Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Hell is for Children (unedited)

this is a re-post of an earlier blog. However in the wake of the recent string of child suicides I've decided to include a lot of the stuff I cut. Originally I wanted to keep the tone of this blog light so I omitted some of the more serious parts of my book, but these issues couldn't be more timley and it's a reminder that not all bullies are other children, sometimes they are adults. .

PAT BENATAR WAS RIGHT, HELL IS FOR CHILDREN


I was a bad student. That’s the long and short of it. I have the attention span of a gnat. It was that way from the beginning, in fact I distinctly remember my first grade teacher Mrs. Earie who had an enormous head, was so proud of me for finishing my seat work early one day that she paraded me over the other first grade classroom so I could show it to the other teacher. Jesus, I was in the first grade; how established could my bad habits have been? I do know that I never did homework, never. Seriously until I went to college I fought it tooth and nail. Classic ADD along with my unparalleled ability to withdraw into my day dreams proved to be the downfall of my scholastic career. I used to imagine my pencil was a figure skater and the surface of my desk the rink. That occupied my mind for a surprising amount of time, or I would ask myself questions like “what would happen is this entire classroom was filled with Coke?” I would also scan around the room and give all the girls mental makeovers. Actually I still do this sometimes, it passes the time. I was not a bad kid, I never had behavior problems, and in fact I was quite the goody two - shoes. The only time I can remember being in trouble for anything other than not doing my homework was in Kindergarten when a substitute teacher put me in the time out chair for saying the Our Father to loud. That bitch!

I had gone to the same catholic school since Kindergarten, as my sisters Renee, Pam, and even briefly Alli had before me. Most of the children in my grade had gone there just as long, we all considered ourselves friends in that way you do when you become accustomed to seeing the same kids day after day, year after year. You would think that a boy as flamboyant as I was, a boy with the mannerisms rivaling those of Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show would have been a target for bullies. I wasn’t, at least not in the early grades. Not that it was smooth sailing, it is a fact of life that kids are nasty to each other and every class that one person who ruled over the rest of us in a reign of terror. Ours was a quintessential mean girl whose name I dare not mention for the shivers the mere memory of her still sends down my spine. Let’s just call her The Gorgon. On the very first day of first grade I had the misfortune of sitting right next to The Gorgon, who was covered head to two with freckles and stood at least six feet tall even then! We were each given a piece of paper with a circle on it, the assignment was simple, in the circle draw the face the person sitting next to you. I made the fatal error of getting out my brown crayon and drawing every one of The Gorgon’s freckles. She looked at it, looked at me, drew back and punched me so hard in the arm that my entire desk toppled over, with me in it. From that day on The Gorgon was my nemesis, Lucy to my Charlie Brown, only without the heartwarming summations. Still I never got any serious bullying, other than being called “a girl” every now and then. I think I was very good at identifying my comfort zones even at a young age. I didn’t try to hang out with the “A group”. Oh yes, the “A group” and I am not talking about a social cliques here, I am referring to the fact that the geniuses running the school thought it was wise and emotionally healthy for children to split every class into two groups “A and B” with the “A group” working at a faster pace. Clearly to all of us kids, the “A group” were the smart kids and us “B groupers” were the dumbasses. Talk about setting the tone for our future academic achievements. The idea of doing that in schools now is laughable. Seriously, the things I might have accomplished if it hadn’t been instilled in me so young that I was not one of the smart kids. I should sue!

I first noticed the shift in the fifth grade. For this is the age when kids start forming alliances, gravitating towards those they have the most in common with. Being different in any way was the worst thing imaginable. I knew what happened to those kids. Hell, I even taunted some of them myself. Every school has that one kid who smells like poop, or eats crayons, or falls out of their desk for no apparent reason. I did not; repeat did not want to end up as one of those poor tortured souls. I’d seen what happened to my sister at the hands of her peers and I would do whatever it took to avoid it happening to me. I think I was spared a lot because these kids were used to me and I was funny. If they are laughing with you, they ain’t laughing at you. So when the kids at school started to change, I was in trouble. I started to become more keenly aware that there was something different about me. It did not help my cause that the short bus pulled up to my house every morning. Naturally it was there to take Alli to school, and I know it sounds incredibly childish, but I was a child and no ten-year-old wants other kids to see the short bus in their driveway. I had to walk down the street to the corner to catch my own bus. I should mention that I lived three blocks from my school so why I had to ride the bus in the first place remains a mystery. I don’t know what sort of short term memory loss problem Alli’s bus driver had, but every morning without fail she would drive the short bus slowly behind me as I walked down the street. The short bus was stalking me, like Jaws stalking a swimmer with cramps. Then, also without fail, just as my own bus was pulling up and I could see my classmate’s faces through the windows, Alli’s bus driver would open the short bus door and say, “Are you one of mine?” I would turn beat red and hear Alli say, “That’s my brother.” I knew every kid on my bus was watching. This was not a problem I could share with anyone. In my house it was not ok to be embarrassed by the short bus or its passengers, but I was just a kid. I have long outgrown any embarrassment I have ever felt about my sister, but growing up it was a constant internal struggle.

Fifth grade was also the years that boys and girls stopped playing together. This also put me on the horns of a dilemma, because I hated boys. Yes it’s shocking that I ever hated boys but I did. Especially the ones in my class, all they ever did was make fart noises and they only ever wanted to play was football or soccer at recess. I was forced by circumstance to participate; the girls had frozen me out, The Gorgon saw too it that no boy entered her domain. I was forced to play soccer; you cannot understand the magnitude of this, suddenly recess, the one oasis in the dessert of my endless toil became something I dreaded worse than math. “I’m gonna be like Pele and play professionally” said a fat little boy with a permanent pizza sauce stain on his uniform shirt who shall remain nameless. “What’s a Pele” was my adorable, natural response “oh Cooper you’re such a pussy”. I should say that this was the year that all the boys in my class discovered the word pussy. They used it constantly, and most of the time incorrectly, saying things like “that homework was pussy”, or “where’s my pussy transformers backpack”. I guess I really was a pussy. I was not interested in any of the “boy things” whatsoever. We did not even have toys in common anymore because they had all traded in He-Man for football. I was feeling more and more isolated everyday. My cousin Sean was in the same grade but they never put us in the same class. I guess they thought we would team up and overtake the school or something. Other than my cousins, and a few kids in the neighborhood who were younger than me, therefore more likely to do what I told them, I never had many friends. Even the boys in my class that I would have called friends, including my sister’s best friends little brother, who used to play with Star Wars figures with me in his basement, stopped having much to say to me. I got my first taste of real loneliness at the tender age of ten.

After the great pussy epidemic a new word took its place. A word often directed at me, faggot. According to family legend when I was but two years old my sister Pam who was around nine or so had a little friend over. They were on the rainbow colored swing set in our back yard when I toddled out in my belly exposing white T-shirt and diaper. “Oh look at you baby brother” said Pam’s little girlfriend “he is so cute”. In response I looked up, pointed my chubby little finger at her and said, “Faggot”. Apparently that night there was a grand inquiry in our house to find out how a precious innocent little baby like yours truly could have learned such a nasty word. Pam broke down and confessed that all the kids were saying it. Isn’t it funny that almost ten years later a new group of kids was doing the same thing? Apparently I’d known that word since I was two but now I knew what the word meant, but at the age of ten or eleven I never dreamed it might actually apply to me. Every time I was called fag, I let my subconscious absorb most of the blow. I knew I was being called a nasty word, but I ignored the implications of what that particular word meant.

As soon as the sixth grade started I knew I was in real trouble. I had been in trouble in the past for not doing my homework, lying about it and not applying myself. I recall a few instances of teachers getting very stern with me about it. Still, I always had the sense I was well liked by teachers, I was not a problem student. That changed when for some reason other than my academic laziness and easy distractibility my sixth grade teacher, we’ll call her Mrs. Giant Nostrils did not like me. I realize that every kid has a teacher that they think does not like them. This was more than that. I am certain of it. I used to catch her glaring at me from her desk, flaring her giant nostrils; she never made eye contact with me, and on more than one occasion she told me maliciously in front of everyone to stop talking like a girl. Once when I went to her desk to ask a question my gaze must have shifted because she grabbed my face, hard, and jerked it towards hers. I see now as an adult that it is possible this woman recognized me for what I was, and she did not care for it. She didn’t see a sweet eleven year-old boy whose family problems we’re common knowledge among the small school’s staff, no; she saw a little faggot! I don’t mean to imply that she was a homophobic hag who abused her power and bullied a defenseless kid, no; I mean to say it outright! That’s what I think she did! Only in recent years has the likelihood of this dawned on me. I think now that the same might have been true of the mother of some kids who lived across the street from us. Like I mentioned there was a group of neighborhood kids whom I played with, all girls of course, and there was one mother who was always very cold to me. I picked up on it even at a young age because she was not like that with the other kids. She would deliberately exclude me from things. For example she would take the three Schumann kids who lived next door to a movie but not invite me even though we were all playing together in the yard five minutes before. All of the sudden they would be pulling out of the driveway in a mini-van and I’d be standing on the sidewalk. I’d like to give these women the benefit of the doubt. I’d like to think they would never make such assumptions about a little boy and treat him in such a manner. I’d like to, but experience has told me, I am probably right, anyway back to what happened in the sixth grade.

