Albuquerque, New Mexico USA
I was born at 6:28 a.m. on October 25, 1984. My mother had just flown to Brighton, England a few weeks prior to my birth so I could gain citizenship. Since my father and his father, while both British citizens, were born in India, the law stated that if the family is physically out of the country for more than three generations, citizenship is no longer automatically granted. So, Dad flew my mom to Brighton.
He tried to stay for my birth but I was two weeks late and he had to go on a business trip to Bangkok. He did, however, simultaneously feel the same heaving pains my mother did. As my mother gave birth to me, my father came down with food poisoning and was violently ill in Bangkok the entire time.
I took my first transcontinental flight when I was two weeks old. We flew back to my parents' home at the time, which was in Hong Kong. Although we lived in Hong Kong for the first five years of my life, most of my memories are based around the trips we spent away from Hong Kong. Since the British company my father worked for had moved him to Hong Kong, they agreed to pay for him to come back to England every year with his family. He took this money and instead booked a trip around the world every year. The trip always followed a standard routine: Thailand, England, Continental U.S., Hawaii and back to Hong Kong.
When I was almost two years old and just barely able to walk, I walked away. We were on one of our long trips visiting Brighton at the time and my parents had taken my sister, Carina, and I shopping. Carina and I played inside the clothing racks as my parents shopped, but when I went to rejoin the group, I couldn't find my sister or parents. I assumed the worst; they had forgotten me and left. I quickly left the department store and wandered outside into Churchill Square. Just as I was about to wobble into the busy street, a security guard stopped me and asked where my parents were - I just stared at him. He took me back around to the front of the store and we found my parents, who were in a state of absolute panic. I'm not sure how I can remember so far back but I still remember the security guard's face.
Back in Hong Kong, I remember my first encounter with a bully. I was at preschool and it was playtime. We were allowed to dig in a box of toys and play with whatever we wanted, so I decided I would be superman. The superman cape was a popular choice, and one I generally was too sheepish to get. On this particular day, however, I triumphantly got it first! As I walked off to play, another boy accosted me for it. We had a small altercation and when I wouldn't give it to him, he grabbed my arm and bit me as hard as he could. Bleeding teeth marks were left in my arm and I ran away screaming, then Mom came to pick me up and take me home.
I was well known for being oblivious to the world as a kid, and my parents used to joke and say that I lived in "prison world." I came up with my own set of rules that I followed very strictly. When it was suggested I did something against my personal rules, I would say, "Mom, I can't do that, they won't let me." She never understood who "they" were since she was the one that made all the regular rules for me, but I stuck to those rules.
Even more oblivious to the world I was oblivious to my parents' relationship. They did not, and never did, get along. I never noticed but on thinking back I suppose I remember a few fights, I just never put two and two together.
I remember one night I was about two or three years old my sister and I heard my parents fighting. I would have been happy just to hide in my room but my sister convinced me to come down and investigate with her. We were almost instantly found out, and my dad came to have a talk with us. He was crying, and he pointed to his tears and said to us, "Look what your mother is doing to your daddy. Your mother is a bitch."
We were both spanked and sent back to bed. I didn't understand any of what was going on, and I never even really understood that they were fighting. I just knew not to investigate that sort of thing anymore, and mind my own business.
When I was three years old, our nanny took Carina and I out to the playground since my parents were busy that day. My sister and I quickly ran to a big red roundabout and hopped on. She started pushing me while I got to stand on top. I thought it was fun, but then she began to push faster and faster - much more so than I was comfortable with. I cried for her to stop but she pushed even faster. I panicked. I leapt off the roundabout, but I couldn't jump far enough and my leg was caught under it. The big spinning steel roundabout easily snapped my calf at the middle. I was in shock for a moment, staring at my leg. I couldn't understand why it hurt so much because there was only a small scrape. I tried to take a step but the pain made me scream. Our nanny sat on the bench and nonchalantly asked me what the matter was. I couldn't tell her of course, but I tried to walk to her. She didn't try to get up and help me, she just watched.
When my parents finally got back home I was rushed to the hospital. It was Chinese New Years that day so the entire facility was minimally staffed. I was told I had to get an x-ray and this panicked me, so I tried to act like it didn't hurt and just said, "Oh, Mommy, it's ok now, really, I don't need an x-ray or anything." When they finally dragged me to it we found my leg had indeed been broken. The next six weeks of my life were spent awkwardly being dragged around in a pram by my parents as they tried to figure out ways to safely bring me on our weekend boat trips.
The cast finally came off the day before we were going to fly out for our next trip around the world. I had to hobble about with difficulty because even in that six weeks my other leg had grown and was now longer than the previously broken one. This trip is the one I remember most prominently of all.
