As I am somewhat new to blogging, I thought I would introduce myself, though not in the brief way I had in the “About the Author” page. I wanted to give you something more in-depth, as I will probably be referring to people, places and events from my life in future posts, so I pieced together this auto-biography. Naturally, there are events I cannot speak of in this post, and I rushed the ending a tad. It is as up-to-date as I could make it, though, and I will continue editing this post whenever my living situation changes. There is no real ending, for “the end has not yet been written,” as the old adage says.
You will undoubtedly see the occasional mention of mythological themes. We all have elements of mythology in our every day lives; we just don’t notice these mythological aspects until long after the events are over, if we even notice them then. Events in our lives are so “real” to us (because we experienced them ourselves) that we often forget to compare them to past events – including events labeled as “mythology”, things our brains have been trained to think “didn’t happen” – in order to learn all we can from them.
What is “mythology”? A myth is an explanation of something that happened, whether that myth is true or false. Sometimes, stories that actually happened to someone that got exaggerated over time are classified as myths. Sure, the Trojan Horse may have been just a story, but the Trojan War actually happened. Whether it was a miraculous event caused by an angry God or a volcanic steam vent opening beneath the feet of those who perished, Sodom and Gomorrah were probably real ancient Middle Eastern cities known for being corrupt and crime-filled, like Prohibition Era Chicago.
Every myth begins with a real event. All that what separates “myth” from “reality” is a little (or a lot of) embellishment and our level of belief. Once you grasp that concept, we discover the mythological all around us, even in our own lives.
Some basics first:
- Favorite colors: Black, red, blue and silver – standard Sith Lord colors. I usually dress in solid black. If you see me wearing any article of clothing in any other color without any black to accent it – like khaki pants – it’s probably laundry day.
- Favorite music genres: Gothic, industrial, dark wave, ethereal wave, alternative, electronica, metal, rock, techno, some synthpop, oldies, folk music, classic rock, world music, or classical/instrumental. My most recent favorite bands have been Depeche Mode, VNV Nation, Blue Stahli (their album Darkeworld specifically, released under the band name “Voxis”), VAST, Voltaire (I seem to gravitate toward bands with “V”-names, don’t I?), UnSun, The 69 Eyes, Apoptygma Berzerk, Assemblage 23, Imperative Reaction, Type O Negative, Evanescence (pre-Fallen, actually, back when they still had a unique edge to their sound; their latest self-titled album is terrible beyond words), old school Nine Inch Nails/How To Destroy Angels (or almost anything by Trent Reznor, especially if he’s teamed with Atticus Ross), and whatever else can be classified as either “Gothic”, “Industrial”, “electronica” in the online music stores. Occasionally, I groove to the righteous reggae rhymes of Matisyahu.
- Favorite movies: Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (cheese at its best); The Matrix (as I get older, I’m starting to respect the entire trilogy more than I used to); anything with Star Trek in the title; The Crow (love doesn’t just conquer death in that film; it beats death’s ass!); The Dark Knight (or as I call it, “The Movie That Made Me Give a Damn About Heath Ledger Again”); TRON; The Lord of the Rings Trilogy; the original Star Wars Trilogy (go ahead, mention those damn prequels to me, I dare you); Mallrats; The X-Files: Fight the Future; David Lynch‘s interpretation of Frank Herbert‘s Dune; the cult classic Dark City (especially the Director’s Cut); Jurassic Park; Ghostbusters (sad as it may seem, seeing the sequel in theaters as a boy made me want to be a parapsychologist).
- Favorite TV shows: AMC’s The Walking Dead (I liked Season 1 much better than the comic it was based on, but Season 2 was gravely disappointing); Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (formula for television success: stuff some interesting and potentially volatile people on a space station orbiting a planet-sized Holocaust metaphor, declare the black agnostic leading male a messiah figure for what is essentially “Space Judaism”, introduce some genetically-enhanced soldiers led by shapeshifters who are worshiped as gods as the series’ villains and start a major interstellar war between the two factions, then watch as the ratings slowly increase); Babylon 5 (another space station show, only with more drama and less restrictions on its writers); Firefly (for some reason, Sci Fi + Western really appeals to me); Trigun (yet another “Space Western”, this one made by Japanese animators); Cowboy Bebop (a sort of “Space Western”); The X-Files (if I ever get that damn investigator’s certification from MUFON, I’ll be Agent Mulder); TRON: Uprising (this series actually surprised me with how good it is, even though the plotting can be a tad formulaic at times); The Big Bang Theory (I identify emotionally with Leonard, though I am far too similar in background and temperament to Sheldon). I’m sure you’ve noticed the geeky pattern by now…
- Favorite books: The Holy Bible (I prefer the Authorized Version because I love the poetry of Early Modern English, but I’m not picky); The Hobbit by Tolkien; Crichton‘s Jurassic Park (much of my teenage worldview was influenced by Dr. Ian Malcolm); Area 51: The Dreamland Chronicles by journalist and noted wine aficionado David Darlington (marvelous non-fiction missive illuminating the history of the “top secret” airbase nestled in the Nevada Test Site, the early “UFO secrecy”/Area 51 movement, the formation of the “Groom Lake Interceptors” – one of whom I’ve spoken with often on Twitter, @BadDalaiLama – and the infamous story of Bob Lazar, the man who claimed to work on UFOs at the base); Space Relations: A Slightly Gothic Interplanetary Tale by Donald Barr (it’s a wonderfully-told tale of slavery, sex, love and the arabesque on a backwater world far from Earth); The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel (the true story of UFOs, the Men in Black and some really strange creatures in 1960s-1970s West Virginia).
- Favorite games: Star Trek Online (before you ask – yes, I own a Starfleet uniform); City of Heroes (the expansion Going Rogue has a much greater story than the original game); Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II – The Sith Lords (the story lacked a solid ending, but the game mechanics were vastly superior to the first game); Phantasy Star IV (because the Sega Genesis kicked ass); Jurassic Park: Operation Genesis (it’s like those theme park creator games, except your attractions really can eat the tourists!); The Sims 3 (I don’t allow myself to play it anymore because it’s too damned addicting).
- Favorite food: Grilled chicken & cheddar pizza.
