As far as I can tell, I had a typical childhood, at least I thought so at the time. I sure seemed to have turned out odd and that had to have a beginning somewhere. I remember being born and I was born unloved in Lafayette, Indiana, the product of two students at Purdue University. I did most of my growing up in Glenview and Waukegan, Illinois, both northern suburbs of Chicago. I played baseball and football, climbed trees, watched a lot of television, had a scruffy mutt of a dog, and I even played violin in the Waukegan Concert Orchestra. I was always sure my biggest childhood trauma had been my switching allegiances from the Green Bay Packers to the Chicago Bears when Vince Lombardi left to become coach of the Washington Redskins. It remains the only time I have switched sports teams in my entire life. I was basically happy, or so I thought, I have been known to be wrong though. In fact, I was raised by a violent, alcoholic mother who had worked hard to win me in a divorce dispute, but never really cared about me again. I was just a monthly child support check and nothing more. Despite this, I was fairly happy, I may even remember smiling a lot, and I played sports with my friends. I never made the mistake of inviting any of my friends to play at my house though. My mom used to drag me out of my bed by my hair and commence to punching and slapping me and telling me that life was my fault. I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.
In the Fall of 1975, when I was 13, I hopped on my second-hand 10-speed bicycle and rode up to the nearest corner store. I could get to this store without having to cross Glen Flora Ave. to the better stores and that’s why I usually went to this run-down store to get some candy or cookies. I parked my bike next to an awning support pole by the door and chained it up. I went in thinking about nothing in particular, maybe I was thinking about building models, and maybe I was thinking about playing football. I glided down the candy aisle, happily reading labels, and just imagining what would taste good in my mouth. I reached the end of the aisle, rounded the end cap and my life seemed to change in an instant. All of a sudden, coming at me from the direction of the pharmacy counter at the back wall was a stocky, middle-aged man with a look that still scares me to this day! I am sure that he spoke to me. I will never forget seeing him or his eyes. He looked through me and I felt cold as if I were dead. His eyes seemed to glow he was so intent on meeting with what or who that had just walked into his life. I panicked as I flew down the cookie aisle, out the store, unlocked my bike, and rode as fast as I could to get home. I had just survived a serial killer, but didn’t know it at the time.
I tried to forget about what had just happened, but it was never too far away from the normal trauma of my home life. My career-teacher mother was impaired a great deal of the time when we were together. I learned my enabling lessons well. The thing about being an Adult Child of Alcoholic Parents is that for so much of one’s life it feels like one is running on automatic, a definite lack of the promised free-will life.
A few years later, in December of 1978, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. was on all of the news stations having just been arrested for murdering an unknown number of young boys. Without hesitation, I screamed at the television, “That’s him, that’s him, that’s the guy I saw at the store!” I was so frightened and agitated to have this guy appear in my life again. My mom never believed that this had happened and even called me a liar at the time.
My mom never actually liked me and was against almost everything I ever wanted to do. She never offered any direction to my life, but was quick to tell me no, or to compare any want I might mention to her lack of a desire for that same goal. I was unsure and scared my whole life and I’m just now coming to terms with my fears. She died a horrible death from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, in the Spring of 1996. What’s known as Familial ALS runs in my family. I am an only child and I think about ALS every day.
I have never forgotten that brush with infamous stardom. I have tried to read the Wikipedia about Gacy and I do own several of the books about him as well. I just can’t seem to get past the fear, the shock, mom dropping the ball my whole childhood, and a lifetime of mental illness. It’s been tough going for me even though I never really got too close to being a victim of a serial killer, just too close for me.
I received confirmation of the truth of this memory much later after I had joined Facebook. I wrote about my encounter with John Wayne Gacy, Jr. on occasion and one of my grade school friends, Christopher Kennedy, responded that his older first cousin had been working as a pharmacy tech there when Gacy was temporarily employed as a contractor. Gacy’s job was to remodel the façade of the pharmacy just three blocks from my house. Even today, Chris’s cousin still reports that Gacy was the creepiest guy she has ever met.
