Memories

My own, or selected others.

(Memory from 2015)
Last Sunday night I went to bed late, around 1:30. I had to get up at 6 am to get Isaac ready for school and I cursed my stupid restless brain for setting me up to get 4.5 hours of sleep. So then I’m sleeping and something is worrying at me from far off. I’m down in a dream and it’s as if I hear someone calling me. Still really unconscious I’m trying to figure out what’s wrong. I hear my front gates moving, creaking, rattling.
My front yard is enclosed by a tall fence and a set of swinging gates that I routinely lock. It’s like the front room of my house, which happens to be outdoors. I’m used to hearing the gates moving in high wind but it’s obvious to me that the night is absolutely still except for my gates. It slowly comes to me that someone is struggling with the locks, working to get them open. It’s just two hook and eye latches and a slide bolt. Unfortunately, they are set up more to send the message that I don’t want drop-ins than to defeat a concerted attempt to get in. There’s also a bungee stretched across, mainly to keep the gates from moving much in a high wind.
Someone is pushing, pulling, reaching over and under to undo them and I hear them succeeding. Adrenaline. Eyes open. The clock says it’s 4:30 am. My brain is ransacking itself for some story where this is nothing bad. Run to the dark living room and look outside. It’s just what it sounds like: Arms, legs, and torso, pushing, squeezing through the gates, held back only by the bungee now. My brain keeps trying to see in his outline someone I know, someone who is there because they need my help. Nope.
I’m naked. I can’t confront someone like this, so I run to the bedroom to find clothes, and somehow can’t find fucking anything right. Where’s my robe? There! I pull it around me while running back to the living room.
He is through the gates now and he is carefully latching them all back up from the inside. He’s middle height, dressed in black, black hair. Middle eastern? Indian? Latino? He can’t see in because it’s bright out front and dark in here.
Isaac is asleep in his room perhaps 25 feet from where I’m standing, the door slightly ajar. I have a samurai sword on a shelf nearby and I reach for it, feeling very self-conscious like this is a cringey, ridiculous thing to do. I feel like I’m filled with freezing electricity. He’s peering around at the front of the house, I’m coming closer, watching him through the window. He throws something like a cloth or a towel down in front of the front door. He reaches out and puts his hand on the doorknob.
I rap loudly on the window. He startles wide-eyed and focuses on me in the shadows.
GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY YARD!!! I shout. Suddenly thinking of Isaac, please don’t wake up.
His face leans in toward me looking upset and beseeching.
“I just need to come in for a while.” He says, his hand on the doorknob again.
GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY YARD!!! I shout again, brandishing the sword. This is bad but it feels better than the moments of hiding and watching. He looks SO sad. He returns to the gate and begins undoing the locks and squishing himself out under the bungee, still in place.
A moment later, I’m outside redoing the locks and adding things to prevent reentry. As I come back in I realize the thing he threw down in front of my door is my own welcome mat, which had been hanging up to dry after cleaning. I can’t believe it, but Isaac is still asleep. I call 911 and tell them, then somehow eventually get back to sleep. I wake at six, wake up Isaac, and make him breakfast. I don’t say a word about what happened.
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Or: I risked my life for ugly sandals.

When I entered college I was a naive, disorganized, and eccentric person. This was also true when I left college – but that’s not really the point of this story.  Also, I didn’t know I was naive, disorganized, or eccentric when I arrived or left for that matter. After my grindingly lonely adolescence, I was overwhelmed to be in such an exciting and rich social environment. The amount of human contact was dizzying. I lost any academic focus in favor of people, People,  PEOPLE! But I quickly encountered a problem: Everyone seemed to be a factor of ten cooler than me. My new friends were constantly doing things like bicycling across South America or spending six months roughing it in India or hitchhiking cross country with a knife strapped to their hip. I am a bull moose introvert and a lover of comfort and safety. I was morbidly introspective yet lacking any real self-knowledge, as I had no life experience.  I was embedded in the new age spirituality of the time and I thought I was about 8 paces from enlightenment. This in no way conflicted in my mind with doing lots of drugs and being fairly promiscuous. I certainly never imagined that I was something called high functioning autistic, or ADHD, with a lengthy list of phobias and rigid behaviors.

