Learning To Love You More




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



My father was out of town on National Guard maneuvers the day I was born, so my mother had to deliver her first son alone in the hospital. My right arm came out first over my head. The doctor told my mom I was going to be a politician because I came into this world "shaking hands." He couldn't have been further from the truth. This all happened in my hometown in the western part of Virginia. My very first memory would probably give psychologists a field day. I was in the bathtub with my mother, staring at her left breast, especially the nipple. Yes, she did breastfeed me. I'll have to ask her how old I was when she stopped. Years later a therapist when I was in this experimental therapy group would ask me if I knew that I had an Oedipus Complex. "Doesn't everybody," I said, trying not to show my surprise.
A lot of my early memories are directly related to photographs taken of my little brother and me throughout our childhood-holding kittens in the front yard, visiting Colonial Williamsburg and posing in the stockades, wearing a sailor's cap on a cruise to Bermuda, standing in front of Woodrow Wilson's famous car the Pierce Arrow at the Woodrow Wilson Birthplace... My father fancied himself something of a photographer. He worked for the local newspaper as the Business Manager or something like that. Actually, my family owned the local daily paper at the time. My grandfather was the editor-in-chief, publisher, and president. He had also been a 2-star general in the Army during World War II, although he didn't see any action because his job was to train troops at bases in Florida and Texas. His greatest regret, he always said, was not being allowed to lead his men into battle at Normandy (he was promoted and kept stateside at the last minute). My father would later say that his own biggest regret was not being able to talk me into going to VMI (Virginia Military Institute) for college. I went to University of Richmond instead ("The Spiders"). Everybody in our town seemed to know my family, especially my grandfather, who always greeted everyone by name. I'm named after him. So is my father. One of my early memories is unveiling a big plaque at a special ceremony on behalf of my grandfather. They had named a new building after him because he had done a lot of volunteer work for the community. The building was part of the local mental hospital-Western State. I wore a checkered Navy blue and white jacket over a white turtleneck and dark Bermuda shorts. Everyone laughed at me later when I spilled bright red punch all over myself. Anyway, it's very comforting to know there is a mental hospital with my name on it.
Overall, my childhood was pretty stable and conventional-not unlike the show "Leave it to Beaver." To this day my parents are still together. My dad is ten years older than my mom. I got married this June and my wife is over eight years younger than me. I never thought that would happen. My family lived in the same two-story brick house the whole time I was growing up. It was only after I went away to college that my parents finally moved to a nicer house-just a block and a half up the street from the old place. They still live there now. We had a big fenced-in backyard behind that original house with some open farmland and woods on the other side of it. We built forts in those woods, and I had my first French kiss in the old red barn out there (playing spin the bottle with two girls and a buddy of mine). For my birthday one year my parents threw me a big party and had real ponies for my friends and me to ride in the backyard. I loved to ride ponies and thought I was a cowboy. Sometimes I called myself, "Walton Wootin' Tootin'-King of the Wild, Wild West." I often wore a straw cowboy hat, brown leather vest over a red shirt, Sears Toughskins blue jeans, leather cowboy gloves, a plastic holster with two toy metal cowboy pistols, and a pair of leather chaps that went with the vest. I didn't wear cowboy boots though-just Converse or Keds sneakers. And I had a real Roy Rogers cowboy guitar. My favorite book was Cowboy Andy about a city kid who wanted to be a cowboy. I also loved Treasure Island and later the Hardy Boys series. By contrast, my little brother went around everywhere with a blanket just like Linus in the Peanuts. He also drew pictures alone in his room a lot and read all of the Lord of the Rings books. I terrorized him, the poor skinny kid. Later when I was making my 12-step amends I had to write him an official apology. He wrote back and said, "It's OK, your constant beatings don't seem to have caused any permanent brain damage." Thathurt to hear, but he was sort of kidding.
