Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Pain Lingers

They beat me up.
I stand close to six feet tall, weigh right at two hundred fifty pounds (it isn’t all muscle, but don’t underestimate me) and part of me still cringes when I think of it.
Rick beat me up too. That was later, but it still hurts.
Suzanne beat me up – emotionally, but the pain is the same.
My first divorce hurt.
My second divorce almost killed me.

Some memories have pain in them, and I don’t really know how to exorcise that pain from my life. Maybe I can’t. Maybe you just learn to live with it.
When my wife’s mother died, I thought of my Mom’s death, a decade ago now. It still hurts. “It always hurts,” I told my wife, “but I guess you get used to it.”
Perhaps that’s the way it is with some pains in our lives. Not the stubbed toes, nor even the broken bones. I don’t feel pain when I think of my broken hand, for instance, though it does hurt when it rains.

I don’t even know how old I was, but probably between fifth and sixth grades, which would be Port Orchard, Washington and Brown City, Michigan. Dad was off to Viet Nam, so it must have been 1968 and I was eleven. We visited my Grandma Jen and Grandpa Mac in Saginaw. Grandpa didn’t want anything to do with us (that’s a little harsh and exaggerated) and especially didn’t want us touching the new remote control to his television set. The television sat in a huge console facing the couch. The screen was small, but you could tell from the slight hum in the box that the entire thing lived. The remote was the size of a small paperback and had a power button and just one toggle switch right in the middle. Press the toggle one way and you watched the round glowing dial on the television physically rotate in one direction, changing the channel. Press it the other way and it rotated the opposite direction. As the dial settled into the new channel there was an audible and physical sound that reverberated through the television, across the floor and shook the couch. We boys thought it was the greatest thing in the entire world to change those channels with the remote control.
Grandpa didn’t agree.
He sent us out to play, in the middle of Saginaw, months after the infamous race riots (we didn’t know that) in a bad neighborhood (we didn’t know that either). I took my three younger brothers, B (age 6), D (age 4) and T (age 3) to a small school park down the block from the duplex my grandparents lived in.
There was a sandbox there, and a few of those rocking animals on big springs, as well as some swings. I don’t know how long we were out there, but I do remember that we were all in the sandbox when they came.
These are not the boys on bikes
Kids. On bicycles. Maybe three or four hundred of them. Okay, there were probably only four or five kids, but it didn’t matter. As soon as they showed up and dropped their bicycles they stalked toward us. I herded my brothers together and headed for the gate, toward the safety of Grandma’s house. The boys surrounded us and pushed us. I tried to get their attention and tried to get B, D and T heading home. The strategy mostly worked, except for B, who wasn’t about to be pushed around by a half-dozen kids four times his size. He waded into them swinging, which delighted the entire crowd. The boys pushed him in the sand, and I followed right behind. There was a lot of yelling and pushing and punching going on, but D and T were on the sidewalk toward Grandma’s unmolested.
A big woman came out on her porch carrying a broom like a two-handed sword. She yelled at the boys to quit, that she called the cops, and she was coming down there. As she headed down the stairs the boys laughed, got on their bikes and rode off. B ran ahead of me to the house, and Dad met me at the door. He wanted to know why I didn’t fight back. When I started to cry he let me know that boys didn’t cry. That made me cry more.
That still hurts.

I was new to the school, in seventh grade and Rick was in eighth grade. For some reason Rick took a serious dislike to me. He’d sneak up behind me and thump me on my ear. We rode the same bus, and got off at the same stop. One day Rick thumped my ear in school and I turned on him and yelled at him to quit. He sneered at me and said we’d settle it when we got off the bus.
I was frightened for the entire bus ride.
We got off the bus and I didn’t have any idea what I was supposed to do. Rick pushed me and I brought my arm back to punch him. He just grabbed me and put me in a headlock and waited for me to say “uncle.” I never said it, but eventually he let me go, pushed me down and walked away. I walked three blocks home by myself. I didn’t cry until I was sure nobody saw me. I waited until I quit crying to go into the house. Mom took one look at me and knew I was crying. (I guess when you’re a kid you don’t realize that your eyes get puffy and red when you cry.)
That still hurts.

