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What Ails You – A Story of Woe Misery Loss a Tempest Within?

January 21, 2013

I remember lying in the hall at the top of the steps outside my room asleep waiting for my parents to return.  I felt safer inside the central core of the house where I could remain in a state of prepared readiness for whatever was in my head that alarmed me. It was very still and there was no movement except my whirring head and the feeling of separation from what I had always longed for, to be free from fear, insecurity, gnawing panic that what was in front of me was going to swallow me whole.  I could not imagine then that this was a theme to pursue me, chase me through the long nights, keep me up anxiously awaiting the dawn, a friend’s comfort or the sweet surrender of slumber undisturbed.


As I grew older I relied on my imaginary brothers as a gap to protect me from the onslaught.  They were like me and grew up with me as a shadow does covering every special place that was hidden with a gentle mantle of compassion and trust.  The outer banks were imposing, terrifying and left me panicked from fear that I could not defend myself from their unwarranted and unsolicited wrath.


No one knew or understood how much I lived in fear and that everything seemed overwhelming.  I never expected to leave grad school let alone college or have a job and this premonition was a harbinger of what lay ahead before me at every turn.  This story is about the failures, the loathing, the masochism and rebuke.  Seldom in my lifetime did any person see me as fragile, not my church, neighbors, the kids with whom I played who picked on me, not the bully who beat me up or chased me, nor my parents who could not coddle a child that wa difficult obscure indomitable in his excesses and unable to have a tolerance for ambiguity of any nature anytime or place.


My life was subjected to living in a fantasy world like a bubble to keep me at a distance from every unpredictable and unnerving event.  Most of my life I learned to love these sanctuaries, these secret gardens and keep hidden what mattered to me most, to be accepted, to please, to be treated with dignity and grace.


There were seldom any times when my life was steady and calm.  hardly ever were there times asleep or awake where I felt safe.  Most people assumed that I was retarded or different and left me alone.  I had friends who were much older because they helped me to relax and feel that this was a sanctuary in their home.


Often though this was not true.  Many people also sought to take advantage of my sensitivity and vulnerable nature.  Many people robbed me of my innocence making me believe that I could trust nothing.  I grew up understanding what it felt like to be isolated, treated with pity or scorn.  In the games that my peers played they avoided picking me, they left me off the teams, they looked at me as the runt of the litter. Sometimes the more aggressive and developed boys would protect me but not often and I felt afraid usually that I was going to be harmed.


My teachers seemed to have no idea what to do with me. I could not speak right. I had an impediment. I could not concentrate. I day dreamed constantly.  I had a hard time doing my assigned work because I felt that there was something wrong with me.  Often I would go to a quiet pace and sob, talk to my imaginary friends and brothers and ask them for solace.  I weighed only 100 pounds at the most when I was nearly an adult.  It looked as though I would not grow up and I had no idea what it was like to be what people considered a young man. I was constantly and totally afraid of girls.  They seemed as menacing as everyone else.


When I was in fourth grade the teacher did not want to promote me. She said to my mother that I was what would be a special education case.  No one thought that I could learn basic arithmetic let alone to attend to my studies. My grandfather thought that I was incorrigible, a brat, a totally useless boy.  My other grandfather had died before I was born.  I felt that everything I did I screwed up and what was the difference because no one would ever love me.  My mother said this in fact, “I’m the only one who will ever put up with you.”   She proved that she was accurate in her assessment disenfranchising me from everything promised in her life.  She was cruel in a way that served to underscore how much I needed to protect myself from everything.  


A colleague years afterwards remarked, “you’ll die alone.”  I imagined that his insight was the truth.  Recently I gave a talk to a group of middle school children and one of the leaders asked, “why don’t you have a job?”  Another asked, “Do you want to have a place to live of your own?”  The ideas took my breath away.  Unbridled the answer was resounding, “Yes.”   But how?


Every time I try to do anything anywhere throughout my lifetime it has been fraught with pain, doubt, loss, on one occasion, the Executive Director said, ” You have to believe in yourself.”   My sister and my eldest daughter uttered similar sentiments. I let all of them down. I never lived up to my true nature I was companion to no one. I was never a champion at anything. I lost and lost and lost and lost throughout the term of my life. I never imagined making 10 let alone 60 years of age.  Who would want me?  What would I do to survive?  How often I asked, “what is this life for?  How does it serve anything when all of the time I feel alone, as though I cannot take care of anything?”


