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!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Valley of the Dolls

My parents divorced when I was six, but I was much younger than that when my father for all intents and
purposes stopped having any influnce over me. So much blame was put on my dad for my eccentricities.
“Well Jake only plays with Barbies because he has no father figure.” Or “Jake would like sports if there were someone around to teach him.” This all sounded perfectly logical to me. However I never really bought the theory. My dad did try; later on my stepfather tried, not to mentions uncles, cousins, and friends of the family. Any male who wondered into the vicinity of our house was assigned to “teach Jake boy things” at least once. Naturally being so young I felt it was my duty to play along. Actually thinking back on it I felt pressured to do so. I tried playing sports; what an especially heinous brand of torture that was. I tried in chronological order Tee-ball, Little League Baseball, Basketball, and Soccer. I hated them all. I would sort of float around in my only little world thinking about what song I would sing when I hosted The Muppet Show, or pretending I was starring in Grease 2. I wanted to be just like Michelle Pfeiffer in that movie. The fact that I was in the second grade and was in fact a boy did not seem to be a deterrent. Needless to say my teammates always looked at me as if I had horns growing out of my head. When I played soccer in the fifth grade there was one girl on the team and I kid you not when I say that during one game she and I literally stood off to the side of the field and played “Mad-Lib’s!” My dad and I have never been close and I know that has affected every part of my life but I am telling you here and now that in this aspect of my life, it would not have made the slightest bit of difference. I gravitated towards “girl things” like a moth to a flame, or flaming queen if you will. Every Christmas morning I’d bypass my own gifts and go right for my sister’s. “What do you mean Barbie’s Dream Bathroom isn’t for me? I don’t want that stupid truck!”

 I recall vividly the day my mom agreed to by me my own Barbie. As a very young child I played with my
sisters Barbies all the time. However they were my sisters’ not mine, and by the time I was nine or ten and
my sisters outgrew them they had all received bad lesbian haircuts or were amputees of some kind, so my
mom decided to toss them. My mother and I were having lunch at our special place, a coffee shop in the mall
 that I thought was the coolest place on earth because I could get a club sandwich and they served chips
instead of fries and you got a pickle spear. It was that pickle spear that made it classy. But I digress, mom
and I were eating lunch there one day, I believe in October. I was nine or ten.
“Mom, can I go to Thornberry’s and get a toy?” I asked.
“Well what do you want?” my mother responded.
At this time I was very in to He-Man figures. No big surprise that my favorite toys were He-Man figures,
heavily muscled men wearing fur panties. Even Skelator had rock hard pecs and thighs that could
crack walnuts. But on that day I didn’t want a He-Man figure. What I wanted was Day-to-Night Barbie; jet-
setting stewardess by day, night-clubbing fashion plate by night. I had become mildly fixated on Day-to-
Night Barbie ever since I had seen her reversible ensemble in the TV commercial that aired regularly during
Saturday morning cartoons.
“I want… well I want… umm….” I said.
“What is it Boy” asked my mom. Something in her green eyes gave me the slightest feeling she was bracing
herself for something. “You can tell me anything.”
“Well… I want a Barbie.” I said it, “I just want to fix its hair and stuff, but never mind can I get a new He-
She did not miss a beat. “You can get a Barbie if you want one. There is nothing wrong with being creative,
you always have been.” Always have been, mind you I was nine! “You used to pretend the silver-wear were
people. There is nothing wrong with it. But if you want it to be our secret that’s ok.” Secret, oh the power
that word would have, although the secret that their little brother played with Barbies didn’t stay secret from
my sisters' for very long. I was always bad at picking up my toys.

 Never once growing up did I utter the phrase “I’m bored." Escapism has always been my
weapon of choice. I could entertain myself for hours on end. Some of my earliest memories are of
sitting by the heating vent on our kitchen floor while my sisters got ready for school. I would sit there with my
blanket and play with the utensils. The big utensils my mom used to cook with. I would pretend they were a
family. Not just any family but a family that was on TV. The spatula was the dad because it was the biggest.
Salad tongs were the mom, and assorted measuring spoons and carrot graters were the kids. My favorite
was the tea ball because it had a chain on the end, which in my mind’s eye looked like a girl’s head with a
ponytail. I would get into the cabinets and do the same thing with canned goods and food. So before I
played with Barbie I played with Mrs. Butterworth, it was essentially the same game. I gave them all names,
which I made up. I created for them back-stories and personal relationships, and even a caste system. All of
this was in my head only; I’ve never shared my made-up world with anyone. Many years ago I saw the
movie “Heavenly Creatures”, and aside from the pleated skirts and matricide I was a lot like those girls. My
fantasy world was enormous. Like I said, I was never bored. I could get totally, completely lost in my own
imagination, and be quite content there. I still do that, why do you think I am writing all this instead of

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Disco Boy!

I remember I was at the park. I was eight or nine years old and some kid asked me if I was a boy or a girl.

“What are you?” asked the kid

I knew immediately that this was the kind of child I generally tried to avoid. Even at a young age I felt in some way cautious around those I found a little red around the neck.

“What do you mean?” I asked, trying not to sound defensive, or worse, scared.

“Are you a boy or a girl? He replied with twisted eight-year-old malice.

