Escape from the Shadows
Who can tell when real cognizance begins, or more over when our memories are real and not the product of what we have always been told or seen in photographs. All he knew was that his first memory was of sitting in the dirt, with his baby sister and some other little children behind an old small apartment building on the poor side of downtown. Yet there were pictures of him, with his mother sitting on a bull dozer somewhere in Kansas, and another one of him being held by his father in front of a small tar paper shack in the Texas panhandle. They told him that for his first three years, his dad moved them around a lot following concrete jobs and so he believed these things.
He liked the old couple who ran the apartment house and was almost sad when they moved across the street into a duplex. It was here he found the small old porcelain ballerina figurine and after cleaning it off, gave it to his mother. There were the trips every weekend to his grandmother (his mom’s mother), in the small rural town where he was born, while his parents went down to where his father was from to fish or hunt. He loved play in the large pasture, fish for crawdads (using pieces of raw bacon tied on a string) or throwing hatchets at the old tree in the pasture. Besides, here he did not get punished every day for something he did or did not do; with a belt, or hand, or switch. His grandfather was a little strange, Grandma’s parrot did not like Grandpa; she even dove at him sometimes. Grandpa would argue with the newsman on television sometimes that would make him laugh to himself.
He knew he couldn’t do anything right for his father, he had been told that every day he could remember. He was either too slow, or he did it wrong, something. He could not learn to swim, now what kind of boy can’t swim, he must be a coward. He didn’t get into fights like other boys and he smiled way too much, which must mean he was up to something he shouldn’t be doing.
The other place he liked was his Uncle Jim (one of his father’s brothers). Mainly because that was where his cousins Lee and Jan lived (they had 4 other brothers and sisters, but Lee and Jan were his friends). Lee was just a few months older than him and Jan was his sister’s age (about three years younger).
Being with either set of grandparents or any of his aunts and uncles was different since they all lived very rural. No one had any indoor plumbing, his grandpa on his dad’s side still heated his house by a huge fireplace and his grandma cooked on a wood stove. Water was drawn out of a well about fifty feet from the house and hand carried to the kitchen in two buckets; you drank out of a metal dipper. The outhouse was on the other side of one of grandpa’s fields: it could be a long run in the winter. All his father’s brothers and sisters were almost the same, no one had running water to their houses, but some had propane to heat and cook on. His uncles had television, even though they only had one good channel to watch and most of the programs were a week or two behind. Everyone bathed in large metal tubs outside, once a week. Grandma made soap on an open fire in a big black iron pot with three legs.
Everyone hunted and fished, as such everyone ate some form of wild game or fresh fish at least three times a week, even his family at home. One of the early things you learned, was how to catch or kill for food and how to dress it out so you could cook it. Everyone raised some of their own vegetables too and knew how to make fresh homemade biscuits and bread.
Just after his fifth birthday they moved to a house about four blocks away. It wasn’t much bigger than the duplex but at least it was a single house. The man that owned it had another one behind it, though it was a little smaller. There was a bar on the opposite side of the driveway and a junk yard on the other side of the house. It was still in the same area, but he had no idea yet that some people would call this the slums, since this was what he thought was more than his relatives had. He started kindergarten at the end of summer and after the first day really enjoyed going to school. He even played Santa Clause in the schools program that year. He made very good grades, but even that did not change the daily whippings from his father for breaking some rule. His mother would just seem sad about it sometimes, but never argued with his father in front of him and his little sister. Since this was a shotgun house there were no doors to close for privacy, except on the bathroom. He and his sister slept in beds in the same room with the dining table and refrigerator.
Weekends were the best and when they were at Uncle Jim’s even better. He and Lee would make their own bows and arrows, used sticks for guns and rifles and could play cowboys and Indians, or war to their hearts content, when all the chores of the farm were done. They ran barefoot through the woods chasing each other or as a team against Lee’s older brother and some other cousins. All his cousins lived within a couple of miles of one another and all were farmers and/or ranchers. They all went to the same one roomed school house and everyone went to the same Freewill Baptist Church. The church was on his great uncle Art’s land, Great Uncle Art had a general store/gas station/post office there all in one building. Because of the post office it was called a town even though there were only five buildings; Uncle Art’s store, his house, the church and two other farm houses across the gravel road; there were no paved roads for ten miles at least, in any direction.
His grandfather was not any more openly affectionate or happy than his father and you rarely saw his grandmother smile or laugh, it was a hard life. Grandpa had one hobby, he collected arrowheads and Indian things he found in the places where the Chickasaw and Choctaw used to live; they still lived in towns and on ranches not far away. There was an old fort with some stone barracks still standing close to one of the places they all fished at, and an old Butterfield Stage Stop not far away as well (but it did not have any standing buildings anymore). He and his cousins liked to play around the old fort even though it was still decaying and no one took care of it.