Let us begin to examine the early antecedents of what was to become a refrain throughout my lifetime.  When I was two I crawled out my crib that earlier I had shaken until it broke.  I crawled out to the door and opened it putting a chair against the door and went out in the street at mid night.  I went around the rooms of the first floor of the house without putting my feet on the ground, sliding from table, ledge and door to every piece of furniture.  I threw the entire contents of the refrigerator on the floor and scrambled the contents together. Hooks were placed on the outside of the door to keep me from getting hurt.  They were placed up high so that I could not find a device to open them.  I mixed noxious chemicals together to create chlorine gas in the basement from bleach.  I cut down all of the limbs of the line of hemlock trees on the neighbor’s property.  I stored the contents of hundreds of shoe boxes of acorns in the garage.  Our family could not go anywhere to dine because I was too hard on everyone, especially my poor sister, who decidedly slammed the back door on her toe chasing me from the kitchen when she was baking. She is eight years older.  Her life was turned upside down because of my behavior so much that a psychologist from the University of Pennsylvania thought that I needed far more discipline.


The children had names that they taunted me with, “dirt,” which they encouraged me to sign in their yearbooks in 6th grade.  I always had a hard time being kept neat and tidy.  There was no one who seemed to have an idea what to do anywhere and my reputation was exactly the opposite of my sister.  When I was in middle school I was suspended from French class for standing up and asking a stupid question about the word plafond.  Everyone thought hat I was unable to learn and yet here I was in middle school. I believed them.  In fourth grade I spent most of the year on the bench outside the principal’s office.  A girl came to give me the spelling test for the week and I purposely spelled all of the words incorrectly. I still have a hard time speaking but the girl asked me, Are you aware you spelled all the words wrong?”  I did not reply. 


Every moment of my life has been in complete turmoil. That was a simple preface to what was to become a constant refrain, “you are no good.”  One psychiatrist told my boss at the camp I directed that, ” I was the problem with the camp and that I would spend my life in jail if it was not for this borderline that separated out what was right and wrong ethically in my mind, because everything was a nightmare to me.”  He advised the person I had known since I was a teenager, who ran the camp to, “get rid of me.”


Prophetic words of my mother seemed destined to be fulfilled.  In everything that I have ever done there is a reckless spirit that comes over me that has to be nourished and fed, whether I am working for the church or volunteering, whether I am a parent of a lover, every relationship has been doomed to go down in a tail spin crashing onto the rocky shore like sand. Everyone always says, “Learn from your mistakes.”  If any of those people were in the skin I am in, they would not recognize what had happened. I did not even know what my sexual identity was most of my life.  I did not understand male and female roles and I did not earn anything for most of the time I was alive.  No one trusted me.  Even my best friend said, “I’d never hire me to work for him because in two weeks I’d be telling how to run the business.”  These experiences were a steady diet and if that was not enough when I slept I was filled with terror and could not awaken except with a feeling of dread.  I never used an alarm clock because there was no point. I would simply awaken because I could not have deep sleep rhythms no matter how exhausted because I couldn’t escape.  Who wants to b with a person who cannot take a break?  A child, grandchild, friend or foe alike all have kept their distance. 


 What does this say about the quality of life of all of the people who are special and who do not fit into our cookie cutter world?  What does this mean when we do not find a means to create a safe haven for everyone no matter what their outlook and means of expression?  What is our primary duty and purpose in education?  How are we failing the children when we do not have diversity that success is not measured in one ways but in infinite ways that everyone develops according to their spirit in their way?


Everyone needs to have a purpose. Everyone needs to have a sense that their destiny emerges in the resources and design of the community at large. We all have to weigh in on protecting the enormous talents and abilities of these precious resources especially when we do not understand their spirits.


This is the first of a twelve part series on “What Ails You?”


There are many people who regard me as being bi-polar but I am not convinced.  I consider myself to be tri-polar.  My affliction has never beeen able to be treated with medicine.  The only salient and sensible presciption is for loving kindness and compassion.  This has been one of the most fleeting of all remedies. Most of my relationships have vanished like dew on the salt flats.  Most of the children in my life have no time or patience for my antics.  Nothing seems to change the inevitable that I am blowing up like the “Idiot,”  by Dostoyevsky.  I simply fall apart.  My motehr always thought that the comic playwright, Moliere best descibed my nature in, Le Misantrope.”  What I hope some day is that there is a a place that I can rest in peice and that no one will mind my passing. 




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