Part Twenty-Eight: Style and Substance

It’s a universal truth that music and media can play a major part in influencing the style and persona that we adopt in our lives. Growing up with artists and performers like Alice Cooper and David Bowie as influences, it’s really no surprise to imagine that I might have started wearing makeup at some point.

It wasn’t until I was around ten years old, though, after seeing Robert Smith in the video for Just Like Heaven, that I snuck into my mother’s makeup one day and tried my hardest to look like he had. I’d been up at night, watching Night Tracks, a program that hasn’t been on the air for the past twenty odd years, and when that video came on I was entirely captivated. To my young eyes, Robert Smith was the most beautiful man I’d ever seen (not in a sexually arousing sense, but in some less tangible, aesthetic sense of the word), and I wanted to look that way as well. This is how music began the process of shaping me.

That was the beginning for me, of my growing interest in what would be the whole gothic subculture. I didn’t have much by way of resources available to me, no internet service which could be used to delve into a musical genre I didn’t even know existed, especially not being here in the middle of nowhere that was South Dakota. There were magazines, though not many that were relevant, but there were music-oriented publications in every grocery store and convenience store and I tried to find more things like what I’d heard when I first heard The Cure. It wasn’t easy. It was around that same time in my life when I discovered the comic book series The Crow, and I loved it too.

Musically, I was mostly focused on listening to heavy metal artists as I was growing up, followed by what would be classified as alternative and grunge along with a healthy dose of punk…but I was always looking for more of what I’d glimpsed with that first exposure to The Cure. I came across bands like Siouxsie & the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Sisters of Mercy, and a few others…and I loved what I was hearing in each of those cases, I just couldn’t easily obtain it.

I found Type O Negative and Nine Inch Nails at about the same time, a couple of years later than first hearing The Cure, followed by bands like Ministry and Skinny Puppy…and I began discovering myself in the process. The music that speaks to us tells us a lot about who we are, if we just listen closely enough and let it into us.

I didn’t have any friends that I could share the music with, none of them seemed to care at all about music beyond what they would hear whenever they tuned into whatever the popular radio stations happened to be…where they would simply listen to whatever was being broadcast. It took some searching, but I found a radio station for me as well.

KTEQ was (and is again) a college radio station based out of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology campus, and it was the location on the dial where I found so much more than I could have hoped for with things like MTV or Night Tracks. Too often I was left with no idea what I was hearing, as artists were rarely announced…but I was happy just the same to have discovered various blocks during which music that spoke to me was being broadcast.

I didn’t persist with trying to wear makeup for a long while, having failed miserably in my attempt to emulate the man who first inspired that particular adornment…but it would only be a few years before I started again.

The film adaptation of The Crow came out when I was 14 years old and I saw it in the theater a couple of times. I was young enough to enjoy it even though it had little in common with the comics I’d read, and impressionable enough to think that this made it acceptable for me to look however the hell I wanted to look. It was only as I got older that I realized what a god awful, monumentally horrible movie The Crow happened to be…filled with terrible acting and insipid dialogue, but that hardly matters where this story is concerned.

It wasn’t often at first, but I began applying eyeliner on occasion when I was going to be out and about…with the expected derision from those I’d run into, including some patronizing treatment from friends (including some who’ve become Juggalos and Juggalettes over the intervening years, which is kind of humorous to me).

There was one exception though, a tall man in a red Chevy Nova SS who dressed and looked almost exactly the way that I wanted to. I was captivated by him, as were most people I knew, and I am proud to say that I ended up being able to call him a friend, even though I later ended up stealing a girl away from him who would then become the mother of my two oldest children. He’s no longer with us, but I trust that he knew how much I respected him and that he was actually a profound influence on me as far as helping me to feel comfortable in my own skin and becoming who I wanted to be.

As I became more comfortable and experimental with my makeup and dress during those teenage years, I became what that girl (the future mother of my children) would refer to as being gutter goth when she met me, an amalgam of gutter punk and goth. I began adding long black skirts and long black coats to my attire as time passed by.

I believe it was my junior year of high school when the vice principal escorted me to the restroom and informed me that I needed to wash off the makeup that I was wearing or leave the school because my appearance was becoming a distraction in the classroom.

I stood in front of the mirror for a couple of minutes, staring into my own reflection, considering cleaning my face before making up my mind and walking back into the main hall without changing a thing where I was asked to leave or security would escort me from the premises. I left without causing a scene.

The next day I showed up with an even more distracting appearance and was again asked to leave. Strangely and/or touchingly, another dozen or more people arrived for school that day either in garish makeup or outright dressed in drag…whether a sincere show of solidarity or a desire to get a free pass from school. It was an excellent show of support.

