On a Life Behind Me

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12)

I am not a religious individual. I once thought myself truly devout, but those days are long past. I remember when I was a child, that my dream was to be known. I do not need to be loved, I remember telling my mother during a late-night confession involving cookies and 4th grade science projects. I remember telling her in my 8-year-old grasp of the English vernacular, that love to me is not necessary in order to be known. To be known, one only has to be feared.

My mother has never been an astute woman, but she makes up for in effort what she lacks in competence, and I cannot fault her for that. In retrospect, as I relive that moment in my current memory, it was fear that I saw in her gaze. Fear and confusion and a solemn spark of something dangerous, for surely she cannot have birthed a child that was so utterly devoid of human understanding.

– But that means you will go jail. Do you want to go to jail?

I thought that was very clever of her; surprisingly clever. What does a child understand of criminal repercussion? What can a child understanding of imprisonment – of lost time – as punishment, if to her death is still an abstraction and she has all the time in the world?

I am not a child anymore. There is a tradition that upon passing 20 years of age a child becomes an adult – capable of their own fate and their own consequences. To the world I am incredibly young still; they think me naive, inexperienced, a youth acting on an adult stage. To a great extent this is true, for all intents and purposes the adult world still views my peers and myself as children still. But among the children, they sense it, they smell it – no longer one of them, and it is only among children am I not a child.

My mother never quite mentioned that night again, as is her wont. My biological family is incredibly dysfunctional, of this we are not naive. It is a tense conglomeration of repression and denial and avoidance and of running away from problems one cannot hope to solve or find solace from. My mother is frugal by nature – a quality whose most extreme manifestations I have inherited, and as such, she does not believe in lighting or in heating bills. It is rather poetic then, that the temperature and lighting in our family home so bellies the frigidity and judgment and coldness in our relations.

There is one thing I will never understand and is, in truth, partly the motivation behind years of curiosity and academic pursuit. This enigma is my older brother. We share half of our genetic material, and a nearly identical rearing environment. Yet our hopes, our anxieties, our vices, and our demons are so polar, it is as if we never met until the day we die.

I have hypothesized on it extensively. My brother by nature has a congenial, warm temperament and genuinely enjoys the company of others. There was very little competition between us by virtue of our vastly differing priorities and abilities. In the face of incompetent parenting, he sought love and belonging in his peer group, and found it. In the days of Christian youth groups and highschool parties, our house was always filled every weekend with his impromptu barbecues and functions and get-togethers. In time, he managed to connect with our father and maintains a solid, if not loving, relationship with him.

Both my brother and I were raised in a church – in theory it should have been an incredibly protective factor. Our connections to the church community were extensive and longstanding. We had both begun as toddlers, and the community had essentially watched us grow and blossom before their eyes. We were both “headed somewhere in life”, expected to make something extraordinary of ourselves in God’s world. We were youth leaders, role models for younger peers, the kind of kids whom parents of other children at church would point to and remark “you should be more like them”. We were the golden siblings in the English congregation; up and coming youngsters destined to be leaders in the church community. I do surmise that had it not been for my contributions by virtue of birth to that church, I would be even more cynical than I am now.

Because there was kindness, there was compassion in that church, but my days there also taught me that while God was infallible, humanity was not. I recognized the church for what it was – a quivering, insecure mass of patriarchal Elders and gossiping housewives and political scheming and power-mongering and hypocrisy. But the social aspect of it was certainly protective, I will not deny that. My elder brother in particular, flourished in church – he found his niche, his belonging there.

I sought comfort through intellect. I dove headlong into encyclopedias and science projects and literature and philosophy and psychology. I swam with Moby Dick and twirled the world of subatomic particles around my fingers; danced with relish in the grand halls of Conrad and Joyce and Kafka and (regrettably) Freud, I walked the streets of Ancient Rome and flew upon golden wings with Icarus and mythological Greek gods, and I studied everything a 12-year-old could amass on developmental psychology and, more heatedly, all the literature I could find on abnormal child development for years and years and years. Needless to say, my social life suffered and I never developed a peer group, never found a group of friends whom I identified as true peers. I never developed a solid understanding of humanity and emotion, I never belonged, only observed. Contemporary psychology would call it a pathological failure to attach to a primary caregiver, but I call it failing to give a flying fuck about humanity.

I am an adamant disciple of the notion that while life is not deterministic, life consists of a few critical decisions – of things done or not done – that determine the entire course of our eighty years. As the years pass I am beginning to realize that I am drawing closer to a decision that could very well condemn me to the ranks of dark humanity. The idea is obsessive and pervasive; I find it difficult to believe that one day I will have to awake and face the consequences of my actions.

I fail to descry any shred of constructiveness or contribution to humanity that my decision could bring. It would be a career of selfishness – of gratification that I can neither justify nor ignore. It would be the taking of what I want from a world that I will offer nothing in return. I am not naive to the moral incompatibility of my actions.

Freud once wrote that if a child could destroy the world, he would. I most definitely would have.

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