I’ve had little time lately to think about this blog, but as I grow older I’ve been thinking about my deficiencies and when life started going south. Flunking childhood had a lot to do with that. Take a look at the wondrous things I never mastered:
1. Blowing bubble-gum bubbles.
4. Crossing the monkey bars.
5. Rollerskating, except for rollerskating on rough gravelly sidewalks.
6. Turning a cartwheel.
7. Standing on my head.
8. Throwing a softball.
9. Catching a softball.
10. Hitting a softball.
12. Swimming with any degree of competence.
13. Climbing trees.
14. Eating bugs.
What a dud! Even I wouldn’t have chosen me for teams in gym. (Interesting, the proportion of adults who claim the experience of being chosen last. Either their memory is impaired, or the last-chosen are very disproportionately represented among writers and actors and such.)
I could run, and I could ride a bicycle….I did love riding my bike. And I achieved one other near-mandatory childhood accomplishment: hurting yourself badly enough to require stitches. Yet even that I did in a sedentary way. Did I launch myself off the roof in a brief but glorious belief that I would fly? Sadly, no.
I was sitting on the back porch steps and somehow fell off, putting my front teeth cleanly through my….whatever the area between your chin and lower lip is called. But it hardly counts, since I did that when I was 2 and it couldn’t be chalked up to bad behavior. I had to be told some years later what happened, although I have a wispy memory—probably my earliest memory—of my mother rushing me to the doctor’s office across the street, and sitting on her lap across the desk from the doctor when all the painful stuff was over. I carry the scar to this day but can’t point to it as a badge of courage. Such a waste!
Like so many childhood duds, I found solace in books. I began reading at age 3, which led to several cringeworthy episodes, such as my mom making me read to my nursery school teacher to prove I could do it (they didn’t call it pre-school then). Yet both of my parents took a strong ethical stand against showing off or bragging in any context. It could get me or my sister into trouble, so we didn’t do it. My mother, the hypocrite! Dad wouldn’t have made me read for anyone.
Much more embarrassing was the day my kindergarten teacher sent me, alone through the echoing hallways, up up up to the eighth-grade class to read, sort of like a circus freak giving a show. This was not only humiliating, it was scary, because written on the blackboard was an equation, something like 8 + n = 14. Math with letters??! This was a truly alarming concept, and I was sure I’d never to able to comprehend it. Eighth grade would be my downfall. My struggles with performance anxiety may date to this episode.
Still, my early childhood was generally happy, especially during road-trip vacations in my family’s blue Volkswagen Beetle. But when I was 8 I learned that, like bugs and birds, I would someday die. On the instant I became terrified of death. Thus the end of Eden.
The fear of death has ruled and ruined my life. Some of my friends know this and some don’t. Medication has helped a lot over the years, but now I’m debilitated and the end isn’t somewhere beyond the horizon anymore. I don’t plan to write about it. I didn’t set out to write a confessional blog or a memoir. Bathos is pathetic (ha!). But like pitcher Nuke LaLouche in “Bull Durham,” I seem to be starting out with erratic control. You may remember this: In one game, after Nuke’s control has improved dramatically, the catcher (Kevin Costner, in what I think is his best role) instructs him to hit the team mascot with his next pitch. And so he does. Costner looks at the hitter and says, “I wouldn’t lean too far in.” He pauses as the hitter looks at him. “I don’t know where it’s going.”