Posts in this series, "The End of My Rope";
I don't see any way of writing about my teen years without it being painfully embarrassing, but I will press ahead. It has been harder than I thought to put these events into words, partly because of my poor memory and partly because I don't spend a good deal of time thinking about my teen years. I was very glad to leave them behind. When, at that age, adults sometimes told me "these are the best years of your life" something deep in my psyche was in desperate prayer that they were wrong. Not that I had gone through any especially horrifying or traumatic events. My teen years were probably notable only for being very average.
Two vignettes came to mind that will perhaps shed light on the course I charted through that time. In the first I sat on the floor in our living room in Alaska. It's 1973 so I was 12, or so. I was trying to tune in something, anything, on an old radio I had picked up at a flea market. I eventually settled on a piano sound that I liked a lot. It was different from anything I'd heard on television or in Mom and Dad's record collection (Mom liked gospel and Broadway shows, Dad was a Hank Williams fan). I turned it up so Mom and her friend Pat could hear. She made a face, "We don't like that kind of music".
I didn't get it. I thought music was just music. I turned the radio down and listened carefully to the rest of Bennie and the Jets. Well, I liked it anyway. I kept listening to that radio station and began to hear all kinds of things I never heard before. It dawned on me slowly that there was a whole different type of music made just for young, hip, sophisticated people like me. There were clothes, too - a kind of loose dress code that indicated you were part of the cool set, unlike your parents. Parents just didn't get it, and were positively irritated by this new music and clothing and language (which was an added bonus). The Answer, the heroes I longed for, the life I envisioned for myself, was out there, somewhere (in the radio?)... and was not to be found here in our hopelessly un-hip little house. Parents weren't just useless, parents were The Problem. Parents didn't let you have a motorcycle and made you get your hair cut. Something had begun to drive a wedge solidly between me and my childhood.
Then there is the memory of a short conversation with my older brother as we stood in the street at dusk outside that same house a couple of years later. At this point, he had dropped out of high school and was already married, working and expecting a child. They had an apartment in town. From the perspective of my 14-year-old self, he had it all. He made his own money and lived how he wanted. I held him in very high regard, as he was among us brothers always the trailblazer and the flagship. I thought he was very cool, and seeing as my parents had vigorously resisted the choices he had made, I considered them fools. We talked about our (not his) upcoming move to Arkansas and what the near future might hold. I don't recall much of the words we spoke, but I do remember saying emphatically, "I'm NEVER going to college".
Down with the establishment... man.
I had begun to consider myself "spiritual" more than religious (*gag*) and church had become a complete bore... I mean, that music! And those clothes! How backward and un-cool. The Bible made no sense at all to me. Not that it struck me as that improbable or fanciful... I just couldn't fit it together in any kind of coherent way, likely as not because I was still reading the King James version.
Then came the move to Arkansas, where all these problems were amplified.
As a result, I became insufferable; self-centered, withdrawn, sullen, vain and never completely happy with anything. Oh, I was cooperative enough not to get into trouble. I was quiet and cagey rather than openly rebellious. I grew my hair (as if that were important), altogether quit trying at school and had no clue what to do with myself. It didn't help that Arkansas was so oppressively hot and muggy. It was like being wrapped in a wet wool blanket all the time. It seemed hard even to breathe. The Southern culture shock, the isolation (we moved to a very small town) and the very atmosphere seemed like walls closing around me.
So I ran away.