Okay. Let’s wrap up this depressing history lesson and get on with some truestoopidshit.
I wasn’t really a fully formed asshole until I came back from living with my father for the second time, so this last little bit of history will get us all caught up to that point. Before then, I was a product of my environment; and afterwards, my environment was a product of me. I did wrong again and again. Knowingly. Willfully. Joyfully. Not because of anything that happened in my past, but because I wanted to do wrong.
This post is going to be about losing my last little bit of the innocence, but don’t worry, it’s not that bad. I really didn’t have a lot of innocence to lose at this point, and to say I “lost” it might be a bit disingenuous. I’d have sold it for drugs had anyone been willing to pay for it, but instead, I just threw it away.
I started having mental breakdowns around the time we moved from Le Nez and roughly coincident with my decision to start stealing drugs and alcohol from my mother. I only stole a little at first. It doesn’t take much to get a twelve-year-old kid high. When I started having panic attacks, insomnia, and bouts of depression, I never thought to connect these with the chemicals I was ingesting. Not until just now, writing these words, did I even consider the possibility.
Funny little blind spot, that one, huh?
Anyway, these breakdowns got worse through middle school and high school, and eventually, I learned to incorporate them into my mythology. I learned to give into the paranoia and enjoy the fear my panic attacks brought. I learned to chemically amplify the delusions with booze and to enhance my insomnia with meth. But that was later. At first, my breakdowns scared the living shit out of me.
My mother took me to a free clinic a few times, and the psychiatric doctor gave me a couple prescriptions that I abused. I used to go without sleeping for so many days in a row, that I’d actually hallucinate or fall asleep in the middle of sentences. And this was before I’d ever even tried speed. I saw other doctors and other therapists, but they all had different theories about what was wrong with me, and no one ever diagnosed me with anything solid.
I met Rudy at around this time, (Rude Dog Blog) and I started doing even harder drugs. This, of course, led to increased breakdowns, and since I never told anyone that I was stealing my mother’s pot and alcohol, or my grandmother’s pills, no one ever made the connection. And let’s not forget that I’d been hiding behind a reputation for instability and brutality for quite a while. Now I had an actual mental condition! It made for a handy excuse once I started getting suspended for pushing cabinets over onto kids, or stomping on them with my steal toed army boots. (See Deep Cuts Part Two).
And then I went to middle school.
Within minutes of starting my first day of middle school, I knew I was going to get in a fight. My instincts told me to establish myself within the pecking order quickly — somewhere near the top would be fine — and thereby avoid future fights. So I picked a biggish Mexican kid who acted tough, and I called him out.
Yes. We still did that back in my day.
I said something like, “Meet me after school at the bike racks, pussy.”
He flipped me off and said something in Spanish. For the rest of the day, I got myself all worked up and prepared to fight. I told all my friends to come watch. I told people in my gym class, people I barely knew, to come watch. I wanted big word-of-mouth buzz, and I got it. Half the school must have been there, waiting for me and the Mexican.
At the time, I preferred the blitzkrieg fighting style. I’d wait until my opponent started talking trash, and then, without warning, swing my fists wildly at his face until he started to run. Once he began his retreat, I’d kick him with my boots, hopefully tripping him and knocking him to the ground where I could kick him some more.
The kid opened his mouth to talk some trash, and I didn’t even let him get a word out before trying to shove my fist down his throat. Get this out of the way, I was thinking. Stomp this guy and get some respect.
Only this kid didn’t run when I hit him. Instead, he tucked his chin, lifted his hands into a boxer’s stance, and punched me back. A lot. And hard.
You see, ever since I’d been kicked out of Smithridge for attacking some kids with a hammer, I’d been fighting people who didn’t really want to fight me. I’d fought guys who’d talked like they wanted to fight, and guys who’d looked like they wanted to fight, and even guys who’d thrown a punch or two, but I’d never fought anyone who’d really just wanted to fight.
And this kid wanted to fight.