- Favorite song(s): None at the moment – I go through too “favorite songs” many per week. Overall, I tend to have a collectionof favorite songs by my favorite bands, and I cycle through those songs at random as they pop up in my thoughts. Here are a sampling of songs by some of the musicians I adore:
- Depeche Mode: “Barrel of a Gun”, “Ghost”, “Home”, “In Your Room”, “Useless (The Kruder & Dorfmeister Session)”, “Waiting for the Night”
- VNV Nation: “Darkangel”, “Epicentre”, “Genesis”, “Honour”, “Joy”, “Rubicon”, “Testament”, “Tomorrow Never Comes”
- Blue Stahli (under the name “Voxis”): “The Last”, “Misconstrue”, “Myndhax”, “Nihilistic Neon Afterglow”, “NOIR”
- VAST: “Be With Me”, “Dead Angels”, “Dirty Hole”, “Here”, “I’m Dying”, “My TV and You”, “Pretty When You Cry”, “Temptation”, “Touched”
- Voltaire: “The Chosen”, “The Dunce”, “Goodnight, Demon Slayer”, “Happy Birthday (My Olde Friend)”, “The Vampire Club”
- UnSun: “Bring Me To Heaven”, “Lost Innocence”, “The Lost Way”, “Whispers”, “Why”
- The 69 Eyes: “Brandon Lee”, “Gothic Girl”, “Wasting the Dawn”
- Type O Negative: “Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-All)”, “Blood and Fire (Out of the Ashes Mix)”, “Cinnamon Girl”, “Everything Dies”, “I Don’t Wanna Be Me”, “Life is Killing Me”
- Evanescence: “Breathe No More”, “Bring Me To Life (original version)”, “Even in Death”, “Haunted”, “My Last Breath”, “My Tourniquet”, “Whisper (original version)”
- Orgy: “Blue Monday”, “EVA”, “Fiction (Dreams in Digital)”, “Opticon”, “Revival”, “Social Enemies”, “Stitches”
- Course of Empire: “New Maps”, “The Information”
- Matisyahu: “Aish Tamid”, “Chop ‘Em Down”, “Exaltation”, “Got No Water”, “Jerusalem (Out of Darkness Comes Light)”, “King Without a Crown”, “Lord Raise Me Up”, “Message in a Bottle”, “Redemption Song”, “Warrior”, “Youth”
- Random Favorites: “The Arcade” by Hyper Crush, “Awake” by Assemblage 23, “Burn (Alleged Remix)” by Alkaline Trio, “End of Line” by Daft Punk (from the TRON: Legacy soundtrack), “Enjoy the Silence” (Depeche Mode cover by Lacuna Coil), “Giving In to the Change” by Imperative Reaction, “Kathy’s Song (VNV Nation Remix)” and “Until the End of the World” by Apoptygma Berzerk, “Promises” by Nero, “Sonne” by Rammstein, “Southern Sun” by Agonized by Love, “When Worlds Collide” by Powerman 5000
You shall see frequent use of nicknames or online handles as opposed to real names. (In fact, the only people I actually name are my mother and my grandmother.) I adore my family and friends, but I have decided to either to refer to my friends and family via jolly pirate nicknames – in my sister’s case, “Poolshark” – or their online usernames – “GoldRyu” for one of my roommates – in order to preserve their privacy. Individuals who play a much darker role in the story are not named; if they are, I give them alternate nomenclature as well to prevent myself from becoming the target of a libel suit. When a recurring individual is first mentioned, their name shall be typed in bold letters.
Without further ado…
I was born on the 18th of January 1982 in the sleepy West Texas city of Odessa at a hospital long-since closed that specialized in pediatrics. I have been a child of the desert since my birth. I survive well in hot environs, with adequate hydration. I wear naught but black in blazing triple-digit summers without breaking a sweat. The most beautiful places to me are the Negev in Israel, the Sahara in Tunisia, and the nearby Monahans Sandhills (which resemble the Sahara superficially). Of all fictional worlds, my favorites – Arakis (from Dune), Vulcan, Abydos (from Stargate) and Tatooine – are all barren, nearly lifeless, sand-blasted wastelands. I was born of these sands, and I wish to be buried in these sands. My bones were formed of the rock and caliche of the Llano Estacado, and to this rock and caliche I wish my bones to return.
An old story is told about the birth of the wizard Merlin. His mother ravaged by a demon, the young infant was quickly taken to the church for baptism. His immortal soul was saved from Perdition’s flames, but his otherworldly heritage gave him magical abilities, which he used in service to King Arthur.
Odd as it may sound, I identify with that old wizard. While I am by no means a magician, like the wizard Merlin, I was born of a godly woman and a man who, while also mortal, might as well be considered demonic. My mother, Joyce (1947-2008), was introduced to a short (exactly 5 feet tall), stocky, yet allegedly “charming” Elvis fanatic whose name I shall withhold. A man of Celtic and Native heritage, he possessed striking blonde hair, deep blue eyes (that I’m still mad at him for not passing on to me, selfish bastard) and a fiery red beard that I inherited as a mark of my cursed parentage. My half-sister, (nine years my senior; we’ll call her “Poolshark”, as she is exceptional at pocket billiards), was friends with one of my father’s nieces, and they wanted to be related to one another. My father was single (with good reason), so they played matchmaker for our single mother.
In time, the truth about what sort of person my father was became self-evident. A violent, aggressive, clever-yet-unlearned, streetwise man, he was the middle child of thirteen children born to a Prohibition Era rum runner. The allegorical “black sheep” of an otherwise respectable family, my father was a lustful womanizer (who spent any money Mother gave him on other women), a drunk and a bloodthirsty savage who claimed to have killed his own distant relatives for money. The once-charming man became a monster.
One time, my father grew angry with my mother and put a shotgun to her jaw. Proving that my mother was much smarter than he thought she was, the gun clicked uselessly; Mom had removed the shells earlier and thrown them away. Weary of the pain, but knowing no way of escape, Mother sent my sister away from my father’s house in Dallas back home to live with our grandmother in Odessa.
A little note about my grandmother, Beatrice: I was raised in her house most of my life, so I thought I knew her pretty well. She had infinite patience, never raised her voice unless it was a Really Important Issue, never used any curse word worse than “Hell” (which she always used in context), always read her Bible (or Harlequin romance novels; silly things taught me nothing about actual sex or romance), never said a word in anger, loved every human being that stepped through her door and never stopped smiling. I never saw her take a sip of anything remotely alcoholic until I was well into my twenties. (Major shock seeing that for the first time.) The following account – related to me by my sister after our grandmother passed away – was nigh unbelievable, at first.
My sister lived for a few brief months with our grandmother, herself a widower of two years by then. She remained silent for those few months, still too shell-shocked to utter a word about my father. When she finally recovered enough to tell our grandmother of the abuse our mother had endured at my father’s hands, Beatrice took her dead husband’s World War II service revolver out of her hope chest, put my sister in the back seat of her car and immediately drove for Dallas.
When she arrived, our mother went outside to meet her, hoping to convince her not to intervene. Grandmother screamed for my mother to get inside the car.
“What about my things?” Mom asked.
“I’ll buy you new things!” Beatrice shrieked. “Get in the damn car!”