Camping out to fish when his aunts and uncles were with them was great. He could wander upstream make a frog gig and hunt frogs, or even better rattlesnakes; he really like getting the rattles and the meat tasted pretty good cooked over the camp fire. He and Lee would sleep under the stars and could stay up tending the camp fire late so it did not go out. One weekend on such a trip he and Lee were in the river playing close to the bank, after they had run the river drop lines for catfish, when he slipped off into the current into the deep water. Just as he was losing his battle to try and reach the surface Lee caught his shirt collar and pulled him into the shallower water so he could get onto the river bank. When his father found out what had happened, the only thing he said was that, that was what you got for being too afraid to learn how to swim.
Over the next few years nothing much changed, during the week he went to school and made very good grades. There was a short time his older half brother moved back close to them and worked with his father for a while, he had gotten married and she had two sons from a previous marriage, her older one was the same age as him and they were in the same grade at the same school. His name was Roscoe and they tried to be friends, but Roscoe was not a good student and he liked to fight. So now he had his first real experience with what some might call almost sibling rivalry. Although they did a lot together, they would also antagonize one another and fight about almost nothing. But his brother moved away after only a few months and he never saw Roscoe again.
One day when his father got home he asked his mother how he and his sister had been during the day. That particular day his sister had got hold of their mother’s cigarette lighter while their mother was out of the room. She had caught the curtain on fire before his mother saw her and put it out. After hearing this, his father asked about him, when she said he had nothing that day; his father took him out the back door. Once outside his father took off his belt and gave him a whipping saying it was for what he had not got caught doing.
A year later during the summer between his fourth grade and fifth grade years they moved again, this time into a house on the edge of the city called the suburbs.
Right from the start he knew things were going to be different, during the first week. He met another boy who had moved into his neighborhood during the summer as well. When school started the local boys had to try and assert themselves on both of the new guys. He did not like to fight so when these altercations happened, it did not matter if he won or lost, there was still bad feelings between him and the ones who had lived there longer. At first this only left the other new boy as a possible friend, which dwindled before too long because, as it turned out this boy liked to fight.
It did not help his situation when these other boys starting taunting him because he only bathed once a week (it was how he had been taught and how it had always been that he knew). Even when he started to bathe more often (even though his father did not agree with it) it changed nothing. They also made fun of him because he did not have a bicycle (His father said he did not need one) like all of them, so he and his family must be too poor to live there. So he began to avoid contact with most of the young people living around him, which only made them act as if he was too weird to know.
When he turned eleven he joined the Boy Scouts of America and this gave him an outlet he needed. Even though a couple of the same locals joined at the same time, they at least found this one activity that they could share with him. His grades in school had suffered at first, but he got over that part in due time and gained back his ability to maintain very good grades. The next year all of them started Junior High at the same time, which meant they all were meeting new boys and girls there at the same time.
The two years of Junior High flowed just like the previous two, making good grades in school, advancing in the Boy Scouts (with a couple of Scout friends there who went to different schools than him), joined the school band playing the cornet, but with few close friends at school..The boys who had nothing to do with him in elementary school prevailed here as well and were becoming the popular boys, school athletes, etc. He became so accustomed to being alone a lot by now that he didn’t even try to change it. He no longer felt like he fit in anywhere except with his cousins and at Boy Scouts.
His grandmother (his father’s mother) died during Christmas break that year while he and his family were staying with them. The day she died, everyone was in other parts of the house doing things and he was setting by her bed when she took her last breath. He got up as he heard her dead rattle, wiped the spittle from the edge of her mouth and then went out and told everyone she had crossed over. Everyone looked at him like he had done something wrong in cleaning her mouth, making sure her eyes were closed and looked peaceful before he came and got them, in truth they had been unaware he was even sitting with her until he came in and said she was gone.
By his freshman year and now in High School, the pattern was set. He quit the band mainly because he couldn’t practice enough to get very good (practicing at home was not allowed, it was too loud for his father and detracted from his chores there). The band teacher took him to see the choir director, because his voice had dropped early and he agreed to join the school choir. Then he started working with the audio visual teacher moving and setting up Televisions and projectors for teachers, which led to getting involved with the drama teacher for stage crafts. Now, one would think that this would lead to more interaction with more new people and friends, not the case.
His father really did not like these as activities for a son of his, instead of sports. His two newest friends were not who his father cared for either; one was a new boy there from a single mother (and also not one in sports) who his father thought a “smart alec” and the other was a full blood Chickasaw Indian(quieter but not in sports either). He was also no longer in Boy Scouts due the troop folding and no one ever came to tell he and those boys still showing up for meetings why there was no troop any longer.