Being a politically minded young man and filled with righteous indignation, I (along with a few of my friends) went and had an impromptu visit with the superintendent in order to seek his intervention in this matter of what we perceived to be clear and unambiguous discrimination. He patiently heard us out, but ultimately determined that the administration was well within their rights to have me removed from school based exclusively on my unconventional appearance. I still have the letter somewhere in which he informed me of his decision in that matter.

After leaving Sturgis and beginning to attend school where my mother was a teacher, I was less aggressively judged for how I chose to appear. My mother refused to drive me to school while I had makeup on, so I had to take advantage of how early I was arriving (due to being the child of a teacher) and apply my makeup after getting to the school. This became my daily routine, and it worked out just fine.

This habit of wearing makeup when I was going out remained with me for a long damn time, well into my 20s…as did my overall gothic sensibility as far as appearance is concerned.

I don’t often wear makeup these days, but it does occasionally happen when I’m feeling like going out (on those rare occasions that I ever opt to leave the house)…because I’m apparently a perpetual adolescent. My musical tastes still lean more towards the industrial and goth musical genres, but I tend to listen to pretty much anything that sounds good to me, regardless of genre.


Part Twenty-Seven: Opportunities (My Lucky Number Continued)

For the moment I would like to return to the subject of my relationships, of the romantic variety, as there’s still some catching up to do on that front.

Following the soup incident I remained single for a little while before something unexpected happened. It was during the interval of my life when I was heavily using cocaine and LSD that I struck up quite the interesting friendship with a quite remarkable girl in Indiana. She and I would spend literally hours on end discussing everything from theoretical physics to obscure religious practices and myths.

She was articulate and brilliant, and I positively loved the opportunities I had to talk with her, whether online or over the phone. There were occasional intervals of silence between us, as life would get in the way on both ends of the line, but we had no difficulty picking back up right where we left off.

It was during the Christmas break just after my friend who’d been working at Perkin’s moved in with me that she decided to take a brief vacation to see me. It was an exceptionally wonderful couple of weeks for me, and apparently for her as well. She was lovely in addition to being intelligent, and as passionate with her flesh as she was with her mind. There was no question on either of our parts that we could have a thoroughly fulfilling relationship…if the opportunity arose to pursue such a thing.

She returned to Indiana and her college courses: she was actively pursuing a degree in forensic psychology, and she was in school on a full scholarship that exceeded the cost of her classes and course materials (which is one hell of a pleasant position to find oneself in). She had an excellent deal going for her there and I was exceedingly happy for her.

It was only a couple of weeks after she’d returned to her real life when she proposed taking a hiatus from school in order to return to South Dakota and begin a relationship with me. I was adamantly opposed to her making what I considered to be a monumental mistake. I fought as hard as I possibly could to convince her to stay where she was, that we could continue seeing each other during the breaks from her schooling and that, if it was something that proved to be as good as we both believed it might be, we could get by like that until she had graduated and go from there.

I even went so far as to enlist my roommate to help me explain to her what a bad idea it was, her putting her real life on hold to come slumming with us. She had a good life there; a job she happened to like, an excellent educational opportunity, and friends…and it seemed like such a categorically terrible idea for her to walk away from all of that, least of all for something like me.

Of course she wouldn’t listen to reason, otherwise this story wouldn’t be something worth talking about right now. Sure as shit, she withdrew from classes, turned in her two weeks at work, and made preparations to vacate her apartment (which included paying out a penalty for early termination of the lease, if I recall correctly). There was no stopping this girl if she put her mind to something, and she was absolutely certain that we belonged together.

Hell, maybe she was right about that too, and we were supposed to be together (if such a thing is even reasonable to consider, which I don’t believe)…but I certainly fucked that all up. It wasn’t right away though, that I fucked it up, we actually had a good year and a half (almost) before she finally did return to the better life she’d left behind.

It was a great year and a half, with a woman who genuinely loved and cared about me in the sort of selfless way that only seems to exist in fiction. She made sure that I was taking care of myself and did her best to encourage me to improve my life in any way that we conceivably could.

When she arrived here I was working for the local ABC affiliate, including two terrible overnight shifts on the weekends. It wasn’t a bad job really, but the pay was borderline pathetic and there were no benefits even though I was employed there full time for almost two years by the time she arrived. There were some benefits to working almost entirely autonomously though; one night in particular comes to mind when she and I made our way through the hatch and onto the roof of the building where we had sex against the edge facing the bar across the street where the bar crowd below us scurried from one place to another trying to stay out of the gentle, slightly chilly rain that was falling. I’ve enjoyed plenty of sex, before and since (including numerous instances with her), but something about that particular experience always stands out for me.

