I remember sitting on a bus in the sixth grade, looking out the window on my way to school and crying, feeling lonely and displaced. My family had moved from Colorado to Southern Utah for a business opportunity that didn't turn out the way that anybody hoped for. Consequently, my parents were separated the year that I started the sixth grade and I was having a hard time making real friends in a new place. I sat on the bus imagining friends that I had in Cortez, thinking that I was more popular there and remembering fitting in the year before I was in Utah. The next year brought more disruption as it took part of my family to yet another state and me to another school and to more challenges as I tried to deal with all the difficulties of puberty on top of the continuing challenge of making new friends again and the stress of not having two parents in the same house. About Christmas of that year (it was actually early December – my mom was putting Christmas lights up on the house that evening) I ran away from home with a friend of mine, Tony Feruglio. He was at that time already involved in petty crime and probably experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Tony's big motivation for running away seemed mostly to revolve around his growing fascination with lighters and gasoline and a crazy desire to make home-made Molotov cocktails (something he was always doing) without having to deal with the scornful eye of his parents – two individuals who were dealing with their own marital problems at that time, problems that Tony seemed to both affect and be affected by. Unlike Tony, who was motivated by a desire to escape his parents, I was actually trying to think of a way to get from where I was in Arizona to where my father was in Southern Colorado without getting into too much trouble along the way. It was a hard time for me and ending up back in Colorado appealed to me on two main levels: as I already stated, it would mean getting back to be with my father – a man who, during most of my childhood, occupied a place of almost mythic proportions in my psyche. He was a tough guy. He had been in the army and although he didn't often talk about it he had the bullet hole in his foot to prove it and the few stories that he did tell were more than enough to fill my imagination forever. He had worked as a firefighter and had more stories to tell about that. During college he had been a city inspector of cement or concrete (or both?) and he had also worked as a figure model in the art department. He was enviably strong; he had played football but had traded that in for running marathons. As an avid outdoorsman he hiked, he climbed mountains, and he could identify all the edible plants in the deserts of the Southwest that were always home to me as a child. Other hobbies of his included amateur archeology (our family's collection of authentic arrow heads and other artifacts would have been envied (and perhaps harshly criticized) by many professional archeologists), and later he became a little (very) obsessed with bug collecting – a hobby that would carry our family all over the virgin jungles of Latin America every summer as I got older. He was one of the smartest people I have ever met as well. Simply put, at that time in my life my father was my hero – he was everything I ever wanted to be or could want to be when I grew up. My second motive for running away at that time was, simply, nostalgia. I still felt the way I did more than a year earlier when I was crying on that bus in Southern Utah. I wanted to be back in a place where I fit in better. I think that in many ways, those were natural feelings for a boy of my age – it is common for teens to want to fit in regardless of their circumstances. Add a fairly disruptive home life to the normal complications of puberty that any teen goes through (things that already demand a lot of personal attention), an extremely large family, parents dealing with their own de facto separation that later led to a de jure separation, and moving around far too often for any of the kids to develop real relationships with anybody (all things that meant that as a 13 year old I was not getting the attention that a 13 year old needs) and you begin to get an idea of where I was running from as I headed out that evening. I was nostalgic for the sense of continuity that I had felt in Cortez two years earlier – a time when my family was more at peace, my parents were living in the same house and fighting less, and when I seemed to have real friends.
Tony and I didn't get far – perhaps two miles – when we decided that we would need to build camp fires to stay warm as we moved out of the heat of the desert toward the snowy plateaus to the north. Apparently, it isn't legal to sell lighters to kids because it isn't legal to sell tobacco to kids. At least that is what it seemed like at the time when we went into the convenience store to buy a lighter because the clerk asked us why we needed it and I said that we needed it to make a camp fire – to which Tony abruptly added, "We're running away; we're going to be sleeping in the fields." Shocked at his stupidity, I walked straight out of the store and sat down on a curb not far away. I didn't know what to do then. I felt defeated and alone. I don't know how long I sat there, but after what seemed like a long time a cop pulled up and stopped right in front of where I was sitting. Tony was in the front seat with him and I got in the car with them and was taken home.