I feel I must reiterate: as long as I’ve known my grandmother, she never cursed – not ever - nor did she ever get visibly upset or angry. She was always as steady as a rock; she left the yelling to Mom.
As Mother buckled her seatbelt, my father swaggered out. Grandmother immediately pointed the revolver at him and warned him not to take another step toward my mother or he could be certain Grandmother’s first shot would take his head.
Mother never told me that story. As I stated before, my sister recounted the tale just after our grandmother passed away, almost one year after our mother’s passing. I include this story because I am in some ways, sadly, my father’s son.
I have been told that I look just like him, save for my height (I’m taller, thank the Maker), my brown hair, my greenish-brown eyes and my bubble-shaped nose, all mother’s genetic gifts. I, too, am a black sheep of my family, as he was to his.
The Batte family is a very well-to-do family in Odessa. All my older female cousins and aunts from mother’s generation are or were well-educated teachers with decades of experience, well loved by their former students. My cousins own a few local businesses, most notably The Willows, a beautiful park-like pavilion on the outskirts of Eastern Odessa where wedding parties are common. Many members of my family are well-respected pillars of the community who consider very prominent local businessmen their friends and are quite active in their churches.
Not my immediate family, though. No, my mother, my sister and I were the poor branch of the family. My maternal aunt and uncle had done well for themselves, but not Mother. She tried, but circumstance and occasional poor choices (a trait my sister and I would later inherit) worked against her. Regardless, she did her best to spoil me, and I remember the majority of my childhood as a relatively happy, peaceful, naive blur.
My mother was stricken with diabetes – again, the result of poor life choices – during her pregnancy with me. Her illness grew quickly with poor diet and little to no exercise, and her phobia of needles and refusal of insulin only exacerbated her ailment. She would no longer be able to work by the time I attended high school. None of the jobs she held before then were well-paying gigs. Her first husband was a charismatic Pentecostal preacher, a man who by all accounts had a miraculous ministry saturated with the supernatural. Unfortunately, he, too, degenerated into a drunk and a womanizer, and he took every opportunity to make Mother feel less than human. Years before, Mother’s verbally abusive father told her she would never amount to much, and she took that to heart and gave up on her dream of becoming an artist. She never went to college to make something more of herself until much later, and by then the only courses she could afford to take were for word processing on computer equipment that would be outdated within mere months, thanks to an emerging computer giant called “Apple Computers”. A single mother raising two children on Welfare, she was relatively poor, though she refused to be ashamed of it. Compared to the rest of the family – who loved her no less – she was the “black sheep”, as her children would one day become.
Though I was a “mama’s boy” from birth, I was named by my sister after a boyfriend she had in elementary school. “What happens if you break up with him?” Mother asked.
“It doesn’t matter, I’ll still love the name Jerod,” my sister said.
Mother felt the need to contribute something, so she gave me my middle name: Caine. She always loved the name, but knowing what my father was like, she refused to name me after a murderer. She said I was “sweet like sugar-cane” as an infant, so she altered the spelling to make it differ from the biblical fratricidal son of Adam. After I learned the meaning of my name years later, I never had the heart to tell her how little the English spelling mattered to the meaning of a Hebrew word…
For a woman who so detested her father, I consider it ironic that our initials (James Cebron Batte, Jerod Caine Batte) are exactly the same. I have no idea what significance to attach to this yet, but it is important to me regardless.
The rest of my childhood I do not remember very well… My memory of anything non-trivial has been poor since then. I can certainly remember the names of all the actors from the original Star Trek, but I have forgotten my own birthday twice in the same week, so my memory isn’t quite as functional as I would like it to be. I will tell you what I can remember, though I warn you that I may not be recalling the details as correctly as others would…
I was raised by three women – Mother, Grandmother and Poolshark. Aside from one maternal uncle who lived in Austin and could only visit a few times per year, an uncle-in-law who lived in Seminole and a few local cousins I only saw a handful of times annually, I had no meaningful adult male presence. All I know of my father are half-remembered accounts from my mother and a few detailed narratives from my sister. The only other men Mother spoke of were her first husband (the charismatic preacher), one man she truly loved (my sister’s father, a wild-tempered, hard-drinking Choctaw native from the Oklahoma reservation ten years her senior) and the gay friend from Dallas she had a major crush on (before discovering his orientation, of course). We lived with grandmother for four or five years.
We later moved back to Dallas, where I attended pre-school. We lived in a massive house with a beautiful backyard pool where several other families also lived. I had no idea at the time that we were living with a cult.
After the preacher she married proved to be a devil in angel’s robes, my mother’s faith in God wavered for a time and she lived a wild, riotous bar-hopping life. After being rescued from my father by my grandmother, she returned to her faith in God and her attendance in the Assembly of God churches until an enigmatic preacher claimed to have been raised from the dead.
I have no way to verify the truth of this story and I suspect much of it to be fabrication by the shady preachers involved, but I shall relate it to you as Mother related it to me. As the story goes, a preacher at a church Mother attended died during one of his sermons. His congregation gathered around his corpse and prayed for him, and he purportedly returned to life moments later. Supposedly, he would die six more times throughout his postmortem theological career, and his congregation – too afraid to let him go – would pray him to recovery each of these six other times. Each time, less and less of his sanity returned with him. (If the guy died seven times, maybe God was trying to send a message to his followers? “He’s supposed to be dead now. Stop praying for him to live.“)
He began making heretical claims that ran counter to any established Christian doctrine: he claimed the Holy Spirit was a female (isn’t the Holy Spirit supposed to be genderless?), God’s “spirit-bride” (isn’t Israel and the church considered to be His spiritual “bride”?), and Her presence could be invoked by dancing around in circles waving blue cloth flags or “mantles” around (a spiritual Safety Dance?); and that people should await the End Times by living communally, where all the men of legal age would live in one section of the house together, the women would live together in another area (unless they were married to one of the men), and the children of all ages and sexes would sleep in the same room together, all raised communally by the women.
I remember seeing no men around save the pastor, nor do I remember what the services at this cult were like, aside from the typical Pentecostal dancing about and waving blue prayer cloths around while someone preached in a what I remember was a dark-lit communal room, though I do not fully trust this vague recollection, as my memory has been faulty before. All I remember are the following brief anecdotes:
- My sister and her friends decided to dress me as a little girl. Having no idea how embarrassing I would look in a dresses fully accessorized with make-up, jewelry and high heels, I ran out to show Mom how fabulous I looked as my sister and her friends howled with laughter. I have not yet exacted revenge against my sister for this childhood slight; for now, I bide my time…
- I acquired the aquaphobia that has plagued my life (and prevented me from learning how to swim) at this time. According to Mother, I was a natural swimmer as an infant. One of the women in the cult – a large, heavyset, frighteningly jovial woman – tried to teach me to swim “the right way”, and Mother allowed her to do so. She took me in her arms and bounced into the middle of the pool trying to “teach” me, but I remember having a very bad feeling about her for reasons I do not know, and I cried furiously throughout the ordeal, pleading for Mother to put a stop to it. I fear drowning to this day, and I have nearly done so several times since then. I enjoy hanging out in the shallow end of swimming pools, but some whacked-out part of my brain refuses to venture any further than the four-foot marker.