I was nearly killed by another famous person when I was 16. This culprit I could easily identify as Wolfman Jack as his golf cart swerved at me the same time he waved at some kids on the other side of the backlot driveway at Marriot’s Great America in Gurnee, Illinois. He waved at them, and he swerved at me and he realized his mistake as he scuffed off the retaining wall rocks that I had just jumped up on. The kids he waved at thought it was about the funniest thing they had ever seen. I was looking directly at the Wolfman’s eyes as he banged his cart into the rocks. He was scared, but I was agile enough to avoid another near-death experience.
One day, when I was 19 and newly married, I was driving south on McAree Road in Waukegan with no real plans in my head. Suddenly I turned left into the parking lot of the military recruiter’s office. I walked inside and walked past the Air Force with no thought of joining; walked past the Navy office with no intention of ever joining the Navy because Great Lakes Naval Training Center was just down the road; walked past the Marine’s office because I didn’t think I was tough enough; and walked into the office of the US Army. The Army recruiter was surprised to have a customer and told me that there was a Mathematics pre-test that I would have to take before he could talk to me. He took me to the basement and gave me a 25-question test with basic math questions on it. I was done in under a minute and almost got back to his office with the finished test before he did. A month later I got my folder from the Army and walked it down the hall to the Air Force recruiter instead. I still think about joining the Army and how my life would have been different or even much shorter. I chose the lesser of two evils and it has made all of the difference. My US Army contract said: 6 years, Infantry, Airborne, and Special Forces. I gave it all up for the USAF and went in as open mechanical and was told before I graduated from Basic Training that I had been selected for Airframe Repair specialist school. After 4 years in the Air Force I was ready for something different. I looked into cop jobs, Central Intelligence Agency, and all of the aircraft jobs in the Wichita, Kansas area where my buddy lived.
I walked into the Employment office for Boeing in Wichita, Kansas knowing what to do…basically.
“I’d like to apply for a job.” I said
“What jobs on the board behind me do you think you could do?” She responded.
“I could do the Quality Assurance job.”
“What QA/QC experience do you have?”
“I had Red-X orders in the United States Air Force.” I realize I must still have looked very young at this point in my life.
“What other jobs do you think you can do on that board?”
“I can do the Modification Electrician & Mechanic, Field & Hangar job.”
She read from a well-worn 3 x 5 card, “Can you install and remove Hi-Locks?”
“I can install and remove any aircraft fastener in the world.”
“Can you install and remove Hi-Locks?”
She gave me an application and I filled it out. Some 30 years later I retired from Boeing.
I must have alluded to my never once talked about physical abuse in a phone call, when my mom suddenly said, “The beatings weren’t that bad.” I would like to think that if my mom had been within range I would have killed her there and then during my early thirties. I was grown up and mom was still jerking my chain. My mom was just a jerk to me, dead these 21 years and still I don’t think much about her. Conversations between us were both memorable for their pain and forgettable for their agenda and manipulation. I have never met someone so stuck on themselves and their own brilliance, that my existence was of no real consequence. Pity, I think I am well worth knowing. If I had gone to prison for killing my own mother I would have received my BA much earlier in my life. Just saying.
As I have gotten older, I don’t know what to do with myself as I just drift along. This only seems to be a problem when I undertake some counseling. Like now, I am retired, don’t really know what to do with my life and in order for my wife, Annie, and I to get along we are both “doing” counseling. I have my Bipolar, ACOA, etc. and she has her worse than me panoply of problems that are just now surfacing. When I am Manic I can blaze ahead, do things that should require planning and study, and not give a rip what people think of me. Now I am asked to be vulnerable and I am just falling apart because it doesn’t make sense to me to be vulnerable. I do not naturally want to create anything. I only seek to understand. To know why I know what I know is more interesting to me than making something new. But, rather than wallowing in the mire of regret, failure and a myopic history, I intend to try new things and to seek my full potential whatever that may be. I want to scare myself with possibility.
I used to want to be a writer half a life ago, and now I am getting up for it again with these classes that I can finally take now that I am retired. I am finding that the wanting to have time to write concept is not one of the true keys to writing, but in pushing to write between the cracks of life actually produces writing and better writing than sitting around waiting for the muse to visit. It is very hard to write in a vacuum. I have to have some music playing in the background or I start hearing voices in my head.
The overarching theme of my life told to me in this peer-review, by my wife, my counselor, and ultimately, by my actions is fear. Fear has frequently saved me and has kept me from living as well. I am discovering how much fear there is in my life. Writing will be my therapy and the use of full sentences are also helping me.