We first stayed in Thailand, at the Club Med. My parents had to try to keep me upright on my bad leg, so I wouldn't have to be grouped with the tiny toddlers and I could actually join some of the bigger kids in games. The staff at the club was suspicious at why I couldn't walk if I was supposedly three years old. While we were in Thailand there was a Thai holiday going on that scared the living daylights out of me. I can't remember the specifics of the holiday, but it had a lot to do with water. When we went into a store to buy an ice cream, we were squirted with water guns and then after they soaked us they put a special mark on our faces to show that we had been soaked. The mark was made with a menthol-based cream, and when it was put on my face I thought I was being burned and panicked. My panic subsided when I got my ice cream.
Once we were back in the car the festivities continued. At a stop light young Thai men ran to the car with buckets of water and dumped them over my father's head, and my mother's shoulders (so they wouldn't mess up her hair). The jeep filled with water as more and more water was dumped in, and it splashed onto my ice cream and ruined it. I was traumatized and confused at why they were allowed to put water in a car.
When we got to the beach in Phuket, I remember being amazed that tropical fish like the ones in aquariums were swimming around our feet. My mom and sister and I hunted for shells and treasures while dad sunbathed. We found a gigantic starfish. I also remember being back at the club swimming when a monsoon was coming in. My dad was swimming with me, and when it started raining everyone got out of the pool to go under the shelter. Dad stayed in, so I did as well. It began to rain so hard and there was lightning everywhere. It was so dark outside and we just kept swimming out there as everyone was under the shelter trying to call us back in. Dad was confident we would be fine, and we were.
We soon left Thailand and went to visit my grandparents in England. I remember visiting Brighton and going to a big carnival with Grandma. There were so many rides and I had never really been to anything like it before. I remember lots of bold colours and all sorts of merry-go-rounds with space ships and cars and bugs. There was a huge slide shaped like a snake, and you got to slide down it in a potato sack. My favorite part was the ball pit.
On that same trip my mom took me to Brighton beach. Brighton beach doesn't really have any sand; it is composed of billions of very smooth rocks and pebbles. Mom showed me that if you broke open some of the rocks that have been in the ocean, you could find crystal geodes inside. We spent hours cracking rocks open and found loads of crystals.
After England we stayed at a ranch in Montana. I remember thinking it was so cool that they had power lines that looked like the ones in my books - in Hong Kong all the power lines were underground. My parents went out riding with some of the ranch owners and my sister and I were left with my grandparents to learn to ride horses. It was the first time I had ever seen a horse, let alone ridden on one. My legs stuck straight out sideways because the creature was so massive compared to me. My grandfather took the rains and ran the horse around for me. When my parents returned we went on a hike and found a little creek. The creek was full of rocks just like the ones in Brighton, so I started looking for geodes. I found one of the roundest rocks I had seen yet, and when I tried to break it it exploded with yellow goop everywhere. I suddenly realized in horror that it was not a rock; it was an egg. I felt awful. Soon after I saw some other kids had found the eggs and were happily smashing them on the rocks. These were what I knew as bad kids. I told my mom once that bad kids are kids that spit. To me those the kids smashing eggs looked like the kind of kids that would spit.
Our last stop on this trip would be to visit my uncle in Hawaii. Shortly after we arrived, however, my dad told us he had to go back early to deal with business. On most of our trips he had to go back early, so this was not uncommon. My mom told me I had to go with dad as well, which I didn't understand at the time. I always had to go back if Dad had to go back early. Fifteen years later my mom told me it was because my Dad demanded one of us come with him if he had to go back to Hong Kong because if he didn't he thought my mom would simply take my sister and I and leave him. When I asked my mother if she really would have she said yes.
When we got back to Hong Kong I had horrible jet lag and stayed up all night trying to figure out if it was day or night because when I turned on the light it looked dark outside, but when the light was off it looked bright out there.
When I was four years old I started first grade at a British school called Bradbury Elementary in Hong Kong. My teacher's name was Mrs. Roper and my best friend was Calumn McGarrety. I was well known for never speaking a word in class, and one day when I actually spoke to my teacher she immediately called my mother and exclaimed, "Gavin talked today!"
Mostly I was a good student and kept to myself as often as possible. I remember getting picked on by a boy who our school had claimed was a "Unit." When my sister came to Bradbury for the first time two years earlier, she came home and tried to describe what the Units were. Lacking the knowledge that some children could be mentally handicapped, she didn't know how to describe what these kids were like. Perplexed, she finally pointed at me (I was about two years old at that time) and said, "Well Mommy, they are like Gavin - they don't know anything."
There were many different Units at the school, and each had his or her own reputation. (I hate to sound insensitive, but this is how it was at the school.) The only one I remember by name was Jason The Schoolyard Strangler. He used to pick kids up by their necks at the playground and strangle them. I don't think he knew he was hurting anyone.
One day one of the Units came to me with a group of boys who he had made friends with. The boys he was with were not my friends, and to impress them he picked me up and threw me over the wall into the big kid playground. Our entire schoolyard was concrete and when I landed it scraped up my knees and elbows. I ran to the nurse bleeding and trying not to cry in front of the bigger boys.