The combination of Mrs. Giant Nostrils and the mounting teasing I was beginning to receive at the hands of children I’d known most of my life began to affect me. I started to notice that other than my cousin Sean, I had no friends. In my desperation not to be different I even joined the soccer team with disastrous results. Once in the fourth grade after being forcefully coerced to play football at recess, I mistakenly scored a touchdown for the wrong team. Let me tell you something people, little boys don’t let you live that down. The same boys, who acted as if I’d broken into their homes and gunned down their entire family that day, did not want Cooper the Pooper Scooper on their soccer team. They froze me out. I was totally invisible, except to the coach who point blank asked me “why are you even here?” “Good question coach! You think I want to be here? Well think again, tubby! I’d much rather be at home giving Barbie a sweeping up-do, but no, we don’t live in that kind of world do we coach? Way, to nurture children there A-hole” was how I wish I could have answered him. The breaking point came for me when I realized I had been sitting day after day on the bus with a girl who put scratch ‘n sniff stickers in her hair and ate her scabs. The breaking point for my mother came when the parish priest came to visit my class and that she-beast Mrs. Giant Nostrils announced to him in front of my whole class that I never did my homework and had failed a recent math test. I felt absolutely defeated. It was the first time I can remember looking around a room and feeling one hundred percent alone. No one was going to defend me. I felt as if I had done something or was something that suddenly made me unacceptable in the only place I’d ever known. I tried everything to fight the tears but there was no way they were going to hold off. Normally to get out of class I would fake a stomach ach. I did not need to fake this time; my insides told me that vomit was imminent. The entire class seeing me cry was bad enough, there was no way I was going to ralph in front of them too. Not I only would I be blamed when the janitor came in with that vile pink sawdust that actually smelled worse than vomit, but kids just don’t rebound from blowing junks at school. Everyone remembers and the story gets told year after year. Even The Gorgon could not escape from the stigma from the time she raised her hand to answer a question and instead spewed all over her religion text book. I asked Mrs. Giant Nostrils if I could go to the sick room, she looked at me for a long time; it was the first and only time she ever made eye contact with me and as the tears were rolling down my cheeks she simply said “sure.” I went to the sick room and called my mother and told her what had happened. In hindsight, knowing that I was eleven I am sure that I painted a picture of personal prosecution to rival the Salem Witch Trials. I have to admit now that had I not neglected my homework on such a regular basis, and constantly lied about it the whole scene might have been avoided, however it was really just the last in a serious of blows that broke the dam, and the flood had come indeed, I remember lying on the sick room cot, and just sobbing. Evidently I must have been so upset there was concern enough to send my cousin Sean into check on me. He was in the other sixth grade homeroom so he missed the whole thing, basically he just seemed confused. Finally I heard the sound of my mother’s high heels on the linoleum and the low rumble of her voice. Whatever she was saying was getting a great deal of protest which she would abruptly cut off. There was fire in her green eyes that day and I had the distinct feeling that there was a fight going on that was bigger than I’d been aware of. She was like a lioness protecting her young. I felt utterly sad and confused but seeing her face was an instant comfort. Nobody messes with her baby, her boy, and clearly she thought I’d been messed with. “We’ll find you a new school, one that’s perfect for sensitive, artistic kid, you don’t ever have to come back here” she said as she led me to the exit. I saw out of the corner of my eye the principle, who was new that year standing with Mrs. Giant Nostrils and the priest whose mouth was agape. My mother had just blown them out of the water. My mother, champion of the underdogs, slayer of dragons led me out the door of the only world I knew and into the unknown. It still amazes me how fast this all went down. I was never unbearably miserable at school until that year; I have many happy childhood memories of that place. But over the next few hours I realized that I was not the only person involved. Divorce and re-marriage had sent my mother into her own private war with the Catholic faith that she’d been devoted to her entire life. Also, she’d fought a similar battle there before, ten years earlier when Alli was six and vehemently chastised for not being able to button her blouse correctly. I think if those two factor’s had not been in play, I would have been calmed down and more than likely would have gone to school the next day and stuck out the remaining two and a half years there. However, it’s easy to jump ship when you have full parental support. Also, it bears mentioning that I was not the lone longtime student to depart my class that year. For years we had been told we were the worse behaved class in the whole school, which always bothered me because I always took great strides to be good and never rock the boat. In fact at one point we were the only class in the history of the school to be temporarily banned from the cafeteria. There is something to be said about the Ritalin generation. Two and a half years after I left, when my former classmates graduated from the eighth grade the once full two classes and been combined to one, and The Gorgon and her minions had successfully whittled the female population to just five girls. That many of us had jumped ship. Clearly something was amiss there.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Jesus & Boy

JESUS AND BOY


Let me start by saying this, I’ve never been super religious although there was a time in my life when you might not have believed that. I have already said that I was born and bred Catholic, Mass every Sunday and once a week at school. I had years of religion class and took all your basic blessed sacraments. I was one of those kids who had Christianity fed to them since birth; however I was not one of those kids who never questioned it. Even when I was very young there were times when I wanted to shout “yeah, right” in the middle of church. One thing I never thought about was what separates Catholics from other Christians. And then I got a sampling of it. When my mother married  my stepdad Jim she started to become disillusioned with the Catholic Church to which she’d been faithful to all her life. Well around the time I was eleven years old mama decided she was on spiritual quest, and she brought me, Alli and Jim along for the ride. I think Jim would have been fine at any church as long as they didn’t frown on golf, but my mother was harder to please. At first she tried Bible studies, and I would be dragged to some stranger’s house where I was corralled into some rec room with kids I didn’t know who always thought I was weird and forced to mingle while the adults did whatever they were doing in another part of the house. Then we actually started to attend a new church. All I was told was that it was a non-denominational Christian Church, whatever that meant. In Sunday school I was told that Smurfs were demonic and that everything I watched, listened to or was remotely interested in was going to send me straight to hell. Um, I was eleven! Then we went to the service where I bore witness to people raising their hands and speaking in tongues and shouting to the Lord. I’m Catholic, the only time Catholics shout to the Lord is when there’s beer. Oh beer that’ll send you to straight to Hell for sure. I was amazed, and if my eyes hadn’t been open so wide in shock I would have rolled them sarcastically. This was the church that I went to the accursed camp with and the legendary pee pillow incident occurred, so I really shouldn’t have been all that surprised. Needless to say we didn’t not stay involved long, well except Alli that is. She was sucked in for a few years. They made her feel somewhat welcome. I think they thought of her as some sort Church mascot. Not to mentioned the fact that she developed a strange obsession with the pastor’s wife, a woman named Debbie, whom she even went dressed as one Halloween. I’m not sure what Debbie would have thought of that seeing as that Halloween was a celebration of Satan. I shouldn’t sound so cynical, there were many people there who I am sure were filled with good intentions and were very kind to my special sister. It used to drive me nuts when she’d go on one of her Holy Roller kicks which were always strangely well informed, but hey if it gave her a few years happiness I shouldn’t have teased her about it. For me, mom and Jim though, no way Jose!

The next church we tried was one not that far from our house. In the mid to late eighties this was a church on the move, growing rapidly. We’ll call it The Really Big Church. The Really Big Church began in someone’s basement and now has approximately 17 million members and is roughly the size of the Death Star! when we started going to The Really Big Church I was twelve and it was only moderately big. Theologically speaking nothing changed much in our house, I mean the basics where the same. The Really Big Church was every bit as conservative as the previously charismatic one but much more subtle about it, not that I could perceive such things at twelve. I think my mother did and she only continued to go for a brief while and she was careful to keep us separate from some of their teachings. For all of her religious yearnings and quest for piety she has always been at heart, quite liberal and never really subscribed to the literal interpretation of the bible. I was the same way, but all of that stuff was lost on me anyway, I didn’t see that until much later. For me at twelve the place was fun. I liked it well enough. I still didn’t want to go to church, but I was twelve I did what I was told. I would be lying if I said I didn’t run into the same sort of taunting that seemed to plaque me because I did, but much less of it and by this point I’d become practically bulletproof to that type of mocking. The only time I felt a little uncomfortable was when my mother wanted Jim and I to get baptized. I didn’t see the point in it since I was baptized as a baby. Also I was seeing my dad fairly regularly at this time and he was not happy about anything non-Catholic. In the end I agreed and Jim and I were baptized on mom’s birthday. I am not sure birthday present for your mother was one of the motivating factors John the Baptist had in mind. Ironically, shortly after this my mom seemed to lose interest in The Really Big Church, not Jim though, he really liked it. I still went from time to time, mostly when my mother felt guilty and I was coerced into going. This went on for about two years; we were very much hit and miss in our attendance. This changed when I got to high school though, then I went because I wanted to.

I drifted in and out on Sundays, but I was a Wednesday night regular, and not for any spiritual reason either. By this point The Really Big Church was getting fairly enormous. The numbers started to reach into the thousands. I was on the youth drama team and every Wednesday we performed skits, in front of about four to five hundred teenagers, it was a blast. I joined the youth choir and was featured as a soloist when the choir would go on tour in the summer. Then I was allowed to sing the occasional special on Sunday during the youth service. I should mention that the youth department had an entirely separate building which was down the street from the main church so I never really felt that connected to The Really Big Church as an entity. Still, I was by no means what you would call a diehard Christian. For me it was very much like an extracurricular activity. Not that church and school ever mixed. On no, most of us were very good at keeping our school selves and church selves separate.

I made a lot of friends at The Really Big Church some of the best I ever had. It was on an outing with The Really Big Church that I met my life-long best friend Abby or Buns as we would later rename each other. We were fifteen. Our tenth grade Sunday school class was taking a group of under privileged children shopping for Christmas. I knew Abby only peripherally, we did not go to the same school but we were both core kids. She and I were assigned two young brothers who didn’t want to be separated therefore we spent the day shopping at Value City Department Store together. They younger of these two brothers informed me that his shoes could talk. When I asked him what he meant he lifted up his toes and the holes in the front of his shoes opened up like a mouth. The details of that day are etched in my memory, but I think the reason for that is because that is the day I met my Buns, with her bleached blond hair adorned with a gigantic red bow, chomping her gum. I did not know that day that she was to become one of the most important people in my life. I was getting less and less anxious about what my friends might think of my family. The problem lays in the fact that I wasn’t letting them see the real me at all. I was letting them see the careful orchestrated me in all the right lighting, with all the hidden details safely concealed in the closet. I never let my guard down and the more I hid things from others the easier it became to hide them from myself. I was beginning to believe in my own fa├žade, and that my friends, is very dangerous indeed.