“I’m a boy you idiot” I snapped. I have never had patience for dumb questions. However, I was upset. I had been asked this question before, quite often. Even by my cousin Jodie who had a mullet, and wore a football jersey to Christmas dinner.

“Why did he ask me that?” I asked my mother later.

She said, “Probably because you are so handsome that you are almost as pretty as a girl.”

Well that takes care of that. The kid at the playground inquired about my gender because I was so good looking. The fact that I was pretending to be Olivia Newton-John while re-enacting Xanadu on the swing-set had nothing at all to do with it.

Ah Olivia. I love her. I had all of her records. The highlight of any second grader’s life has to be the day he got the 45 record of “Physical”. We had tons of records (yes that’s right, records!) in our house. In my early years, when not playing house with Alli, I could usually be found in our family room stacking 45’s on the turntable of our stereo. The kind of stereo that looks like some sort of liquor cabinet with a speaker, which I think was mandatory for every household in the 70’s. I listened to records all the time. I’m told that I was singing disco before I could put sentences together. In fact some of my first words I picked up from Leo Sayer’s You Make Me Feel Like Dancin. I would spend hours doing this. I would belt out each song and pretend that I was performing for hundreds of people. Apparently at my young age I couldn’t comprehend anything bigger than hundreds. I was particularly fond of Donna Summers’ Dim All the Lights. As I recall I had conceived a very intricate production number to that one, involving an over turned rocking chair and an afghan. As a child my imagination was a force beyond my control, I guess if I were being honest, it still is.

Being the youngest of four kids in the seventies I am truly a child of disco, I wonder if I was the only kindergartner in history who took ABBA’s Voulez Vouz album for show ‘n tell? I remember playing with my neurotic cousin Sean who is my age. He always wanted to play guns, or wrestling.

“No, Dance!” I’d insist.

I would insist that we listen to records and dance. Or play Wonder Woman. God love Sean, he always complied. I did enjoy playing with Star Wars figures and not just Princess Leia so that’s got to count for something, but I had a slight hunch I was different, always. I knew that “Bad Girls, Toot Toot Beep Beep” was not as familiar a phrase to my classmates as it was to me. I just had different interests than other little boys. However as I got older I did try, in my own way, to conform.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Origins of Boy!

This is the intro to my memoirs. Clearly I am pretentious!

“Boy” It seems funny to me that I would be identified by a word I have yet to fully identify with. I was born on June 29th, 1975 in Louisville, KY and was christened Jason Gregory after my dad. However I am one of those people that many a nickname has been bestowed. “Jake” after my late grandfather, which is most of my family calls me, “Bubba” which is horrifying but my nieces and nephews have stuck me with it. “Cooper,” my last name, which is apparently one of those sir names that serve as a single moniker amongst friends and female PE teachers. “Coop” if they are really close friends. Once after an incident involving a bad bowl haircut my sister Renee started referring to me as “Dot”, implying that I looked like Dorothy Hamil. However most of my life I have simply been referred to as Boy.

“Where’s Boy?”

“This is for Boy”

“What is Boy doing?”

In all honesty I was probably about thirteen before I truly realized I was a boy and should probably at least pretend to act like one. The first five or six years of my life I spent wearing pajama bottoms on my head for long hair. When my sister Alli and I would play house I would insist my make-believe name be Julie. Alli would be the mom and would give in to my demand to be called Julie only if I agreed to pretend I was adopted. I am not sure playing house is supposed to be so complicated, but that's how we rolled! We used our whole basement including the little crawl space our laundry chute emptied into. We would use these funky old lanterns which I still can’t figure out why we had and rusty old pans of water which we would pretend was soup. Highly clever children were we. Those were happy years playing house, playing Barbies, playing Star Wars, learning how to ride a bike, and to roller-skate. There is quite a bit of photographic evidence of these activities in which the pajama bottoms are in their rightful place on my head. If the rest of my family found me a little bit strange I never caught on.

Being the youngest and only son following three daughters I was born with expectations thrust upon me. Every year on my birthday my mother tells me that the day I was born was the happiest and most content she ever was in her entire life. Why shouldn’t she have been? She had a hard working husband, three beautiful little girls, and finally, the answer to my parent’s prayers a perfect baby boy. Little did my mother know that in just a few short years the husband would slowly disappear, a shadow would fall upon one of the little girls, and the perfect baby boy would rebel almost instantly against the title.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Please folow my blog! I'll be your best friend!

A few years ago, right around the time I turned 30 I was living in Chicago and decided to right my memoirs, I've been fine tuning them ever since Now I realize that probably no one is interested in reading my memoirs, after all I am not historically significant like George Washington or Justin Bieber. I am not a true American Hero like Dr. Martin Luther King or Kate Gosselin. I have not overcome incredible adversity to become a source of great inspiration like Helen Keller or the myriad of skank hoes from The Hills! No, I am just an ordinary man. Yet I did grow up thinking I was a singular oddity and realized as an adult there were lots of boys like me. So I have decided to use this blog to share little snippets of my life story, which I hope you find amusing! And if there is one little gay kid out there who stumbles across it, I hope they find comfort!

Friday, August 6, 2010

I am told at least twice a day by people that they enjoy reading my Facebook status updates, so I've decided to give blogging a shot. We shall see how long it takes me to either get bored with it or forget my password, whichever happens first!