I am about to take you to a view from a different time and as I mention this, it is timely that I write this to you now in the early days of December.
I say this because I am reminded of a time when I was living on a farm at the age of 17.
See me? I’m the one over there.
I have short hair now. I am cleaned up but still rather thin. I am fresh from the toxic world with only a few months into this idea of what it means to “stay clean” and be out of trouble.
I am not sure of my surroundings. Of course, since my surroundings were somewhat of a therapeutic community, I had to go along to get along.
I had to wear the proper attire which was one undershirt and a shirt above. There were no more band t-shirts, no more ripped jeans. No more tie-dye shirts. No more “Smoke on the water” and no more mood-altering substances to ease the mood into an outer-space or satellite reprieves to forgive the moment or euthanize the day. There were no more discussions about music or singing songs that were part of my previous lifestyle nor was there any toleration for mischief or fucking around of any sort. No fraternizing or flirting with anyone from the opposite or interested sex.
Meanwhile, the rest of the people my age or the others who I knew were doing things like going to school or preparing for their driver’s test and getting their first car.
Either way, the fog was beginning to lift. My dreams were less intrusive and the mental withdrawals of my former self were starting to fade away – at least a little bit. I admit that I was not altogether convinced that life could be lived without intoxication of some kind. I could not conceive why anyone would live the rest of their life sober, as in not even a beer on Friday nights.
However, I was out of trouble now. Trouble and me were certainly close friends. We knew each other well enough to let me call this “ME.”
I was feeling a little better. Well, not completely.
As a means of justice and in order to please the courts, I agreed to be remanded into a long-term treatment facility until the completion of treatment. Otherwise, I would have to serve one year, plus 90 days in a correctional facility.
To me, the choice was simple. I did not have a “doing time” kind of body. I was exactly as it was said to me, “too light to fight and too thin to win!”
I chose treatment as an easier option; however, there was nothing easy about treatment and there was nothing attractive about my list of choices. Then again, this is what happens when you let go of your own life and leave your control in the hands of other people.
There was nothing easy about the work on the farm. There was nothing good about the early wake-ups or the annoying voices of the powers that be, up early, yelling at me to get up, get out of bed, and get going or to run down to the barn and shovel pig shit.
I had to shovel behind the cows while being milked and put hay in front of them while the milkers milked them.
By the way, cows kick too.
I was not ready for this nor was I ready for the cleaning crews or the kitchen details. I was not much for the strictness of the farm which is not to say that there weren’t any good times or good people here. The truth is there were good people. Life-changing people and yes, although I do not speak with them often or, in some case, although we didn’t speak at all, I still regard them with a humble and loving attitude.
That’s me . . .
I’m the one who jumped over the fence in the pig pen. To be clear, I am not one who comes from a country or farming background. My accent is not a farming accent and my background is not in farmland whereabouts.
No, you can talk to me about places like 134th Street and Willis Avenue. You can talk to me about East New York Brooklyn or about the spots I knew in Corona, Queens, near Northern Boulevard or, if you wanted to know where the methadone clinic was on Archer Avenue, I could tell you about them. But farmland, cows, sheep and pigs were not in my wheelhouse of understanding.
To my best assumption, I thought pigs were about the size of Wilbur from the cartoon Charlotte’s Web.
But I was wrong.
Some of the pigs were huge. I mean really HUGE!
But they were fine.
The big ones were not too mobile. Besides, it’s the little ones that get you.
The little piglets are the ones that run around squealing and yes, it was the little ones that made me slip and fall face first into . . . that’s right! You guessed it, a big batch of pig shit.
Safe to say that I was not about to claim this life as comfortable or desirable. Safe to say that I wanted to leave and though I was out of trouble and though the leash of the courts were not as tightly wrapped around my throat as previously considered; I contemplated what it would be like to “get out” early or go home.
What would I do?
Who would I be?
Would I be able to go back to my old surroundings and my old stomping grounds and be a different person?
Maybe I could hang around different people.
Maybe I could call up some of my other friends with the squared edges who chose not to mix it up with drugs – or maybe I could throw myself back into working for the family business and learn what it means to earn a living like a grown man – I could get a girlfriend and be mature too.
