Saturday, May 2, 2015

20 Years Later: Reflections of a Perennial Underdog (Part 1)

Moving.  The thrill of the unknown.  The unexpected adventure.  When I was a little boy I bought into the adventure.  I thought the move from Topeka to Denver was going to be the greatest thing that ever happened in my six years of life.  To some extant it was.  Then two years later, a sequence of events began that completely changed that hopeless optimism of early childhood and left me on the brink of depression, sadness, and worst of all, puberty.  
When I was eight years old I was standing within arm's length of my dad when he was hit from behind by a car being driven by a sixteen year old driving for the first time.  Though I didn't know it at the time, this event would shape me more than anything else that I had ever or would ever experience.  In many ways, it is still shaping me today.  
I am fairly confident that it was after this life-changing event that I began to have security issues.  There is nothing like coming close to losing your father, and thinking that was your fault to make you feel insecure about yourself.  From that moment on I simply wanted to hold on to any friend or family member that I had.  And when things went wrong I personalized it.  I don't think anyone, including my parents ever really knew just how much burden I put myself.  
Then at ten years old we moved again.  I put on a brave face, but I was desperately scared.  I had lived in a shell for the past two years, but I had lived surrounded by people I knew, people I trusted.  We left Denver for Sedan, Kansas; a move I regret.  I acted as if nothing bothered me.  I tried to jump in and excel at small time life.  I tried to build quality friendships.  I tried.  And though I was great at feigning excitement, I was lost inside.  The only one I thought who ever really understood me was my Grandma.  While we were in Sedan she lost her battle with leukemia.  I was broken.  Ten years old and broken.  And then, in less than a year we moved again.  
This time we headed back to Topeka, and lived with my Grandpa.  I again put on my courageous mask believing in my heart that mom and dad could never know just how out of sorts I truly was.  That year I kept mostly to myself.  I didn't really develop any close friendships.  I kept people at arm's length.  Ironic since an arm's length it was changed me.  When my parents told me a year later that we were again moving, I just did not care.  Oh, I pretended to be excited.  I proclaimed my desire for a new adventure.  But inside, I was hollow.  I was numb.  Little did I know that the numbness would give way to a desire to just be needed, to just fit in.  
So, in the first month of my seventh grade year it happened that my family moved to McCune, Kansas.  When we arrived I was terribly out of my element.  I remember vividly that first day of school.  I had long hair and wore baggy jeans.  I must have looked like I came from another planet to those kids.  Inside I was a nervous wreck.  Here before me sat 13 of the scariest people I had ever laid eyes on.  I had attempted the small town transition before.  I knew that these kids had been in the same class since preschool.  I knew that they had friendships that went back as far as they could remember.  I knew that I wasn't one of them.  And it did not matter, because, I assumed we would be gone in a year anyway.  
I look back now at that 12 year old kid and I mourn for him.  He was so lost.  He battled the fear of being a nobody and the longing of needing anybody the only way he knew how: by overcompensating with loud, and obnoxious behavior.  That behavior distanced him from people who might have been close too.  He was able to be "liked" without having to be himself, without having to invest in others.  
Something unexpected happened within that first year though.  McCune started to feel like home.  Home.  I hadn't felt that in so long.  Home.  To this day, when I think of home I think of McCune.  We have a saying back home: Once an Eagle, always an Eagle.  I did not fully realize that at twelve years old.  I did not fully realize that at 22 or 32 years old.  However, this past year my friends and I buried one of our own.  I went back to McCune for Larry's funeral.  I cried with others in my class as we said our goodbyes.  I laughed with them as we sat at the McCune bar and told old stories.  
And in that moment, I finally fully realized what our saying meant.  You see I was home.  Home! 

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