Growing up… different
I would say that I was a normal enough looking boy growing up, perhaps a bit on the small and puny side, partially caused by genetics (my parents weren’t large people) and some of which I attribute to being sick a lot. Really, I was just the kid who lived in the house on the corner.
One of the things that made me different from others was my insatiable thirst for knowledge. Just knowing something wasn’t good enough, I had to know the why behind it all.
That desire got an unexpected boost from the somewhat self-serving desire (she got a commission) of my first grade teacher to sell my parents a set of World Book encyclopedias. Her efforts worked well to fuel my need for an input fix. How could anyone not want books!
It was the way that she convinced my parents and what happened afterwards, that dropped me squarely into the category of “different.”
Being too smart
I was at school long enough in the beginning of first grade to take several batteries of tests, (many more than my classmates who only took two) and the results of each test seemed to be that I had to take another. I thought that there was something wrong with me and that I was in trouble somehow… what did I know, I was six years old!
Before any of the test results could be explained to me, or I could do anything other than have to read out loud to the class every day, I got sick with bronchial pneumonia and nearly died. My temperature stayed around 105 for so long that they thought that I would burn my brain to a cinder.
Surprise! I didn’t die! But I did miss six weeks of school (that time) and my older brother was terrifying me with suggestions that I was going to be held back for missing class. So when my teacher, Mrs. Reynolds, showed up at the house, I just knew that I was doomed. Because in little kid minds, anything unexplainable is ALWAYS doom.
When I was called into the living room to sit quietly and witness what was to take place I could see my brother’s face (who was at school) saying, “You are going to get it now!” It was a rare thing to have my father at home during the day, so I was sure something bad was waiting to fall on my head.
My teacher brought in two items: a manila envelope with my name on it, which she placed beside her on the couch, and a folder full of shiny papers about World Book encyclopedias that she laid out on the coffee table so that my parents could see it all. I really had no idea what selling encyclopedias was about so it was all just “stuff” to me.
In 1959 you did not question anything that an adult did, so I sat quietly and watched, waiting for one of them to say something to me and hoping that it penetrated my drifting thoughts so that I didn’t get into trouble for not paying attention when they spoke. My mind never slowed down and I could be anywhere, which proved to be a problem when what was going on around me was boring; and it usually was.
My mother’s voice brought me back to the present as she was looking at me, but speaking to the teacher. I finally processed her question and nearly swallowed my tongue as she asked, “does that mean that Kenneth (she always used my full name) will have to be held back a year?”
Mrs. Reynolds looked at me and laughed, possibly because I had the look of a boy about to wet himself, or maybe because she was dealing with parents who didn’t know what a strange child they had.
“No ma’am,” she said, “If anything, he should probably be advanced a year.”
As that news sank in to my parents brains, (and I sat there still unsure of my fate), she reached for the package of kryptonite on the couch beside her. It was to launch me on my career of always being different.
She could see that my parents were clearly not going to spend the small fortune on the set of books that they had no use for. If it wasn’t a decorating or gardening magazine, my mother wasn’t interested. For my father it had to be a technical manual for work, or the newspaper; nothing else mattered. To spend so much money on a set of reference books which could be found in any school or public library was a ridiculous expense to them. This was a time when one dollar could buy a loaf of bread, a gallon of milk and a gallon of gasoline… with change left over.
I could see that my teacher was truly in her element, (although to me it just looked like her happy face) as she opened the envelope while saying to my parents, “Before you decide, I think that you need to know about these test results…”
It has been impossible to forget my father’s words as Mrs. Reynolds explained each set of papers to them which showed me to be far ahead of my classmates in every area tested. He said, “So now what are we supposed to do with him?” Yes, it was true, I had mental leprosy…
My cunning teacher knew that she had them at that point and eased the shiny papers back in front of my parents saying, “He must have the proper resources to realize his potential…” and other such mind twisting platitudes and clichés which she skillfully employed in her part time occupation of book peddler. The woman had talents obviously underutilized as a first grade teacher; she could have sold sand to a Bedouin.
When she used the “G” word (genius) my father told me to go to my room and shut the door. It was apparently harmful for a child to know that they were smart, or something. I just went to my room… I liked it better in there anyway.
She had them caught in that mixed moment of uncertainty where pride; and fear of not doing enough for their child, met. They wanted a certain degree of parental bragging rights, but without any large commitments of cash if they could help it. It was a dilemma to be sure.
“Yeah, our son is a genius… we keep him in a cardboard box and shoot grapes to him with a slingshot so he doesn’t contaminate our other children. He will outgrow it before he reaches college age… I hope.”
They signed the papers and the set of 1960 World Book encyclopedias plus the 1961 yearbook were on their way. My father was grumpy for a week as he grumbled about the money being spent on books.