Were it not for her encouragement and support I may not have quite that job and taken a better position with the local NBC affiliate; a job that provided both better pay and decent benefits, an end to working overnight (though I did work into the middle of the night, but not all night long at least), and the added bonus of having three days off every week.

In addition to the improved occupation, her presence in my life and the stability that it helped to promote allowed me to begin seeing more of my children than I had been previously, and for that alone I would always be grateful to her. She was amazing with the kids as well, spending time coloring with them on the floor while I sat in my recliner or at my desk watching them bond. She was fond of the children and they were quite fond of her, though they likely wouldn’t remember her today (but I have pictures that might elicit some recollection, perhaps).

She fell comfortably into the same routine as my roommate and I, watching Farscape on Friday nights, enjoying the final season of the X-Files together, and just all around enjoying the life that we had (as banal and pointless as it might have been).

I wasn’t able to enjoy the relationship as freely as I wanted to though, there were some major reservations on my part; because while my life was steadily improving, her own seemed to have stagnated in the cesspool that was my pointless existence. I felt guilty about what she had given up to be with me and I resented her a little bit for that, for putting me in the position of feeling that way about something that I wanted to embrace. She was doing her best to save me (mostly from myself), and it felt like she was being consumed in the process. She has disagreed with me about this for years, claiming that this interlude in her life was somehow a positive and pivotal experience, which has helped to shape everything that followed…but I suspect that she is just being charitable, because that’s the sort of person she is.

I began to withdraw from her more and more as the guilt got worse, spending less time around the apartment. That was made easier by virtue of the fact that an old friend of mine had reappeared in my life. We’ll refer to this friend as The Chemical Toilet, because I always have referred to her that way…it’s both a term of mocking endearment and a factual assessment of her most defining characteristic. I took this as an opportunity to be out drinking rather than being at home, and I fostered the impression that there was something more going on between myself and The Chemical Toilet, that I was being unfaithful…at least until she got arrested for drug possession. But the damage had already been done and it was only a short while later before my girlfriend returned to Indiana and the life that she deserved to be living.

We are still close, and she will always be a treasured friend…but I don’t regret pushing her out of my life, though I could have perhaps utilized a less hurtful method, because she genuinely deserved so much better than she could ever have found with me.

Perhaps it was because my roommate and I discovered a reliable and constant source of high quality methamphetamine shortly after she moved out, but my judgment was clearly impaired when I decided that a relationship might be possible with The Chemical Toilet when she got out of jail a month or so later.

That ended about as well as one might suspect, which was no surprise to me (even at the time). The worst that could be said is that I was disappointed in her, but nowhere near as disappointed as I was in myself. I’d gone from something deeply fulfilling to settling for something disastrous that held no potential for any real depth or positive mobility.

That shouldn’t be too surprising to you though, not anymore. We know just how stupid I can be…and it should no longer surprise us. Nothing I do should really be much of a surprise to us anymore.

Part Twenty-Six: A Magical Journey

Sit back children and hear a magical tale of friendships discovered and of great triumph over the plague that is procreation. This is the tale of the Cane of Abortion and Nancy Severedhead, which I agree, does not sound like such a magical tale now that I think about it. In fact, the story itself isn’t magical at all really, it’s actually just a story about a few teenagers at the edge of adulthood behaving as if adulthood was something alien and light years distant.

The night began with my fellow musician and I wandering aimlessly through the downtown streets and alleyways, something we were prone to do when nothing else appealed to us, or even when there were a multitude of things that we could otherwise be doing with our time…but at least we were active, so there’s that. This specific night we found ourselves in possession of a number of wire clothes hangers for whatever reason, I honestly can’t begin to recall where the fuck they came from or how we’d decided to carry them around with us. On a whim we straightened the wire hangers and twisted them around one another until we found ourselves creating something that approximately resembled the shape and size of a cane.

It was while we were walking through the downtown streets that night when we encountered another young man of similar disposition. He appeared to fall into the same gothic subcultural category that my fellow musician and I did (which was an unusual thing for the area). This young man would rapidly become my closest friend for a good many years to come, and he is still, to this day, among the dearest friends I will ever have…a number that can be counted on the fingers of one hand, but that’s neither here nor there.

The three of us became quick companions that night, walking up and down streets gradually being flooded with the drunks exiting the various local bars. One unfortunate inebriated woman made the mistake of asking us what the thing was that we were carrying with us, referring (of course) to the wire cane…and it was only a moment that passed in reflection before we informed her that it was The Cane of Abortion (a proper title merits capitalization, and this was a well and proper title), it was then lifted just slightly and pressed against her abdomen as we announced that she was cursed to miscarry her next pregnancy.

