Living in a world without love would likely be a heartbreaking experience unless you didn’t know what love even is. You wouldn’t know what you were missing if it simply wasn’t part of reality in a given universe. Or how about living in an environment where the language of love is different from the norms of general society?
Here are some snapshots of how I remember it. Our family was the usual for our time and location. There was a mother and a father. There were four of us kids and another came along after my sister had grown up and was pregnant with her first child. Dad was an employed mechanic and Mom was a housewife most of the time. The grandparents were around until we moved to another state. There were lots of gatherings and Sunday dinners. Meals were served at a table and almost always included meat and potatoes.
Dad was a hard worker and came home in clothes covered with grease and grime. Mom kept a good house and was the disciplinarian of the family. Dad was quiet usually. Mom was loud, direct and sarcastic. They both liked having fun, which meant they spent weekends going out to bars and night clubs in those early years of my life. I don’t remember them going to school functions. Their lack of interest in our personal lives meant we were given a long leash. We had a “live and let live” operation by the time I was 10.
We didn’t verbalize or physically demonstrate our love for each other. Probably due to our mother and her side of the family, there was an element of jocularity in our home. My brothers generated much of it and I think I eventually learned how to contribute some of my own humor. From my perspective, my parents’ sparse teaching was through example. Their love was unspoken, but present in deed. They were solidly together. Though we moved a lot, we had a roof over our heads and food on the table.
None of that really mattered to my immature mind. I was content with things as they were. I did start to awaken to the intriguing possibilities of romantic love by the age of six. I don’t remember much about my feelings and thoughts from that time, but I do recall an incident in 1st Grade I’d like to relate. It was recess and I was in the school yard with other students. I was hanging out with a girl named Candy. Somehow, it became general knowledge that she was my girlfriend. Some of the students were making fun of me about it. They were taunting me mercilessly. I was anything but a violent boy, but I became enraged and started lashing out. I took off my winter hat that had a buckle on the chin strap and I swung it around viciously, hoping to hit somebody with it. I guess I wanted to get back at anyone who said I had a girlfriend. Coincidentally, a couple of years later, I remember knowing this other girl named Candy in our next neighborhood who was supposedly my girlfriend. I was standing with my mother at her family’s front door when this “relationship” was referenced in a mildly amused way between the adults.
I had my first crush on a girl in 6th Grade, I think. Those feelings were a mixture of excitement and bashfulness. I started learning how to be aloof to protect myself. I wouldn’t consider letting her know I “liked” her. I worshipped her from afar, across a classroom.
In 8th Grade, we had just moved to a new town. I was just getting to know students and to be known by them. At a school event, I was walking through the hall when a girl flirtatiously said, “Hi Paul” to me. She mistook me for a classmate of mine who I resembled. I think she did that again soon after. That made me take cover behind more misplaced antagonism. I rudely pointed out to her, “I’m not Paul!” That put an end to this nonsense. She backed off and never flirted with me again. Then I began seeing how pretty she was and I developed a long-term crush on her that I could never bring myself to reveal. We eventually became friends, but I could not tell her how I felt about her.
Not much changed through junior high and high school. I became moderately popular and a bit of a class clown. I learned to dance and singled out girls I would dance with, but I didn’t have the confidence to talk with them despite dancing with them many times. I did ask a couple of girls out, but was rejected and stopped asking. I was fixed up for my two prom dates. The second one was a great girl and we shared an exciting affection, but I didn’t continue to go out with her, for no logical reason.
At home, my younger brother by nine years and I became the only two left at home. My mother started working. I was given a puppy at about the age of 13. That made me very happy. I adored him. Unfortunately, he was chained to a dog house outside and I did nothing for him except feed him. I even forgot to do that duty once in a while. He was an obvious choice for my dormant love, but I wasn’t interested in him anymore. Because my parents left me babysitting my brother while they went out sometimes, we grew close in some ways, but I was given to treating him cruelly at times. I would scare him with pranks and stories that could plant fears in his impressionable mind. It’s good to know all these years later that he doesn’t recall those incidents.
Mostly, I liked people. I poked fun too much, but I wasn’t mean-spirited. I wanted to make people laugh and be liked back because of my sense of humor. I didn’t find love in my adolescence, except in the form of friendship. It was great, but not enough.
Part Two of this post is available and comes next in the Blog menu. It covers my adult life on the subject of finding love.