20 years ago I was 7. I could count my age on two hands. While continuing to clean out Grandma Ellie’s house I’ve found old photos she had around of me through various stages of my life, including some where I was 7-9 years old. I try to imagine what it felt like to be that boy. My life was fresh and sprawled out before me. There was an unlimited amount of potential and I didn’t really pause to think about it. I didn’t know about insurance or TIAA-Cref retirement funds, chronic disease, corrupt politicians, or the futility of life. Who cared?
Back then I certainly didn’t think 20 years later I would say this:
- Granny is dead.
- Grandma Ellie is dead.
- I have to find a full-time job, and work it, to get insurance in order to see doctors, get new glasses, have my teeth cleaned, afford medication, etc…
- I think I have some sort of anxiety, or depression, or something. Seriously, who knows?
- I miss not needing glasses.
- I miss being able to go on roller-coasters or swings (!!) without feeling motion sickness. Yep, that started around age 21.
- I miss sledding and doing crazy things before my back went bad.
- I miss not knowing what excruciating, paralyzing backspasms are.
- I miss not taking medication every day for a stomach to keep it from tearing itself apart.
- I miss having skin that was always clear and soft.
- I miss Britney Spears not being a freak.
- I miss playing alto sax and marching band.
- I miss childish innocence and naivety
When I was 7 I had Sega Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog comic books and Power Rangers at 4pm after school. Lord Zedd might finally create a monster that destroys the rangers Zords! Kimberly and Tommy might kiss! And, oh man, I never had to question whether I was gay because with THIS to look forward to every day how could I be anything BUT straight? Amy Jo Johnson, thank you for helping me never doubt my sexuality, you gorgeous pink ranger, you!
Of course when I was a bit younger I had Darkwing Duck, DuckTales, and Chip ‘ n Dale: Rescue Rangers to look forward to after school in the “Disney Afternoon” block I recently wrote about on Buzzfeed (Disney Afternoon: The Golden Era of Cartoons), so TV was certainly an early love of mine. Yeah, I won’t go into TGIF with Full House, Dinosaurs, and Steve Urkel on Family Matters because this is NOT supposed to just be about how much I loved TV! BACK ON TRACK, ANDREW!
Every Saturday I would go to Granny’s (Grandma Ellie’s mom / my great-grandma) house and at night I’d watch Snick, the amazing Nickelodeon programming block that featured shows like All That, Space Cases, Alex Mack, and, if I wanted nightmares, Are You Afraid of the Dark? (REALLY DREW? TV AGAIN?) I would eat Gran’s special “potato fries,” arranged lovingly like sunbeams with ketchup in the center on paper plates with wicker “plate covers” to add support or cinnamon toast with sugar on it. If I was really lucky I’d get a new sticker book or the privilege of arranging the fridge magnets or back door window clings to tell a story. She was a retired teacher and so she taught me how to write, to do math, to read, etc. “Look Sally Look! See Spot Run!” She was the reason I was in accelerated classes growing up. When she’d fall asleep in her rocking chair, I would be so scared she might die. She was in her 70s. As a matter of fact, I was often afraid of dying myself.
Somewhere in my childish innocence there was a dark fear that I never quite shook (and, golly gee, just the other night it struck me again so I guess some things NEVER change). There’s something strangely unsettling about ceasing to exist. I don’t think I ever believed in heaven or God. It never sounded plausible, just as Santa seemed unrealistic. (I mean, how did Rudolph’s nose light up and what about people who didn’t have chimneys in their houses? These are the things that I considered as a kid when other people stupidly bumbled around being cute and ignorant.) Anyway, off track again. *ahem* And despite the seeming impossibility of there being an afterlife, I would pray in bed that I’d never die and nor would the people I loved before sinking into my nightly tradition of imagining that I was in a clubhouse with all my favorite characters, like Sonic, Batman, Chip n Dale, the Power Rangers, etc and we would fight evil together and I would find a beautiful girl who loved me.
Sometimes during my Saturday nights at Gran’s house when I was trying to fall asleep I would be scared if the old house creaked or, in Anne Shirley style, my imagination got the best of me. I would walk into her room and stand there, afraid to wake her up, but afraid to be alone. Sometimes it would take me a long time to build the courage to call her name or it would come out as a whisper. Eventually she’d hear me. “Gran? Gran?” She always woke up and she’d come into the room I slept in where there just happened to be an extra twin bed. She’d lie in bed and reassure me she would always be there for me and tell me stories from her childhood and I’d fall asleep. (Feel free to make the joke that, again, some things never change.)