- I remember sleeping with the other children and telling them of scary dreams I had of dancing, walking, chanting cacti outside our window, slowly tromping their way toward us to claim our lives. I thought I could hear them stamping around outside. (It was probably just a thunderstorm.) To this day, I have no idea what could cause such sequoia-infested slumber, but I am pleased to report that I have not had any similar dreams since then.
When I was five, another charismatic preacher (whom I refuse to name, lest I commit libel later; I shall call him “Sleigh Bell”, for reasons that will have to remain secret) – a former Mennonite-turned-real estate agent and charismatic Pentecostal minister – “saved” Mother, my sister and I from this cult before their teachings grew any stranger. From what little I’ve heard of it since, the cult did indeed degenerate into something nastier. Mother moved us to Shreveport, Louisiana, where Sleigh Bell and his wife held court (though their ministry was riddled with rather shady dealings, and some of the properties he handled as a real estate agent and landlord were very run-down and nigh uninhabitable). We lived there throughout my Kindergarten year. Decades would pass before I had any idea how much Sleigh Bell ran my mother’s life back then.
We lived in a run-down two-story house that had been converted into a small apartment building. The edifice no longer exists; it was condemned and torn down years ago, but it should have been condemned much sooner. Peeling cigarette smoke-stained beige wallpaper, cockroaches outnumbering the residence a thousand-to-one, and a massive gray cement balcony so crumbling with age that Mother was often afraid to let us step onto it… these were the positive selling points of the place. (I can still recall fretting over the large fissure in between the balcony and the rest of the building…) Mother worked a full-time job and attended night school word processing courses taught by her employer, who detested IBM (it seems everyone working in computers then wanted to bury IBM, as Apple’s young founder Steve Jobs would released the Macintosh II to that end that very year, and Microsoft would release the second version of their original Windows operating system the following year) and owned a very talkative parrot. My sister, fourteen by then, was usually off raising hell with her two male friends, when she wasn’t helping raise me while mother was at work. After my sister ran away months later, I was a latchkey kid. Some nights I would stay with our neighbors. Other nights, I would stay with Ms. Horde, the sweet and kindly elderly widow who gave me my first Spock action figure. Some nights when Mother knew she would be home earlier than usual, I would walk home from school and watch cartoons. After those cartoons, reruns of that damn television show I would still be watching decades later came on the air…
I was first introduced to Star Trek by Sleigh Bell’s wife, whom I refer to as “Yeoman Rand”, a sweet woman and a devout Trekkie who owned every episode, film and novel ever produced until then (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was the latest one at the time, and she showed us all the previous films on VHS repeatedly). I remember first being introduced to Star Trek: The Next Generation during one of Sleigh Bell’s Bible studies. Mother was in the communal room with the others singing hymns and I had discovered one of Rand’s Starlog magazines (specifically Starlog #124, November 1987) and had snuck off by myself to read that issue. It spoke of a new Trek series starring some bald guy wearing red. (“Don’t people who wear that color usually end up dead or something?”) I remember thinking that the crew looked all wrong somehow: a Klingon on the Bridge, a pale-faced “artificial Vulcan” and the young black guy from Reading Rainbow with what looked like a golden banana clip over his eyes. “This will never catch on,” I sighed, having no idea that I would one day become a lifelong fan of that same series only a few years later.
The rest of that year is a blur to me. I remember walking everywhere because we could not afford a car. I remember my sister getting fed up with Mother and running away. (I will not disclose why, lest I shame the memory of my late mother. I will state that Sleigh Bell was to blame for many of my sister’s adolescent problems, and he would trouble her again years later. I shall reveal no details, but there is a term for what Sleigh Bell did: spiritual abuse.) I remember my sister smoking for the first time. I asked her for a cigarette, then I promptly choked on it when I tried to smoke it as my sister laughed, her improv lesson on the dangers of smoking quite effective. (To this day, Poolshark claims to have no recollection of this event.) I remember drinking what I thought were fruit-flavored sodas labeled “Bartles & Jaymes” from the fridge while watching cartoons. (Mother always did wonder what happened to her booze… Parents: do not leave your children unattended after school.)
I also recall having my first sexual experiences at the age of six… I shall not disclose the particulars of these events here. I will say this: if someone took advantage of you sexually when you were a child (even if they were a child themselves), you need to talk about it with someone. Dispel those demons from your mind by dragging them out into the light and confront them. Only then can the healing begin.
I remember Mother teaching me to draw. I always pestered her to draw things – women, boys, flowers, houses, whatever sprang to her mind – until one night when she came home weary after work and school. I pestered and pestered until Mother slid me a leaf of paper and a pencil, then said, “You draw. Mommy’s too tired!” She taught me how everything in nature can be reduced to basic geometric shapes and wire frames – stick people, in essence, living in stick worlds – with various shapes forming heads, hands, feet, clothing…
The next year, Mother sent me back to live with Grandmother in Odessa while she tried to find my sister and raise the money to leave Shreveport herself. Eventually, my sister did return for a time, and she lived with mother and I at our grandmother’s house in the cozy surroundings of the West Texas steppes.
We all lived in the old house on West 50th Street, whose address shall forever be etched into my memory. (The house stands there still, though the Battes no longer own it). Originally a one-room house constructed in the 1930s, my grandfather purchased it for my grandmother and their children to live in shortly after he returned home from his tour of duty with the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Theatre. During the 1950s, Grandfather – a former member of the Construction Battalions and a skilled machinist who could fix just about everything – added a new living room to the old house, changed the old living room into a kitchen, then changed the old kitchen (right next to the house’s only bathroom) into another bedroom. The feng shui of the living room and the kitchen were thrown off kilter by the new additions and the wiring in the original rooms of the house was reverse polarity to the living room wiring, and the house had suffered from a peculiar spatial “identity crisis” ever since, as everyone entered through the kitchen door and nobody but occasional pizza delivery personnel used the far-off living room door. There was no hallway; the master bedroom doubled as a “hallway”, effectively eliminating any semblance of privacy the room once held.
The majority of my life – from the moment I entered primary education to the moment I got married – would be spent in that house.