I finished first grade with good grades and we headed out for another summer of traveling. I remember this time when we got to England we went to London rather than Brighton. My parents wanted to show us a lot of educational sort of sites, so we went to the National Gallery and a museum about dinosaurs.
The National Gallery was my first major exposure to fine art. I remember seeing an art student copy-painting one of the paintings in the museum. I asked my mom for crayons and paper (which she always kept in her purse) and started trying to copy Monet paintings in my little sketchbook.
At the time I was obsessed with dinosaurs, so my parents thought I would love to go to the Museum of Natural History. They had everything there - dinosaur footprints (which at the time I thought were authentic), huge dinosaur bones, everything! But the entire time I was there I just repeated that I wanted a dinosaur toy. Even as they tried to teach me about what I was supposed to be so interested I just kept saying I wanted dinosaur toy. When we finally got to the gift shop my sister and I each got a toy and a dinosaur activity book. This satisfied me.
After London we rented a car and took a road trip to Scotland. When we got to Scotland we stopped at the sign on the border and got out of the car. Carina and I spent some time jumping back and forth over the line. We thought that was so cool.
Once in Scotland we stopped to take a little walk up a small mountain. It was so pretty - very vibrant green with dark brown colored rocks coming out, and sheep scattered around. We all climbed the mountain together, and I raced with them to get to the top and made it first! It was a major personal triumph for me.
We left the UK and headed for a stop in America. I didn't quite realize, but we were stopping here for good to look at houses. Our first destination was Spokane, WA. It was the place we had picked previous to the move, but when we got there, something seemed strange. My father had told the realtor what kind of house and neighborhood he was interested in, but they kept taking him to slums on the edge of town. We started to realize they were racist. My father is half Indian (from India, not Native American) and half British. He has much darker skin than most Brits, and thick black hair. I imagine they must have thought he was Arabic, and not welcome at all to this community. They tried to keep us in segregated neighborhoods regardless of what we asked for. We started also noticing the heavy population of skinheads and decided we had better find another place to buy a house.
Our next stop in the US was Colorado. My dad had remembered researching Colorado Springs, so we decided to explore there. We bought a big yellow house in a place called Black Forest, with five acres of land.
When the deal was settled, Dad left us in the house and moved back to Hong Kong to finish things up with his job at Victory Insurance. He was there for about a year before he moved in with us.
We all tried very hard to fit the description of what we thought was "American." One of the first things I remember was going to a shoe store and our entire family bought cowboy boots. We also fitted ourselves with plaid shirts and jeans. Dad bought an SUV and chainsaw, and Mom got a Ford station wagon.
In the British system we don't have kindergarten and we start 1st grade when we are four years old. The American school decided that was unacceptable and wanted to move me back to kindergarten even though I had already finished 1st grade in Hong Kong. After long negotiations they finally agreed to let me retake 1st grade.
Being a year younger than everyone even in 1st grade, I was always the smallest kid from then on. Most of the kids thought I was Chinese because I had a weird accent (I still had a British accent) and they heard I was coming from Hong Kong. I tried to lose my accent as quickly as possible to fit in.
Dad had been a businessman all his life in the insurance industry. Now that we were in America he decided he would try to start his own business. He opened a little shop in a strip mall with a K Mart and called it Aviator's Mart. Mostly he sold aviation related items like helmets, goggles, posters, models, and things like that. He had always wanted to be a pilot. I remember he once brought home a model airplane for me and said we would build it together sometime. Things got bad at work though and he ended up working so much we never had time. The model plane got lost in one of our moves and I don't think we ever even opened it.
One day Dad came home with a surprise for us. He had bought a puppy, a golden retriever. Although I had always been scared of dogs I didn't feel quite as uneasy about this one because it was so tiny. We kept it in a box and my sister and I snuck down to watch it all night. Dad said we would all name it together, but every time he came up with a ridiculous name and one of would so much as snicker, he would get angry and declare the dog would not be named for another month. The dog never got a name and we always just called him Puppy.
We also had several other pets while in Colorado. We had one cat that we had brought from Hong Kong named Chip, and my sister and I were each allowed to pick out a cat from the animal shelter. My sister picked out a playful kitten and named him Bagheera, and I picked out a quieter cat and named her Rosie because she had a pink nose. Rosie was very motherly to me and used to catch live animals and bring them to me; I imagine she wanted me to kill them, but I always kept them and put them in a tank for a few weeks to be my pets. Usually they got away, but luckily the tank was outside. I remember she once caught a snake and my dad named it "Ekans," or snake backwards. I thought it was really awesome to have a pet snake, but he managed to lift the top off his tank and escape one evening.
The business wasn't doing very well at the time and things started getting tight at home. Mom decided to get a job at Gayfer's in the mall to try to get some more income in the house. Most of the savings we had when we moved to America had been poured into Aviator's Mart. Carina and I ended up learning to take care of ourselves, but if both my parents were going to be working late, we hired a babysitter.