We continued walking around through the milling clusters of drunks, arbitrarily blessing random women with our special cane. Looking back, I realize that this was perhaps done in exceptionally poor taste on our parts, but I have always had a bit of a dark sense of humor. Even now, when I look back on that night (fully aware of how truly awful it was, what we were doing), it still makes me smile and almost chuckle. Knowing how sensitive the subjects of miscarriage and abortion are, even to me, I still can’t help but find some small amount of pleasure in the reminiscence. I’ve always insisted that it’s important to find humor in everything, even the worst things in life…perhaps especially those things. I wasn’t alone in that way of thinking by any stretch of the imagination, as my two companions were similarly inclined to treat everything as a joke, both the sacred and the profane…something that has become almost a litmus test as far as determining who will become my friends ever since.

It may have been that same night, the next part of the story I wish to tell you, though the more I think about it I believe it was indeed another night altogether…it’s too damn long ago to recall with any certainty, and there were so many nights spent wandering through those same streets and alleyways at night that it all begins to run together aside from certain specific episodes. It doesn’t matter what specific night this was, but it is the night when Nancy Severedhead was born of great tragedy.

My fellow musician and I had stumbled upon a veritable gold mine when a friend who worked at a local beauty college showed up at my apartment with a bag of mannequin heads that were to be thrown out after being used to the point of being no longer viable. He and I laboriously decorated them and subsequently used them as props during our first live performance as a band, but that is a tale for another time.

We got into the habit, after that, of dumpster diving at the beauty colleges in order to get our hands on more of these wonderful little treats. It was one of these heads that we carried with us downtown one night, a lovely lady we’d decided to name Nancy. She joined us during our walk that night, a trophy that we carried along with pride, startling numerous people when they came upon us in our meanderings.

It was when a train began making its way through town that the sudden, random impulse came upon us to toss Nancy towards the rail wheels carrying the train along. After it had passed, we collected what was left of her. Nancy’s head had been almost neatly sliced through, removing the upper portion of the skull, including one of the eyes. This was when her name became Nancy Severedhead, even though the severed head aspect was in place well before having that severed head more severely damaged. We continued carrying her along with us, destroyed as she might have been.

It was later that my fellow musician and I proceeded to rebuild her. Bits of wire, fragments of circuitry, and assorted screws were affixed to what remained. She was our little miracle, the product of our Frankenstein impulse to meld plastic fake flesh with machine…which, I accept, sounds a little bit crazy. I’m making all of that up, by the way, about there being any objective in mind beyond the aesthetic pleasure of turning this destroyed thing into something else entirely.

I still had Nancy Severedhead for a solid decade or more after she was born. I may still have her somewhere, stored away in the garage. It would be a shame if she were to have disappeared somewhere along the line, because I have always taken pleasure in knowing that she was still one of my possessions. We were an odd sort of people, the three of us, but we were damn lucky to have discovered one another…and I was the luckiest of all to have had such friends (including Nancy).

Part Twenty-Five: A Different Box of Crayons

I walked into a convenience store one night only to hear the music of KMFDM playing on a stereo behind the counter, which I found to be a moderately surreal experience. This led me to strike up a conversation with the guy operating the register and a friendship was born from that simple encounter. We spent countless hours in that damn convenience store; talking about music, books, movies, and whatever inappropriate shit happened to pop into our heads.

I would walk down to that convenience store at night and lose track of time just hanging out there with him, and not exclusively because I had nothing else to do throughout the middle of the night (because I always had things that I could be doing, I’m an expert where it concerns distracting myself almost perpetually). It was an easy friendship routine to fall into, having a number of overlapping interests like we did.

Being altogether too self-involved and not always the most considerate person, I did occasionally tend to take advantage of this new friendship. The number of fountain drinks and gas station hot dogs that I consumed during those visits with him are probably equally without measure…because I have the dietary habits of a mentally challenged person, as anyone spending much time with me would quickly discovery, and so it was difficult for me not to take advantage of the situation.

The truest evidence that he didn’t care about his job altogether too much was not reflected by the copious amounts of food and beverage that I was provided with while spending time there, it was exemplified by the times when I would be standing there and he would suddenly tear off a handful of scratch off lottery tickets and hand me some of them, telling me to scratch them off. We would stand there, scratching off lottery tickets in the middle of the night, waiting until we had obtained sufficient winnings to cover at least the cost of the tickets themselves. Winning at the lottery through a sort of reverse engineering would be the best way to think of it, not so much theft as a calculated form of borrowing.

