And so I find myself in Medford in Southern Oregon. I can attest to the aforementioned clarity of that first morning as symbolic of, say, calm before the storm. See part one if you haven’t already.
I had transferred up to your garden-variety public school. Early nineties, so Bush One was about out and Clinton was stumping for office. I can’t really say what policies either president implemented for the present educational system, but I can assure you I felt the tinges. In whatever way it had trickled down into Wilson School, it was affecting me, no doubt. Couple that with the bottom-up anxiety I had come from being shuffled in and out of both ends of the didactic spectrum (aside from homeschooling) and you have this perfect storm, ready to drop.
My dad and I walked across the street on a morning in January not unlike the one described. Crystal clear and bright as light; I could see my breath. We checked in to the office as another father brought his daughter and her younger brother to school late. I could sense her poise. I came to find that her name was Megan and crush for her began to develop. I then walked into Mrs. Dower’s third grade classroom and had already begun to identify those in authority. And I’m not referring to the teacher, I was referring to what students seemed to be more with it than others. Pegging one or another as this or that, socially. I’ll just say right here that I was wrong with my first impressions. But that paradigm, of noting the cool kids. Seeing who was “with it” and who wasn’t was a muscle that strengthened greatly while I was in third grade. A couple weeks went by and in my attempt to fit in (yet another failed attempt at social integration), I greeted a fellow student—a boy—with a slight peck on either cheek, reasoning, however childishly, to myself that it was akin to how you might greet a foreign dignitary upon his arrival to your exotic country. And from then on, I was mercilessly bullied by two twins for being homosexual. Again, a high sensitivity-based-shyness alongside such a monumental social faux-pas and you understand, maybe a little, how that perception might be leveled at me. And I can look back on it and shake my head, if laugh. But understand, this was like an avalanche of, not just social awkwardness, but extremely heavy social condemnation. Looking back, it’s hard to believe the nastiness on display from two lanky individuals, the perpetrators of this campaign to in a word hurt me. Because a person’s reputation, in a very practical sense, is neither here nor there at that age. I find that there is much change from eight years old that an individual will undergo during the years leading out of elementary and into middle and high school. The funny thing was, as I dispassionately examine these events, I can tell you that there was nothing good to be gained in looking to be “a big fish in a small pond” or someone who was cool for its own sake. Life is about becoming an individual. And instead of becoming that, I sought even harder to fit in, to justify myself. To prove that I was straight and cool and, quite possibly, macho. This is the wrong response, more of a knee-jerk reaction. The campaign died down over time, but I had tasted blood. I had begun to see anti-light glimmers of what lay ahead. Namely a future in school with the chance at a girlfriend and a place in the In Crowd. It took about three years before I had worked up the courage to ask Megan out on a “date” (I had no idea what that meant) and on the day I had purposed to do so, my dad pulled me out of school. Thank God. The funny thing is, he knew nothing of the troubles I’d faced nor of any of the aforementioned social posturing that seemed to be the only marketable skill I took away from my time at Wilson.
I knew upon exiting school at ten years of age that my life trajectory was going to be different than most kids. I already sensed that I was going to have a harder time getting a job without having gone to high school (because I instinctively sensed that I was done with the public school system) and this worried me. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at the time but it’s like the option was permanently shut off. And please understand, while my dad was a wonderful man, full of intensity and also very smart, he subconsciously sought to keep me from having a life like his. A life that included dropping out of university because he couldn’t take the strain that his mother put on him in looking for someone else to shoulder the burden of an alcoholic marriage and whatever social stigma that came along with it. For him it would be the dry discipline of the Marines. This is where he went after school and after serving two years active duty, sought to go back to community college. But couldn’t seem to settle on something to major in. I don’t know how these experiences informed the decisions that he made in taking me out of school to homeschool me, but for many years, my life looked to take (what would look to be) a similar floundering and directionless path. I distinctly remember walking across the parking lot of a local store shortly thereafter, figuratively wringing my hands together and worrying how I was going to make it in this world without any formal education. Another touchstone took place one night at a restaurant. The waitress asked me what middle school I’d be attending. I answered “Hedrick”. After she left, my parents were shocked that I’d lie, but I didn’t know how else to answer her, I was too ashamed.
What followed was a highly unstructured and free-form tour of the middle and high school years at the foot of my father. I showed interest in helping a neighbor of mine deliver newspapers and so at 13, I learned what it meant to get up early everyday, rain or shine, and serve others (I took over the route after he was done). This continued until I was 27, until I was long since tired of that routine. It felt good to earn money and be able to rouse myself out of bed in the wee hours of the morning—a “soft skill” that I use to this day. But it was a dead-end job. Something that required no education in the things of math, science, or, really, reading and writing, at all (could “paperboy” be on the spectrum of literary careers?). But that’s not really what “joining the workforce” is about, is it? Ideally, we should be plumbing the depths of our being, with help from peers and parents, to find our mission, our calling. And if I’m at 27 not knowing what I’m meant to do, at least in a broad sense, something may be wrong. But the knee-jerk reaction to “what to I do with my life” isn’t “go to college”, I don’t believe. While I know now what I want and what I want (i.e. what I’m majoring in) most-likely isn’t going to change, I don’t advocate simply going to school for its own sake. To me, the way to do this thing called life is to serve. To selflessly live until you gain that kernel wrought irreducible through the forge of the system of the world at large. And read. If you haven’t already guessed, my dad really didn’t have a gameplan or curriculum for doing what he did. As I got older, I really wonder if perhaps he could have gotten in some kind of trouble for the way he raised me. My mom worked and I know that she struggled with the state of our life—a stay-at-home dad who looked for all intents and purposes without to be homeschooling his two sons but whose only real instruction to me (the one rule I could put my finger on) was to read voraciously. This was not the way to raise a child. But, amazingly, it was the way to raise me. Please understand, I did respond to this and whatever gifts and skills I possess do I own by virtue of making the most of the situational cards I was dealt. But citing the social/emotional trauma I received in grade school, it was good, though, for me to be alone. I still carried with me the scars and irrational ways of looking at life and society and it took all the years of being “homeschooled” in order to unlearn the posturing and peer-oriented self and emerge from that cocoon into the real world. With something to actually offer others as opposed to being in a system that I would learn to manipulate as I made my way through.