(A couple disclaimers: Had some new followers after I posted some whiskey-fueled poetry recently. Thanks for the likes and such, but, hey, I’m not always funny. And, second, “Ruined” is in quotes, because not every single bit of my life has been horrible, obviously. My original nuclear family, some friends, some strangers, and of course my little “pumpkin” have been a joy at times.)
(Oh, and one more thing: What the FUCK, WordPress/my computer/my internet provider/karma/voodoo? I turned my back on my “draft” for a minute and two-thirds of my first paragraph disappeared–I’m fixin’ to have a stroke. I’m gonna save chunks of it to a Notepad file artificially every couple minutes. I don’t know where, the fuck, it went. Pretty displeased here. 2nd time this has happened at least in my wordpress “career.” Will try to recreate.)
I hid behind a towel on the first day of swimming lessons as a kid of, maybe 5 or 6 (we didn’t throw ’em in the water at birth back then like we do now), a scared little farm kid at the local municipal pool. The pool has been remodeled a couple times since then. People don’t twist one corner of their swim towels up and hang ’em in the chain link fence any more; instead they have room to lounge on loungers, drape their family’s towels over their backpacks, keeping their sunscreen cool and their towels dry while endlessly Facebooking and texting, occasionally looking up to see if their kids are still alive. But, back in the early ’60s the deck was narrow, and if you didn’t hang your towel up high, it was gonna be a soggy blob in the backseat of Mom’s Custom 500, and you were gonna air dry. Which is pretty chilly at any temp under 88 degrees F if you’re soaking wet out in the morning breeze.
I’d like to think the high school girl lifeguard teaching little tykes to dip their heads underwater thought it was cute that I was so shy, and didn’t instead tell her friends later in the locker room or at the 3.2 bar*: “You should have seen this little fag (queer? homo? not sure what the impolite pre-PC epithet would have been back then for ‘a weenie-ass’) who hid behind his towel this morning. What a drip. Straight off the farm I guess.”
I wasn’t around many kids as a little one. My mom stayed home till I (youngest, therefore best) turned 15. The nearest neighbors were a quarter-mile each way east and west, a half-mile to the south, and 2 miles of bad road and creek/pasture lands to the north. My cousins who lived on one side, the boy who may or may not have molested us (I have no memory of any such things and didn’t quiz my sis on the details of her allegations about him before that cocksucker breast cancer stole her away at age 53; my shyness was way before and way beyond anything that he may or may not have done then), and the girl cousin, who I have a crystal-clear memory of her being a prissy, condescending cunt (I don’t just throw that word away, by the way), didn’t visit that much; they were too busy being better than us, and a few years older. We were loved, though, tremendously loved, by the sweetest mother ever to walk the Earth, and a dad who loved us but didn’t really know how to get close. So he farmed. His ass off. And Mom helped and ran the house and then went back to work and someone invented microwaves and also hamburger helper and they bought a dishwasher, and some years the crops got partly hailed out and some years the corn was 10 foot high without irrigation.
Enough digressing. I wasn’t around that many kids, went to country school where there were maybe 18-30 kids in a two-room schoolhouse (main room for all grades, plus a library), then to town school when it was my time to go to middle school in town, the same year they closed all the country schools so that I had to ride all the way to town with all the screamin’ little kids that I thought I was going to leave for the last few miles into town.
What did I learn by being around more kids? That most kids leave you alone, that it’s fairly easy to hide in the corner and just get everything right when called upon in class but never pipe up too much otherwise, that gym class is a nightmare if you’re extremely shy and horrifically uncoordinated. You don’t want a wet towel snapped at you, you don’t want anyone to look at you, you want to just disappear because you feel so uncomfortable being around a bunch of people. Or even a small number of people.
What did I learn from high school? That it wasn’t quite as easy to disappear, but if you tried to stay out of the way, have some laughs with little factions of kids here and there, or sat kinda in the corner, kinda by yourself and kinda by people, at games and cheered with everyone else in the stands, if you stood in the back at after-game dances, it wasn’t the worst time ever, as long as you didn’t have to be in front of too many people.