Sadly, he was transferred to an alternate location that was outside of casual walking range for me, so I was no longer able to spend quite as much time with him at work. He made up for that fact by spending more time in my apartment with me than anyone who didn’t actually live there (though there were times when he would just fall asleep on the sofa or in one of the chairs because he was too tired to worry about the drive home). I would sometimes fall asleep in my recliner with him sitting at my desktop, sifting through my digital music archive, and watching movies…and there were plenty of times when I would wake up with him still sitting right there.

I once described this friend by saying that, while he might not be the brightest crayon in the box, he was like a Crayola Jumbo. He may lack some of the variety and brilliance of those normal Crayolas, but he was thicker and far more durable, less easily broken and seemingly lasting forever. That may have seemed like a bit of a back-handed compliment, and it probably was…but it was intended to be a sincerely complimentary statement at the same time.

One could easily downplay his intellect if they wanted, but I’m not inclined to do so. He is definitely a smarter man than he lets on, maybe smarter than he gives himself credit for being as well…but it’s not his intellect that makes him someone I would always be happy to consider a friend. I’ve rarely met another individual with the sort of compassion and consideration that he’s capable of displaying, and it served as quite the counterpoint to my own lack where those things are concerned. He actively worried about me a lot of the time because, without regular reminders or someone taking note, I would routinely forget to eat anything for days at a time. This was a man who would show up at my work in the middle of the night, unannounced, just to drop off something for me to eat and drink because he happened to be thinking about me. He’s the sort of person who would show up with cash in hand if he even suspected that a friend was in need or dealing with a rough patch.

There aren’t many people out there like him and it’s a damn shame, because the world would be a better place if there were…unless you happen to be a woman, because that man was certainly quite the womanizer. I may have gotten around quite a bit, as you’re well aware (so don’t act fucking shocked when I say it now), but I did tend to maintain good relationships with the women I dated or even casually enjoyed…but my friend, he burned bridges like it was going out of style when the relationship or casual situation ended.

The only conflict that ever really existed between he and I was after we were sharing a house along with the woman who would become his wife a short while later. Were it not for her being present, the conflict might not have become an issue, but she and I definitely didn’t work and play well together. That woman rubbed me all the wrong ways, and not in the sense that I might actually enjoy it…and the feeling was certainly mutual, because she despised me. I may have taken exception with how he treated women at times, but even with all of that taken into account, he definitely deserved someone better than her as far as I was concerned. However, as bad as it got between he and I during that interval where we lived under the same roof, he was the sort of man who went out of his way to rent a U-Haul for me so that I could get everything moved out with the assistance of my little brother all because he wasn’t going to be around to help me with the move.

We gradually dropped out of regular contact after that, but he is still my friend and probably always will be.

Part Twenty-Four: Part 13, My Lucky Number, Continued

Since my apparent inability to see things through to completion or successfully navigate the currents that would lead me to a successful completion is fresh on my mind and I sidetracked myself when it was my intention to tell you more about the significant relationships in my life, I figure now is as good a time as any…so, let’s get back on track here.

It was after the incident during which my ex-girlfriend was almost assaulted by the guy she left me for that I found myself in the unenviable position of needing to choose between two women who came into my life at approximately the same time and expressed a desire to become involved with me. This is not a fun position to be in, contrary to what you might believe.

I’ll start here with the one I didn’t choose, though I can’t for the life of me determine why I ever made that choice. Maybe I flipped a coin, out of sheer imbecility, and let that arbitrary chance make the choice for me? First off, I want to clarify that, though I may not have chosen her at the time, she and I had managed to remain close over the years and even pursued some intimate experiences with one another as well as some tentative steps towards a relationship.

At that time, however, it could have been taken as a bad sign for the potential between she and I that I stopped in the middle of intercourse so that I could go out to my living room and watch the episode of South Park in which Mr. Garrison was upset about his father not molesting him as a child. That was disrespectful of me, without any question…but what makes it far worse is the fact that I wasn’t even aware that I was being disrespectful at the time. There was a large chunk of my life during which I had little to no capacity to consider how my actions impacted others, not when all that really mattered to me was whatever I felt like doing at the time. Other people weren’t blessed with internal, three dimensional existence when it was inconvenient for me to consider that those things existed.

I was the sort of person who could walk away, mid-coitus, simply because there was something on television…and that is far from a healthy way to live one’s life.

That ability to turn on a dime from an emotional perspective ended up playing out pretty heavily in the relationship that developed between myself and the woman that I did choose out of those two. She and I could be in the midst of a major argument when something grabbed my attention or some random thought or recollection would pop into my head, and the argument would evaporate almost immediately. If I felt like arguing, it could go on for hours…but if I found something else I felt like doing instead of continuing with the argument, that is where my attention would shift without any hesitation. She accused me of not actually caring about the things we were fighting about, and that I was just playing a part when our fights arose. She wasn’t even entirely incorrect.