I remember being a talkative little guy who wrote and drew homemade comics and stories that were secretly filled with romance novel style sex scenes. (Damn you, Harlequin Romance novels…) Both Mother and Grandmother read their Bibles daily, quoted it often, and watched the news, soap operas and religious programs like The 700 Club or Touched by an Angel, though Mother ensured I had a steady diet of detective shows like Matlock, Columbo, Perry Mason, Father Dowling Mysteries, Diagnosis: Murder, Murder, She Wrote, Unsolved Mysteries (the original version was my personal favorite; Robert Stack was the Man when I was a kid) and, later, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation to offset the otherwise extremely religious input. (To recap: I’m a geeky, intelligent, well-read Trekkie with zero social skills who was raised in an fundamentalist Christian household from Texas. Sound familiar?)
I grew up occasionally surrounded by my four cousins from Seminole (a tiny town my cousin kshortes affectionately refers to as “Semen-Hole”), and, on occasion, my sister (who, at the time, was living with other family members due to the internal strife that still brewed between her and Mother). I inherited my mother’s talkative, jovial nature, and I was soon irritating all of them. The two Seminole cousins born came after me – kshortes and his older brother, shortes1984 - were closest to me in age and in spirit, though they had a boundless energy I often lacked (and envied). Their father, was rarely around; he worked for an integrated oil company known then as Amerada Hess (it’s called the “Hess Corporation” now), and was always working late. I spent many summers chasing my cousins around, being chased by them and attempting to have as normal a childhood as I could.
I remember family reunions every summer at The Willows. Family cook-outs were held there every 4th of July, weather permitting. Most of the family members I recall are old now, and more will one day be joining those who have already passed on. I haven’t been to one of those cook-outs – or any family function other than a funeral – since high school.
I remember the awkwardness of school, being the only boy who liked Barbies (don’t ask), who didn’t play rough like the others, who hated sports, a little heavier than others, way too talkative for his own damn good, too sensitive for his own good, too imaginative for his own good (yes, there is such a thing), brighter than some, slower on the uptake than others, chronically absent-minded and possessing zero common sense. I remember bouncing around in school as I attempted to find my place until I was attending an elementary school on the South Side where the city’s impoverished minorities dwelled (the school had an exceptional “magnet” program), where I was teased continually for being a goofy, absentminded nerd – and, at rare times, for being white.
I made few real friends there, though I would discover how untrue that was many years later; I had many more friends than I thought I had, and I mistook many of their attempts at “male bonding” for “teasing”. I discovered new talents I possessed at this time: in second grade, I was already making up stories to tell to third graders (though I wussed out of a story contest, and the kid who won attended our school beginning the following year; I didn’t know it at the time, but that was my first brush with the social anxiety issues that would grow much worse in my adult years) and my singing ability (I am a natural tenor) got me recruited into the school choir in third grade, where I remained for four years.
Mother worked two jobs during these years: by day, she served as a door greeter at Odessa’s only Walmart (we now have two massive “super-centers” on either side of the city); by night, she ran a cash register at the Albertson’s Groceries on the West Side. Some time before sixth grade, Mother quit her job at Albertson’s. That was one of the happiest days of her life. My bed time was usually 10:30 pm; if I had been good, she would at least let me see the first half hour of The Tonight Show. (Johnny Carson is still the best host ever, and Jay Leno can suck it.) That night, she let me stay up and see the entire episode (though I don’t remember even a single joke from it), then we went out to eat at one of our favorite restaurants.
I had no idea then that Mother was struggling with money again. Fed up with the job prospects in Odessa, we moved back to Shreveport to live in apartments owned by Mom’s former pastor, Sleigh Bell.
I also had no idea how strained the relationship between Mother and Poolshark had been, and I had no idea that Sleigh Bell was the one who had strained their bond. Poolshark had run away to Shreveport and was there ahead of us. She tried living with Sleigh Bell for a time, but he – like the cultists he “rescued” us from, the same cultists he once served as a “minister” – was very, very strict with his idea of what Christian dogma “ought to be”. If Poolshark did not perform religious rituals exactly the way Sleigh Bell desired – if she did not pray the prerequisite number of times per day or speak in tongues every time she prayed – then she was to be expelled. Though she remained faithful to God in her heart, she refused to practice her faith the way he wanted her to and he would kick her out anyway. Since he owned the apartments that Mom and I lived in, he refused to let her see me… and Mother, still blindly following the teachings of a man erroneously claiming to serve God, allowed this to happen. This began a very dark period in my sister’s life… but that is a story for another time, and I prefer that she tell it, should she ever choose to do so.
We lived in a poor neighborhood again, but not as bad as the one we lived in back in 1988. Unfortunately, the school I would have to attend was a very, very bad place. In Louisiana, sixth grade was the first year of middle school, and the school I was districted for – J.S. Clark Middle School (now the dramatically improved J.S. Clark MicroSociety Academy) – had ruined Poolshark’s life. The worst of the students ran the school and the teachers were outnumbered. Racial violence was commonplace, and Poolshark was often singled out as a “half-breed” or a “mutt”, when she wasn’t trying to keep from getting into fights. Some of the students threatened to kill her if she attended school the last three days of eighth grade. Mom kept her home, then promptly went to the Board of Education to scream at the idiots in charge. Louisiana’s entire infrastructure is corrupt; she should have known that her ranting would have done nothing to solve any of the school’s problems. Rather than allow me to attend the same school as they had foolishly allowed Poolshark to do years before, she and Sleigh Bell lied on all official applications to get me into a more prominent middle school in one of the wealthier districts of Shreveport. I fit in well there (though I was too oblivious to understand that; I had grown so used to females asking me on dates as a poor jest that I had no idea how to respond to an honest request from an attractive girl who was genuinely interested in me, and we were too poor for me to actually take anyone on a date even if I knew how to respond), but I would only attend for three months before Mother’s duplicity was discovered. By then, Mother’s car – a green Plymouth Fury III with a custom cruise control and a replaced primer white passenger door – had broken down its final time and had been impounded after we left it in the road. Rather than let me go to J.S. Clark, she saved the money for bus tickets back home.
It seemed like leaving Odessa simply wasn’t what God intended for us.
Sixth grade – the final grade of elementary school in Texas – passed uneventfully until my older cousin Josh died from a brain tumor. Nearly all of Odessa’s high school students attended at his funeral.
