Here at the end of youth, turning 30 at the end of this year, I find myself dwelling more and more on the past. This isn't what you'd call a midlife crisis - I'm making no desperate attempts to seem younger than I am; no new convertible, no silly attempt to blend in with fashions that don't even work on the young idiots who wear them let alone on older people; and no sleazy angling for jailbait; but the words "back in the day" seem to come comfortably. The truth be told, I feel old, irrelevant, and alone at an age most of my contemporaries are just starting their careers and families, and for all the reasons of my life I no longer see a path for myself into the future. I never give up, but I never lie to myself either. All I've ever hoped is that anything I've thought, felt, and experienced has been of benefit to someone other than me. So here is an un-asked for, uninspiring, poorly-written, and as likely unread overview biography of me. It will be bore you. I don't care.
The cirumcstances of my birth are unknown to me by any direct experience, but I'm told I was born ill, with a fever and mucus choking me. I had to spend the first few weeks of life in an incubator until I returned home, but oddly I remember being taken home - remember the door to the home, like a memory buried so deep in the foundations that it related more to primordial istinct than personal experience.
Next few weeks and months formed no coherent narrative, but consisted of unrelated events: Playing with brightly-colored plastic toys, attempting to crawl toward a blue plastic guitar, being laid across my father's giant belly and feeling it expand and contract beneath me; the sweet experience of being laid in a baby tub and having my hair gently washed with warm water; frustratedly smushing baby food across the placemat because I found it repulsive; constantly bumping and bruising myself here and there. Especially at night, laying in my crib, I chewed on the soft vinyl fabric of a silvery book of animals and rubbed my face against its smoothness. It shined in the light, and tasted soft and smooth - an infant's idea of "futuristic."
Transient associations were made, but never meant anything of significance. I watched outsiders come and go with indifference. There was no me yet, just an arbitrary center around which the activities of strange beings occasionally revolved. As I grew into toddlerhood, there began to be a Me - and one with an extremely overdeveloped since of pride. We lived in a house in Poway, California on a slight hill, and my parents were terrified the kids would run afoul of a rattlesnack in the poorly-fenced backyard. It never happened. All that happened was that I kept circumventing all their security measures - e.g., stairway fences and cabinet locks - and feeling insulted that they felt them necessary.
If it had been just me and my sister there, their concerns might have been mitigated, but my mother let two teenage girls next door use our house to babysit a number of other kids including us, so there were also concerns. The "daycare center" was often more like a zoo than an orderly place - my mother would walk around with a ping pong paddle in her waist looking for miscreants to "correct," which was always annoying but was never too hard. Funny thing is I got a bit of a crush on the older babysitter girl, but being 3 years old, there was no way to express it, so it just existed unformed and unknown until in retrospect I could understand it. She (the 16-year-old girl) taught me how to start reading, and was all kinds of cuddly when I did something right - she had really big boobs, and for reasons that I didn't understand at the time, I really liked being smushed up against them.
Then we moved to Oceanside, California, in a developing part of town, which meant on one side was an open sewer / storm drain, on the other a golf course for Marines on leave from Pendleton, and on the third side was an open construction site where they were building more houses and condos. For a kid with modest supervision - the teenagers were no longer around to look afte us, so the freedom quotient got upped - this was paradise. I got a camouflaged Big Wheel for Christmas when I was 4 and roamed around the area feeling like the baddest dude on three wheels. Me and the other kids in the neighborhood, which my mom also babysat, would roam like a pack of wolves around the construction site looking for tools to steal as well as lumber. Some of the lumber they used to build bike jumps, although I never cared about that since I didn't have a bike or skateboard - all I had was a Snoopy scooter with a vertical handlebar.
One of the other kids had a habit of swearing a lot, which I thought was cool. The few times I imitated him within earshot of my mother, I'd usually end up with a bar of soap in my mouth - nasty, translucent red imitation French stuff. Anyway, that kid tried to do a bike jump over an open six-foot hole, caught his chin on the far edge, and lost a bunch of teeth. I heard him crying, and saw him dragged out with his mouth covered in blood - not a pleasant picture, especially how tough I'd thought he was. That ended my hero worship there- not because he was vulnerable, but because he was clearly stupid: I wouldn't have tried to jump that hole.
