The Life and Times of a Total Loser (Part Two)
So that’s how I learned what the beltway was… Going hotel to hotel for about a week while schools were closed during the blizzard of 96’. I remember having a sega gamegear me and my brothers always argued over that ate tons of batteries, and Joe had a short temper with us the whole time. I probably would too if a 300 lb man beat me then football spiked my face on a sidewalk. I didn’t know it at the time, but my dad was in a lot of trouble. I’m assuming he was caught a week after “The Joe Incident”, because that’s when we went home. The day before we went to breakfast then to the store to get batteries. Next the plan was we were going to go skiing… That was until I saw a toy I absolutely needed - An X-man action figure, Iceman. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was pretty fitting for the weather. I got my toy, but my punishment for being a brat and making a scene was I couldn’t ski.
When school started back up,the class was told to write a one paragraph story about what we did during “The Blizzard of 96’”. You can probably guess that my innocent-to-me story of daddies karate skills and my parent’s divorce got me sent to the guidance counselor. I told them everything was fine, which I really thought was true and they pretended to believe. I guess they understood how I felt better than I did when I was that young.
Around this age I made a new best friend named Kris. Really he had been around in school for a while, but he moved closer to me in another part of my townhouse complex and that meant we could hang out more. He was originally from Boston, and wouldn’t stop going on about the Bruins and the Patriots. He was one of the kids placed in all the “smart people” programs like me; I should explain…
At my school, there were certain extra curriculars they kinda placed students in based on what they felt they were good at. Some people got more athletic based ones like basketball or track, some got artsy ones like band or a sort of free-form build-what-you-imagine thing called odyssey of the mind, and the brainier kids got “math team” or things like spelling and geography bees(Though those were earned on the fly on a class by class basis obviously).
Me and Kris always got the smart people ones. He also had a bit of a weight problem which obviously didn’t matter to me, but it did make him a target for bullies. The fact that I had a geeky looking bowl cut and Steve Urkel glasses made me a target. Us both being targets made us easy combo bonus points to bullies. I think I told you about me and Dominic having this same problem earlier.
Chad had moved out and Stephen was the new guy in charge. He had a thing for stealing bikes and after what happened with my collar bone I’d never stand up to him again. He knew that and took full advantage, riding up with his friends just to harrass me and Kris as punishment for the air we breathe. There were lots of little skirmishes between us and his friends, but ultimately once he got involved the memory of my broken collar bone would pop up and I would go home with my tail between my legs.
Anyway, the girls from down the street had moved away and Kris was now my new 24/7 sidekick. Money was really tight. My mom worked as a receptionist at a nearby doctors office… Joe was still around helping out some but my mom still had to get put on welfare. I guess free lunches seemed like a cool thing to every other kid, but I just wanted to not be poor. I remember my teachers used to pull me aside and ask me if I had any newer or nicer clothes I could wear. I’d be so embarrassed at first I’d tell them I’d look and see, knowing full well I didn’t. Then I got pissed off at their noticeable disbelief when I told them I didn’t just to get them to stop asking. They kept sending me to the school counselor with talks of getting a real counselor outside of school in the works.
I didn’t get to see me dad much which upset me, and me being upset about that upset Joe and my mom. They kept trying to get me to understand dad was in trouble… That he was the bad guy, and he needed to be punished. I remember lots of going to court houses, pictures of Joe’s injuries… All kinds of legal discussion I had no idea how to even begin to listen to. When I did get to see my dad, the exchanges happened in front of a sheriffs office.
My mom enrolled us in a morning and afternoon childcare center to cover the time that she was at work.I remember all the workers there used to love to play a game where they would read questions from this book of obscure trivia to stump my brothers and I. One question every day right before we left, with intense 10-20 minute sessions every now and then. We would win all the time.
My mothers family was big into academia… Her father was a scientist for the navy, her uncle an award winning science fiction author, her aunt was a piano instructor and ran her own theatre at one point and so on and so forth. I think that gave me a sort of biological predisposition towards intelligence and gave my mom a great drive to guide my education as much as possible. In the third grade, when I took my first standardized state test, the MSPAP, I came back rated as a genius; Not only one of the smartest in my school, but among the smartest in the state. Even Kris, who was a really smart guy and always got put into the same academic type extracurriculars, had trouble keeping up with how fast I learned even though he always did his homework and studied while I played nintendo and watched TV.
That level of intelligence ended up hurting me in the long run. I guess a better way to say it is the way I handled it hurt me. Everyone told me the world was my oyster… That I’d go far and see it all. They said if I worked hard, I could do whatever I wanted, but I only heard I could do whatever I wanted… The part about working hard was in one ear and out the other. I floated through life with a sort of smug sense of entitlement. I laughed to myself inside when I watched the rest of the class struggling for 30 minutes over things I figured out right away. I would get upset if people failed to recognize how much smarter, and therefore better than them I was. I acted like because I was given a gift by fate, I was owed even more special treatment from the world. I had a really backwards perspective on life for the longest time.
