I’ve never held a personal view of anything before this. I never thought of myself as anything, really, more of just a kid. I can’t remember exactly but I doubt I had ever had a thought about how to treat another person before this day. I was just doing it, I was being myself inwardly and out. Yet here I sat with my wet ass on the wooden stairs of a mid ‘90s playground about to act in a way that would forever change my life.
I was doing what kids do at that age, ride bikes, make fart jokes and try not to be late for dinner. Growing up in middle class Canada was great to me, I was sheltered without any effort from the generation before me. I was gleefully unaware of life itself, fears and all.
Afternoons with friends, in the summer and fall, were spent trying to avoid the chill that night would bring. I would spend as much time as I possibly could outside, just one more jump on the trampoline, just a few more minutes barefoot before the street lights came on and I was forced home to eat mushy peas in tuna casserole. I can almost feel the chill set in when school was about to start in September, I can feel the need to make time stop and turn back if I could, this always lead to a gut wrenching truth of summer being done.
This was Vancouver Island in the fall, even after the prison system disguised as a school was back in session we still had days of warmth and after school outside play. The summer was filled with neighbourhood kids, yet once school began it was back to the friends we didn’t have as much luxury in choosing. The kids who ate glue, the kids who picked on other kids and always that one who’s mom did all his homework for him. I didn’t like school, and I liked my neighbourhood friends much better than the ones I had to sit quietly beside day in and day out. Except for the jokes this boredom evoked in us.
Staging fake murders for our teacher to walk in on, or stapling all the papers to the teachers desk while she was out of the room. Always throwing the unsuspecting dumb kid under the bus, because we could. Yet there was still no feeling of malice or a status level or an itch to get away from one kid or another. There were just feelings of wants and no wants. Things we enjoyed and things we didn’t, no particular reason why. So peacefully numb to the soon to be pressures of high school and boners. There was no trying to fit in in those early days of social meanderings, either you did or you didn’t, I was always blessed with fitting in. Being hilarious will do that. Yes that was facetious.
During the longer September days we had almost as much light for after school as during, or so it seemed. We could get home, call on the neighbour, get on our bikes and ride for what felt like forever, into the cold of the night, usually underdressed and covered in dew. My block was the best too by the way, we had the hills to rip down, we had the vacant lots to build forts in and we had neighbours we hated and picked on. Again all in fun, or maybe we were following the brightest kid in the bunch? Doesn’t matter now. These were the days filled with stories from new classes, with new teachers and so it seemed more and more, girls to be smitten with. Funny how the blood bone develops before the mean bone…
There is this idea, or theory or maybe its a fact, about developing minds. When we decide we need to lie or act in a certain way to contribute to our future success as a person. It is that moment in time when, even if we don’t know why, we consciously decide to tell someone one thing when we mean another. This does a couple of things. It begins a journey into when to lie and when to tell the truth, something a lot of us are still trying to figure out as adults. It also is a critical step in the development of our brains, we have stepped into a space of understanding that the person we are talking to maybe doesn’t feel the same way we do at that moment. Maybe they have a different idea as to what just transpired. Some of us, that’s me, develop this part later than what seems useful. We tell the the truth almost too often, this pulls us out of the ranks of cool kids and usually leaves us scrapping by and trying to understand why telling someone your dad used to play int he NHL is important.
I’m not sure if this skill of mine, I like to call it a skill, being honest that is, is a curse or a saviour as far as my coming of age is concerned. I have had moments to lie, to better my situation and I have taken them. I won and it was great, but I felt so bad I either came clean or sabotaged it. Yet in the moments I stayed true to what I was feeling and told the truth, I lost and it felt awful. But I felt good and it usually later came around and was ok, or at least I found that meaning in it. Yet there is still a moment in my childhood I cannot seem to shake off. A moment, where the lying was not just to fit in, it wasn’t lying to another for personal gain. It was the moment I learned to lie to myself. The moment I learned that I can trick myself into almost anything, or so I thought.
