Discovering Loneliness

 When I was a kid and we moved to North Carolina, I was about nine years old. I went from a neighborhood where I knew everyone and a school where I knew some to a place I was unfamiliar with. I went from having friends all around to having none. I went from a poor Southern neighborhood to a middle class establishment; a place of unpaved roads and hard scrabble life to one that seemed to represent luxury and wealth: paved roads, brick houses, many people – and nothing that I knew from my past.

As a result I should have felt a little lonely. Surprisingly, I didn’t. I was too busy trying to adapt to my new environment to feel very much alone. After all, I had my parents to take care of my, my brother to torment me (or leave me alone) – and a dog in the yard. What else could a kid my age want?

Well, I wanted something, that’s for sure. I spent a lot of time looking around. I went to my classes in a modern brick school building for awhile – and then (I think) something changed. No matter; we got moved again. I’m not real certain about that thing.

The dog? He came with us wherever we went. His name was ‘Caleb’ which my mom says in French meant “black”. He was a black dog – a large Weimaraner – that would eat anything, including our marbles and toys.

We had a lot of marbles back then. My aunt would send them to me (Aunt Dottie) and my other aunt gave me a bag (Aunt Nelle or Aunt Lizze). In that bag (my brother had one, identical to me) I kept all my trinkets and toys – including marbles at this time. Up until they all got ate up by him (Caleb). He would go wandering around looking for something to eat. It’s a wonder he didn’t eat me and my brother some time!

I remember once us taking him out to the airport. There he chased the planes. That’s because he was a bird dog (my daddy said) – and he ran out on the tarmac and chased them all until my dad (becoming concerned for his safety) reined him on back in. My mom was a little mad about my dad letting Caleb run around like that – she was afraid he’d get run over by an airplane – but he didn’t. It might have been the best thing.

Perhaps Caleb was the one who made us move. I’m really not sure about that thing.

 

You see, one day Caleb got out of the yard when we were living in that really nice house right there at the end of the courtyard where the trees grew big and tall. It was a brick house with nice windows – nice ones with white frames all around – whereas the ones we’d left in the neighborhood (the ‘hood I’m meaning) were plain and simple.

Caleb got out and ate up some cats. He was that type of dog. He would eat anything.

And that’s when the trouble started.

 

Like I said previously in one story, we always rode our bikes through this neighborhood and some others on our way to school. (One day I saw a rabbit crunched flat; his guts spattering everywhere. I didn’t know rabbits lived in this ‘hood.)

 

But that’s when the trouble started; Caleb eating those cats. Only they were kittens, and they belonged to someone in the neighborhood we were staying, and the trouble got worse and worse until finally . . .

Well, I reckon we left. At any rate I kinda ‘woke up’ to find myself in another place: the apartments we were staying at.

I think my dad had something to do with it; I later learned: the Army ordered him to go back on base; made him – and us – live there.

I didn’t want to live on base. It was . . . well, not terrible, but not nice, and it wasn’t peaceful there. There was always a lot of commotion going on – kids and grownups yelling and screaming and running around; kids on bikes; gangsters, the rest.

You know those types of ‘hoods. The ones the regular people lived in. Enlisted housing.

 

Anyway . . .

 

While I was there we had a fun time going down a long hill each day on our way to school. It was about a mile long – a straight shot running down a little pathway that all us kids would take. Everyone looked forward to going down; no one wanted to come back up. But that was the ride that awaited us every day – huffing and puffing up that long hill, dragging our bikes behind us; maybe mounting them and standing up on the pedals trying to make our way.

 

It was a hard time.

 

Nevertheless, while I was in this ‘hood (the first neighborhood and not the second one – I mean the apartments by the latter; that fine brick house in the former; neither one references the neighborhood I had come from: the poor one from way down South) the teachers must have taken some pity on me, for them gave me chores to do.

