I’ve come to a conclusion about myself and my life. Well, I didn’t just this moment come to this conclusion but it became crystal clear about 2:30 AM last night when I awoke from a dream. The dream was unusual, even considering the insanity that passes for dreams in my nocturnal moments.
As I spoke of in a previous article, I have been blessed by my country and its wealthiest citizens with that most fabulous and nearly incurable of joys; PTSD. My dreams normally take place thousands of lives ago in a dark place where death is the answer to every question. I see people I once knew that are now undoubtedly rather unrecognizable collections of old uniforms and rotting bones and a huge “Sardonic Grin” of rictus housed in a wooden box that cost their family a couple month’s salary only to rot in the earth. I see tiny girls disappearing into a cloud of napalm or cordite and then almost casually walking among the remains as if doing so was a normal, daily occurrence for everyone. I see that seldom discussed pink spray that a high powered projectile produces as it exits from our fragile, carbon-based bodies. I see that and so much more nearly every night and, frankly, many times during the day when tiny smells or sounds or faces jerk my soul back to those times and events. For anyone with PTSD these are tales lived daily. For those fortunate enough not to have PTSD, this is what you are giving to every man and every woman you send off to fight wars for the wealthy and FOX NEWS and for that, go to hell.
But last night was different. Last night I was 5 years old and it was 1953 again. I was standing in line, dressed in my brand new tiny suit and tie and hat, to shake hands with the preacher on Easter or Christmas Eve (the only two times we ever went to church) at the First Congregational Church in Wichita, Kansas, a church whose absence from Google tells me no longer exists. When it was my turn to shake the man’s hand I decided, on the spur of the moment, to ask a question that had been bothering my small, 5 year old mind for weeks; how does god get our soul into exactly the right body if heaven is so far, far away that we cannot see it? The preacher, caught off guard a bit, I suppose, tried to give me an answer he thought a stupid little boy would accept and then probably forget before either of us got home. His answer that day was that god had “kind of a spiritual cannon” into which “he loaded our souls and then shot them through eternity and into our mother’s wombs” and, thus, we are who we are and we are all “god’s children”. That last part about being “god’s children” brought to mind a couple of follow-up questions (like if god is our father then what role, exactly, do men play in all of this?) but he stood up to speak to the next adult person in line and this silly 5 year old no longer existed in his world and my mother was already embarrassed enough by my question so I was hurried out to the car for the drive home with my older sister and younger brother.
It wasn’t the end of the conversation for me, though. I tried to talk to my mother and my grandmother about this “spiritual cannon” thing and exactly how it worked with so many different souls being created every single day (we already knew about China and how it was growing babies like rice plants). Neither of them had any intention of attempting to explain what they had probably never asked themselves so I was shuffled aside as I was so often as a child. I asked my older sister, who told me I was going to hell for even asking, and my younger brother who was only four but knew the word “asshole” already and used it often to reference me in our talks. I even looked in the small bible that we had been given in Sunday School that was aimed at indoctrinating small minds in the ways of the true religion and invisible friends but even there I could find nothing that even slightly related to how, exactly, god could get one soul into exactly the right womb supposedly without fail.
I tried to find ways to ask the other kids at school but few were interested and the many basically said I was nuts and went back to their place in line for the slide. As the years passed, and before my questions about god’s ways turned into questions about god’s very existence, I learned about the other planets and the moon and a little about gravity and how everything we could see was influenced by the gravity of everything we could see. Still that 5 year old’s question haunted me from the dark recesses of forgotten memories. If all those planets and stars tugged and pushed on each other, what would happen to the souls fired from that “spiritual cannon”? Did god ever miss? Did the wrong soul ever up in the wrong womb? In fact, what would happen if the soul missed the planet entirely? Would it be destined to fly through space, homeless and wombless forever, pushed and pulled by the gravities of a billion stars?
Asking this question, and the many others that kept appearing uninvited in my growing mind, basically caused me to be avoided by the vast majority of people I met in my day to day life. I knew, because people usually whisper loud enough for everyone to hear and gossip mostly in hopes of the rumors and insults hitting their intended targets without the need for direct assault, that I was considered very, very “different” from everyone else. When everyone believed something I asked why they believed it? If they told me that “everyone knows that” I would ask to be introduced to this “everyone” person. I asked why people believed what some said but blindly disbelieved what another said without ever really investigating the truth for themselves?
