If you have no idea what’s going on, start at the About page.
Let me begin by stating something that should be obvious. No one’s memory is perfect, as in, the events I end up discussing as I go through the history of my life may not have panned out in reality exactly as I described them. Odds are, if people who were involved at the time end up reading (and commenting), we are going to remember things differently. I’m not here to try to discern the factual reality of the events that transpired, because frankly, that’s immaterial. What matters is how I remember them, and how that shaped the decisions I would later make and the perspectives I would later take. While talking about the actual truth of what did or did not happen may be profitable towards mending bridges and reconciling – and I’m all for it – that’s a sort of tertiary effect of this exercise that I am not counting on happening.
So we start at the very beginning. I, obviously, don’t have a very cohesive memory of my early childhood, and my recounting of it relies heavily on vaguely remembered stories from other people interspersed with my own imperfect recollections. But something needs to be made clear up front – up until about the age of 12 I was more or less what I would consider a relatively normal, healthy, happy young boy. So far as I knew, we were a more or less regular family, and my mom loved me the best she could, my dad did the same, and while the kids may have fought amongst themselves from time to time, that’s just kind of what kids do. With perfect hindsight there are some things that stick out in this relatively idyllic early part of my life worth mentioning, and that’s what this post is going to be about – but by and large the take home point here is “relatively normal.”
I would not begin to become personally invested in music until I was about the age of 12, but music has played a very critical part in my thought life, and has often been the only reliable outlet I’ve had for emotional expression and release. Because of that, depending on what I’m writing about, I may include an obtrusive link to some song you’ve never heard of or don’t like, and spend way too much time talking about the lyrics and instrumentation solely to trigger you. And to begin this grand tradition, enjoy a link to Dream Theater’s Solitary Shell, which I would choose as an eerily accurate (and later eerily prophetic) sort of “theme song” for myself after first hearing it. And while obviously the lyrics are meaningful in and of themselves, you won’t get the full power and weight of the songs unless you listen to them for yourself.
He seemed no different from the rest
Just a healthy normal boy
His momma always did her best
And he was daddy’s pride and joy
He learned to walk and talk on time
But never cared much to be held
And steadily he would decline
Into his solitary shell
When it comes to my early upbringing, I do not know whether or not I cared much to be held. But by the time I heard the song (sometime in the early 2000s), deprivation of physical intimacy was already a fact of life I’d come to accept, and so the lyric rang very true for me. Moreover, at that same time, I was already descending into a “solitary shell,” and I don’t know how early that trend started, but I’ll talk about its possible origins in just a bit.
The first thing I want to discuss is that I grew up in an ostensibly Christian household. We regularly attended Church as a family and as youth we were actively engaged in Sunday school and likely a number of other church activities I don’t recall too well. I remember my brother – 8 years my senior and a half brother technically, though we’ve never thought of each other as such – even being in some kind of a teaching or leadership position in the Sunday school. I remember taking great pride as a youth in memorizing and reciting scripture, earning badges and trinkets and baubles and praise for such performances, and doing my best in church-organized plays and things like that.
One of my earliest personal memories – vague though it is – must have been from when I was around two or three, given what I know about my age at the time I lived in this particular house. I can remember praying to have Jesus (like most people, I didn’t then have any idea that Jesus was not the Messiah’s name, or even what “Messiah” meant, or that his last name wasn’t Christ, and on and on and on – but none of that stuff matters for a child, necessarily) enter my heart.
Importantly, I can remember making my own decision to be baptized (which I was) and more importantly I remember being quite young (but old enough to understand the implications of the decision) in front of the congregation taking a vow with several other similarly aged youths to never have sex until I was married. I don’t know whether hand jobs and masturbation on my part have rendered this vow broken, but to this day I’ve not had intercourse with a woman (before you ask, neither have I with a man, nor am I interested in such a thing) – and, I might add, not for lack of trying or desire. (I am 27.) But we’ll get into all of that in due time.
As a boy he was considered somewhat odd
Kept to himself most of the time
He would daydream in and out of his own world
But in every other way he was fine
[INSERT CHORUS HERE – the lyrics are not as relevant to this stage of my life]
From a very early age I developed two poignant methods of escapism. One was an active imagination fostered and nurtured by primarily, I think, my brother, directed towards the end of creative writing. I very much admired and looked up to my older brother, and tellingly, he was a bit more of a father figure to me than my own father was. My father, I am told, was engaged in rearing me as a baby and infant and very young child, but when it came to who I remember going to for advice on anything – especially when it came to matters of masculinity – my first real role model was my brother. This was the birth and origin of a trend that would follow me for the rest of my life, where I would choose a role model to emulate and do my best to make decisions the same way they did and simultaneously win their approval, sometimes at the expense of what I personally wanted to do.