I know we stayed very poor, and I know around this time was when my neighborhood took the final turn from “lower-middle class” to “section 8 slum”. Some houses just ended up abandoned when the renter couldn’t pay and the owner couldn’t find a new tenant. Others ended up with two or three families living in them. I was starting to see more and more of the criminal element There was a lot more people moving in, staying for 3 months, then moving out than I was used to.
All of that added up to me feeling like an outsider in my own neighborhood. Even if it was someone I didn’t like, whenever a person moved out I felt more and more like I was the one living in a new place. I stopped being the friendly ambassador to newcomers I had pictured myself as in my head. New people were forming their own cliques all around me. The bullying got worse, and started to be centered around the color of my skin.
This led to me leading a sort of double life. In class I was the genius everyone wanted help from, in the neighborhood I was the nerd everyone wanted to pick on. Slowly I started to withdraw socially. I would only hang out with Kris indoors for fear of being bullied. I started pretending to be something I wasn’t. I would make up fantastic stories to impress people, which only got me ridiculed as a liar when they were so far-fetched and ridiculous not even normally naive elementary school kids could believe them.
Around this time, mom decided to go back to school at night and on the weekends. Her and my dad were caught in a custody battle, and I rarely got to see him. Instead I would go stay with my aunt and uncle when she was in class. I was always jealous of my cousins; Unlike my mom, my aunt had finished college and was now a high paid lawyer. My cousins lived in a 5 bed, 4 bath mansion in the woods and had everything anyone could want. Three refrigerators stocked with food all the time. I remember being scolded for eating to much while I was there. Looking back now I don’t know if my mom was being completely honest with her family about her financial situation, because they didn’t seem to understand that at home I could never dream of even looking at that much food.
Mom and Joe eventually dropped the charges against my dad and it was agreed me and my brothers would get to see him once every two weeks. The hand-off was court mandated to happen at the sherriffs office in view of at least two officers and we would usually spend that time at my grandma’s house watching tv. He tried to compensate for the lack of time spent with money spent. All the child support he withheld from my mom was spent on toys and taking us out to “fancy” restaurants like Red Lobster, which to me might as well have been a five-star gourmet. Again, none of this seemed out of the ordinary to me. I thought this was how everyone lived their lives.
Like I said, my mother had decided she wanted to become a teacher and had gone back to school and on weekends we weren’t with Dad, she would take us our cousins mansion out in the woods, which I always saw as a mini-vacation. A sort of fantasy land of food and fun with a big wooded creek to play in. On one such weekend in early 97’, though I can’t remember exactly when, we were driving in Joe’s minivan. I remember the windshield had a crack, and I was sitting in the farthest back row next to the replacement windshield which was to be put in that weekend. I had fallen asleep for most of the drive, and awoke only when I felt the car starting to move side to side.
“Moooommmm stop car dancing I’m sleeping”
“She’s not doing it on purpose!” Dom screamed, panicked.
The next thing I remember is waking up on a strangers floor. A middle aged woman with graying hair was handing me a rag.
“What’s this for?”
“What about my head?”
“Here let me see your hand”
To my surprise, I already had a rag in my hand which served to further confuse me, as this one was dripping in blood.
Apparently, my mother had slid on some black ice and hit a guard rail. My temple hit the replacement windshield, which had left one gash ½" deep in my temple and another not as deep but equally grievous on my forehead. I was bleeding out.
The story at this point is as told to me by my brother, because my recollection of events starts on a strange womans floor. The accident is a black hole in my mind. By some miracle, my older brother managed to survive the crash without any serious injuries. He says found me sitting indian style next to the van whimpering. I’m not sure where Patrick or Mom were during all this. He ran up to the road and flagged down the first vehicle he saw, a jeep with a woman inside, and she ran to the first house she saw and had told them to call 9/11 because I was dying. I can only imagine the terror he felt seeing me bleeding like that, completely oblivious to my own injuries, and being unable to do anything about it.
A helicopter would medivac me to Children’s General in D.C. where I would need two seperate layers of stitches to close the wound in my temple, and four more to close the one on my forehead. 16 in total. If the cut on my temple had been 1/8" deeper, the glass would have pierced my brain I wouldn’t be typing this today. The doctors say its a miracle I suffered no permanent brain damage.
This is how I earned a nickname bullies would taunt me with for the rest of my elementary school days, “Scarface”. Had I realized what a badge of honor that nickname would have been amongst the shady types I eventually became associated with, I probably would have been proud, but at the time all I knew was not only was I a poor kid in hand-me-downs with giant glasses, now I was also permanently disfigured. Life was just grand.