BELOW THE WATER LINE
One of the hardest things to have to do is
to find a meaning; I guess that's the most
ordinary quest of youth. All the tales and
fables, exploits and conquests, deal with
it, each their own ways. What is civilization,
after all, but a unification of many quest-stories
into one larger, over-riding myth. Everyone, in
their own way, takes it up. My own world, in
so many ways, went no differently than anyone
else's. That was an odd thing I always felt about
myself; I don't know why, or what it meant, but
it felt as if I'd actually 'been' at every stage of
every man, of every other person along the way.
It led to a shared complicity, and was a way of
getting along with people, although none of it was
really 'me'. If someone was a sentimental crybaby,
I felt that I could help and understand, because I had
been one of those once too. If someone was tough and
gritty, I could be that, because at core I understood
perfectly well what living with the level of Life was
like. I'd have done that. With the sickly, I could be
sickly; with the religious, religious; I'd done that.
In fact, that tired old phrase, 'been there, done that',
it seemed to fit me pretty well. It's a way of getting
along, I suppose. Been there, done that was later
supplanted somehow by 'yada yada', which was a
sort of Yiddish version of etc., etc. All so strange.
There were two guys - this was later, during that
high school interregnum for me, - two seminary
guys from like Fords and Perth Amboy, I think,
maybe Fords and South River, something like
that - Ed Nadolny and Ray Nalepa, as I recall.
They kept coming around, more than a few times,
sort of to check up on me, say hello, hang around
a little. They'd always been a twosome, pals forever,
and now that the seminary was breaking apart, I guess
in their doldrums during those waning days, they
were set loose. They seemed fascinated a little bit
by me. I was sort of just bored stiff by them. It was
bad - the reason I say that is because I'd somehow
developed a haze, or a hazy screen, around myself
that wouldn't really let anyone else in. I knew those
two guys were talking to me, at me, but I really
wasn't intent on listening to what they were saying,
and can't even tell you what it was. As I said in the
previous chapter, in that quote, I had become my own
biggest obstacle. No one could break through that
screed around me; it was custom built just to keep
others away. I had no idea what these two guys could
possibly want from me now, and I let them know it. I
feel pretty shitty over it now, but that's the corner-box
I was painted into - embroiled, raging, trapped. I was
soon to get out, but at that moment I had no place. I
had no place because nothing was real; the entire
world presented to me was a sham and a working lie.
And it wasn't just them I did this to - I have another
Avenel friend, way back from kid days, Al Zinze. He
relates to me how, in these waning high-school days,
one day how I just blew right past him and another
friend, Robert Stewart. Didn't even acknowledge
them, responded to nothing, went right on by their
entreaties as if they weren't even there. I've tried to
explain, and I've told Al how sorry I am for that
now - but I was lost, I was unresponsive. I was
living in another place - so far gone I couldn't
even hear the whippoorwill or the owl if they were
perched on my shoulder. I still feel so bad over this.
There's no triumph in that. I was a fool, being a fool.
Imagine what it's like, to have someone tell you, forty
years later, what you'd done - or not done - to them
that is still so grievous that it wounds yet. It's not a
good feeling. Quests, and all those 'searches' for
meaning, they're actually quite meaningless.
Time was passing. I'd achieved a few minor milestones
of my own, one my own, but now was coming the
transitionary stuff that brings one over the hump, to
adulthood, or at least to growing up. To make that
passage, there are certain rudiments you need to meet,
I knew that, and I wasn't exactly ready or willing to
meet them. One of them is 'social' conditioning. That
was a problem to me. I remember, I guess it was
Christmas, 1966, my mother did a weird thing to me -
in her zeal to have me merge well, and in her and my
father's zeal, as well, to have me 'find' an Italian
girlfriend (I'm going to admit ahead of time this is
a solitary and bizarre story to relate, almost as if
some form of 'arranged' marriage was being formed,
but it's true. Alas, it didn't work, much to my parents'
chagrin. Not, however, to the girl involved - she turned
out quite well, married someone else and has had a
lovely, and successful, life. In addition, to avoid any
embarrassment - mostly my own - I've simply made
a name). The girl's name was Emily Bardozza, and
she had three or four sisters, and a young brother.
I'd taken her, already, to the high school senior play,
under duress, yes, and again to appease my silly
mother, who thought this to be a wonderful match
made in Heaven. The play that year was 'Brigadoon',
some supercilious mess of fantasy and wonderment
about a magical place or kingdom or something (I really
paid little attention. It bored me to prickly heat.) with
all these silly, singing people. Seniors in senior plays
are gruesome - all that chummy happiness and singing
and jumping around. It's fey, humorous without intent,
and 'barfy' as well. The play sucked. I sat there glumly
counting my marked cards and hoping for out. I'd also
been recruited to take her to a few basketball games,
a sport I detested - smelly, rank, noisy and useless.
She was a popular girl, attractive as much, and every
time she'd reciprocate a hello or a smile to someone
back, a lot of guys too, I'd think,'what's going on, she
certainly doesn't need me around here, dragging her
fine ship-of-social-state down.' It was horrible. I
mean, as well, to say, we never kissed or fondled
or none of that. I was too stupid anyway. This was
all my silly mother's doing. And then came Christmas.
For whatever the Hell the reason was, my mother had
it so that I'd go over to their house (around the corner)
and spend Christmas morn with them. Imagine this!
Like five girls and a boy kid, and a mother (I can't
actually recall the presence of a father, but whatever).
They got their presents, there were like cupcakes and
stuff brought out, small talk, social stuff, and the rest.
Her mother was real nice and seemed to wish me well,
went along with all this, and smiled nicely. I was as
awkward as a beetle on a tentpole. The morning ended,
and I left. The whole thing had been like a Louisa
May Alcott story or something. That was the end of
that entire experiment, never mentioned again. I
didn't see that girl again until years later, when we
met in a hospital lobby as parents were ailing, and
then again a few years later at some guy's 'friend's
reunion party' that I got suckered into in Freehold, NJ.
So, I brought all this out to sort of see if I could
integrate the bones of this story into the more rattly
bones of my own life. Finding meaning, socializing
and getting along. Well, the answer, thankful to me
to say, was and is 'NO'. A great big outstanding NO.
Because I was me, and that was it - my mother and
father would have never understood that, school certainly
had missed that boat, peddling all their shenanigans,
and all my Avenel days and friends no longer much
shared in this stuff at all. A sort of mannered parking
had taken over : you get to where you were going,
pull over, park, and stay there. That's how very many
of these people ended up, until then, about twenty
years later or less, all those same people began
breaking apart, getting divorces, splitting up kids,
losing a house, paying all those bills and alimony
and tuitions and cars and vacations and all that. There
was a whole, sweeping period of that, and then they
all settled down and did the same thing all over again,
except with someone new. In therapy, that's called
'repeat behavior', and is the base result of an enforced
'patterning' that's been engraved in a young mind. Most
of these people can't escape their fantasies if they tried.
They're all stuck in their own versions of 'Brigadoon!'