During this spring his grandfather (his mothers step dad) died and the family went to the Texas panhandle for his funeral. On their way home they got caught in a sand storm so intense you could not see inches outside the windows. They were parked on the road as they were for hours, just hoping they would not be hit by another car still trying to drive.
That summer he went to stay with his grandfather (his fathers, father) to try and work on his and some of the farms there, to earn money over his summer vacation. But one evening after supper, while he was playing mumble pegs, outside by himself, his grandfather came storming out of the house yelling at him. His grandfather was yelling that he needed to get more done the next day, and was so angry, that when his grandfather got close to him, he threw the knife he was playing the game with away. This incensed his grandfather even more, who started yelling that he tried to kill him (even though he had thrown the knife in the opposite direction).
His grandfather went to one of his uncles close by and called the county sheriff and his father back at home. The deputy who came out yelled at him even more (never asking if he had done it or not) and then told him that his father was coming to get him the next day and he had better not do anything else or he would be taken to jail. His father and mother came, his father talked to grandfather and then they left to drive back home. Not one word was said during the three hour drive, not even to ask him if he had done it or not. Once home his father exacted the punishment he thought appropriate and told him he would not be going back.
He did not go back to anyone’s who lived close to his grandfather. Instead he was allowed to stay home and work at his father’s company on weekends. His parent’s neighbors would tell them if he did anything to disturb anyone.
High school muddled on to graduation without much difference. Although he and his now two best friends (Bob and Cal) did a lot together, they even worked with him for his father, nothing extraordinary happened. He worked, he went to school, he and Cal even had a second job for awhile as cooks in an all night diner. Cal dated a few girls, bob didn’t seem to and he didn’t have much luck with that either. He was never invited to anyone’s parties, and only a few times did he and Cal go out looking for girls. The few he did get acquainted with never seemed to work out. The one that looked different was Lisa, but she was a year younger and her parents did not let her date. They were still an item on graduation day even though they had still never been on a real date.
All three of them had enlisted in the Marines before they graduated; it was the only way any of them could ever go to college. So four days after graduation ceremony they were getting on a plane for boot camp in California. He had broken up with Lisa, telling her it would not be fair for her to be tied to him during her senior year and then college with him gone for four years and who knows where he would be.
That first night at boot camp; standing in the rain, head just shaved and drill sergeants yelling at them, he wondered what the heck he had done now. The next morning at their first formation he said something wrong, was pulled out of the group, made fun of and an example, where everyone else was doing the pushups instead of him. He was sure he would get a “blanket party” that night, but everyone decided someone had to be first, it just happened to be him. He promised himself he would be a nameless face for the rest of boot camp, and for all the two and a half months he succeeded except for one time and then it was just him that suffered the punishment.
On graduation day from boot camp they found out that Cal and Bob would be grunts, he was selected to go to electronics school. So the three parted, Cal and Bob would be in a different ITR than him. A short leave home and he reported right back to MCRD in San Diego for the school, knowing no one, who would be there.
Over the next year and half he was there; first basic electronics school, then t and t repair school and as he was finishing that school the base sent out a memo needing MP’s. He and his drinking friend Hollow both jumped at the chance to get out of electronics, they had already been told they were doing well enough to go on to the next school, and they were tired of being in schools.
He was a good cop, the duty was good and the company was so short handed there were no formations or inspections, just duty and time off. Part of it he was chasing prisoners who went AWOL. Hollow though had been reassigned already.
Then one night while he was sitting in the enlisted men’s club the “Remington Raider” from the company office asked him what he had on the colonel, nothing he had said and asked why. The clerk said because he had gotten his third set of orders for Nam and both the others had been canceled by interaction from the colonel and base general. The clerk did not know why. This made him angry since both Bob and Cal had both been sent home from Nam by then Medivac. He asked for and got an audience with the Colonel and after they talked about his orders, the Colonel agreed to let this set stay as they were. With this he accepted the orders and was scheduled for a short leave before reporting to Staging Battalion at Camp Pendleton for training and then deployment.
During the leave he got to see Cal, who set him up with a girl he once knew. As had always happened there was a spark but it did not burn true , in no time at all she was seeing someone else when he wasn’t around and the hurt felt like a raging fire.
At Pendleton he was ushered to another one month training class, as his old job classification was lost when he joined the MP’s (and there was no longer any MP mos in the Marines). Once this class was over he started Staging, here he met Glen who they found out was going to the same unit he was, west of Danang.
On the day he landed at the runway in Danang, he had a short flashback of that thought about “What had he done now”. For the next twenty seven months (the rest of his time in the Marines) this would be where he was, a tour was thirteen months but he and Glen would extend twice, before they left here for good.