When I was forced to go Catholic school (because the high school in Wichita I attended told my mother I was “retarded” and asked too many questions that had no answer and I needed “discipline”) I found myself even more of an outsider. When, on my first day at Notre Dame High School For Boys, I brought a bible, the teacher (they were all either of the Christian Brothers brand of Catholic Brothers and some nuns from some other sect or other) took it from me and explained that I was not to read the bible because I would never understand it. In fact, as he told me, that was why they had bible classes twice a day, so that I could be “taught” what the bible meant. When I asked who wrote the bible I was told it was written by men whose hands were guided by god and, thus, the bible was perfect. Okay, I replied, if the bible is perfect then it should be perfectly clear to anyone that reads it what it means. I was then sent to the priest who, using a large wooden paddle, proceeded to instruct me in the correct way to learn at their school (which apparently didn’t entail a lot of sitting after meetings with him).
My final class, about three days later and many shouts of “put your hand DOWN Mr. Cannon” later, the brother explained that rainbows were god’s way of promising never to flood the earth and kill all of mankind again no matter how wicked we became. Well, hand or no hand I stood and asked what I thought was a very pertinent question, “If the rainbow is his promise never to do something again, then that means he regrets doing it in the first place and then that means he is not perfect but made what he later saw was a mistake.” I spent slightly less than two weeks sitting quietly in the hall, at my desk, with no books to read or lessons to be learned while my mother worked frantically to convince the brothers to keep me or, failing that, for the local high school to take back the “retarded” kid and give me another chance.
Seeing that I was probably as retarded as the schools said and my mother was telling anyone that would listen, and seeing as how my sister (the smart, obedient one) and my brother (the cute one with the great future) didn’t really have much opportunity in Wichita in the early 60s and seeing as how we were living with our grandparents on her side and grandpa and her half-brother, my Uncle Bob, were beginning to tell me tales about my “real” father and my mother’s many escapades during her husband’s Army deployments, mom decided to take a position with another branch of the company she worked at in Los Angeles, California.
Now. let me tell you from the heart, if you want the perfect definition of “Culture Shock” then moving from Wichita, Kansas which, at it’s most advanced is somewhere in the late Jim Crow era even in 2011, to 1960’s LA is that definition. Suddenly I was surrounded by black people going to the same school and eating in the same places and no one seemed to notice. Suddenly I was seeing more of the female body and skin than I ever saw at the swimming pool classes we took. Suddenly I was listening to kids my own age asking questions about things I had never even considered.
But at home I was still the moron and at school I could not have cared less about the boring, droning teachers who thought memorizing and testing were the same things as learning and thinking. I looked around me and realized two things. First, my family was nuts and getting worse. Second, it seemed like everyone else in the world had a part to play and lines to speak and places to stand and they were unbelievably comfortable with that. I had no idea what to say to anyone. I had no idea what they were thinking and no idea how to express what I was thinking. At home I was the idiot with no future and no “self-discipline” and at school and in the world I was completely lost. I had no one I could call a real “friend” because as soon as their friends saw that they were hanging out with me they would have to stop or be considered as retarded as me.
So, I did what any retarded, friendless and futureless boy would do at 14; I ran away from home. One day, as I sat and looked at the people I’d lived with all my life with, and who I really knew nothing substantial about, frown and speak in angry tones, I decided that there had to be better people in the world. Families on TV seemed happy enough. Other people and their families seemed happier and more loving, too.
Yes, yes, I know. Appearances can and often are deceiving. Everyone is unhappy and happy in their own ways. But I knew that living at the bottom of the well looking up was worse than the possibility of discovering that the top of the well was too far from me to ever be attained so I started climbing.
At 14 years old I walked out the door wearing just what I had on my back, stuck out my thumb, and began four years of traveling around the United States looking for something that, well, for something that never existed. To this very day, 48 years later, I still look around me and see people acting out their roles and speaking their lines. I still stare, dumbstruck, at people who seem to think I know what answers I’m supposed to have memorized when they say their lines and unconsciously give me my cue to say mine.
So I just stay inside of these walls I call my home but that I only rent month to month. I try not to walk into situations where I’m forced to pretend to be as good of an actor in this play of life as everyone else seems to be. And I think I’ve answered that 5 year old’s question. Yes, if there is a god then he isn’t perfect and when he shoots his soul cannon he misses. Maybe not often. Maybe just once. But he misses. I’m supposed to be some other place and some other time where I would know my lines and know where I was supposed to stand. I don’t know where that place is but it isn’t here.