There I am now, see?
I am skipping into the next pigpen, looking to finish so that I can get back to the bunkhouse quickly enough to have at least a semblance of hot water. Trust me, cold water showers are far from exceptional in the wintertime, especially with bits of pig shit in your hair.
I will admit that there was something going on.
There was something bigger than my physical whereabouts and something better than me living on the farm or “walking the line” so-to-speak.
A short while before this moment, I was back home to face the judge and receive sentencing for two crimes that were plead to a lesser offense.
I was given the court’s choice, which was not necessarily the most attractive choice either, but still, these were the choices I was given. It was either the farm or jail. I chose the farm.
I chose not to worry about the showers-scenes or the stories of rape. I chose not to worry if I would be slaved to someone else, like property or used as property, or made to give lap dances to match the nightmare stories that I was told about life-long convicts like Bubba.
I chose treatment over jail to rid myself of the jailhouse worries such as violence and survival of the fittest. I admit to this because as much as I tried to act tough – I was far from tough and far from brave. Plus, I was far from the street smart person who I pretended to be. Even if I was street smart, jail is filled with people who have plenty of time to create a new trick or a new angle and they can do this to such proportions that as smart as you are – you would never even see them coming.
Everybody can be gotten!
In the world of predator or prey, I was petrified that I would have been prey; thus, I would be preyed upon constantly so I took the easiest choice.
I can remember going before the judge. I remember receiving this sentence and finding myself faced with the surreal moment that yes, this was me. This is what was happening, which meant that I was going back to the farm.
I remember sitting in the passenger seat of The Old Man’s two-tone, Chevy Caprice. I remember the maroon velour and the interior of the car. I remember feeling or seeming small again – at least this is so in my mind’s eye. I am this smaller, insubordinate soul, sitting beside my Father whom, of course, he and I were at odds for a very long time.
We had very few connecting moments and more often than not, I was a source of frustration and disappointment to The Old Man. Yet, in spite of our back and forth bouts and challenges and in spite of our odds against one another – I know that deep down, both he and I truly wished we could get along better.
I was young and perhaps too young to contemplate the fact that parents are only human at best. Same as me or you or anyone, parents come from the same stock as us.
What this means is insecurity, depression and anxiety, fears, worries, social concerns and emotionally or mentally led mistakes are equally as common as they are in anyone else.
I never saw my parents as human. I never thought about their life or their upbringing and recognized how their upbringing might have led to some cognitive damages or distortions. I never recognized that, like me, my parents had their own personal inventory.
They had life happening in front of them too.
But me, I never saw it this way.
Maybe this is because I was running too far in a different direction. Maybe this was because I was too high or too lost to begin with. Or, maybe this was because I had yet to reach the age of maturity and realize that perfect or not, we are all human. Therefore, we are all subject to human nature – parents included.
There are certain turns of events which are crucial to the changes in our life.
I remember sitting in the car.
I remember sitting in my good boy clothes all prettied-up to face the judge.
Out of nowhere, The Old Man told me, “Ya know, I’m not mad at you anymore.”
I was like a small boy again. In my mind’s eyes, I reverted to my first memory of sitting in the passenger seat with The Old Man driving. I was looking up at him in perfect admiration, like a son would see his Father; feeling a flood of hopefulness that perhaps once all of this was done – The Old Man and I could be a Father and son.
The emotion was more to me than any word could possibly encapsulate and, in a word, this was wholehearted and awesome; as if for the moment – all was forgiven. In that moment, possibility was born.
That’s me, walking out of the barn in the cold, frosty air.
There’s snow on the ground.
It’s cold. My breath is smoking in the winter air and, at my best, I am running back to the dorms with hopes to catch a shower- at least a warm one.
Heading back, I am starting to jog towards the bunkhouse while thinking about all of this.
I am thinking about the way we were, The Old Man and me.
Maybe there was a shot.
The month of December marks a special change for me.
I plan to take you through this with me, to be a witness as well.
So this way, you can see where I come from.
But for now, I will leave this here.
I’ll let you sit with this vision in trust that you will be here again soon when I return to the topic of my Father, Ronald Kimmel, otherwise known as Pop or The Old Man.