I did make great friends at The Really Big Church; it was a safe place for a kid like me. But I thought that after high school I would go off to college and pretty much be done with it. Like I said I was never super religious. I would get caught up in all the excitement of worship songs and dynamic speakers, and conventions, but it always faded away as I got back to my normal life. But then a couple of things happened. Thanks to my lackluster academic performance throughout my school career I was put on a waiting list for the college of my choice. This meant I was going to be staying home and going to the University of Louisville, which worked out great because Abby had encouraged me to start a band with some other guys in our youth group. I was about to become a member of the Christian world full time, and in it I found the perfect place to hide.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Freak Show

THE FREAK SHOW


I find it ironic that for me the years most people describe as their worst were my most stable and for all intents and purposes, normal. I refer to my teen-age years. It was a miracle that I never had to repeat the ninth grade. I missed weeks of school at a time. My salvation came when my cousin started going to a small liberal arts, public high school. It was mentioned that my mother and I take a look at it. Depending on whom you talked to this school was either for smart kids or freaks so I had major reservations about it. I was not a smart kid, B group remember? Although, since I felt like a freak I thought why not take a look. It only took one day to know that I was home. The school was founded in the early seventies and had some pretty far out ideas about education. We called our teachers by their first names. In some classes we sat on couches or even beanbags. My fist impression was walking into my homeroom on my first day and smelling the strongest incense I have ever encountered. This was the classroom of one of those teachers whose influence you don’t fully appreciate until years later. She wore caftans and enormous chandelier earrings. She taught a course called multi-cultural literature. It changed my life. We read Native Son, Catcher in the Rye, The Color Purple and Elie Wiesel’s Night just to name a few, books that changed the way I saw the world. This school provided me with my first taste of racial diversity. We would all sit around and discuss these books and talk about how they made us feel. Everyone had their own voice and their own opinion and I was not afraid to share mine. I loved high school once I got there. I had a blast. I was making all these new friends, some of who were a lot weirder than I was. Kids with nose rings, girls who shaved their heads, black kids, white kids; I got along with nearly everybody. I still got teased every once in a while, occasionally people would mock my tics but I never felt ostracized for it. There were kids far stranger than I was like one girl who was full-on Ally Sheedy in “The Breakfast Club” with a shaved head and intense black eye make-up who once at our Geometry table, when another girl innocently offered her a sniff of a rose she’d been given, ate it instead.
There was a group of guys a grade ahead of me who would always snicker whenever I spoke out loud in class but it never bothered me too badly. I was making friends who liked me so I didn’t care if some guys thought I was “a fairy”. Even when they said point blank “you’re gay” it never seemed especially malicious, it was if they were stating what they considered to be a fact. I got frustrated but mostly let it bounce right off. I could do that because I had friends. I wasn’t lonely anymore. Good friends too, the best friends I’d ever had to that point. Friends to go out with on the weekends, although I preferred going out on Friday nights because Saturday nights was Golden Girls, read into that what you will. I guess you could say I had a very typical adolescence, except for the dating.
Yes I dated girls, not a lot mind you, but I gave it my best shot. I think I was fairly cute. I had great hair complete with early nineties “Beverly Hills 90210” sideburns. I was just going through the motions really, I was nowhere near ready to deal with who I really was, and it was fun being part of what I perceived to be the normal high school social world. It made me confident that I was fine, there was nothing weird about me and I certainly was not going to turn out gay. I mean how could I if I was dating girls, right? I remember my first full tilt make-out session. It was with a girl from church who was fairly aggressive and seemed a lot more experienced than I was. It was pretty harmless, just a little over the bra action and some heavy petting. I remember how proud I was of myself, and how stoked I was, yet I cannot say that I enjoyed it. I remember thinking, “ok I can’t wait for this to be over” I felt good when it was over, yet started to dread having to do it again. Sort of like how I feel now about going to the gym. When I was sixteen there was this new girl at school. She was beautiful and we became fast friends. Guys were lining up to get to her so when I heard she liked me I jumped at the opportunity. I must admit my ego had a lot to do with it. Here was this girl all these guys wanted and she wanted me. We went out for a while if you can call it that. She was even my date for my sister’s wedding. But I couldn’t make myself be attracted to her. I didn’t understand why, I knew she was pretty and we had a lot of fun together so why didn’t I want to kiss her. And when I did all I could think was "Eww, I taste your make-up!" At the time though I found it better not to think about it too hard; because when I did that I would ask myself questions I did not want to answer. I would tell myself that I wasn’t ready for sex, but I would be soon. “I really like boobs,” I would literally say this to myself out loud so clearly I was somewhat aware of what was lurking inside of me fighting to get out. I am not saying I was completely prudish, I certainly talked sex, and joked about it all the time. I just didn’t do it. I was actually pretty judgmental whenever I found out one of my friends was; I liked them a little less. I remember one friend I had at school told casually told me she and her boyfriend had sex in her parents bathtub, I said “you are the biggest whore ever”, she laughed and then said, “Are you a virgin?” I said, “Yes, I’m only sixteen.” She then listed to me everyone we knew who was doing it. Basically the whole thing made uncomfortable. Looking back at high school I often wonder why it wasn’t harder. Emotionally I mean. There were plenty of kids whose lives I am sure were abject Hell, I’d like to say that I never made fun of others but that would be a bold face lie, there are a couple of people who I am sure look back and do not think of me with such fondness. Part of the curse of having a quick wit is that things tend to fly out of your mouth before you have the chance to stop them. I know I took some cheap but wonderfully clever shots at the underdog. It’s a song as old as time itself, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em laugh. And if you can make them laugh at someone else, they won’t laugh at you. I’m not proud, I’m human.

I was still a pretty crumby student; I was lazy the bad habits that I had formed way back in the B group stayed with me. I never did my homework, I was forever doing extra credit and managing to charm the teachers just enough to get by. The only trouble I ever got in at school was because of my mouth and it was all pretty minor. On one occasion in my junior year I was banned from being an anchor on our morning video announcements because I said “shit” on the air. Once I got detention because I asked a substitute teacher if she was drunk. And once in chemistry class I caught on fire. Well actually my sleeve caught on fire so I plunged it into the nearest bucket of liquid I saw which fortunately turned out to be water. This resulted in the whole class getting a long lecture on lab safety, the teacher told us that if anything like that ever happened again we were to run to the center of the room and pull the chain of the showerhead there, and start ripping our cloths off. I proceeded to list to her the reasons why I would rather have my flesh eaten off by acid then rip my clothes off in front of my high school chemistry class. She was not amused, and I had to write a paper on proper classroom etiquette.

Aside from things like that I was never in trouble. In fact I have always been slightly irrational in my fear of being in trouble, even now I have a unexplainable fear that I will go to jail for some reason. Partially I think that comes from not wanting to add any more problems at home, not rocking the boat. However, I think it mostly comes from not wanting to be observed too closely. If someone observed me too closely I was afraid of what they might see. All of my friends love my family, they think we are hilarious but I was always hesitant to have people over. Some of the reasons are normal for any boy with sisters. Once my friend Dave came over only to hear my sister Pam yell out from the bathroom “mother, don’t you have any maxi pads in this house that aren’t two feet long? I mean whose vagina is this big?” I figured hearing bellowing about the size of Kotex might make him think our house was odd. I think part of it also was because I never knew what the situation with Alli would be, although she was much less volatile now she still could be as embarrassing as hell; for example playing my friends a tape of me at thirteen singing Under the Boardwalk from one of those do-it-yourself recording studios you find at amusement parks. But another part of it, the bigger part, was the fact that I didn’t want anyone to see inside. Even my closest friends I kept at a distance. It was as if I was afraid they would find something out about me. Something I wasn’t even sure I knew. I had a Halloween party my junior year and a lot of people came. I remember thinking “Wow all of these people are at my house, at my party.” By all accounts the party was a huge success, even though I thought my mother would need CPR after on girl showed up with her pet snake. However I remember spending the whole night on edge and anxious that someone would find they secret place I hid my picnic basket of Barbies. Needless to say I was never a kid who tested my limits. In fact I was called a goody-goody on more than one occasion. But goody-goody I could live with. Certain other words I could not

The end of my senior seems now like a great big blur. At school things wound down like they do for everyone. I went to the prom, taking a friend of course, therefore ruling out sexual complications, I can only imagine how many girls went to prom as a repressed gay teenage boy's beard, they should start a club. I went on my senior class trip to The Great Smokey Mountains where we went to, wait for it... Dollywood!!! It was that year’s season opening of the park and Dolly herself was there, so while all of my classmates disbursed to go ride rides I waited an hour and a half with the Assistant Principle and a Guidance Counselor in a greet line for the chance to shake Dolly’s hand. Oh yeah, and I still didn’t think I was gay! But you know what? Dolly did shake my hand and she dragged her acrylic nails across my palm; jealous?
It was on this trip that I had my first frightening moment of clarity. My mother and I have always been great fans of the comic strip For Better or For Worse. I grew up with it, I still collect the books. However around this time the cartoonist Lynn Johnston introduced a gay teenager to the strip which in 1993 was very controversial. I remember reading each mornings strip at this time with a gnawing pit in my stomach; I just wanted her to stop writing it. I wanted her to sweep it back under the carpet. I felt the same way about a boy in my class who was openly gay. These days more and more people come out in their teens but when I was seventeen it was practically unheard of. I always kept my distance from him. Not because I thought badly of him but because he made me think, which I did not like to do. He made me uncomfortable. Well it was on this senior class trip that I got him to sign my yearbook. This is word for word what he wrote “Dear Jason I know that our paths will cross again, I assure you we have much more in common than you are aware of, xoxo!” When I read that I froze in terror, he had found me out. In that moment, for a split second I knew, and I made my first conscious decision to deny it. I was pretty enraged, the gall of him, “how dare he!” I said to myself, “I will not be this way, I will not be this way, I will not be this way”. But there you have it I admitted to myself for a split second that I was gay. And I was choosing to deny it. Choosing to deny it and being in denial are two very different things and I had switched over. I spent the next five years of my life running away from the truth. And when you are desperate to escape the truth, telling lies becomes second nature.

