Wearing a black London Fog sort of rain coat with tattered pocket flaps and long lost waist belt, a t-shirt, faded iron-on-patched kneed jeans, and kitchen duty grease grime grizzled Nike clone sneakers; I’d hike up the narrow asphalt road that lead away from Washington College Academy swinging my tape player Radio-Shack boom box like a logger foot falling away to fell a forest somewhere.
Scattered school buildings falling away behind me, the boys dorm last to pass by, I followed the route I’d had to run up for innumerable gym PE classes and again later in the day for Soccer practice, running up to where the footie pitch and the baseball diamond were cleared on a level lot shoulder checked by the back sides of several farms’ worth of backend scrub and pastures gone to seed. Passing the soccer field, a little further on a road begins heading off to the right. If I were to turn and follow that, eventually that narrow paved road would run into another, turn right again and be halfway back to Washington College again, another right turn soon after and you’d be looping up the delivery drive same as all those other times I ran the designated outdoor mile with gym class or the soccer team.
I pass the turn off and keep going straight, passing the house where Jeff and his parents live. Another house owned by the school, the parents do work for the school managing the grounds, the cemetery, general repairs, handyman stuff. Occasionally Jeff’s mother had to sub in at the girl’s dorm as a Ms. Garret sort of house mother should the normal night chaperone fall ill or the day den mother become more ill tempered than usual. My Mom got on well enough with Jeff’s Mom, perhaps out of the sort of indentured servitude sort of housing situations both families shared. Oddly enough, Jeff and I had known one another from the mental health summer camp way back when, and were quick to become friends at school, despite our age difference. Easy to glom together when no one else will talk to you.
Jeff had a couple years on me, wore glasses, had a Don Knotts physique, got comics every month at the convenience store with his allowance money and actually let me read them, wherein I discovered the X-Men, specifically when Kitty Pryde befriended Lockheed to date myself, and soon after I got Alpha Flight and discovered the ads for Alien Legion, the ones that only showed the silhouettes of the aliens wearing what I took to be Stormtrooper armor, and though took another couple years before I actually encountered a comic book store and caught up on Alien Legion, I redrew ever silhouette and filled in the details as best I could guess for months in many a spiral bound notebook.
Jeff and I were both on the soccer team, and both rode the bench through pretty much every game, only allowed to go out on the field if the team fell into the double digits behind their opponents, a fair regularity actually, or if Jeff’s parents managed to make it out. Mine never did, too busy and spread too thin, a standard that unfortunately remained true through every stage or sporting event I ever took part in. After a while I stopped telling them what I was in or doing, reverse psychology treatment that made the events mine to hide so that when I joined the kids in the eves peeking out to see if we could spot my parents, I did it from a place of worry and dread, like I feared they’d catch me touching myself inappropriately in public, instead of letting the disappointment get the better of me that my parents would never see a single play I acted in, a debate or speech or mock trial team event I compete in, a single soccer game or thankfully a single one of those horrific three baseball games I played in.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. My first acting opportunity, outside of the talent show dog pile mime fail I’ve previously blogged about, arose in sixth grade at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Johnson City, Tennessee. I landed the role of Santa Clause, not because I had the girth, I didn’t get the ol’ Christy Gift until college. I landed that choice role because it had a lot of lines compressed into two appearances, meaning, a double whammy of massive memorization with minimal parent pant inducing presence on stage. Oh, and I would have to lead the entire cast and audience in a rousing round of Silent Night, singing the first stanza verse utterly acapella, unless you count the squeak of shifting weight as parents look around to see who in the audience this creaking hinge squealing on stage belongs too. Balls dropped about a year later, by the way.
My Mom was there, at least, for the first half of the play, and for the first of my two scenes, when the Martians or whatever arrive to abduct me, grabbing me so hard the seat cushion I have belted to my midriff shoots out onto stage like a Pillsbury dough baby. I’m surprisingly hard pressed to remember if she could stay through to the end of the play and my stunning solo singing debut. I recall being picked up, and I also remember feeling outside of the other kids, not a lot new there, however off stage I became more than just another kid again, I went from being a persona people adored and coveted enough to come from another planet to steal to being a chumless child deeply wishing he could wish away to some Little Prince planet with a flower and a chatty volcano for company. I wanted to be the Last Starfighter, the kid that transcended, got to play the hero and wrestle with how to be humble when everyone kept assure you of your inherent greatness.
I worry my self-obsessing during the natural come down from the rush of performing obscured my poor Mom trying to celebrate my premiere. Perhaps I manufactured my own loneliness that time. Maybe I manufacture a lot of it now, too. Probably should work on not making myself so hard to get to know, and generally unsociable. Not to sidetrack into another tangent, just a quick stage whisper that insecurity and a lot of alone time during your foundational years can lead to some real reluctance, or inversely, awkward overcompensation, when dealing with groups of people as an adult. Getting bullied, attracting hassles via the very traits I just outlined, simply ensconces withdrawn and distrustful disposition.