School was OK but I started getting picked on a lot. Everyday when I rode the bus somebody was always messing with me. I remember three boys that always sat around me on the bus, and two would hold me down while the other tied my shoelaces together, or they picked me up by my hair or had some other devious plan for me. I hated it so much but I wouldn't tell my mom because I was embarrassed. Usually if my shoelaces were tied my sister would help me but beyond that I refused to talk to anyone. Instead of telling my mom why, I just declared that I no longer wanted to ride the bus and I wished she would drive me to school. She said no because she thought I was just being snooty. I didn't tell her about the boys picking on me until I was a teenager.
We stopped our yearly traveling altogether for several years and started cutting a lot of corners. By the time I was nine years old my parents told my sister and I we were going to Disney World. We hadn't traveled in a long time and we were so excited. We packed up Dad's Chevy Blazer and took off on a long road trip. Our first stop was to visit my Uncle Dennis, who had moved from Hawaii and now lived in Tennessee. At the time he was living in a little trailer with his four kids and wife, Jeanette. They had just bought a large plot of land and were building a house on it. I remember exploring Tennessee with my cousins and trying to catch frogs, lizards and snapping turtles.
We then left Tennessee and drove down to Pensacola, FL. My grandparents on my mom's side had recently moved there so we were going to visit them. I started to wonder if we would get to Disney World, but I was glad to see my grandparents. I remember there being a lot of turtle decorations in their house. My grandma on my mom's side, who I called Mama, was from the Cayman Islands and had grown up in the islands. When I asked her why there were so many turtles in the house, she told me they were her favorite animals. When I asked why, she said because they are so delicious. At the time, I found this horrifying.
After spending about a week in Pensacola, my parents said we were going home. I was a little panicked because we still hadn't been to Disney World. They told me we didn't have the time or money this time, and we had to head back to Colorado. They also told me we were moving away from Colorado, and I later realized this road trip was just to scope out houses.
In the middle of fourth grade, a few days before my birthday, we moved. We packed everything we could into a big U-Haul truck and towed my mom's car behind us. The four of us piled into the front seat of the truck and started driving.
We had given Puppy away because he had behavior problems and it would be too difficult to bring him. We did bring all of our cats though, Rosie, Chip, and Malcolm McCatus, and my pet gerbils. About halfway into the trip we decided to check on the gerbils, who were in the back of the U-Haul, and found that one of the mattresses we tied in there had spring up and smashed the gerbil cage. There was glass everywhere and the gerbils had gotten away. We finally caught them and had to buy a new cage, a plastic one.
My birthday that year was spent in the truck. At the stroke of midnight my mom, dad, and Carina all sung "Happy Birthday" to me. We drove the whole day and arrived in Florida a few hours after my birthday had ended.
We couldn't afford to get a house just yet since we still had a lot of debt from Aviator's Mart, so we moved in with my grandparents until we could afford an apartment. I think we finally got an apartment about a year after. It was a two bedroom down the road from my grandparent's house and I shared a room with my sister.
I started school at McArthur Elementary and made a few friends with the neighborhood kids. My best friend in Florida at the time was Andy, who was one of the craziest kids in my fourth grade class. His mom was a teacher and looking back now probably into drugs. She was always too hard on him about grades and I remembered hating going to his house if we had just gotten report cards because if I had better grades than Andy she would always make Andy feel like he wasn't as good as me or something. She would tell Andy he needed to be more into school like I was. I knew Andy was smarter than me because he was always teaching me things, but I was too quiet to stand up for him. I just stood embarrassed when she idolized me.
Andy was really into Star Wars and I started to adapt his interest. We spent most of our time building elaborate space ships and stories with Legos or playing with Star Wars action figures. Occasionally his other friend Matt would come over and we would get into all sorts of adventures exploring the woods and neighborhood.
In the six years I lived in Florida, I never spent a summer there. When we first moved to Florida my parents sent both my sister and I away every summer. At first we would both go to my Uncle's house in Tennessee, except one summer when I was eleven and I went to Tennessee but she got to go see our Aunt in Costa Rica.
I spent the summer as usual, exploring the mountains with my cousins and fishing, until my mom showed up unexpectedly. She had driven from Florida to visit me that morning. She wanted to spend a day with just me so she took me out to the mall to do some shopping and to have a lunch. I remember I got some greasy Chinese food and we were sitting down to eat when she gave me a very serious look and told me she needed to talk to me about something.
She said that she and my father had been fighting quite a bit and that they couldn't be together anymore. They were going to get a divorce. I sat quietly and poked at my food, then asked if this was just a consideration or if it was definite, and she said it was definite. I didn't have anything else to say about it so I just asked if we could please be finished with lunch and go do something else. She said that would be fine.
