Everyone needs a break from time to time. Three months into my 5th grade year, my mother was exhausted of Chicago. Her boyfriend offered an opportunity for her to move with him to Seattle and she took it. This meant I was going to live with my dad, like a real-life Boyz in the Hood moment…before the movie came out though. Little did I know, this newfound stability was exactly what I needed. Sure, it’s blatantly obvious in retrospect, but when you grow up in less-than-ideal, chaotic circumstances, that chaos actually feels normal. My grades improved in school, I began eating meals regularly, guys weren’t just walking up threatening us and things like that. This new “normal” was way better than the constant threat of danger, hunger, or inability to get into the apartment after school. The stability led to a sense of security; the security led to gaining confidence.
I won’t go too deep into those early days at my dad’s place since I touched on some of that several weeks ago. That first summer he tasked me with memorizing the poem If, by Rudyard Kipling. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a relatively long poem for a kid fresh out of 5th grade. No choice in the matter I began that task, but my dad had a lot of books on and off the bookshelf that I skimmed through every now and then while struggling to commit this poem to memory. I was taking in stories about the assassination of Malcolm X, the rise and fall of the Black Panthers and this book by Hugh Prather. This was a brand-new world for me. While living with my mother we had an encyclopedia set for a while, but the topics weren’t all that interesting. It took me up until the deadline to memorize the poem. I brain dumped it soon after, but there are stains of it in my head, so I know when a line matches a situation in life.
Early on in my life, my dad met the woman who around this point in the story became my stepmom. In my earliest memories they were together, even though I had no concept of what was going on, I always liked her. She happened to have a daughter, obviously she became my stepsister (these labels are for your benefit as the reader). It’s interesting looking back, being able to recognize pivotal moments that seemed so ordinary when they were taking place. That said, I’m going to take a motivational break in the story.
The Simple Things
Queue the dramatic music and read this paragraph in Morgan Freeman’s voice…For all of our capacity to debate the complexities, we often disregard the impact of the mundane. I was never more than a C student beyond 7th grade, not all that popular, and not the toughest guy either. Despite this, I was always confident in my abilities. One thing that cemented that confidence was being forced to write a poem in 8th grade for English class based on a picture we were shown. My teacher at the time, Ms. Karen Banks, read my poem and likely thought I was a psycho, but she said it was good. I keyed in on the “it’s good” and ignored the look on her face. This is what made me want to write, so if you are enjoying these random thoughts, Ms. Banks was the first influence. Years later my parents found that poem and they too thought I was a psycho, but they still have it just in case they need to tell my story in a documentary. The other minor yet major moment was driving home from my summer job at the Boys & Girls Club with my stepmom. I was 16, and she fell asleep while I was driving through Lower Wacker Drive during rush hour. For perspective, that’s like a baby learning how to walk on a balance beam. She may have been really tired, but I’m going to go with my driving skills at 16 were on par with someone driving for as long as Morgan Freeman has looked like a 75 year old man.
Not a Psycho, but…
OK, I’m back. My parents and siblings will tell you in a heartbeat, I was an amazing kid. You know the type…light up a room, stayed out of trouble, Black Leave it to Beaver type of kid. I may have to turn off comments for this post since they read too. Just assume all of that is spot on. Despite being spectacular in most categories, I was allergic to turning in homework, and I tended to overdo my response to any perceived slight. I became significantly more calculated and less reactive when my stepmom and sister moved in.
One day, my sister spilled some water on me, I felt like she did it intentionally, but one can’t be too sure. Either way she thought it was funny at the time and that was enough for me. Months later, I remembered and felt like payback was due, so I grabbed the scissors, cut some of her hair and dropped it in front of her. I walked away before the reality of what happened set in. I got in trouble of course, but I also learned the concept of a measured response. This idea of not going all out has helped a great deal in navigating the actual disrespect I would feel in years to come.
Despite my GPA, I learned stuff in high school, but the biggest takeaway I had was “this stuff isn’t that important”. I know what you’re thinking “that sounds like something a C student would say” and you’re probably right. The information is profoundly important, the drama and high school dilemmas were to me then, what they are to me now, stupid and not worth engaging. I wasn’t popular at all, but never cared about being popular either. I never called too much attention to myself unless someone disrespected me, then I was off the rails. My dad always told me “Don’t wait to get hit in a fight, if you know a fight is coming, hit first, hit hard”. I was a quiet storm only observed by a few, and that was good enough to prevent a whole lot of occurrences. Look, the education part was important, the experiences themselves are real, but the consequences are inflated.
From the day I graduated high school to the day I left for the Air Force, a lot of life experience came my way. That was 7 months and 15 days of life that gave me a lot of perspective. Unfortunately, I’ll be addressing that period of my life a little bit later. Not to build suspense or anything, but a paragraph certainly would not do it justice. I’ll highlight quickly, sex, money, drugs, violence, death and early enlightenment. Sounds spicy right? Well, I’m writing this so you know how a lot of it turns out, but it wasn’t a given when I was living it. I hope you remember this post when those topics come up, if not, I’ll refer back.
I graduated from basic training at 19 years old and most of that year was spent in military training. The issue is, when taking into account the first 18 years of my life, especially the 7 months and 15 days before I joined, the military experience was a piece of cake. Sure, I experienced racial discrimination and all of that, but it wasn’t my first time. Outside of the extreme boy scout scenarios, meeting some lifelong friends, and my ex girlfriend that put the 3rd decade in motion, I didn’t pick up much between 19 and the day I turned 20. However, I learned a whole lot about myself and the world between 20 and 30.