Friday, September 10, 2010

No Beaver Here!

I left some really juicy stuff out of this ones so let's all work together on getting me that book deal so you can read it, lol :-)

All things considered life with divorced parents, a father I saw only on Sundays and a mother new to the work force made for a relatively easy transition for me. My dad was lost. I know that now. It took him a while to get himself back on his feet. Someone in that kind of despair can do little to support four children and an ex-wife. As usual I was kept in the dark about most things, seeing as I was seven that was probably wise. However, there a couple of things that I remember that clearly indicate that things were getting serious, if not dire. For example I remember finding out that my mom hocked her wedding silver to keep me and my sisters in parochial school. And I recall it being touch and go for a while as to whether or not we would be able to stay in our house. In fact at one point it got as far as there being a For Sale Sign in the yard very briefly, which Renee, who has never liked change all that much, would promptly remove and hide somewhere. However, life had to go on and my mother was new to the work force and for women who got married at nineteen and had no college education I’m sure the options were limited. Still, she managed to get work. An old friend who was the station manager of a radio station, no doubt charmed by her personality as well as her plight gave her a job at the radio station, which I thought was very cool because she got free trade at lot of restaurants. Fancy ones even, where I could get a Shirley Temple.

My mother started to blossom in this period, I do know that men came into the picture right away. I learned young that my mother was beguiling to men. One of the first ones I remember meeting was a man who was a theatre professor and had a young son, a toddler. I’m not sure why that didn’t work out but I do remember he was very nice. I also remember that he took us to a Juice Newton concert, which just goes to show you, everyone comes into your life for a reason. Meeting these men never felt awkward or threatening and they always treated us to fun things, however, it’s like they weren’t real to me. Better yet, it’s like they weren’t important. I was not looking for a new dad; in fact I can’t even recall missing my old one. I am sure if I’d been older it would have been an entirely different ballgame, but I was so young I was able to detach. Trust me, I made up for it in my twenties when daddy issues hit me like a ton of bricks, but at the time I just went with the program. I never considered these guys as anything other than nice men who liked my mother and took us to movies. The only time I got annoyed was when my mother insisted theses guys try and spend one on one time with me, fearing that with my father so emotionally unavailable I was going to suffer from lack of a male role model. I dreaded this. First of all I was a very shy kid, uncomfortable around people I didn’t know very well. I was a regular mama’s boy, always clinging to her leg. Secondly, these attempts at male bonding always proved to be the most boring events for me. I did not care about getting to know these guys, I was seven for Christ’s sake, and inevitably they would start talking to me about sports or fishing or building some sort of nonsense and immediately my mind would drift away. Didn’t these people know I had coloring to attend to? I mean who was going to color in just the hair and clothes of the characters in my coloring books if I wasn’t there to do it? Then came Jim!
Life at home was becoming chaotic, four kids is hard enough, when one of them is Alli that chaos is doubled. The older two girls we’re left in charge of Alli and me quite often and needless to say things didn’t always go smoothly. Big Al was going through puberty and becoming more and more difficult by the day. She and Pam made a particularly combustible combo. I spent a lot of time in la la land to avoid getting caught up in the crossfire. My mother was under the impression that Pam was the most solid and least affected by the sudden change in our family unit therefore put too much on her shoulders, especially since the reality was the exact opposite and she was spiraling out of control when no one was looking.

Renee did not respond well to the idea of our mother dating Jim. It took some time before she ever fully accepted the situation. I was eight years old and all that was perceivable to me was that this really nice man named had fallen in love with my mother and wanted to marry her. I really liked him; I thought he was a lot of fun. Every Friday night he would take my mom Alli, and I to some place fancy, like Pizza Hut. You remember Pizza Hut in the early 80’s? It was all dark and velvety, and you could play the juke box and Ms. Pac-Man and walk out with leftovers and a Flintstones glass. After dinner we’d go to a movie or to the mall. These Friday night events became quite a weekly tradition, and because them, and Jim’s ever growing presence I started to feel a stability that I was too young too realize was lacking. Still my mother was resistant to his frequent proposals. In fact, there was period when she broke it off entirely. This was the point when the course of our family’s entire future would be set. My mother enjoyed dating and enjoyed the attention of men and was free to pursue that and see where it would lead. However, there were a few discerning factors. The financial burden of raising four kids, a young boy in desperate need of a father figure, and a ticking time bomb named Alli who was just about ready to blow. What Jim did, and as an adult I see the manipulation in this, was simple, he helped. He provided my mother constant, often suffocating assistance at a time when it was most crucial. Therefore she relented, and allowed for herself and the rest of us to be rescued.

Mom and Jim were married in September of 1985, Alli, after spending some time in a hospital and a failed attempt a boarding school was back at home, and thanks to the right balance of many pharmaceuticals was doing rather well. Finally a school, right in our own backyard was a fit for her. Pammy had just started college and Renee was happily in her second year. The stage was set for the beginning of a lovely stable new life for us. The wedding of mom and Jim was beautiful, I was ten years old when they were married and since that time Jim has assumed most of thr roles of a father. He supported us well. We always had great vacations, and Christmases, and birthdays. He has shared twenty-five years worth of ups and downs with this family. He is the person I call when I have a question about income taxes or when I need to know what a carburetor is. Jim became a part of this family without questioning anything. He has helped my mother with Alli during all of the roughest times. He has accepted me and who I am without flinching. Jim filled my need for a father in many ways. Not all, but many.

My dad fell off a cliff. No, I’m not being symbolic; he really did fall off a cliff. As family legend goes my dad was staying with some friends at a cabin at a lake not to far out of town. The cabin being rather primitive had no plumbing, so in the black of night, after having one too many, while searching for the outhouse my father took a swan dive off a cliff. I do not mean to make light of this, he could have died. In fact his back was broken in the fall. My aunt and uncle had a cabin on that same lake and dad would take us there a couple of weekends each summer to spend time with the cousins. Every time we’d go out on the lake in a boat we’d get to the spot where he fell a sort of silence fell over my cousins and I, we would just stare at the cliff in awe. It was almost a moment of reverence. Well, as reverent as one can get on a pontoon. The only reason I bring this up, is I remember being taken to the hospital to see him. I’m not sure if my parents were divorced yet or just separated, but he definitely was no longer living at home. There was a woman there, all I remember about her is that, she was introduced as my dad’s “friend” and that Alli promptly interviewed her on her tape-recorder.

My point is neither of my parents stayed single for long. The year I was in the fifth grade was a big one. Both of my parents got re-married. My father married a woman named Shari, who ironically enough bore more than a passing physical resemblance to Lady Tremain from Disney’s version of Cinderella. Before Shari my dad was a pretty sad case, I realized that even in my youth. He lived in a bare, dingy little house and floated from job to job after he was forced to sell his bar. I was sad about that because to me the bar, which I only ever entered when it was closed on Sundays, meant I could eat beer nuts and Heath bars and play Centipede while my dad did work. Aside from the occasional trip to the lake most of the time my dad and I spent together involved picking me up on Sundays and taking me to a movie. He met Shari when I was eight or nine years old. She seemed to be the catalyst for him getting his act somewhat back together. He went back to school and became a nurse, that is pretty admirable. Basically she told him what to do and he did it. He needed someone to make his decisions for him. The drawback to that is that these decisions rarely took his children into consideration. I liked Shari, but I was somewhat leery. Still that year stability not only re-entered my life, but both of my parents as well. Dad and Shari bought a house with a pool, and being ten years old this bought my dad quite a few extra points with me. I was seeing him somewhat frequently. We would swim, and play games, and watch movies. R rated movies, which was my mother was unyieldingly strict about. This was the most consistent time between my father and me. Still we never really connected. He did not know how to talk to me and I was a little bit afraid of him. The way you’re afraid of any big, mysterious creature you’re not fully comfortable being around. Plus he never took an interest like a father should. Other than our visits every few weeks, he took no active participation in our lives.

As I mentioned before, after some time spent in “the nut house” as we eloquently refer to it in our family Alli was home and doing well thanks to a tremendous amount of medication. We do love us a good mood stabilizer in my family. After years of trying, and fighting, and starting over she felt she had found a school where she truly belonged, a school for the developmentally handicapped. Alli was fifteen at this point and you could go to this school until you were twenty-one. Renee was in college, and after one semester Pam decided to postpone college and travel the country singing with a band. With the girls gone it was just Mom, Jim, Alli, and I in the house most of the time. These were to be the most stable and seemingly normal years my family was ever to achieve. The four of us were almost the Cleavers. At least what the Cleavers would have been like if Beaver had worn pajama bottoms on his head and pranced through the yard singing show tunes, or if Wally had been a hypersensitive teen-aged girl doped up on Lithium. And if June said fuck a lot. When my mother hit mid-life she developed an affinity for foul language. By the time I hit my teens my newly designed family was intact and relatively stable! However, I still had school to contend with.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Girls

I am told that as a baby and a very young boy I was always saying “Toppit” (stop it), and “lee me lone” (leave me alone) to my sisters. They were always picking me up, showing me off, trying to be little mothers. They used to find me hiding behind a potted plant or our big itchy red chair and say “whatcha doing Boy,” and I’d say, “I’m moopin,” as I dropped a load into my diaper. In contrast, as I got a little older I was desperate for them to notice me. One night they were cooking dinner before mom came home. I could not have been more than seven or eight. Alli must have been strangely subdued that evening because I was the one being rambunctious. They told me that if I didn’t get out of their hair they were going to tie me up and put me in the closet. So naturally I started egging them on, practically begging for them to do it. And they did. They tied me to a kitchen chair and set me in the hall closet all of us laughing hysterically the whole time. Then I started to yell to them that I was thirsty so they squirted me with water, which just made me laugh harder and fall over. I heard my mom walk in the door and my three sisters getting the table ready. “Where’s Jake” she asked followed by a casual “oh he’s in the closet”. Talk about ironic foreshadowing. She must have heard me giggling so she opened the closet door and untied me. I guess that is a really weird story when you here it but it really is a happy memory for me, just Na, Pammy and I having fun together. I used to beg them to let me sleep in their room with them sometimes. They shared a big bedroom downstairs with its own bathroom that I inherited after they went off to college. Sometimes they would let me and I’d lie there and they would tell me stories about high school and all their teen-age friends and I thought I was just the coolest kid ever. I used to sit and watch Renee get ready for a date which for her involved full test runs of wardrobe make-up and hair before taking a shower and starting all over. Pammy used to hang me upside down by my feet and dip my head in the toilet; I didn’t care as long as they noticed me. My big sisters were the shit! End of story.


