Nov 21 3:47 pm

A Shit Memory

I have a shit memory.  My wife can remember things from when she was four years old, even two years old, but I’ve got nothing.  Well, that’s an exaggeration, I’ve got a few things.  At four, I remember peddling my little red fire engine in front of our house, and I remember how scared I was of the angle of our carport, how I was afraid I’d tip over.  And I remember arriving at the edge of our lot and the heartbreak I felt (and I mean that sort of soul crushing hurt that you never forget) because the sidewalk ended, and how I just wanted to go and go but there was nowhere to go except back to where I started.  And it’s weird, because even now I want to get into the car and drive.  And I don’t know where I want to go, I just want to drive west, as far west as I can go, and then further.  It’s like that need to run never went away.

But other than that dead end sidewalk, and falling out of bed, and answering “Doctor” when my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and singing Hello, Dolly to him when he asked me to sing it, and getting a model car kit for my fifth birthday that I was too stupid to put together and that I kept for ten or twelve years and yet still couldn’t figure out how to assemble, I’ve got nothing from my fourth year of life.  I didn’t exist, except in vignettes.

We lived in Victoria, Texas, back when I peddled my fire engine.  From there until Three Rivers, Michigan, where we moved when I was seven, it’s like my memory is a dot matrix printer that isn’t up to the task.  I have something like three memories: The firemen putting out the fire in my parents bedroom, Dean Martin singing King of the Road, Daddy tanked on Christmas.  Oh, and sticking a safety pin into a power outlet; yeah, that sucked.  So make it four.

From seven until I was eight, my brain did a little better.  I started reaching for independence, and I have memories of accomplishments and the sense that I was growing up – those first blossoms of self-awareness, of personhood.  But then I got sick when I was eight and ended up in the wheelchair.  And for the next five years, I have memories, but they’re less moments than watercolors, feelings, approximations.  My brain coping with hell?  I don’t know.

At thirteen, I came home from the National Institutes of Health, where I had been a research subject.  And I swear to God that until I turned sixteen, I mentally socked away damned near nothing, not that I had much to sock away.  I didn’t go to school, I barely left the house, and I had only two friends: David Marshall, the badass, the cool kid, the one who smoked and drank and did drugs – who would die of one of those before the age of twenty-five; and Mike Todd, the neighborhood kid, the good kid, the one who at thirteen you knew – you knew – would at forty-three show up when you called him and would help you get your car started, because that’s who he was.  But even my memories of those guys, the only two people in my universe, are spotty.  Three years of mental and emotional flatlining.

At sixteen, I found Jesus and became a Christian, a crazy hyper-religious Christian, like if Pat Robertson and Jim Bakker had a baby and baptized him in the sweat of Jimmy Swaggart, that kind of Christian.  And there’s a lot of fear from then, of punishment, of damnation and hell at the end – forever.  Little good came from that place; ironically, those memories are some of my most vivid.

I left home for junior college when I was twenty-one.  I don’t know if it was the panic of being on my own after being coddled for so long or the struggle to balance my religiosity with the real world or my unhappiness in Killeen, where I attended school, but all I bring from there is monotone and black white (hell, not even black and white but gray).  Nothing stuck.  It’s like there was nothing there to stick.

I was twenty-five when I hit Texas A&M, and that’s where my memories start.  And they’re good memories, like Christmas lights strung together to celebrate the rebirth of a child: me.  But while they’re too perfect for words, they number so many fewer than those of my friends.  I mean, most people I know can outline their time there one semester to the next.  There are a couple for whom it was like they wore a body camera that data dumped their entire experience into their brain; they remember everything and everyone.

I don’t.

Hell, I don’t remember what I had for dinner last night.  And I certainly couldn’t tell you what I had for dinner last week.  And my wife will say to me, “Oh my God, remember that weekend we spent in San Antonio?”  And I smile and go, “Yeah,” but I don’t have a clue.  We were in San Antonio?  Okay.  How many other memories am I missing?  So much of my life is gone, like huge chunks, maybe ninety percent of my existence, that it’s like I was never there.  And it’s not like I’m getting Alzheimers, unless I’ve had some slow chronic version since I was thirty.  This is just who I am.

This all comes up because I’m thinking about writing a memoir.  Weird, right, that I want to write a memoir when I don’t remember anything?  But I feel like I’m supposed to, like I’ve got a memoir in me.  I just don’t know where it is…

Maybe if I got in the car and headed west.

Nov 4 7:59 pm

I’m That Guy

Everybody knows one.  That guy.  The one who posts outrageous shit on Facebook.  I’m that guy.

I’ve always possessed the balls (and utter lack of self-control) to say whatever I think to whomever I feel like saying it.  My father told me right around my twelfth birthday, and numerous times after, “That mouth of yours is going to get you killed!”  More than once, his warning proved almost prescient, as I have been unafraid, despite my wheelchair, to approach strangers whom I felt crossed a line – while failing to recognize that I was crossing lines of my own at those very moments, dancing along the cliff’s edge of my demise, or at the least risking hospitalization.

Facebook and blogs were invented for people like me.

Facebook: Today a guy for whom I was best man twenty-five years ago called me out when I bursted through with abandon and commented on one of his posts.  His had been one of those that shared a share.  Its graphic lamented that police were underappreciated.  And while it touched something deep within my friend, it raised the hair on the back of my neck.  It was go time.  I began typing.

