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Brock Kent @wordsBK
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"Work In Progress"
I began writing on Thursday. It wasn't planned, that's simply when the words started to come. Or put another, more painfully truthful way, when I finally stopped finding reasons not to write.
For almost as long as I've been aware of stories, I've imagined creating my own. And I have, in a way. Ideas, and notes, and countless unfinished drafts. But nothing complete; nothing whole. Not a single thing I could show to someone else.
There always seemed to be a 'reason' of some kind or another. Being uninspired; needing to do research; waiting for the perfect time; saving up my money to buy a new personal computer to write on; wanting to clear the deck of any distractions; having too many distractions;
too much time on the bus; too much time reading instead of writing; too much time watching tv; having too many shifts at work; feeling too tired. Conscious or not, there was always an excuse. Until Wednesday night.

... But let me back up a bit.
"Start from the beginning". We've all heard that advice about how and where a story should start. That, along with "write what you know", seem to be blindly accepted truths instead of the unhelpful generalizations they are.
I'm not much of a believer in either piece of advice. However, in this case both of them are appropriate and will make this sorry better.
There's not much to tell. Although I'd like to believe otherwise, I'm fairly sure there's little that sets me apart from everyone else. I'm well read, and might be a bit smarter than average, but I'm under no illusion either of those things make me anything special.
I've already mentioned my lack of motivation. I'll never be a gung-ho highly driven person. I'm not an introvert, but neither am I someone who stands out. Like many people I'd just like to be left alone to do my own thing. I'm okay if that means my life will lack excitement.
I simply desire peace and quiet, and have a craving for stability. After all, like most everyone else I am a product of my environment. Undeniably formed by my upbringing. Just another poor south Jersey kid from a broken home.
I was born in the summer of Star Wars. That's 1977 for those of you who aren't from a galaxy far far away. My mother swore that I was almost named Luke, although I suspect she was simply trying to appeal to the wannabe Jedi sensibilities of her only child.
My parents saw the movie in the theatre nine times. They went every Sunday afternoon until I was born. The air conditioned theatre was one of the few easily accessible locations my parents could go for my pregnant mother to escape the unrelenting summer heat.
The repeated viewings made a fan of my mother, but my father found no enjoyment in the David vs Goliath epic. And yet, because my mother enjoyed the fantasy and spectacle of the tale, he made no complaint about the repetition in their weekly escape from the oppressive humidity.
My childhood memories are fractured, much like my childhood itself. Scattered impressions of the years before I started school. Too young to clearly remember much and too innocent to understand what our life was really like.
We didn't have much, but that doesn't really matter much when you're a kid as long as you feel safe. Which I did. I never doubted my parents' love; neither for me, nor for each other. That said, if life has taught me anything, it is that love by itself is not enough.
I never saw my parents fight, but there are subtleties to a relationship that are too complex and too far beyond a child's comprehension. Of course, with what I learned about them both as I grew up, in hindsight, it all seems sadly inevitable.
As the old line goes, I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.
My father left us shortly after I turned six, just before I started the first grade. However, we didn't immediately know he had left us as it was not uncommon for him to be gone for days at a time. My mother had long ago accepted these disappearances as 'normal'.
Being just a child and knowing nothing different, these absences were not at all troubling to me. Sometimes my father was around, and sometimes he was not. And so, conditioned as we were, we thought nothing of it at first.
But as the days accumulated and the regular haunts turned up empty and the usual suspects could offer no answers, my mother became angry, confused, afraid, then finally saddened by the inescapable fact that my father was gone.
The realization was slower for me, but no less devastating. Especially because I was sure it was my fault. My last clear memory of my father was of a disagreement we had. My mother had taken me to the theatre to see Return of the Jedi, and I was upset that he wouldn't join us.
I'd previously only seen a few animated films, so to my young mind this was my first 'real' movie viewing experience. I'd spent my entire life hearing from my mother about the wonders of Star Wars, and I was suitably excited to experience it first hand.
To me, it was unimaginable that someone didn't like Star Wars. I was too young to realize it wasn't the movie itself he didn't like, but rather being reminded of his time in Vietnam.
He could not appreciate the heroic quest because he could not ignore (or for that matter, forgive) his own role as just another storm trooper in service of the Empire.
After my father left, my mother explained this to me. And after I was older, I began to understand it. But at the time, all I knew was that my father disappeared shortly after I lost my temper about the movie. To a six year old, this was a clear example of cause and effect.
My mother and I adjusted, but it took time and it was not easy. We had to move into a small one bedroom apartment but my mother somehow managed to make ends meet. It was the emotional aspect that weighed heaviest, and the toll on my mother was especially severe as time went by.
The most difficult part was not knowing if he was alive and avoiding us, or if he was dead. And I was never quite certain which of the two would be worse.
Clichéd as it was, although we didn't have much, we had each other. Which was fortunate, as there wasn't really anyone else to turn to or depend on. Although my father had grown up nearby in Philadelphia, none of his family remained. They were all either dead or lived far away.