I simply felt that I didn’t measure up to community standards for coolness. I would have to become more courageous and daring. I began keeping an eye open for a situation I could use to toughen myself up and bolster my street cred and my cool quotient. I soon stumbled into/engineered one.

Random Sex and Ugly Footwear  

Most of my new friends were sort of clothes optional people and social nudity was not a big deal at all. It all started with bunches of us swimming naked in the pond that surrounded the chapel. We’d all tromp down to the edge of the water, throw our clothes off and dive in. I remember a well-known member of the art faculty joining us at least once. I also remember a look crossing his face that I now interpret as “Did I just ruin my career?”

Afterward, we’d throw on just enough clothing to walk around in public and head back to the Kappa dorms where everyone would hit the showers together. As I look back and remember standing in the girl’s shower, being soaped up …by girls, I realize that times like these are impossible to appreciate properly while you are still being included in them. The whole dorm became defacto clothes optional much to my delight (and almost definitely to the distress of others). We also took to sunning ourselves naked on the concrete porches of the south-facing upper floor in Kappa. In response, the buildings and grounds guys in their little golf carts started incessantly driving back and forth across that field on countless emergency missions that all required offroading past the naked chicks to save time.

One weekend, a sort of friendly acquaintance, David, came down from Gainesville, (a small university town about 2.5 hours north on Highway 75) to see Dale, the (female) RA of the dorm (and regular member of the nude swim team). He brought a really cute girl named Diana with him. I’m not quite sure why, but we all ended up sitting around in Dale’s room naked, and smoking dope, exactly as our parents had hoped. I sprang a sudden diamond-hard boner that remained in place over hours of talking and laughter. I didn’t feel any shame or awkwardness, possibly because it was a “Life is Wonderful” boner rather than a “Let’s get it on”  boner. In the 2 or 3 hours since meeting each other, Diana and I “hit it off” to the point that we climbed out the window to the “porch” at midnight and spent a long, weird, not very comfortable, yet sexy night on that balcony. I remember receiving a blowjob at dawn and looking up to see Dale’s two owlish female neighbors peering at us, in flagrante delicto,  through their window blinds – in a distressed yet very attentive sort of way. I came close to giving a gentle wave hello but opted for pretending I didn’t see them. Sleeping outdoors on a slab of concrete is chilly and unpleasant even in Florida so Diana and I rose early, shuffled naked through Dale’s room, and off to the women’s showers for a hot and soapy fuck to warm up.

Diana and I had a nice morning before I wished her and David safe travels and they hit the road for home. Diana might easily have left my story so thoroughly at this point that I could have forgotten her long ago but for an absolutely terrible “good idea” that soon struck me. Continue reading

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This is maybe the oddest moment of my life but it is far from the most important. It is an indelible, insoluble small mystery shaped like a child’s brag. What I love about this story is that it offers no really sensible resolution, nor does it actually appear to mean anything in particular. It’s merely absurd and impossible but obvious to the naked eye, on an otherwise ordinary Spring day.  This story takes place in Greenville, South Carolina.

I was at school, in gym class, playing baseball. I was 10 years old, I was small and blond – with big glasses – and notoriously bad at sports. I came up to bat dreading the usual failure and the indifferent contempt of my team-mates.

There’s the pitch, I hit the ball solidly. It sailed away from the baseball diamond all the way to the playground where it hit the middle of a HUGE tree as tall as a four-story building, and too big for me to put my arms around. The ball went THOK off the tree as I ran. As I neared first base there was a huge splintering CRACK and the tree collapsed cinematically across the playground which, thank god, was empty of kids.

The game was called on account of amazement.