Renee is the oldest; she is nine years older than I am. When I was a kid she was a teenager with her own friends and her own life. We didn’t become really close as friends until I was eleven or twelve and she would come home from college for visits. That was when we bonded. We have exactly the same since of humor, to this day she remains more than just my sister; she is one of my best friends. When I was twelve I went to visit her at the University of Dayton. Now at this time I bore more than a striking resemblance to Fred Savage who played Kevin on “The Wonder Years” which was at the height of its popularity. Renee took me to a party on campus, and we told a whole bunch of people, who I know now were probably drunk off their asses that I was indeed Fred Savage and I’d be happy to give them an autograph. She also let me have some beer. Needless to say I went to bed that night thinking I was the hot stuff. In those days Renee tended to have big expectations of people. She had an idea of what life should be like and everyone should just follow suit. I’ve always been somewhat afraid of letting her down. When I was twelve she called home and I answered the phone and she told me to stop sounding like such a girl. That was the first time I recall ever having a fight with her. I don’t know if I’d had a particularly hard day defending my mannerisms or what but I wasn’t about to take it from my sister. I don’t remember exactly what words were exchanged or if my mother got involved or what but soon after I received a care package in the mail full of candy and a long letter from Renee telling me how much she loved me and was sorry. Of course I realize now what that was, she was becoming more and more certain of what I was and I’m sure it scared her. After all she was all of 22 and clearly knew her little brother was a huge fairy. Still, what my sisters thought of me held a lot of power, maybe a little too much, especially Pam.

In my young mind’s eye Pamela Cooper was the coolest person on the face of this earth, period, bar none! Pam is seven years older than I am and as a kid I worshipped her. She is one of the most talented people I know. She used to put on puppet shows for me. She would use different voices, and p.s. she made the freaking puppets. Two of them I remember distinctly were little beaded dolls she used called Pablo and Charlene and she would use a bizarre Mexican accent that made them both sound like Speedy Gonzalas. Pablo and Charlene would put on shows for me and I would roar with laughter, and go to sleep in awe. However I do blame her for one of my deep seeded phobias. When she was young Pam saved up her money and bought a marionette. I was absolutely never allowed to touch it, which of course made me obsessed with it. As a deterrent she told me it would come to life at night and walk around the house. Umm, that is still the most terrifying image I can conjure. When I was in college studying theatre we watched videos of the Bunraku, Japanese puppet theatre, I fled the classroom in a cold sweat. I can’t even watch The Lonely Goat scene in The Sound of Music. Pam also is one of the greatest singers you will ever hear, ever. She could have been huge. I used to go to her school plays and watch her in awe and vow that I would follow in her footsteps. Can I say it enough that I thought she was the coolest. In all actuality Pam was a troubled teen-aged girl whose home life was falling apart. She was the exact opposite of the way I saw her but to my young self she was a rock star. I craved her attention. One night that is forever seared into my memory is December 4, 1984. That was the night that Pam took me to see Cyndi Lauper in concert. Pam was sixteen, I was nine, and I thought I’d had arrived. There I was with my cool teen-age sister at a rock concert. She even spiked up my hair. I used to want so badly for her to notice how cool I was. I wanted to be just like her. Or at least what I thought she was. When I got a little older Pam told me that when I was a little boy she used to sneak into my room at night when I was asleep, get into my closet and smell my shirts. She was trying to freeze time so she’d always remember the innocence and sweetness of her baby brother. This story might seem a tad creepy to anyone not in our family, but to me it is so touching that it brings a tear to my eye. I cannot imagine a life without my big sisters; I love them so much. They have always, always been there for me. But I have to admit, with all that estrogen around, did I even have a chance? It was just understoof that for two nights out of the month iate dinner in my room, out of the firing zone so to speak, it was a hormonally charged atmosphere to grow up in.

We were never allowed to fight in the manner that normal siblings do. My mom grew up in a house so chaotic that any semblance of a brawl sent her over the edge, so we managed to fight subversively. It’s really just a matter of preying upon one’s fears isn’t it? For example, Renee is has some weird bird phobia, so what better way to sock it to her than to leave a dead bird on a paper plate on her pillow. Or say when someone crushes a Lego airport that took you weeks to put together, a good form of retaliation would be to use the sash of one’s Homecoming dress as toilet paper. You could keep these things from mom and still get your point across. I mean doesn’t everyone’s sister give them a series of rabbit punches to the kidneys and try to make herself pee on you if you try and tickle her legs.


Once Renee and Pam were having an argument about something so one of them, I can not say who or I'll be punished took a jumbo bobby pin, straightened it and actually speared a turd out of the toilet and chased the other through the house with it. I remember hearing the commotion, looking up to see them chase through the room then going right back to watching TV.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Big Al

Odd behavior is quite common and in many cases expected in my family. However there is far more to my sister Allison than odd behavior. Quite simply, something went wrong. Alli’s problems were slow to reveal themselves. They unfolded from her slowly over the years like the petals of some strange flower you cannot quite identify. She was the third of our mother’s pregnancies and by far the most difficult. My mother was anemic at the time and sick a lot. However all seemed right with the world when on September 5, 1970 a beautiful, fat baby girl was born and joined her two big sisters at home.


“The first thing we noticed was that she had trouble holding her head up”, my mother has said many times, followed by “We thought her muscle tone was slow developing that’s all. No mother wants to even consider things might not be quite right with their baby”.

Of course eventually Alli could hold her head up and she caught up just fine with the rest of the babies. Aside from being a little short for her age she seemed like a healthy little toddler. All of our family pictures would support that; they show extraordinarily cute little girl with wheat colored curls and sparkling navy blue eyes. She may have marched to her own drummer even then, for example in photos of her with our cousins of the same age, Alli is forever the one standing on her head for no reason or lifting her dress up, but hey, that’s just charisma, right? So she was slow holding her head up, well it was just bad muscle tone. Bad muscle tone: misdiagnosis number one.

Hyperactive! That was the word assigned to Alli Cooper around the age of four or five. Also rather defiant to hear tell of it, always doing the opposite of what she was told, into everything. My sister Renee once told me the first time she knew that something was off happened after the rehearsal dinner for my aunt’s wedding. Alli along with our cousin’s Kelly and Juliette who were all born in a three month span were to be the flower girls, there were four at the time. According to Renee my mom had come home in tears and said “there is something seriously wrong with this child!” Evidently she refused to cooperate and was just a hellion! When she was three she almost choked to death when she ate the wheat stalks out of a flower arrangement. When she was four she had to be taken to the emergency room because she stuck grapes up her nose. When she was five she drove the car into a ditch.

Shortly after starting school some of Alli’s more serious problems surfaced. Dyslexia and severe learning disabilities were the words given when she was seven and already on her third school. Now a days we would never accept a generic term like “learning disabilities” but in the late seventies that was all you had to work with. It was around this time that the impulsive outburst and temper tantrums kicked into high gear. Alli’s temper tantrums were destructive sometime violent events. She would kick, scream and wail; she even broke a window or two. Her bedroom was next to mine and on many occasions my shelves would fall off their brackets from the force of her hitting the wall. The tantrums would eventually run out of steam and she would drift of to sleep howling like a dog. The sound of that kind of wailing coming from a human being still sends shivers down my spine. I might have been very young but I vividly remember Alli’s big fits.
From the ages of six to thirteen Alli was moved from one school to the next each one failing to meet her needs and failing to provide any explanation as to why. I cannot imagine the hell my sister went through as a child. I know from experience how brutal children can be to one another, but Alli was tormented more than any one child should ever be. Her frustrations manifested themselves at home with huge temper tantrums and disruptive behavior. I would be hard pressed to name any holiday or special occasion that was not marred in some way by her behavior. She demanded attention! Even when the disruption was very small there was never any denying the fact that she had to make her presence known, like deciding to feed me mud pies when we were dressed in our Eater finery. She did whatever she could to get attention and her tantrums had become so severe that a lock was actually put on the outside of her bedroom door. These were my father’s worst and final hours at home; he was relentlessly hard on Alli. They are both stubborn mules, and my father who spent less and less time at home and more time with his drinking buddies had no ability to cope with his damaged child. To my mother it was here nightmare coming true. In her eyes he was turning in to her father and that was more than she would bear. I guess you could say that Alli was the final nail in the coffin of their marriage. I know that she has always felt somewhat responsible, but what child doesn’t. After I was born it was clear that we would have to move into a bigger house, or else the three girls would have had to share. According to my mother, when Renee and Pam found out that Alli might be moving up to their room they entered panic mode and started hiding all of their stuff so Alli wouldn’t get into it, break it or eat it. Needless to say we got a bigger house, which meant for my dad, bigger pressure. So I always felt somewhat responsible just because I was born and added a mouth to feed. I know that guilt is illogical, but it’s there just the same. One day he was gone and it was just these females and I. I hardly noticed. I was playing Barbies.