Something I’ve never been able to understand is the significance behind Granny’s house being a setting for countless dreams over the years. I haven’t stood in it for about 15 years since she moved into our home at the age of 12. Why, of all the places I’ve lived (7 houses) is that the only one I return to in my dreams? Does that represent the pinnacle of my innocence and an everlasting pull to return to childhood? It’s certainly symbolic of something.
Another aspect of childhood is how much I loved family get-togethers and parties because my Uncle Rob and Aunt Melissa were awesome and hilarious and my Grandma Ellie was wonderful to me as well. My parents put on the best parties with games, prizes, pool activities, cake, pinatas, apple bobbing… you name it.
When we got AOL \ dial-up \ the Internet I found a new addiction. No, I’m not talking about the Hamster Dance website (and possibly the first internet meme, if you’re not familiar – seriously check this out HAMPSTER DANCE). I could fuel my addiction to Sonic comics or video games by talking to people similar to me in chat rooms or browsing websites dedicated to them!
Ahh, the sweet sound of nostalgia.
Hell, I could even use instant messenger to chat with the writer of the Sonic the Hedgehog comic books and get scoops for Sonic HQ (sorry, Ken, for harassing you… but it’s pretty awesome you knew who I was at Comic-con and thanks for giving ME the scoop on the name of Tail’s Dad!!!!) I could also could sit in the basement for hours and hours on end playing platform games like Sonic the Hedgehog 2-3, Crash Bandicoot 1-3, Spyro the Dragon 1-2 or RPGs like Shining Force 1-2, and Final Fantasy 7-9. I had nothing better to do and I was in bliss.
The tactical, chess-like battle system was divine.
But we all know that can’t last. And it didn’t.
Descent into Darkness aka Adulthood
Your loss, Christina. :)
As I got older we moved 4 times in the same town. I had to switch middle schools because of the last move we made. Here I got bullied for my physical features and awkwardness. I found respite in concert and jazz band and for years I had a crush on a fellow alto sax, Christina, who was quite flirty with me. I’ll never believe she didn’t have a crush on me in 7th grade. Either way, I was too cowardly to make a move. “HAHA you don’t have any friends. You’re such a loser!” said Shera to me as I sat alone against the wall in a museum during our 8th grade trip to Washington DC. The bullying really brought me down and things only got more difficult when I got to high school and my Gran slipped into dementia and moved out of our house where she had been living for the past year. Her son kinda manipulated her and it was a mess that tore the family apart. I also asked out my first girl and got rejected. “I don’t know you very well,” said Kim. “Oh.. but we can get to know each other… by dating,” said a broken 13-year old Drew. And then we moved to Wisconsin. But I knew that life wasn’t all happy flowers and sunshine anymore. I’d felt real pain.
And how could any woman resist THIS?
Obviously, I kept getting older, and unfortunately, I came to realize that meant life got exponentially harder. I did get girlfriends after moving to Wisconsin and was 4 for 4 in “asking them out,” even if the first three relationships were short-lived and all four were a struggle for me. The bullying continued up there as well. Then I started to work at Culvers, which sucked because the fast-pace is too much for a dreamer whose mind would wander to videogames, or fantasies. I’d make mistakes. I hated the grill, the sweat, the pressure, the pain I felt in my back, the way the sweat irritated my skin, but that was life and I needed money. I went to college and it was some of the best years of my life, and yet things got even more real, all the while being coddled in the bubble of a college campus.
The exercises I’m supposed to do for my back… HA (2004)
First, the back pain I had been feeling for years got worse, and till this day, there’s never been a possible diagnosis, although I do have osteoporis. The summer between freshman and sophomore year of college my stomach started to hurt once a day. A LOT. Like, crippling pain that could only be faced by crumbling to the floor in the Walmart and curling into a ball until it stopped. My little brother Mark was freaked out when that happened, but unfortunately came to understand himself a couple months ago before Ellie died when he curled up on her kitchen floor in similar pain! Thankfully, he just had some serious ulcerage. I wasn’t so lucky to have something that would go away.
Next up in 2007 my great-grandma, Granny died. I thought back to all the times as a kid when I was terrified she’d die in her rocking chair and now here it was. She was gone. She lived into her 90s, and even though dementia made her a different person, she was still Gran. There was no turning back from that! I wrote a pretty emotional poem and read it at her wake, but what I wanted more than anything was to wake up myself and find out I was an 8-year old dreaming all this time. It didn’t happen.