I learned that speech class is child abuse. Let me repeat that, in case you misunderstand me: speech class is child abuse. Anytime before a student and his family are paying for it, which isn’t until college (that’s “university” for you Brits and British subjects) around here, forcing kids who are deathly shy to get up and speak in front of an audience of their peers, is child abuse. It does NOTHING for a shy kid. Before you say, “No, you can’t be right,” let me ask you: are you left-handed? I’ve never been, so I don’t comprehend the vast inferiority or absolute coolness of being a southpaw. I won’t tell you how it feels. Are you paralyzed or blind or deaf? Again (knock on wood) I’m none of those yet. A minority? All I know is “livin’ white.” If you were deathly shy as a kid, and have overcome it, and especially if speech class somehow magically opened the magic kingdom of performing to you, and especially if you had all of the above and are now a teacher, I’ll grant you the right to argue about it. Though, of course, you are utterly and hopelessly wrong. Speech class (and obviously I don’t mean some sort of remedial speech therapy-type class for lispers or stutterers or kids like that; I mean public speaking-type speech class here) is horribly traumatic for deathly shy kids.
I took away one “positive” from speech class: If you have to do something horribly distasteful or scary or terribly unpleasant, get it over with. Now. Both in high school, and later in college, I would raise my hand to be 2nd or 3rd, maybe 4th, speaker, but no later. I would try to vary it a little, but it had to be early. Not the first, because I was afraid the teacher would catch on to my plan and make me wait, for some reason. And because the future lady tv network president or local construction/realty heir wanted to be first, and because I knew I’d suck and I didn’t think the class should be tortured with my painful presentation at the very beginning. I’d get up 2nd or 3rd, and be awkward and maybe somehow compensate at times by being falsely too proud of some part of my speech (when someone would give me a little encouragement or for whatever reason), but mostly just be really, really awkward. I don’t know how it is for non-shy, non-awkward audience members, but for me nothing is worse, as an audience member, than to see a presenter being shy, unsure, or stumbling over their words. I just want them to get it over with. Another reason why I can’t understand why teachers would root for it.
What does “cure” shyness, even a bit? Getting into a peer group, any peer group, good, bad, or other, who accept you, every time, all of them, maybe in varying degrees, but you feel like you belong. It could just be a couple fellow partiers, fellow drinkers, co-workers who laugh at your jokes, some people you play basketball or frisbee with, or listen to music with. A girlfriend who dumps you after 3 months but introduces you to whiskey and sarcastic talk, then leaves you to pick up the dregs of your ego and your lonely despair by hanging out with a buddy or two who introduce you to more whiskey or beer or, well, it was the ’70s and ’80s. Then you marry the wrong girl and don’t have kids except for stepkids and divorce her and get another girl pregnant when you’re both old enough to know better. And if you believed that “things happen for a reason,” you’d be perfectly happy, in a way, that everything led up to this and that if you’d had those exciting relationships and that fulfilling life and career, you’d have never had your sweet little daughter. Maybe some other cool kids but not exactly her. Unthinkable.
But the other side of you says “Screw that,” I would’ve still ended up with her as my little girl, even as any romantic relationships with her mom or with other women ran their course, and I would’ve had a lot more fun in the meantime. If I hadn’t been so deathly shy that I failed to see every girl in college that sat right in front of me, that came to my dorm room, that all my group of friends left me alone with in the party room in the dorm, the girl who was (I thought) dating someone else, that I wouldn’t even fucking TALK to, I was that shy, and later, years later, I asked myself “Was that some sort of gay test?” Didn’t matter what kind of test it was; she was beautiful and ripe and I guess very willing, but I was deathly shy and I thought she was involved with someone and no amount of collegiate mood-altering could get me to work up the courage to speak to her. And they’d come to me because I guess my looks didn’t scare them, back then. Before you vomit a second time, for fuck’s sake we all had the glow of youth on us back then. Some of you do now, or still do, whoever’s reading this crap. Because if you’ve been shy and it has come back at times and you stack it up with some depression and some old-fashioned unhappiness, you don’t think anything you say or write is worth a damn either.
