It seemed that other teens were happy and content. Not all, and I was part of a large group of not happy campers. It was a blue-collar town and school, so all of us swam in the same blue-collar pool, but some were just more connected with themselves.
There was a hole in my chest, and I was determined to find out what should be in the hole, like searching for a puzzle piece that you need to complete the puzzle. So, I experimented with booze (gee, everyone in the mid 1960s was doing that), smoking cigarettes (ditto), and some minor crime. Again, all my friends were doing the same thing, yet some were happier than others. And guys don’t ask other guys what makes them happy unless they want to be shunned forever.
By the time I graduated from high school, the feeling that the small town was growing smaller every second was killing me. My Dad thought the “talk” might be the problem. No daddy, Sonny knows all about the birdies and the bees. My dear Mom thought the fact that my older sister was such a mess that it took most of my parent’s time and money to keep her train on the track was the problem. If fact, I was almost invisible. I worked after school, had my own car, bought my own clothes, and paid my bills on time. I was able to come and go without supervision since I was 13, which helped my budding career in crime go undetected by the clueless parents. Trust me, if they knew about my crimes, my chain would have been yanks hard.
But that was not it. My crimes were minor, and we never came close to being caught. But the feeling that I had missed something important was ever there like a clock ticking in the background, a constant reminder.
My girlfriend at the time tried to talk me off the ledge when we would go out. I just kept asking why so and so was so content or happy. Why didn’t anyone else seem to care that the single drive-in in our town had the same people passing the time the same way every night, it was dreadfully boring. To challenge ourselves, we would go out to the new interstate before it opened and run our sedans at 100MPH just for the thrill of it. Had we known the dangers of doing that on worn-out tires, we would have fainted dead away.
But graduation leads to college, a junior college for us poor kids. At the Orientation day one hot August, all the newly enrolled gathered in a large room to hear the new rules, that were the same rules we all just left behind at our high school.
Something snapped in my head, like a 2×4 breaking! I got up in the middle of the talk and left. My friends looked on without the stunned jaw-dropping stare because they wanted to join me but had no guts. Out I went, and I drove around the small towns small streets holding small homes of small people searching for an answer to what I was going to tell my parents. I needed to run away. NOW.
My friend Johnny was not going to subject himself to the degrading aspect of college. He was sipping a beer (his Mom would buy for him, sort of explains Johnny now that I think about it) and motioned me to stop and chat. Two beers later, I ask Johnny what he was going to do this fall. He replies as casually as telling me he is going fishing that he is joining the United States Marine Corps and going to be an Embassy guard in Paris because the French chicks can’t refuse the Marine Dress Blue uniform.
After maybe 60 seconds, I respond that I’ll join too. I’m now officially running away with Johnny, but Johnny’s mommy gets him out of the contract somehow…..Johnny stays home, and I never see or hear from him again.
Fast forward through that nasty evening when I told my parents, and the two weeks of “hero” like that happened at the drive-ins, to the talk from a casual girlfriend (me and what’s her name called it quits before graduation) when she says; “Do you watch the news?” No, I work evenings. Did I know that boys were being killed over in Viet Nam at an alarming rate? I advise her Marines are men, and can’t be killed (rant!)
The “missing feeling” got much more significant in Viet Nam, and it wasn’t missing Mom’s home cooking. Some of the guys talked about being Catholic and the Altar Duty mishaps or nuns whacking you on the back of the head because you are getting caught doing something. I wished I could be Catholic to share in those stories. I saw the same guys pray with beads allot. I learned they were the Rosary Beads to talk to Blessed Mother and ask Her for favors.
My problem got worse as I was lonely, and the girl who I was writing to back home advised me she had found the love of her life, and it was not me. I was having problems separating being lonely from being lost and alone. Lonely can be solved by having a significant other that you love and write to. Being lost and alone is like a dark place in your gut. When I thought about it, I got scared like a little kid afraid of the dark and the boggy man under the bed.
I survived an explosive device blowing up 5ft from me. Other guys got hit with the shrapnel, but I did not. Marines say it is your number being up that determines if you die or not. Not my turn yet. I had that feeling that I could bite the bullet, and no one would miss me back home. That is a dark place, my friend.