You see, the thing is: I was the ‘only one’ there at the time (maybe this is a personality speaking? No; we were waiting to go on back home). And the teachers ‘knew’ this thing about me: I had showed up in the middle of the school term. I knew nothing there – not a single person, a single child, nor a single friend. I would stand out in the playground watching – the other kids playing, running around – but there was nothing for me to do. I took my bag of marbles sometimes – I was quite a good marble player because the teenager I had left behind had shown me how to do this thing: shooting marbles with one hand, thumb flipping them out between a cupped finger; how to shoot them out of a circle; how to shoot them in. How to play “bombsies” and “keepers” and what they were for. How to drop a bomb on a marble – I had some good ones! – even ones made out of steel. Those I reserved for those special fates: when I wanted to hurt someone – because I could drop them on someone’s marble and it would break it in half. Each and every time. (They were huge ones; I learned later that my big steel marbles were tank ball bearings for the turrents.)

I would also skip rope with someone – the girls usually. They were into skipping good, and so was I. At first I wasn’t so good at it – getting my feet tangled in the line – but as time went on I got better and better until I could compete with the girls – playing double-dutch and things, reciting all the rhymes. I got so good the other girls – the black ones – would smile big toothed white smiles of delight – because they delighted in challenging me, a little ol’ lonely white boy from the South.

Sometimes I would play house with them – drawing lines in the dirt and calling them imaginary walls. I was always “the husband” and I was often “going to war” – which meant the end of the game for me. That was their hint: “You are going off to war” – and I would take the clue and wander off to some war of my own.

The teachers? Great teachers, some, I suppose. One of them even told me I was a genius. Others didn’t seem to care. I was just another small face blending in the crowd – an ever rotating crowd, I suppose, from the teacher’s view and mind. I was allowed to go to the library and things – but couldn’t check out a book because they didn’t trust me with one. I guess that’s because we moved around; I was only there temporarily, and they knew it. So did I.

I guess that was one of the hard parts about it: waiting to go back to my old neighborhood, the one I’d left in the South. Wanting to go back some of the time – and then getting caught up in the crowd and by discovering things on my own. Being constantly amazed all the time. Planes flew overhead; bombers, too. Helicopters abounded around the base. Tanks crawled on the dirt, throwing up clouds of dirt and dust clouds. It was a strange kind of thing, seeing these great turtles crawling across the mud and knowing how deadly they were to me (fragments of an old dream invading my mind at the time). But I wasn’t scared of them; I welcomed them – they were cool.

However, this teacher this one time . . .

I guess sensing I was bored, and seeing me standing around all the time – there was nothing for me to do most of the time out on the playground. After all: I knew nobody and they knew me as a somebody that didn’t matter – I wouldn’t be around long. It rankled me some of the time that the boys wouldn’t play – but they had their own forts, their own minds, and didn’t want anything to do with me (for the most part). After all: they had their friends. What did they need another one for? Especially an army one who would be disappearing in a while? So as a result I got no invitations to the parties; no invitation to the prom (so to speak). Just left hanging and alone to my own devices most of the time . . . riding my bike to nowhere (and I had no money to speak of); walking around aimlessly, just looking around – again, always caught somewhere between being amazed and confused by the things I found.

But this one teacher . . . I guess one day she caught me standing around and decided she should make a hall monitor out of me. I would work lunchtime and the breaks. I wouldn’t get recess anymore: instead I would stand there at the back double doors ‘monitoring’ them. That mostly meant just watching people come in and out – that door constantly opening closed opening again – groups of kids either smiling or wandering out; or unhappily coming in. I would watch them all, feeling this strange sense way deep down in my chest; a strange sensation to me.

I guess I was finally learning the feeling of “lonely”. Because that is what it was. Lonely and all alone – at school, in the streets – even in the games I played in, including that baseball league I was in: I was useless and lonely and often left out of play. Not that I blame them. I didn’t know a thing about the game and the coaches weren’t into showing my nuthin’ – because they knew: this kid ain’t gonna be around for long. Why bother teaching him a thing? So I would stand out there with my catcher’s glove in my hand and watch them playing – throwing the ball around, taking batting practice and things.