She and I had a relationship that consisted of more than arguments and disagreement, but it is those intervals of conflict that stand out the most in that relationship for me…perhaps mostly due to how it ended.

As you’re aware, marijuana has never been my drug of choice, but I had a quite nice blown glass pipe that was purchased by the mother of my two oldest children from some random guy who had been peddling his wares through the audience during the final live performance of Alter Noctvm…Alter Idem. She left this pipe behind when she and the children moved out. Even though I rarely had either motivation or occasion to use it, I held onto it for purely sentimental reasons both because it had been purchased by the third (and final) live performance and because it was the only thing left behind as a remnant of the good aspects of my former relationship.

It was necessary to mention the history of that specific piece of glassware because my girlfriend in this piece of personal history took the pipe with her one night while I was at work…and while she and her friends were drinking and getting high that night, a whiskey bottle was dropped on the pipe and it was shattered.

It wasn’t until the next afternoon while she and I were sharing a lunch of chicken and dumpling soup that her mother had made (in her place of employment, I might add, which was an adult bookstore, though they mostly dealt in movies and artificial genitalia rather than books) that she told me about what had happened the night before and informed me that her friend who’d broken the pipe was offering to replace it with one of his own. I was unhappy with the whole situation and I told her precisely why that pipe itself mattered to me regardless of my use for it, all sentimental rather than practical.

Her response was to sarcastically tell me that she was, “so sorry.”

My response to her sarcasm was to throw my bowl of soup at her…not the bowl itself, mind you, but the contents of it. I threw my chicken and dumplings on her and stormed away, walking home.

It was a short while after I’d arrived home that the police showed up, informing me that they had been called by my (now) ex-girlfriend’s mother. Both of the officers apologized to me for the fact that they were arresting me; because, had she and I not been living together, what I’d done would not have been illegal…but, solely because we did share my apartment, the soup incident was classified as domestic violence.

We should take a moment to parse that little bit of information; that an action which was not, by itself, illegal, became illegal exclusively because of relative living arrangements. I won’t pretend that I don’t have some problems with the whole rationale behind that odd and flawed inconsistency. As far as I’m concerned, an act is either illegal or legal, and that’s all there should be to say about it.

I spent the night in jail and, not knowing how the legal system works at the time, I plead guilty the next morning when I appeared in court. That was how I wound up with a domestic violence charge on my adult record. My former girlfriend hadn’t pressed charges, but the state did that in her stead, for something that literally was not illegal.

If I’d known that I would not be stuck in jail for another night regardless of my plea, I would damn well have never accepted the domestic violence charge without contesting it, a charge that will perpetually haunt me. That stupid action of tossing soup and my subsequent lack of understanding as far as how the legal system works has made it so that I am unable to own or carry a firearm (and that kept me from being able to enlist with the military a few years later)…it also prohibited me from taking a job as a paid tutor in the high school where my mother worked when the opportunity arose.

More stupid decisions from everyone’s favorite genius, right?

Have you started to notice a trend here?

Part Twenty-Three: Wasted Potential

There are times in my life when I’m not even sure if I can still recognize myself when I look in the mirror, and not because I’m getting older or because I’ve happened to gain or lose a substantial amount of weight at that specific time. I wonder if I even know who I am anymore. I know who I want to be, along with the myriad iterations of who I wanted to be at various points in the past…and all I know for certain is that I am none of those things.

I suppose that is not entirely true, I wanted to tell stories and influence people’s minds since before I understood that a person could do that specific thing for a living…hell, since before I ever had a grasp on the reality that people did things for a living at all.

But here I am; one novel (albeit a shitty one) and a collection of poetry (not so shitty, but poetry is really a niche commodity) on the market, multiple novels and short stories in progress, and then there’s this abominable thing that you’re reading presently. I’m sure as shit not making a living from my writing, not even close, but I have made some small amount of money that wouldn’t amount to a drop in the bucket compared to my income from gainful employment. But it has made me some money, regardless of how little.

So, I guess that I have managed to make some small amount of progress towards being that portion of who I’ve wanted to be in my life…but it seems like an abysmally small bit of consolation.

Growing up, there was one word that stands out more than any other, that word is potential. Teachers, administrators, counselors, and family alike all seemed to be inordinately fond of that word. I did well in school for all of my troubles socializing with other children, never failing a class or even really receiving grades below an A or the equivalent, at least not until I stopped showing up for school part way through 10th grade…and yet I always overheard, during conferences and the like, that I had so much potential and that I could be doing so much better if I would just apply myself. Similarly I ended up hearing quite frequently that it was a consensus that I might benefit from feeling that I was being challenged in school, and that the problem was that I wasn’t being challenged at all.

