My wife and I rented a DVD the other night called “The Kings of Summer.” It was a touching coming of age film, not too different from a thousand similar films that have been made – but watching it, there was something different in me. I recognized something that I hadn’t recognized before – or, rather, that I had recognized and identified but never before in this way. In truth, I’ve never been the me I am now before, so how could I have seen it.
I should describe the story of the movie. A young man – still a boy, but not yet a man – lives with his father – a rather harsh intellectual man who can’t see and won’t admit that his boy is becoming a man. That was me. The boy is smart and causes mischief. His best friend lives in an oppressive world where his parents coddle him and also refuse to see he is becoming a man. Boy #1 is in love with a girl who sees him as a friend and has an older boyfriend.
Boy #1 convinces boy #2 to run away with him and build a house in the woods where they will live all summer. The two run away from home with another friend and the three boys discover life on their own. Boy #1 runs into the girl he loves, finds out she is now single, and invites her to the cabin. Of course, she ignores him and falls for his best buddy – boy #2. And the rest of the film is them working all that out with a snake thrown in for good measure and the near death of boy #3 fixing everything.
That part about the girl – that happened to me too. I was in love with a girl – my first love. It was the most hopelessly intense love I’ve ever felt because it was that first love – she saw me as a friend and ignored my overtures of love but I kept on – we spent every moment we could together and I was sure she was almost mine and then she met my best friend – and the two of them smashed my teenage heart into tiny pieces, stomped on it, beat it with dead chickens, and – I think – killed a part of me that was beautiful and kind and warm and filled with hope – they made me think that was dead. Without going into details – I was forced to watch and unable to get away from having to see my friend steal everything that I’d ever wanted from me. Of course, their relationship didn’t last – he broke her heart and though I pursued her still – even when she was in my arms at last – she was never the girl I’d loved and wanted so badly – that girl was an idea and the idea of her was killed and replaced with hate, anger, and envy.
I spent the rest of my teenage years convinced that there was something wrong with me and trying to figure out what that was. I found a lot of reasons why she’d picked him instead of me – he was taller, he was blonder, he was cooler, and on and on. I found so many flaws in myself that there was no way that I could exist without hating who I was. My body, my head, my face, my height, my hair, my self. She picked him and not me and so, I reasoned, there must be something wrong with me.
So, when I saw this in the movie – it really hit me hard. The same thing happened to this kid and the big difference was I didn’t have a goofy friend who almost died from a snake bite and made things better before the summer was over. Nope – I did not have that. I had a father who was going through his mid-life crisis and broke promise after promise to me thus convincing me further that I was a turd. I had a brother who was Tom Cruise handsome and who every girl I ever dated in high school would talk about as if I weren’t standing next to her. I had cousins who oozed self-confidence and had no problems landing girl after girl and telling me about it – and I had intense self hatred that found validation for rage and anger that everyone else was taller than I was or had more money than I did or that women were so shallow and full of shit that they would pick anyone other than me. It was awful and as I write about it and as I realized it the other night – it is more awful than you can imagine.
You see – the combination of these things – they were poison on my soul. All I wanted was to find a woman who would validate that I wasn’t the monster I imagined myself to be but in the process of trying to find that woman, I grew into the monster I imagined. My best friend, the guy who was closer to me than a brother, knowingly used the woman of my devotion as a part time whore. It was never love for him – he had a girlfriend. The woman I was devoted to – turned my best friend against me and stole the one person who I trusted more than anyone. At fourteen, I learned an awful lesson – you can trust no one. I also learned that all women were whores. I also learned that there was no honor among men. I also learned that love opened the door to the most intense pain of them all – heartbreak.
They were awful lessons then, but more so now because it is only now at 42 years old, that I can see how wrong those lessons were. It is only now that I can see how I wasted all of those years – 28 of them – or at least 25 of them – trying to overcome that blow. I used that pain to do terrible things. Instead of using my brain to get good grades or to create a future for myself, I obsessed about finding a woman to validate me, to tell me I wasn’t as hateful and awful as I had convinced myself I was. Then, when I found women who wanted to do exactly that – I could never trust them, never allow myself to love them, never let myself listen to them, never stop wondering if they were whores too, never stop wondering if they were lying to me.
I have never really allowed myself to be too close in my friendships because I never wanted to have a friend destroy me like that friend did. I was so desperate to be validated as good as other men, that there were times that I stole their girlfriends or had their girlfriends behind their backs. It never made me feel validated. I wanted those women to leave their boyfriends and choose me – sometimes they did – but then, I just thought they were awful whores doing the same thing to someone else that I didn’t want them to do to me.
Everything I did was to prove that I was as good as every other man, but every thing I did convinced me of the opposite and demonstrated that I wasn’t. I tried to tell myself it was my height, it was my hair, it was my belly, it was my back – but no – it was this sickness that they caused in me and that I held onto as my only beloved. This hatred of men and hatred of women. I hated the women for not wanting me and the men for having the women that didn’t want me. As I think of it – I can’t believe I survived. I joined the Marines at 17 and at the time this allowed me to drink on base – I turned 18 in Bootcamp and after that it was a 4 year bender of trying to prove to everyone else that I was more of a man than they were while I puked, drove drunk, got in fights, and destroyed anything that threatened to make me a success. Success became my enemy because if I succeeded then I had no excuses, no one to blame my failings on. Happiness became my enemy and I chased it away with benders and anger.
By the time I was out of the Corps, I was a full blown alcoholic and not surprisingly left every job or relationship that had a chance at success. I pursued only the ineffable. I wanted only the unattainable. In other words – I fucked myself. Over and over and over again.
Seeing that movie woke that pain – only now – for the first time – I can recognize what happened. It had nothing to do with me. My friend shouldn’t have gone after the girl I’d told him I loved – the girl I shouldn’t have gone after my friend – but they were kids and kids make mistakes. I shouldn’t have carried a 14-year old’s heartbreak into manhood, I shouldn’t have let two 14 year old kids shape my lifetime of friendships, love, and relationships. I really shouldn’t have hated myself for what other people did – that was my biggest mistake. It had nothing to do with me. It never did – but the good news is that now, finally, it really does have nothing to do with me. I’ve let it go.
I’ve finally figured out what was wrong with me and why I lost again and again – there really was something wrong with me and it wasn’t my height, weight, hair, brain, or even my personality. I was filled with the poisons of envy, hatred, and self-loathing. I was a monster.