Another time, a few short years after college, back home and doing factory work in a college town and the college girl who plays Liza Doolittle is at a few of the same parties you’re at and she apparently arranges to be at a party at the apartment of your closest married couple friends, and sits by you, the two of you, and you fail the fucking test again. You’re next to a petite, dark-haired raving beauty who is funny and can sing and you’re too stoned and stupid to talk to her, and she goes away and you don’t kiss her and you don’t wake up next to her in the morning and she doesn’t blissfully say to you “How kind of you to let me come.” Do you know, fully know, how great a memory that would be? She would have found out soon how much of a little scared immature kid I still was and would’ve left me, but meanwhile it would have been good for a day or two or a week or two or a month or two, but I’ll never know, and she was mystified and knew she was desirable and must’ve thought I was as wacky, out of it, and loser-ly as I really was. I can only snicker at it and at my stupidity.
I’d be remiss if I let all this whining be about missed romance and missed sex. I just went to work, day after day, without a plan, unless I called in or was on vacation, for 27 years and then 7 hell-filled months on an assembly line and then 9 years+ at a store, and never used my English degree other than being able to follow drawings and use tools. And swore, with gusto and variety and physical impossibilities at the inanimate objects I was using, though they could not hear me and wouldn’t change their worthless ways no matter how creatively I swear at them.
I have worked, slept, watched relationships fail and family die and friendships go stale. I have been a spectator in my own life and watched abilities wasted for a lack of, not just ambition, clearheadedness, drive, ego, sobriety, interest, but also lack of confidence, lack of any desire to be out in front of people. I can sing a little, and not sing a lot, I can write (as long as I can work my fingers and arms, I can line up words in a row, worth reading or not), I have the Sagittarian charm when I want to, in small settings can sometimes bring out the laughs, but it’s all been a second-rate, too-little-too-late, litany of missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential. I only sing with my stereo, not even karaoke any more, never with the guitar I have owned for 40-some years; I never start the fucking novel. I have missed it, I have missed it, I have missed it. I have squandered my youth and I am 60, and I don’t mind writing that number except that the only thing I have accomplished is being a dad, which is beyond wonderful but is only one great part of a life that should be great.
I am great; I am nothing. I am worlds; I am a speck of dirt. I shout to the stars; I hide under my pillow, for the room, even my bedroom, should be spared the sight of me. I say everything that’s on my mind and anything I want to without fear and to anyone at any time unless I fear that they are pathologically boring or have no sense of humor, and this is the only great thing about getting older, and I’ve noticed this for several years, that I don’t care what people think, even if they think “Suck it up, Nancy-boy,” for that matter, because I am of this age and I am immune to criticism of any kind, yet I hide behind my hands at the end of the day at the thought of any possible slight or insult I may have perpetrated that day.
I strive to reach greatness, to wring the rag of my remaining talent till it lies limp on the floor, to leave something for the future but a lightweight-sounding commentary on the hours of tape from when my kid was little. Some YT videos, I guess (or Vimeo?) maybe a “soundcloud,” or whatever, reading of a blogpost so you could just vomit steady.
It would have to be some larger readership, maybe money from writing some smut or murder-and-sex books or something, that would bring me some degree of success, in my fantasy world. I’m too old to be a rocker and that little fat fairy Cupid only puts nothing or else freak shows in front of me for available women. I have a large range of what’s attractive to me. Homely is an accident of birth, but boring and stupid have no place in the world and there’s not enough bourbon in Tennessee to make boring and stupid look good. So now that it’s too late I flirt shamelessly with women who are married and who are my friends because it doesn’t matter, and, that’s that.
I have squandered it, squandered it mightily because I failed to make a great start as a young man. I am no longer so shy, but many things (and people) don’t hold my interest and I have become aloof which is what shy people become.
Thank you for wading through this.
What dream career or relationship did you cluster-fuck all to hell?
*In the ’60s (earlier also?) and ’70s, for a while, there were 3.2 bars in South Dakota where 18 year olds could get in and drink low-alchohol beer. You had to be 21 to drink liquor or 5% beer. The under-21 drinking was done away with, along with lower-alchohol content beer, sometime in the mid-70s I believe. The county does a lucrative business to this day on underage drinking arrests.