When I was seven my parents got divorced.
When I was nine my little sister died.
The night she died my mother drove two blocks from my grandparents’ house to the house of a friend where I had been spending the day while my little sister had spent the day dying.
I thought it odd that my mother had driven two blocks, but I got in the car at her command and we started off toward Lake Washington.
“How odd”- or some seven year old equivalent thought- I must have thought.
I really don’t remember.
We went left – 180 degrees away from my grandparents’ house where we had been living for the interminable months of Annie’s illness. Then we turned right to crest the small Seattle-long ridge that separates 32nd Avenue from Lake Washington Boulevard.
Not much time passed.
But an eternity passed.
And that eternity was cloaked in a dark and impenetrable silence.
Finally I broke the silence.
Perhaps two minutes had comprised that eternity.
“How is Annie?”
At that instant something happened to me.
Something either entered me, or something left me.
In either case I never knew what it was, but I forever after felt its iron influence. It was a sense of aloneness; it was a sense of self-preservation; it was a sense on uniqueness; it was a sense of anger; it was a sense of fear.
I never lived without it after the moment I heard the words, “Annie died.”
I inhaled the deepest breath of my life and filled the car with my wracking sobs of grief.
And then my parents got re-married.
And we moved back to Portland.
And I was put in yet another grade school. (This post lacks the information that I had, up to that point, gone to four schools – one of them two times - after my Parents’ divorce, and had been in the first grade twice (I got pneumonia the first time in Seattle and when we moved to Portland my parents thought it prudent to keep me in the first grade which I had mostly missed) and had been in the third grade twice before being moved quickly back to the fourth which was where I was supposed to be.
So I was at Madeleine Grade School in Northeast Portland.
I was in the fifth grade.
I had no athletic inclinations.
I had the “iron influence” mentioned above as the naval of my existence.
I was smarter than a lot of other kids.
And I was an abject outsider to the (my Grandfather’s descriptive epithet) codfish aristocracy of Northeast Portland Catholicdom.
It was a nightmare; but I didn’t really notice.
I just thought that most of the other kids – primarily boys, but quite a few girls - were just assholes.
In retrospect I think that was my bulwark.
Because, in retrospect, on the few occasions I ever think about those assholes, I am amazed that I made it through.
The major players were three.
There was Tom. He had arrived about the same time that I had and was from somewhere in the South and was good at football.
There was Dick. Dick lived in a codfish aristocratic house on a codfish aristocratic street and exuded a codfish aristocratic sheen of codfish aristocratic wealth.
There was John. Much though I wish his name had been Harry, it was John.
John was, in the words of Father Dillon, the “best natural athlete I have ever coached.”
(I saw john, when he was in the sixth grade, catch a football on the tips of the fingers of his left hand. Father Dillon’s assessment was probably true.)
There were others, but compared to these they were minor players.
These three – Tom in particular – made my life a daily misery.
My lack of athletic inclination, or ability, was made the basis for the fact that I was a form of life below the slime at the edge of the pond.
My interest in things not physical made me the punch line of muttered jokes and snide asides.
And for four years I lived at the bottom of the asshole’s totem pole.
When I replay this set of scenes from the movie of my life I wonder how I got through it.
When I hear about bullying I always think I understand what the victims of that newly discovered phenomenon are talking about.
And I pity them for not having had to hear the words “Annie died”.