I was as happy as a pig in mud, I finally had something new to read and read them I did. For six weeks plus (while I was at home sick) I read until I fell asleep and then began again when I awoke. I read every book of the twenty-one piece set in order and then my favorite sections again and again. I soaked up so much information that my brothers and older sister would pick on me for “thinking that I knew everything.” I was fairly exploding with information and even though I was a sick little kid who had a tough time breathing between coughing spells, my fun meter was pegged!
Having an eidetic memory with a more than 90% retention rate made life interesting as I quoted them page and paragraph when they challenged what I said about things. I had the information, but lacked the wisdom needed to not be seen as arrogant or offensive, at least in my sibling’s eyes. I wasn’t trying to be a know-it-all, I just wouldn’t back down if I was right about something; a problem that I still have today.
The next year I was healthier and doing better in a room with two female classmates who were well above average academically helping take the heat off of me; until the IQ tests were administered.
The book check out rule at our school library was two books at a time, per library visit… for everyone except me. The librarian was the coolest lady at the school, without exception. She was super smart and appreciated my love of reading and books in general. I had no limit on how many books I could check out or how many times I could visit the library. I was there at least twice a day, every day; usually three times unless the teacher wouldn’t let me go at lunch time. I carried a stack of books home every afternoon and never, ever damaged or lost one.
Yes, I was a full blown book-a-holic by then, reading everything that I could get hold of and challenging everyone and everything that was wrong. I was definitely a problem child, being described frequently as “different” in public, and “not-right-in-the-head” behind closed doors that didn’t block sound quite as well as the adults thought.
Uh-oh, IQ Testing
When we were given IQ tests administered by a company which did so as their business (and usually at colleges) the trouble started in earnest. The school had conducted its own testing prior to this year and the older teachers resented anyone else holding court in their classrooms where their rule had always been absolute. It didn’t seem to matter (to my teacher) that the young man in our classroom had PhD after his name. In fact after I asked him what it meant and said “wow!” at his answer, my teacher was fairly scowling at both of us.
My second grade teacher, Miss Wright (not related), was a crotchety older woman well past retirement age, but she had nothing else to do, so she refused to leave. I think the administrators were too afraid of her to force the issue. Our principal had been one of her students when he was in second grade.
This was my educational guide, my teacher, who, upon looking at my score blurted out, “This can’t be right, he must have cheated somehow, it can’t be this high.”
My face turned red as a tomato because I had never been accused of something so heinous in my short life. I wouldn’t have known how to cheat IF it would have ever occurred to me to do so, which it never did. I didn’t need to cheat on anything.
The test proctor saw my face and went off on Miss Wright, in a quiet and dignified way which I admired him for (I hated yelling). Without ever raising his voice, he had the much older woman backed down and quiet in short order. Relatively quiet anyway, she was muttering things under her breath.
He took me to the back of the classroom and administered a second battery of tests, sporting a red glow on his face as he tried to work through his apparent anger, which now as an adult I can truly appreciate.
Upon completion of my test scoring, which had taken us well into recess (I wasn’t allowed to leave lest I be accused of doing something wrong), he got nose to nose with my teacher and said, “Well, well Miss Wright, you were correct about his score…” which upon hearing she got a smug look on her face and glared at me, “his score is actually five points higher!” and he called out the two scores (which I won’t state here). He also called my house and told my mother, just in case my teacher didn’t.
That night at dinner I heard the “G” word whispered from my mother to my father and both looked at me like I had done something wrong. My older brother picked up on it and called me a weirdo. I guess that I really felt like one too. But I had no idea why being smart was a bad thing; I still don’t.
After that testing incident my teacher switched gears, parading me around like a side show freak along with my two female classmates who were the other members of my reading group in her class. She delighted in making us read for every class in the school. Collectively we were reading three grades ahead of everyone else, I tested out at tenth grade (10.7) level, but wasn’t allowed to have a curriculum past grade five for a reason that was unknown to me then. I have since had it explained to me that most likely my teacher was not certified to teach beyond the K-6 level, thus my restriction.
That moment of glory for her as the teacher “responsible”, translated into a non-stop series of battles for me. Because of my reading ability the older kids, boys especially, felt like I was making fun of them or putting them down in some way. They had been made to feel inferior or inadequate and it made them angry. That anger was directed at me and they missed no opportunity to convey that message with their fists and feet. I had more fights than Joe Louis, just while I was in elementary school.
Was I different? Apparently I was the freak that my brother teased me about being. But while I acknowledged being different, I never saw myself as being wrong in the way I thought or acted. I fought back punch for punch and sometimes I got beat up, but not often, because I could out think my opponents. I often got reported to my principal and/or my mother for being a trouble maker. I just didn’t have a reverse gear and wouldn’t back up when I knew that I was right.
While the world around me was living in the very white 1950’s and ‘60’s, red was not only associated with Russians and communism, but the necks of those that I was “supposed” to associate with.
We had our “kind” I was told by the preacher and Sunday school teacher; our white, protestant, straight, carefully non-ethnic kind. Like the Baptist preacher before him, this Methodist minister made it clear that it also had to be people who prayed and believed in exactly the same way as the interpretation of the bible that his church promoted. It seemed that their chosen version of God hated all of the same people that they did… how convenient I thought. I smelled a rat in organized religion even then, and life kept handing me more proof as I got older.
