We lived on the southwest edge of town. For the first few years of my life, we had no neighbors to the south or the west. It was all farm land. My mother's best friend lived on a farm about a mile south of us. Then, more houses popped up on the block west of us. Then well before it was time for my brother to start school, Parkview Elementary rose out of the dust just one block west of our house.
By today's standards, perhaps my mother would be judged as negligent. She allowed me to spend my days alone in the desert, where I created my own world; a world with good and bad; a world where I had all the answers; a world in which I was very secure as long as no one else entered in to take away my control. This world became my refuge very literally. Even in high school, my friends would tell me I was a nice guy, but I was in a different world; I was out of contact with reality. That was true. When real life would step in and mess with my reality, I walked. I walked for miles; I walked for hours while I reconstructed my reality, trying to make sense of events that shook the foundations of my heart and soul, my psyche.
When I joined the Army, everything changed. I could no longer retreat. The Drill Instructors kept bringing me back to live in their world. My job in intelligence as a linguist showed no mercy to my childhood ideals. I could not get away to reconcile and reconfigure my world. I had to learn a new way to survive. My day dreams ceased. The notions of good and evil, the sense of control, all begrudgingly fell to the wayside. By the time I left the Army in 1969, I was fully integrated into a new world. Even so, I longed for that other world where I had control. It was gone; gone forever.
Unknown to me, part of that childhood world remained. While I had to develop the skills to survive in the world of real people, my self-concept had not changed. It would be that self-concept that would be the root of oh so many problems that plague me even now. In my mind, deep, deep down hidden so well, are all those notions of my perfection. I remain “the standard” by which I judge all of those around me. My childhood notions of goodness and rightness remain as the framework of my expectations, not only of others, but of myself. But when it comes to self, I am somehow blind to my own short comings, somehow not in touch with the things that I do so automatically.
Yet somewhere, I have come to realize that I don't meet my own standards, and I remain introspective, ever trying to reconcile, or somehow correct those errant parts of self. Now, at the age of sixty-five, I have grown weary of self. I have grown frustrated with the lack of fruit from never-ending introspection. I have become acutely aware of a growing list of double standards by which I judge all but myself. I have grown tired of looking in only to find a hopeless, twisted mess of humanity.
But in this twisted mass of contradictions, I still find hope as I come to a new realization. When I was a child, I was the hero; “they” were the villains. The new reality is this: I am the good. I am the bad. I am the ugly. I am the hero, and I am the villain. So are we all. That is what makes us who we are.
Maybe the words in the Beach Boys song “Heroes and Villains” playfully penned by Van Dyke Parks find a meaning for me: "I'm fit with the stuff to ride in the rough and sunny down snuff, I'm alright with the heroes and villains.”
Listen to the Beach Boys “Heroes and Villains.”