Originally posted November 29, 2011
I am all the ages I’ve ever been.
I love that quote! It is insightful and true.
I am still the little 3 1/2 year-old boy who sneaked his father’s pocket knife and when no one was looking busied himself poking holes in the bottom of a metal Band-Aid can, at least until I jammed the whole blade deep into the side of my left hand I was holding the box with. The moment I saw the blood is my first real memory of knowing fear. I remember vividly being scared and then seeing how afraid my twenty-two year old mother was when she couldn’t get the bleeding stopped. Wrapping my hand that wept blood with each of my heartbeats in a towel she took me to her mother’s house about a quarter of a mile away. How we got there I have no memory of.
My grandmother was the daughter of a man known in his time as an “herb doctor”. Country folk depended on such healers for every day medical needs as the closest doctor was ten to twenty miles away. She knew from watching her father that turpentine and sugar would stop bleeding. Generous amounts of both were poured on my hand, held in place by a towel and the bleeding did slowly stop. Except it burned like hell, that’s all I have clear memory of. I do know my hand healed and when making a face with the side of my hand using my thumb as the bottom of a mouth, one eye is already there; a scar from that old wound.
Still today I am the little boy who entered first grade when I was two months past my 6th birthday. In the rural south there was no kindergarten except a private one in town the “rich kids” got to go to. I was not one of those. Being dropped into the first year of school with basically no preparation it remains abundantly clear today how fearful I was initially. The whole place intimidated me and I struggled at first. Gradually being sad and wanting to go home went away. I caught up, was able to keep up and in time grew to love school.
The seven-year old boy in his second year in grade school is still within me. I had Mrs. Betty Levie as my teacher. She was young and liked us kids. We liked her. Years later she would be my science teacher in junior high and encouraged me to enter projects into several science fairs. She even drove me to a regional fair forty miles away that my family had no interest in getting me to. Without Mrs. Levie’s help I would never have won the regional junior high first place trophy for Zoology when I was thirteen.
A boy of ten’s memory is alive and recalls sitting at the kitchen table with his mother and brother eating dinner when she made her big announcement. She was going to marry the guy she had been seeing which my brother and I did not like at all. My mind screamed “don’t do it”, but the words were never spoken aloud. I knew it would do no good to open my mouth. Within two years this man we were made to call “dad” showed himself to be mentally twisted and down right evil. Even if it would have done no good, I wish I had spoken up when my mother asked how we felt about her marrying the turkey!
I am still the young man who moved to Colorado at eighteen who struggled to make ends meet. Having my car repossessed was an embarrassment I can still feel today. I stuck it out in Colorado Springs and in time was able to support myself working a full-time and two part-time jobs. While other young twenty-something’s were partying and having a good time, I was working three jobs. I don’t regret it though. That determination I managed to muster served me well then and what I learned from the experience has been a good reference point ever since.
The young man of twenty-three who took a bride of twenty-two is still within. We were both just “kids”. Outwardly so sure of where I was going while internally scared with no idea what the future held, my young wife was the stability I needed to begin to make some sense of life. Ultimately the marriage ended up being a mess, but it lasted for two decades, produced a son I love dearly and contained my first lessons of what love was.
And so on… I am the same person I was at 30 when my son arrived, at 40 when my first marriage stated to fall apart and at 50 when I was fired from a job of eighteen years. All the ages I have been created a life cut into facets like a diamond that sparkles in the light when looked at it from an appreciating angle. Some detail has faded into the background, but key events and periods that shaped me are vividly within. During the near fifty-eight and a half years I have been blessed with so far, I am thankful to have the ability to remember so much. Gratitude runs deep for it all; the joy, the pain, the happiness, the heartache and the love that shaped and guided me to be the man I am today.
All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was naïve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: that I am nobody but myself. Ralph Ellison