Kids who looked like me but weren’t as smart made up the group surrounding me in elementary school (K-6 for my international readers) this lead me to joining a gang (at ten years old) comprised of older boys who could handle my intelligence easier, but still were rednecks. Being involved with them lead me to such sterling achievements as stealing the light bar off of the top of a cop car while they were taking an unauthorized meal break, breaking into a school and moving a teacher’s desk to the roof, and numerous gang fights at the high school football stadium at night. They were also no stranger to drugs and alcohol use. I did the drinking but wouldn’t touch the drugs as I had already witnessed an overdose death and bizarre behavior. The kids pushing me to try drugs actually saved me… the more someone pushed, the less likely I would ever do what they wanted. Being different saved my butt; again!
After I met some Cuban kids my life took a turn for the better, as their family didn’t care that I was smart, or white. Then I some Italians from New York moved in next door and a Jewish family, also from New York started sending their son to my school instead of private school.
Junior High School
By the time we entered the seventh grade our group looked like the United Nations. My Seminole Indian brothers and sisters, joined the black kids and our old gang (not really a gang, I got out of that) and we got along incredibly well. We represented all religions and no religion, it didn’t matter to us what anyone believed. We looked more like a group found on Ellis Island than kids from Hollywood, Florida.
We had our own language made up of words from multiple languages like Spanish, Italian, Yiddish, Miccosukee, Swahili, and some that we just plain made up, all to confuse those who made fun of us or would do us harm in one fashion or another. The local police officers really didn’t like us speaking our cobbled together language and harassed us at every opportunity, calling us “commies” and would not allow us to gather together at any fast food place or convenience store, etc. saying that we were unruly troublemakers that would drive business away. For the record, we never once caused trouble, stole anything, or even littered! We were extremely careful about what we did, as some of us did have “experience” with the law and didn’t want any trouble.
My friends didn’t care that I was probably smarter than they were, nor did they care that I was white; in the same way that their color, ethnicity, or religious beliefs were unimportant to me. We had something very powerful in common… we were all different. We were the outcasts of the local societal norms; we did not fit the mold of what “should” be.
I started getting visits from the Methodist church youth group leaders who were all high school age. They had heard about my association with all of these people of different colors and religions and decided that they had to intervene and save my soul from eternal damnation (their exact words). I made it as clear as I could that I did not need, nor did I want their salvation. They came back again and were going to take me to church by force and pray over me.
As you know by now, I never have taken kindly to being pushed into something, so when the youth group leader grabbed my arm I hit him as hard as I could and broke his nose. Having the element of surprise in my favor, I ran before they could all jump on me. They tried again, this time with all girls, knowing that I wouldn’t hit them. But I saw them and slipped out the backdoor and up onto the roof of our house where no one knew where I was. My mother had to tell them that she didn’t know where I was, which was the truth. She didn’t see me go outside. They waited for over an hour before they left.
My mother never would admit to calling the pastor, (who in turn sent the teenagers to see me), but a girl I knew was good friends with his daughter and she told me that it was true. I told my mother that I was never going back to that church ever again, and I didn’t. The youth group kids never came back.
My adopted families all treated me like their son, even though I was obviously different; they truly didn’t care. They also didn’t hold the fact that I was white kid in a white dominated society which was very hard on all of them against me. They shared their cultures with me, fed me, hugged me and showed me what love and hospitality was all about. Different felt really good to me about then.
It was during this time period that I experienced one of the lowest forms of humanity that I have ever known. I went with my Seminole brothers to secretly observe a KKK rally, which you can read about in “The Truth about the KKK”. I was never so proud of being different in my life. If those fools were normal, I didn’t (and don’t) want any of it (being normal).
My first high school was a logistical nightmare as multiple schools were shut down in our area, and they all dumped students into our school. We had five staggered starting times, plus a whole village of portable modular classrooms set up in rows A through Z and numbered outward from the main school buildings, there were literally thousands of students on campus.
My World History class was held in the auditorium and had 750 students in it with five teachers. One lectured while the other four patrolled trying to keep order. The teacher in our section told us that he wouldn’t report us if we skipped class, as there was no way to keep the room cool enough. Every human body that wasn’t there putting off heat helped the cause.
The local drug dealers were having the most profitable days of their lives with so many customers in the now nearly uncontrollable student body. We had gangs in the halls of both white and black varieties. I knew representatives from all of the local gangs but the kids from the other schools were new to me. That got me into trouble as I was deemed a problem because I wouldn’t side with anyone against the others. This earned me an ice pick in the back while in the crowded halls at class changing time. Fortunately for me it didn’t hit anything vital as my shoulder blade stopped it. No one ever took credit for the attack.