As for my mother's family, they'd not been close for some time, so she knew that would not be an avenue of any assistance. The estrangement was not because her partner was a black man, but because she had a child out of wedlock.
And so it was just the two of us. Although more accurately it was often just myself as my mother was usually at work. I'm not complaining; I understand the realities of a single parent and appreciate everything my mother did.
She worked from 7:00 until 6:00 at a neighbourhood dry cleaner. I ate breakfast and walked to school with a neighbour and her children. After school they walked me to my mother and I would quietly read behind the counter until old Mr. Giraldi came and closed his shop each night.
In return for the morning child care and chaperoning my afternoon walk, my mother cleaned our neighbour's apartment every Sunday morning while they were at church. However, once she was done the rest of the sabbath was our day.
Our activities varied from week to week, with the only constant being that it was just the two of us. When the weather was good, we would often be outside, as my mother felt she spent so much of her days inside. Occasionally, if we had a bit of extra money, we'd see a movie.
This was the age when I began to realize the power of stories. Weekdays after school, and all day Saturday, I would read at the dry cleaner while my mother worked. At first I read simple stories, but as I improved, my appetite grew until I read almost anything I could find.
Initially, reading was simply a way for my mother to keep me occupied and quiet while she was at work. But I soon discovered that stories could not only teach me, but also transport me, entertain me, and challenge me; and with this understanding my imagination was set free.
That first year after my father left was a kind of incubator for me. A daily chunk of time with little else to do other than read. Understandably, this made me a much better reader, but it also awoke a yearning for how the stories made me feel. And so began my love of stories.
I assume most children have active imaginations, but the difference in my case was that mine was constantly fed with every kind of tale imaginable. Each sample of make believe pushed the boundaries further until it seemed entirely natural to simply write down my very own stories.
The first one was put to paper in the summer between first and second grade, sometime before my seventh birthday. I don't recall what any of them were about, but I'm sure they were appropriately simple and justified us not saving them. Apologies to any future archivists.
Also beginning at this time was a routine of inactivity, one which would stay with me even through today. I am not what would be considered fat, but by no means would anyone mistake me for being thin. Words such as chunky, husky, and chubby were all used to describe me.
Words that were meant to be polite, to soften any possible cruelness, but which only made things all the more difficult. Words which were meant to veil the harsh nature of the feelings behind them. People so rarely think about the subtle meanings to the words they use.
Coupled with this sedentary childhood was my lack of interaction with kids my own age, outside the prescribed school hours. As if being a plump, bookish child wasn't enough, I also became something of an outsider. Not ostracized or bullied, but certainly not included.
I suspect people thought my mother and I spent too much time together, but really, there wasn't much choice. She had to work, and with no family to assist us, I needed to be with her when not in school. I didn't mind, although in all fairness I didn't know anything different.
It's also important to consider what the loss of one parent had on my closeness to the other.
With this rhythm established, we lived a simple but stable life. There was little change, and we were happy together in our routine. I had everything I needed, and my mother gave every appearance of being content. And things remained that way for another four years.
I was eleven years old when I started the sixth grade in the fall of 1988. Over the five years since my father had left us, I'd slowly transitioned to spending my after school time at the library instead of Mr. Giraldi's dry cleaners with my mother. Otherwise, little had changed.
My nearly constant reading had helped neither my popularity nor my weight. However, it had made me a better student, especially in 'wordy' subjects like English, history, and even geography. Math and science, not so much.
My mother was proud of me, although I don't think she grasped the extent to which I was an outsider. Like most parents, she saw the accomplishments and not the shortcomings. However, she strongly believed in the importance of self-reliance and encouraged my independence.
'Hindsight is 20/20.' Yet another platitude I'm tired of hearing. Although I understand what people are trying to say by using it, in the case of my mother and I it wouldnt have helped at all. There is nothing that could have been done that would have made any difference.
It was simple things at first. Little differences that seemed trivial; small changes that were easily excused. Nothing to alarm an eleven year old absorbed with the latest sci-fi or fantasy series from the library. Nothing concerning or worrisome. Not even in damned hindsight.
The first undeniable variance happened shortly before Halloween. I'd gone to the library after school, doing some homework and finding some new books to check out. When I arrived home, my mother wasn't there, which was highly unusual.
Our life was a firmly established routine. I waited for a while, nervously concocting excuses for her absence. After some time, I decided action was better than pacing, and walked the short distance to the dry cleaner. And there she was, like nothing was out of the ordinary.
She was surprised to see me there, and asked why I had come. I almost burst into tears, partly from relief and partly because I was angry and scared and on some level knew that something was wrong.
She was genuinely surprised and confused when I explained that it was after 7:00. She apologized, saying she must have lost track of time. We walked home together, grabbing a pizza as a treat for dinner. She seemed completely normal, yet I was still unable to sleep that night.
