Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Growing Up Weird 1: Before I Was Weird

This'll be the story of one of the easiest decisions of my life: the one to drop college (flying in the face of my mother, every school administrator, and most of my friends) and say goodbye to a pretty nice chunk of money, scholarship-wise.

To start with, I wasn't born here. My father was in the Army (yes, he served in Nam. No, he doesn't talk about it), so my childhood years were spent in a constant cycle of meeting new friends and never seeing them again, in places as far flung as Panama (technically, the Canal Zone), Denver, and West Germany (who remembers a divided Germany?). And here. My mom's family's from here, and Dad's specific branch of the service is here, so it was kind of natural that when pops got close to retirement, it was here we would return.

To make a long story short: I spent the first eleven years doing what every adolescent and young adult in Oklahoma dreams of doing, short of going to Prague, which Dad was help plan how to shell in the event the Reds made a move on Berlin. Then, once I was good and used to, say, hopping on the ubahn and riding downtown to watch the Glockenspiel chime 2:00 (or whatever), we moved back to Oklahoma, to a town that wasn't even big enough to have a stoplight in it.

Strike that. We weren't even LIVING in that town, we were eight miles outside of it--which, since it's home to a couple of oil refineries, wasn't all bad news. "Smell that money," Dad would always say when we drove through the sulfurous cloud hovering over the town.

So the isolation I got as a) an only child, b) a military brat moving to a different post every 2 years, and c) ending up in a remote corner of Oklahoma as I approached puberty was pretty damn intense. But I didn't know--I liked it. I liked being able to read for hours, or get lost in the woods for hours, without anyone holding me back or even talking to me. Mom and Dad were both working, and I spent a lot of time either by myself or at my grandmother's house, reading Lord of the Rings or old Louis L'Amour western novels, respectively.

I got my first BB gun, which I was never very successful with. I got my first dog, who was a lot of fun to have around during walks in the woods. My only friend was my cousin Michael, who I'd see every Sunday after they finished church.

You wanna hear Norman Rockwell, homies? You want to talk about old time fucking Okies? Homemade ice cream EVERY SUNDAY NIGHT, ALL SUMMER LONG, out in the front yard, with my grandmother and great aunts in gingham dresses and the old men in cowboy boots and overalls. Rocking chairs. Kids collecting grasshoppers (and, on a couple of memorable nights, a few fireflies) with their hands and the occasional sticker with their feet. I hate stickers. Whippoorwills and the weird, Mordor-like sunset-through-postoaks, when if you squinted your eyes just right it might have been a volcano instead of the sun. And always the same people.

I was scared of some of them, as a kid, and was uneasy around everyone but the old women, who doted on their long-lost grandchild or nephew or whatever. They talked funny, even the kids, and I didn't have much to say to any of them. Most evenings there was a feeling that everyone was playing a game I didn't understand, and never would. As soon as I was able, I quit going to these things, preferring to explore the country around our new house, the next hill away from my grandmother's place.

I was uncomfortable around the kids, as I grew into puberty. They were all five or six years younger than me, and I'd spent my life til then either with kids in the same grade, or without kids in general. They had shit on their faces, didn't talk very well (or at all-I had one cousin who didn't speak a coherent sentence til he was nearly eight years old), and the older ones had motivations that were just plain wrong. The girls had crushes on me. The boys whispered and laughed at me. I was a stranger.

And that was with my own damn family. I'll skip over high school, except for the pertinent bits--you all have your own stories you can just paste in there, right?


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