Until FOX News and other conservative media began milking the deaths of black men at the hands of white cops by painting the cops as the true victims, I had rarely heard anyone bemoan cops being underappreciated.  Yeah, the last thing we wanted to see as we drove to town on the four-lane was a black and white on the shoulder or planted in the tree line.  But no, we rarely thought about cops, good or bad, when we were off the roads.  Because they were doing what they do in the shadows, we had that luxury.  We were safe.  Due to the good guys.  And we respected them.

But then the videos came out.

Taken from small handheld phones, one hastily-made video showed cops smothering a lethargic black petty criminal to death; another showed a white cop shooting an unarmed black man in the back as he ran away.  A dashcam showed a white Cincinnati cop killing a black twelve-year-old boy holding a toy gun.  Another dashcam showed a white cop blowing away a black guy sitting in his car.  A WalMart in-store camera showed two cops killing a black man holding an unloaded gun that he picked up from the store shelves.  And seeing these deaths at the hands of the police, we knew they were but a small piece of what’s really going on.  Our eyes were confirming what the black community had been telling us for decades: They were under assault not just by black gangs, but by white cops.  And now those cops wanted sympathy?  For what?  For us demanding better?  And so I risked a friendship, helpless (as I typically am) to do otherwise.

Since my childhood, I have been bothered by how African-Americans have been both shit on by and blamed for society’s woes.  And with the recent flood of videos, I’ve become enraged by the actions of those members of my own race who have been entrusted to protect us all – not only white, but all.  And it’s not like I’m angry at the bad cops alone.  I’m pissed at the good cops, too, for their failure to call out the corrupt ones.  Like the Catholic Church, which hushed the rape of children by its priests, so “good” cops have been painfully and possibly criminally negligent for not crossing, as I’ve heard it called, that thin blue line.  And when good cops refuse to bust bad cops, doesn’t that make them as bad as the bad?  At least, that’s the reasoning my mother raised me with; being a snitch when innocent people are being hurt isn’t being a snitch, it’s being a decent human being.

By what I’ve written so far, you can guess the content of my post on my friend’s wall.  And truth be told, I knew as soon as I wrote it that I’d gone over the top, that a guy who posted a tribute to the police wasn’t going to take well a slam against them.  But by the time I realized that, I knew he had read what I had written, and leaving it up was both my hardheaded way of maintaining my point and my offering to him of the time and space to respond.  Sure enough, my computer pinged.  I checked Facebook.

My friend’s comeback was quick and heated.  And with it, I was forced to consider my response.  I could go all puppy dog by groveling and stepping away, or I could tell him why I posted my comment.  I chose the latter.  I always choose the latter, because I’m that guy.

I first offered an apology.  It was slight, the kind that says, “No harm intended.”  I then privately messaged him, and I dug a little deeper.  Why had he been so upset?  I wanted to understand first, before I explained my post.

My buddy responded that his brother was a veteran cop, something I had forgotten.  He then assured me that we were cool.  I appreciated his willingness to put this in the past.  But I’m that guy.

Moments like the one I placed myself in allow me an opportunity.  They force me to dig deep within myself to ask how much of what I just said/wrote I truly believe, and then to ask why I believe it, but most of all they allow me to ask how much of the perspective of the person I disagree with I can embrace.  Yeah, moments like these force me to triangulate – with myself.  And that inward look, that desire to understand myself better, is an opportunity I relish when I step over the line (which, as I’ve alluded, happens frequently enough that my overreach is never a surprise to anyone who knows me).  And with this familiar opportunity before me, I asked myself what I believe about cops, where I am during this period in which Black Lives Matter.

Truthfully, I think most cops are admirable.  They do their job.  They write tickets, break up fights, step in when stepping in is required.  They help keep society running on an even keel.  But then there are the bad ones, and those cops are are a blight on everything in which we believe.  Justice.  Service.  Honor.  And for reasons that are inexplicable, good cops are, by not reporting unacceptable and/or illegal behavior, letting bad ones get away with crimes against that which is right, against innocent victims, against our communities.  But I had known and internalized that long before I read the share.  So why did I place that risky post on my friend’s wall?  Why had my trigger been so light?

I messaged my friend:

It seems to me that we have been given a disservice by political leaders who tout everyone in a uniform (cop, soldier, fire fighter) as a hero. I think that being a cop (or soldier, etc) is noble, but heroism only comes when you step beyond what is expected of you.  Joining the military is noble; being deployed to Iraq is your job; shooting a sniper before he takes out your buddy is your job; but running into gunfire to save your buddy makes you a hero.

One does not become a hero until one is heroic.

My rationale for writing the initial post was beginning to come together.

Teachers are civil servants.  They help raise our children for little pay and even less appreciation.  The same goes for social workers.  For even less pay than teachers, they go into unsafe neighborhoods and, at times, on into far less safe homes, as they fight to rescue families.  What they see, those social workers who are friends of mine have said, crushes their spirit.  Yet they live with a broken heart for near poverty wages because they want to save those kids.  Similarly, the nurse, the minister, the cop.

Each of those professions, and many more like them, seem to me a calling; a person does not teach unless they have a passion for children, you don’t become a minister without a calling to God, and one rarely becomes a cop without the call to justice.  Like artists are beckoned to art and engineers to design, cops are called to maintain order.  That is what they are called to do, possibly what they were born to do.

But a gun does not make a cop more heroic than a teacher serving in a poor dangerous school, or a nurse caring for AIDS patients, or a social worker risking a stray bullet to counsel families in gang-ridden neighborhoods.  Cops are servants whose service is honorable, but they are not intrinsically heroes, for it takes more than a uniform and a gun to be a hero.  To achieve that, heroism, you have to reach beyond your calling and do the extraordinary: You have to brave the truest of threats, those that will come at you from within your own ranks.