For as long as I can remember I have nervously tapped my feet, particularly at the dinner table.
"You're just like Grandma Mc...(I'll leave the surname out)," my grandmother used to tell me. "She was forever tapping her feet!"
Now, like Grandma, and the Grandmas before her, I have always been very musical so to turn my legs and feet into human drumsticks is not that big a stretch. But it was more than a flair for Irish and Scottish music that had my feet tapping. It was, to use my mother's term to describe similar things, "nerves".
I had this intuition, even as a young child, that all was not well on Walton's Mountain - my nickname for the family home. Not quite old enough to remember JFK's assassination I do recall something being amiss at home for most of the 1960s.
Dad, when he wasn't at work, was always "tired". We never played ball or hockey or any of those Dad-Son things. Not that I wanted to. I was not the least bit athletic.
Grandpa was in hospital a few times and we would have to travel a couple of hundred miles to see him every so often. I did not understand why, when he died, Grandma kept saying, "I wish I had been here. If only I hadn't left him alone."
Before, during, and for awhile after this period, Dad was quiet and withdrawn. He, too, had to be in hospital a couple of times although we were never taken to see him. (He ended up living out his best years in retirement, dying of a massive heart attack in his beloved garden in 2002 at the age of 75, by which time he was the best father I could have ever asked for.)
Grandpa had died, in 1969, when he was 74. By his own hand. That's why Grandma had been so upset for leaving him alone while she and my aunt were in town grocery shopping.
I suppose that summer I was between grades three and four or maybe it was the year I "repeated" or was "held back in" grade four since "I was the youngest in my class" anyway. The fact is I was a miserable failure at math in grade four, whether it was before Grandpa died or after.
No thanks to Mr. Glenn.
Family friend, fellow member of our church, my math teacher and principal of the elementary school. Oh and my first abuser, Mr. Glenn was. In fact I think I can trace a lot of my pain back to Mr. Glenn, who I called "Mr. G." in this story which I wrote earlier this year:
Mr. G. was a lot of things - my most memorable math teacher, principal of my elementary school, father of a chum my age, member of my church, friend of my parents. He was also my first abuser - verbally, psychologically and physically. What follows is just one example.
One day in math class, grade four I believe, Mr. G. discovered - in his own unique way - that I was near-sighted. He had written a number of math problems on the chalkboard and was now striding up and down the rows of small desks, as was his custom, while we worked.
Walking toward me Mr. G. noticed that I was squinting to see the chalkboard.
"Kenneth", he said, in his loud, baritone voice, "can you not see the blackboard?"
"Most of it", I think I replied, hoping to diffuse the panic that had set in to my stomach.
Mr. G. lunged at my desk and, as he often did, grabbed me by a bone in my shoulder and pulled me to my feet.
"Read it!" he shouted, nodding toward the front.
I squinted, which only hastened the arrival of tears to my eyes that his taunts invariably brought out of me.
"I can't," I said softly, still thinking it was only worse because of the salty fog I was now trying to see through.
His hand digging into the crook of my shoulder, Mr. G. moved me up the aisle.
"Read it now!" he yelled, as my classmates began to laugh.
"I can't", I sobbed, having lost all control of the tears.
The room erupted in laughter.
Mr. G., now playing to his audience as much as anything else, lifted me up by my shirt collar and carried me to the front of the class.
"Read it now!" he bellowed, evoking another chorus of laughter from my peers.
By this time I was wiping my eyes and nose on my shirt sleeves and was so shaken that I couldn't have concentrated on the chalkboard, even if I had been able to see it. The clearer my lack of vision became the angrier Mr. G. seemed to get. If not anger, it was certainly adrenalin.
He pulled me right up to the board now, this time jerking me forward by the arm.
"Can you read any of it now?" he yelled sarcastically, tapping my forehead repeatedly against the board. Of course now I was too close to read anything other than what was directly in front of me. My only response was to continue crying as the class snickered and laughed.
"I think you need glasses", Mr. G. said, a little quieter now as he quickly wrote a note.
"Take this home with you" he said, pushing the slip of paper into my hand.
Not surprisingly, Mr. G. was to be among the first people who would soon call me "Four Eyes".
To this day, when I get a migraine headache (and I do quite often), I recall Mr. Glenn and the way he used to use my shoulder blades like luggage handles. That's where the pain in my head traces to.
He was a power-tripping asshole. I was stronger, academically, than his son so he used to set us against each other athletically to make me look bad. I don't know whether my parents didn't see the effect it was having on me or what. I couldn't complain about him, at least I didn't think I could, since they were friends. To my way of thinking adults would side with adults before they would side with me, although I had no reason to believe my parents did not love me and want the best for me.
Oh, except that if they knew what crazy things were going on inside me, they probably would freak.
Like watching Tarzan on TV and rubbing my hands all over his chest (on the screen). The same with Batman. I was a queer before I knew what the word meant.
So, with these secrets, and this pain, and this background (I'm sure I'll be able to fill in more blanks, too) I was ripe for the picking when I got my first ten-speed bicycle. I bought it with money I earned delivering newspapers. I loved going off on my bike. Alone.
That's how I met HIM, the guy basting in Hawaiian Tropic, which I told about in another post here.
"This above all; to thine own self be true."
William Shakespeare, Hamlet