That was a problem.
I had made it through forty years of living, and I counted on my mind-- had learned that I could count on it.
I think through things differently than most people-- sometimes better and sometimes not. It was all in the exercise of the purist forms of logic that I began to realize that other persons went about some (not all) logic problems differently than I did.
I remember sitting at my desk in first grade, being exposed to math for the first time. I remember envying those who "got it" right away, and then the beauty of the logic appearing when I joined them in that understanding. It was not the accomplishment-- it was the beauty of math.
The only pre-school I had been exposed to was a short stint with the Sisters at the Tuller School in Fort Worth and if there was any academic preparation I was given, the only preparation I remember having received was spiritual. It was there, at the Tuller School, that I existed in the world alone for the first time and learned that love existed there as well. Something of a false lesson looking back, but one that made me bold.
But sitting at a desk in Mrs. Shields' first grade class at Northwood Hills Elementary School (my Sunday School teacher the summer before had been Mrs. Sword!) I first realized I was behind the game. Some of my classmates knew how to read, and I had not even tried. With vivid recollection, I stared at this flip-chart Mrs. Shield's was using on the third day of class.
Some of my classmates read the dozen or so words on that page readily. I was impressed and wanted to do it too. I distinctly remember a drawing of an orange, colored in, with the letters o-r-a-n-g-e next to it. There was something "tricky" about the displayed objects and words next to each, and while several of my classmates were guessing, the trickiness thwarted their attempts. In the minute or two in which I studied the board, and noted who had the correct answer, I was trying to sound out the word printed by whichever the teacher was pointing at when the student answered.
I remember the orange, because that was the one I used to de-code the trick. If there was a picture of an apple it may have had printed next to it, a-p-p-l-e or it may have had the letters r-e-d. After a couple of wrong guesses by classmates, I knew that the printed letters would be descriptive, but that it could be the thing or the color. Mrs. Shields noticed my intent concentration, I guess, and she pointed at one item and asked me if I knew what it said. I didn't.
She was pointing at a banana I think it was, but I said, looking at the orange, "I know o-r-a-n-g-e is orange, but only because the fruit and the color are the same. I don't know why those letters spell 'orange' and so the one you are pointing at must be 'banana' because the first letter is a 'b' and not a 'y' I think it would be."
"And if it was a 'y?'"
"It would be the word "yellow?'"
"Good. You are just where you are supposed to be."
She went on and vetted the rest of the students. Ultimately, we were each assigned to one of three groups. I don't know how she described them, but the groups were obviously equivalent to "readers," "clueless," and "ready to read."
Those who had been guessing, "red" when it said "apple" were in the "clueless" group. Those who obviously could read were sent to sit on a corner with some assistant who was there that day and they sat down with what must have been "Fun with Dick and Jane--" taking turns reading through it.
The clueless were sent to the opposite corner and I think they were helped by another helper to work on the alphabet. I don't remember.
About six of us were brought up behind the teacher's desk and she read from a book as we watched her finger trace across each word in a way that made it "click" with me after a couple of minutes watching. She stopped, and asked what the next word was now and then, and asked me to try as her second time of prompting one of us. I said, "Not yet, ask someone else, I think I am getting it."
In truth, I was humiliated. I had no idea anyone my age knew how to read-- none of my friends did and I had been looking forward to starting first grade for the very purpose of learning how to read and how to do lots of other things my big brother could do. On day three of school, I was horrified to find many others already knew how to read. Besides, three minutes before, the moral lesson had been manifest to me: Guessers are cheating when they try to act like they can read, but really just don't want to be exposed as ignorant. It wasn't enough for me to have won a moral victory-- I wanted to be with those reading aloud to one another in the corner, but I knew I did not belong with them. My little ego was in dangerous peril, and it took me a little bit to focus.
But after Mrs. Shields prompted a few others, some who sounded the word out correctly and some who did not, she came back to me, and I read the next word. She asked me to continue, and I managed the next several words.
Something about symbols and meaning and the written word is miraculously apparent in such moments. Mrs. Shields' knew it and it showed. Her face showed joy! I got it and she knew it and she was filled with joy that she saw it happen. She had probably done this with others-- been there prompting as a student read their first words and then a whole sentence-- hundreds of times, but the joy always came. It came when I did, and it came when the others did it. She had one or two that didn't do it that day.
The next day, to my immense relief, I sat on the carpet with my own copy of a book, and took my part in reading aloud with the others.
