Friday, August 28, 2015

More memories: non-eidetic

As a child, I behaved well in school, loved to read and had a near-eidetic, or photographic, memory. This all served me well and the academic side of school was a breeze. On the other hand, I was very shy and my social status was a bit shaky. Because I was almost always at the top of my class in a group where that counted for something -- it was a college town, after all -- , I had some points going into the game. But I was not good at games themselves and preferred to play with just one or two friends. So I was a bit of a fringe presence, not really an A-list first grader. This somewhat ambiguous status lasted until my junior year in high school.

I mentioned not being good at sports and games. There was a physical reason for this as well as psychological elements. When I was born, I was noticeably pigeon-toed. The doctors told my mother that the muscles in my legs were too strong for the bones, resulting in the muscles pulling my legs in and turning my feet toward one another. For a while before I started school, I had to wear a brace on my feet that tried to force them into the proper position. This was painful and I hated it. I also was supposed to sit with my legs folded under behind me with my feet turned out while I rested my body weight on the feet. 

Later I learned that, except for forcing the feet outward, this was a traditional Carmelite position for prayer. As a child, it only made me unhappy. As an adult friar, it did facilitate focus and calm. What goes around comes around, but perhaps in an unexpected way.

Because of the problem with my feet and legs, I did not play and run around outside as much as most kids. I learned to find my pleasure sitting and looking through books, eventually sitting and reading. This of course paid big dividends academically in school, but the tendency to isolate and entertain myself cost me in the social arena.

Because of my clumsiness and shyness, I was subjected to a bit of bullying. One kid who later grew up to become part of my closest circle, beat me up regularly, even before we were in school together. His father and mine had been in college together and helped one another build the houses that we, their sons, grew up in. So we spent a certain amount of time together as kids, and it did not go well for me.

Once school started, though, this changed and we became tolerant of one another and eventually friends. Later in high school, we were rivals for the same girl’s attention, a one-sided combat that I clearly lost. We remained friends, nonetheless, often double-dating. My freshman year in college, when I was at Michigan State and Rodney was at Sam Houston State back home, I got a phone call from Huntsville, telling me that he had died in a freak construction accident on campus. It was something unexpected and it broke my heart. We were both eighteen at the time, and he had been a significant part of my life for fourteen years. I missed him more than I would have thought possible.

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