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This part of the year, springtime along the North Shore, feels like water-drip torture. I begin to fantasize (after weeks of deciding which shoes to ruin this time) a sudden glorious onset of spring where we’d zoom from mud misery to May flowers in twenty-four fleet hours. Wouldn’t it be nice to get it over with and see green on the hills and lawns looking healthily alive instead of rolled out from long-term storage in a cold barn? Like all seasoned northlanders (seasoned in a climate serving more than salt-pepper combos), I use the customary devices to ease the interminable torture endured as spring-around-the-corner: “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” “Great things take longer.” “This is why we live here.” You’ve heard them. You use them. We all do in a natural survival mode that gets us through the rough patch. I know that I for one am in a hurry to get always to the good parts.
I wish life would cooperate and not drag things out so. I’ve heard parents say childhood lasts eighteen to thirty years. Some say it never ends. Fruit from the maturity tree does not fall evenly, perhaps, or the relative gap between the parties provides constant differences in judgement until the end, when all reverses and the child is the one charged with keeping an eye on Mom or Dad so they don’t get in trouble. It’s a delicious ironic reversal to see Junior sweat his eighty-year-old father possibly knocking up the neighbor lad, giving him a taste of what good-old-dad went through when sonny drooled over the neighbor’s daughter. Life can be sweet with paybacks and gotchas. It takes decades and decades for such scenarios to play out, but they are worth it. The look on Junior’s face when he discovers Dad’s stash of condoms is beyond my poor pen to describe as anything less than a writhing merger of the beatific with horror. And of course the old man is chuckling.
There are rumored exceptions to slow and steady as she goes. I know people who spoke with moral certainty of their love-at-first-sight experience, not always with the person they married, but none-the-less. Not having experienced that or the fifty years of marital imprisoned bliss resulting, I’m not on a firm perch to assay one way or the other about the volume of waste rock in the gold-bearing ore. I was never hit by an Eros first-sight love arrow, or if I was didn’t know what in the hell it was all about and ignored it. They are functional equivalents, so it doesn’t matter whether I was never struck by the arrow or just didn’t “get it” when I was hit. Knowing me, who will often “Ping” on an event a decade past tense, the odds are pretty solid I didn’t recognize the thing for what it was. There’s none to blame for such fundamental failure of perception other than myself or my upbringing, so I will wisely pick nurture and proclaim, “It’s Mother’s fault.” So easily are the innocent condemned and the guilty allowed to feel better, or if not really “better” at least a bit pleased at passing the buck to a senile old lady who doesn’t have a clue what’s being talked of, does she?
I may have suffered sudden revelation once when I was ten. At that age you can at least rest easy that the event had little to do with sex. Notice I said “little,” not “nothing.” Childhood sex innocence is, I believe, a comforting myth for elders who prefer to deal with blank-slate children rather than face directly the complexities of inclination and orientation head on. Much of adult life prefers the fine-tuned, telescopic, high-precision view, quite good in its way but totally lacking in panorama or focus on what goes on behind the back. Let’s set that aside, because you won’t be bothered by it much anyway, not at your (like mine) advanced stage of avoidance.
Back to my short tale: I was ten, riding in the back of a car with plush seats, no plastic, and small windows reminiscent of those serving a basement. We were going to visit better-off relatives in the suburbs (Blue Island, specifically). I didn’t like Blue Island. My aunt lived there. Without her it would have been a nicer place, but there she was and to there we were going, when sudden revelation hit. Peering out our rolling basement window, I saw a Boy Scout encampment filling a park with tents, flags, activity, and color. I was hooked. This is not exactly first-sight love. But it may be close and is the only example of its type in my life, one where no one has accused me of being either quick or able in the love department. I may have wished only to delay sight of my aunt and postpone one of her sandpaper kisses, but I raised a backseat hue and cry of “Please, please, please stop so I can see.” Proper pleading done with animated sincerity sometimes worked on my wardens. That it did then is all that matters. They stopped.
I was out the basement door in a twinkle, praying devout Catholic prayers they’d pick me up on the return from Blue Island or sometime after. I was thoroughly confident of my ability to sleep on the ground like the wild woodsmen that were beginning to capture my imagination as a replacement for saintly aspirations encouraged by good nuns who thought the best. I knew better. Sainthood for Harry slipped a little further from reach with every day. When Dad finally apprehended me (I’d wisely taken off like a shot to lose myself in the milling flow), I was in unhappy discussion with an oddly dressed man who informed me I was too young and could not under any circumstance join on the spot and never go home, which had been my idea, a forever-escape plan. Like it or not, I was Blue Island bound.
I needed more maturity before I could begin being a Scout, just as I required matured experience after the fact to allow glimmers of understanding about the pace and passions of our lives.