It’s Not Worth It

They sat across from each other in the booth – I brought the coffee over and sat next to her.  I was a little stunned – I did not expect him to be there.  She didn’t say that he’d be there; I expected it to be just us.  I don’t know how I looked to them – I didn’t have the strength to feign gladness, and used what little energy I had to keep my mouth shut.  She rubbed my shoulder, and it felt good – but it didn’t light me up like it usually did.  I had a “good angry” going on, and I wasn’t about to let it go.

For the next hour they talked as if I wasn’t there.  I managed to chat a bit about an introvert/extrovert question from work that day:  “You have a birthday coming up, and you have an unlimited amount of funds.  How would you like to celebrate it and how many people would you like to be there with you?”

I answered, “Out to dinner with one friend” – which may sound sad to all you extroverts out there, but is in fact one of the more pleasurable things in this introvert’s life.  He thought it was a sad answer – there was genuine pity in his heart.  I didn’t expect either one of them to get it – by this time I really only had two clear thoughts:  1) why the fuck is he here? and 2) why the fuck am I here?  I don’t know why I didn’t get up and walk away.

The arrangement was so uneven that it wasn’t worth being friends.  I listened to her way more than she listened to me.  And it wasn’t just the time – it was the content, too.  I don’t know if she’s a superficial person, but there were definite limits to what could and could not be discussed.  When I was hurting, I wasn’t in a position to talk to her about it.  That isn’t who she is.  And that made my hurt that much worse.

From her point of view, people should keep their feelings to themselves.  Public displays of affection are verboten.  It explains why I didn’t have any “deep” emotional conversations with her – she may have been feeling lots of things, but they were private matters.  You might argue that our friendship lacked the trust it needed to share those kinds of things – and you’d be right.

Marc Maron says something like “you don’t really know whether you’re in a relationship until someone gets hurt.”  Because it’s exactly those moments when you realize that the relationship you have with someone is not a casual thing.  We were friends – emphasis on the lowercase “f.”  Now I’m looking for someone who isn’t afraid, not just of my feelings, but even more importantly, of showing and sharing theirs with me.

A Bigger Pasture

Do you remember your transition from grade school to high school?  His very first day of school, when his mom left him in a classroom with some thirty other six-year olds he’d never seen before, was his first introduction to the world beyond the walls of home.

Home was claustrophobic.  His dad, the baby of his family, was born in that house in 1923.  Dad’s parents lived in the back half of the house, while mom and dad and (eventually) ten kids lived in the front.  He was fourteen years old, average height, overweight.  Smart as a whip, shy as a mouse.  He had a small circle of friends, and a sincere desire to become a Catholic priest – at least, he thought he did.  He was looking forward to a new start in a high school some 400 miles away.

The high school seminary did not have individual rooms.  About eighty-five students all slept on the same floor, freshmen and sophomores on the west end of the third floor, junior and seniors on the east end.  Each seminarian had their own twin size bed.  The metal bed frame included a couple of large metal drawers tucked away under the foot end of the bed.  Each also had their own dorm locker, about five feet tall and maybe two feet wide.

The lockers were lined up down the middle of the 70 foot wide floor, dividing the 140 foot length equally into north and south.  Because there were many more freshmen than sophomores, juniors or seniors, the upper classmen enjoyed slightly larger personal living spaces.  The older students, sophomores on the west side and seniors on the east side, occupied positions nearest the windows; freshmen and juniors were assigned the interior spaces.

Now if you had your own bedroom back home in Detroit or St. Louis or Chicago or Grand Rapids or Kansas City or wherever else in the Midwest you happened to come from, you might have wondered how the hell you were going to manage any degree of personal dignity living with a herd of teenagers not unlike the herds of cows well within sight of the high school.  But if you had shared a bedroom with at least four other brothers for the first fourteen years of your life – in his case, two or three of those years were shared in the same twin size bed with his younger brother – you could not begin to believe your good fortune.  His personal space had gone from something like thirty square feet to a hundred – with his own drawers and his own closet (locker) that belonged to him, that no one else (well, no one other than the fathers, of course) could access.  Yes, he was now part of a larger herd – and this pasture was a whole hell of a lot bigger than his last one.

Fall ’71 – Part One

We spent the summer getting ready to pack up and ship me off to the high school seminary in Edgerton, Wisconsin.  It’s not really fair to say “ship off” – I already had three brothers before me attend the place.  The parish organized a bus to take a whole bunch of interested eighth graders out to Wisconsin (maybe a seven hour drive) in the spring for a weekend to get an idea of what the place was like.

From what I can remember, I was looking forward to going there.  Of course, once you were there, it was a slightly different story.  There was the expected homesickness, but nothing intolerable.  I don’t think the fathers made us write home every so often, but I do remember writing home fairly regularly that first year.  Some years later, I remember Mom telling me those letters were some of the nicest things she ever got from us – just a few short pages every so often from her boys telling her about the latest goings on, how they missed her and loved her and was looking forward to coming home for Christmas or summer break.

