Friday, April 5, 2024

My Beautiful Reward

"Thar be mysteries thar."

I felt better yesterday.  I was, as I have been trying to be, more kind to myself.  I am often gripped by an unconscious anxiety, I am beginning to realize.  I may have been since childhood.  Undiagnosed.  To counter that, perhaps, I've built a tough-guy front, a sort of self-defense to threats and danger through the years.  It must have started in junior high school.  That is when I was dumped into a vat of strangers, miscreants and criminals, socio-and psychopaths extraordinaire.  Up until that time, I was the sweetest of boys, an only child from the country, the darling of his extended family.  Then we moved to the south, and I was shot with a homemade bow and arrow in the back.  Within moments.  By a neighbor boy.  I was forced to fight with crackers who didn't like yankees.  I had been treated tenderly until then, had been in the company of grown ups.  I could sit at the table without ever causing a ruckus.  But in the new neighborhood, I was among kids from large families where kids squabbled and fought and stole or broke one another's toys.  There was a meanness I had never encountered.  Simply walking home alone the two miles from the junior high school was harrowing.  There was always the possibility of encountering one of the gangs of boys looking for trouble.  By then, girls had begun to like me which made me enemies among thugs.  Older boys.  Greasers.  Kids who had fistfights with their drunken fathers who came in late at night to "meddle" with their daughters.  Alcoholic and pill popping mothers.  It was a horror show.

That was my south.  

Now I wonder why I have never really written about it.  There are a thousand gothic tales there.  Perhaps I just don't wish to dig that up, to go rooting around in the dark closets of my mind.  

I had no plan to write that.  None at all.  It was the photo that brought that forth, I guess.  Crazy, right?  I just took that photo a few days ago with the film camera to see how well it would do in the dark.  No symbolism in mind.  Just futzing around with the camera for fun. 


So yea. . . the tougher demeanor and the liquid chocolate interior.  As you all know better than "the people out there," I'm a crybaby, an infant sobbing for his bottle, a coward searching hopelessly for someone to save him.  But not "someone," eh?  You know.  I've said it too many times before.  

My heart was always too big for my chest.  After beautiful little Emily's family left town, my own home life became a shit show.  It had already begun, in truth.  By high school, my parents were divorced and I was living in my car and then in a shit shack with my father.  I lived far from where I went to school in another county in a small hick town full of crackers.  People didn't like me.  Needless to say, I didn't date.  Not until I had an apartment and was in college.  Rather, I took to adventure.  The tough guy persona.  I bought scuba gear and dove deep into underwater caves with my buddy whose father was a pediatrician from Yugoslavia in whose family ran mental illness and madness.  Driving deep into country forests, down dirt roads, hauling our dive equipment down steep banks to hidden springs, we did stupid things, got lost in labyrinths of caverns, disoriented at 150 feet with nitrogen narcosis, miscalculated our dive times and nearly crippling ourselves with "the bends." 

Arrogant youth.  

After college, I took to the road alone, hitching around the country "looking for adventure."  Buying a sailboat, sailing solo, mountain climbing, playing in bands. . . . 

It was all a show it seems to me now

I became a top grad student in college, but I think it was the faux-front confidence I had adopted that made me appear so.  Surely.  Standing in that closet taking the snap, I remembered being surprised when I was asked to chair a national English conference just after graduation.  Apparently, the department which was hosting that year thought I had just the right demeanor.  And I remember the terror I felt when I said yes and then later when I had to actually perform.  I wondered how surprised, how disappointed they may have been.  

It was the same at the factory.  I had a presumed authority and got to do pretty much whatever I wanted, got all the best assignments and was privileged even after I became shop foreman.  

It seems to me now that none of it was real.  I presented academic papers at international conferences among legitimate authorities wondering how I got there, never feeling I deserved to belong.  But somehow it all went o.k.  I was admired somewhat, asked to contribute articles to publications, set on major academic stages.  I exchanged letters with some of the most prominent academics in American literature.  

I was touted in print in a major academic publication for my "colorful"personality.  

"Who can ever forget. . . " the article began.  

What a show.  I may have even believed it at some point.  But deep down in that dark closet of my being, you know. . . . 

Whoa!  Where did that come from?  I intended to tell you about the two rolls of film I ruined last night while developing them.  I made huge mistakes that I was sure I was making but continued to make all the same.  But, after they had been developed, fixed, and rinsed, and after I hung the faint and mostly ruined rolls to dry, I let myself off the hook.  I didn't beat myself up.  All day, I just let myself simply be.  I was gentle in the gym.  I went out to shoot the two rolls of film in the bright and beautiful day, then went for tea at the Cafe Strange where I saw the pretty counter girl who smiled and chatted in a way she has never done before.  I sat with my mother and cousin and a group of her neighbors and told self-deprecating stories that made them laugh.  

But the anxiety is there.  Always.  With every photo I take, with every old photo I look at, I am as uncertain as I was in the cracker neighborhood and walking home from school and on and on and on.  

"What do you think, doc?"

"I think we live in rat's alley."

"That's Elliot.  That's no good."

"Let us go then, you and I, as evening spreads against the sky. . . ."

"Still Elliot.  What the fuck, doc?"

"You seem like an intelligent sort, not like so many others.  Tough and strong.  I think you can understand.  The answers lie in the mysteries, you know, in art and literature and music.  There is no thing that will cure us of our fate.  I tell you this because you seem kind of strong and able to stand it."

"What are you. . . nuts?  You're as fucked up as I am.  I can't stand the thought of the void."

"In the rooms the women come and go. . . ."

"O.K.  Stop it.  You're nothing but an algorithm."

"Life's a mystery that can't be solved, old sport.  We can only decipher the riddles symbolically.  There is no bottom line,"

"It's all bunk?"

"It's all bunk.  Except golf."


* * *

I should have started with a different photo today I think.  

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