I was 11. It was 3:30 in the morning. Flames billowed out as though a rocket were just above taking liftoff. Taking liftoff, and I was a bystander. Only, there was no rocket, and the flames were not propulsion, but consumption. My dad’s shop where he fixed tractor oil seals, repaired gears, welded broken implements, and snipped tin for shim after shim, settled itself by entropy to a lower energy level. The firetrucks were sent to an erroneous location, giving the country-shop flames time to burn, more time for that rocket to get propulsion…but there was no rocket. And there was no propulsion. Only a shop that burned all the way to the ground. It was the shop where I asked my dad why sparks from welding didn’t start fires everywhere. It was the shop where my brother asked me to hold a block of wood while he drilled it, and the I turned with the block of wood as the stationary drill stayed put, and so did my brother. It was the shop where countless items were slung over rafters. There was a large-toothed rim-shaped saw for quick cut. It was a winter day, and the winter did not get any warmer for those flames. There was depression in the air, similar to the hospital when a fellow patient hung herself in the shower with her shoelaces.
I can remember those days. I can remember the depression. Life was never a great celebration. An air show of the Blue Angels was in town, and dad bought us ice cream bars with fudge and nuts. That was the only time that ever happened. I remember it forever. And the one time after fixing fences the day-long we go to the Co-Op for parts and all of us boys get sodas and refills in the soda machine. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunities they were. Life was never a great celebration. It was mending broken fences, chasing cows that got out AGAIN! It was mornings with the same hot oatmeal cereal day after day. The same oatmeal routine I later had to absorb for months in the hospital. The escape from home, from the farm, from swather augers wrapped and stopped and gut kicks from calves in the chute, the escape from all this was school extracurriculars. And so I did many of them. It was an escape from down-and-back in the swather. It was an escape from mother’s daily lists of chores. It was an escape from muddy corrals splashing everywhere and the running right through a slew to chase a cow.
And so turned my attention to the extracurrilars. AP courses. Cross-country and track races. Academic question and writing competitions. Academic buzzer competitions. Travels throughout the state and to Vegas. But they were only forlorn dreams of a lost country boy. The world never opened up to me in any way. If the world were my oyster, all I ever found was gravel. And that gravel continues to grind on my weary bones.
The boy who would ever become closest to being my only friend, the first time I met him was an outdoor activity in the first grade. A circle was formed. Students were instructed to clasp hands. He was to my right. I reached to clasp, he looked at my hand “Eww! You have a wart! I am not touching you!” That was the end of that; only it wasn’t. He flew high as university-certified engineer like unto his dad, and I sometimes had the chance to walk by his house and admire the size and opulence of his neighborhood. But like all kids who grow up wearing cutoffs made of hand-me-downs for summertime wear, I had to refer back to those cutoffs. And, well, cut him off. The letters next to his name were always more important than I was. He made a point of that. l was lesser. Inferior. Kept interruptin’ me when I needed to focus. No Ph.D. or master’s theses next to my name. Not even a Bachelor’s degree. And, of course, I will never measure up to the letters next to his name. The scorn is palpable sometimes, but not only from him. Also from the brother mine with his law degree jurisdoctorate.
The arguments get hot, and I try to explain that I was borne this way! I was meant to be a total fuck-up! So what! You wanna make some’un’ of it?! And of course, they always do. And I’m the one sitting in those jail cells counting zeroes in my head. And syringes keep getting stuck in my butt! Even when I plead for them to stop.
But an atomic bomb went off in my head. It shattered the cortex and rippled to the cerebellum. Oh, God, why did you have to give me a brain! So long in life it had been easy to be a coward, but do any of you know how hard it is to be cowardly without a frontal cortex to stealthily pretend nothing is happening? To pretend…that no one is making jabs, that no one is making fun…yea, pretty hard. The brain stem don’t like that shit too much, and as the brain stem was the only operating piece of my machinery. Just take away every part of the car but the engine itself. Then rev it as hard as it will go–all the fucking time! There you have an idea what it feels like for the brain to shatter. (Note: the work “fuck” is not meant to offend, but has taken colloquial meaning as an exclamation where exclamation points have basically become outdated.)
So I milked that brain stem for all it was worth. You know, violence and lust foll0wed by violence and lust followed by, you know, more violence and lust. And I became a lot like those who were around me; only, they don’t like to admit it. I had been such a calm, pious thing, so unruffled and easy-going in nature. Even, for the most part, passive. But, oh boy, that changed when I met Medusa, the queen of lust lust lust!!! Jekyll and Hyde popped out. But even that is a pretty blah description of what happened. Reality is so much more entertaining. Ask the doctors. Ask them cops. Ask the Mormons that kept trying to “fix” me. Aaaahhhh…I didn’t need to be fixed. I was bein’ reborne into the most heinous beast this world has or will ever ever see. But I look in the mirror and find myself cute, expecially with my long, curly hair and tremendous beard. Love them curls. Never showed up til I grew it out. Thank you, jail!
I always loved fire, and once I got lit on fire, I could never get enough of it. Will I ever get enough of it? I don’t think so. I have red hair for a reason, or “ORANGE HAIR!” as I have been called by one detractor. But this ol’ body of mine is a tractor, and the horse power only keeps increasin’. I think it’s up over 2000 now. Sounds unheard of, I know. But I like it that way. I like the impossible. Just like I loved reinventing myself from zero. The flames shootin’ outta my ears is just a bonus, I suppose.