The next day she left and drove back to Florida. She had driven almost 800 miles just to tell me about the divorce in person, something I wouldn't truly understand or appreciate until some years later. She also later told me that I had been sent to Tennessee every year so I didn't have to be around my parents when they were fighting. I acted like it didn't matter to me that my parents were getting divorced, but that night I stayed up in a panic and started to cry. I felt so embarrassed to be crying because I felt like eleven years old was too old for a boy to be crying. I thought having divorced parents would make me a weird kid or something.
When I got back that summer my father had moved out and we moved back in with my grandparents. Dad moved in with a guy named Dick who was very friendly but smoked a lot of cigarettes and drank a lot of beer. Dick was also divorced. My sister and I spent every other weekend at Dad's house.
My Mom finally tried to get us out of my grandparent's house and into a place of our own. We moved to a house on Deborah Dr., which I thought was cool because my mom's name is Deborah. I started going to school at Brentwood Middle School, which was a school in the rougher part of town. I guess I didn't mind going there but it was the same old crap with kids at school messing with me, especially on the bus. I remember one day a bigger kid took my shoe and threw it to another kid. They passed it around the whole bus and finally someone hid it. I started to panic because it was my stop and I still didn't have my shoe back. I was in tears as I stepped off the bus with one shoe and one socked foot. As I started to really get pissed off my sister walked up and said, "oh calm down I have your stupid shoe." I flipped out and started screaming at her then took my shoe and locked myself in my room the rest of the night. I had felt so betrayed that nobody on the bus would help me and even my own sister was in on the prank. The next day was even worse because some of the kids had seen me start to cry and told all the others, so it was now well known I was a "crybaby."
Things progressively went downhill for us in the house on Deborah Dr. and my mom finally went bankrupt trying to pay for all of our expenses. We tried to sell everything we could and live minimally in the house, but things kept getting harder. One day my sister and I came home and for some reason the chain on the inside door was locked. I broke it open and we found our house in ruins. There was baby powder on everything and food and alcohol everywhere. The window in my mom's room was smashed and they had ruined every electric device in the house by pouring sand in. There was human shit on our floor and in our shed, and my sisters room was especially trashed. We called the police and they did fingerprints but they never caught whoever did it. I'm sure they didn't sweat too much over it.
My mom started to really worry about herself as a mother. She felt like she had failed us by not being home when we had to come home to a robbed house. She started trying to make her hours fit our schedule, which put more pressure on her to work odd hours and late shifts so she could be home when we came home. We were taught to cook and clean by ourselves so that we didn't have to depend on her for dinner every night.
Later that year my mom announced she was having a little party with some friends. She was dressed up very nicely and had made all her best snacks. I asked her if we could go to the video store to rent a game but she said tonight was no good because her friends were coming. Just as this conversation came her first guest, Larry, arrived. He overheard my concern and agreed to take me to the video shop. I thought he was a really nice guy and we talked the whole way there and back. I retired to my room for the evening and my mom had her party.
We started seeing Larry more often and soon I realized my mom was dating him. We spent a lot of time at his house and he was always trying his best to make sure we had fun visiting. Soon enough we were moving out to the town where he lived, a town called Gulf Breeze out on this little peninsula a few miles out from the mainland. I imagine we moved quicker than usual because my mom was getting into some serious debt living by herself with two kids, and she didn't feel like the neighborhood was safe anymore.
I finished sixth grade at Gulf Breeze Middle School. I hated it there. I didn't feel like I fit in at all, and made very few friends until at least eighth grade. Most of the kids in Gulf Breeze were very wealthy and had tight little cliques I found very difficult to get in without name brand clothes. But life wasn't bad at all in Gulf Breeze. We got to go out on Larry's boat all the time and I slowly began to gain acceptance in school. We were finally making a little more money and Larry was a big help to my mom.
At the beginning of eighth grade, an unfamiliar woman showed up at our door asking to speak with my mom. I went and got her and they talked for a short while. Mom came in and sat both my sister and me down to talk. She said the woman was a friend of Dad's and that she came to tell us Dad had left town. She had helped him pack and felt guilty that he was deceiving his children, so she came to tell us. He had taken off to Los Angeles to get a better job. A while later he called and told us he was "visiting" L.A., and we played along.
I met Matt that year. Matt was the tallest kid in the 8th grade. He was my first "bad" friend. He smoked and drank and was anti-christian. My mom even nicknamed him "Satan" (I assure you in the most loving way). He thought that was great and would always do devil horns when he saw my mom and they would laugh so hard. Matt taught me all about alternative religions and started teaching me how to play guitar. Mostly we learned Nirvana and Marilyn Manson songs, and I didn't even like Marilyn Manson, but I thought it was cool to learn guitar.
One day Matt stopped by looking really depressed. He told me his mom had lost her job and that they would have to move to Kentucky immediately. He was almost in tears when he told me. He left later that week.