At one point I'd made a friend from another part of the complex, and we used to wander around looking for things to play with. We came upon a beehive fixed to the side of a far sense on the other side of a dirt field, and I guess he figured we were far enough away to stay safe, because he started picked up rocks and tossing them at the hive. When nothing apocalyptic happened immediately, I guessed he was right and started throwing rocks myself. Only then I started getting sharp sting pains here and there, and finding more and more bees surroudning me, and I couldn't fight 'em off. So me and him both ran in separate directions toward our homes, and I ended terrifying my mother running in with dozens of bee corpses hanging off my face and neck like ornaments. I've never been stung again, but there's a worry that a reaction could occur from such massive exposure even after decades.
One funny incidet I still cherish: I was 4 years old, and had been pissed at my mom for some reason, and she was having over guests, so I got an idea: I would take off all my clothes, run out to greet them, wag my ass at them, and then run back before anyone could catch me. I got halfway through the mission, ass wagging in the air in front of my mother and her guests, when the loudest THWAP! I'd ever heard resounded behind me and my buttcheeks turned to fire. I must have leapt twice my height into the air before sprinting back up the stairs to my room. I remember it hurt like a sonofabitch, but I was laughing the whole time - it was too funny for the pain to stop me.
Then we moved again to a house in the same city, with a big back yard and a new kindergarten just down the street. It was a great new place - the kindergarten had a whole fenced-off playground all to itself with big swings, soft sand, jungle gyms, and even metal tricycles you could ride around on a figure-8 path. The teacher looked pretty too. Some kids were crying as their mothers left them - their crying made no sense to me. Didn't they get that they'd be seeing their mothers again within a few hours? On the first day of kindergarten I wore my pride and joy - a brand-new Roger Rabbit t-shirt; everything seemed going well, and was nice and cozy. Then we got into finger painting, and some douche right next to me decided it would be funny to deliberately smear red paint on my nice, new Roger Rabbit shirt. I said nothing and did nothing, but I stewed and cultivated a grudge.
A month later, when we were painting again - my Roger Rabbit t-shirt, BTW, now had a pink stain on it that would not wash out - I found the kid and unloaded all of my paint on him. I'd expected a fight, but I don't think he even remembered me - he thought it was just a game, and threw some paint on me with a smile on his face and laughing, so I laughed and it became just kids throwing paint rather than the hateful thing I'd thought it was. But overall kindergarten was a beautiful experience.
Then my family moved to a whole new city - Irvine, CA - when I was 6 and everything sucked, even though it was supposed to be an affluent community with "good" schools. People were mean. The school was ragged, as was its playground. The sand was sharp, shallow, and blocky rather than smooth, so you couldn't jump off the swings into it. At lunch, without explanation, I found myself being yelled at through a bullhorn by a shrill teenage monitor because I'd gone to play during lunch without being "excused" from the lunch tables first - no one had bothered to inform me about this etiquette requirement. These lunch monitors were all shrill, unpleasant young people who obviously hated kids. And when I tried to argue the logic of it, the result was less than civilized. I tried to explain that I was done eating, so what difference does it make if I wait another few minutes doing nothing before going to play? For the next few years, the Irvine Unified School District would educate me in how little reality and reason play any role in the behavior of authority.
It wasn't much better in the classrooms in the following years. For the most part, the teachers were simply bitches - and the existence of a minority who were truly sweet were exceptions that proved the rule by showing how much better the others could have been if they cared. But early in grade school, I made three friends who I would think of as friends for many years, even past the point they no longer were. I found them cool because they were irreverent toward authority, fearless in general, and clownish in their actions. They took stupid risks just for the hell of it, and I sincerely found their jokes and antics so funny that they loved having me around just as an audience. Sometimes the dynamic crashed and burned though - one time we were playing street hockey and I got hit with the puck very painfully, and one guy thought that was funny despite my being in excruciating pain, so I broke my cheap hockey stick over his back and ended up running a few miles to escape his wrath. Things like that happened from time to time, among all of us - one of them once broke his fist punching the other in the head.
