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Don’t Let The Bastards Getcha Down

Chapter One (06)

Life Before West Point

 

I have been an introvert my entire life. It comes with
the turf of being a Pisces dreamer to be shy, overly
sensitive and lacking in confidence. And besides, when you
grow up in a house with an all powerful, bigger-than-life
patriarch heading and commanding the household with an iron
fist, a dear caring mother who always loved and supported
me, along with eight other brothers and sisters, an
introvert’s social life and social needs can easily be met
exclusively within the home. Sure I had my neighborhood pals
as my baseball and football playmates. But being the fifth
child of nine surrounded by four older and four younger
siblings in a packed house where privacy was nonexistent, my
social world was more than enough. As an introvert, I have
always been the kind of person that needs my own space more
than the average Joe, that too much hang time around others,
be it family or otherwise, had to be limited to small doses
of just a few hours at a time. As alluded to earlier, the
answer for me was the pastoral beauty and serenity of the
swamp, brook and woods just steps away. Not only did I
retreat to the forest for getaway time from all the strife
going down in my family home, but I needed my getaway time
from people period.
Thus my school life was generally marked by acute
shyness. When you are already feeling insecure and
inadequate on the inside, extending yourself in the social
world beyond the safe familiar confines of the family home
becomes unknown and uncharted waters. I was good at drawing
and received accolades for my renditions of every Disney
cartoon character adorning my second grade classroom walls
that entire year. I was too shy to correct my third grade
teacher the first day of school when she butchered my first
name (pronounced wah-keem) and it was not until my mother
attended a parent-teacher conference in December that I was
no longer called Joe-ack-im. Thank you mom. Learning and
getting good grades always seemed to come easy for me,
though being smart does not necessarily bring popularity.
Starting in the fourth grade right through middle school
(with the one exception the sixth grade when I had an old
witch-like teacher who always gave me the heebie-jeebies), I
finally started coming out of my shell when I noticed I
could make people laugh with off-the-wall, bizarre, cut-up
statements. Even if being a class clown meant getting into
trouble and occasionally being sent to the principal’s
office, I learned that when you make others laugh, including
teachers, everyone seems to naturally like and want to be
around you. So I gladly basked in the spotlight, putting my
shyness behind me for a few years, that is until I reached
high school. With all the hormonal changes going on inside
my mind and body, coupled with pressure when it counts to
get really good grades to make Annapolis, and just the angst
and anxiety that comes with liking girls as a shy,
introverted adolescent male, once again for safety purposes 
I retreated back into that old familiar shell.
My abysmally sagging self-esteem made me too tongue-
tied to even dare talk to any girls I liked. The only thing
that I had going my way was my ability to play football on
Saturdays. As the Most Valuable Player my senior year, my
year younger sister came home every other week to announce
another girl from her class had approached her disclosing
that she liked me. Though I was more than flattered and in
fact elated each time because they happen to all be the best
looking girls in the entire school (for some reason the
girls in my class weren’t nearly as hot), I still could not
bring myself to talking to even a single one of those girls
I knew liked me. That’s how emotionally crippled and fucked
up I was as the local high school football hero who knew
girls were dying to have me talk to them but of course I was
my own worst enemy and harshest critic.
I recall going to Friendly’s Restaurant, a local
hangout, right after scoring several touchdowns during one
of our few wins my senior year. While Lulu serenaded “To
Sir With Love” on the jukebox, I was invited to my very
first high school party. I later drove to the victory party
with some anxiety but no sooner arrived in the downstairs
rec room where the party was already in full swing, I was
made to feel like I was floating on cloud nine. From every
direction party attendees were showering me with their love
with little morsels like, “great game today Kim” (Kim being
my nickname as a kid) and “wow, you were so fantastic out
there!” and “how many touchdowns you make?” I asked myself
why I never went to parties before. But then three minutes
into the party scene that initial wave of accolades and
compliments suddenly ceased and there I was stranded out
there in no man’s land not knowing what to say or do next.
The cheers from the crowd had literally died down and out.
In a flash I had gone from BMOC to one very self-conscious
fly on the wall desperately trying to run for cover. Since I
had no previous frame of reference in that it was my very
first party, and feeling like all eyes were still on me even
though they weren’t, I had no clue what I should be doing
next with myself. Then I heard someone nearby yell out,
“Hey, let’s play spin the bottle!” I began slowly edging
closer to the circle already forming around an empty
spinning beer bottle. Nudging myself closer without