Over the next few weeks I was a complete mess. I anxiously waited for any further sign of something wrong, but there was nothing to be found. Not the slightest discrepancy from our usual routine, nor anything remotely unusual in my mother's behaviour.
By the time something else happened, I'd stopped actively watching for it. I had remained nervous and alert, but it was more of a background apprehension. If we're going with overused expressions, 'waiting for the other shoe to drop' fits quite nicely.
Sometime in early December, roughly six weeks after the first incident, I arrived home earlier than normal to find my mother already at our apartment. The store wasn't due to close for another half an hour, but she had closed more than an hour early, thinking nothing unusual.
Needless to say, Mr. Giraldi was quite upset, and I was worried my mother would lose her job. Thankfully he thought of us as family, and believed her excuse of needing to rush to school to pick me up because I'd suddenly gotten sick.
My mother offered me no explanation as to what had really happened, but I could tell she was both confused and scared by this episode.
We discussed it, and she could offer nothing more than she must have gotten confused about what time it was. I didn't push her about it, but resolved to be more mindful. And so I started popping in most days after school to read or do my homework there, like when I was younger.
Occasionally while I was there, I would see some small signs of something wrong. Simple mistakes that I'd have likely never paid attention to if I'd not become alert from the recent and more significant issues. A forgotten name or not remembering what they'd come to pick up.
Not enough on its own, but worrisome when added to the recent problems.
We made it through Christmas and into the new year without further incident. In fact, it was after Easter before the next occasion for concern. Unfortunately, it was significant, and I'm not sure things were ever quite the same after.
There was no longer any possibility of denying something was wrong. I might have been only eleven, but it was obvious. Also, the implications were frightening to my mother and I both. If I had to point to one single moment when everything changed, it would be April of '89.
One Saturday I met my mother at work after I slept in. I did some homework there in the morning, then went to the library for the afternoon. I'd realized I could not spend every moment watching over her, expecting the worst. So I tried to be vigilant without demonstrating doubt.
Upon entering our apartment, I was greeted with the wonderful smells of her cooking. Some casual conversation relieved any concerns I had about any possible unusual happenings while we'd been apart. Starting to relax, I then noticed the table was set for three.
It wasn't completely out of the realm of possibility that we'd have someone coming to dinner, but it was rare enough that the detail struck me. I asked my mother about the extra place setting and who we were expecting. Without any hesitation, she told me it was my father.
Needless to say, I was completely dumbstruck. That was the very last answer I had expected. She could have told me the President was coming for dinner and I wouldn't have been as surprised. But also, it was the casual way that she said it; as if it was no big deal.
But it was a big deal! I could not imagine anything possibly being as big a deal. At the time, I doubt I was even sure if it was something I wanted or not, but either way such a thing would be life changing. Yet despite this seismic statement, some part of me was sceptical.
I was calm, but confused. I somehow strung together enough words to ask my mother what she was talking about. She giggled and told me to stop being silly. She then proceeded to say that he'd be home from work soon and we could catch up on our respective days over dinner.
It was the casual tone of her voice, more than the words she said, which made me realize two things: she truly believed my father would soon walk through the door; and she clearly felt such an event was not at all out of the ordinary.
In turn, these two things made something else painfully obvious: for my mother to believe my father was still part of our lives - a man who had disappeared without a trace and made no contact in almost six years - it was undeniable that something was very wrong with her.
My mother and I had a close relationship, in large part because it had been just the two of us for half my life. Because of this closeness, we rarely fought or disagreed. Make no mistake, there were times I didn't like things she made me do (eating broccoli comes to mind), ...
... but in any way that mattered we led a harmonious life together
But on that night, I knew I could not be passive. I could not pretend that a man I remembered less and less each year, a man who might no longer be alive, or at the very least clearly had no place for us in his life, ...
... was going to walk through our door as if we were an ideal family on some television show.
Assertiveness has never come naturally to me, and at eleven years old it was almost entirely foreign to me. I told my mother that she must be confused, that my father had left us years ago and wasn't coming back. That it was just the two of us.
I tried to keep calm, knowing on some level that the situation was balanced on a knife edge. I didn't yell or make a scene, but the emotion must have been evident in my voice, for my mother stopped and listened.
I could see the confusion on her face, then the pain as my words slowly sank in, followed soon after by something that looked like shame.
My grandfather once told me that a parent should never have to bury their child. His words made me think of that night, and the permanent change it made in my world. Not the bittersweet childhood's end from books, but the impossible reality of something bigger than ourselves.
As children, we so desperately want to believe in the ideal of our parents, but sometimes life has other plans. And sometimes, no matter how hard they try, through no fault of their own, things just go sideways. And you have to scramble and make it work. So that's what we did.
We didn't know what was happening, but we knew we had each other. My mother was frightened, but she wasn't in denial nor did she push me away. We had to find out what the problem was, and in the meantime also make sure it didn't create too much random chaos in our lives.
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