Just before seventh grade – the first year of secondary education in Texas – I had my first truly supernatural experience, a brush with that oh-so familiar “bad feeling” that God uses to warn members of my family with when the allegorical bovine fecal matter is projected at high velocities toward the oscillating motor. One of Grandmother’s sisters had passed away, and Grandmother was in Big Spring grieving with the rest of the family. Mother and I would drive to the nearby town of Big Spring on Saturday morning, stay overnight and attend the funeral on Sunday (my second by then; Sleigh Bell’s parents passed away back in ’88), then bring Grandmother back home. The Friday night before we would leave, I was laying on the living room couch watching something (I cannot recall what) when I had the most horrible feeling I had ever experienced. I knew somehow that we should not leave the following day, or that I should be left behind to watch over the house. Mother thought I was being lazy; as I had no prior experience with precognition, I assumed she must have been right – in her defense, I was a lazy child – and we left the next morning. The entire time I was in Big Spring I couldn’t even focus on the funeral proceedings. I vaguely remember that Fox Broadcasting Company‘s special Alien Autopsy: Fact or Fiction feature was on television (though I cannot accurately recall if it was just airing then or if it was a re-run; I can remember seeing Commander Riker as the host), but the rest of the time I was practically a zombie. I felt very disconnected from reality – the first time I have ever felt so disconnected, but certainly not the last – and my thoughts kept returning home.
When we arrived after the funeral on Sunday, I ran to the door and jiggled the handle. (That was my not-so-subtle signal for, “Can someone please unlock this? I really need to pee!”) Instead of jiggling in its socket like it normally would, the door handle turned with ease.
“It’s unlocked,” I stated, suddenly no longer disconnected from my surroundings.
“Quit joking around and help us with the suitcases!” Mom barked.
“No,” I replied, pushing the door wide open, “it’s unlocked.”
Some crack addict had been watching us for several weeks, calling now and then to see if we were still home, hanging up just as someone answered. (We had assumed someone had been prank-calling us; we had long grown accustomed to such prank phone calls years before.) Once they had their chance, the perpetrator busted in the wooden kitchen door, then ransacked the house and stole whatever he could stuff beneath his tee-shirt. (“Good God, not the Sega Genesis!” I had screamed.) We filed a police report and replaced the front door with a steel door, but little else could be done. Most of the goods had already been fenced and resold at pawn shops, though the thief was eventually caught (and yes, they did recover my precious Sega Genesis.)
Naturally, my interest in the supernatural and the paranormal increased at this time, and I began studying parapsychology in the hopes of one day attending Duke University’s prestigious parapsychology courses (this was during the days before the advent of the widespread Internet we take for granted today when I had to research everything using only the materials I had access to, before I discovered that the Duke University Parapsychology Lab had closed two years after my birth, as the books I had been reading were outdated missives from my school library that were published back to the mid-1970s, and that Duke’s Parapsychology Lab had become its own independent entity, the Rhine Research Center; interested researchers may still find the Duke University Parapsychology Lab’s records archived online).
Since then, I have been a fairly decent student of the paranormal, and I have attempted to read whatever I can on the subject, when I have the time. I still study on occasion, and I have been an associate member of the Mutual UFO Network off and on, though I hope one day to attain an Investigator’s license. Texas is in sore need of investigators at the moment.
Seventh grade was pure Hell. I elected to take Advanced Academic Program (currently called “Advanced Placement”) at one of the only junior high schools in the area that had them for a silly reason: a girl I utterly adored in elementary school and I planned to do take the courses together. Unfortunately, the girl had moved to a different district, so I elected to continue the plan she had already long forgotten about simply because I had no better plan for my academic career. I filled my schedule with the usual courses: Choir, Advanced English, Advanced History, Advanced Life Sciences, Advanced Mathematics and Tennis (more my sister’s sport more than mine). Within weeks I was already failing Math (keeping true to the Batte family tradition established long ago by my dearly sainted mother and my beloved sister). I met and befriended a hyper-intelligent anarchist who was a hardcore fan of BattleTech war games, Dungeons & Dragons and the Conan the Barbarian novels. His online handle is GoldRyu, and he quickly became one of my closest friends. Thanks to another friend of mine, C.J., I discovered pornography and gangsta rap (the most hellish invention ever devised by the evil in mankind’s darkened hearts).
Mere months into the AAP, someone who remains unidentified slipped me PCP in powder form while I was riding the school bus one morning. After I tripped out in Choir and began to spasm uncontrollably and – in the words of various mean-spirited fellow students – “barked like a dog” for several moments, I was taken to the school nurse’s office, convulsing violently and wondering what was happening to me. I would wake up six hours later at the local hospital. To this day, I have no complete recollection of those events, and my memory has been spotty ever since. I would spend the rest of my seventh grade year in counseling, failing almost all of my courses except for English and Art. I transferred out of Choir, which I had begun to hate due to the constant teasing that resulted from the PCP incident. Though I had a passion for singing, I would not join another choir for several years.
Among the courses I failed, I disappointed two of my role models: Mr. C, the science instructor and fellow devoted Trekkie (stupid Wildflowers of Texas…), and Mrs. B, my aunt and Texas History instructor. On the last day of school, she offered to drive me home. Staying late to socialize with my friends meant missing my bus ride, so I agreed.
That was the most awkward ride home ever. Not a word was uttered by either of us for most of the ride. Near the end of the ride, my aunt finally asked, “Jerod, why did you fail my class?” I remember thinking, This is going to be a long five minute drive to the house.
The following year I was “downgraded” (saved from Hell is more like it) to the Gifted & Talented program at a different junior high school. Yes, it was still junior high and it was still hellish, but this was a more laid back circle of Hell. Mrs. B’s very attractive young daughter – my cousin T.C. – taught G/T English, and every boy in the school fawned over her. Conversations with those boys were damn awkward, but I learned to have fun messing with those boys’ minds. I would listen to them prattle on about their sexual fantasies involving my cousin without saying a word… then spring the news on them – “You know that teacher is my cousin, right?” – and try not to laugh aloud as they quickly backpedaled or changed the subject. Additionally, I made damn certain I passed her English course with high grades, lest she get word back to her mother and I endure her wrath again.
In recognition of my dramatic failures in the studies of Science and Mathematics the previous year, I was downgraded to standard Chemistry and Earth Science courses, while I was kept in G/T English and G/T History (since I didn’t fail Texas History as miserably as I had the other courses). In eighth grade, my Earth Science course was taught by another of my mentors: Mr. P, an uproariously funny old man who would use the film Jurassic Park as a teaching aid during the section on dinosaurs and other prehistoric lifeforms, then he would leap atop of one of the lab tables during the film and act like a velociraptor to make the students laugh and ease the tension before handing out assignments. He and Mr. C were the closest I ever got to having an actual father figure.
The rest of my school years passed by fairly peacefully. I slowly evolved into a mildly jaded, quiet wannabe Goth in high school who was never seen without a black military surplus trench coat, black backwards hat and enormous metal chain (given to me by GoldRyu; the large bruises it left on my hip would eventually cause me to abandon wearing it as a fashion accessory). I attended Odessa High School for their drama courses, but I would leave that high school the following year because I hated sports, and what happened during the 1997-1998 season only made me detest football more than I already did.
