I’ve never really been into Marvel movies, but all the characters have wild origin stories. From gamma ray exposure to radioactive spider bites, there is no shortage of strange beginnings to explain their lives. Subjectively speaking, I’m a strange guy. Not Marvel strange or strange in the sense that I’d be buying used panties or pictures of people’s feet on the internet. Strange in the sense that I have an atypical view of life considering the environment I came from. There are layers to every origin story, each with its own level of complexity and background. Consider this the getting to know the brain behind these wide-ranging topics.
Where Did I Come From?
I’ll spare you the long story where babies come from. I’m sure at this phase in your life you know they come from the other parent whenever they aren’t acting right. My mother and father never married, which is undoubtedly the second-best thing to come of their relationship. I don’t fully know the story of how they met, but after knowing both for 40 plus years now, it was an odd pairing to say the least. Odd like asking a sommelier which wine pairs best with Taco Bell. Despite their incompatibility, they made me; considering I don’t recall not existing, I’m glad they did.
The Old Days
The first 2 years of my life my mother and brother from a previous relationship, lived with my dad. Considering the odd pairing previously mentioned, I can’t even imagine how crazy that was. When they split, my mother, brother and I went back to my mother’s childhood home. My grandmother died shortly thereafter, so I never got a chance to get to know either of my maternal grandparents. My grandfather passed away a little over 7 years before that. My young mother with 2 boys, few skills, and a desire to still be young, without her parents to guide or advise her. Undoubtedly this was tough for her, and it explains why things were ultimately tough for us.
I’m no psychiatrist or psychologist, but I’d say my mother was constantly looking for a man to take care of her. Understandably so, her father passed when she was 16. My brother and I weren’t so concerned with her dating strategy though, we didn’t like most of her choices just because. Her dating exposed us to a wide range of guys, but her most consistent partner was this white guy we’ll call JB. Before him, most of the White people I saw were on TV, or passersby when we went downtown. It’s way more accepted now than it was in the 80’s to see interracial couples, but they were the only one I knew in our neighborhood. With him, I was introduced to a style of cursing that I had never heard before. It was kind of like a foreign language because I really couldn’t make sense of it. Her boyfriend was talking to one of his buddies one day and he said “F*cking A”, and I was baffled. From context clues it sounded positive, but I struggled to grasp what the A stood for. Another time I heard him say it in the car and it was clearly not positive. I chalked that one up to cultural differences because neither version sounded cool enough to repeat to my friends, ever.
We moved a lot in my early childhood. It’s interesting that at the age of 41, I have never physically lived in a particular home for more than 8 years. From birth to 10 years old we moved 7 times. In and out of familiar neighborhoods, the same financial struggle in each location. These early struggles along with my first sleepover fueled my personal desire to be successful. This kid Andy lived in a really nice house in downtown Chicago. We lived in a basement apartment in the heart of the hood. My mother doesn’t drive so Andy’s mom agreed to pick me up. As fate would have it, my uncle was getting high in my room about 30 minutes before they arrived, so it was a fresh scent of crack lingering. Andy and his mom came in briefly despite me trying to meet them outside and go. I could see the shock and pity on his mom’s face, which Andy seemed to be oblivious to. She asked me a the concerned parent questions as we drove off, I didn’t understand why she was concerned until we arrived at their home. It was huge, everyone had their own room, the fridge and mini fridges were fully stocked, no scent of drugs, just Giordano’s pizza and Doritos. The neighborhood was really clean and diverse. The next day, when things were wrapping up, his mom said they had stuff to do so they asked if someone could pick me up. The funny thing is I knew that was coming the whole time I was there.
Before that sleepover, my brother moved out of state to live with his father in Virginia when I was a few months into 4th grade. He claimed that someone was trying to kill him at school, the same year his dad promised him a car if he moved in with him. That left me to endure the hardships that come with the West Side of Chicago without back up. Not that he would have been much help when we were being threatened by grown men that, but in my young mind it would have been. Also, in 4th grade, I transferred schools to one of the best elementary schools in Chicago. I went from being the smartest kid in my class to bottom half. That entire school year was chaotic, along with the summer that followed.
My mother was stressed all the way out at that point so she was smoking a lot. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, she’d make me walk to any store that would allow me to buy cigarettes with a note. I always started at the furthest location, the gas station on the corner of Washington and Homan. I would practice walking with my eyes closed as a means of escaping the craziness. Doing this, I became acutely aware of my surroundings, sensing the environment instead of just seeing it. The first time I did this there were two ladies outside and I was in the process of walking by. The older of the two ladies checked me immediately for not speaking. I opened my eyes and spoke first, then explained what I was doing. Her building was right after the scent of an abandoned building deeper into the walk, so I made sure to open my eyes when I approached. Most times she was there and I’d stop and she’d ask about my week, I’d tell her and she would just smile and send me on my way after with a few kind words. I never once asked her name.
I had a whole lot of fun in the early years, but the only consistent element of my life at that point was constant change. That to say, adjusting to my circumstances was written into my code at a young age, for better and worse. There is little comfort in chaos, however, when it is all that one knows, it becomes normal, and calm is simply the eye of the storm. Church was relatively consistent, but I’d listen to those long-winded services of praise and worship, followed by conversations filled with judgment and condescension immediately after. Even that was an element of chaos and messiness.
Some Good Stuff Too
The best parts of my early childhood were the respective summers. After enduring what felt like 9 solid months of winter and fall, we’d have a couple weeks of spring and then Chicago summer. I’ve been to several places in my life, but Summertime Chi is second to none. I may be biased, but it’ll be tough to provide evidence to the contrary. Even during chaos, the ice cream truck could get the hood in a single file line. Fire hydrants were shooting water, messing it up for freshly washed cars. Puerto Ricans and Mexicans would spend the whole summer driving around blowing their horns with their flags out. Kids doing flips on discarded mattresses in vacant lots, the scent of charcoal and lighter fluid sweeping the neighborhood. House music playing, dancing, block parties and of course the joys of sundress season. That’s before leaving the neighborhood and heading downtown or other city parks for festivals. Again, second to none.
We’ll tackle the next 10 years of “why is he like this” next week. So, to sum up the first 10, I gained resilience, understanding of socioeconomic conditions, humility, lessons in diversity, a love for my hometown, and the drive for success. I mean, I learned how to read, write and walk too, but I wanted to cover the less common highlights. And with that, til next time. Have a great week and enjoy the small things.