He kicked my ass in front of everyone, and the protective coloration of my bad reputation was gone, just like that. I felt like a turtle pulled from its shell, totally exposed to the environment and unprotected. Now everyone knew that I was just a small and frightened little kid.
I wish I could say I returned to The Dojo in search of myself, or in search of my heritage, or in search of martial arts even, but that would be untrue. I went home so I could learn to fight, so I could exact some revenge.
I hadn’t seen my Uncle Herb since moving out of The Dojo, seven years earlier. I’d been told bad things about how he’d screwed our side of the family, and some members of my family actually considered me a traitor for going back, but I decided to make up my own mind.
Since I’d last set foot in the dojo, Herb had turned it into a martial arts commune and had it legally listed as a church. No longer did the corner house have a porch or a front door that opened to the street. High, wicker wrapped fences made the whole place seem like a military compound from feudal Japan, complete with a rock garden, sliding doors, and a little Buddhist shrine. Classes were free, but most folks paid the suggested $30/month donation. Herb told me not to worry about paying a donation, but that I should try to do something around the dojo to help out.
My very first class, I discovered that I already knew how to do many of the rolls and falls beginners find so daunting. I don’t remember ever going to classes when I was a little kid, and I don’t even think they taught kids classes back then, yet I had apparently gone to a few, and my body still remembered some of what it had learned.
So every Tuesday and Thursday I rode the city bus from Trainer Middle School to the dojo. I did my homework in the communal kitchen, swept the sidewalk out front, and vacuumed the mat and stairs. I went to a one-hour children’s class, then I’d eat a snack and go to the two-hour adult class. Afterwards, I’d sometimes eat dinner with Herb, his wife, and maybe a few students. Then I’d ride the bus back to Sun Valley. Eventually, I started helping teach children’s classes.
During this time, I excelled in school, didn’t get into fights, and cut my drug use down to almost nothing. I hit the weights and ran. I read books on martial arts, philosophy, meditation, military strategy, and magic. In addition to Jujitsu, I practiced techniques for lucid dreaming, astral projection, and pain tolerance. Everything seemed magical again. The dojo has always been like that for me, and remains so even today, despite the defiling it suffered at my hands later.
Once, when I was just hanging around the dojo, I put an acupuncture needle against the back of my forearm, about two inches below my wrist, and slowly worked it back and forth until it stopped hurting. Out of curiosity, I continued twisting the needle and watched as it painlessly slid further through the meat of my forearm, a full inch and a half, at least. Eventually, twisting the needle began to hurt again, only this time, it hurt on the underside of my arm. I looked, and, sure enough, the skin on the bottom of my forearm had begun to tent around the emerging acupuncture needle. I figured I was pretty committed to the experiment by then, so I backed the needle off just a bit, set my arm down on a paperback book, and returned to drilling. After a few seconds, I picked up my arm, and the paperback came with it. I pulled the book off my arm and looked at the acupuncture needle. The plastic cap of one end stuck out the hairy side of my forearm, while the pointy part stuck out of the soft underside. When I flexed my hand, the ends of the needle bowed up and down.
“Quit doing that,” my uncles wife said, when she came into the family room and saw what I had done. “You’re going to break that thing inside your arm.”
“Sorry,” I said.
She squinted at the needle. “You should go show your uncle.”
So I went upstairs where the actual classes were held, and waited for my uncle to finish teaching black belt class. When I showed him the needle protruding from both sides of my arm, he seemed very pleased and called some of his students over to see. I loved making him proud of me and adored the attention.
I enjoyed the celebrity of being “Sensei’s nephew,” and for the most part, I did well in school and life while I attended classes. So what happened? Where did I go wrong? What pulled me away from the dojo?
It was a couple things, actually, but the biggest reasons were definitely jealousy and girls.