In an unrelated action; I got suspended for punching my biology teacher for putting his hands on me. Yes, he was a very effeminate, short, hairy, gay man that we all knew was gay, but it had nothing to do with sexual behavior. I was late coming from my previous class (Physical Education) due to our coach keeping us out on the field longer than he should have. It was an excused “tardy” situation, even announced over the school P.A. system, which unfortunately the portable classroom I was entering still did not have installed.
I entered the classroom, apologizing for my tardiness (and interrupting) as I tried to go to my assigned seat. Mr. “P.” was a “shoulder grabber” and I had asked him not to put his hands on me previously.
As I walked past him he latched onto my shoulder in his version of the “Vulcan neck pinch”, which caused the very quiet girl in the first seat to utter an “Oh shit”. She was right to anticipate trouble; I spun on my heel, turned and punched the teacher square in the face, knocking him out the still open door and down the three steps to the asphalt sidewalk below. I followed him out and as I stepped over him, said. “I am going to the principal’s office now Mr. P. You really shouldn’t have touched me again.”
I went directly to the administrative building, walked up to the receptionist and told her that I had just punched a teacher and needed to see the principal. Said principal just happened to be my father’s football coach from his high school days at a different school. I fully expected to be shot at sunrise.
The sentence was just three days suspension, largely due to the stack of statements in my behalf from other students who had witnessed not only the altercation, but the previous occasions where I had repeatedly asked the teacher to keep his hands off of me. He never did anything overtly sexual; it was just the physical contact of being grabbed that I didn’t like. There was also a stack of complaints from other students who had problems with him for one reason or another. None of which was enough to get him removed as he had tenure and there was a shortage of qualified teachers willing to subject themselves to the horrendous conditions of overcrowding that we were experiencing.
We (my parents and I) elected to change schools instead to fighting with that mess any longer.
It was at this point that I decided to give up on traditional team sports. I still rodeoed and surfed, but didn’t care about football, baseball, track, or wrestling. The truth is, I never cared about them but had to compete to be accepted. I preferred to wander the swamp with my Seminole friends or just my dog. Animals were more interesting to me than cars, which drove my brothers crazy.
That “different” label emerged again and again; I didn’t care what others thought was important and no longer tried to fit their mold of whom or what I should be.
My second high school brought conflict between social groups like cowboys and hippies, and more racial tensions between whites and blacks, including a riot at school engineered by outsiders who were causing unrest for their own agendas. I was caught in the crossfire as I had friends on both sides and didn’t think that any of what they were yelling about was enough reason to hurt people. I rodeoed with the cowboys and listened to Santana, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead with the hippies; and I didn’t care who smoked weed… I didn’t smoke, but that just wasn’t important to me.
Once again I was different and on the outside, shaking my head at what the “normal” people were doing.
We moved as my senior year was about to begin and I went to a school (my third high school) where I was Albert Einstein reincarnated if you looked at GPAs or test scores. I also didn’t play golf and wasn’t a devotee of NASCAR. They could hardly believe that I was white when I played Motown and James Brown (along with my regular rock and roll music) instead of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, etc.
There were two classes that worked for me (and I could scarcely believe were even offered in such a backwards place), those being psychology and English Literature (as in Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, etc.). They were understandably small classes and only offered because of teacher availability. The basic level classes of English, Mathematics and Biology 1 were bursting at the seams and kids were graduating from high school with an embarrassing lack of ability in any of them.
My participation in the aforementioned classes, as well as teaching general math to half of my class (read about it in my story: “What don’t you understand?”) labeled me as different, to put it nicely.
These people were mostly bigoted, blissfully ignorant, and proud of it. They made up a strange collage of high society cultural behaviors like cotillion’s and horse show jumping, mixed with Masters Golf Tournament devotees, and some of the poorest, least educated throwbacks to plowing behind a mule that it boggled the mind to contemplate.
I had never been so happy to be different in my life.
And so it was that my entire young lifetime of being different had prepared me for the adventures I would undertake as adult, and I believe far better than I could ever have planned.
The simple acceptance of other cultures as equal and valid to that of stereotypical white America has undoubtedly saved my life at least once, and has made breaking bread with people of many ethnicities and lifestyles around the globe an easy and natural thing.
My life has been rich precisely because of being different and I heartily recommend it to everyone.
If anyone dares to call you “normal,” take off your clothes and dance in a fountain, or howl at the full moon on a starry night. Dance to your own drummer and color outside the lines if you want to. Greatness doesn’t come in a plain brown wrapper and the only limitations on your life are the ones placed there by you.
Dare to be different.
To quote Pogo “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Our high speed lives are moving faster than our minds can process fully.
We no longer have adequate time in our lives to think about what we see, hear, or feel.
That goes for nearly every age group, but is especially true as you get to the younger people in the school and early work years.
I believe that we are progressing technologically, faster than we are able to adjust our behavior to retain our humanity and sense of propriety.
Children just starting school have instant gratification devices in their hands, like cell phones and i-pads. For them, as for those who have grown up connected to electronics, e-mail is too slow, waiting to make a telephone call is unthinkable, texting is their life-blood. Even that is getting to be too slow and the swipe method is speeding things up.