Keep walking, making long strides as I pass by Jeff’s house, not knowing by sensing that in a couple months I’d be moving on, leaving Tennessee behind, and that meant Jeff as well, likely never see him again. During eighth grade I’d become more withdrawn anyway, puberty kicking in, hormones setting the moods to swing like a piñata in batting cage, so Jeff and I weren’t as close anymore anyway. He’d gotten older; I’d gotten more detached and socially evasive, etc.
The trench coat I’d picked up from some flea market while out with my Mom I submit as testimonial to both my poor fashion sensibilities and my burgeoning desire to be different, hardcore, something. I mean, my black Member’s Only clone from Sears had three Motley Cure buttons on the lapel that eventually the church youth group director at the televised Presbyterian strip-mall scale church Tom used to take me too some weekends asked me to take the them off. I’d offended the church man, look at me, I’m edgy!
Maybe edgy enough to play Truth or Dare on the Church Bus and too win a sloppy tongue slapping make out with the dumpy soccer mom in training behind a Little Ceasers while rest of the kids played Putt-Putt nearby, too swirl a finger around her sweaty cleft trying to Helen Keller my way to understanding at last what I’d read about in my Mom’s Our Bodies, Ourselves a couple years earlier. Full of snot and flurry, signifying nothing.
A couple months later my family would be uprooting and moving to Kentucky. I didn’t know that yet. I just wanted to get to the cow pasture on the next hill past Jeff’s family’s house. I’d clomped around there a few times before and discovered a strange concrete platform with an entryway on one side, like a window with sill or ceremony. Looking down inside, you could see three rungs made of rebar fashioned into the wall. Inside the window, and largely underground but for the higher roof part that formed the platform outside, I found a concrete box of a room with wicked reverb acoustics that turned a cheap Radio Shack tape player into a throbbing, ear bleeding boom box. Or so I projected, as this trip would be the inaugural attempt to wrap a wedge of lemon around a gold brick, so to speak.
I did the cursory quick look around and detect no one around except a couple very bored cows that clearly couldn’t be bothered to care, then threw a leg over the lip of the window, found a rung with my sneaker toe, and clambered in after with the rest of me, reaching out to drag the tape player carefully in last.
Enough light filtered into the space through the entrance to give even the edges of the space a gloomy legibility. At most twenty feet by twenty feet side to side back to front, it went down into the ground about four feet, so I had to duck if I wanted to go beyond the part of the roof forming the platform visible to the outside.
I sat cross-legged in the middle of the room, sat the radio down before me, popped the cassette to check that it still sat spooled and cued to the particular spot I wanted, a lost art now that cassettes have vanished from the face of the planet. I shoved the tape back into the drawer and slapped it home with practiced perfect flick. I paused, waved my hands and flexed my fingers like a pianist about to commence his concerto, carefully rolled the volume button to eleven as best I could, then slowly, decisively, deliberately pressed the play button with one pointy pointer finger.
Maybe not citrus wrapped around construction materials, the explosion of sound bouncing around the inside of the concrete box shocked me enough to feel caught out. I squint at the entrance for fear the police had come to investigate, that fast a response to this sudden seething screeching sound, literally ‘Screaming for Vengeance.”
The song eventually faded off, and without a second thought I pressed stop. I carefully stood, ducking so as not to brain myself on the concrete slab ceiling, fetched the radio and made my way to the exit, climbed out over the lip and flopped down on the grass to watch the clouds go by for a while, ears ringing though the ringing faded quickly, transitioned into the rustle of grass, breeze in the thickets by the fence I’d hopped over earlier, tug huff crunch sounds of cows nearby trimming the lawn casually. I noticed the sounds of the world more distinctly after the boom box experiment, as though decibel ranges came back on line separately, red lights going green and there’s grass, and wind, and crickets are on line, and cow bell is a go!
As the afternoon faded I remembered I had kitchen duty and heaved myself up to head back towards campus and home and duties to serve. I liked washing dishes, the sense of completion you got from shoving trays laden with plates through the loud, steaming, scalding moisture machine, and the way the din and racket made conversation beyond incidental shouting and caveman gestures impossible.
Being alone isn’t always an awful thing. Loneliness means partly wanting to share your adventures with someone else, if anyone cares too. Maybe codependency is always having to share your adventures, or is that just ego? A need for constant validation? Maybe loneliness is an inability to self-validate?
For me, loneliness meant being an outsider, for whatever reason, and when I’m not wearing the pity party toga, I think I facilitate a lot of my own segregation. However the origin of species, I am a being that likes to observe, and likes to be observed when given a platform that permits a constructed personae. I suspect this isn’t particularly unusual, except perhaps for the extremes I take each too.
I love the chaos of stage, yet don’t really want to be the star, just appreciated, get the laughs and back off. I inversely also love the roar of silence in large, open spaces natural or man-made, the anonymity inherent to a speck of man versus a mountain of monumental magnitude.
And I want to be able to walk home with something knew in my head, maybe to share, maybe to hold dear and mull over for later use. Because as Rob sang:
If you think I'll sit around as the world goes by
You're thinkin' like a fool cause it's a case of do or die
Out there is a fortune waitin' to be had
You think I'll let it go you're mad
You've got another thing comin'
Maybe not the most majestic mantra to live by, perhaps.True all the same. So thanks for letting me cure some of my lingering little loneliness sharing these rambling monologues with you.