Mighty Hunter in the 21st Century

The Memories and Occasional Musings of a Modern-Day Caveman


Okay, hop on, Booger.

I looked from my step-dad to the now-unsteady-and-most-assuredly-unsafe-deathtrap-of-a-bicycle that he holds up by the seat and then back to my step-dad. His wrench, that terrible co-conspirator, lay at his feet next to the training wheels that had prevented about 8,376 head wounds and broken bones. He patted the seat. Surely he meant to reassure me by doing so.

Come on, Boog. Don’t you want to try it out?

No, I really didn’t. Somehow, though, my step-dad’s easy smile and insistence made it impossible to turn him down.

You can guess the rest: the exhortations to pedal, pedal, pedal faster; the breeze blowing my hair around as I complied; the sound of my step-dad’s suddenly excited shouts and mom’s happy applause receding further into the distance as I pedaled towards the train tracks; the jerky turn to the left as I tried to come back to them; the almost too-sudden stop right in front of my parents; the laughter as my step-dad half-caught, half-steadied me.

I may have been smiling.

Get him!

I looked behind me and saw them: the group of kids that I simultaneously loathed and tolerated enough to pal around with. The suburb of Cape Cods, split levels, and ranchers squatted silently in the Christmas morning aftermath. Cars occasionally wooshed by on the nearby main drag.

The kids, my elementary school classmates, pedaled toward me.

Nice new dirt bike, dork!
Let’s see how well you ride it!
Show us your wheelie, nerd!

You can guess the rest: my frantic mind screaming pedal, pedal, pedal faster; their laughter echoing off the houses as they gave chase; my labored breathing; the squeaking of new gears and handlebars as I took the sharp corner towards my house; their catcalls receding as I screeched to a halt inside my garage.

I may have been crying.

So, how has your summer been so far? 

Slightly embarrassed, I mumbled my thanks as I accepted the glass of ice tea from her mother. I gulped it down in order to avoid answering her. When was she coming home? I made a mistake coming here.

Her mother looked me over, apparently practicing her telepathic skills.

I assume she’ll be home soon from her summer job. You can wait in the living room if you like.

I nod enthusiastically and retreat in that direction, mind racing.

Moments later, she returns home, calling a happy yet tired greeting to the house and its inhabitants.

Hi, dear. A friend of yours stopped by to see you. A friend from last year’s summer trip, I think? I couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation, but I can imagine it.

You can guess the rest: her awkward greeting as she enters the living room; my pleasant-enough-but-nervous reply; the explanations of her actions the summer before; the reiterations of the potential actions of her probably jealous high-school boyfriend; the contradictory feelings of puppy love, heartbreak, and embarrassment that I push down into myself; the caste hug goodbye, the look back that I try to avoid giving her as I pedal away.

I may have felt nothing. I may have felt everything.

Pedal, pedal, pedal faster.


Messy Lives

It feels like the further back I look in my life, the more I can convince myself that I didn’t have a care in the world. My childhood seems almost idyllic in comparison to how I see my life panning out now. And so, I judge my early life by what has come after.

I feel like I shouldn’t fall into this trap. And, believe me, comparing the present with hazy memories of the past is a trap.

I know the real story behind my early years because, when I was about 16 or so, both my dad and then my mom and step-dad sat me down and told me about it. These stories of my young childhood had very little to do with me, to be honest, as they were told from my parents’ perspective about the other party. These stories laid out accusations of hurt and betrayal, imagined slights and barely substantiated infidelities. My dad laid it all out over a weekend that I helped him build a gazebo in his backyard; my mom and step-dad offered their response when I got back home from that weekend.

The stories spun themselves out over a great deal of time, and encompassed the first full decade of my life. I sat there, regardless of who was talking, listening, looking at my hands, nodding when I thought it was appropriate.

