Sunday, March 18, 2012

not a hero's tale ...

I grew up in a nice, quiet, suburban Northern Californian town, surrounded by the last remaining orchards in the area. There were cherry trees, apricot trees, plum trees. It had quiet streets, good schools, tree-lined sidewalks, and the smell of freshly mown grass on summer Saturdays.

It was in the valley, just a short drive to the beach and a not-so-long drive to the mountains. A parent’s trust was known when they let you drive “over the hill” to Santa Cruz; a harrowing, winding, twisty‑turny drive at the age of 16 or 17; especially when filled with teenagers whose sole purpose of going was to get drunk at a bonfire party at Bonnie Dune.

There were soccer teams that played games only on one weekend day, un-chaperoned walks to and from school with friends, and bike rides without helmets and elbow pads. There were parks where we picnicked and watched fireworks on Fourth of July, streets where you could play hide and seek for hours after a summer’s sunset, and malls that most of us worked at in high school.

There were parents, and children, and families, and friends. There were suburban scandals of affairs and divorce and alcoholism. There were popular kids, smart kids, awkward kids, and nerds. There were polite kids, quiet kids, loud kids, nice kids, and some of those kids were horribly mean kids. Many years later, these horribly mean kids would look back and wonder why they were so horribly mean? They would think quiet thoughts to themselves late at night when reminiscing on their youthful days; their days of teasing and taunting and being horribly mean kids.

My family lived on a street with several other families and their kids. I was one of the youngest kids on the block. We would all play together, go to school together, babysit and be babysat by each other. In this town, most of these horribly mean kids all went to the same elementary school, junior high school, and high school. Only a few splintered off and attended different junior high schools, but most of kids regrouped in high school.

In elementary school, these horribly mean kids built many great memories together that started from kindergarten and continued through sixth grade. Talent shows, skate days, Halloween parties, cupcakes on birthdays, Valentine’s Day paper bag mailboxes and awkward growing pains both physical and emotional.

They played horses, and baseball, and foursquare at recess. They teased and tortured each other with crushes and our own immaturity, and they teased and tortured this one particular boy. He was a geek in the truest definition of the word.

My memory of him, as one of these horribly mean kids, is that he always wore brown corduroy pants that were “floods.” He had a look on his face that showed pure lack of comprehension. He had a blank stare and his cockeyes were covered and enlarged by big, thick glasses. It appeared that he rarely bathed or brushed his hair; it had mats in the back and his cowlick was always unruly. He had yellow earwax in his ears and a snot-crusted nose.

We called him stupid, retarded, a dumbass, and geek. We ignored him, moved seats, and held our nose when he came near. He had cooties and we had an endless supply of cootie spray in our fingers. We laughed aloud if our friends were forced into some type of close interaction, like square dancing or being table partners. We pushed him on purpose, left him out of any clique or afterschool event, and made him become everything that we thought he was: disgusting.

We were the band of horribly mean kids who, years later, began to regret our actions and behaviors. With age brings maturity and remorse for youthful insolence. We would long for a moment to apologize and atone for being so horribly mean.

There were moments when he would pop into my head and I would wonder where he was – if he was. I have no recollection of him after 6th grade. I do not know where he went to school after that.

I pictured him in a special needs home, sometimes in a straight jacket or receiving electroshock therapy. I had visions of old black and white films of sanitariums filled with drooling nut jobs, and he was always right there with them. I sometimes pictured him still living at home, wearing brown corduroy pants, watching TV with his mom – his poor, poor mom – eating a TV dinner while she mournfully knitted and wished her life had turned out different and that she did not despise her son.

On rare occasions, I pictured him a huge success, as if he invented Post Its. He was clean, friendly, and happy. He smiled and laughed and had friends. He had blossomed in college, where he joined a fraternity and played flag football with his brothers, even though he wasn’t that good. He had fun. He went to parties and was awkward, but not excessively so. He was smart and did well in science and math.

He had girlfriends and kissed them. They weren’t repulsed by him and made love to him on the beach. One loved him so much that she said yes when he asked her to marry him and his mother cried proud tears when he thanked her for loving him through all his awkward years and for believing in him. In these moments, I saw him living a hero’s tale.

That is what I pictured when I pictured him alive. It seemed clear that he would be a case for suicide, either as a teen or as a 30-something. I could picture him being the one who shot random people from overpasses, or the one who drove his car into a restaurant, or shot himself after gunning down his office mates.

*     *     *     *     *

Recently, on Face Book, a plethora of school photos was posted. Comments and stories, memories and thoughts, were brought up over one school picture in particular. It was Mr. Murphy’s sixth Grade class photo. These “horrible kids,” still friends today, commented on their life and remembered.

Anne: We sure had style!

Jon: Remember square dancing, skate day on Fridays? Mr. Murphy was a fun teacher. Remember the talent show, the song "Popcorn," and Pat Benatar's “Hit me with your Best Shot”?