I am not sure when the word “retarded” first entered my vernacular. I remember getting into a spat with a girl in my class when I was in the fifth grade. I had gone to the same small catholic school with the same kids since kindergarten so everyone knew everyone else’s family at least a little bit. I do not remember what the argument was about, probably something very important like who had the most Garbage Pail Kids cards, or who wore the coolest Jams, however it resulted in her saying my sister was retarded. It was like having the wind knocked out of me. Of course I knew this was true but no one had ever used that word before. I immediately started crying and the girl, whose name I very well remember was tripping all over herself trying to apologize.

No matter what she was or is one thing is for sure. Alli was my best friend when I was a little boy. Let us not forget that I had a tendency to be a tad flamboyant as a tyke, other than my cousins, kids weren’t lining up to ask me over to play. Other kids were not as interested in trying on my Grandmother’s hairpieces and lip-syncing Have You Never Been Mellow as I. Alli was my playmate, my constant. She taught me how to roller-skate, how to ride a bike. We played house and school, and Barbies. We sat in our basement together for hours on end listening to storybooks & records, the ones that chimed when it was time to turn the page.

Alli loves me with a force that few people experience, a sometimes overwhelming force. Once when I was a baby my mom heard crying coming from my room. She went to check on me but I was in my crib cooing, happy as a lark. Alli was on the floor rubbing her chin “that damn thing hurted me” she said, pointing to the railing of my crib, “I was just trying to lookit dat boy”. She loves me so deeply. She always calls me Boy or Cub because we used to just role around on the floor like bears. When she looks at me with her sparkly blue eyes I see such adoration in them that I feel unworthy. In my family the four children were put into two categories “The Girls” meaning Renee and Pam, and “Alli and Jake” for Alli and myself. You had to say it really fast though “Alliandjake” like it was one word. “Alliandjake”, we were a unit, a team, at least for the first several years of my life. I was ten years old when I realized I was passing ahead of her.

When Alli hit puberty the shit hit the fan. Whatever had been wrong in her hard-wiring finally short circuited. She was diagnosed as manic-depressive, which was later changed to Bi-polar and Obsessive-Compulsive. All of this on top of what we already knew was wrong, the intellectual slowness and hyperactivity. The fighting and the fits and the out of control behavior culminated one Christmas morning when she went absolutely bonkers because she couldn’t play Atari. If you ever doubt that a simple game of Frogger can lead to one to being institutionalized I am here to tell you it can! Alli spent almost the next year of her life in a mental hospital, which she for some reason loved. That should tell you a little bit about her. She finally found a place to fit in. She was thirteen I was eight. I remember that spring when “The Wizard of Oz” came on TV for its annual viewing I realized she wasn’t there to watch it with me and I cried.

I’ve cried an ocean of tears for and because of my sister. There have been times were she found peace at a school or a program but none of them last and she’s right back to square one. “I fall in the cracks Boy”. Those are her words, and how can you respond to them? How can you convey the pain of someone who is so keenly aware of their differences and limitations? She has grown up watching our sisters and our cousins going to high school and to college. Getting married and having babies and she knows she’ll never have that. Once she said, “sometimes I want to take a hammer and bash my head in so I’d be a vegetable, then I’d have a place”. There is such a hideous duality in the way I feel about my sister. I love her fiercely and protectively and I have such empathy for her that it breaks my heart. Once, when I was forced against my will to go to church camp with her I hurled a brick at some kid’s head because he called her a fat retard. I would never have defended myself with such ferocity. At the same time I am so very resentful of all the attention she has demanded, all the time and energy she has sucked out of my mother with her unending needs and demands, and all of the pain she caused. I said in the beginning that it was possible to know something and to not know it at the same time. Well I am here to tell you, you can love someone and at times hate them too.

Every person’s life is full of unanswered questions. Our family however got at least a clue when Alli was in her 20's. A Doctor finally put together that she’d had a stroke, either at birth or in the uterus. No cause or reason was ever given but knowing that in some strange way comforted me. After a lifetime of trying to find the ways to explain or describe Alli I could finally say “this is what happened, this is the reason she’s 34 and has a Little Mermaid bedspread and is far too fond of Mary Kate and Ashley than she should be.” In the end though, I don’t really need a reason or an answer. My sister is who she is. There is no “what if?”, or “what would she have been like?” life happens. Sure things could have been done differently. My mother always did too much for Alli and in some ways created a monster but she did the best she could. She was pretty much doing it by herself and children born with special needs do not come with instruction books. In all of Alli’s various endeavors we have met so many children whose parents could not rise to the challenge and they were abandoned, left to be raised by a state that had few resources, or nightmarish foster homes that were not prepared for the challenges. Even now the fellow outcasts she befriends come from such horrific backgrounds they would curl your hair. My mother stepped up to the challenge and kept her family together. That is an amazing feat, so I certainly won’t judge her for doing what was easy though not always best. And sometimes it was easier just to do for Alli than to make her do for herself.

In spite of all the chaos in our house I was still a pretty happy kid. When I think back to those years I honestly recall our house was being full of love and laughter. Alli used to be obsessed with her tape recorder. She would record her favorite shows, family dinners, even me being potty trained. I am more than a little uncomfortable knowing that somewhere on the planet is a cassette tape of a two year old me saying “leave me ‘lone, I tryin’ to moop!’ She recorded every move we made and provide running commentary. “Allison turn it off,” my mother would say when the dinner table conversation would turn into something she felt was inappropriate, which it always did. I was notorious for spilling my milk which for some weird reason was the one thing that would make my mom’s head spin. She didn’t want her reaction caught on tape I guess. Or someone would belch and we’d giggle. Or someone would say something off color, or one of my sisters would say something about her period which seemed to me an everyday occurrence in our house instead of once a month. My exasperated mother would always say the same thing “What if I had a friend here”? To which one of us, after a few moments of stifled giggles would respond, “What if you had a friend?” then erupt into laughter. The years after my parents divorce were in some ways the best and the worst. Renee, Pam and I each had different ways of coping. I escaped into the world of make-believe, which I had so eloquently mastered. I was very young. Renee and Pam were in their teens and had their own ways of coping. They had their own issues and have their own stories that are not mine to tell. However, as an adult I’ve discovered that they had no idea of the way I saw them, as Goddesses!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

MOM & dad

This is just a small portion of a much longer chapter I have written. I left a out a lot out of respect for my family. However, if anyone ever offers to pay me for these stories, scrw 'em, they're on the own, lol :-)


What happened between my mother and my father will in some ways forever be a bit of a mystery to me. They were on again, off again high school sweethearts, both from big catholic families. My dad grew up in a house where he could never quite measure up; my mother grew up in a house of chaos. Lets all say it together “dysfunctional”. There are three things my family thrives on love, laughter, and drama. Sometimes I think we thrive on resentment as well, although it’s always simmering just beneath the surface. We love to play the blame game. You know the one? I’m messed up because my parents are messed up. My parents are messed up because their parents are messed up and on and on and on. In fact even as a small boy I was very familiar with the story of how my Great Grandmother in Lebanon wanted to be a nun, however she was betrothed to my Great Grandfather so basically his family just came and took her. I think it’s safe to say that kidnapping is a shaky foundation on which to build a family, wouldn’t you agree? It sort of sets the tone for the generations to follow. The problem with the blame game is it never really ends does it? Ultimately who are we supposed to blame, Eve? Well, hell I would’ve eaten the fruit too! I bring up my parents childhoods because they directly affected mine, from my father’s sense of failure, to my mother’s fear of every man becoming her father. It is those two things I think contributed the most to their break-up. For many years though, their marriage was good and they were happy.

Divorce affects each kid in a family differently. I think a lot of it depends on age. When my parents divorced I was six. I didn’t really get it. I don’t really remember any of it either. He was just gone one day and I was told he be coming for me every Sunday, I just accepted it. I cannot remember my dad in the house. There are pictures, and in them I am old enough that I should remember, but I don’t. I have earlier memories, ones that pre-date their split but it’s like my dad has been photo-shopped out of them. The point is other than occasional flashes, I have few clear memories of any fighting or of my dad’s growing surliness and isolation. One of the few memories of that time that I can conjure up is hearing the doorbell ring one night. I remember going downstairs in my Spider-man pajamas and finding my mother at the back door, locked out. I had to stand on a stool and unlock the chain. I remember her crying, just a little and carrying me to bed. She smelled like perfume and her breath smelled faintly of wine. That combination is one of my favorite scents in the world. It will forever take me back to the nights when my newly single mother would go out then sneak into my room and kiss me goodnight. I still vividly recall going to sleep that night, in my six- year-olds bed, with my favorite Mickey Mouse pillowcase, listening to the roar of the hallway attic fan, and realizing that my father had locked the door because my mother had gone out. She had done the same thing to him on other occasions. This is a strange memory for me because as I said before I have no consistent memories of my father in the house. But I sure as hell remember that night. I also wonder why I was the only one who heard the doorbell but I guess that in the great scheme of things, I’ll let that one go unanswered.

I could beat myself up, and more to the point beat my parents up for the rest of my life with questions like, why did their marriage fail? Should they have stayed together? Who would I have grown up to be if they had? But in truth all these are, are questions. Questions that can never be answered really and in the end will drive you crazy if you don’t let it go. My parents did get divorced and my father became a kind of stranger. I still saw him but to me he was the bad guy, and my mother was the good. He was the one who broke up the family and broke my mommy’s heart. When you are six, you are allowed such clear-cut explanations. One person is right, the other is wrong, so my mother became superwoman, and my father became an outsider. Only now, in recent years am I starting to see all the shades of gray in my once black and white interpretation of what happened between them.

