Security: When I was eight, Susan, a classmate, was kidnapped, raped, and murdered, and her severed fingers mailed home. I remember Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King getting shot. The Zodiac Killer haunted our region. The Vietnam War was raging. Horror was my childhood’s backdrop.
My first friends: after moving to Sacramento in 1972, becoming an outsider and never fully recovering. Governmental faith: watching Watergate hearings — Nixon’s “I’m not a crook” seems quaint nowadays, doesn’t it?
Invulnerability: spending six months home with osteomyelitis: a swollen arm, pulsing pain, fever, interminable blood tests, x-rays, nuclear scans, and, finally, a successful operation. I listen to doctors.
All my possessions twice: one backpack stolen, another accidentally traded with a lady in the desert while hitchhiking. Almost none of her clothes fit me. Equilibrium: Ugh. My friend Stuart and I complained to the bartender about the quantity of tequila in our margaritas. I staggered home, fell into a bush, puked in a park, and hated myself. The next morning I wore a crown of real bloody thorns.
My humility: playing guitar on Telegraph Avenue for spare change. Someone who looked like Jerry Garcia gave me a 20-dollar bill. Secular worldliness: after witnessing the dome of the Oakland Coliseum get unscrewed and the eyes of something ineffable peering inside. You become naked.
My heart stolen by a carioca dancing in a tennis court outside the Greek Theater: 1981. She heard psychedelic music and wandered uphill. I still wonder how I was so lucky. Disbelief in miracles: first, my newborn son, Charles, recognizing me seconds from the womb (so it’s you again?) and second, when my 3-year-old, Kyle, imitating his first sounds in speech therapy.
My dad: ravaged from within, but bravely smiling, I understand him better now.
Belief in organized religion: hearing the congregation’s warmongering after 9/11 reminded me of the crowd shouting “We are all individuals” in Life of Brian. Never went back. Masses of unquestioning humanity are fearsome beasts.
Certainty: I’ve learned many times that we control our destinies, but only if we invest time and energy. Our words and actions define us.
After experiencing loss, its sheer weight is so devastating that I’ve been blinded to the eventual ramifications, even those that mitigate the damage, so my first reaction is how my losses often led to greater gains. For example, I am positive my time absent from school instigated a love of knowledge, transforming my life. Also, would I love the horror genre so much if my childhood were spent in idyllic surroundings? I doubt it. Is my oblique perception and constant obsession with consciousness linked to psychedelic mind melting? I suspect it is, but, honestly, I cannot be sure. It’s an impossible experiment; I cannot be my own control group. My second reaction is that I’m somewhat disturbed by what’s unlisted. For example, my tequila incident is here, but one brother, a nephew, a niece, two great friends, and two business partners (those both suicides) never will be and didn’t survive the edit either. Have I become calloused to death, or am I shuttering my senses to stay sane, because everyone I’ve ever loved will die? No! That’s not right. Death is part of our journey. So, what is this list telling me then? It looks chaotic. Perhaps it’s the uncertainty that I crave! Imagine life as a river. I’ve navigated past pilings, shoals, and calamitous waterfalls, but whenever disaster occurred, I’ve pushed the boat back into stream and headed for deep water. I long to discover what’s beyond the next bend. Thus, I remain a work-in-progress, still defining myself, but patient, so any reflection on past events must be made with always one eye on the future. In the meantime, I’ll keep improvising, rowing against the current, and enjoying the ride.