Lisa: OH MY GOSH! I totally do! Square dancing was such a good time. I dream about Mr. Murphy's class periodically throughout my life. I think that was one of the best years of my childhood. Why do I not remember skate day? What is wrong with me? Popcorn -- that was fun! We just couldn't get enough of that, could we?

Anne: I loved the song Pop Corn and skate day was so much fun!

Lisa: Does anyone remember the boy front left with glasses? I think his name was Robbie? Anyway, I wish I could give him a HUGE apology. It makes me sick to my stomach, but I can remember us doing some mean things to him. Oh man kids can be so mean!

Cyndi: I remember being so mean to him, too. I wrote him a letter about 10 years ago and apologized for being such a douche to him.

Scott: His name was Robbie. If memory serves, we called him Rotten Robbie. We were all horribly mean to him. I remember reluctantly inviting him to a birthday party of mine once; he ate the candles from the cake after they were blown out. He was odd and I don't think any of us ever knew why, and it was never explained to us. We were mean. @Cyndi: Did you actually get the letter to him or was it just for your own clarity? BTW, POPCORN ROCKED!

Lisa: Yes, it was Robbie. I think I remember mention of a brain injury or something that made him not able to do some of the PE stuff. Did he die, really? My son teaches Taekwondo here. He is so good about working with special needs kids. I think about Robbie sometimes when I am there. I would love to go back in time and extend some love and acceptance to him. UGH. Popcorn was a blast!

Cyndi: @Scott, It was 16 years ago and I did actually send the letter. I felt like sh*t after I grew up and recalled my treatment of him… Kids can be so cruel... I see my youngest son go through it now…

Paul: We were all mean to Robbie! It was kind of hard not to be at the time. Does anyone remember when I split my lip wide open on his head? Somehow, his head got in the way when I was running by. I couldn't remember much, but everyone told me it was all his fault! Who knows? He was kinda mean, but who wouldn't be the way everyone treated him. Did he really die? Poor soul.

Paul: Lisa, how could you not remember Skate Day?

Lisa: Did we bring our roller skates? How do I not remember skate day, but I do remember your bloody lip? LOL! I'm sad I never got to see Mr. Murphy again before he died.  :-(

Anne: I saw him once at an appliance store on San Carlos St. Weird … I was just thinking about him today. I think about him a lot. I think he is the reason I teach 6th grade.

Cyndi: You teach 6th grade? How perfectly perfect!

Lisa: Ok that skate day thing does sound familiar now!

*     *     *     *     *

The comments slowed down and a few weeks passed by. Our lives went on. Other photos were posted and other comments were made. Work, play, eat, sleep, status updates … time ticked on. Then one day an email message came from Gabrielle.

Gabrielle: Found this pic and someone with the same name, graduated in '87 and looks maybe like what he'd look like. He's 42. So that seems maybe right – perhaps he missed school due to medical complications? I sent him a FB message asking if he went to Rosemary.

She provided a link to a MySpace page and pictures that it contained. One of the pictures showed a tall man in a black cap and gown holding a diploma; another showed him in cap and gown with a smaller, older man, presumably his father.

Gabrielle:  I don’t know what all the pics are – thought I could just send the page picture blown up. I have no idea what all the other pics are.

Lisa: That looks just like him. It's got to be him! I hope he really is alive. That would be great news.

Anne: I think so, too.

Gabrielle:  CONFIRMED. Robbie is ALIVE!! I sent him a note and he confirmed it was him. :-)

Lisa: How can we reach him? Is he on FaceBook?

Gabrielle:  Lisa, he is on FaceBook. Same graduation pic.

Anne: Um, ladies, I just checked out his MySpace page and he likes little girls. He has videos of middle school girls in their locker room and a naked picture of four or five women (not girls) and then some other pics of young girls he has labeled "hotties".  
Lisa: You're right. Based on his "friends" in FaceBook, he is quite the perve!  Sad …
Cyndi: Yeah, I noticed that… sad. He should actually be reported don't you think? It seems like he's using FaceBook as kiddy porn. Yuck.  
Lisa: I do think so. I was just telling my 19-year-old son about it and he said I should have reported him. I only blocked him.  
Cyndi: I will do it tomorrow. I have time tomorrow. I hate to say it, but as kids, was our gut instinct trying to tell us something???  
Scott: It is sad. And gross. And, like Cyndi says, sometimes our gut is right on. Either that or the social torture he was put through as a child kept him sort of locked in that state of mind and his longings from his youth haunt him today. Not saying that it's not disgusting, because it is, but psychologically, it can be explained. I think you should report him, Cyndi. You don't know if or when he might act / has acted upon it. Sad. I was sort of hoping for a "hero's tale."  
Lisa: Weird...I'm cleaning house thinking of all the stuff we’re saying. The ‘80s were an interesting time for parenting, not as proactive as today. Looking back, he was a troubled boy crying out for help! Instead of help from adults, he received torment from unsupervised peers. Seriously heartbreaking.  

