Stories of Blood and Ink: Chapter 1, Part 1
I always knew that something dark was around me, perhaps inside me. I felt different, lost, and somewhat of an outcast. I have a different way of thinking than other people, and I believe that possibly has something to do with why I felt so isolated. Relating to other people has always seemed very difficult. I’ve constantly found myself looking for something that I could do that was great…to set myself apart… something special. I still pursue this grand notion even to this day. In the fourth grade our class learned about Shakespeare and poetry. Our teacher was so passionate about literature, and I will always admire how he bravely went beyond the curriculum to instill these same passions into us. When we learned about the art of the Shakespearian sonnet, I was hooked. In fact, I think that I was the only student in the class that was able to correctly write one. I enjoyed the expressiveness of the art, but I believe the greater motivation for me was to be doing something special. I mean, no other student could write these like me so it must have meant something, right? I constantly looked for ways to impress. The view that others had on me has always been crucially important, but it’s added an incredible amount of self-imposed pressure throughout the years.
This fourth-grade school year was incredibly hard. The previous years had their challenges, but this fourth-grade year is where solid memories come into play. I can’t say that there is one specific thing to point to that would be the culprit, but I can say that the perception my piers had of me had a lot to do with it. This is the first time that I have ever mentioned this, in fact this has been buried in the depths of my memories for decades, but here goes: when I was in the fourth grade, I tried to hang myself in the boy’s bathroom. I’m not sure why; I’m not even sure that I can say that I was serious about it, but it was a dangerous thought, nonetheless. We had dressed up for a lesson on something to do with a literature, and deep in my memory I can surmise that the cloak costume I was wearing had an old piece of rope tied around the waist, as a makeshift belt. I don’t know what brought this into my mind. I don’t remember many details of the timeframe, but I can candidly remember untying that piece of rope from my waist in the bathroom stall, throwing it over the top frame of it, tying one end of the rope around my neck, and pulling hard on the other. Obviously, I didn’t have the knowhow to effectively pull off this terrible feat, and like I said I’m not even sure if I was serious about it. But this memory has come to mind with lots of meditation and thought… and it’s alarming to me, but also crucially important in putting together the pieces of this puzzle.
Behavior problems were the theme of most of my early childhood… especially in school. I found myself constantly being sent to the principal’s office or having difficulty with my studies. I can look back and fully understand why most of my teachers were so reticent to send me away. I was a distraction to my peers and largely a distraction to myself. I can surmise that acting out got me the attention that I craved. I don’t want to say that there is a specific reason that I needed it so much. I cannot, in clear conscious, claim that I wasn’t getting it at home. I want to speak undoubtable fact, and I’m not convinced that anything was lacking at home in this timeframe.
In the first grade my teacher had a very negative opinion of me. Perhaps it stemmed from my behavior patterns. Actually, this was likely now that I think about it. I have very little recall of this school year except for a few critical moments. One thing that I do know is that my teacher was under the impression that I had ADHD or some other type of related cognitive issue. I was taken to a nearby university for a behavior assessment after several parent-teacher conferences, and it was determined that I did not have this or any other condition. Hindsight is 20/20 I guess, but at ** years old I can definitively say that I was misdiagnosed in my early years. I definitively do have ADHD and through testing specialists, I obtained the proper diagnosis and began treatment. I’m still working with my doctor to find the proper medication and counseling to treat this condition. Perhaps this is a good indication as to why I had so many behavior problems as a child. I’m sure it didn’t help the situation, but I’m not sure that this is the entire story.
The element of this scenario that became frustrating to the adults in my life was that I did not lack in ability, I’d always been told that I was a smart kid. My test scores repeatedly proved it. It came down to boredom, an inability to sit still, or the need for constant attention… or quite possibly a mixture of all three.
I have learned in the past couple years that mental health has a heavy reliance on stability. We (my family) didn’t have it, for the most part. I’m incredibly proud of my family and I love them all greatly, but I missed my father. Dad was a working machine, completely dedicated to his craft. His career relied heavily on his physical presence. He and my mother owned a decently sized construction firm in the years when I was in elementary school, and at one point they opened the doors on a concrete materials company as well. This proved at one time to be a hugely successful endeavor. But, like most successful companies in their infancy, this came with large amounts of stress on the family dynamic. Dad was extremely motivated in these years and obsessed with doing as much work by himself as possible, to save cost. I’m grateful for how hard he worked, but I do resent a lot of it when I think back. He was away from home most of the time, and the times where he was able to be there the exhaustion took over. It was common knowledge in our household that you don’t sit in dad’s recliner… this was his space. When dad was able to make it home this is where he would settle in for naps. Again, I’m grateful that he worked so hard to where he needed this rest, but I wished that he would have been awake. There is so much that we could have done together.
I hear stories of my father from my older siblings. Apparently, when they were a young age, my father was much more involved with his children. He would coach little league teams that they were on, he would be at every game, and he would be hugely involved in most of their endeavors. These usually revolved around sports. This is back when he worked for someone else and hadn’t struck out on his own yet. I barely remember that time. As a business owner myself, I can now see what my father was trying to do and the pressure that he was under. Fortunately, we can manage this a little better due to the dynamic of our little business and the stakes are a lot lower. We are home every night. We built our business to function this way. The risks that my parents had to take in my childhood to make two companies properly function was incredibly taxing. The economics and risks were also on a much higher scale than what I am now accustomed to. There was a lot more to lose, as our family found out years into the venture.