I was actually carried on the kids’ shoulders into school… into the gobsmacked principal’s office for the coach to inform him. The next day the school had to hire guys with chainsaws to come and cut it up. It loudly took the entire school day. I sat through my classes listening to the chainsaws singing of my glory. As we left that day (and forever after) the carved up parts of my tree were stacked in a huge pile at the far edge of the playground like the bones of Goliath.

It was an enigma that came to visit me in front of everyone like a dazzling celebrity giving me in particular finger guns and a grinning wink. There you go, kid.

 

Oh, shut up.

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Note: This is a writing exercise exploring an important memory, but one that existed like a collection of facts without much context or meaning. I find when I use writing to explore a memory that the lights come back on, and details lead to meanings along a narrative path. Every time I’ve done this I’ve been given a fresh understanding with relevance to my life in this very minute.


When I was young I lived with chronic depression, untreated… could there even be a more discouraging opening to an erotic memory?

Nonetheless, there is fucking ahead. Also betrayal, malpractice, and naivety. Plus a soupcon of shitty meanness.

My depression as a child and adolescent was like a seasonal beating given by an indifferent but professional thug. Or pulling from a different box, I was like a tiny Pacific Atoll blown apart by tropical cyclones 2 to 3 times a year. My palm trees thrashed violently in the wind, my beaches eroded and my desperate citizens disappeared into any hiding place they could find. My dad was a veteran of maybe a dozen years of Freudian therapy for depression and my mom was in therapy for at least a couple of years.

To the best of my recollection, they never noticed my withdrawal and sorrow and I didn’t feel I should bother them for help.

I think that: 

  1. I might have masked it well enough to look pretty healthy, but
  2. How did they not notice anyway?

My son is extremely private, a secretive and enigmatic person, but I see clouds or clear skies on his face and understand the weather in there well enough to send aid and comfort to the suffering people of his tiny island. My suffering finally surfaced in talks with my mom when I was 15 or 16. My self-loathing and despair were catastrophic, a house burning down. She listened to me lovingly and sympathetically, she made positive suggestions, but that’s all. She didn’t perceive a need to address it beyond this. I don’t go back and live in the ashes of family psychodrama, blowing on the embers. I don’t hold mental Nuremberg trials for my parents and I find little value in blame beyond healthy and timely communication to keep the pipes running freely. But my parents let me down, the only two people, directly tasked with my well-being and very knowledgeable about mental health by the standards of the time, did nothing to help me despite the obvious crisis. I was failing out of school, peacefully refusing to do any work like a teenage “Bartelby the scrivener”. I had given up having friends and lived alone in my room. That’s the extent of the case I prosecute against them and that’s where I let it go, feeling mystified since I know they loved me and worried about me. Continue reading

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“Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their children than the unlived life of the parent.” – Carl Jung

Plot Twist

I grew up with a depressed alcoholic Father. I’d sit watching TV beside him in the evenings as he knocked back a steady line up of scotch/rocks and smoked his Kents. I loved my Father though his misery seemed way too much like the family business I was expected to eventually shoulder. My Dad seemed like a frightened, tired fugitive who’d joined the family by pretending to belong here; reading the paper nonchalantly until the coast was clear. This turned out to be close to the truth.

I discovered something surprising about him while reading through a stack of his old poetry.

Pretend you’re me. Five years after your distinctly heterosexual and masculine father dies.

Author: Richard B. Miller

Here’s my new story, delivered to me at that hour and minute. My Dad was Gay and living in permanent exile from his own life. Or he was Bi, in the closet, and living an untrue life. Or maybe there is something I’m missing. I’m building a story out of fragments connected by gaps of unknown size and shape. Being Gay or Bi in the mid-twentieth century is sufficient reason for any rhetorical person to hide, but insufficient for me to understand my father. Who was he hiding from? His family? He held them in contempt or at a cold distance. Society? The law? I have a sort of theory. I’ll get there eventually.

I’m uncomfortable revealing his most private secret to you, one that he never wanted to reveal to me. A secret he may not have revealed to anyone after his early twenties. I’m reluctant to expose his story out of concern for his feelings, his pride, and his shame. But none of these exist now, except in me on his behalf. OK, I can’t hurt him with this story. I’m the only one morally responsible and there’s no victim to protect.