The second method of escapism was hoisted upon me even while I was fresh in the womb, which was video games. My mom actively played video games all throughout my pregnancy and my brother was, in his youth, a somewhat avid video gamer. As a baby/infant/what have you, he would often hide the first player controller behind his back while he gave me the second player controller; he would be playing the game but “tricking” me into thinking that I was playing the game. I started playing them for myself at a very early age, and got into relatively complex games like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior which required a lot of reading and rudimentary math skills to enjoy. Because of this my parents quickly got tired of having to read things for me, and in order to continue playing video games I learned to read well in advance of going to preschool. My brother was primarily, as I recall, the one responsible for that kind of a thing, and he would continue to foster a love for learning and particularly literary skills as I grew – which, had he not, I probably would be much worse off today, since public education did everything it could to make me hate learning. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
If we return to the first verse of our theme song, specifically the line about retreating into a solitary shell, I think I can estimate the origins of that in my life. Due to financial follies, our family moved around my hometown like clockwork, pretty much once every three years. For whatever reason – and, having talked at length to both of my parents about this, I’ll never truly know what happened or why it happened – bills would stop being paid a year or two after moving in and then by the third year we’d get kicked out and the process would repeat. The end result was that, until the 4th grade, I was in a different school district every time this happened. So I had one set of friends in preschool, then brand new people to befriend in kindergarten, then brand new friends to make in 1st-3rd grade, and then brand new friends to make again in 4th grade.
This had two effects. One, I learned how to get along easily with people, but two, I detached from making strong emotional ties to anyone because I couldn’t trust that they’d be around long enough for the investment to be worthwhile for me. What was the point in getting super attached to any particular friend if I kind of knew in the back of my mind I might not see them next year because we’d be moving? This just reinforced my tendency to retreat to fantasy realms, be it my own personal creative fiction or video games, and bear in mind that at this time video games were very certainly not cool or socially acceptable like they are today. I was certainly considered “somewhat odd,” though had my own way of dealing with people who tried to bully me and as such never went through a lot of bullying. In fact many I went to school with seemed to perceive me as one of the “popular” kids – an irony that would weigh very heavily on me. But. We’re getting ahead of ourselves again.
One very poignant example of me actively withdrawing from my peers for no real good reason – and beginning a trend of treating people who wanted to get close to me and could’ve possibly been good for me poorly – happened in the 4th grade. I remember it was one of the early days of being new to the school and I hadn’t really made a lot of friends yet. It was recess and I went over to the swing by myself and just kind of sat there. I must’ve looked sad because I remember feeling sad and unprompted a girl innocently came over and tried to ask if I was ok. Her name was Allyse, and unbeknownst to me at the time, she would grow up to be a stunningly attractive young girl and woman. None of that really mattered to a socially stunted prepubescent boy and so I kind of curtly told her off and that was that. This, too, is the origin of a pattern that would repeat.
In the town I grew up in, elementary school ended at 5th grade and middle school began at 6th grade, meaning you were dumped into larger social pool and had a change up in expectations, class structure, etc etc etc. Middle school was also where the more or less relatively innocuous childhood with which there was no major unhappiness began to become unraveled. As such, it is best left for a separate post – one I may write and publish immediately, but one that should be separate nevertheless. Before I do, because I don’t want to reuse songs in future posts (beyond perhaps mentioning them again in passing), allow me to finish analyzing the rest of the lyrics and how they would describe and even come to predict my life.
He struggled to get through his day
He was helplessly behind
He poured himself on to the page
Writing for hours at a time
As a man he was a danger to himself
Fearful and sad most of the time
He was drifting in and out of sanity
But in every other way he was fine
[SLIGHTLY ALTERED CHORUS]
In school I quickly developed a habit of falling behind in work only to rush at the last possible minute to get it all done in one frenzied burst. I suppose if I were to try to explain it, it was a way for me to add a certain degree of challenge that was otherwise completely lacking. As for pouring myself on the page and writing for hours at a time – it’s something I still clearly do, though especially earlier in life I often did it either developing fiction (which, as I grew older, was mostly just an outlet to express my inner turmoil) but later became this sort of introspective nonsense that no one has ever given a shit about.
The bit beginning after the line “Writing for hours at a time” is eerily prophetic. For those that don’t know me, that more or less became my life – I’ve been in the psychiatric ward 6 different times and the government often considers me a legal danger to myself, which means I have no rights when it comes to the types of treatment I receive.
Both choruses also apply to my life, though I didn’t take the time to type them out and analyze them. Consider that your bit of homework, casual reader – if you even exist – since it should be pretty easy to piece it together if you follow the rabbit trail I’m building.