My mother had bought me a pocket bible with a steel plate to protect me from a bullet going through my heart. My parents had no idea of religion other than they both did not want any in the home. No God. No Mary. No Jesus. I found out about religion like I found out about sex, you ask around (and you wonder why kids get such stupid ideas and make stupid mistakes). God forbid you ask your Mom about sex!
I opened the bible one day and began Genesis. Holy Crapolly’, what a mistake! No one said that someone like me should start with Matthew and Jesus, not Genesis. But something happened as I began to ask the Catholic buddies about this chick Eve who was made from mud. Questions start to form in my empty head. Why did Eve disobey God who was like her drill sergeant (no Marine with half a brain would openly defy a drill sergeant).
When I come home, I’m ready for college now, baby! Oh boy, let the games begin. I attack junior college, including picking up 4 Math classes I should have passed in high school, and finish with a 3.9 GPA in one year. Working nights, taking a full load + and focus like a snipper. Yes, the hole in my gut is still there, and the feeling that I’m not wearing pants is constant. But I’m convinced that what is missing is my career, whatever that is going to be.
I’m now engaged to be married to a Saint. She is Catholic (SURPRIZE), and her family seems to like me. My sister is now more of a parent magnet with a weekly crisis of sick children or a husband who seems to enjoy being out of town allot (no wonder). I’m the big brother to my future wife’s three younger sisters. The youngest is eight years old and into baseball, and I’m now coaching her all-girl team and loving it. I begin to think that children is what I’m missing.
So now my children are grown and in college, my wife is working with flowers and making party’s happen, and I’m like successful, and the feeling is still there. Never left, just like a clock ticking in the background.
At a wedding reception, I make a bet that no sane man would make and lose big time. If I lose, I have to say a Rosary at a stranger home that the guy I bet with who was invited to her house. What? Do What? Why? Way over my head and I just go suck it up and do it. I’m now baptized (something mom never thought was necessary), Confirmed, and a card-carrying Catholic man that would be defined today as a casual Catholic. Holy Days of Obligation were excellent if I could get out of work early and go sailing. Yea, that kind of Catholic.
But as I walked out of that woman’s home who was a stranger to me after saying my first Holy Rosary, I felt Blessed Mother touch my heart. A big chunk of the open wound closed up, not all the way, but I felt a purpose and saw a destination in sight. At about the same time, my wife’s cousin becomes an Ordained Priest and gets his first assignment. I invite him to my 27ft sailboat on Lake St. Clair. We sail, we suck down Vodka n’ Tonics while smoking Marlboros…..and we talk. I open up the vault and tell this younger newly Ordained person what is and is not on my mind.
He brings me to a place I have never been to before. I heard about this place, but there is no way I’m going there! But I did. Confession. First time, on a boat. I had no idea that I was carrying a 50 pound backpack of crap, but when I made the first Confession, I felt it leave my body. I felt free. I thought that the hole was being healed, not done, but healing.
DAMN, I wanted more of this. I was tired of being a mean self-centered jerk. I wanted that smiling guy that was me without the crap on my back all the time. I felt alive and with a purpose. I was helping people rather than stepping all over them as I had done in the past.
I went back to reading the Bible; I bought a Bible study guide. I began to find new people to talk to about my faith. I became a warmer, more helpful guy. Hell, I even liked myself for the first time in years.
Every step this sinner took towards Jesus, and His Mother brought me comfort and confidence that Satan could not hurt me as he did in the past. I became aware that I wanted to show the better me all the time in every way to please God, Jesus, and Blessed Mother. I dumped my marina rat neighbors (never were friends as friends lead one another to God, not away from God), and new friends found me and warmly invited me into their group. These have been my BF’s for over 15 years.
I always thought God-Fearing men would be stern and strick, you know, no fun. My goodness, I was wrong. These goofballs keep me in stitches most of the time. Jesus loves happy well-centered people who can enjoy one another’s company without putting down, making feel small or shutting out someone for a laugh.
What was missing for most of my life was the Holy Spirit and Blessed Mother.
Oh, if I could only go back and recapture the lost years of feeling insecure and alone while standing in a group of people! That feeling of not knowing what you are doing here, afraid, and venerable.
I now know Satan is real and wants to keep Heaven a secret from you and me. He knows losers’ like me can find happiness and JOY when I turn to the Holy Spirit.
If a nobody like me can do it, so can you.