I believed it all. Which, from my perspective, means that I started resenting my parents. All of them. No one seemed innocent. Everyone had done something wrong, and kept pointing at the other party in an attempt to demonize themselves less.

Twenty-two years on, I know that life as an adult gets messy. The choices we make can start an avalanche that sweeps us away. While we feel like we can’t or aren’t controlling its direction, the avalanche deposits us, when it finally rumbles to a halt, at the bottom of the mountain of our lives. Do we lie under the rubble? Call for help? Try to dig ourselves out?

In a way, I talk and think about my early childhood as a way of digging myself out AND calling for help. Doing this helps me keep my tenuous perspective on how truly lucky I am. It reaffirms my place and sets my direction.

It helps me.

Moms and Dads

Hey, Booger, can I talk to you for a minute?

I looked back at him from inside my turtle-shaped toy box, its contents strew about my gigantic little room. He stood at the doorway for a brief instant, and then disappeared down the hall towards the kitchen. I clamored out of the turtle and followed him.

There he was, in the kitchen, just as a thought. I stood there, fidgeting a bit, while he worked on the kitchen counter, maybe making a sandwich. He started talking to me. Thirty-some years on, I don’t really remember how he started this conversation. I do remember, clear as day, what he ended with:

I’d like it if you started calling me “Dad.”

I don’t remember how I responded, or if I responded right away at all. I may have murmured something like, “Okay.” It may have even made a kind of sense to me. I lived with this man all the time. He slept in the same room as my mother and helped me do things. He and my mom planned on getting married soon. I guessed that I loved him, or, at the very least, liked him. He made me laugh.

The other man that came over to pick me up for weekend visits twice a month was my real dad, though. He didn’t live with us for some reason, and while I don’t remember questioning it, I must have been okay with it. It was just what happened. I’d go away with my dad, and then I’d come back to the apartment where my mom and dad lived. They were two different people that would eventually have the same name.

Soon, I would correct myself when I called the man that lived with my mom by his real name until it become natural to call him “dad.” It made him happy, I guess. And the man that came to pick me up for weekend visits was still my dad, so that was still good, too.

It eventually became the new normal.

My mom walked out of the living room, crying. My now step-dad followed after her; my biological father (as I was now calling him to my small group of friends at the junior high school bus stop) hugged me goodbye at the front door and headed back to his car. As Dad left, Dad came back into the living room.

Go talk to your mother.

I went to their bedroom. She was sitting in the rocking chair, framed by one of the windows looking out onto our front yard. I don’t remember what I said to start her talking. Probably, “I’m sorry.”

I’m your mom. Not her. I am.

“I know, Mom. It’s just, I thought, since I call Dad “Dad,” too…”

That’s not the same. I’m your mother.

“Okay, Mom. I’m sorry.”

I stood there for a little while longer. We looked at each other, her cries slowly ebbing, my hands fidgeting.

Memories, Self-Reflection, Wings

Every time I try to look back in time for that elusive first memory, I get lost and confused. It always feels like several memories combine into a giant confused jumble, with the only common thread being that everyone seems about a hundred feet tall. Images flash by in my mind’s eye:

  • being sung to at my fourth birthday party
  • building a snowman for the first time in, of all places, Virginia Beach
  • making a two-pound hamburger with a bun to match and topped with a whole block of Velvetta cheese
  • sitting in the kitchen at my daycare, staring at my uneaten vegetables, while all the other kids slept

There are a few more. Flashes, really. Very few make sense taken separately. I suppose the sum of them all have made me who I am today. Or something like that.

Will finding a bunch of memories and throwing them here help me sort out who or what I am, and what I can expect to become?

As much as anything, I suppose.

A part of me wants to close with some sort of quote by an Eastern philosopher or famous peacenik about the value of self-reflection.

There is no end to what we can do together.
There is no end, there is no end.
The willow turns his back on inclement weather;
We can do it, just me and you.
— Wings, “With a Little Luck”

Take that, K’ung-tzu.