30 November 2014

When I was 13 It was a Very Odd Year

Tonight at dusk I looked out my bedroom. It had been a cold rainy day and it was dying hard. Light was fading and the sky was a heavy gray. A deep sense of melancholia enveloped me. I saw myself at 13 on such a Sunday late November twilight. Outside playing basketball. Taking one more shot and then another and then another until it was too dark to see the basket. Then I would go inside where dinner would be almost ready. Dad would be back at the Sunday paper, searching for one more story to read. Or maybe he’d be getting around to the National Geographic that had come earlier in the week. Mom would be in the kitchen. Stern faced, grimacing with anger as the voices inside her head raged. I would see her and look away, only hearing her final preparations for our meal.

I would slump on the living room sofa as if my hours of play outside constituted a full day’s work. I would start a conversation with dad about football or ask him about his sailing days. He would always oblige my desire to talk and would put down whatever he was reading. When the conversation’s momentum died down I’d go to my room and play a Beatle’s album until the call for dinner came.

It might be meat loaf and potatoes and string beans and I’d have a few glasses of milk. I barely tasted the food, it was really just fuel. I looked forward to some ice cream for dessert. After dinner I’d turn on the TV and maybe even have a dispute with dad about what to watch. The TV would occupy my mind until bedtime. I might read a few pages from a James Bond novel or perhaps my book of H.G. Wells short stories before turning off the light and quickly falling asleep.

I was a generally happy young teen although I was forever suppressing the truth of my mother’s insanity. I looked away from it just as physically looked away from her when reality was all too obvious. I had no great ambition at that age just wild and unfocused dreams about future fame and glory, perhaps as a rock star or a professional athlete or a best-selling author. School was frightfully boring to me because I was overwhelmed with a rich imagination that made the dull routine of studies seem ridiculous and square and wholly out of touch. Plus I was smart enough to pass classes with good grades without straining myself or for that matter without learning much in the process.

It was the late Sixties and The Beatles were still ruling Western culture and  the anti war movement was in full swing and I was living in Berkeley, one of the epicenters of student unrest and a rising desire for a greater consciousness. I was starting to see that the world outside of school was rich with excitement and ideas and possibilities. I wanted to be part of it somehow and hated that I had to bide my time before having more freedom from school, home and rules. I saw the "establishment" in all it's forms as the enemy. One that could not be trusted. But at the same time my passion for sports kept me from growing up to fast. I had always been pretty good at any sport I tried and had found that I was very very good at soccer. My uber competitiveness, along with my physical gifts, made me a natural at the game. The fact that I was far better than most inspired me to see soccer as a way to now and future glory. And indeed there would be some.

My attention was also shifting increasingly to the fairer sex who in turn were noticing me and my pretty blue eyes and long very blonde hair. However I didn’t know where to begin, what to say or what to do. I would be a late bloomer when it came to romance and would need to be fueled by alcohol before really getting the hang of it. For now I just looked and fantasized and was paralyzed by shyness.

Thirteen is a bad age for most people. I spent 20 years teaching people who were or were about it to be or just had been 13. The awkwardness of early adolescence can be crippling. You are no longer a child but very from being an adult and not yet in high school where you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Your body is going through strange changes and your wants and desires are going in all different directions. You are trying to tear away the apron strings and be your own person but you’re also afraid to. Your emotions shift radically but don’t stay one way for long. You are starting to question adults and the world at large but aren’t prepared for follow up questions when you do get a straight answer. You want to live on your own and crawl back into the womb and you’re just beginning to understand about sex and my goodness that’s a mind fuck.

My experience being 13 was as bad as most people’s and might have been worse because mom’s insanity was coming out of the closet. For years I was the only living sole who knew that mom had angry conversations with people who weren't there. That was a helluva thing to carry around. But now she had gone full on bonkers in front of everyone. Well I could have looked at it as sharing the awful burden but I was just embarrassed and sorry that dad and big brother and everyone else in our extended family had to know the god awful truth. Plus now she wasn’t just acting crazy in front of me. There was no protection when anyone was around. Holy fuck that hurt.

Some of us are pretty damn resilient. Thankfully I was (am). Old mom had done permanent damage to my psyche but I nevertheless soldiered on and more often than not went to bed feeling good about the day I’d just had and looking forward to the one forthcoming.

As I finish this the rain has started again. I’ve always liked the rain. Oh occasionally it’s messed up plans for a day or caught me unawares and thus given me a soaking.  But it always seems like is giving to us. It’s giving life. Grass. Creeks. Rivers. Crops. Flowers. It might have started raining that night when I was 13. I would have enjoyed that.

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