We were never part of the same world though - they ultimately became skaters and potheads, living highly visceral lives, and I was (and still am) very much someone who lives in his own head, an intellectual, a geek, but also someone who appreciates the power of the visceral. But I appreciated their kinetic energy, and maybe they enjoyed seeing whatever it is they thought I saw of them in my eyes. I admired the fact that their actions weren't saddled by a million thoughts and reflections the way mine have always been, and how they could accept ridiculous, easily foreseeable consequences like breaking your leg when you jump out a two-story window, when I just wouldn't have done it. They weren't just idiots though - there was always an animal logic behind anything they did. Most of the time they weren't facing dire consequences, but simply enjoying life because of it, and meanwhile I sat around spectating, worrying, or escaping into literary fantasies.
By middle school, I began losing touch with them. My inner world was exploding in beauty and complexity with the novels I was reading, my sudden ability to lucid dream and have feelings I hadn't imagined, and the intensifcation rather than mitigation of already relatively pronounced awkwardness. But these guys were just becoming more like themsevles - more confident, more daring, popular and surrounded by girls while I just didn't have the resources. I'd always been somwwhat introverted and nerdy, but now the fact that I had Asperger's was in retrospect obvious: My sex drive was in the red zone and I could barely look at a girl without being unable to concentrate on any other subject, but so much as talking to them was impossible. I was fat since I didn't exercise or play sports, which was part of a vicious circle of incapacity: I didn't exercise because it was hard and unrewarding, which the case because I was fat and sedentary, and that in turn was the case because I'd lost social connections that would otherwise have dragged me into doing something other than reading alone. It was a web, a vicious cycle, that kept me alone and afraid. On the rare, reckless instances I tried to jump back into associating with people, they were so clumsy that the results were pure humiliation that only reinforced the status quo.
One time when I was 15, I got a call that I thought at the time was the greatest thing ever: One of my old friends said he knew this 19-year-old girl who would have sex with me for a hundred dollars. There was no turning it down. The only thing is I was already exhausted from not sleeping, recovering from a cold, and I had to walk six miles to the guy's house to meet this girl. By the time I got there, I was sweaty, greasy, disgusting, embarrassed, tired, and asked if we could do it tomorrow instead, but insisted she could only do it today. When I saw her, I didn't think it would be a problem - she was and is one the sexiest girls I've ever personally seen: Tall Celtic redhead with milky, smooth skin and big boobs. We both get naked, but then...there was what you might call "failure to launch." The conditions were set, the countdown had reached zero, but no ignition had occurred. I'm standing there in front of a naked sexpot who looks as if she was created from my dreams, and the machinery of my own body is on strike. There was nothing I or she could do. I paid her, left in shame, and it would be years before I made good on my body's betrayal.
In subsequent years, I ended up taking an anti-depressant that made me sleep all day, and want to sleep even when I was awake. Waking up in the morning was literally torture, both physically and emotionally: My body did not want to leave the state of sleep, and I had absolutely nothing to look forward to at school that could compare with the freedom of dreaming. I explained it to parents and school counselors, but they didn't give a shit - somehow I was just being "lazy" or "not applying myself." They didn't see that going to school at that point was to me little emore than haunting my own grave. I half-slept through the classes not because they were boring, but because I was actually exhausted and had no one around to connect with that could keep me grounded to the then-and-now.