Language skills are suffering whether spoken or written. I mean OMG, U no?
I see a correlation between the attention deficit disorders (and shorter attention spans in general), and the instant gratification world we have become.
Patience has become a word found in the dictionary, but seldom in the human make up.
We can’t wait for a movie to come to a theater near us, or even to arrive in the mail, we must have it streamed to our computers immediately.
Film camera, are you kidding me? Polaroid, HA, that takes 60 seconds… I want to see my picture now, not wait!
Fast food is not healthy, but anything else takes too long. Cooking takes too much time and then requires the extra work of preparing and cleaning up, which all takes away from our instant gratification time. Facebook and twitter wait for no one to update!
Driving somewhere on vacation is too slow and time consuming, we must fly there.
Taking turns doing something is passé, we must be able to all do it at once, and quickly.
I notice too, that the child who has to have something or do something right now, is the first one to become unsatisfied and bored with what he/she got. It wasn’t the thing or activity that they actually wanted; it was the rush of getting their gratification fix.
If you look at what people are reading most, it is the twitterverse with its 140 character bites and short blurbs on Facebook that get the most action. Anything longer than a couple of paragraphs gets scanned briefly and dumped as you move to the next one.
People want more input, not better writing or deeper meaning. Video games that sell are faster paced with more action; there are no moral-to-the-story games that are hits.
Our population acts like we are all junkies on heroin pumps where we can push the button and get a fix, and then another and another… and have no consequences for our actions.
Walking hand in hand with our “I want it all, now!” mindset is the problem of what is acceptable.
Image is everything, and there are no limits upon what is allowable when it comes to boosting your own “brand.” Children tell me, “cheating and lying are part of “real” life; everyone does it.” “You have to be cool or you get hated on,” is another statement that worries me.
Kids kill other children over sneakers, not because they don’t have any shoes and their feet are freezing, or even because their families are starving and they need to sell the sneakers to buy food. Not that any of those reasons are acceptable, but you could at least see where desperation drove them to drastic acts. They are committing this most vile deed; to get something that they want and believe will boost their own status.
Homeless people, persons of different color, ethnicity, lifestyle, and some for no discernible reason, are set upon and attacked, lit on fire, shot… why? Because the perpetrators need an adrenalin (or gratification) rush. They want to be seen by peers as “badass” and make the news to gain fame, and in their own eyes, status.
We have forgotten in this hyper-speed life we lead, how to be angry without becoming violent, how to discuss and argue without inviting in rage. The “pursuit of happiness” bit does not mean that you can never be unhappy about anything.
Somewhere it has become a belief that there cannot be two opinions without combat, that all arguments must be settled. And that we have some right to never be unsatisfied without lashing out in anger. One form of problem resolution is that both sides agree to disagree.
We have lost the ability to respect others, and respect the value of life, be it human or other species.
We need to slow down, step back and learn what is really important again.
Perhaps it is time to do more, with less. By that I mean, give up on having every “thing” that comes out on the market or is available, and do more with what we already have, our family and friends.
We should talk to each other face to face about ideas, read real books, get outside and go for walks with friends and family. Paint pictures, build sand castles, do whatever it takes to slow down the input barrage on our brains and give ourselves time to process.
I really believe that it is imperative for our young people to be given guidance and assistance in pacing themselves to meet life in balanced and sustainable way.
Right now humanity is hurtling forward like a rocketship on re-entry and our heatshield may not hold up.
We must all do our part to not go the way of the dinosaur by our own hands. Reach out to someone today and make a difference. Peace upon you brothers and sisters.
Many of us who served the country in the armed forces have a condition called PTSD or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. It is not exclusive to the military; anyone can have it thrust into their lives. Police officers, fire fighters, EMT’s, rescue workers, and others, commonly endure it too.
The hardest thing about PTSD in my opinion, is that it is invisible. No one can see it like a missing limb or visible scar, and like a vampire, it doesn’t show up in the mirror. And, like a vampire it can suck the life out of you.
It can manifest itself as depression, or irrational actions, or even aggressive behavior, or in other ways. You may have one or all of these problems riding around inside you, not only unseen by others, but it can be unknown to you why you do things or feel angry or sad.
Those of us who have taken human lives and/or had injuries to our physical bodies can at least point to that as a possible reason as we try to rationalize why we behave or think as we do. But it can just be exposure to sights, sounds, smells, or even knowledge of things so horrific that our minds do not want to accept them as any part of who we are.
The internal battle of trying to either live with, or expel, these memories can change how we think and behave. Passive, gentle people can be a ticking bomb of emotional TNT, exploding for no apparent reason to those around them, even lashing out at those they love.
It is like the learned “automatic” response to catch or block something (like a ball) thrown in your direction. The “ball” in this case is unseen because it is a memory and the automatic response is a form of self-preservation. You lash out either verbally or physically to try and prevent that bad memory from getting into your head again. People around you have a hard time comprehending what is going on, which is understandable, because you may not either.