A couple of years before, the story goes, I was excited for my father to come home from work. I was four, so I was always excited for him to come home, but more so because that day I had found out how the picture got inside the television set. That is what I told him: "Daddy? I know how the picture gets into the TV set."
"Yes. It comes in through that cord in the back."
"Oh. Well, Hoss, actually those metal things on top are called antennae and they pick up the signal from the air--"
"No. I'll show you."
I walked back behind the television and unplugged it. The picture went away, and I said, "See?"
My Dad was one of those who was "scary smart." You know? The kind who gets things so far ahead of everyone else that it seems unreal? So smart was my father that he knew when he was licked. Just as my mother had decided earlier in the day when I made public my findings regarding the great mystery of television picture source; smiling, my father said, "Oh, well, I guess you must be right." The family loves telling me of that story.
I plugged the cable back into the wall and the television picture flowed through the narrow pipe right into set as before. I went to my room triumphant. The next day, I was let down in the best way possible. My Dad unplugged the antennae and then began explaining radio waves. As we drove around later, he pointed out the radio towers that were sending the signal. Cool!
I did alright up through my junior year in high school. I found my "one true love." Family crises (plural) left me virtually alone to figure that out, but I managed pretty well, working without a net. Then, that false lesson I learned way back with the Sisters in Fort Worth at the Tuller School was exposed as false in the most brutal way. My heart was ripped every bit as deeply as it had allowed the joy of that first and true love to settle into it. No one told me that there was such a risk.
Working without a net, I retreated into books, television, music, and building things. I never came out again until my first child was born. My own life was wonderfully rewarding at the time, but physically and emotionally painful. Better that combination than the inverse, and I knew it. But my son, and soon enough my daughter, got all of that unhealed heart to work as if nothing had ever happened to it. That was bliss. I knew bliss.
And five or six years later, again (still, really is a better word) working without a net, I was shoved out of their life with a treachery-- an inhumanity!-- that few persons are willing or even able to believe exists. Most cannot believe such excruciating evil can be allowed to exist without their own ability to function being jeopardized-- threatened merely by the acknowledgment of the possibility. So they don't. I understand, and it is hard for me to blame them for looking away so as not to see the gore, but... I mange to blame them, none-the-less.
The good people choosing not to look at the human gore allows them to do nothing while it allows evil to do anything. My son doesn't believe his father loves him. My daughter tells me that she remembers me, but mostly from stories. Two innocent results of persons choosing not to look at the gore. Yeah, I blame those who do not look. Yes I do.
Each of such persons are welcome to my anger anytime they want it. I'll rage on them without mercy because I am running very low on mercy these days-- used up most of what I had already and no one ever gives me any, so...
Anyway, at first, I thought there was a solution. I just thought my mind would produce a solution. In my first career, I was a highly paid problem-solver. I was damned good at it. So I set my mind to work on the problem with the false assumption that there was a solution.
Three years later, I was a shell of man. My mind would not accept that there was no solution and day-by-day I began to hate myself and stopped trusting myself because my own mind was failing me when it mattered most. I could not save my children!
I had tried to get help, but everyone who was in a position to help soon told me that there was probably no answer that I could tolerate. It wasn't their children, I told myself, so they gave up when they realized that the problem I was working on might take years to resolve-- shorter if they would help instead of give up.
I was wrong. They wanted to help, but some had experience looking at the gore and they knew there was no solution. They were telling me the truth. The ultimate gore is that evil wins, love does not conquer the consequences of evil, it merely endures it.
I went to Half Price Books near where I worked and bought an armload of paperbacks, thinking that my mind needed to allow itself to get lost in a story other than my own. One of those books was Ken Follett's Code to Zero. It was a spy novel, and my father got me started reading those when I was a teenager.
The hero in the novel is a rocket scientist who wakes to find himself possessing all of his knowledge, all of his skills, and above all, all of his character; yet, all memory of his relationships with people and his associations-- including where he lived, where he worked, who he knew-- all of that was gone. Spies had captured him and given him a drug to cause all of that.
I made an appointment with a psychologist and went. I told him about my children and how I had been slandered to the effect of being thrown from their lives. He asked me what I wanted him to do for me, and I told him what I had read about in Code to Zero. I said, "I want to know if there is a real drug that can do that, and, if so, can I have it?"
Too often, still, I post on my personal Facebook account, my status using a few words from the lyrics to UB40's Red, Red, Wine:
All I could do, I've done. Memories won't go. Memories, won't go. I just thought, that with time, thoughts of you would leave my head. I was wrong.