There were many factors that contributed to my parent’s divorce; financial stress, my dad’s job and drinking, and my mother’s intolerance of her children growing up in a home like the one she had. We never did live in that kind of environment, but things certainly were beginning to go down that road. One of the reasons for this, one of the hair triggers for my father’s temper was the shadow that fell over our little family, the elephant in our living room, the one thing that aside from my repressed sexuality and estrangement from my father; has affected my life the most. A force of nature named Alli. Get set people, here she comes!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Boy Who Tics

Odd behavior is quite common and in many cases expected in my family. Once my Grandmother, a former lounge singer was discovered outside of Wal-Mart crooning Christmas carols while the Salvation Army guy accompanied her on his bell. My mother loves nothing more than to catch you off guard by doing something shocking; like mooning the garbage men for example. I have an uncle who used to put pantyhose on his head and chase us around the house. I have a cousin who used to pretend he was Bob Barker and everyone who came over was told to “come on down.” I myself had a picnic basket full of Barbie dolls hidden in my closet until I was 17. Going to see a psychiatrist was not that out of the ordinary. I haven't yet begun to talk about my sister Alli who at times has had at times whole teams of doctors and counselors tending to her various maladies. One of which she became so obsessed with she had a T-shirt made with the woman’s name spelled across the front. Over the years my mother would periodically take me to see therapists to make sure coming from a broken home and having an emotionally challenging sibling wasn’t going to screw me up irreversibly. I never wanted to go and never quite realized what I was there for. Mostly they’d want me to talk about my family and draw pictures of them. Which I did, spending the most time giving my mom and sisters long flowing hair. As a kid my coloring books only ever had the hair filled in. When I was seven my teacher told my mother that I was very bright but never seemed to get my work done. I was taken to an education specialist who diagnosed me with Attention Deficit Disorder and I was briefly put on Ritalin. Nowadays it seems that nine out of ten kids is labeled with ADD and doped up, but at the time it was a relatively new phenomenon. Ritalin did not work for me though; it tended to worsen the nervous tics I sometimes got in times of excitement. I can remember having such tics all of my life, never anything too troubling, but there just the same. I remember the day I made my First Communion the teacher was lining us all up to walk down the aisle of the church and she told me to stop rolling my neck to one side. For years people asked me if my eyes were bothering me because I would blink numerous times in rapid succession. During all the trouble I had gone through starting high school the tics kicked in with a vengeance. The last thing in the world I needed was another thing to make me feel different from the other kids. But when I walked into that doctor’s office at age fourteen that is exactly what I got.


I like to think of my family; parents, grandparents, sisters, aunts, uncles, and cousins as a sort of the Baskin Robbins of mental disorders; 31 flavors of crazy. We have a wide variety of clinical depressions, obsessive-compulsives, borderline personalities, and Bipolar's running the gamut from mild to extreme, with an occasional substance abuse problem thrown in for good measure. It amazes me that a family so full of such warmth, generosity, and humor can have such a dark side, but there it is. I am pretty certain, however that we are not all that unique in the modern American family landscape.
Ironically not six months to a year prior to the Doctors visit that would change my life I recall watch an episode of “LA Law” with my mom and sister. In this episode the lawyers were representing a man who had something called Tourette’s syndrome. We laughed hysterically at this man who was unable to control neither his body nor the string of obscenities that spewed from his mouth. Having lived with Big Al all our lives and meeting all of her friends and classmates we thought we had heard of everything under the sun. This Tourette’s syndrome was new one for us. We laughed at how outrageous it was. You cannot imagine the shock, in fact the abject horror that shot through my veins when I was told I had it.

That day I went to see the psychiatrist I thought I was going because of my anxiety, but he was very interested in my neck tic when he noticed it, so we made a follow up visit. He asked me a lot of questions about when I’d first noticed having tics, and what seemed to make them better or worse. I told him in all honesty that I really didn’t notice the tics, other people did. That must have been what made him suspicious. Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder which reveals itself in early childhood or adolescence, usually before the age of eighteen. It is defined by motor or vocal tics that last up to a year or more. One the first and most common tics children develop are facial tics often blinking of the eyes which I had. The cause of Tourette’s is not yet known although there is considerable evidence it is the result of abnormal activity of the brain chemical Dopamine. Guess what? As it turns out people with Tourette’s are more likely to have attention problems, gasp! Impulsiveness, something called Oppositional Defiant Disorder which basically causes someone to do the exact opposite of what they are told, I in fact have the opposite of that, I have an irrational fear of getting into trouble, obsessive compulsive behavior, and learning disabilities are all associated problems people with Tourette’s syndrome can develop. Males are affected three to four times more often than females and there is usually a family history involving Tourette’s, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or other neurological dysfunctions. There’s that word again; dysfunction. Can’t anything ever just “function” like it’s supposed to!

That Tourette’s is so closely related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder makes sense. Some members of my family suffer fromOCD to varying degrees. I was the only one with Tourette’s though and I took the news like a death sentence. I had this fleeting image of my future where I am yelling “fuck you bitch” to people on the street and barking at them. For a fourteen-year-old I suddenly became full of righteous indignation right there in the Doctor’s office. I went full-on soap opera diva; “why me? Haven’t I gone through enough? Why would God do this to me? I am a good person damnit? After my little outburst my doctor, sat my mother and I down and explained the facts to us. These are the facts; I have a mild case of Tourette’s syndrome. In fact the majority of sufferers have only a mild case. I only have small tics; mainly muscular. The main one is the rolling of my neck to one side, the blinking stopped around the same time I hit puberty and only comes back in moments of high stress. My tics tend to get a lot worse under stress and decrease when I’m focused or concentrating on an absorbing task. I have no verbal or vocalized tics also known as Coprolalia, in fact only 15% of people with Tourette’s do. However, I guess it makes for more riveting television and funnier jokes than a neck roll, so that is the element the media seems to fixate on. I do admit that once I got a little more comfortable with my diagnosis I would have some fun with it. Sometimes at dinner I would quack or cluck just to get a cheap laugh. And I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times when I’d love to cuss someone out and blame it on Tourette’s. I did use it recently as an excuse to get out of jury duty, so you see everything has its perks.
I have never been able to take any medication for it. They tried a few but they make me so tired I can not function. When I was a sophomore in high school my doctor tried me on a new drug but it turned me into a zombie, I fell asleep at my desk while a river of drool poured out of my mouth. I told everyone it was a bad reaction to allergy medicine. At that time I would have rather people thought I had narcolepsy than to tell them I had Tourette’s syndrome. I have learned to live with my Tourette’s. In all honesty there are times when I forget all about it. I’ve spent my entire adult life performing on a stage in one form or another, and when I am on stage there are never any tics. Not one, the psychological aspects of that fascinate me, it’s like my brain knows when to shut it off. However it is not something I have any much control over. Though tics are involuntary, sometimes it is confusing to people since most of us with Tourette’s can exercise some control over our symptoms. What people don’t understand is that the control, usually just postpones a more severe outburst of symptoms. It is very much like have the urge to cough or sneeze, eventually you just have to.

I don’t talk about it much, I never have. There’s a stigma attached, an untrue one; but when has that ever stopped people from making assumptions? Most people don’t even know I have it. Some people ask questions though, they always have, “is something wrong with your neck?” or “did you sleep a little funny last night?” or “are your allergies bothering your eyes?” I’ve actually had people give me the business cards of chiropractors. I always get a little mad at these questions especially when they come from strangers. I find them tactless. How would they like it if I walked up to them and asked “why are you so fat?” or “I see that you have a giant hairy mole on your face that’s making everyone sick, allow me to give you the business card of my dermatologist!” There is a great deal of misinformation about Tourette’e and I have enough stereotypes to contend with thank you very much. Very rarely can a person identify it, usually because they know someone who has it. I always feel very put on the spot when they flat out ask, “do you have Tourette’s?” I feel that it is my business and my prerogative who I tell. I felt strongly abou that as a teenager so I lied about it. I said “yes my neck is bothering me, yes I must have slept on it funny” or “yes my eyes do itch, got any Visine?” I treated it like it another secret. I was already fighting against people’s pre-conceived notions of me; I did not want to take on a new cause. People make gay jokes, and people make Tourette’s jokes I could only deal with so much. So although I never felt any personal shame about having it, I was very selective about whom I told!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mean Boys

According to family legend when I was but two years old, my sister Pam who was around nine or so had a little friend over. They were on the rainbow colored swing set in our back yard when I toddled out in my belly exposing white T-shirt and diaper. “Oh look at you baby brother” said Pam’s little girlfriend “he is so cute”. In response I looked up, pointed my chubby little finger at her and said, “Faggot”. Apparently that night there was a grand inquiry in our house to find out how a precious innocent little baby like yours truly could have learned such a nasty word. Pam broke down and confessed that all the kids were saying it. Apparently I’d known that word since I was two but at the age of ten or eleven I never dreamed it might actually apply to me. Every time I was called fag, I let my subconscious absorb most of the blow. I knew I was being called a nasty word, but I ignored the implications of what that particular word meant. Words like homosexual or gay never entered my head. The only gay person I knew of was my Grandmother’s accompanist. Did I mention my Grandmother was a lounge singer? It seemed normal for me, some Grammas knit; mine sang Tiny Bubbles at the Holiday Inn. The point is as I entered puberty I had no idea that what my body was going through was the same yet different as other boys.


As soon as the sixth grade started I knew I was in real trouble. I started to notice that other than my cousin Sean, I had no friends at school. In my desperation not to be different I even joined the soccer team with disastrous results. Once in the fourth grade after being forcefully coerced to play football at recess, I mistakenly scored a touchdown for the wrong team. Let me tell you something people, little boys don’t let you live that down. The same boys, who acted as if I’d broken into their homes and gunned down their entire family that day, did not want Cooper the Pooper Scooper on their soccer team. They froze me out. I was totally invisible, except to the coach who point blank asked me “why are you even here?” “Good question coach! You think I want to be here? Well think again, tubby! I’d much rather be at home giving Barbie a sweeping up-do, but no, we don’t live in that kind of world do we coach? Way, to nurture children there A-hole” ! A particularly low point came for me when I realized I had been sitting day after day on the bus with a girl who put scratch ‘n sniff stickers in her hair and ate her scabs.
 I think the word I would use to describe myself at that age would be effeminate.Not feminine like a dainty flower, but bold and brassy like a pre-teen Liberace. I sang “The Rose”, that’s right folks Bette Midler, I’m sure you are just shocked! It was accepted by most that this was a result of being brought up in a predominately female household. Of course this theory is complete bullshit but for years it was the excuse I clung to. There was nothing wrong with me; I was not going to grow up and become gay. Gay was word that was still hurled at me from time to time, especially when I was in social settings with kids I didn’t know, but the word did not apply to me. I was effeminate. I was not gay. However, the boys I started high school with saw things differently.