About a year later he called to tell us he was diagnosed with cancer. He had given up Paganism and was now starting to go to a school to become a preacher. We were all so worried about him, but he kept calling so we tried to keep good spirits about it. One day he called my friend Bryan and told him that they had stopped the cancer and he was going to be fine. Bryan told me and we all breathed a sigh of relief. The next week I asked Bryan how Matt was doing, and Bryan gave me a very solemn look and said, "Oh... didn't you know? Matt died." Matt had known he was going to die, and he called us to tell us he was better so we could stop worrying. Bryan called a few days later to talk to him again and his mom told him he was dead. Matt had died a few days after his phone call.
I had my first girlfriend when I was in ninth grade. It was an awful experience that left a bad mark on my views of women for a long time. I was fourteen and she was thirteen. I am not sure why I dated her to begin with, I imagine because she was the first girl that I had ever known to like me, so I took the opportunity. I soon found out she had already had a child with her real boyfriend, a twenty six year old. Almost everything she ever told me was a lie, and then her pervert boyfriend wanted to kick my ass because she had just been dating me while he was out of town. I bailed on the 'relationship' and tried to never look back at it.
As high school went on, life started to really come together. My dad finally came clean with us about moving to L.A., and my sister ended up moving out there with him as well after endless fighting with my mother and now stepfather. I started making closer friends at school and found a girlfriend who wasn't a fraud. Bridget and I began dating when I was about fifteen years old.
Bridget's mom seemed to trust me, and would let Bridget stay over at my house on occasion. We spent most of our time listening to Radiohead and the Pixies and dancing in our underwear. I remember a lot of trips out to the beach to catch sunsets and adventures. I also started playing guitar more seriously around this time, and had really begun to take an interest in the arts.
Bridget was the first person I had ever truly felt love for, and I held onto this amazing new feeling. Almost everything I did started to become about her, which at the time I thought was great, but looking back seems a little unhealthy.
My mom gave me a camera this same year and I started doing a little bit of photography. It was an old Minolta SRC from when she was about nineteen years old. It had a fixed focus 50mm lens and a broken light meter, but I didn't know how to work a light meter anyway so it didn't matter to me. The first real pictures I ever took were of Bridget. I had stayed over at her place and was trying to take a picture of her as she woke up in the morning. I thought it was beautiful to see a girl all messy and sleepy in the mornings - those tiny little times when they don't have any sort of theatrical act or face put on - just simple truth.
Bridget had some problems with her family, and so that year when things were really heated up she spent Christmas at my house. We had a short chance to live independently of all those problems and had a quiet Christmas between us in the morning. We exchanged gifts and listened to John Lennon's, "Happy X-mas" song on repeat. The rest of the day we spent being dragged around by my family or I watched her fight with hers.
When our six-month anniversary came around, we decided to go have a picnic on the beach. We took off in her car and raced to this secret beach we used to go to. It had been raining all the previous weekend and there were puddles everywhere in the sand. As we began to walk out to our picnic spot, we were attacked by a slew of mosquitoes. They were everywhere. I grabbed her hand and we started to run, assuming there wouldn't be as many when we got to the sea. Just before the final set of dunes to the ocean, I stopped short. Bridget almost ran into me but I told her not to move. I looked down at my foot, still in the air a few inches above the ground, to see a water moccasin with its head reared back to strike. It hissed at me and I stared back at it, trying not to move. I told Bridget to take a few steps back, then run on my count. We took off. We laughed the whole way back trying to swat at mosquitoes and get into the car. There were even mosquitoes in the car when we got in. The sun was starting to set so we had to hurry. I knew another good spot so we sped to the old civil war battery a few miles back. When we got to the top we realized there was a tree in the way of the sunset, and the mosquitoes were just as bad. Finally, we raced to the first beach we had passed, Chicken Bone Beach. It was named Chicken Bone in the 60's because it was primarily where African Americans went to the beach since they couldn't really be at the same beach the white people were at. We got onto the beach and threw a towel down and sat together just as the sun splashed into the ocean. We sat together until it started to get dark, then quietly got into the car, put on some music, and stargazed the whole way home.
That summer I went back to England for the fist time since I was five. I spent one month with my grandparents in London, and a week house-sitting for my great aunt in Amsterdam. I remember reading Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage. I was in London at the time and I would read the book at night, then the next day find myself in the very same places I had read about in the book, except those places were from over 100 years prior to my trip. I wrote to Bridget as often as I could, and every few mornings I walked to the post office to send the letters. I was really starting to get into photography by this time, and Dad had let me borrow his camera for the trip, which was a big honor considering how he protected it.
When I came back to Florida, things with Bridget started to go downhill. I imagine we changed too much being so young and we started to fall apart. I had started to make a lot of friends in school and she thought I was cheating on her with any new girl I met. By October we had broken up.
That winter, my best friend John and I started to hang out a lot more again. He had been mad at me the previous year because I had been an asshole and forgotten all about my friends when I found Bridget, but we were too young to hold grudges.
John and I had been very Goth for the beginning of high school, but we were starting to relax on fashion and been more interested in doing things. The summer before I dated Bridget we spent a lot more time at the beach, panhandling for money. I played guitar while he did some crazy stunt to get us attention. We usually made enough money to buy a kids meal at the local sports bar. We also started an initiative we called "Operation No Shame." Operation No Shame mostly involved learning how to be outgoing and just doing crazy shit for attention.
