a full moon, having only one night maybe, but one night that engraves itself in time. But enough of that.
All around this time, I shot some guns on camping trips with my step-dad.I got arrested for smoking pot at a football game, and swore to never get high again. I think that lasted till the next weekend. There were three of us. My friend dusty and I would go onto to be cohorts in many foolish shenanigans. Our friend Leonard, the other one, would get killed about a year later. He would be my first friend to die.
When I was sixteen Dusty and I and our friend Jesse took acid in my Dad's cabin and accidentally fell asleep with a candle burning. It eventually burnt down to the tape case we were using as its holder, which then proceeded to burst into flames on the kitchen table. I woke to hole tabletop in flames. I tore off my sweatshirt and began attempting to smother it, calling to my friends for help. Dusty got up in a stooper threw a deck of cards on the fire and passed out again. Meanwhile jesse was telling me to "fuck off" because it was my Dad's house and not his, little bastard. Drugs. I was able to get the fire out. I later told my Dad what had happened to the table, omitting the part about the acid. It was such a bummer, I couldn't tell my dad that I was on drugs and spaced out, letting the candle burn down into a terribly irresponsible makeshift holder. I had to tell him that out of clearheaded idiocy, I had spaced out let the candle burn down to its terribly irresponsible makeshift holder. Oh well, he knows the truth now, I just recently told him, and we laughed about it.
I began snowboarding a lot, playing guitar, starting garage bands, and fucking off. When I was sixteen I lost my virginity to my first real girlfriend. She was a sweet girl. We were very young so it was awesome young sex, learning about each others bodies. We only dated for a few months, I broke up with her, I am not really sure why, I think that I was pretty much into playing out roles back then. We continued to have sex throughout high school. I eventually broke her heart, that was the first heart I ever broke, and before mine had been broken, so it was easy to break hearts without the perspective of knowing about the painful vacancy of the act. She did well though of course, she has a baby and is married. She married a Jew and converted so she always sends me Hebrew anecdotes on "myspace", I think that she thinks I am more Jewish than I am.
I found a good group of friends my junior year of high school, friends I would keep for life. That was pretty incredible. They were all artist goofballs, secure and caring. Playing music and running around naked at the river became a new regular in my life. I spent the first year out of high school pretending to be a dharma bum down at the river. I went to junior college. Met a girl I would spend the next three years with. She and I lived together at one point, but early on I cheated on her with my high school girlfriend, and only because I stopped the whole thing short and confessed it all did she stay with me, though it would taint the next few years of our relationship. That was still before I really understood how my actions affected others. I had never had my heart broken.
I moved to San Francisco when I was eighteen to go to art school, but had a mini-breakdown, cracked really from some sort of internal pressure. I wasn't really done with the daze I had had since childhood. I moved back to my hometown, where I still kept an art studio, but not before moving north for a few months so I could cry a lot, work in a soup and noodle house, and read every Herman Hesse book. I got back to my studio. It's a room in a former nun's convent. They're ten studios on the third floor. On the first floors are dance studios and museums; in the basement is a secret ghost den, where we have a music room. It's a pretty amazing place. It has been and continues to be my home. The ghosts in the building are as much my family as the other artists. Over a few years in my early twenties, I lived a nice house out in the woods, I grew pot, painted, dated a crazy girl that gave me my dues in drama, and some change to spare. I am grateful for the perspective that she gave me that I so desperately needed.
I worked at an art center for developmentally disabled adults for many years; I am still technically a substitute, though I live in a different town now. The people I worked with at the center also became family to me. They were also a big reason why I had moved back. I spent about six years; working at the art center, playing music, painting and getting mixed up in bizarre heartbreak. I lived with a girlfriend for a while who was younger than me. She kept her cool in the beginning and was fun to be around. But I didn't treat her right, I liked her, but I never really loved her, and she knew that. We lived together for a short while, but it didn't workout. She flipped out and got pretty crazy after we broke up, that was unfortunate to see. The reason I was always hesitant with her was because of a dancer in New York that I thought I was in love with. After dancing together through the Manhattan streets, I was sure of our love. After a few near intimacies, she eventually broke my heart and sent me with my suitcase and a fever to the subway station. Sitting on the platform, I watched the trains come and go, not knowing which was my train, and without the energy to find out. After awhile I looked over and saw a young woman opposite me on the bench. She had a feather in her hair, which I took to be a good omen. I asked her which train was going to Williamsburg, she said she would show me. On the train I looked at her and told her that I liked the feather in her hair, and that I made birds. I then pulled two, white canvas bird puppets out of my suitcase. She was like a little elf. I have since visited her in her large studio, where she guts pianos and jumps on the innards, makes large paintings and edits movies. She's riding a motorcycle across India now.
After a year or so I started dating a girl that I had been friends with for a while. Actually I am friends with most of her family. She's defiantly the one who stole my heart, or more like always had it; it just took looking in her eyes to realize it. We had a very nice love, very genuine, a deep affection for one another. We still do in fact, though it has changed shape many times. Because of her though I signed up for college and for a trip to Israel, things we were supposed to do with each other, needless to say I went to Israel without her. While I was there a war broke out with Hezbollah in Lebanon. I stood on Golan Heights watching smoke rise from bombs falling. I moved south into Jordan, saw Petra and the Pyramids in Cairo. All amazing. After I got home I moved to a new town to go to college, alone. Although at this point, being alone makes as much sense as anything else, which isn't much but it's what I got to work with. I traveled to Budapest to visit Abby this winter. No war broke out. I felt very removed there, hard to say how.
I am now attending my second quarter of college. I haven't had many incredible experiences lately. I met a beautiful Chinese girl, she moved back to Beijing. I have been living in an old farm house that once a pawn a time was surrounded by acres of land, now it's across the street from the In n' Out Burger. There's a cellar I paint in, and a walnut tree in the back yard. I ride my bike everywhere, though this morning I had a flat tire. Sometimes I feel like I am undercover here, though I am not sure for whom.