Over a year later we were graduating from eighth grade, the highest grade that St. Mary’s had. Suzanne had a party at her house and I was invited. Suzanne was blond, pretty and had breasts, all factors which caused me to go dizzy when I thought about her.
I even shaved the peach fuzz hair from my upper lip for this party. Mom and Dad thought that was hilarious.
Bases. Right...
At some point during the party Suzanne asked me if I’d like to go for a walk in the woods. There were trees on their property, and a school behind the trees. Sure, I said, so off we go. When we got into the trees she asked me if I wanted to run the bases with her. I thought it was an odd thing to do, but she was pretty and I was willing to do almost anything to see her smile, so I headed to the small baseball diamond just at the edge of the trees. We ran around the bases and she was laughing. Then she kissed me, and her mouth was a little bit open, even though my lips were puckered like when I kissed my Mom on the cheek, so she made my upper lip a little bit wet, which I didn’t mind at all for some reason.
We went back to the house and for the rest of the evening people pointed at me and laughed. Suzanne went into the woods with another boy from school and I wandered down there to see what they were doing. She laughed at me and told me to go back to the house. I didn’t understand any of that until a few days later when a friend of mine explained that I totally misunderstood, and my ignorance made me the running joke of the evening.
That still hurts.

We didn’t get along any more. Married for over eight years, with a small three-year-old son, my wife wasn’t happy. She wasn’t happy in our marriage and she wasn’t happy with me. I was almost delighted when my company sent me to Ohio for six weeks to do a programming project. My wife talked to me on the phone, but the rest of the time was peaceful for me.
Amiga and Emerald Mines
Apparently it was also much better for her. During my last week in Ohio my wife informed me that she was getting me an apartment. I asked her to get me one that was only a block from our house, so I could see our son. When I got back I had an apartment in the middle of Pasadena, a dozen miles of heavy city traffic from her and my son. Shortly after that she moved to the other side of Houston. Divorce followed. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. Sitting in the empty apartment with an air mattress, a small television and my Amiga computer filled me with pain and loneliness.
That still hurts.

Eight years into my second marriage and my wife wasn’t happy. We went to therapy together. Things seemed better. I went to California on a business trip and she left little notes in my luggage telling me she loved me. She was too busy to talk on the phone, though. My buddy and I drove back (a different story) and arrived a little earlier than we planned. She was on the phone.
A month later I was spreading dirt in my front yard and she came home with our two children. When she walked up to me I asked her if she still loved me, if there was someone else. She told me there wasn’t anyone else, but she didn’t love me anymore, and it wasn’t me – it was her. She should never have married.
At first I fought hard for that marriage. Then I fought hard for my two children. It’s a tragic story with twists of its own. The divorce was final over a year later. The pain of divorce from my wife lasted a long time. The pain of separation from my children, from part-time fatherhood, lasted years longer.
That still hurts.

Some hurts come and stay. They do fade, of course. The hurts from these few incidents in my life are really just the faded remembrance of pain, not pain itself. Other hurts left impressions on me, but not quite like these early ones. The pain of anonymous hatred focused toward me. The pain of specifically targeted dislike. The pain of the first emotional rejection and ridicule. The pain of betrayal, loss and futility. The pain of unexpected betrayal, battle and terrible loss. All these had a lasting effect on my psyche.
Still, pain is part of life. At the time, of course, it hurts and all you really want to do is escape the pain.
People think they can deal with pain. I’m not sure that’s true. You can accept it. You can get through it. You can move on.
Then you just have the memory of pain.
You can deal with memories, even memories of pain.

1 comment:

  1. That's not how I remember Saginaw. There were about 10 big black kids and you stood up to them. I got my face smashed into the sand in the sandbox. You were my hero that day and that's how I tell that story to my students in middle school because that's how it really was. You handled the situation the best you could. When you where pumping gas and building trusses you had some big guns bro. You were always naturally strong both physically and mentally. You were the first one to get a college education. (chemical eng)You have made mistakes but landed back on your feet. Isn't that what it's really all about. Remember, I've known you all my life and I know what I'm talking about.