As soon as they got to their unit a week later they picked up a TAD assignment to Happy Valley, where they stayed for eight months replacing five men that the Corps had to get out of country quickly. During that eight months; he, Glen and three others came under charges for an unauthorized patrol. It had happened when he got word over the radio of a friend being killed by a sniper near on a hill nearby. He, Glen and three friends went out on a patrol their Lieutenant did not authorize, they did get who they thought to be the right shooter, but the man was found and it was decided to have a courts martial of all five. The trial never happened, since the district governor (a Vietnamese colonel) heard about it immediately and commended them for swift and just action. The Corps decided to drop all charges.
He and Glen both went home on their first extension leave, but it upset their mothers so much knowing they both were returning to “The Nam”, that on their second extension they spent their leave in Australia. All the news back home was so infuriating that when they were due to get their discharges, Glen immigrated to Australia along with a few other men they knew. He started to, but wanted to go home first, once he did the idea of immigrating slowly died in him.
Once home again, he started to work at whatever he could to make the most at. He was introduced to a woman his age, by a friend of a friend. As things went she got pregnant and they married and soon after his first was born she got pregnant again. They did not want any more after this one because it was already apparent that they should not have married, because they had little in common; he still wanted college where she just wanted him to work, he wanted to be able to do things in nature and draw or write, she wanted him to just do things at home or with her family. When she was within six weeks from delivering their second child he had a vasectomy because; she did not want to have a similar treatment while in for delivery of the baby. By the time his second was a year old they divorced very messily.
He started college by attending at nights, while he worked over fifty hours a week. During this time he lost his other grandfather, his mother and his last grandmother. But he continued to live within one hundred and fifty miles of what he considered home, all the way through finishing college.
He took a job in the field of his college work and it afforded him the opportunity to travel for work, which at first was very appealing.
Over the next ten years he did just that, he traveled some every week, he even traveled on his own time seeing all of the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe for work.
He went back and worked with Boy Scouts, especially as his son’s got interested. He was not a monk by any means, but his social skills were still very lacking in his personal life. He was too shy or backward to keep any woman he met happy, he did not make enough money or he had too many interests that they did not care for especially; scouting and none saw any reason he should be writing “Who do you think is ever going to read something you write”. There is no reason you need to be painting all these pictures, where are you going to keep them?
Finally he just moved, this time fifteen hundred miles away, to New England; changed careers back to construction and tried to start over. This cost him the close interaction with his sons though, they did not care for this new area he lived in and they stopped even conversing on a regular basis. Five years later, with nothing much improving he moved again; this time completely across the country to the West Coast.
Here there was another short marriage that ended no better than the first, from all the same types of complaints and issues. He later even gave up his activities with scouting, writing and painting, over the next twenty years, he concentrated on working mainly. He did enjoy the times he could travel abroad now with people he had met and saw many places he had never been before. His memory now had many tales he could tell, sights he had seen, but always there was this lacking, a lacking he could not conquer. With all these years, with all this exposure to cultures; he still felt like that unimportant, keep from getting hurt, backward, beyond middle age guy women were not going to be attracted to.
He stopped traveling, no point any more. When the economy started to crash on the west coast he moved once again, back this time to the central east coast. Once again, to where he knew no one, at all. After about a year he went overseas with work for awhile, sure it had been a combat zone, but so what he had been in those before. When his time was done he came right back, one more country he had seen and lived in for a while.
Here he stayed, here he hid out again in plain sight. He could try to change how he was, but over the years he had finally come to realize, he liked who he was inside; he was a good man he thought, cared about things, wanted to give someone a whole lot of love if they just loved him back (just for who he was inside). He would just live as best he knew how, be good to animals, enjoy nature all that he could. Anything else, his history told him, probably was not meant for him. He did not blame anyone except maybe himself, he was too old and knew, women who he could really be interested in would see him for an old guy with a lot of baggage now, too many failed attempts (and that many made him the common denominator for those failures), not stable enough (lived too many places and not enough to show for it by now), the odds of him, after all these years, stumbling into “The One” not very likely.
He decided he would just stop thinking about it, might as well get on his computer and write a little or something. He had been in this new town a few months now and the only people he knew were his two older neighbors he talked to outside as he came home from work every day. It sure would be nice to have someone to have dinner with, take to a movie or just talk to sometime though.
It didn’t happen the first time they emailed one another, nor was it more than a mutual desire to actually meet in person that caused them to meet earlier than they discussed. It was that first sight of her, the beauty in her eyes, that symphony he heard as she spoke those first words, the feel of her as he put his arms around her waist to walk across the parking lot and go inside for coffee that first night. He knew in an instant and felt the same from her.
Sure there were those they knew who didn’t believe it at first, but they did. So did everyone they met together for the first time, they laughed at it seeming as if they must have some glow when they were together and they were together all the time.
Now with all this time together, that glow and that desire to not be apart had not dissipated, not one tiny bit, in fact it seemed to grow exponentionaly. Now he could not fathom a life without her and he was happier than he ever thought he would ever be.