First off, I was jealous of Uncle Herb’s children, or to be more precise, I wanted to be one of them. Sometimes, like when I put the acupuncture needle through my arm, he was very proud of me and told everyone how I was his nephew and how I looked like Bumpa (his father). Most of the time, however, I was just a kid that hung around the dojo. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I would never be as important to him as his own children, and even though that is the way it should be, the disillusionment took a bit of the glow off my training. I told myself I was better than his kids, because I didn’t even need a father, and in doing so created a new myth: Bastard Leon.
Then there were the girls. I’d messed around a lot by the time I went to middle school, but mostly it was clandestine midnight groping and secret screwing around. No one wanted to be my girlfriend, and though I’d gone down on girls and gotten blowjobs and done lots of stuff, no one had ever really let me kiss them. Then I got a nice girlfriend (See Helicopters Over Leon Street), and suddenly all the other girls started noticing me.
Of course, I dumped my nice girlfriend and started dating fast and dangerous girls. One of those girls broke my heart a bit, and I decided to go live with my father. The night before I moved to Oregon, I entertained two girls from school. We drank stolen whiskey and smoked my mother’s crappy weed. We messed around and traded blowjobs. They promised to write me while I was in Oregon, but I never heard from either of them again. I don’t even remember their names, but I remember one of them had extremely long and soft hair that, when I looked closely, seemed to contain every shade of brown, red, and blonde ever invented.
So I moved back to Oregon, to a father I barely remembered, and spent my 8th grade school year there. The endeavor was doomed from the start. Since last time I’d lived with my father, he’d become pretty bitter about my mother and her side of the family. He took the stance that anything any of them said was a lie, and that I had been raised entirely by deceptive and manipulative white trash, and therefore, I must be a liar as well. For my part, I’d given up on the idea of a father figure when I realized Uncle Herb wasn’t looking for any more kids. I’d become attached to the persona of Bastard Leon, and actually living with my father made maintaining that myth difficult. My father and I clashed early and often.
My father’s assumption that my family was dishonest was not without basis. On Mom’s side of the family, the code of ethics had two distinct parts: the way we treated family, and the way we treated outsiders. Family was to be defended at all times regardless of right or wrong. Outsiders were lied to whenever it was convenient. So I was stuck living with a man who’d become hostile towards my family, albeit with good reason. Though I considered him an outsider, he was also my father, so I couldn’t live inside my myth of being a hard-case, bastard, ghetto-child while living with him.
Also, with my long hair, cigarettes, attitude, and aggressiveness, I was the ultimate misfit in the little hillbilly middle school. By the time I left Oregon, at the end of the school year, I’d made some friends and been marginally accepted, however, the situation with my father had gone about as far as it could go without major violence. I was nearly man-sized by then, and every night I went to sleep after long and detailed fantasies of killing him.
It was in everyone’s best interest that I not stay. That first time I went to Oregon, when I was in second grade, things could have worked out, but by the time I went to stay with him in eighth grade, things had gotten too far out of hand. I was proud to be a bastard, and he was a father who’d been misused. I went back to Reno hating my father, and though we have a cordial relationship now, it took me a long time to forgive him for trying to be my dad.
The Nevada I returned to was not the same state I’d left, however. A strange transformation had taken place while I’d been stuck in Podunk Fields, Oregon (a.k.a Brownsville, Oregon). Nevada had discovered NWA. When I’d left, everyone I knew had been smoking pot, fucking, and listening to glam rock. When I returned, less than a year later, everyone was snorting speed, fighting, and listening to gangster rap.
The new world order suited me just fine. Before Oregon I’d been hedonistic, but I returned with a sadistic streak. I’d already learned to fight at the dojo, half of my family was dealing drugs, and the bad friends I’d left had done nothing but get worse. Also, I’d accepted my status as bastard, returning from Oregon with the world’s biggest chip on my shoulder.
Fuck fathers. Fuck my mother’s murdering husbands and junkie boyfriends. Fuck Uncle Herb for not loving me as much as his own children. Fuck my real father for trying to fill the hole he’d left in my life when I was two. Fuck em all, because the bastard was coming home.