I ambled through one moment to the next, hoping to avoid some fresh humiliation - not the kind of bullying you see in movies and TV, that much I could have dealt with because it would at least acknowledge my existence - but the dismissive, disparaging, or disgusted glances; not being acknowledged when I walk right up to someone and say something; when someone acts flabbergasted by my presence, etc. etc. So slinked through the day, and the best part of it began when I started home: They would open the coke machine, and I would drink a cold Dr. Pepper walking home over the wooden bridge over the lake, the cool breeze on my head, the sky a glassy blue dome over head, and I could feel alive even though I was alone. Then I would go home and immediately fall asleep, and dive back into my books the moment I woke up - my real home. The sands of Dune, the tunnels and empires of Asimov, Middle Earth.
By the time I was 16, I wasn't exactly hiding anymore, but I'd given up. I skipped class to hang out coffee bars smoking cigarettes and desperately trying to involve myself in something that could turn into a neo-noir story - anything to make me feel like a person, and not just a random object meandering through random circumstances. Petty crime and half-assed loan sharking were fun for a while just to have something to do that was vaguely exciting, but I still couldn't talk to girls and had given up on that part of my life being meaningful. I'd made a platonic girlfriend who for some reason, maybe pity, had hung around me, but of course within months I'd fallen madly in love with her and made the mistake of telling her about it, so that went kaput pretty fast.
After that, I got kicked out of high school for various and sundry offenses - possession of marijuana, fighting, having a ring with spikes on it, petty theft, etc. - and ended up at a continuation school just across the street. It was fun for a while - no one bothered me: Not the staff, not the students. The badass students kept to themselves or occasionally committed manslaughter against each other, and everyone else just did their own thing, which for me meant nothing or wandering off for coffee and cigarettes. They had a nice little weight room, which I occasionally made use of, and on one occasion stupidly tried to bench-press alone with no spot - things were on the verge of going very badly, but my fear gave me the strength to get it back on the bar. Finally I got tired of the games the system was playing with me - refusing to let me take the advanced classes I could easily pass just so they could keep holding me back, and then using their own decisions as evidence of my failure - so I tested out of school as soon as legally feasible.
From there, I spent a few months working as a clerk in a video store, which was a great time for me: Easiest job in the world, free movie rentals, free videogames, the manager let us have free soda, candy, and popcorn, and after work at nights me and some of the guys would have a couple of pints. Since we were all under 21, we would have them hanging out in the parking lots of apartment complexes, and had all kinds of those drunk-intellectual discussions whose contents are never remembered. Meanwhile I started community college, and for the first time in years got serious about education and having a goal in life.
But I still had disabilities, even though no one had ever diagnosed them yet - I still had extreme difficulty working my way around people, and handling multiple tasks at once. I had to take only a few classes at a time to really deal with them, even after I quite my job at the video store. One or two classes at a time, I climbed my way up from academic nowhere - from leaving high school not knowing basic algebra or even some arithmetical operations like adding fractions - and within a few years I was doing multivariable calculus, writing what the professors told me was graduate-level research papers in introductory courses, and believing that an ancient dream of mine that had just sat their beneath the surface since childhood was possible: To become some intrepid scientist boldly going where no one had gone before, even if just in some small way rather than as a physical explorer.
All along the way though, no matter how much progress I made, my inner existence was pure ruin. I felt my soul was dead. I looked in the mirror and saw nothing. I had no one whatsoever - no friends, no loves, nothing, and no hope of any. I did not believe in a future for myself, but I kept working simply because I didn't think there was any point to stopping. Because the pain of exhausting myself working was no different than the pain of doing nothing, except it was slightly less boring and at least had some kind of game to it.
I was some forlorn Dante character in the sad, philosophical upper realms of Hell, and I worked forward not because I believe in anything better, but out of spite for the world that up to that point had seemed like it intended for me to fail. No one encouraged me, no one motivated me, no one gave me strength, and I had nothing inside to give it to me either - inside as only desert sand blowing through the ruins of an empire that was once me. But I didn't need strength or movitivation or hope - I simply chose, as the final, apocalyptic act of a person with nothing more left, I simply chose to keep going. More than once I received puzzled or pitying looks when I told people the degree of my ambitions despite my lack of achievement - and their reactions only drove me further.