Scott: Completely.  
Gabrielle:  But is it Kiddie Porn? I didn't actually look, I confess.    

Anne: No, and I think Scott is correct. We don't know; they could be relatives. The naked people were adults. Are we just persecuting him now as we did when we were young?
Lisa: Either way, I can't accept a friend request from anyone who openly posts porn on their page. I am in contact with too many youth.
Gabrielle:  Based on his MySpace pics -- ugh! Was it better for all of us to wonder? I have not made friends nor said I was sorry for the way he was treated. So odd how we felt about this just this morning. Amazing what a few strikes of some keys will turn up with, eh?  
Anne: I just don't want to do to him as an adult what we did as children.
Gabrielle:  I understand, Anne.  
Lisa: I think we are smart to be cautious. He's a grown man now. He's not a little harmless boy anymore. I honestly would love to apologize though. I'm also thankful Robbie is alive.
Cyndi: I think you have a point, Anne, and a valid one at that. My alarm bells went off when I saw children marked as "hot" and "If 1 million people join this group I get to see Miley Cyrus naked" stuff that tripped me out.
Anne: I do feel bad for being mean as a child but don't feel like apologizing. I don't want to bring him into my life. I know that is selfish but I see potential drama.
Lisa:  You're a smart girl, Anne. We have to consider the possibility that what concerns us could just be the surface of stuff going on with this guy that we haven't known for over 28 years. Caution is a good approach! If I didn't have guilt from how I treated him back then, I would NEVER accept a stranger into my social network with open pornography issues.
Gabrielle: Did you all look at all the groups he's a part of? Three of them are "Random Nudity" "Nude Modeling" "That Miley Cyrus pic we all want to see," "I strip naked before I take a dump." I dunno … guess he likes nudes. But, he's a fan of two Philapina girls; one aged 13 and the other 14. As a mother of girls … ew. Just ew.  
Lisa: Sad...and you are right...ew! I hope they keep a close eye on the young ladies in his family...

*     *     *     *     *

And I say again, that as children our gut feelings may have been correct. Either that or the social torture we horribly mean kids put this boy through, kept him locked in that childlike state of mind and his longings from his youth haunt him today. I am not excusing his behavior, nor am I explaining it. I am not condemning him for something that I speculate, but I am not willing to reach out to try to understand or gain clarity. I am no longer in need of seeking out personal redemption by apologizing for my behavior.

While it is a tad exciting – like solving an aged puzzle, the paper peeling slightly from the cardboard backing, the picture faded with age and almost unrecognizable – it is now clear that sometimes regrets should be chosen to remain regrets. Simply: some stones are better left unturned. 

It is sad, especially since I was really hoping for a "hero's tale.”  


  1. Wow... I realized I too was hoping for the clarity of a black or white ending, but then it was someone's muddled, complicated, real life after all. Too bad we can't unsee what has been seen.

    1. agreed ... it is too bad . just like stolen innocense -- once it's gone , you can't turn back .

  2. This is so great Scotty. so so great.

  3. You are awesome Scott. I love reading your blog. It always makes me think and often makes me take a little stroll down memory lane.

    Jameson was my Robbie. He wore 'floods', had greasy hair and was a bit smelly, which made us all avoid him due to the Jameson Germs. Now as a parent, I think of him often and one day suddenly remembered that Jameson had a dad who pitched in as a 'room mother' rather than a mom. He had a single dad, which in the 70s was not common. I don't know if his mom died or his dad just had full custody, but what I do know looking back is that they didn't have a lot of money, his dad was a really nice man and he was doing the best he could. I'm sure he hated that his son was so unpopular.

    Your blog made me wonder again about what happened to him and I decided to look him up on Facebook. I put in his name in and there he was - the only one. He graduated from Del Mar, so I was pretty sure it was him, but then, because of your sketchy experience, I wasn't sure if I wanted to know. I put my computer down, had my dinner and then I decided to venture forth and not judge. This is what I found.

    He graduated from Del Mar in 87. He went to San Francisco State and graduated in '91. He had a good time in college, I can tell by the pictures of him and his college friends on his page. He's done some travelling - Greece, the islands and around the US. He's married to a very cute blonde lady. He has two beautiful curly haired blonde kids. He's an actor/writer, with a day job is as a convention manager at a big hotel in LA. He wrote a screenplay that was made into a movie called Black Road that won an American Film Award for Best Short Film and Best Thriller at the 2002 New York Independent Film Festival. Kinda cool. He looks the same. His Dad looks the same. They all look happy. He doesn't look scarred - maybe just scarred enough to make him a great actor.

    I'll never know how much we all damaged him. I wasn't one of the worst offenders to be fair. I was just trying to stay on the good side of the 'mean girls' myself with my antisocial rehearsal schedule and time off of school for performances.

    It may not be a hero's tale, but I'm so pleased he's doing so well and that his life looks so full of loving family and friends, I'm sure none of whom ever mention his Jameson Germs.