I suppose my brother was in school, but I never saw him there. Not ever.

This was the place my father first tried hypnotizing me. It didn’t work, but it did kinda work on my brother. I remember him doing it at the dining room table – holding that thing (some kind of silver fob) and waving it around first his face (and then burning him with a match, testing if this thing was true) – and then mine. After seeing what had happened to him! (my brother) there was no way I was going along with it! So instead of ‘staring at the fob’ I stared through the fob and kept my eyes locked on him – my dad – and his chest. Just right there on his chest, catching the swinging thing from the corners of my eyes.

I suppose that’s how that happened. It seems to me I got up later . . .

I don’t know.

Anyway:

Here I am: this hall monitor. And one day these two girls from school (well DUH, I was staying there, standing by this door!) – come in. And they are bickering and fighting. Fighting as in as soon as they stepped through that door they started scrapping – throwing punches, clawing, pulling at one another. So I did what a hall monitor is supposed to do.

I stepped in.

Big mistake! (as I soon found out) – because these two girls (in their rage) – turned on me instead! The next thing I know I’m having to fight off these two girls (I’m wearing my ‘monitor’s sash’ – isn’t that supposed to stop them, mean something in some way?) – and they are winning hands down in this fight.

For one thing: they were a lot larger than me – several grades ahead. And for another thing: they were quite determined to finish their fight on their own, and no hall monitor – no anybody was going to get in their way . . .

So . . . faced with screaming demons with contorted faces and clawing hands (and kicking feet and thrown punches) – I dived for the ground, huddling up and cradling my own head between my knees and hands as those girls scrapped all over me. It didn’t go on long – just enough to make me sore for some time. Claw marks hurt; so do bruises and punches. And these girls were BIG.

The teacher showed up just as those two girls turned on themselves again – leaving me an angry, confused, and sore little mess on the floor – I remember standing up, looking at them beneath a brooded brow – confused somewhat, for I never figured out why they were into attacking me (I just didn’t want them to fight IN SCHOOL – that kinda stuff belonged outside) – and she hauled them away. Me? She just gave one long pitying scornful look as though I had just stood there all along, not trying to stop them or anything – and yet the scratches on my cheeks and shoulders were quite clear! And I was limping along behind – following her, because it was the end of my term as hall monitor and ever standing there again . . .

It seems another teacher found out and scolded HER about it (this teacher who left me out) – and THAT teacher turned on me some. I don’t know why and I don’t know how; just that it happened. She grew sullen and scowley whenever I would come in – and I’d sit there several rows behind, my face down in my book and hoped that I would never be punished by her again. (I don’t know what happened; not exactly why and how – and I think we may have switched schools again mid-year. I don’t know – again.)

But I did learn one thing that day.

When two wildcats are fighting, you certainly don’t step in! And women are wildcats when it comes to fighting – they will scratch at and attack anything, even those who are trying to help them – especiallyif it comes down to ‘lets try to resolve this thing peacefully’ – because I liked peace and quiet as a kid – nothing to ‘set me off’ or make me afraid and angry – I had too much of that at home! – but I’d rathered my life just go along peacefully with everyone leaving me alone at that time in my life. And I wasn’t worried. I knew I’d be going back to “the ‘hood” – that this was all just temporary – not even part of my LIFE – like a stage set that I was wandering around on like some useless extra with no directions and no clue as to what the whole play was even about – ALL the time. Just spinnin’ my wheels and waiting to go back home . . . to be with my ‘family’ and friends; the ones I’d left behind (time and time again . . . leaving it all behind . . . makes me sick some of the time).

It really kinda sucks now that I’ve come to think about it: about being alone; the ‘life’ I had at that time; wandering around uselessly, never knowing when it would be time to go . . .

But eventually that time came, and ‘we’ came back to the hood.

I don’t remember that move, neither. Not one comes to mind.

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