Odessa is a very conservative little burg. Pick any random truck-driving, cowboy hat-wearing Country & Western fan milling about any of the local sports bars and I can tell you what he loves more than anything in the world: Jesus and football. While it’s no secret the majority of Texans are Christian fundamentalists, it is a lesser-known fact that they are almost all football fanatics, and a surprising majority of them are fans of high school football specifically. In Odessa, the zeal for high school football can almost reach jihadist levels, especially at the time of the OHS-Permian cross-town rivalry.
If you have ever seen a little sports movie starring Billy Bob Thornton by the name of Friday Night Lights, then you’ve heard of this particular cross-town rivalry. The film was based on the best-selling novel by H.G. Bissinger, though Bissinger’s novel was much darker and condemned the city’s singular focus on high school football, where the motion picture glorified it. The story related in both the novel and the film is true, for the most part; the book and the film only tell part of the story. Much of the tragic 33-year tale of small town absurdity – how both teams played horrid pranks on each other that included stealing tombstones and slaughtering one another’s animal mascots, for example – is left on the cutting room floor, and only Odessa’s residents are willing to tell the tale to any out-of-towners willing to listen.
Whenever time for the OHS versus Permian High School game came around, the whole damned town – including my family, half of whom went to Odessa High, half of whom went to Permian High – tore itself apart in the high school football equivalent of an American Civil War reenactment. The environment soon went from merely fanatical to a palpable religious fervor, with adherents clad in either red-and-white or black-and-white routinely assaulting one another verbally (and, in some cases, physically), bringing to mind such comparable religiously-motivated spats as the age-old Shi’a versus Sunni conflict or the Irish Catholic versus Irish Protestant bout. For 33 long, painful years (1965-1997, though the 1993 game isn’t counted due to forfeiture by Permian after it was ruled that their team used an ineligible player), Permian High School’s football team – the Permian Panthers, also called “Mojo” or “Black Magic”, due to their black-and-white school colors – soundly trampled Odessa High School’s team, the Odessa High Broncos. Allegations of cheating, steroid use, bribing public officials and coaches, illegally altering school districts to nab the best players, and moronic high school hijinks – including the aforementioned cruelty to school mascots – were tossed about by both sides. Every year at game time, families that were normally very close suddenly sundered by supporting their favored teams at game time. Fortunes were won and lost in bets. Cross-town game time was pure madness, and many people uninterested in the game stayed off the streets due to the high traffic, increased vehicle accidents and frequent incidents of vandalism. Finally, the atmosphere cleared somewhat in 1997, when the Odessa Broncos defeated the Permian Panthers and broke Mojo’s 33-year winning streak.
I attended OHS the year that Permian’s streak was broken. The country/gospel singer Larry Gatlin- an old classmate of Mom’s from her days – was on hand to present OHS with that year’s state championship “game ball”. Coach Randy Quisenberry (who is making local headlines again when he resigned as headcoach of Midland Lee High School’s football team after the school district of the nearby city of Midland, Texas put Quisenberry on paid leave while he was under investigation for “unprofessional treatment of students”, which I’m assuming is a nice way of saying “pedophile coach”) defected from Permian to coach OHS’s team that year; there were many rumors surrounding his defection, but the full details remain a mystery. His quotes regarding the 1997 game took on a religious tone:
“It took the Israelites 40 years to reach their Promised Land. It took us 33 years to reach ours.”
These quotes were emblazoned T-shirts and sold all over town. To this day, I am amazed nobody declared jihad over the outcome of the game.
OHS students yammered on about how they were the victims for 33 years, the sad nebbishim who were mistreated and cheated out of victory year after year by the opposing faction. My fellow students muttered about how they would act very sportsmanlike – more sportsmanlike than their rivals, anyway – if they won and how they would refuse to participate in any post-game vandalism or other such shenanigans if their team broke the streak that year. Immediately following that year’s game at Ratliff Stadium, some anonymous OHS football players snuck onto Permian’s field at night and burned the game score into the turf with defoliant. That was when I knew I was damn tired of all the high school football bullshit. Never support any team in any sporting event. The “good guy versus bad guy”, “us versus them” nonsense is all fantasy. There are no good guys in sports.
Transferring to the ECISD Career Center (long before its controversial redesign and repurposing as the ECISD Advanced Technical Center) in my junior year was the best academic choice I had ever made, as it helped shape the individual I would become. I learned the value of keeping my mouth shut and how to get to class on time, and these two factors eventually gave me a reputation as a bad-ass. (I was ironically unaware of this reputation until a friend related the details to me years after we had graduated. From what I understand, few people bothered me because whenever they looked at me they saw a stocky, black-clad, trench coat-wearing barreling down the halls, slipping through the crowd like an agile predator, eyes locked forward with laser-like intensity, ignoring all in his path. I just thought they were too busy to chat with me.) I wanted to enroll in the Career Center’s Graphic Arts program, but it was full, so I took Marketing Dynamics instead, where I made something of a name for myself.
Senior year was my turning point. I attained my driver’s license with great difficulty, only to total my mother’s car in a wreck almost immediately after I received my license. (I knew I shouldn’t have been going 65 mph down 42nd Street without my glasses…) That would be the first of several wrecks, until my driving finally improved circa 2007.
Mother had been out of the workplace for a few years by the time I was about to graduate, as diabetes had taken its toll on her, and we were both living on government assistance (Medicare, TANF, Food Stamps – now known as “SNAP” or the “Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program”, Supplemental Security Disability Income, etc.). I did not know how badly her diabetes had affected her, though. Mother’s doctor had given her only two more years to live, so she moved us out of grandmother’s place and acquired a small two-room HUD-subsidized apartment, where she hoped to live out her last years in peace with my sister and I. She would defy her doctors’ expectations and survive until her passing in 2008.
The government paid for Mother to update her word processing training, but her eyesight was failing by then, and though I was allowed to help her at Odessa College, I was still a lazy teenager and I wasn’t much help to her at the time. Additionally, this introduced me to the Internet, which remains my worst addiction. (I miss the old Star Trek and Earth: Final Conflict chat rooms, and I still mourn the loss of Gene Roddenberry’s Philosophy Sphere forum, archived here for posterity.)
My interest in God resurfaced then, though not in the best of ways.
