By Richard Bleil
Currently, I’m watching an artistic movie, the kind you see from Hollywood periodically. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be a drama or comedy, with a story that is broken into pieces and centers around the main character’s life. It’s a little challenging to follow, maybe because I’m writing as I watch it. Well, I wasn’t, but I am now. But it has me thinking about the chapters of my life, and what they would look like if they were turned into a stylized Hollywood artistic flick.
And I’m wondering why anybody would care, honestly, so if you stop reading here, I get it.
So chapter one, the elementary school years. Going to E.J. Brown Elementary in North Riverdale, Ohio, it’s not a typical childhood. It’s not a great neighborhood. The school is actually kindergarten through high school, so basically, as a kid, you learn to keep out of people’s way. I was an easy target being small and quiet, but I did learn how to “fly under the radar”. This was my earliest training in the art of invisibility. We lived next to the church that owned our home, and maybe it’s too late to start the romantic story, or, maybe not. This is where I had my first sexual encounter, albeit not sexual so much as the awkward “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” with the minister’s daughter in her basement. Yes, she was about my age. It was also my first crush. Fourth grade. We didn’t have lunch when I first started school (which means I walked over a mile four times a day, since it included to and from lunch). Eventually they brought lunch to school. She and I would have lunch together, ever since I caught a boy on the playground choking her and stepped in to break it up, an act of heroism for which I got in trouble because I was “playing with a girl” which, in those days, was quite, well, you’d get in trouble.
Chapter two, fifth through middle school. We moved to Centerville, Ohio when I was in fifth grade, a suburb to the south of Dayton. The rules were different in Centerville. The exact opposite of invisibility, the new rules said stand out and play sports. It’s no wonder I didn’t fit in. In fact, I was such a social outcast that even a teacher in a social science course singled me out, specifically, as an example of not fitting in for his lesson, and went on to say “…and he will probably never fit in.” Here I became the actual physical target of bullies, to the fact, in point, that at one assembly in the large common area, a boy from another class actually broke rank as the teachers were doing whatever it was they were doing to cross the empty space, kick me between the legs only to turn around and walk back, apparently as a “joke”, with no consequences. Romantically crushes began to flood in at this point as I was definitely noticing girls, but, not vice versa. In the usual social events, my parents never encouraged me, took me or paid the fee for me to participate. For example, there was the dance lesson. I actually asked my parents if I could go, but they wouldn’t pay the fee. I don’t know why; it’s very likely they couldn’t afford it so I can’t really badmouth it, but this seemed to be where boys began to learn to socialize with girls. But I was still playing the invisible game, and I was quite good at it.
Chapter three became the “too little too late” chapter. I was fortunate to meet my friend Mitch, with whom I was very close. He was probably the “jockiest” friend I had as he ran track, which, let’s face it, as far as sports goes is not one of the highlights. Still, he did something, which is more than I ever did. I tried to join football, but there is a right reason and a wrong reason to join football, and Melissa was, let’s be honest, the wrong reason. A twin and cheerleader, I had the hugest crush on her throughout high school. I had such huge crushes on so many of the women in my school, but Melissa was always the constant thread. But, I was so good at being invisible, there is no way I had a chance of becoming visible in just four years. I started to crawl into my academic studies, and avoided as many high school social events as possible. It’s no wonder I didn’t have many good friends (Mitch was kind of the glue that held together a small group of about half a dozen social outcasts as we created our own mini-“click”). How could I have friends to visit with in these events, if I never attended the events to make friends in the first place? And as far as fears go, shyness is pretty much the most useless fear of them all. It does nothing but keep you separated from, well, everybody, and when they realize just how separate and lonely you are, it just makes them wonder what is wrong with you.
He was right, you know. I never did fit in. Even today.