Once Bridget and I broke up we started Operation No Shame again. One morning I woke up John and dragged him out to the beach for some Operation No Shame. Nothing was going on at the beach and it was cold so we went to this shop called Alvin's Island and started to look around.
We decided we should play some game so we were trying to buy a volleyball or something, but all of it was too expensive. Finally we found some wiffle bats for about 2 dollars each and bought a few of those. We didn't feel like playing baseball because there were only two of us, so we headed out to the sand dunes to do some dune jumping (which basically involves climbing to the top of the highest sand dunes, jumping off, and trying not to get hurt). We brought the bats out just in case, and ended up inventing Dune Hockey.
Dune Hockey quickly gained a cult following in our tiny town, and we helped it along. We printed bumper stickers and made a webpage, which I think may still exist. We started bribing newscasters on the student news at school to announce the games, which they usually got in big trouble for because they were not school sponsored. Soon enough we had the beach covered in spectators for our ridiculous and violent sport.
That winter, winter of senior year, my friend Jessica was coming back into town. She had graduated the year before and was coming back to visit her boyfriend and friends. Her only other good friend still in Gulf Breeze was a girl named Meredith. We were introduced, and spent a few nights all hanging out.
One night, when we had finally grown tired of our usual recklessness, I suggested we all go camping. It was almost two in the morning but we still got a unanimous "yes." We threw a tent and some blankets in the car and headed out to the sand dunes. It was freezing when we got there, since this was on December 23rd. The four of us had stopped at Circle K and bought hot chocolate and coffee. We all huddled in the tent trying to keep warm and sipping our hot chocolate and telling stories. We camped in the valley of a few of the larger dunes so we wouldn't get caught. To keep warm Meredith and I had to sleep close to each other. By the morning we were wrapped in each other and holding hands, and when I woke up she kissed me.
A few days later I finally gained the courage to ask Meredith out for sushi, and for the next year we were a couple.
The rest of senior year was great as we all started thinking about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. Our friends all got tighter and we all started skinny-dipping in the ocean at night. We would sneak out onto the dunes and go to this secret little beach we had found. There we would all strip down and jump in the warm water. In the bay there were tiny little plankton that glowed when you touched them in the water. There were millions of them, so as you moved you couldn't see your body, but you could see glow of the ocean around you from them. You could even draw pictures in the sand with them. Waves crashed with almost flashes as they all lit up, and your footprints would glow where you walked.
I decided to take a program to finish high school at the community college, which was offered if you were close to your requirements and had reasonable grades. Going to that school meant I could do all my classes in three days. The rest of my free time was spent blasting new music in my room or out on the beach playing guitar. At night we would all go to the coffee shop or a punk rock show downtown. Dune Hockey had really caught on by this time and we had weekly games. Every Friday we raced out of school to the beach to get a game going.
We all graduated high school together and the summer came. I decided to take Meredith with me to visit my Uncle, who had moved from Tennessee and was now living in the Cayman Islands. We housesat for him while he was visiting the USA and I for extra money I agreed to paint his house. It was an amazing trip. Everyday I woke up at 6 am and painted for a few hours before I would wake up Meredith to come out and pick fruit with me. We picked enough for breakfast and saved the rest for daiquiris with lunch. Then we would go for a morning swim and spend the rest of the day snorkeling or biking around Georgetown. This is one of the fondest memories I have of life.
When we finally got back from the islands, it was almost time for me to move to college. I had been accepted to Rochester Institute of Technology where I had decided on a degree in photography. My group of friends realized things would only be the way they were for a short while longer, so we tried to get a lot done. The rest of the summer was full of parties and games and swimming. Although I had been drinking with my family since I was 15, most of my friends had never had a drink. This was the summer they discovered alcohol as well.
John and I decided we needed to have a band before I moved away, to fulfill the stereotype of having been in a high school band. He played drums and I played guitar and we started practicing. We were terrible, but had so much fun. We wrote an entire album of songs and recorded it in a week, then spent the last week before I moved away "touring." Our "tours" were mostly the two of us driving around Gulf Breeze until we found a public power outlet, then called everyone we knew to come watch us play. We sold about 10 copies of our album. Our band was named "Nothing Special" and our album was called Best Effort.
I left for college that fall and moved to Rochester, NY. The goodbye to Meredith was one of the hardest I have ever had to do, and started a rocky road of attempted friendship. I moved into the dorms at RIT and lived with a guy named Tom. The first half of the year I was so excited about being at school, but it then quickly faded as I sunk into a deep depression.
I spent most of my time drinking or partying rather than skinny dipping, being in love, or loving life. I stopped being so creative in life and just focused creativity in artwork. I felt like I couldn't really be close to anyone anymore, but I didn't have a particular reason for it. I dated a few girls from my classes and dorms in the first year, but most fizzled out pretty quickly. The only relationship I was able to hold that year was with Liz. I was probably somewhat cold even in that relationship, I just didn't feel like I had it in me to be so close or familiar with anyone.
