Sometimes after I write one of these posts, I have to think about it for a long time afterward. The last one was tough to write and relive, but I also had the realization that it was the first time in my life that I had to make a profound moral decision on my own without guidance. It was the first time I had to navigate life by “gut” feel. Every ounce of my body knew I had to say no.
If a physical book ever comes of this effort, I think it starts in the cab of my mother’s red Ford F150, on Butler Ave. in Flagstaff, Arizona. Interestingly, I had to write this much to figure out where to start the darn thing, but that was a decisive moment.
So, I think it would be fair to say that my 8th grade is when I started to discover myself. The world was confusing, and we didn’t have cable tv at home, so I wasn’t following current events. At school, they announced the United States was heading to war. The government used confusing words like “Operation Desert Storm” to make it seem less “warlike,” but it was a war.
This war impacted several students in the school whose family members served in the military, so it was the first time I was in proximity to something where I felt government impact other than school itself. I don’t remember much about the Gulf War other than student’s tears and now and then seeing images of planes dropping bombs not terribly far from where my step-father was born. He was no longer a part of my life, but he was a part of my heart, so I thought about him and my little brother often.
My mother enrolled as a student at NAU full time and started working multiple jobs. She wasn’t home when I woke up or when I went to bed. Occasionally, I’d hear her come in late at night. When our schedules crossed paths, we fought, she threw objects at me, or she kicked me out. I avoided her as much as I could, but in the tiny family housing unit that I lived in on the NAU campus, it was impossible. Collisions would eventually happen. I would wander the streets or head to a friend’s house and sleep under their beds.
Shortly after starting school, I made two friends, Deb and Bonnie. During my short time as Derek’s girlfriend, they came up to my locker and asked if we were dating. I looked them up and down, their pants covered with NKOTB written all over them with Sharpie pens. I asked them what that meant and discovered it was a boy band of some sort. They asked questions about my skateboard photos and what kinds of bands I was into. I found later that they weren’t interested in being my friend when we first met but instead to gather intelligence about Derek, whom Deb was deeply interested in dating herself.
I guessed they liked me and decided to hang out at some point because we became inseparable, and they were my refuge from any storm at home. I’d sometimes spend a few days under Deb’s bed until I was caught by her mother, Rosie, who would feed me a fantastic meal and then send me home. Sometimes I was picked up by the police and taken to a detention center or a girl’s home. However, all of these roads eventually landed me back in that little tiny home in front of my mother again, and the cycle would repeat.
My mother decided that I must be depressed, which was the furthest thing from the truth. I didn’t know then what I know now. I was malnourished. There wasn’t any breakfast, lunch, or dinner on most days. She decided to put me on medications to help with depression, hoping it would prevent us from fighting when she got home. I took the meds for a month and noticed some disturbing changes in my eye and hand coordination, so I flushed them all down the toilet and refused to take any more. The punishment? A hairspray can to my head.
I can’t say I was a saint, but I can say I was a child. The more she threw at me, the more I defied her. I couldn’t come up with any rational reason to listen or respect anything she wanted me to do, so I did whatever it was that I wanted to do, and the whims of a 13/14-year-old are not the most mature or rooted in the best morality if you don’t have a guide.
While I knew it was wrong to put an innocent man in jail, I didn’t realize that stealing was wrong. I somehow thought that stealing from small businesses was wrong, but anything at Wal-Mart was fair because fuck corporations. They were evil. They were evil because I needed them to be to justify the things I was doing. Stealing from a small business was terrible because those people were barely making it, but big companies? They could afford it.
I would go into Wal-Mart and load my bags up with candy and anything that I could sell at school for money. I'd turn that money into meals. I wish I could brag that this was an entrepreneurial endeavor, but like the pecans I stole from our fridge and sold to neighbors in the 3rd grade, I didn’t have permission to take these either. However, I did like to eat, so I came up with any excuse to make this seem justifiable in my mind.
Kids don’t buy healthy food, so I bought candy bars and sodas. I’m pretty sure that’s what I lived off of for a year. Snickers bars and Dr. Pepper. My grades, as you can imagine, started plummeting, and I started falling asleep in classes because I had no sleep schedule of any sort. My mother was called into the office regularly and told about the behavior issues I was having. Unlike my previous school where I wouldn’t show up, I liked showing up to this school because I could see humans and interact with them. Otherwise, I was genuinely adrift, and that’s not a right place to be.
I had two more boyfriends and one progressed to actual hand holding, which made me very happy, but like all good things in my life, that too ended.
So, I started to wonder why I existed. What was the purpose of all of this? I started questioning everything around me. I eventually worked up the courage to ask my mother this question, and she shrugged and handed me some books to read. The answers weren’t in those books. Was the purpose of life to somehow survive school and end up like my mother? Was there more out there than that?
I was still in the school band playing my french horn. Even though my french horn was assigned to me out of a sorting hat, it became my thing. None of my new friends played an instrument, and band people were losers, but I liked being a loser. Being a loser seemed like the exact spot I wanted to be in, so I wore it with pride. I was a punk band nerd, and I took the attitude that I didn’t care what people thought about it, and trust me, I was made fun of continuously for that big french horn. It didn’t fit in my locker, so I had to keep it in the classroom and lug it home on the weekends. I refused to take the bus to and from school, preferring to walk the few miles, and I was tiny. Maybe 90 lbs. So, lugging that thing home was a real pain in the ass, but I did it. Even though my mother wasn’t around, I practiced because I was good at playing that thing, and it felt good to be good at anything. I also liked annoying our neighbors. I would play songs over and over and over until I would hear someone scream or bang on the walls, and I would then laugh and stop. There wasn’t interesting tv, so what else was I supposed to do?
There was a walking path in the family housing area of Campus Heights at NAU that had a pretty steep grade, so my other activity was bombing that with my skateboard. Also, that’s where I met the other cool losers in my neighborhood, like Spoon, Ramont, and Eddie. All skaters like me and all without attentive parents as well.
We were genuinely free-range, all-organic kids, and while our parents weren’t watching us, and even though we didn’t know it, we were watching out for each other.