I got straight A's in school through 6th grade. Then that summer I discovered things like alcohol and pot. My best friend Hunt W. and I stole some liquor from his parents while they were out dancing on a Saturday night. Hunt had also acquired some weed, plus he had a brand new bong that neither of us really knew how to use. We had no idea you were supposed to put your finger over the choke hole in order to let the smoke collect in the chamber. Eventually I figured that out the hard way when some older guys saw me doing it wrong and laughed at me. I found everything about partying to be ultra-exciting. I liked sneaking around knowing I had this big secret from my parents and other adults. Unfortunately, I had a habit of getting caught. My parents were pretty good at busting me. I swore to my father over and over again that I would never smoke marijuana again. He told me he was heart-broken and gave me this book called "With Love From Dad" written by some old geezer who had suffered the same problem with his son. I was grounded until I finished reading that book. I remember sitting in my bedroom full of contempt listening to AC/DC and thinking my dad was sorely mistaken if he thought I was going to read three words of that dumb book. After about a week I lied and told him I had read every word and really got something out of it.
When I was 15 bordering on 16, I fell in love with Anna R. over the summer. We met at the country club, by the pool. Her two older sisters, Tina and Sara, were already known as the two hottest women at the pool. Then came Anna. All three sisters had thin, athletic bodies and great smiles. I spent hours telling Anna about my big plans to become a major American writer and travel all over the world. She seemed impressed. The only problem was that she was over two years younger than me, and her mom didn't quite approve. Our first date occurred in the fall when we sat together at a high school football game. It was cold and I kept her warm. My hormones were on fire. We talked on the phone for several hours every night after that. I was in the high school and she was still at the junior high. My soccer coach gave me a lot of teasing over our age difference. Eventually, after a delay because I was being punished for being caught drinking in public that summer with my buddies in the parking lot of a semi-pro baseball game, I got my driver's license. Now I could drive Anna around. Our make-out sessions grew into heavy petting. Finally one night while parked out on the street near her house, I made a move that changed everything. I said, "Anna, I've got something to show you," and then I proceeded to drop the car seat she was in all the way back. That left me lying on top of her because I had leaned so far over to pull back the lever. I started kissing her, and she worried that we would go all the way. That was the beginning of the end. We stopped and slowly she withdrew. I spent the next several years trying to get her back, but to no avail. She ended up dating the quarterback. Then she went on to be a cheerleader at a major university in North Carolina. She always was good at gymnastics.
There's no way to tell my whole life story in just a few hours. I've lived too long at this point-37 years. I can't believe I'm that old already. Also, I have no hair. This is really a shocker considering I grew up with a thick, brown, curly shag on my head. I'm sure if I ever show up for a high school reunion a lot of people won't recognize me. Come to think of it, this year would be my 20-year reunion since I graduated in 1983! I went to Robert E. Lee High School. We were called the "Fighting Leemen." I'd say a good 30 percent of the school was black, which in retrospect seems sad to me because I don't think the ancestors of slaves should have to go to a high school named after a famous Confederate general. Nobody ever questioned it back then though, and they still don't as far as I know. One of the biggest lessons I ever learned was from two black girls in my Spanish class at Lee High. I sat next to them and we chatted a lot because they knew my friend Jimmy E. pretty well. Anyway, one sunny afternoon the teacher stepped out of the classroom for a few minutes-always a bad idea. Several guys in the class started hurling spitballs at each other. I told them to leave me out of it because by that time I thought we were a little old to be shooting spitballs at each other. Sam L. decided to ignore my warning and nailed me in the face with a wet wad of paper. I hopped out of my desk and punched him hard in the middle of the arm, saying, "I told you not to include me." Sam was actually bigger than I was, so he got mad and punched me back harder. The two girls I mentioned both yelled at me to quit fighting. Out of my mouth flew the words, "What's the matter, I thought you people liked fights." The looks on their faces said it all. "What do you mean, you people," one of the girls said.
I realized what an asshole I'd been, but it was too late. The two girls never spoke to me or even looked at me again. In retrospect, I think that was a defining moment for me. In a way, it drove me to eventually leave Virginia after college and move out to the West Coast. I had to get out of the South and see how the rest of the country treated each other. I ended up in San Francisco, then Oakland, then Seattle, and now I'm back in San Francisco for graduate school in creative writing. My wife is Japanese, and she's a major dog lover. We have two miniature Dachsunds named Bebe and Pop-Eye. I'm still struggling to be a published writer. I have traveled to various parts of the world like Europe and Japan, but not nearly enough yet. I can still see the looks of horror and disgust on both of those girls' faces. I really let them down that day. They had started to trust me, and out of my mouth flew those words. I wonder if either of them will be at this year's big reunion.