Across time that seemed like a thousand years, having forgotten any remote sense of self, I finally scrounged together the credits in community college to transfer to a 4-year university, and decided to apply to three schools: My most desired was Cornell, because it was as far away from everything I associated with me as possible in both geography, climate, and distance - far away from Irvine, and from all the petty degradations of my youth. I knew nothing about it other than that it had a world-renowned astronomy program, was a prestigious university, and was in New York on the opposite coast from here. I didn't want to know too much - just wanted to ride off into the sunset (though I suppose it would be sunrise moving East) once and for all so I could finally start a life somewhere. As an afterthought, I also applied to UC Berkeley - which was far enough away hundreds of miles up the California coast from my location, as well as being prestigious - and as a safety, UC Irvine.
When I got my rejection letter from Cornell, I folded it up in my pocket and started off for a walk outside. I kept walking even though the Sun went down, and walked for an indetermine period of time, long after the streets were completely empty. There were faint glimmers of dawn on the horizon by the time I walked back home.
After that, I focused on awaiting word from the other two. UC Irvine, my third choice, and uncomfortably close to where I'd grown up, sent me a terse conditional acceptance telling me my stellar academic record wasn't quite up to par, and that I'd have to wait a while and take some additional classes to be accepted. It was an insult from a midget, and basically meant that I wasn't going to UCI even if they begged me now - even if Berkeley rejected me. If my only two choices were to crawl on me knees to get into that school - I'd visited to get a glimpse of their program, and it hadn't impressed me at all - or do something else completely, I would have simply waited another year or sought out some other alternative. After all the insults I'd endured at the hands of the city of Irvine and its k-12 schools, I wiped my ass with their university's "conditional" acceptance.
Fortunately, I got into Berkeley - and the day I found out was, I can quite honestly say, the happiest day of my life (not that my life has had many happy days to compare it with). I was going to escape. The path before me was shown. I immersed myself in the paperwork and catalogs immediately - every bit of material I could find, just to flesh out in my mind what to expect, what the place was like, where I was going. The more I learned, the more elivened I became. I had reached the edge of the longest desert - one that had begun in my early teenage years, and now just beginning to end at age 22.
By the time I first visited Berkeley - I had never been to Northern California in living memory - I knew it to be a magical place beyond anything I could have expected: The air is full and clean, colors of everythig brilliant rather than Sun-washed like in Southern California, and people are everywhere - real people who don't make you feel avoidant like patrons in a So-Cal mall, but people who make you feel a part of them when you're in a crowd walking down the street. It's a real community - something I hadn't even known existed: Living in manicured suburbs, all I had ever known were the sullen, selfish, quasi-feudal "communities" of arrogant landowners and their pristine hedgerows next to perennially empty sidewalks.
After unpacking my things in my transfer dorm room for the first time, staring out from the sixth floor at the Bay and another dorm tower opposite, it was like I had arrived in another world: I had passed through some strange membrane, and everything I knew before was gone. Now I was this kinetic being walking all around town, taking buses, going to one of the world's most prestigious universities and studying the secrets of the universe, eating at lunch in diverse restaurants from all over the world with great food, and it was for me literally heaven. I had arrived in heaven - that is what it felt like to me. Even with all the pressures and frustrations, it was all magic, and my presence there was a matter of the utmost completion of my self. Five years earlier, I couldn't even add fractions let alone do algebra, and the general agreement of the learned idiots around me was that my course was death, jail, or a menial job. Now I was sitting in lecture halls from the 1920s, walking by movie sets from The Graduate (the shop-front on Telegraph), walking past foreign heads of state surrounded by reporters, and I've got Nobel laureates answering my questions.
