I was a kid when I first heard a real poem. I was home alone at a time when I was supposed to be elsewhere. I was in the middle of my own crazy fit and losing to my own rebellions. I was wild and perhaps misunderstood but then again, I’m not too sure how understanding I was either.
I refer to this as my dawn or my start of day and the early part of my life, which of course, I have passed my noontime hours and before the sunset comes, I find myself in need of freedom or in a word, I want peace.
I was home, hiding away from the rest of the world, high, smoking cigarettes from a pack of Marlboro Reds. I was long haired and had bloodshot eyes in which, I might have thought that all of this made sense, which it did. There was me and my altered views and then there was another version of me. This was the person who was tired of being afraid and tired of the forced or coerced and the social constructs or opinions, which I had nothing to do with. But still, there was a pecking order in life and to me, who was I to challenge something that has been around long before my time?
I can remember practicing the things that I wanted to say to people. I used to rehearse in front of a mirror. I remember the ideas I practiced and planned only to find myself quiet when the moment was right. By that time, I was out of my head. Especially when or if I was drinking because nothing ever comes out right then.
I wanted to speak. I wanted to say the right things but instead, I’d speak and have the last words I’d say, repeat in my mind; as if to echo with an uncomfortable awkwardness – and anything I’d say after to redeem myself would only come out worse, which was like a hole that just kept digging itself deeper- until I quit or broke down.
I knew that I had so much to say. My only problem is I never knew how to say it. I never knew how to be brave enough to be me, without regret. But, I could write it. I might not have been able to share it or allow anyone to read what I wrote – but for the moment, pen in hand and paper beneath me, I was free.
I suppose I can narrow my first inspiration to a movie and the words, “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house.” To me, this was more than an opening scene to a movie. This was more than an S. E. Hinton book that became a movie. This was an apropos or fitting assessment of who I was and how I felt at the time.
When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the basement of a house or from the bottom of some godforsaken place where it was fine for me to hide, I can remember the sun and the blinding aspects of exposure. I can remember my life and my small, crazy town.
I can remember the different distribution of popularity and the names, the so-called cool kids, the crazy kids and the difference between the crowds was a clear distinction of who you were, who you weren’t and where you were welcome.
I remember the badges and the scars and the masks as well as the personal images which we all hid behind. No one was themselves. At least, not then.
Everything was a pose. Everything we did was an attempt at personal posture. How you dressed said everything. How you looked said even more and though there were times when I was fit enough to get away, more often, I found myself wondering about this mix of life. I found myself in the middle of the good and the bad and connected the people we knew or the friends we had.
I was somewhere in the middle of this idea that somehow, my life was only a project and that somewhere, a person in a white lab coat with glasses on and a clipboard in hand took notes about me as if I were an experiment.
I saw myself as a person in training. But training for what? I didn’t know – at least, not really. I only knew that I had my fair share of personal psychosis. I used to hear the sound of breaking glass in my ears when my anxiety broke me and then violence struck the scene – whether me or you, someone would have to hurt or bleed, which to me seemed like an understandable aspect of things.
I wouldn’t use the term paranoia to describe me in all cases but instead, I saw myself in such a way that I assumed my tragedies were part of life. I assumed that this was “my” normal and that although you or someone else might have a different view, this was me.
I was caught in underbelly and locked in the low-end of life’s cycle. This was my place in the social caste system. But yet, there were times when I saw beauty or that I could be more beautiful. There were times when I noticed the sunlight or the sunset. There were times when I noticed the smile of a young girl who, of course, might not have noticed me; but still, it was enough sometimes to see a smile. It was enough to know that there are beautiful things in this world and that to see this or to notice meant that I knew what beauty is, which by default; meant that I was beautiful too.
I remember the first poem I ever heard, which of course; when I say this, I mean a real poem and not one that starts with some dirty-minded limerick that goes, “There once was a man from Nantucket.”
Instead, it was something that came from Robert Frost.
“Nature’s first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold
Her early leaf’s a flower
But only so an hour
The leaf subsides to leaf
So Eden sank to grief
So dawn goes down today . . .
. . . Nothing gold can stay.”
As I grew older and came to the understanding that my early youth was only a training ground; that school and schoolyard lessons, on top of the government of popularity, socialization and the secret handshake assholes were all part of life.
I also came to the understanding that I was not so alone. Pressure is felt across the board and by everyone – the pressure to be or appear, or to have the right answers or know what to say, to act as if, or to be “on point” so-to-speak and all that goes with this; these are the exhausting details of who we are and how we interact. It’s tiresome at times. Draining.
I suppose the challenge I felt and the challenges that others might deal with is to find the secret of endurance and the keys to personal sustainability.
Stress or anxiety are normal. There is a healthy aspect to this which teaches us that something dangerous could happen. This is what fear is. This warns us to be safe; however, this can also become irrational. Like an engine, we can only run at high speeds for so long. We can only run in the red for so long before the engine breaks down. And that was me.
This was my anxiety; always afraid of the impending doom; always waiting for the next thing to go wrong, waiting for the news, the rejection and this was me in fear of my own self. I was afraid of letting me down again, of misspeaking, of being misshapen, of being distorted, or demented, confused and uncomfortable. This is when the glass would break in my mind like the sound of a brick through a storefront window.
If I could go back and tell me anything, I suppose I would go back and teach me how to dismantle the attitudes of my assumptions. I would teach me about the energy of my thinking and that there are two halves of thought – one thought is the one I was used to and the other is the other side – that yes, things can be tough; but things can also improve if we choose to improve them.
As tough as I wanted to be, I knew the toughest thing that anyone could be was to be themselves, without decoration, without explanation and to stand on your own two feet, regardless of the crowd around you – this is tough. This is what it means to be a tough guy.
But I wasn’t tough.
I was just me. (See the confusion?)
My first real poem went like this:
If I listen, I can hear you in my thoughts
And if I look, I can see you in my dreams
Or behind the movie screens of my eyelids.
I hope that I can hold you in my arms
This meant more than to be in love. This meant more to me than romance and more than the feeling of my skin against the skin of another body.
No, this meant me stepping out from the darkness of the places where I would hide, brave enough to face the world and fearless enough to be me. This was me emerging from where I kept myself, regardless of the common thought and above all, comfortable in my skin and comfortable to say this is who I am, this is who I love and this is who I want to be.
Robert Frost said nothing gold can stay-
I used to agree with him.
But this thing in me, this drive and the youthfulness of my soul, regardless of age or the beatings or the downfalls – this is me, still writing, still learning, still admitting to my childishness, which is brilliant because if I were able to love as a child and be as grown as I am – then I will have done something amazing with my life – regardless of those who poke, I would still be me. The worn solders of my spirit could settle in by the fire.
And to me, that’s better than gold –
That’s better than platinum.
But more . . .