Seriously, I wondered, how much better did they expect me to be doing? Personally I have come to believe that it’s somewhere in the training manual for new teachers that they have to use various iterations of that sort of statement regarding the potential a student exhibits whenever they meet with parents…at least when the student displays at least fair to middling intelligence.

Having that sort of thing tossed casually my way throughout my whole childhood, there was a great deal of pressure that I should make something of myself and do more with my life than I have thus far…at least to this point, I’ve certainly not done anything of note that would indicate that I lived up to that supposed potential. I wonder if maybe, somewhere inside of me, there isn’t my own little imp of the perverse lurking around and riding on my shoulder, encouraging me to do precisely the opposite of what I should be doing in order to capitalize on that potential.

Or maybe I’m just a screw up.

For a long time there I wanted to be a musician, which you’re already aware of by now. It wasn’t an overall lack of talent or skill that stood in my way there, because I did actually develop some small amount of skill where certain instruments were concerned…though nowhere near as much skill as I could have developed if I had devoted more time and energy to those efforts. A lack of faith was the greater hurdle for me, faith in myself and faith in the possibility of anyone being remotely interested in what I was creating.

I had no confidence in my own voice, the same sort of thing that had led to my feigning a sore throat and the like when I was supposed to perform as a soloist in choir…but it was much worse when performing on stage, performing things that I had helped to create, it was far more personal and a source of greater vulnerability for me. My overall lack of confidence served to severely hinder my performance even when recording or working on material with no one else present but my fellow musician. That inability to work with anyone present became worse with time until I lost the motivation to work at all. I’ve always felt bad about my self-sabotage where music was concerned because of the collateral sabotage that it inflicted upon those who wanted to work with me. I was difficult to work with at the best of times, but my lack of faith in what we were doing only ended up making it far more of a challenge.

It’s no wonder that I stopped trying. That sort of thing seems to be a trend with me.

I began attending college at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology at the age of 27, with a double major of physics and chemistry as my focus. I felt invigorated to be in that academic environment, to feel that I was finally doing something that stood a chance of improving my life and building a future of some substance for myself and my family. I always had a passion for science, and it seemed only natural to pursue an education along these lines.

The problem was that I had no choice but to maintain full-time employment while attending school full-time as well. Initially this wasn’t a problem, but over time that sort of obligation begins to take its toll. My GPA began to decline because I wasn’t able to apply as much attention to my coursework and studying as I needed to, especially as I realized that I needed some downtime in order to relax and decompress a bit…because that downtime cut into the time that I should have been spending on my studies.

The stress involved with making ends meet while still attempting to keep myself afloat in school was rough to deal with…but I was treading water with some success as I made it through my first year and a half in college. It was at that time when my two oldest children came to live with me full-time, which hadn’t been the case since they had moved away from the old apartment along with their mother some 9 years before.

Shortly thereafter my youngest also came to live with me full-time due to some problems at home with her mother, and I had a lot more on my plate than I’d had previously. The strain made it more difficult to handle the crowded classrooms and lecture halls, especially during periods when exams were being conducted. Stress can play hell with preexisting anxiety issues, and it certainly did in my case.

I found myself in a position where I needed to withdraw from school, only three years into my pursuit of the double major, prior to my youngest beginning kindergarten. The school days for her were half days, and I had to decide whether I was going to be home with her during the half that she wasn’t in school and be able to get her to class or if I was going to attend the classes that I needed in order to continue with my own education. Obviously, I made the only choice that a parent can make under those circumstances. I placed my education on hiatus, and that hiatus has continued to this day, almost four years later.

I do intend to return to school and finish at least one of the degrees that I was pursuing, if only because I want to finish what I started, but I don’t know when that time will come…hopefully soon. I don’t want that to be a particularly costly (especially in the financial sense) venture that never sees fruition like so many other things I’ve done in my life.

Mine is a life lived halfway when it comes to completing the things that I am passionate about, a life of incomplete goals and half-assed application…but I’ve spent this time sharing so many things with you, with so many things left to share as my story continues, and maybe this can be the next step towards actually completing the things I have started. We’ll have to see…I have a nasty habit of letting myself down, so you should be prepared that I might let you down as well. I’ll try to avoid that though.

Part Twenty-Two: A Step Back In Time

I spent a good, long while telling you about my sordid and pathetic history with women during my teen years a short while ago, spotlighting some of the most important relationships that I’d been a part of during that period of my life, and there are more of them to discuss because I would be remiss to avoid talking about them. First, however, I need to go back a little bit further…well, a lot further, because my problems with interacting with women stretch back a long way.