Why the fuck would it be a good idea to lie to yourself, in your own mind and not tell anyone about that lie. When would this little skill be useful as a white kid in suburbia? Or a black kid in Stockton? Or for an adult trying to keep his job to feed his kids and not lose the house? I’m not sure there is a moment in the human development journey that highlights this. Theory of mind being that you understand another person may not be thinking the way you do, this lying to yourself thing makes no sense at all. It seems counter productive, yet we all do it pretty often, I do anyways. I used to believe that I wanted to be a professional hockey player, yet I would rather run around on the street with my friends than play hockey. I used to think I wanted to bang that hot girl in Physics, but I would rather play ball tag (yes, tag where it only counts when you hit the tag-ee in the nuts) than try to prove my love for her. I have spent a lifetime developing an idea of who I want to be and haven’t put much thought into why I want to be that person. I had decided somewhere along the line that what I truly felt, the only way to feel as child, no longer matters, because what matters now is this hierarchy of love I have built through my own experiences.
Lying to oneself is not the same as kidding oneself. These are different motives all together. Kidding yourself is deciding on a whim you wish to do something, riding the shit storm wave until it crashes and being ok with it at the end. Knowing you were kidding yourself the whole time. Lying to yourself is a much more serious offence. When you lie to your own mind you have consciously decided to do so. Just as you decided to tell some kid at school that you indeed do know how to do a backflip on skis, because you know he will think your cool and maybe you will be rewarded socially for it. When you decided to tell yourself a lie, it usually sits a little deeper than fitting in, in my experience anyways. For me the times I can trace a self lie back to its root, it is deciding that the way I think is not correct. That the way I truly AM is either wrong or is not serving me any more. Why? Fucked if I know. All I do know is that the times I have done this, and have noticed I have done it, are pivotal moments in my life which I can almost follow the proceeding shockwave of, sometimes decades long.
As I sat with my jogging pants soaking through to my hairless ass on that wooden playground step I had a choice to make. I could continue being me, as I truly had been up until that point in my life. Kind, playful, full of gas and ready to make someone laugh. I cried a lot too, but that’s for later. I had a choice to make in that literal second to be one way or another, I had to decide to go against my own soul to potentially better my life. Although I don’t think life could have gotten better at that moment, playing, fed and full of life.
I was faced with a decision; be mean or be kind. Would I listen to the deep rooted part of myself or let this new shiny way light the path before me. The shiny way was to be a dick to my closest friend in the world. Up until that point we were brothers essentially. We had each others back since before we knew any better and we were proud of it. As proud as a 9 year old kid could be anyways. We were at this very moment, only a few clicks short of dusk at the end of an era we had no idea even existed. We had a new guy in town, a kid we both considered considerably cooler than us. He was tall, good at hockey, seemed to have abs and no doubt had pubes before either of us. He was funny, he could talk to adults and even told us about making out with a girl before he moved from Langley. He could also be mean as shit.
He knew how to draw emotional blood like no other human I had ever met. He didn’t seem to have any problem with calling other new neighbourhood kids Fags or making fun of their mothers to a point I had to stop laughing about. I just made him out to be a monster, yet he was likeable and better yet he was powerful. We all wanted to be like him, but had no idea which steps to take. This, after all, was the prime age of not knowing what the fuck was going on in social scenes, I just was who I was and acted as I acted. That was it. So when he looked me in the eye and said that one day I had to be mean, that I couldn’t just be nice all the time, I took that as a ticket into the cool world of pubes and make-out session, I guess. In that moment I took the cool kids advice, I decided to be mean to my best friend. I think I told him he was fat and slow on his bike. He was fat and slow on his bike, but he didn’t need me to remind him. When my chubby little friend looked at me in peril, unsure of what to do next I crumbled a little bit inside, yet for reasons unknown I like it. I felt a sudden surge of what I thought maybe being a man felt like. I made someone feel bad and I felt good about it.
This September day changed my life.
Whenever I have said something dick-ish to another soul I see hurt face face and the withdrawal I swear he decided in right there. He laid down his arms and gave up, he was now headed a different way in the future. No, he didn’t get fit and become the fasted biker in the world, I’m not THAT powerful, he stayed fat and slow. But he now had angst to be used to fuel his life. We are still friends and I doubt he even remembers that day, but I always wonder what part I played in his becoming a musician, an actor, a writer, one of the funniest humans I have ever known or a copy writer for an awesome radio station. I wonder if my choice to be a dick changed the outcome of his life?
But it most certainly changed mine.