The Desert was gone - swept away. All my life before that point was like a tiny, sad little husk blowing away in the wind. But even then, there were irritating reminders of the price I'd paid - I was older than even the other transfer students, 24, while most of them were 20. I was more sociable with those people in the first few weeks there than I'd ever been with anyone, ever, and it changed me - somehow wrenched me out of the infinite chasm into which I'd been born and lived. I didn't yet know I had Asperger's, but that experience at least evolved me to a higher-level of functioning than I'd been at previously or would have had it not happened. For a time, briefly, I managed to be actually charming and get a pretty girl to go out with me for a while - emotions and instincts flooded me that had never existed in me before. I'd been in love before, but that had just turned me into a mess; this was more healthy, and apparently a lot more attractive, since for the first time in my life girls were flirting with me even without prompting.
But all things pass, and you can no more hold on to an emotion than you can grab water with chop-sticks, so that era ended in the need to dive into work. No matter how much work I put into it, the need to multi-task was too extreme - I never knew where we were in the material: There were huge gaps in my knowledge that I didn't know about until we ran smack into the middle of them in the coursework, and there was no time to catch up. There was no time to learn anything before yet another concept was piled on top of it, then another, then another. I was a new person, but the shortcomings of the old person's academic background were fucking me over. Nothing I did was enough, and frankly no one seemed interested in or capable of helping - classes were "taught," if at all, as if the material was review, and had all sorts of poorly-explained ancillary references to material I'd never even seen before. I was competing with students who had spent the past two years at Berkeley to get to that point, memorized textbooks before the semester even started, knew every function and trick of their calculators, it was insane.
Three semesters taking the same classes, I tried, and tried, and tried again. If the material didn't trip me up, I would get sick the day of the test and be completely screwed. Or the TA would never be available to explain anything. Or a million different things would occur to get in the way, and once anything went wrong, there was no possibility of recovery. That was one of the bitterer lessons of elite education: They expect students to not only be mentally elite, but physically elite. To be capable of functioning at peak performance on minimal sleep, to have no problems that could make for complicated interference in performance, and so on.
One last time I tried, and pulled out all the stops: I did everything humanly possible to succeed. I read through all the textbooks months in advance, did all of the problems in them months in advance, wrote my own tutorials in order to better understand it by explaining it as if to another student, and tested myself under time pressures. I understand not only the content of the courses, but concepts well in advance of them. But the same old irrelevant pressures surrounded the coursework that had nothing to do with the courses themselves - I couldn't sleep, I'd get sick, I'd eat the wrong food, I'd miss a bus, I'd get depressed and distracted because I hadn't had any meaningful human contact in a long time (an Asian massage parlor on Shattuck helped with that, but it was expensive), and it would all add up. Then I had a terrifying "heart episode," ended up in the emergency room, and that was pretty much the end of my academic career at UC Berkeley. Just moving around the campus, let alone town, is physically exerting, and the medication they gave me made concentration difficult. I went back home never intending to go back, and even abortive attempts to restart education through online classes have proven to me that I no longer have the strength or interest.
It's the law that they would have had to give me accommodation due to the problem, If I had sought it, and now that I can prove I have (and have always had) another disability (Asperger's) I suppose I still have the option, but the time for that is over and gone. I wish I could have had a normal life and normal academic career with relationships and peers, but that wasn't in the cards - even if I spontaneously rediscovered the will to reignite an academic career, I'm so old relative to those students that I'd be taking classes with people far my junior, and it hurt me enough when I was only a few years older than they were: Now it would be a constant knife prodding into me, especially if I didn't succeed yet again. Other people can do it, but not me. And even if that didn't bother me, I'm at a stage in life where I need the motivation of emotional connections to other people to do anything, but I don't have any, and everything I attempt nowadays just falls away because it has no foundation. Although I've never returned to that old sepulchre of a desert, my time in heaven is over - I no longer have the will to be a student, let alone be a student requiring such determination, and certainly no will to be anything more difficult. I've spent myself.
My river has returned to the ocean and dissipated, and everything I've ever identified as myself is gone. I am just ripples across time. I still have ideas from time to time and pursue them idly, but I have no one to pursue them for, and no internal leverage with which to stick to anything when the novelty passes. I know better than to feel sorry for myself when so many other people still live in their own deserts, and lack the benefit of the stoicism that once helped me. I am ruin, but I am at peace.