For many of us, PTSD can manifest itself as depression. Nothing ever seems right in your world any more. Years may pass before it hits you, or you may experience years of suffering from nightmares where you live out the bad experiences over and over again. We are all unique individuals in our body chemistry, as well as mental make up. You are who and what you are.
There are programs offered by the VA and others to help those who suffer from PTSD and if you are a person who can talk to the social worker or shrink types without getting even angrier or more depressed, then go for it. Some of us get worse instead of better in that scenario.
For me, peace with what I did and lived through, is coming from something quite unexpected, at least to me.
Many had suggested going to church and praying, etc., but I found that too hypocritical and full of BS. The chaplains always blessed the missions as we went out to kill other human beings. Really? Organized religion has always seemed to be a scam to me… I mean come on, I have to pay (tithing) to belong to a group that tells me how to think and act according to their own made up set of rules, and I am supposed to not trust and actually dislike anyone who doesn’t agree with those rules? Nope, not buying it. It just makes me angrier.
So finding my way to becoming whole again by following the Buddhist path was a complete surprise to me. Here is a teaching where: you do not pray to a deity or god creature, you don’t pay to belong, the teacher says to question everything including him, and the only thing you have to do is work on making yourself a better person. And we are completely cool with anyone believing what they want around us. It is all good. So why does this work for me?
I have learned through the teachings of Buddha, to look inward and accept what has been done in the past as lessons and experiences. I can work on improving my own thoughts, words and actions each day, to make me a better person. This means that I can let go of the bad things.
So I have found a way to help myself. Will this work for everyone who has PTSD? I have no idea, as like I said, we are all unique individuals. But it works for me and other people I know.
What can you do if you have PTSD or are having depression or anger issues since coming home, and don’t know what to do or where to turn?
Talk to someone you trust in a quiet setting and preferably without alcohol involved. I have nothing against appropriate drinking, but I have seen many discussions go the wrong way when booze made the brain disconnect from common sense. Talk to me if you need to, I’ll listen.
What if someone close to you has diagnosed PTSD, or you think that they may be suffering from it?
See the above advice. Don’t blast them with questions that can be controversial or embarrassing in the middle of a party or family dinner, etc. Don’t fuel the discussion with alcohol to get them to “loosen up.” It may turn ugly in a flash.
Don’t ask “How many people did you kill?” That is rude and unkind.
Do ask leading questions like, “What were the people like there?” or was the weather really hot and dry, or cold and wet, etc. Let the memories flow on their time table and energy.
Listening and reassuring your friends or loved ones that you care about them and know that they did their best is important to healing. Heavy on the listening part. The more that you can get the bad stuff out in a non-judgmental setting, the more the burden lifts.
Be kind, be compassionate, and be understanding. Until you have walked, (to paraphrase this a bit) their miles in their moccasins, you have no idea what kind of load is riding on their shoulders.
Am I a doctor or a counselor licensed and/or credentialed to talk about this subject?
NO. I am a veteran who served from Viet Nam to Beiruit and has been there, done that and understands personally how hard life can be when the black cloud lives inside your head.
My only goal for writing this, is to promote understanding and compassion. Peace to all, brothers and sisters.
Time stops for no one, not even me.
The more I have to deal with the problems of my aging father-in-law, the more I see my own frailties exposed. It would be easy to overlook the decreasing vision and subtle hearing losses I am experiencing if I didn’t have to constantly repeat myself when speaking to the old man, or try to make him see things right in front of him.
The worst part is his now barely 30 second memory retention. Because when I forget what I am doing, I instantly flash to the memory of dealing with his forgetfulness and I see myself like that.
We have been dealing with old age problems and nursing homes for so long now, that I am truly afraid that we will never get away from it. When the old man finally passes, it will be time for us to check in. I really don’t like that idea.
Truthfully, I never believed that I would live to retire; so I didn’t spend any time or effort thinking about what I would do or how I would live. Now that the unthinkable has become reality I have been teased with the freedom of available time.
Just as our commitments to other things have ceased and we might be able to have fun, we had to spend the money we had to save a parent’s house and deal with their problems. Now we are tied to elder care and its associated problems 24/7. We were so close to freedom…
Another issue that I didn’t expect was to have difficulty understanding and negotiating medical insurance paperwork. Or needing to, for that matter. I am not stupid, (in fact I am a member of Mensa), so I should reasonably expect to be able to look at reports and claim forms, or check into or out of hospitals or clinics without being stressed out by confusion over what I just read or signed.
I do not want to have the attitude that life sucks and it is Hell getting old. Life is what you make of it and happiness is the journey, not a destination.
When you reach the point in your time allotment on this planet, when you know that there is less left to go than you have already lived, quality of life becomes more important. You find that you don’t want to have regrets about the things that you didn’t do (more so than what you did wrong). The saddest point in your life is when you give up trying to live and just exist.
