During the ensuing six years until I graduated from high school, family life deteriorated, my mother could not keep a job due to her escapades and alcoholism, my father was bitter and remote, smoking heavily, but we put up a good front, and I threw myself into my school activities, and graduated near the top of my class with numerous awards for my activities and academic excellence. It was my new life and my refuge from my past.
I recall those as good years, except when I would visit other families and see how they lived and communicated and seemed to like being together, and came to realize there was an undercurrent of great hostility and depression in my house. During the last two years, my mother would disappear during the day, getting together with her friends in the back room - not seen by the public - in a nearby commercial establishment, drink wine and other alcohol (wine was not commonly consumed in Louisville in the 1950’s, and was seen as a last resort), and they would talk about how bad things were.
My dad was working, very sick with what is now called congestive heart disease from a lifetime of smoking unfiltered Camels) and I studied hard, threw myself into lots of extra-curricular activities, and took up model railroading as a hobby. I left early and came home late, the extra time taken up with all those activities, which helped me and resulted in a scholarship that became my ticket “out.” The Universe spoke and acted, once again.
One night, during my senior year, and before I graduated, I came home from my fifty cent an hour job at the best movie theatre in Louisville, and found my mother in bed with a taxi driver who had taken her home from one of her escapades. He was friendly to me, got up, introduced himself, nervously shook my hand, and quickly left. I got into bed with her (we slept together). I remember telling her how much I loved her. I have no idea what was going on in my head, but I was terrified of the physical urges and strange emotions. I did block those memories for years, and felt great shame. I was dazed, confused, angry, and thought of suicide. I am quite amazed that I can even write this, but I do know that it is therapeutic. I never have ever revealed this in any way until the moment I wrote this, other than to Liz. I suspect I made some inner decisions of which I was unaware, until later insights and therapy many years later.
As the Reader can imagine, my subsequent relationships with women were a bit strained and strange, yet I could be quite seductive and warm and friendly, which is the understatement of all time. Outwardly I was easy-going, but with an edge, always looking for an opportunity to bail out at the slightest provocation. As soon as a serious relationship began to develop, I would somehow sabotage it, mostly unknowingly. I would enter the stage as a great guy, but apparently there was an innate hostility to male/female relationships that I had for some unknown reason. My relationships started out beautifully, but at some point something would happen, and I would find a pretext for running away. It was almost as if I were surreptitiously but constantly looking for the nearest exit. Had I realized this sooner, and acted upon that realization, my life would have been completely different. However, I likely would not then have come to the place where I am now, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
After many totally failed relationships (some failing after a considerable period of time, measured in years, but always failing), I met Liz, and she did not put up with what I was doing. To my credit I listened for the first time in my life to feedback from her about what worked and didn’t work in the relationship (I quit being a jerk, for one thing), and we now have been married for over three years, after living together for about ten years.
My dad Harold had always been a heavy smoker, as many men were in those days, so eventually the smoking killed him and the drinking killed my mother, both within a month after high school graduation.
Shortly after high school graduation we were given notice to vacate our apartment for non-payment of rent. We got some help from a friend (actually, he was the man who sold newspapers on a nearby corner, nicknamed named Willy Pete) and we gave him our television set in payment for his helping us move. The small apartment we moved to was nearby, and the plan was that I would live with her there and walk to the university the next year.
Ethel had also in the interim committed herself temporarily to a state hospital for alcoholics to “get straight,” as we used to say, and I told her one night that I felt dead inside, and she had to “get straight” this time, or else. I was not sure what the “else” was, and then I walked out.
The next day I was contacted by a local minister, one of many she had contacted for help during the last year of her alcoholism, and was told that she had died upon arriving the state hospital. We never fully learned the reason.
Harold’s death the month before, and Ethel’s death at that point, opened up a whole realm of possibilities not seen earlier, and of course considerable pain and fear. Although I was awarded a National Merit Scholarship with full tuition and expenses, I was determined to enlist one of the armed services to get far away from all the drama and the pain and the horror – basically to “run away from home.” That was a previous and continuing pattern throughout my life.
The day after her death, I was contacted by multiple people offering help (they were contacted by the minister, who had many prominent connections in the community), and very quickly I moved into the college dormitory, and enrolled at the Speed Scientific School of the University of Louisville a month later, and left the past behind, with perhaps just a few minor lingering issues. Those people, all of whom I was later able to personally thank, saved my life.
That first day of college I met and became friends with two people from the east coast, and they have remained steadfast friends over these many years. Thank you, Ray and John. They supported me in writing this book, and have been there for me when I needed it most.
As perhaps a footnote, it has been pointed out to me multiple times that my relationships with women, up until I married Liz, were somewhat problematic, in that I was known as one who “seduced and abandoned” with enough frequency that it seemed I had a “pattern,” perhaps even an “issue.” Some women used stronger terms, the most polite being “emotionally crippled.”
I also have noticed that I have preferred women a bit older than me, sometimes a lot older. (Liz is 12 days older, so she is not in that category.) When I was in college, I brought a previous girl friend to a formal fraternity dance. I had met her in Alabama while working there for the summer, and the dance was in Kentucky, where I attended college. This was in the early sixties in a rather conservative area. She came up overnight on the train, and of course the guys all gave me a very hard time, since she was 29 years old and I was 19 years old. In that sophisticated and endearing way that college boys have, they referred to her as “mother”, rather than by her actual name, although not to her face, of course, since these were nice guys. I never heard the end of that episode, although I saw nothing extraordinary about it. I felt it made me more of a “man.”
Four times, later in my life, I was suddenly presented with an unexpected and unwanted opportunity to jointly participate in a child-bearing exercise with my female companion at the time, after the act of conception and before the delivery, which I graciously and hastily declined, while of course doing the gentlemanly thing and paying for everything, and headed for the nearest exit as quickly as practicable.
The foregoing sentence is the most antiseptic way I could think of to say what happened. This is perhaps the most difficult part of this whole book, and I have not yet quite forgiven myself, although I think I acted as responsibly as any severely emotionally stunted person could. Those times would not be considered - in my looking back on my life - as my finest hours. The hard part, for me, was forgiving myself, but first I needed to acknowledge what happened and be as responsible as I could possibly be, which I have now done for the first time.
Now I’m in the part of my Journey where I am waiting for the Peace I have long sought.