I’ve always thought that memories were treacherous things. They rarely show a person the truth and, often, not even what is desired as a memory. For example, my first memory is one of my childhood dogs, Missy, being run over by a car when I was 3 or 4 years old. I remember it so vividly; the scream I loosed when I saw her running into the street, the light blue car with the windows I could not see into as it barreled down the street and the sick sound of this small Chihuahua as it gave a single strangled cry cut short by a hideous thud as the tire cut life’s thread almost instantly. According to my memory, I stood frozen on the curb, wailing in pain for the Chihuahua who could not longer express its own as the instrument of destruction sped away. My mother remembers a little boy crouched over the bloody mass, nearly vomiting himself from the sight and shock. It is strange how I don’t remember getting that close.
I was born in 1976, on the naval base in San Francisco. My mom, being of a smaller stature, had me by c-section “2 days late”, as she likes to say. I could have been a yankee-doodle dandy; born on the fourth of July. I remember growing up proud that I was born in the Year of the Dragon and the same year of Bruce Lee’s death. As part of a military family, we moved around quite a bit and it was in Hawaii at age 5 when my parents told me they were divorcing and asked me to choose who I wanted to go with. Again, it was not the most pleasant of memories. One jellyfish attack later, and I remember moving in South Carolina with my mother and new (still military) step-father.
There are no memories of happy occasions that stand out in my early childhood; no birthday, no Christmas or Easter. Just painful memories of things one wishes to forget at some time or another. Somehow I managed to submerge all this into the background. I convinced myself that they had no impact on me. I managed to pass thru my adolescent years as the quirky, well-liked-but-never-popular guy in school that bridged the gap between nerds, drama, and the jocks. That one guy who never seemed to frown and whom everyone turned for solace and advice; never did they realize the fears and desires lurking below the surface. They couldn’t see the insecurities that brought tears to my eyes when I was alone. They couldn’t see how much it hurt me to be the one asked for relationship advice when I was never in a relationship. They couldn’t see how it hurt to be told all about who was cute when I could not picture anyone finding me to be cute.
I hid inside of books. A book in front of the face is an amazing shield. When I was in first grade I was already reading The Black Stallion series of books, and was reading even if I was walking to or from school. The Bridge to Terabithia moved me to tears because I finally knew what a best friend was, and the Grimm Fairy Tales made it clear that not everything turns out happy in the end.
I was hiding that I was gay. I hid from the world any part of me that might know love, for fear I would only know disgust. That there was something wrong with me was never in doubt. I also knew it was a burden I could never share with my religious family, and friends who could turn on me.
I discovered I could be someone else on stage around this time. Books were not the only place I could hide. Better yet, I could hide while interacting with people! I had discovered another way to avoid myself. I ended up becoming the happy-go-lucky character through high school, and once I came out, became the college champion of the oppressed gay youth and fighter of related causes. I discovered I was talented as the counselor and confidant of friends and fellow students. I volunteered at gay centers and AIDS programs, and still didn’t understand a thing about myself.
Since that time over a decade has passed. I have survived homelessness, illness, heart-ache, and bi-polar disorder to emerge with experiences that have given me not only determination to help others, but empathy and intimate knowledge of what people go through. Experiences have given me a desire to share knowledge gained with others, and to help them avoid the trials that I might have if a guide had been there to show me where my path was leading.
A man is more than just the sum of his experiences. A man is the sum of his family experiences, and those of his friends and those who are in a position to reach out and guide others. People like teachers, clergy, and counselors. Social workers are in the unique position of being able to assist the youth of our nation grow into the future of our nation through family intervention.
This is where my education has led me. In spring of 2008, a class in Family Psychology showed me the importance of dealing with a family unit as a whole to create effective change in the individuals. Someone needs to be there to show the families how to recover from the hand that circumstance has dealt them; to show families recovering from tragedy that the future can hold promise. I choose to do this.
As President Obama said in his inaugural speech, we can be “…greater than all the differences of birth or wealth or faction”. I am ready to begin doing my part to help this vision become a reality. I hope that time will see my contribution make a difference.