Monday, October 10, 2011

I don't need you to worry for me 'cause I'm all right.

I dropped out of college.  Depending on whether you knew me before I dropped out or after I dropped back in (if you know me personally), you either had no idea whatsoever or were all too painfully aware of the whole ordeal.

In between my dropping out and dropping back in I spent a year doing, essentially, nothing.  My greatest accomplishment of that year was listening to or watching every single Cleveland Indians game on radio or television.  This is not exactly a star on my resume. However, the year is significant in one aspect.  It is the dividing line between my sad life and my mostly happy life.

The year (which was more like a year and a half) started in the spring of 1979.  I dropped out of college (technically I got kicked out) and came home.  I went to my first college out of that world famous ACoA people pleasing and living up to someone else's expectations.

My high school, a private school, had at the time (and may still have) a 100% college attendance rate.  So I was encouraged to attend college.  And of course, my parents urged me to go, particularly my mother, who had zero faith in my ability to earn my living drawing.

But I had no idea at that point what I wanted to do for a living, as the only thing I had wanted to do, draw comic books, had been ruled out. So I majored in the course that I did the best in in high school, Physics.  Trouble is, while I have the mind for physics and math, I didn't have the love.  Without any reason to be there other than supposing to be, I cratered, gathering the lowest GPA ever in my family or extended family (until a nephew by marriage did me spectacularly one better).

So I came home with my tail between my legs.  My parents made up a lie they could live with about what happened to peddle to family and family friends.  I did not care enough to set the record straight then.  I not long after let myself get conned out of some money by trusting some people and trying to help them (which is why I always take umbrage with the idea that people who get conned deserve so).

Then, in the late summer my cousin died.  My cousin was in many ways my twin brother.  He was born two weeks before I was and we loved so many of the same things, especially comic books.  He was a masterful storyteller where I was a good artist.  Our mutual family (my mother's side) seemed to always pit us against each other.  He apparently incessantly heard how wonderful I was.  Meanwhile, my family was constantly asking why I couldn't be like him.

But he and I never competed against each other.  He did his thing.  I did mine.  He was the writer.  I was the artist.  We had mutually agreed upon boundaries and did not cross them.  But when he died, it opened an opportunity for me.

I could not be an artist (I had not yet developed the strength to swim against that current), but I could be a writer, as long as nobody knew about it.  So I wrote in secret as I delivered newspapers for my parents to earn my keep.  I tried to get a few jobs but nothing came of it.

Meanwhile with my younger siblings in the heart of being teenagers, tensions ran very high in the house.  My father's drinking was probably his worst, which meant my mother's bitching was probably her worst.  I did not like my life there and I needed to find a way out.  But I was convinced I had missed my chance.

Another male cousin, the one a year older who with my late cousin and myself made up the Three Musketeers, told me there were programs for people with no money to go to college and to talk to a mutual adult friend about how to do it.  I did.  And she helped me get back in school, this time into a community college. (To cap this year off, in September as I was going to start college, my brother died.)

But this year had changed me.  As much as I had no faith that I could escape my fate, I also knew that I had to.  I decided that if I was to succeed at all, I had to do what I wanted to do, whatever it was, not just what I was good at.  I decided that while I was not as talented at it as my cousin, I was a good enough writer to make a living doing so (and I did for years).  And I adopted Billy Joel's song My Life as my personal anthem.

My life improved the more I rejected the onus of living up to anyone else's expectations.  I still had a long way to go to reconcile everything and to get past my scars.  I still do have a long way to go.  But it is amazing to me that my biggest failure was the seminal moment to all of my adult successes.


There is only one song that could go here.  So here it is.

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