The Other End of Sunset

Monday, May 22, 2006

This is NOT a Virginia Slims(tm) advertisement

No sentiment this time, not much humor, and no imagery. Sorry. Deal with it.

I hated high school,
I prayed it would end.
The jocks and their girls,
It was their world,
I didn’t fit in.
-- Mary Gauthier, Drag Queens and Limousines

When you are a teenager, being in a social clique is a really critical part of one’s life. I think, anyway. I seem to remember that the entire world was defined by the clothes I wore, or the people I hung out with, or what I did after school.

It’s remarkable that all these years later, it’s the same.

Things blew up this weekend at home. JR’s dad called me Satan, among other nice names, and tried to punch me. Then he stormed out, abandoning his sick daughter, again, blaming it on me. No, I can’t make this stuff up. It’s better than fiction.

It turns out that all of Indiana thinks I'm bad. Apparently, the entire state. Do they have voodoo dolls in the upper Midwest?

Wow. All this time I thought we were all working together to try and make JR as comfortable as possible. Little did I know that I am the problem.

My, my, I feel important. Apparently all the tension and stress is not due to a WAY overfull house and a very ill JR, but rather is due to my lack of personality.

One of the things the classy father said was “She’s uncomfortable, and she’s uncomfortable, and I'm uncomfortable, and it’s all HIS fault!” (As you can imagine, his finger was pointing at various people in the room, and ultimately emphatically at me).

And I was suddenly back in high school. The outsider. Last kid picked for some random sport. Something. And in my own house, where I have been struggling to keep things together, and keep JR going.


Let’s spend a few minutes here, shall we? Do you remember that singer Avril Lavigne? She had a bunch of bubblegum pop songs, including one called “Sk8er Boi”. A love story in three verses, kind of like Romeo and Juliet, only more accessible. And with more unusual spelling.

He was boy, she was a girl.
Can I make it any more obvious.
He was a punk, she did ballet.
What more can I say.
He wanted her.
She’d never tell, secretly she wanted him as well.
But all of her friends, stuck up their nose
They had a problem with his baggy clothes.
--Avril Lavigne, Sk8er Boi

I'm very different from these Indiana folks. Well, I'm different from just about anybody. As a side note, I was on the Diversity Executive committee when I worked at some bank. I am a white male. Odd choice, don’t you think? Except that, as stated so succinctly by the Vice Chair of the company “Look at him! Douglas is per se diverse.”

I'm an introvert. Really. In high school, I was the guy who ate by himself, on the steps, reading a book, head down, hoping you wouldn’t notice me. The guy with odd unkempt hair, wearing all black, with the only color coming from his glasses, or the faded concert bandana wrapped around his leg.

The guy everyone called “geek”. Only in Arkansas, that word wasn’t well known, so they called me other names.

I got beat up by the jocks, and the closed-minded cowboys, who would call me some particular sexual epithet, over and over, as they hit me, over and over. One wonders if they were actually attracted to that epithet, and that drove their hatred of me. But anyway, that doesn’t matter. The beatings stopped for a while when I got my black belt, and suddenly wasn’t such an easy mark. However, this bliss didn’t last -- they figured out that in a 3 on 1 fight, the person alone loses, regardless. This lasted a while.

My family didn’t believe in guns, probably luckily for everyone involved.

But I certainly did get tired of being the outsider. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t really want to be Johnny, the guy who was the captain of the football team. As you know, in the South, football is king – want to be a god? But the starting {whatever} on the football team, be out under the lights on Thursday nights (in junior high) or Friday nights (in high school) or {oh my god!} Saturday afternoon at the local state school. No, I didn’t want to be him, but I sort of did – at least I wanted some of his benefits (As a sidenote, he was a great human – good at sports, handsome, smart, went to the Naval Academy, served his country in the Marines. Too good a story, right – yup, I couldn’t make this stuff up either. Seriously, you couldn’t dislike him if you tried!)

I had a friend who was a journalist. She did pieces about local culture and events in lands where she traveled, but they weren’t just news stories, they were art. Often tragic art, but art nonetheless, you could see her world and feel her emotions. She wrote a piece about a very polluted area of the Czech Republic; in the piece she commented on her purple Doc Martens, and how they looked against the toxic sludge she was walking through.

This is a terrible rendition of her piece, and I can’t find it online to quote it exactly, sorry. The point, however, is this. At the time, although I could see the image of the too-black mud climbing the sides of her purple boots, I couldn’t understand why she wrote that piece.

I wonder if I understand now. She and I were very similar. Too similar to remain friends.

I just lost several minutes looking at my shoes – my girlie Prada shoes – and looking at the spot of dirt on the side. Not because I care about the shoes, per se, but because they represent the distance I’ve traveled, the places I’ve been, the hurts I have given, and received, and the new world I find myself in every day.

I think my friend was feeling amazed that a little girl from the Valley would grow up to be wandering around some random country, covered in Cold War-era toxic waste. I think she was suddenly feeling very small and very lost.

Just like me, right now.

The other defining moment from high school? Getting rejected by a number of girls as “not in my class”. I wonder what they’d say now?

He was a sk8er boi,
She said “see ya later boy!”
He wasn’t good enough for her.
Now he’s a superstar
Makes a living on his guitar,
Show pretty face just what he’s worth.
--Avril Lavigne, op cit.

I wonder if the people who didn’t like me in high school, or thought I was a loser, would feel differently now. I guess I’ve come a long way, baby.

Or maybe not. Who knows.

I’ve met Princes and Presidents, Generals and Jesus Freaks, Captains of aircraft carriers and industry, and lots of interesting people, with stories that vary from tragic to terrific. I have seen the Taj Mahal, run on the Great Wall, and prayed at the Vatican. I'm so blessed, it’s quite creepy.

But one tirade sends me back to Conway, Arkansas, afraid of my own shadow, wanting to hide, feeling like a failure.

I need some resilience. I need some peace. So I am headed out for a while. I need a break. It doesn’t matter that Daddy-Dearest is gone, the silence-is-assent team is still there in the house.

Anyway, I'm going to go spend a few days with my support system, in that lovely city in the Southwest. I'm going to a sporting event. I'm going to ride someone’s motorcycle. I'm going to walk through the desert, searching for inspiration. I'm going to call an old friend. I might even go to mass.

Don’t forget your lunch box while I'm gone. I liked the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one.