I wish to convey a message that I respect the mental health profession and in no way mean to make fun of anyone of different mental abilities or conditions. I use humor and story telling as a means to bring a smile to anyone who reads my writing, never to hurt feelings.
Let me state clearly that I have never been a staff member at any mental hospital, nor have I been a patient… yet.
My usefulness to the hospital in this story was my ability to communicate with and relate to the people, not some “Doogie Howser” gift of medical prowess. Perhaps it was my youth, or simply that I reminded them of someone that they remembered, that made it work. I don’t know. It could be that I respected the people and listened to them, that has always seemed to work.
Please read and enjoy, and if you like the story or have feedback or questions, let me know.
Note: If there are grammatical or punctuation errors, they are not the fault of my volunteer editor, I can make mistakes faster than she can correct them.
These Tales from the Looney Bin stories are not in any historically chronological sequence, but rather as I remember them and write them down, so we will bounce around in the time frame of 1968-1971. This was a strange time of a very straight-laced “establishment” and reaching for new ideas among young people. Please enjoy.
Tales from the Looney Bin
Twice before the age of eighteen I ventured inside the walls of care facilities for the mentally ill. Both instances were for education (psychology classes), and not for the purpose of “curing” me from what “ailed me”, namely being a too-smart-for-his-own-good teenager.
I will not individually identify either the Florida or the Georgia hospitals, which then operated under the less politically correct titles of State Mental Hospital, as they were practically identical in operation and clientele.
I will attempt to convey what I learned, heard, and observed from these visits to the “other side”.
Outside of the Fence
The surrounding communities were scary in their similarities: in both locations the employees lived close at hand but not on the hospital grounds; in the coffee shops and eateries of both places the locals referred to the hospitals as the “Looney Bin”; and in both there was a constant fear that a “crazed lunatic” would escape and rape and murder his way through the community.
Even at my young age and experience level it seemed less than likely that any tortured soul who wandered away from the hospital would stand a chance against the armed and ready population surrounding them. Every man had a handgun on him, evident in either a holster or visible in their pockets. Every pickup truck had at least one shotgun in the window rack. I would not at all be surprised to learn that the women had pistols in their purses as well.
Stopping at a local eatery for lunch before my one o’clock appointment, and being curious about all of the armed citizens, I was primed for trouble; and it found me.
Being an outsider to their community I made the faux pas of asking, “Just when the last time was, that anyone had escaped from the hospital?”
This caused a flurry of tobacco spitting and unintelligible grumbling, culminating in a fat finger being pointed in my face as a red faced man in overalls shouted, “One time is three times too many!” And to emphasize his words he spat tobacco juice on the floor at my feet. As I looked around the diner it appeared as if I had wandered into a bobble-head convention with all of the heads going up and down.
I was quickly getting the impression that I had worn out my welcome; it could have been the odd way everyone turned so they were facing away from me, or it could have been the way that the large angry man who yelled at me was playing with his pistol. Either way, I finished my tea and went to pay my bill and leave before a lynching party was formed.
The waitress who served me also rang me up at the register and seemed less nuts than the rest of the people in the diner. I was obviously afraid to say anything else, lest I get shot; seeing this she took pity on me and said, “Meet me around back.” I just nodded my head and went out the front door.
The middle-aged woman was sucking on a cigarette and gulping down coffee by the time I walked around the building and found her.
She said that there had only been one escape in the ten years she had been at the diner, and that one was a woman who had “gone off her rocker” (now known as dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s). I asked if the woman had harmed anyone during her escape and she replied, no.
I was now really curious, and asked, “So why all of the guns and fear?”
The old woman had embarrassed the director of the hospital by just walking out the unlocked door and away from the facility with no one noticing.
A call to the local sheriff had been exaggerated to say that an extremely “agitated” patient had “broken out” (to save face) and that an armed man-hunt was needed immediately.
The sheriff having only two deputies (and a total of three cars) went to the diner to round up a search posse. Needing to inspire the usually less than enthusiastic crowd to help him, he told the men to arm themselves and lock the women and children up in the house to prevent the “deranged and dangerous lunatic” from hiding in their homes.
The ploy worked, possibly a bit too well, and the party-lines were buzzing before the sheriff got back into his car and fear was running through the community like a wild fire. A bloodthirsty murdering rapist was in their midst and the death toll was sure to be high!
Men with guns converged on the mental hospital grounds and dogs were loosed to flush out the mad man as the search was conducted in a fury. Every home, shed, and bush was being checked.
Every person of color in the area was terrified because it looked like the Klan was out in force, in the daylight, and without their sheets! I can’t say that they were wrong.
The search resulted in the shooting of one dog who resented the intrusion of strangers onto its property and the demise of one black & white (Holstein) calf which had the misfortune of scaring an already nervous armed searcher as it bolted from an out building.
As the search party reached the far end of the sheriff’s jurisdiction he called the state police to report the situation as he saw it; namely that an armed and dangerous escapee was now their problem.
