We all go through that weird phase when we’re kids — you know the one, where we get that feeling that we don’t quite fit in, that we’re scared of our own individuality, even more scared of having it seen by others who are quick to judge us. We do our best to fit in the best we can, in our own ways, to varying levels of success. Some of us easily fit in anywhere and with anyone, we have a healthy sense of being in charge of ourselves. Others don’t worry about it and take everything as it comes. And some of us are all too aware of who we might be, but can’t quite find a niche to place ourselves in.
I’d say I was the third case, because from a relatively early age — probably first grade, come to think of it — I was aware that I wasn’t quite on the level with the other kids in my class. Intellectually I was probably a year ahead (and I don’t mean that in an egotistical way — in retrospect I feel I should have been a year ahead, for reasons I’ll get into later). Socially, maybe on the same level, maybe a few leagues behind. There was also the name recognition — I was the son of a well-known local historian and reporter with three older sisters, so I already had an expectation to live up to. I also joked that I could never get away with anything growing up, because my parents would find out before I even got home. [This actually happened a few times in my teens. News travels fast in a small town.] So there I was, mid-80s, feeling just that bit out of place — getting along with almost anyone, irritating some and annoying others, a do-gooder that couldn’t get away with anything, an average-grade student who was expected to be better, who was easily influenced for good or ill, out of boredom and impatience.
Still, that didn’t stop me from being the go-to person when someone needed to talk music. I still went to all the school dances and moved around on the floor like a total idiot to my favorite songs, and completely failed to get any slow dances (mostly my own damn fault for not asking in the first place).
So with that, and with a few years’ worth of MTV and radio in my brain, I was ready and rearing to go. I started listening to American Top 40 on a frequent basis, taping songs onto ‘radio tapes’ that I could listen to at a later time.
Socially, I wasn’t quite sure where the hell I was, to be honest. I floated from one group to another over the years. Like most people, The kids I hung with in elementary school had long ago moved on. New friendships upon hitting fifth grade and a new school, where I met up with other kids from different neighborhoods. Then junior high (seventh and eighth grade) with even more new faces.
It was in seventh grade that I met up with one of my buddies that I’d spend the next few years hanging with. Kevin was a kid from Royalston, the small town north of us that we shared upper grades with. He and I met basically because we were often one right after the other in homeroom and other classes. We were both music nerds and, well, nerds in general, so we got on swimmingly. We were both well-read in the MTV department and knew most of the popular songs out there in the mid-80s.
There were two other people I met that year that would leave an impression on me as well. One was Scott, who I knew tangentially through a kid named Bobby who lived around the corner from us when I was younger. Scott and I kind of knew each other in sixth grade through band, but by the next year we were hanging out now and again. H ewas the one who decided we should become writers, and set about stealing random sheets of lined paper from the front of the class so we would write our stories. It was during this time that I’d come up with a ‘what if there was a war in my home town’ story — started right about the same time Red Dawn came out, but actually inspired by the ongoing Cold War news of the day.* Out of those study-hall writing sessions came what would eventually be called Caught in the Game, and more recently referred to as the Infamous War Novel — I’ll be referring to it as the IWN from here on in.
The third person was actually someone a grade ahead of me — Chris, who I quickly found was interested in music almost to the obsessive level I was. We had no classes together, but we shared a couple of study halls and also helped with the junior high newspaper (such as it was). He also had a hankering for the occasional story telling, writing one or two short stories that I still have in my files. But as he was a year ahead, he’d vanish out of my sight for a couple of years until a fateful meet-up in early 1986.**
But…that’s pretty much my entire life up to that point. Not muc to mention other than some good friends, and not much else to report in this small town of mine. Hang out with the last few remaining kids from the neighborhood, that’s pretty much it.*** In a small town of about ten thousand people and nearly ten times as many trees, one made do with whatever was on hand back in those days.
By 1985, however, I was getting itchy. At fourteen, I was at that age where I felt I had to start moving on. I’d grown out of the immature humor and the friendly roughhousing. I was starting to lose interest in the subjects I had to focus on. At first it was thought it might have been eyesight and a need for glasses (slightly clearer vision, but no real improvement), and then suggested maybe it was just immaturity and too much focus on frivolous things. No one in the area had any idea what ADHD was, so that wasn’t even brought up. It wasn’t until a few years into my high school years that it wasn’t any of this — it was a much simpler issue.
I was bored.
Added to the fact that I was seen as a student of intellect when I was younger, why was I slacking off now? It was because I was confined. I didn’t figure it out right away, but I knew something was there. I was smart, I just hated to be confined to an education track that was too slow for me. Why did I not say anything at the time? Well, even that was confining. Expectations, really. As a kid I was all too willing to do what was expected of me. Call it Catholic guilt, call it not wanting to rock the boat. There were all sorts of rasons.
But really — it was all becoming old hat. Stuck being the goody two shoes out of honor and expectation. Wanting to strike out and doing something completely unique and unexpected of me.
* – This story was also inspired by the Cold War-themed music out there at the time. Music was a huge inspiration for my writing even then. My writing attempts actually started earlier, around 1980 or so, with at least a dozen ideas that were fleshed out in my head but never expanded upon.
** – I should also mention that Chris and I are related distantly, which was part of our impetus for meeting. I’m not entirely sure of the connection, but I believe his grandfather and my grandfather were cousins or something like that.
*** – I was one of the youngest kids in the neighborhood growing up, so I was usually the annoying tag-along kid brother.