Maybe I’m naive but I was shocked at first because he was so gruff and masculine, it played hard against type. However, it did resolve my lifetime question: Why the hell is this guy so uncomfortable? It made him a more sympathetic character to me. He stifled his most basic feelings and lived in that prison. He nursed a broken heart for a lost love grown perfect in the virtual world of separation. Many of us do something similar, but a happy life keeps that pot on low heat, on a back burner. His pot boiled away till it charred. Pay too much attention to your ghosts and they come to own you. Continue reading

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The madman stepped out of the shadows three feet away and smiled broadly.

Under the harsh yellow streetlight, his blonde hair was white, the angles of his face gaunt. His eyes glinted with light from another world. It was my best friend John, or at least John’s body with a schizophrenic parody of him in residence. The scary thing about John as a schizophrenic wasn’t what he was doing right now, it was knowing he might do anything, that prediction was impossible.

“Hello, initiate,” he said, flipping a coin and snatching it from midair. “Heads,” he said, holding his palm open to me with a penny, tail side up.

I fought back my fight or flight response and focused on some here-and-now questions.
“When did you get out of the hospital?” I asked him.

He whispered, “The temple was never completed” and ran off into the night.

At this early stage of madness, he was eerily himself, handsome, self-possessed, and affable. Months later he wandered up to me ragged and filthy, with broken teeth. His personality faded in and out like a badly tuned radio. After a moment of lucidness, he would cackle and dance clownishly away, his rags flying. It was quietly nightmarish to see a friend’s face with someone else’s eyes in place of his. Same house, different tenant. Continue reading

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Note: This is a writing exercise exploring an important memory, but one that existed like a collection of facts without much context or meaning. I find when I use writing to explore a memory that the lights come back on, and details lead to meanings along a narrative path. Every time I’ve done this I’ve been given a fresh understanding with relevance to my life in this very minute.

In college, (in Florida) during Freshman orientation I met Ally. We had nothing in common except for an instant liking for each other. Something about the other brought out the loving and playful side of us both. We had silly, warm-hearted fun every time we got together, and that was a lot. I was friends with her and her roommate, Laura, and spent time with them almost every day. Ally was tall, slim, and blonde, a bit angelic. Laura was pale with black hair and blue eyes, beautiful really.

Randomness made them roommates but they had good friend chemistry and shared the cultural reality of being good girls from the conservative, Christian south. They were both sheltered, innocent, and upright. They dressed modestly. Whereas I was some sort of oddball from the liberal agnostic dimension with a good bit of sex and drugs in my experience bank. I was a shameless male slut and good at getting into sexual situations. In fact, by this age, I had managed to be kind of a shallow manipulative asshole sexually multiple times. This isn’t ugly bragging at all, just truthtelling. Here’s the odd thing, attracted as I was to both Ally and Laura, I just loved them innocently and couldn’t have MADE myself seduce either of them. I understood half-consciously that that part of me wasn’t good for people. Spontaneously, I wanted to be good for both of them.

This doesn’t mean we were prim and distant. I’d visit and I’d talk all kinds of silly crap that made them laugh, then maybe they’d make us tea and we’d eat oranges together. Soon this would devolve into orange peel wars and finally into grunting and groaning wrestling matches across every surface in the dorm room but the ceiling. Continue reading

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Years ago in my early 20s, I enrolled in a massage school in the San Francisco Bay area to get my license. There was an academic side of studying anatomy and physiology, and a practical side of learning new techniques and alternating massages with the other students for several hours each time we met. At the end of the course, we had to pass the anatomy/ physiology exam and give a practical demonstration of our massage skills. We met twice a week for a couple of months.

On day one, the group was me, one older guy, about 10 or 12 women in their 20s and 30s, and the 40ish woman who ran the school. On day 2 the other guy quit. For the rest of the course, I was the only man (naked) in a big open room full of massage tables and naked women. We were all naked, giving and receiving massages, except for breaks until the end of the day. Possibly this was to burn out any tension about nudity, if not it was just the culture of San Fransisco in the 80s. Come to think of it, it would have been really awkward dressing between rounds only to strip again minutes later.

