A few weeks ago, a good friend asked me why I don't have any children yet. Here is his answer.
And it starts with me being homeless.
Hobo beard, Oct 2011. Hi Olek!
I first became homeless two weeks after my 18th birthday. It was early Summer in 1995 and I had been out playing basketball with one of my church friends when I came home to find all of my belongings stuffed into large garbage bags and thrown out on the front lawn. My parents had gone through the trouble of collecting some phone numbers and had called around so all of my other friends had beat me to the scene, my future brother in law had even defiantly parked his pick-up truck on the front lawn. It was a strange moment being a half dozen teenagers trying to make the mature decision of what to do with the virgin ginger who sang on the church choir. Fifteen minutes into our deliberations, my parents continued to hide in the darkened house and sent out my baby brother and mentally challenged little sister to tell us that if we didn't take my stuff off of their lawn soon, they would be forced to call the cops. So I left.
I spent a few months hopping from bedroom floor to bedroom floor, all of my friends were from church and I had earned a reputation with all of their parents by always being polite and for cleaning up after myself when I came over for supper, so it wasn't a hard sell. It wasn't that bad, actually. My life was mostly awkward moments and a complete lack of privacy, but I had a roof over my head and food to eat. However, to this day I sometimes still sleep on the floor just to keep in practice, like I might need to get used to it again someday.
So much of my life has been running away from that moment, chased by the most common phrase I remember hearing from my mother; not an "I love you", but a resentment flavored "The day you grow taller than me, I'm going to chop your legs off", repeated weekly from the time I was six until I grew too strong for her to bully me anymore. And like a lot of survivors of domestic abuse, every intimate relationship I have tried to forge since then has been covered in her hand prints and I have always struggled to wash them off.
She was rarely physical with me, she didn't escalate into that direction until she started abusing my younger brothers and sisters. Not often, but she would sometimes trade slaps with my sister for up to thirty minutes at a time and she wasn't above using her weight to try to crush one of us if we wouldn't obey. Her cruelness was casual and beastly, usually a lash out for some perceived slight to her fragile ego or limited intellect. My father was frequently stressed and angry, joining in the continual shouting, but he is a genuinely nice guy who only recently started to realize the damage my mother did to all of her children, so I try not to hold onto that. He did apologize for my childhood last month, so that's something. He's trying, and that's all anybody could ask for.
|Or you could ask for a cat, some drugs, and a balloon necklace, whatever really.|
I once estimated that I had fought with my mother an average of once per day from the age of five until I was 18. That's almost 5000 arguments, blows, thrown objects, broken doors, missing hugs, and one six foot bookcase that I pulled off of the wall in front of my mother so she would stop following me around the house screaming in my face when I was 17. I knew this wasn't normal, I became the perfect guest at the houses of my friends so that I could praise from at least somebody's mother, but I didn't realize what was being done to me.
Even I didn't figure this out until just recently.
My sister and I got married at about the same time. She had been dating one of the guys, the one we nicknamed 'Biff', and had been kicked out of the house at 17 because they told us that my sister had become infected with her boyfriend's "evil spirit". I let her stay at my apartment for a while, the one I was finally able to afford after getting hired on at McDonalds (my parents wouldn't let me work when I was at home, so I had no money), but eventually her and Biff got together and she had a couple of girls. Neither marriage survived. My sister dedicated her life to her children, finally marrying a good man who treats everyone better than they treat him, and having three more boys, the last one is only five weeks old. I met him on the Fourth of July at a friend's BBQ where my sister had taken her kids. And they are beautiful. All of them, really. My oldest niece is an introvert who was hiding in the car reading a book, my youngest niece, finally a teenager, loudly announcing to the room how I am her favorite uncle made my heart happy in a way that is unreachable except by the words of children.
And I have always loved the girls, probably more than they know, but I missed something with them growing up. When 13 first learned to walk she would hug everybody. And I mean everybody, we were positive she would get kidnapped, if you can call it that when it looks like she's volunteering. It was harrowing for her 21 year old mother. 13 stayed equally as friendly as she got older, which I always took as good news. I hope that no matter what happens to her in life, that the warm core of her heart that constantly reaches out to people always has a chance to flourish, it is a beautiful gift. Granted, it's easy to get along with kids when you're an uncle, but the oldest nephew, who looks like me a bit, has been trying to help his mother with the chores since he could stand. He used to throw clean clothes back into the washing machine because he thought it was helping. HOW ADORABLE IS THAT YOU GUYS?
|Almost this adorable.|
Even then I missed it. Until the BBQ, when I was sitting with my curly headed, two year old nephew for the first time. We were watching He-Man on VHS and I casually observed what a chill little dude he was. He was leaning into the corner of the couch, hands draped comfortably across his lap, when he nodded and gave me a smug look. And that's when the last piece of the puzzle I didn't even know I was trying to solve fell into place. Because I sure as hell didn't invent the smug look, but I perfected it on my branch of the family. And the one thing everyone is so surprised about when they get to know me is fact that I'm surprisingly kind and nice to the people I care about. Somewhere, at the core of me, is the same heart (almost) that beats in my niece, that beats in my nephews, that beats in so many of us, and why I had assumed otherwise is just another reminder of how much there is to learn. My sister and her husband have worked hard to be good parents to all of them, but I know these kids. They are good people.
And, I guess, so am I.
At my heart I am an incredibly nice guy. Almost disgustingly nice. I used to think it was a weakness, a desperate attempt to gain attention, but this last year has been full of self-reflection and self-improvement and I am going to be entirely honest about myself here when I say that that's the kind of person I genuinely want to be. Nice.
|And a crazy pirate. I would love that job.|
Gone are my years of accepting any attention I could get from someone, no matter what the cost to me, and I have finally managed to rebuild enough of myself that there haven't been any new burn marks in years, but in looking forward to the rest of my life all I see still are hard choices. I know things will get better because I am making that happen with a tremendous amount of work, but when the life of the Normies calls out to me, like it did at the BBQ, an old tendril of mood strikes out at me and drags me below for a bit to be with her.
"I have never loved you." The giant says, with cold blue eyes and clammy, pale skin. "No one will ever really love you." It doesn't matter that she never says these words, that she is incapable of being this precise with her hatred, but with lifetimes trapped with her inside me, it can be hard to move. My arms are too short to make her love me, if only I could hold her one more time maybe she could love me.
But now I know how my mind works and I can navigate out of that. I have been forcing a lot of change upon myself lately, all for the better, with the intent to manifest a different destiny than the one I was working towards. Things are going well, I've lost a considerable amount of weight and have recently gone through a growth spurt on stage that made it so I could quadruple the amount of time I had for standup. I'm happy most of the time and that's as good as things can be. I am positive.
Yet inside are wastelands of pollution, and minefields hidden in every direction that brings me close to people. Domestic abuse tries to multiply by changing you into the kind of monster that puts it into others. And I am not blameless of this, I have enjoyed hurting many people in my life, and I am sure none of them truthfully deserved it. I have always been terrified of seeing my mother in the mirror, so I have avoided it. So when you ask me why I don't have any children, when you follow it up with the compliment that I have so much to give someone as a parent, it breaks my heart because I do. I know I do, but there is a wide chasm between me and the type of person I need to become to trust myself, and I don't know if I will ever be able to build a bridge large enough to cross it. I want desperately for someplace to feel like home, but it never has, and I'm sometimes afraid that it never will. I try so hard to build things only to watch them burn to the ground time and time again, always leaving me homeless and alone in the cold.