It might have been a direct causal relationship between what happened with my next door neighbor as a child and the fact that I developed an unhealthy interest in sex and sexual gratification at an early age. I ended up having to see a counselor when I was in third grade because my teacher caught me rubbing my penis up against the bar underneath my desk, kids are never as sneaky and subtle as they seem to think they are, and I was no exception to that.

It was at approximately that same time when I developed a bit of a crush on a girl in my class, and that part is perfectly normal. What was not normal was the way that my crush on her manifested itself. I was a creepy little shit, expressing stalker tendencies as early as second or third grade, riding my bike across town to the neighborhood where she lived and proceeding to ride my bike back and forth along the street in front of her house. I even went so far as to become friendly with a nice old gentleman who attended the same church as my family because he happened to live across the street from her, all so that I could watch her house from the workshop that he had in his garage.

What was easily the pinnacle of my creepy behavior regarding her revolved around a gift that I wanted to give her. I had been wandering around in the hills throughout the day, like I frequently did, when I came across the carcass of a deer that had probably been hit by a car and limped off to die where I later encountered it. This was not a fresh carcass by any means. Limbs had been removed by carrion eaters, what was left had become dessicated and was in a state of advanced decay. The thoughts that followed my discovery are not the sort of thing that should have seemed reasonable to me at the time, but they apparently did. I saw those remains and immediately determined that I was going to use it to fashion a fur coat for the girl I was interested in.

It was probably a mile and a half to two mile walk directly through the center of our small town from where I exited the hills to home, and I walked calmly that whole distance dragging a deer carcass behind me like it was a perfectly rational thing to be doing. This damn kid that people already seemingly thought was spooky enough (admittedly they had adequate cause to think that I was perhaps a bit touched) comes wandering through town in the middle of the day with a rotting animal dragging behind him. Scratch what I said before about not knowing why other kids wanted to beat me up when I was a kid, I think we might have just uncovered the solution to that particular mystery…or at least part of it.

My mother was less than enthused with finding a dead deer at home and it was placed in the garbage. When I couldn’t find it, I located it in the garbage can and placed it in the fort that my grandfather, uncle, and I had built for me only a short while before. It disappeared from there while I was in school, and I couldn’t find it again. I didn’t throw a fit or anything of the sort, so I wasn’t entirely insane…there’s some comfort to be drawn from that. I never did get to give her the coat that I planned as a gift and was thus able to avoid being placed under psychiatric care, because I sincerely doubt that outcome could have been avoided if I’d tried to hand her what would have probably been a poorly skinned pelt from a decaying corpse. Looking back on this, I’m having a difficult time not laughing, because my sense of humor is decidedly perverse.

My apparent obsession with this girl was unhealthy and if it was an adult behaving the way that I was, they would belong in jail or some sort of mental heath institute. I ended up dragging my best friend into it as well, the same friend I was experimenting with sexually during those early years. I began calling this girl and just breathing into the phone or hanging up as soon as she or anyone else answered. I had apparently learned my seduction techniques from a late night viewing of When a Stranger Calls.

I want to say that it was fourth grade when that all came to a sudden end though, as her family had called the phone company or the police and gotten the number traced back to my grandmother’s house where I’d been calling from that day, with my friend right there beside me. This was back before the days of Caller ID. I don’t recall if the police got involved or if there was just a threat of that happening, but my best friend and I got into trouble and we weren’t allowed to see each other for quite some time after that.

There’s no denying that I was a truly spooky damn kid, with some serious issues…I’ve known that for a long time. My social skills leave me with limited capacity to properly interact with people even today, but especially women, and it has been that way for as long as I can recall…but it was definitely much worse back then.

I had one other major crush as a child, a girl who lived in the trailer court across the street from where I grew up after my father sold the house out from under us before the divorce was complete…yeah, he was a real sweetheart at times. This girl ended up being my best female friend for close to half of my life, since I successfully avoided creeping her out and getting the police involved…but I have absolutely no idea where she is today.

We used to be almost inseparable. She was the one person I could rely on who would frequently be available to join me when I slipped out of my bedroom window and wandered around town aimlessly throughout the middle of the night. There were a couple of kisses between she and I over the years that we were friends, but nothing beyond that, and there were even a couple of times when we called each other boyfriend and girlfriend, though the words were essentially meaningless, being as young as we were.

It’s sad to consider how easily people used to simply drop out of our lives, especially in the days before Facebook and Twitter, or even MySpace. Kids growing up today really do live in a totally different world. I’ve lost touch with a number of people over the years, but this girl would certainly be the one I most wish I could catch back up with.