It seems that the Troopers had been notified by the hospital personnel already as they were both state agencies and that was standard operating procedure, so the response that the sheriff got was laughter; they were not about to call for a statewide armed response for one confused elderly woman.
This greatly upset the sheriff, who had visions of ridicule by all and an end to his career, so he said nothing to the still searching posse of armed vigilantes.
I had to ask at this point, “So did they ever find the poor woman?”
My waitress friend actually cracked a smile for a brief moment, as she continued the tale.
The old lady was sitting on the sheriff’s front porch the entire time, naked as the day she was born, and no one ever came by.
She had taken off her all-purpose cotton nightgown as she left the hospital building and an employee had found it; not knowing where it came from, she picked it up and put it in the laundry.
The old lady had walked the two miles to the sheriff’s house, where she had lived many years before the sheriff, in the predawn darkness and took up her position on the front porch swing with an old cat.
No one bothered to search the sheriff’s house because; he started out there, and well, he was the sheriff! Nobody in their right mind would hide there!
In all fairness, with the typical plantings surrounding an old porch in country where rainfall is sufficient to make things grow, you would have had to stop right in front of the house to see her sitting there.
I can just imagine the shock and surprise the sheriff felt as he stopped in front of his house, (rather than pulling into his carport around back as usual), and found this elderly naked woman sitting in his porch swing with a stray cat. He knew right away that she had to be the missing woman and he also knew that he had to get her out of there before anyone else came by and saw her.
The man grabbed his own large monogrammed bathrobe and wrapped her up in it and put her in his personal pickup truck to drive her back to the hospital. As it was now dark it was easier to sneak her through the still searching few men who had not gone home to protect their families.
The next morning the sheriff held a meeting with the volunteers to thank and dismiss them, saying that the escapee was no longer considered a threat to their community and would be dealt with elsewhere.
It was never made public that it was a woman from their own community who escaped, and her being returned was also not common knowledge, even among employees of the hospital. The community was essentially still on alert, ten years later.
Our waitress had been the only one at the diner when a newly hired (and promptly fired) hospital orderly brought the sheriff’s robe by there because he didn’t know where the sheriff’s house was and he had been told not to take it to the police station. Not knowing any better, the orderly spilled the entire story, (as he overheard it), to the woman over a cup of coffee.
The wise young woman took possession of the robe and called the sheriff to come and get it, knowing that she would never get a ticket for the rest of her days in that town if she kept her mouth shut.
Her disgust over the treatment that I received made her tell me, but even at that she was still keeping her mouth shut around the locals as she now owned the diner and wanted to stay in business.
I am a Buddhist, a veteran, a world traveler and the guy next door. I am unique, just like you.
Who is strtwlkr (streetwalker)?
I am a retired USPS letter carrier that walked the streets for 21 years. That combined with my wicked sense of humor lead to my “name”. I use that in my email address and I am known on the playa at Burning Man as strtwlkr. In the early days of e-mail we did not use vowels in order to shorten words. It just stuck.
That explains the name, but who am I?
I am a Buddhist, a veteran of both the Army and the Navy, a former Air Traffic Controller, a life member of Mensa and have traveled the world. I was raised in the South, but now live in the West. I claim affiliation with very few organization, but do belong to the Reno Herpetological Society and recently became a volunteer Solar System Ambassador for NASA/JPL. I am married with three grown children and three grandchildren.
For years I have resisted the requests and demands of friends and family to start a blog. From 1998 until 2008 I wrote a daily email newsletter called the Desert Home Companion which had a following that amazed me, with readers in 25 states and 5 foreign countries. In that correspondence I offered jokes, current events, educational information, but day after day it was my personal accounts of what was happening in my life that gained the most interest.
It was during the production of the DHC and by request of its readers that I began writing stories about my life. I have produced more than 75 short stories. If I get enough requests from readers of this blog to do so, I will release one each week in either random order, or in the case of sequential story segments, in the order written.
My wife Anna and I are being held captive by a loving, female Border Collie. Eleven year old Mikki who was known in the DHC days as Colour Sgt Mikki of the Highland Regiment of the Border Patrol due to her tireless defense of her yard against all dogs, cats, birds, leaves and other “floatie” things which “might” land in her domain. Also in the house are three cuddly constrictors named Victoria, Albert and Scaramouche, who are the favorites of our grandchildren.
Also in our “pack” is Anna’s 87 year old dad who fortunately for my sanity lives at a local assisted living place with a bunch of people his own age and just as deaf and forgetful. They can tell each other the same stories over and over and they just keep nodding and grinning. Life is good for them and they are safe, warm and well cared for. Many others are not as fortunate. We see to his wants and needs for shopping, medical appointments and going out to eat, as well as manage his bills, etc., so he doesn’t have to worry and won’t get taken advantage of by predators.
The future of this blog depends upon your interest as readers and how much positive feedback I get. I like to write, but it is much easier to keep at it if I know people want to read my posts.