Needless to say that most anyone who had ever paid any attention to me growing up would have known that I should never have gone to an all-boys high school. Almost all of my best friends were girls. Personally I wanted to go to the Youth Performing Arts School but was to chicken to really fight for it. I decided, under the pressure of tradition to go to Trinity, an all boys’ catholic high school. There are two major catholic high schools for boys in Louisville, and I was brought up to believe they were my only two options. My mother told me to really think before I made a decision, but it is hard to shake off fourteen years worth of conditioning. Plus I was now operating under a false sense of security. My sisters Renee and Pam had gone to Assumption, an all-girls school. I loved their uniforms. They wore maroon skirts and vests. I always thought they looked just like the uniforms the girls wore on The Facts of Life, which of course was my favorite show. I used to go through my sister’s yearbooks and learn people’s names, and wonder what high school would be like. I still don’t think it has completely sunken in that I will never be going to Assumption. In my head Trinity would be just like it only with boys. On the first day of high school I, like most freshman was apprehensive but excited. My cousin Sean was starting there too, and my cousin Christopher was already going there,  At the end of the first day I was certain of one thing. I’d made a horrible mistake. I was terribly uncomfortable around the other boys, not to mention somewhat terrified of the male teachers, all of who reminded me of my dad. I just did not know how to communicate with anyone.

The real trouble stated on day one. I had been teased before, even taunted. One summer when I was twelve I was somehow talked into going to a church camp. I had to share a cabin with four other boys who hardly spoke to me. By the middle of the week I was miserable and after being forced to play kick ball where I was of course chosen last, I sneaked off to daydream in my bunk. When I grabbed my pillow it was wet. My pillow was wet and it smelled. One of the boys had peed on my pillow. Teasing was one thing, but this was an act of hatred, and I had done nothing to merit it. Years later I saw Pee Boy in the mall parking lot and I was more than a little tempted run him down, I even revved the engine a little.

The pillow incident was the first time I felt truly humiliated by another person. I felt it again the moment I started Trinity. The impression I’d grown up with that all boys at Trinity were preppies with their ties and blazers and shiny white teeth was inaccurate. Don’t get me wrong those boys were there but so were others. There were two boys that can only be referred to as redneck yokels who decided right away that I was going to be there victim. These types of mullet sporting guys who I am sure had confederate flags on their El Caminos and loved to go a huntin’ found in me vulnerable prey. They appeared to be in every one of my classes including the unique one of a kind hell that is Freshman P.E. It was a 60 minute nightmare in which these two boys took relentless, giddy delight in the way that I ran. They kept calling out Fag and pointing. I remember how no one came to my aide. No one spoke up, and they were crafty enough as kids can be to do it in a way the teacher never catches it. I knew I was on my own. The taunting continued, so much from these two boys that I couldn’t shake off the more benign insults I was getting from other kids, the kind of harmless ribbing most boys get from their peers. I tried to bear it out, but it was coming at me too fast, I was also falling way behind in my school work too because I could not concentrate. I stopped being able to sleep, I would sneak out of my room every night and watch old cable re-runs, bad infomercials, and VH1 until it was time to get ready for school and I would immediately feel the need to vomit. I only lasted at Trinity for two months and I felt like a failure for not being able to hack it. I was tripped and hit with spitballs and forced to eat lunch alone. Children can be vicious. It’s like they are trained at birth to reject anything they don’t understand. Even kids who are raised to be open-minded could turn on you if that is what the pack decides. Only three months into of my freshman year of high school and I was broken. I was only fourteen and so depressed that my mother took me to a shrink. That was where I got the biggest shock of my life!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Pat Benatar was right, Hell is for children!

I was a bad student. That’s the long and short of it. I have the attention span of a gnat. It was that way from the beginning, in fact I distinctly remember my first grade teacher who had an enormous head, was so proud of me for finishing my seat work early one day that she paraded me over the other first grade classroom so I could show it to the other teacher. Jesus, I was in the first grade; how established could my bad habits have been? Classic ADD along with my unparalleled ability to withdraw into my day dreams proved to be the downfall of my scholastic career. I used to imagine my pencil was a figure skater and the surface of my desk the rink. That occupied my mind for a surprising amount of time, or I would ask myself questions like “what would happen is this entire classroom was filled with Coke?” I would also scan around the room and give all the girls mental makeovers. Actually I still do this sometimes, it passes the time. I was not a bad kid, I never had behavior problems, and in fact I was quite the goody two - shoes. The only time I can remember being in trouble for anything other than not doing my homework was in Kindergarten when a substitute teacher put me in the time out chair for saying the Our Father to loud. That bitch!


I had gone to the same catholic school since Kindergarten. Most of the children in my grade had gone there just as long, we all considered ourselves friends in that way you do when you become accustomed to seeing the same kids day after day, year after year. You would think that a boy as flamboyant as I was, a boy with the mannerisms rivaling those of Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show would have been a target for bullies. I wasn’t, at least not in the early grades. Not that it was smooth sailing, it is a fact of life that kids are nasty to each other and every class that one person who ruled over the rest of us in a reign of terror. Ours was a quintessential mean girl whose name I dare not mention for the shivers the mere memory of her still sends down my spine. Let’s just call her The Gorgon. On the very first day of first grade I had the misfortune of sitting right next to The Gorgon, who was covered head to two with freckles and stood at least six feet tall even then! We were each given a piece of paper with a circle on it, the assignment was simple, in the circle draw the face the person sitting next to you. I made the fatal error of getting out my brown crayon and drawing every one of The Gorgon’s freckles. She looked at it, looked at me, drew back and punched me so hard in the arm that my entire desk toppled over, with me in it. From that day on The Gorgon was my nemesis, Lucy to my Charlie Brown, only without the heartwarming summations. Still I never got any serious bullying, other than being called “a girl” every now and then. I think I was very good at identifying my comfort zones even at a young age. I didn’t try to hang out with the “A group”. Oh yes, the “A group” and I am not talking about a social cliques here, I am referring to the fact that the geniuses running the school thought it was wise and emotionally healthy for children to split every class into two groups “A and B” with the “A group” working at a faster pace. Clearly to all of us kids, the “A group” were the smart kids and us “B groupers” were the dumbasses. Talk about setting the tone for our future academic achievements. The idea of doing that in schools now is laughable. Seriously, the things I might have accomplished if it hadn’t been instilled in me so young that I was not one of the smart kids. I should sue!

I first noticed the shift in the fifth grade. For this is the age when kids start forming alliances, gravitating towards those they have the most in common with. Being different in any way was the worst thing imaginable. I knew what happened to those kids. Hell, I even taunted some of them myself. Every school has that one kid who smells like poop, or eats crayons, or falls out of their desk for no apparent reason. I did not; repeat did not want to end up as one of those poor batards! So when the kids at school started to change, I was in trouble. I started to become more keenly aware that there was something different about me. It did not help my cause that the short bus pulled up to my house every morning.

The short bus it was there to take my sister Alli (aka: Big Al) to school, and I know it sounds incredibly childish, but I was a child and no ten-year-old wants other kids to see the short bus in their driveway. I had to walk down the street to the corner to catch my own bus. I should mention that I lived three blocks from my school so why I had to ride the bus in the first place remains a mystery. I don’t know what sort of short term memory loss problem Alli’s bus driver had, but every morning without fail she would drive the short bus slowly behind me as I walked down the street. The short bus was stalking me, like Jaws stalking a swimmer with cramps. Then, also without fail, just as my own bus was pulling up and I could see my classmate’s faces through the windows, Alli’s bus driver would open the short bus door and say, “Are you one of mine?” I would turn beat red and hear Alli say, “That’s my brother.” I could see every kid on my buses face smashed up against the windows snickering at me. At least that's how it seemed.
Fifth grade was also the years that boys and girls stopped playing together. This also put me on the horns of a dilemma, because I hated boys. Yes it’s shocking that I ever hated boys but I did. Especially the ones in my class, all they ever did was make fart noises and they only ever wanted to play was football or soccer at recess. I was forced by circumstance to participate; the girls had frozen me out, The Gorgon saw too it that no boy entered her domain. I was forced to play soccer; you cannot understand the magnitude of this, suddenly recess, the one oasis in the dessert of my endless toil became something I dreaded worse than math. “I’m gonna be like Pele and play professionally” said a fat little boy with a permanent pizza sauce stain on his uniform shirt who shall remain nameless. “What’s a Pele” was my adorable, natural response “oh Cooper you’re such a pussy”. I should say that this was the year that all the boys in my class discovered the word pussy. They used it constantly, and most of the time incorrectly, saying things like “that homework was pussy”, or “where’s my pussy transformers backpack”. I guess I really was a pussy. I was not interested in any of the “boy things” whatsoever. We did not even have toys in common anymore because they had all traded in He-Man for football. Other than my cousins, and a few kids in the neighborhood who were younger than me, therefore more likely to do what I told them, I never had many friends. Even the boys in my class that I would have called friends, including my sister’s best friend's little brother, who used to play with Star Wars figures with me in his basement, stopped having much to say to me. I got my first taste of real loneliness at the tender age of ten.

After the great pussy epidemic a new word took its place. A word often directed at me, and it starts with an F!