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Updated on August 12, 2013




On the final day I would see her alive, mom was a complete mess: About ninety pounds and covered in bedsores. The cheap perfume the attendant sprayed on her did only a marginal job of masking an odor of stale urine and sweat. Her hair was wildly random and her eyes were so sunken into their orbitals that it could be presumed her head was imploding.

Auschwitz, I thought.

Still, even though high on two doses of morphine, she rose and extended her arms to me. We hugged for a long time. As the selfish child within me began to cry, he was interrupted by his dying mother's raspy, scarcely audible whisper:

"You've always been a good son, Reid. I love you."

With accountability being the hallmark of maturity, it was on the last minute of the final day I saw mom alive that I humbly conceded my life lacked accountability. Additionally, in the hours following her death, I realized no greater feeling of loss exists than that of being powerless.

Mine has rarely been a life of invitation-only politics. Consequently, it would be predictably simple for me to point fingers and to make excuses for much of my past behavior. However, an excuse is just an excuse and, ultimately, nothing is gained from excuses. Indeed, history repeats itself when failure bleeds seamlessly into life's lessons not heeded: With youth comes ignorance. With education comes arrogance. With beauty comes a prejudicial view of life's many realities.

In youth I was successful at not only missing the forest for the trees, but moreso at missing the trees entirely for a few mere slivers of grass. Was I born, or had I been hatched? By early adulthood I did not know, nor did I much care. In the gradual quest to become human I'd baptized myself a sort of apathetic egomaniac.

Entering adulthood, the dysfunctional logic of my past imperiled either those who cared about me most or anybody stupid enough to trust that I could be even quasi-functional a person. As a broken boy, I would ultimately grow into a broken man's frame. How many victims had I constructed? I did not know. I was powerless over those things I could not control. Why couldn't I understand that? In the end it would take the death of my mother to inspire in me even the slightest change, or any genuine reassessment of self. No, not even the birth of my artfully beautiful son inspired me to actually become a decent person; I guess I really did have too much of my wacky father within me. Sometimes, genetics really suck.

Yeah, I suspect that I am not a conventionally ‘normal' person. Moreso, like Alice through the looking glass, I tend to be more of an outsider looking in.

Growing up I learned to embrace quantity over quality until eventually my self-identity gelled. Subsequently, "quantity-versus-quality" seeped into most of my decision making. I embraced negative reinforcement early, particularly since disappointment and instability were my only predominant childhood consistencies.

Since I had had no substantial father figure I theorized that even a shitty dad would surely have been better than no dad. As a little boy I remember hoping my mom, in all of her eccentricity, would find her ‘Mr. Right.' I understood that had her Mr. Right ever appeared, by default so too would appear a sort of ‘Mr. Dad' for me.

Neither Mr. Right nor Mr. Dad ever materialized. Those who did show up usually wouldn't stick around very long. And, in more instances than not, a few of them just didn't know when to leave!

The mental health practitioner from whom I was directed to seek psychiatric council concluded that, yes, I was paranoid and narcissistic too, but no real threat to self or to others, as was initially believed. Thus, my marauding band of personalities had inducted two more members, Mr. Paranoiac and Mr. Narcissistic, into an ensemble cast of hundreds. These two new arrivals, while warmly received, mingled well amongst those other personalities already preoccupying my occasionally unbalanced, symbiotic mind. Still, there are others; anonymous pariahs hiding in the most remote crawl spaces of my inner thoughts, remaining nameless in their safeguarding of my most private confessions. Rather than live in debilitating denial, I self-medicate with nimble, placating stabs at normalcy. Sometimes it works, usually it does not and always this reality hurts.

One night, years after the divorce, my six-year-old son asked if he could sleep with me in my bed. I said no. When he asked why I silently concluded that there really wasn't a reason. Suddenly it hit me that somewhere in life I'd evolved into one of those "No!" people. Additionally here I was, my son's champion, and yet one candid look in the mirror would remind me that I was entering into middle age as a mediocre father with far more failures than successes to show. Later, after crying myself sober, I went into my son's room and, small as it was, I climbed in his bed. Cradling him in my arms, I listened to the gentle rise and fall of his breathing while somewhere off in his own private dreamland he slew dragons, chased fairies and drove racecars. I breathed in slowly and just as slowly I let the air escape.

My own father had been kicked out of the Marine Corps for being mentally unstable; a numbing parallel. Lord, how crazy must a man be in order to receive a discharge from the Marines; especially during those early days of what grew cancerously into the ghoulish nightmare of Viet Nam? It was a time when anything with a swinging penis between its legs was being rapidly inducted into the ranks of light infantry. What the hell was wrong with me anyway, I wondered. Hearing him breathe, I became aware of my own breathing. Suddenly, my ‘Inner Dad' was awakened and after nearly seven years of procrastinating, that night I finally became My Son's Father.

I concluded that throughout my life not one single person had ever failed me; instead, I was failing myself. Now, either I had never really been a complete person, or, I was broken for such a long while that I simply gave up trying; I didn't know. What I did know was that somewhere along my life's path I grew into my own most relentless adversary and in the process had become powerless to overcome me. These were the glaring realities of which I would need to take ownership if I were ever to become a whole person.

/ / / END OF PART ONE / / /


© 2007 - R. MARTIN BASSO

NEXT INSTALLMENT - Part 2; The Rules Of Engagement Were Immensely Simple


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