It was a small high school.  There were around seventy, eighty students that fall, maybe sixteen seniors, and a lot of freshmen, forty of ‘em.  As far as priests and brothers go, these are the folks I remember:

Father Leo was rector.  His brother Robert was also a priest, stationed in my home parish in Detroit; he recruited many Holy Redeemer eighth graders for seminary.  I didn’t know Father Leo very well; I think we thought of the rector as CEO, president and king of the joint all wrapped into one.  He might have been approachable, but how would you ever know?

Father Walt was second in command, the school principal.  He was fun to know; very friendly, a full melodious FM radio kind of voice, pleasant to hear.  Occasionally he would dress students down every so often for unacceptable behavior – part of his job.  I’ll tell you more about Father Walt in the senior year Parents’ Weekend story.

Father Martin was the school bursar; he handled the money for both the school and the religious community.  He wasn’t unfriendly, but he didn’t have much interaction with the students, so it was difficult to get to know him.  Father Marty was a tall guy, very sturdy too – not heavy, not thin, sturdy.

What Breaks YOUR Brain?

I’m kicking myself for at least not trying to chat with the woman who was sitting maybe twelve feet away from me but left the room maybe thirty minutes ago.  I’m not sure if she’s gone for the day or not – still have a little less than four hours remaining for today’s free “write in” – but I’d be lying if I said she wasn’t on my mind right now.  Tall slim brunette, around 40?  I can never tell, especially when some people take such damn great care of themselves.

I like pretty (beautiful? gorgeous?) women – sue me.  I spent a huge part of my life trying to ignore that – otherwise, women will obviously think I’m just another one of those superficial men who care only about what a woman looks like, not who she is.  Frankly it took me a long time to allow myself to even look at women, for fear that she or someone else might catch me “gawking” at her and call me out about it.  And even before that, I shared the feeling with Jimmy Carter (and the Bible, I guess) that whenever you look lustfully at a woman, you commit sin in your heart.  I wanted to respect women, even though I had no idea what that really meant.

I’ve resolved the matter at least a little bit by believing that you respect others when you get to know who they are and, regardless of whether what you come to learn pleases or displeases you, you accept them as they are.  And I think that works in nearly every area of life, except for one:  sex.

Sex is the brain busting puzzle of my entire existence.  Being raised Catholic didn’t help matters, of course – in what other religion can you have so little information about sex and still wind up with so many kids being born?  Although, come to think of it, perhaps that’s EXACTLY what to expect with so little information.

Six of the seven boys in our family went to seminary.  The one that didn’t go is married (now over forty years, with three kids, four grandkids).  The next six boys:  married, then divorced (and now deceased), priest, married (two kids, nearly forty years), never married (me), married (two kids, twenty years), and married (two kids, thirty years).  My three sisters:  never married, married (one kid, now divorced) and married (no kids).  What did they figure out that I (and maybe my older sister) didn’t?

In Memoriam

Memorial Day (also known as Decoration Day) is a federal holiday in the United States for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.

Memorial Day has been observed on the last Monday of May since 1971; before then the holiday was held on May 30 from 1868 to 1970.

It wasn’t until after World War I that Memorial Day was expanded to honor all veterans who died in any American war.

Memorial Day marks the unofficial start of the summer vacation season (Labor Day, the first Monday of September, marks its end).

Memorial Day is slightly more likely to fall on May 25th, 28th or 30th than on May 26th, 27th, 29th or 31st.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials, particularly to honor those who have died in military service.  Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.

Memorial Day is not the same as Veterans Day (November 11), the day America celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans.

Memorial Day 1946 fell on a Thursday.  My parents married each other on that Thursday, about a year after Victory in Europe (VE) Day, celebrated on May 8, 1945.

My dad served in World War II with United States Army as a radio operator stationed in the Philippines.

I think all Americans recognize that we owe a huge debt of gratitude and appreciation to the families of the men and women of our military services, especially to those whose sons and daughters, fathers and mothers made the ultimate sacrifice defending and protecting this great country.

I am very grateful for the men and women who serve in our armed forces.  I had the honor of having a young man as a student in my World Religions class back in the fall of 2010; he had just completed a two-year Army hitch in Afghanistan.  One time after class, we rode the same bus home to our respective apartments.  He talked about some of the atrocities he witnessed while serving there – not in any great detail, mind you, but enough to let me know that the experience left him with a sadness that obliterated every last vestige of innocence.

In memory of all those brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, whether you’re conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican, of any religion or of no religion, I ask you take a moment today to remember the families of those who sacrificed everything for us.  Thank you.