After college I didn’t really know what to do with myself, so I went to grad school because school was all I’d known and I wanted a masters degree. I got it in Higher Education Administration and became a Residence Hall Director at Cardinal Stritch University and then for 3 years at my alma mater. In my mind I was a kid again! It was fun. I was happy. Sure, things were a bit more complicated, but I still had my grandma Ellie, monthly Sonic comics (yep, 17 year subscriber :D) and I can deal with some chronic pains, right?
The Darkest Days
Then, a month after I learned my contract wasn’t going to be renewed at Lawrence, my grandma Ellie got sick. And it was fast. Like, 4 months later dead fast. I was already freaking out about my job and the impending loss of insurance, which, honestly, is a bigger loss than the income. But then I moved home and before I knew it I lost E-wa. I already wrote a blogs on these things – My Day With Death and Moving on from Lawrence so I won’t repeat here.
I’m a cool college freshman!
This summer I’ve analyzed my life like never before. I’m worried I might have some form of anxiety or depression or something, but despite the struggles I’ve faced for the past 10 years with dating and close relationships, I test low on screenings. However, until I find a job with insurance I can’t even take care of myself. Insurance is a nasty little thing. If I was 26 or younger I could be on my parents, but of course, I just aged out of being able to do that. My medication for my stomach which costs about 30 bucks with insurance is 500+ without it. The medicine I use when my eye decides to go inflamed, turn red, and my vision blurs is over 110 dollars without insurance. I don’t have any and if my iritis, which appears to be a lovely companion to my stomach inflammation decides to flare up, I’m screwed. It usually flares around August so I’m realllllly hoping I get lucky this year! I already ceased my osteoporosis medication months ago.
I’d rather be in pain and sick than be bankrupt.
As a kid my parents had me covered, and granted, I was lucky to have two parents who were employed and provided for me. I’m lucky to still have parents who let me stay with them, free of rent, until I am back on my feet. I realized this summer how different 27 is from 7. My uncle I used to adore is still awesome, but now we disagree on things like politics, religion, student loan forgiveness, unemployment money… he’s conservative and not a fan of hand-outs. He doesn’t like social media or think a library job is viable. I don’t want my parents to have to help me, but I do support government aid. As a highly liberal atheist I have to be careful what I say. Point is, things have changed in ways I never even imagined as a naive child. I’m learning and accepting that my mom and my grandma and my relatives aren’t all perfect and struggled with their own demons that I never would have seen as a kid.
This world is a mess. I’ve lived through Columbine, 9/11, Sandy Hook and many more tragedies. I don’t know if America is as fantastic as I grew up believing. I am disenchanted with the lack of social justice, human rights, stable economy, etc I don’t like the pressure and focus on the workforce to be slaving away 40-50 hours and not even making enough money to live comfortably. I hear European countries have closer to 30 hour work weeks. I also hear those countries have higher ratings of happiness…
I spend a lot of time thinking about dying alone. Never finding love. As a kid I believed by now I’d have found somebody and be happily living like my parents were when they were my age. As I’ve watched 99.9 percent of my relatives over the age of 65 die, I worry about losing my parents. Seeing my mom grieving the loss of her mother and settle into being an orphan freaks me out, I’m not going to lie. I turn 30 in three years and I don’t know what I have to show for it other than a worn down body and damaged psyche.
Why do we have to grow up? What cruel joke has evolution forced on us? Granted, sure, some people age better and some people have more fortune and some people have less fortune. I’m lucky to even be where I am because it could be a hell of a lot worse. I just want the ANSWERS and the DIRECTION I didn’t even consider at 7. This isn’t an RPG video game. It’s far more difficult. There are only so many do-overs and definitely no Phoenix Downs or “Curaga” spells to heal my wounds or resurrect my fallen relatives.
I want to have insurance and I want Granny and Ellie back.
I’m in classes two and three of my 10 needed for my library science masters… I want to complete it quickly and be qualified for jobs, but I don’t know what to do! Social media? Cataloging? I try to be a writer, but I can’t think of any article ideas and don’t believe in myself enough or think I can write anything captivating. Writing a children’s book is NOT as easy as I thought.
I don’t know if I’m Peter Pan or Alice (in Wonderland), but I do know that I’m and old jaded man and there is no going back.
I have to make the most of what the rest of my life becomes. It was just a hell of a lot easier when it didn’t matter.