I don’t remember the exact timeline of it, but this all came crashing down at one point for my parents. Businesses of this scale are subject to many economic factors, and the both companies were not exempted. In a smattering of business deals that went awry, my family lost just about everything. At the time we were living in a nice house that my dad built, which was lost in the financial firestorm that ensued. Bank accounts were emptied. Each of us sons even had a savings account that my parents had set up for us and those, too, were lost. Our family took a punch directly in the mouth over all of this and things began to slide downhill. It took years for me to find out the extent of the financial damage, since my parents had kept a lot of the details away from me.
On the outside looking in I’m sure that people saw privilege. I can say this just based on our current experiences. People are under the assumption that when someone owns a business there is a distinct level of luxury that the owners enjoy. If they only knew what it’s like for my wife to work, day in and day out, only to receive no pay in the infancy of our new business. Anyway, the house that we had, the cars that my parents (and eventually siblings) drove, and the ability to take decent vacations likely gave the impression that we were a model family. This was a well-built façade.
We moved to our family’s farm property which was salvaged from the financial impacts of these events. My dad had purchased this property around the turn of the century, and this is where he spent most of his off hours. He would work at the farm, molding and shaping the land into exactly what he wanted it to be. Over time he had built a nice two-story cabin that would ultimately be our landing spot from the freefall of financial turmoil. This was around late elementary and early middle school age, I would say.
The ripple effects that the failed businesses had on my dad was enormous. This is not to say that he lost his ambition, though. He kept going, but perhaps started taking even more risks to regain what was lost. The downgrade in lifestyle greatly impacted him, as well as the rest of us, although pride seemed to shield most of the family from understanding how deep the hole really was. He began to partner with other people to find good footing. All the while there was an intense battle over the previous business ventures and who would get what. I was shielded from a lot of this at the time, but perception is reality, and I knew that something was wrong. Something had changed and things would never go back to the way they were before.
I grew up heartbroken. Rejected. Stressed. Fearful. Angry... especially in my early teen years. My guess is that the latter notion has a lot to do with the 3 former ones. When I was 13 years old my parents finally made official what had been coming for years. Finalizing a divorce, one would think, is the most stressful part of the process of breaking up a family. On the contrary, it’s the before and after that provide the most strain from a kid’s perspective. It’s the nights listening to the world collapsing around you in the before: the choosing sides, the attempts at remaining neutral, the feeling of trying to empathize with both parents equally, only to realize that you are being used as a weapon against the other. Not that they would ever want to admit it, but I was expected to choose a side and often got included into conversations about the other parent that were less than ideal.
In the months leading up to the actual divorce proceedings, my father had moved out. I didn’t understand what was happening, other than the fact that my dad was now living at a different place. But I was fortunate enough that he didn’t go far. Our family owned and rented out single-wide trailer on the farm property, and this vacant dwelling is where my dad would stay. He was a short four-wheeler ride away, but that came with its own set of problems. His drinking began to take hold a little stronger. This part of history is mentally blocked for me, and I don’t exactly remember how long this arrangement was for. The only real memory that I have of this trailer is the time when my dad went out (against my mother’s wishes) and bought me my first cell phone. Thus commenced a string of back-and-forth living arrangements during this time in which dad would come and go, living with my mother and myself. I couldn’t even begin to arrange a timeline of these events and a lot of it is very blurry. I do remember specifically how excited I was to have this phone. It had the game “snake” on it.
There are a lot of mental hurdles that a kid in this position must overcome. The first is realizing that the separation at hand is not my fault. I wouldn’t say that I felt that way, per se, my parents did a good job at emphasizing that point. But this is only the first part of a very complex dynamic. The second hill to climb is coming to the realization that not only is your home life going to be changed from that point on, but also that your parents themselves will never be the same. Styles of living changed as well. It is hard for a kid at that age to understand that everyone involved has their own wounds and obstacles that they must overcome. This was more so what I came up against.
My father got the farm, which broke my mother’s heart. The years leading up to this were already an assault on the known way of life that she had. She had dedicated her life to building it and worked her hands to the bone for it. But I remember every detail of the car ride when my mom told me that she was losing her home. She was a survivor, though. She was able to acquire a rental home on a property that her brother still owns, and this is where my mother and I lived all the way up to when I left for college. The house was a wreck when she acquired it, and she would spend countless hours working to make it a livable space for the two of us and a suitable home. The blood, sweat, and tears that she laid into this house is immeasurable. In hindsight, I can see why some around me perceived me as entitled and lazy because I must admit that I did not contribute near enough to this labor. In all actuality I made it incredibly hard on my mother in these years. My anger became nearly unmanageable at this time, rearing its ugly head with the various holes that I left in walls with my fists, and I resented everything about this house. I could never come to grips with myself and the life that we once had, and I lashed out on just about everyone around me. I have such an immense shame that I feel for the way that I treated my mother. She was doing her best and never quit. She didn’t just persevere physical strain but was as supportive of me as she could possibly muster while battling her own emotional demons and fighting her own fight.
Things got worse. Six months after my parents’ divorce was finalized, my mother was tossed into the greatest fight of all…
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