I was comfortable with social nudity and although the situation was kind of abstractly exciting (mainly while anticipating everyone disrobing) I found that while giving massage I naturally tuned in to the personal and vulnerable story each woman’s body had to tell. Stresses, strains, and scars are written on the skin and in the muscles, and emotions like shame or sadness could be felt while passing through certain areas. The main feeling evoked was compassion. I didn’t get a hard-on because the vibe was clearly non-sexual. Context matters.

The memory that still sizzles a bit was one day when I was on the table face up, and the woman massaging me was working my thighs. This is almost an automatic erection trigger for me and I went to full extension in seconds like an inflatable emergency liferaft. I just had enough time to think “Eek!” and start mentally hissing at my dick like a misbehaving child in church. “Sit DOWN, sit down right now!”

When suddenly our teacher was at the foot of the table and calling the class to gather around with an “Oh look what I found!” tone of voice, and they did, 11 naked women gathered in a half-circle at the foot of my table, calmly staring at my hard-on. I took this in with one glance and focused instead on the ceiling. I would have expected him to roll up like a sad snail but he responded to attention like a confident runway model.

Paraphrasing, she said: “This happens with male clients all the time. Erections are spontaneous. It’s normal, often completely innocent, and nothing you ever need to do anything about.” A few students had questions and she answered them simply, and light-heartedly to reinforce the message that it was normal and no big deal.

I suspect she’d been wanting (and waiting) to make this point with the group and I was the only one present who could demo the uh… situation. I just laid there… pointing urgently at the ceiling and feeling the eyes on me in a kind of waking version of the showing-up-naked-at-High-School dream till she dismissed everyone back to their tables.

My masseuse returned to work carefully “avoiding the issue” with both of us feeling more self-conscious than usual for the duration.

 

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It’s just a snippet out of context and it won’t mean much to you, but for me, this is like finding a shred of an ancient scroll in a clay pot: Thrilling, but poignantly incomplete.

I love bedtime stories. Listening to the voice of someone I love telling me a story at bedtime carries me along like a gentle river, and the moment of drifting off is exquisitely easy. It’s unburdened by the thornbush of anxious thoughts where we so often find ourselves after turning off the light.  I also love reading bedtime stories. If there was some way that 17 year old Isaac would allow it, I’d be happy doing it now. It’s a very sweet way of being together and sharing a world. I always found it relaxed him into naturally talking about what was happening in his world. This was never the reason for reading, just a very nice side effect. Nothing else allowed him to confide his feelings and concerns so easily. We’d pause the story and explore his situation for a while.

Between the days of reading baby books and the days of reading novels, I nightly made up stories out of thin air. He was very small, but old enough to understand and love a detailed, wide ranging story. He initiated it with a passionate request that I make up a story. I suppose it went on for two or three years ( I didn’t have him full time, but often). If you imagine doing this it feels daunting and doomed to failure. Waiting for a story to collect in your head is useless. The opposite of telling a story is worrying about what story to tell. The secret is to simply begin.  Obviously you need a character or situation as the first domino but you can grab one off the endless racks surrounding us and just jump.

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For Isaac, who was shocked at a story about his early flashes of brilliance. Here are a few early memories of your shining mind.

First I wanted to mention two very early things.

In the first you were about 18 to maybe 20 months old, that’s a toddler. You had started walking a few months before. Your favorite form of travel was me picking you up and carrying you around. You started to talk a couple of months before this. We were in the backyard at your Mom’s old house, I was carrying you. It was a beautiful evening with a royal blue sky and a big, nearly full moon. You pointed your tiny hand and said “Moon climbing up the sky…” In case you don’t get it that’s amazing. One night not long afterwards,  your mom was driving you home from day care and you were of course strapped in the back seat and said “The night is dark and lovely” You have your quirks my boy, but you have serious gifts too.

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