I managed to come home a few times during first year, but it never felt like it did when I was in high school. I no longer felt like I belonged with my friends in Florida. We always tried to recreate the times we had, like playing dune hockey, skinny-dipping, and concerts; but it just wasn't the same anymore. Meredith and I even tried to go camping with Gerren and Jessica one night, but it was a total flop and huge thunderstorm moved in and rained us out.
I did make some good friends that year of college. I spent most of my time with Kiara, Liz, and Laura and we had some great adventures going to shows in Buffalo and Ithaca, and lots of crazy parties.
First year passed and that summer I spent in Rochester. Dad had bought a house for me to live in and rent to my friends, so I spent the summer trying to fix up any problems and get a steady job in Rochester. I ended up working at the campus art store. I never mentioned my previous jobs, I suppose because I considered working as an ends to a means, not life itself. Before this job I had first worked at McDonalds when I was 15, then I bussed tables and washed dishes at Bobaloo's when I was 16 and 17, and senior year of high school I was a janitor for a law firm and also worked for the government tutoring less fortunate children.
Before I could move into the new house, I had to live on Liz's couch. She had an apartment in the city. It was a big warehouse room. It was a great time living there with her though. Neither of us had any money, and I just slept on her couch (this wasn't my girlfriend Liz, this is a different Liz). Most of our evenings were spent cooking extravagant dinners and cheaply as possible, then drinking a bit and watching the city while maybe smoking a little.
John called me one day to tell me to drive south. We agreed that I would drive south and he and Chris would drive north and we would all meet wherever and camp. We ended up in Shenandoah Valley in Virginia somewhere on the Fourth of July. It was the first time I felt like I was part of my friends again.
The whole week it rained but we didn't care. We hiked all around the trails and got fires going and traded stories of post-high school adventure. I remember climbing a waterfall and spending most of the day all in our underwear waving at other hikers below us. It was as if we had just shot off into space for a brief moment, and then we had to go back to real life.
At the end of August my sister and I (she was now in the Coast Guard living in North Carolina) agreed to come home together. It was my mother's birthday, and we had set it up with my step dad to surprise her. He lured her over to our grandparent's house, and we hid in the back room. They covered her face and we came out. She almost cried when she saw us.
Second year of college was one of the hardest for me. It started out smoothly and quickly went downhill. I couldn't commit myself to anything and started becoming reclusive. Most of my time was spent in my room working on schoolwork or in the basement. All of these times were mixed with whiskey and smoke. I put on a happy face and went to parties but I was mostly miserable.
It was this year that I dated Kim. Kim was probably the kind of girl I was looking for, but at the time I couldn't really see that. Most of our times together were pretty fun though, and she definitely helped me through a bad year. I remember so many evenings we would smoke and put on a Nick Drake album and just listen to it together all night.
Finally I made the decision to leave Rochester and move to New Mexico to finish school. It was all in a rush and I took off.
First I visited Albuquerque to find an apartment and see the school. I only spent a week here but it was tumultuous. The first party I went to in NM I was inadvertently drugged by someone else's drink. I woke up more confused than I had ever been. I still don't recollect what happened. I found an apartment with my new roommate Emily.
I left Albuquerque and went back to Rochester to pack up my house. I drove all of my possessions to Florida to spend the summer. The summer was a mix of good times and frustration realizing it didn't really feel like home anymore.
Emily came to visit me in Florida and we drove together out to Albuquerque. We quickly became romantic and realized we couldn't be roommates any longer. She moved out and I found a new roommate, who is still my roommate, Molly.
Around August I got a job working for a local high school teaching computer applications and web design, and building websites. I started to enjoy school a lot more at the University of New Mexico, and finally stopped wasting time in depression and self-assigned misery. Emily and I broke up rather quickly.
That winter, or really this past winter, I drove with my Dad back to Philadelphia. We spent the week together hanging out in his apartment. It gave me a chance to visit with Kim, and it was great to see her again. I also got to catch up with a few old friends from RIT. Dad and I then drove back to Albuquerque and he flew back to business in San Francisco.
Binet came to visit me a week or two later. Binet was one of my best friends in Rochester, who always helped me when times got tough. Every time I had a little mental breakdown or panic, she was at the door twenty minutes later with a bottle of wine and good advice. It was great to have her here. She stayed for a week and I tried to show her Albuquerque, as well as Santa Fe. We decided we don't like Santa Fe because it seems so fake.
Now we are almost caught up. This semester has been a major improvement for me mentally. I started hanging out with new friends and we have already had some great times. We walk to concerts and meet the bands, eat sweet rolls and read dirty personal ads, play guitar and hang out at open mic night, have a few more low-key parties. I love my job and I am actually really enjoying school again. It's been great this year.