I don't remember everything that happened at that point. My mom was surprised and then upset. She thought that I was just hanging out with a friend in the neighborhood somewhere. I told her that Tony had exploded a two liter bottle filled with gasoline alongside a nearby canal and that we had been afraid and decided to run away. All of that was perfectly true but none of it really explained my motives. I was grounded, but about a week later I was on winter break and my dad was visiting us from Colorado and when he went back I was sent with him. In the end, I got where I was going after all.
But what I had hoped for and what I got when I got there were two different things. I expected to walk right back into the social circles that I remembered and that I still longed for. However, when I actually got there, the cliques had all changed and none of my old friends really seemed to have missed me; I was the one who had left, not them – they all still had their other friends. So, once more and in the same rapid succession, I had to make new friends all over again. It was hard. I learned a few lessons then, from that experience, that have stayed with me. First, nothing ever stays the same; when we miss something, what we actually miss is the memory, the snapshot, something static. But real life is not static – it is dynamic; it is changing and we are changing every day. Unless we are there with the rest of the people, in the same place at the same time, we are not going to experience the same influences or the same changes – and even then we change in our own way regardless of the people around us most of the time. It is impossible to get the past back. Additionally, I discovered that you can be in the same place, and yet be in a very different place. It is the idea that you can never go home because we don't live in space alone; we are also subject to the changing effects of time as well as to the individual nature of almost all human experience.
This is the point that I wanted to get to when I started writing today – to this concept of change. Those lessons that I learned then were reinforced by several more years of terrible discontinuity in my family and personal life as I continued to move just about every year well into my twenties and well after my departure from home. One unfortunate consequence of all that in my own life, although perhaps not in the lives of my siblings, is that I have never been good at staying in touch with people. I think that I am like my dad in that way – in spite of all his other talents, staying in touch, even with family, has never been a strength of his. I think that I sort of decided that there was no point, that people wouldn't be the same anyway, that I was the one moving all the time – the last one there and the next one gone – and so I figured that I wouldn't be really missed so I should just do my best to not miss anybody else either. That is how I have lived and I have done a devastatingly poor job at staying in touch with people – including many of my own family members. I don't feel totally responsible for all of that – it takes more than one party to have a real relationship – but it is still something that bothers me. Finding that sense of continuity and staying in touch with other people is something that I think that I still long for, but it goes against all my training from growing up (not all intentional training but training just the same). My gut instinct wants what I have written about here, but my other instincts tell me that after a year or two in one place it is time to start thinking about leaving. I am not good at developing real relationships that last.
This is sort of where I am in my religious life as well. I am in the same place still but more and more it feels like a different place. More and more it feels like we haven't been changing together. And yet, it is still who I am – just that it is different now as well. I think that I started thinking about this all because a friend of mine, Jason, asked me the other day if I ever looked for an excuse to leave the Church. The answer is no. It is a part of me. It would be like leaving my family – even if I did, we are still family; my last name isn't going to change; my religion defines me in much the same way. In all things, there is ebb and flow; even if my faith fades and my testimony of the church that I have known all my life weakens, it is still what has caused the development of my particular worldview and if I were to have a given last name from my religion I would say that it couldn't change either. So don't send your missionaries my way – I am not converting. That isn't to say that my beliefs are static or unchanging either; I am affected by the vicissitudes of life just like the next guy. I really don't know what I am saying here right now, but I think that you can sort of catch my point anyway. I guess that I am saying that I could leave if I was a part of it, but it is a part of me. My relationship might change with that part of myself, but it will still be there all the time.
I will write more later. There is a lot more that I want to write, but I know that it can become too challenging to read this much in one post.
Thanks for reading. Oh, and by the way, I am working at getting better at staying put and at staying in touch. I want that continuity. I want to finish more things. And I want to be there for your changes so that we still know one another when we are 90. Sometimes I miss you. I always love you.