appearing too obvious I wanted to play, I watched a guy kiss
a girl and nudged even closer, close enough to realize I’d
made it to that inner circle. I was ready for some action
just when a girl spun the bottle that landed squarely on me.
Trying not to appear too anxious or excited, my heart was
pounding in anticipation of my very first kiss. Just when I
felt my lips puckering up, I saw the cute girl grab the
schmuck next to me and lay a wet juicy whopper on him. Again
for a second time in five minutes I’d gone from such a rush
of a high to a crashing thud and lowest of all lows in my
young life. I was more than devastated to be completely
ignored and invisible when clearly that bottle pointed
directly towards me and me alone. I felt like an absolute
reject, a total loser, like the lowest piece of scum on
earth. Completely humiliated, I bolted for the exit to
escape my first party ever, after it turned out to be such a
disastrous nightmare I had to live with the rest of my life.
It sent me back so far inside my shell, I was figuring I
would never dare come out again, driving the whole way
home with tears rolling down my face. I’m afraid that little
social trauma set me back years from feeling like I could
ever be a happening dude at a party again. 
Several weeks later after a football practice, in the
locker room I happened to mention to a teammate of mine a
certain girl’s name that I liked. The next thing I knew, my
friend had set up a double date for us with Barbara, the
girl I liked, and his girlfriend. We ended up going to a
Springfield College football game. But I was so self-
conscious, I felt my effort to make small talk and come
across as a cool guy failed miserably, so I never asked her
out again, having convinced myself she would never want to 
go out with me again... despite knowing Barbara’s deceased
father was a Class of 1946 West Point graduate who as a
pilot was tragically killed in an air accident.
There was one more party invitation I received in high
school. A teammate was having an end of season party for us.
And Barbara showed up there acting very friendly toward me.
She remarked, “It’s really too bad so many of our guys got
injured this season,” as if to explain why our record was a
dismal and embarrassing two win-six loss season. My retort
was intended to be facetious, uttering, “Yeah all the big
boys, mostly our linemen, were getting hurt right and left,
while as the smallest guy on the field, I turned out to be
the last man standing.” She laughed...I think, which became
my cue to add, “Guess I’m just indestructible.” Again, I
think she laughed. In any event, when my family asked about
how the party went at the dinner table the next day, I
recounted our conversation. The next thing I knew, I was
being taunted for the next month or two as the braggart who
arrogantly thought himself to be “invincible.” Lost in the
translation was the fact that I was merely joking in my best
effort to make small talk with the girl I liked but was
uncertain whether she still liked me, and of course also
lost in translation was my actual word “indestructible” that
suddenly got embellished into “invincible.” My dad used to
always make fun of me, goading me as “El Mousee” outside the
home and “El Tigre” inside the house. Another of his
favorites was calling me “bubble butt” because his ass was
so completely flat.
As much as my dad wanted me to excel in order to get
into Annapolis, not once did he or for that matter any
family member ever actually attend any of my football games.
At the time, I never really thought about it since as a
self-conscious, shy teenager, I was in no rush to be
associated or seen with my parents or family. But in
retrospect, the one thing that gave me my biggest boost in
life and what little self-esteem I managed to hold onto, my
father never once showed any interest or support toward me
at all.
My disastrous first party and questionable second party
performance followed by all that family ridicule after
disclosing what I’d said at that second party had me never
ever going out again in high school, not even to the prom.
Ironically since I ostensibly had all the externals going
for me yet remained a loner anyway, others typically
misjudged my aloofness for being conceited and stuck up,
which of course was exactly the reverse. Instead of being
the aloof, stuck up jock, I always felt like a social reject
and outcast, no help from my family. So I retreated to my
room on Saturday nights and resigned to listening to my
radio for pleasure. I had a regular nightly routine that
sadly turned into my leisurely pastime - trying to get as
far away radio stations as I possibly could, identifying
them with pins on a big bulletin board map of America. There
I was - the high school football hero - feeling like such a
social leper, so crushed and so miserable there in my lonely
Massachusetts room every Saturday night that my biggest joy
in life was reaching as faraway places as Del Rio, Texas,
where Wolfman Jack was yapping it up as only he could on
XEIF radio. Yep, its powerful one hundred thousand watt
broadcast tower located just south of the Mexican border
beaming Wolfman to me there in New England was my all time
winner. How pathetic is that? All I knew is I wanted to be
as far away from where I was as possible. And that metaphor
speaks volumes for where I was at during those dark lonely
nights as an adolescent.


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