I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. I was raised in Anchorage, Alaska. I died in Anchorage, Alaska.
My life, at least until 1985, is unworthy of much ink. At best the ink used will have a bitter flavor, but as in any story, the scenes must have some sort of texture. I went to elementary school at Airport Heights. The building housed some four-hundred kids for nine hours a day. Less than a school, it was a day care for area kids; a place for parents to give up, for a short time the taxing responsibility of raising a child. There were highlights there. I learned to read, I learned to play, and there were tater-tots on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But, for the most part, my internment at the hands of my captors was a time less than idyllic.
I did not then, nor do I now, find it edifying to copy dictionary pages as punishment for extending my recess to finish a game of four-square; nor to have to raise my hand to ask permission to go to the bathroom only to be denied, and minutes later pee my pants; nor even to have my head beaten against a yellow-tiled wall by my second grade teacher because I could not remember how to spell the word “some.”
Childhood memories are otherwise hazy. I am a contextual thinker: most memories, if they do surface, do so unbidden. If, for example, I am asked about my life at age eight, I have to count eight years from my birth, figure out what grade I would be in (knowing that most kids start at age five) and eventually I could give a general description of my activities. As I have often said to those who cannot understand why I cannot remember, “I don’t need those memories in my everyday life, so itâ€™s difficult to recall them on demand.” This usually evokes a shrug, and that is all it need do.
I suppose I must have flailed my way into Junior High, because I do remember that place. Often when I think of my time there, I wind up linking the particular memory to the time when I spent an hour leaning against the bookcase of a high school friend, reading his copy of Sartreâ€™s “The Wall.” I do not think I will explain why.
Wendler Junior High School consisted of an even more unbalanced good-to-bad ratio. What was good? A picture in my locker of a naked Nina Blackwood, who went on to become one of the first wave of MTV VJs, that later was stolen; Mary Jackson telling my future, that I would become a dirty old man (well, it was funny at the time…); perhaps the pencil holder that I made in wood shop class. Pretty much everything else was bad.
Frank Keufl, the vice principal, and his vice-like grip on my shoulder (even though I look fondly back on this due to our relationship in high school); being forced to take a shower after every gym class, each boy deeply afraid of his body and what it might do in there; refusing to be sent outside on a -10 degree mid-winter day by a substitute English teacher for refusing to stop yelling each time the kid behind me shoved his pencil tip through my shirt and into my flesh. This is the educational atmosphere that I struggled through.
It was late into my eighth grade year when my best friend at the time (who, coincidentally, I met at APU at the summer fine arts camp a few years prior) told me that I should go to high school at his school: Steller.
I do remember, not well mind you, going to my motherâ€™s office, which at the time was in the old Loussac Library down the hall from the SWAT team, with my friend to give her the spiel about why I should be allowed to go to Steller. He did all the talking. When he was done my mother asked me why I wanted to go. I responded in the way I had been taught: that my ideas and opinions were nothing; I was nothing in the eyes of an adult. I said, “For all the reasons he said.”
And I got to go anyway.
I will not explain Steller here. Well, not much anyway, simply because there is too much to tell. But, ever conscious of my readers interests, I cannot just say that I died in Anchorage, Alaska, and leave it hanging there like a Velvet Elvis.
My death came just a little over a year after my “meeting of the minds” with my mother. No, I guess it was two years, because I had been through a year and a half of Steller and the meeting with my mother was six months before I started there. I get confused when trying to fuse the calendar year and the school year.
I had been enjoying all the benefits of Steller and taking on none of the responsibilities for a year when I was told that if I did not do much better academically in the fall, I would be kicked out. And so… I failed. And so… I died. I think it was a Friday.
My parents yelled at me, though no more than I could ever have yelled at myself, my friends were shocked, and I could see the disappointment in the eyes of all my teachers. I took all of this on my shoulders and died a slow death over the weekend; stewing in my self-pity.
The ability to remake myself in my own image was there for me, and unfortunately because of my beginnings, I was too blind, stubborn, and weak to recognize any part of what I had until it was all gone. On Monday morning I was called in to Steller to meet with Suzy. She was my teacher, my councilor, and my best adult friend. She was also the person who was disappointed with me the most. Suzy and I talked for a long time. I should say, Suzy talked to me for a long time. I do not remember exactly what she talked about. I know she told, and retold me exactly how utterly disappointed with me she was. She told me what I could look forward to at East High. She told me that worst of all, I had betrayed myself. And then she said, “But, I am going to do something for you.”
Suzy had championed me. Every year, should they choose to, each teacher is given the power to overturn a decision to kick a student out of Steller. One student per teacher, and Suzy had chosen me to champion. It has been almost 20 years since Suzy said, “But, Iam going to do something for you.”
She had broken me down that day, even more than I had done to myself over that weekend. She tore down many walls because I needed it. She had told me why I was nothing, and then, with that one sentence, she began to show me how I could become something. It was the first time an adult had really tried to finish the job they had started.
It has been almost 20 years since I died in Anchorage, Alaska. I do not claim to have been “born again” but I suppose I bill myself as “finally living.” I think for myself when I remember to do it; I make my own decisions very often; and sometimes I am even brave.
Throughout my life I have lost many things. I lost my Chewbacca action figure in a gooseberry bush. I lost my favorite hat when the older kids who beat me up took it. I lost my innocence when my head hit that wall repeatedly in Second grade. I lost each of my friends to life and to the facts of growing up. I lost my virginity in a way I did not want: to a friend. And I lost, or at least during that talk with Suzy, began to lose the tethers that for so long had held me down.
And finally, I began to live.
Dacwâ€™m cariad. Time to stop.