The house was empty. Everything was gone and moved out. All the rooms were vacant of furniture and nothing was left, not anything in the cupboards in the kitchen, not anything in the sink, not anything but the life of memories, which my family had left behind. I could see the outline of picture frames on the wall, which in some ways appeared like a postmortem sketch of the lives that used to live here.
I was the last one to leave my childhood home. The Old Man had been gone for a while. Mom was about to move to Florida. My brother Dave was about to be married and I was moving out too.
I stood in the doorway of my empty bedroom. This is where I started my life. This is where I lost myself and found myself. This is where I hurt and I healed and yes, this is where I buried the secrets of my youth.
The lights were off in my bedroom but the glow from the hallway light gleamed in and to me, this was a true goodbye. This was a goodbye to my youth. This was a goodbye to a compartment of time.
I can see it now, the last picture of my childhood bedroom. I can remember the feelings I had when closing the door. And then it was done.
Life happened here. My life.
Growth happened here. My growth.
I often have dreams that I am back in my house. My room is a version of what it was in my late teen years. There are posters on the walls. My stereo is off in the corner above my dresser. My television is there too. My bed was on the floor with no frame or anything. It was just a box spring and a mattress. There were two windows, one that faced north and the other was facing west. Both had tapestries over them, like a window shade. One tapestry was printed with a picture of The Doors and the other was a picture of the band Slayer. These were my window shades.
I often dream that I am in my room. It is midday and the sun is bright. I look around but no one is home. I walk down the stairs. I walk around the house from the den to the living room to the kitchen and the dining room. It seems as if someone else is with me, but I can’t seem to find them. I know my Mother is somewhere around. She is with The Old Man and I can sense their presence but I can’t seem to find them.
There is no sound in this dream. The version of my house is accurate to my mid-teen years, which in reality is a blur to me. I search and look around. When I go to see if my parents are in the backyard, I walk towards the sliding doors but I never make it through.
I wake up . . .
This is where it started and yet, I can never go back. I can never walk into my old home again or sit down to have some of Mom’s chicken cutlets and mashed potatoes.
I see these dreams as a reach for comfort. I see this as me looking to find peace in troubled times, which is not to say that I am not at peace now. But more, this is me, a man, a boy, a son, reaching back to where I came from with hopes that perhaps Mom or The Old Man might have an answer.
I find myself moving into new territories and I admit to my intimidations. I admit to the distractions of my insecurity. I admit that I am playing in a new league now. This isn’t the farm leagues or the minors anymore. These people are playing for keeps and I don’t mean flipping baseball cards and being afraid of losing my Willie Randolph card.
I’m experiencing old feelings and old fears. I am surrounded by mammoths and me; well, there is a piece of me that feels small, sort of like I did the first day in Junior High School. The new world was so big and intimidating.
I remember how big everything seemed to me. The school was much bigger than my previous grade school, which was easier to navigate through. The bathrooms were tiny and made for little kids. And then everything changed.
Enter one of life’s lessons here . . .
There are times when we all grow and have to leave the nest.
There are times when we move into a new category of life. And by the way, this is partly why some students find themselves left behind, almost repeatedly and the result is a failure to move to the next level. The fear, the failure to launch, the distress of impending life and the unknown. The fear to leave the womb or the perpetual state of constant protection is real. The fear of bullies and the ghosts of the emotional boogeymen are painfully real.
The fear of advancement (for some people) is the worry about the work that’s to come. This is a discomfort with the new and upcoming curriculum we face in life. And hey, if the last assignment was a bitch, imagine what the next task is about?
Now, please keep in mind that we all have our own intimidations. I use mine to act as an analogy. I use my experience to give substance to ideas that come without shape or form. I use my history to act as a record and allow for the mind to grasp at something tangible so that I can understand and retain the information that I’ve learned throughout my life.
But life changes. Even if we don’t want it to and even if we are not ready, the world spins and so long as it does; the clock still ticks.
I remember a childhood fear. I went from a place where status was less crucial to a school where there were cool kids and nerds, losers, troublemakers, punks, dirt-bags, jocks, pretty and ugly.
Grades changed. Socialization changed, which is why I say school is important. I do not call these lessons friendly by any means. However, I do say that you learn more about life in the hallways or in the cafeterias than you do in a classroom.
I mean, sure. You learn math in class. You learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide. You learn about history and science in the classrooms too. But the math you learn in the crowds is truly important.
You learn about the science of the crowd. You learn from your history; you learn what to say, what not to say, how to protect yourself, and how to act.
You learn about the different social echelons in life and the different divisions of popularity. You learn about power and the people with it (and those without it). Moreover, you learn how to navigate through crowds. And this was hard for me. The learning, I mean.
I never wanted to be “That kid,” who was picked on or not included and never invited. I learned more about government and politics in the school cafeteria than I did in classes. I learned more about war and peace in rumbles and brawls and the various character assassinations that took place.
Back then, our newsroom and social media were the bathroom walls where news was written. In fact, I saw proof of this after a lost fight in the parking lot. I can still see it written in red marker. “Ben Kimmel got punched in the face,” on the wall in the bathroom near the bicycle racks.
All I had back then was my room. Hence, the dream always begins in my bedroom. I had a place to retreat to. I had some music that could momentarily solve my discomforts. I had a few hiding places where I kept the secrets of my symptoms.
Perhaps this is why I dream of my old home. I am looking for a place of comfort because (for some reason) there is a part of me that fears the old results. There is a part of me that fears I might not be enough. And do you know what I call this?
I call this honesty. I call this exposing myself.
I call this out because by telling on myself; my insecurities lose strength; and in turn, I gain it back.
Know what I mean?
My redemption is me. My recovery is this: I am the resolution of past dilemmas that I could not solve and would not solve due to my fears and my failure to launch. But I am not where I was anymore.
No, I’ve advanced.
I listen to people who tell me that worries are irrational. I have heard people say don’t be afraid. But hey, fear is fear. And I face this.
(So do you.)
I might not like it but I still face it. Otherwise, I am that kid again. I am that person too afraid to advance to the next level. If I allow myself to give in to fear then I am that person who is too afraid to leave the womb or that constant state of perpetual care.
I know what it’s like to be afraid to live. I know what it’s like to be afraid to interact or change or step outside of the box. I know about the comforts of staying as you are.
The number of true victories and successes are limited. Then again, so is the amount of disappointment, which is why people surrender and settle for a life in the status quo. But let me ask you something.
Is that really living?
I’m afraid, Mom.
“I know you are, son.”
What if the kids on the playground don’t like me?
“What’s not to like?”
What if I can’t keep up?
“You can do anything you put your mind to.”
“I believe in you, son. Now, go out and play and be home before supper. I’ll have the chicken cutlets and mashed potatoes waiting for you.”
You always knew how to make me feel better.