Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sibling Assignment #182: Uncertainty and the Summer of '72

Here's the next Sibling Assignment -- I gave it.

Reflect back on the summer following your high school graduation and before you started college and write about memories that stand out, feelings you had, things that you did, or whatever pops in your mind when you think about that summer. 
Christy wrote about music memories and posted some classic videos, here. Carol's post is still to come.

As May turned into June in the late spring/early summer of 1972, and I graduated from Kellogg High School, several memories stand out.

Good friends from the Class of '72 survived a serious car accident in the early morning hours of our graduation party.

With no sense of grace and for no good reason, I broke up with a lovely girlfriend, a stupid move.

I had no idea what to do about college and hadn't applied to any school, even though I graduated in the top 10 of my class and had friends going to the University of Idaho, Idaho State, Whitman, the College of Idaho, Spokane Community College and other places near and far, and I was paralyzed with indecision and the fear of making the wrong decision.

I returned to work at the Bunker Hill Company, first as a janitor at the main office and the mine offices. Later in the summer, I went back to to work in the cell room as a stripper where I had worked the previous summer.

During the last weeks of high school and throughout this summer, I was given over to long walks, sometimes on the trail up to the high school, often uptown to my janitor job at the Bunker, and, at other times, up to Vergobbi Gulch.

Long walks, long thoughts, private thoughts, and I wondered what had happened and where I was going.

Back in the summer of 1972, and for quite a while forward, I thought of myself and my life as in a decline I didn't understand.

It began with basketball. I probably understand now why my performance as a basketball player went downhill from the ninth grade, when I was our leading scorer, to my senior year when I spent most of my time on the bench and scored the fewest number of points in one season of any of my seasons as a high school player.  But, that's another post.

I thought long and hard on those walks about lost elections, not winning any high school awards, my failures with girlfriends, my uncertainty about church, my mediocrity as a musician, and, as the baseball season got underway, the slow decline of my performance.

I was confused.

At a graduation barbecue in the Vergobbi's backyard, Jeff Wombolt, a star basketball player at Kellogg about a dozen years earlier, and a dentist in town now, cornered me to tell me that my high school years I'd just finished would be the best years of my life.

I thought, "Are you kidding me?"

I thought, "It's never going to be any better than these past four years?"

I mean, I loved my high school friends and the fun we had, but if high school was the peak, well, this possibility filled me with despair and confusion.

On those long walks, I felt this despair. I felt the confusion of my failures and feared that if it life was never going to be any better than what I'd experienced in high school, as Dr. Wombolt had (drunkenly) told me, then I wasn't at all sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go.

During that summer, in small ways, I did something that would undermine me at critical points in my adult life. Because I was feeling inferior not only to people around me, but to my younger self, I started to try too hard. The trying too hard really kicked in when I tried to prove myself as worthy for a girlfriend I was losing and continued, after I started school at North Idaho College, as I tried to prove myself socially by drinking too much and trying to prove myself as a real Kellogg guy.

As I look back over the years, it's clear to me that whenever I have felt terribly inferior my response has been to try too hard and to try to be a person I'm not at all at home with. Similar to how I felt as the summer of 1972 wound down, when I have felt inferior or have felt afraid of some kind of approaching and inevitable loss of a relationship, I have always tried to act like I have a bigger personality than I do, tried to be irreverent, tried to assume some kind of a persona of a person who didn't really hold the sort of values that I really do hold. On the verge of loss, I always figured I was being rejected for being too much of a Boy Scout and so I would try hard not to be a Boy Scout, a straight arrow, and this act always alienated me from my authentic self and left me ragged and confused.

This trying hard to mask my fear and disappointment actually started in the spring of 1969 when I drove a girlfriend away, continued in my antics as a basketball bench warmer when I expressed the disappointment of my decline as a player by becoming a team clown, and kicked in again late in the summer of 1972 and continued on into the fall as I tried too hard to make myself into a person I thought a girlfriend I was losing would rather have than me.

I wish I had learned what a failed approach it is, but I didn't. Instead, I turned to it repeatedly in my adulthood, especially in turbulent times following my first divorce and when other relationships disintegrated. Trying to be someone I'm not was costly and, today, when I take long walks around Greenbelt Lake or as I sit here in Kellogg, Idaho in my mother's front room and think back on the summer of 1972, I sometimes experience again the disillusion that pretending to be someone I'm not has caused.

The good news is that during the summer of 1972 and in the forty-four years that followed, I've had peaceful stretches of living authentically, some of them long.  I've been fortunate to have forged deep and lasting friendships with people who have experienced some of my ragged times and saw through my fake grandiosity, my facades of false confidence, and even recognized my fear, and our friendships have endured. I'm very grateful for this.

When Christy wrote this Sibling Assignment, she focused on the music of 1973 and what I've written in my post takes me back to 1972 and a song that I used to mock because I was a sophisticated high school graduate and, in my sophistication, found its refrain trite.  It might be trite.  I don't know. But, Rick Nelson's "Garden Party" has stuck with me over the years and was rattling my conscience when I was eighteen years old, especially when Nelson sang, repeatedly

It's all right now, I've learned my lesson well
You see, you can't please everyone, so you've got to please yourself.
In my times of fear and in my attempts to compensate for my insecurity, I didn't please myself and I failed to please those I thought I sorely wanted to please.  At critical junctures, I hadn't learned my lesson well.

And, to close, I'm very happy to report that Dr. Jeff Wombolt was wrong. My four years of high school were not the best years of my life.

I'm happy that I'm friends with quite a few of my high school friends and when we get together, yes, we reminisce, but we don't act like we are still in high school or expect one another to be who we were then.

In fact, we have all disobeyed the most common sentence we wrote in one another's annuals as we were completing high school in 1972:  "Don't ever change."

We have changed.

We grew up.

And we've behaved badly, made lousy decisions, learned our lessons, been humbled, done a lot of good in the world, and grown into better people and better friends than we could have ever imagined when we left Kellogg High School, young and unsure, and the summer of 1972 got under way.

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