I was always raised in a God-fearing household, and I used to sing Gospel songs with Mom and her minister friends at different churches, but my interest waned as a teenager and I never really understood the Bible until senior year. For whatever reason, be it a tugging on my soul or residual guilt from my childhood, I felt like I needed to be in church, so I started attending services anywhere I could go. If I was with Mom, I was at her charismatic, tongue-speaking Bible study group operating out of a local church, Parker Heights Christian. If I was spending the night with GoldRyu, we’d go to Redeemer Lutheran Church “of Joy” (“The Sleepiest Little Place on Earth”, which used to have the most crooked pastor in the city). When I was with my friend CJ – which was often – we were at Asbury United Methodist, which I preferred because of its youth program. I attended their annual summer youth retreat in the mountains near Ruidoso, New Mexico, where I met my first two summer “flings” (if they could be called that, as there was no kissing or touching allowed; rumor had it a young couple had been caught in the midst of intercourse on the volleyball court one previous summer, and the counselors were taking no more chances). Then our youth pastor – the best youth pastor in Asbury’s history – left for Monohans, and the youth group fell apart after that. Once my then-“girlfriend” (a Methodist from a neighboring town) broke up with me during the Fall of 1999, I gave up on Asbury altogether and went churchless for a time.
For a while, I was what you might call an “interfaithist” (“All religions are, in essence, the same, right?”) until I actually bothered to start reading the Bible and comparing it to other books and religions. Eventually, I was convinced that Scripture demanded I be baptized. (If it saved Merlin from Hell, and he was half-demon…) I went to Redeemer Lutheran first. They required the penitent to take catechism courses prior to baptism. “Why?” I asked. To be indoctrinated into a sectarian, dogmatic denominationalist mindset, of course! (That’s what I thought for a time, anyway; back then, I didn’t want to do any more class work than was necessary, and this church was asking me to do schoolwork outside of school. The nerve!) Salvation has to be easier than mere Medieval school work, I thought, so I went to Asbury. They practiced immersion baptism, but their doctrines on the movements of the Holy Spirit were a little too strict and my family was charismatic Pentecostal, so I elected to forget about Asbury altogether. (Immersion baptism scared me at the time, which was another motivating factor. “What if I drown in the baptismal tank?” I realize aquaphobia is illogical, but it was a helluva motivator.) I thought about Mom’s church group, but they teach that baptism wasn’t a necessity (much like how some Baptists believe), and some of the people there always seemed like odd ducks to me to begin with. (They were extreme “holy rollers” of the Purpose Driven Life sort who ran in the aisles at worship time. I grew up very comfortable in such environs. Many of them were into some absurd conspiracy theories, though, with tales of reptilian beings living under the Earth that run our elections, so as cool as they could be, I didn’t feel completely comfortable there.)
Until something came along to entertain me, I kept to myself, reading, drawing, writing and chatting on any forum, chat room or Instant Messaging app I could find friends (or cyber-sex partners) on. I began writing a story that I would one day call The Edge of Chaos at this time, though the story took on a dramatically different form. (I am still writing this story. I may post my old chapters on this blog soon.) I was a major fan of the comic book Spawn back then, and by reading interviews with Spawn‘s creator, Todd McFarlane, I noticed how he and various other authors would inject themselves or their friends, family and even enemies into their stories. (It worked for Crichton. Ian Malcolm is so obviously based on him, in part, though he never admitted to it.) Bored with my home life, I decided to do the same in what began as a dreary fantasy/science fiction/Gary Stu story before devolving into a sham-Gothic conspiracy-ridden mess (whose name – the aforementioned The Edge of Chaos – describes my writing style well).
My spare time to write or draw would soon disappear, as I was enrolled in a work study program in senior year which required me to intern at a marketing-related business. “What the hell, I’ll try television,” I thought, and I worked at the local school system-operated educational TV station, the now defunct ECISD-TV. Save for a few exceptions, I have worked in television ever since.
My interest in the television industry went back to my childhood. At seven years old, I saw an episode of Reading Rainbow where LeVar Burton gave the viewers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After seeing how they created their special effects, I said to myself, “I wanna work in TV some day!” I suppose God was listening.
At the Career Center, I met Skinner238, who brought me to his church – an apostolic assembly affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church International – and on Wednesday, 15 September 1999, I was baptized in Jesus’ name. My whole outlook on… well, everything changed. If you start taking the Bible at its literal word, I reasoned, then there are numerous changes that need to be made in your lifestyle. I tried to live the typical fundamentalist Christian lifestyle, and even entertained brief notions of becoming a preacher.
The problem was that I wasn’t such a creature. Aside from a nagging belief in the two millennia-old teachings of a certain controversial Jewish rabbi, I leaned more toward Judaism than Christianity to begin with (I thank my grandmother and my aunt for that), I was a rabid conspiracy theorist and paranormal freak, I still had some slightly Gothic tendencies (though I tried to do the “Pentecostal” thing by shaving my beard and later ditching the trench coat; the bitchin’ all-black ensemble remained) and I worked in television (the United Pentecostal Church‘s official doctrines – many of them outlined in-depth on their organization’s website – actually forbid watching television or even owning a television set, as well as dancing and bowling [source - scroll down to the section titled "Changing views on behavior, war and pacifism"]). In essence, I had no clue who I truly was, other than what someone else told me.
To this day, I’m still trying to figure out who I really am and what to do with my life, and I’m thirty years old. I had hoped I would have already figured this out by now.
During my senior year, Mother could no longer work or even see well enough to drive a car. Poolshark had moved back into town, and she and Mom were working on rebuilding their relationship, though the Poolshark I remembered as a child had become a totally different person. Mother was forced to begin taking insulin at this time, something she had outright refused earlier due to her trypanophobia. She tried the pill form and that worked for a time before they moved her to injections. By then, however, the damage had been done. Mother was living on borrowed time.
After high school ended, life sort of moved along its own current, and I followed its ebbs and flows without knowing where I was going next or what I would be doing. My family convinced me to go to college after a year of hesitation, and I started attending classes at Odessa College. I worked at a local branch of the West Corporation (or “West TeleServices”, as it was known then) for about a month, and after learning how much I could hate myself if I really tried by selling long distance calling plans to impoverished grandmothers who could barely pay for their prescription medicines, I wound up getting a job at CBS7 in February 2001.
Oh, and I was “engaged”. During high school, I met my then-best friend at the Earth: Final Conflict chat room. The relationship progressed until we thought we wanted to be married. The problem? She lived in Missouri. We stayed in this “relationship” for a time: she came to see me once, then I went to see her in Missouri once, but we were otherwise trapped in an online fling. When we were together, we had a natural chemistry. When we apart, the depression we felt was almost tangible. This relationship lasted until February 2004.
I was still living with my mother then. Her health was failing, and she needed someone around to help her. Unfortunately, my job at CBS began to take precedence as they moved me from the weekend shift (Saturdays & Sundays, 4:30am to 1pm) to the Graveyard shift (Sundays through Thursdays, 11pm to 7am). My social life – such as it was – all but disappeared (though I met jsamp at CBS, and that eased the loneliness some). My church attendance – which, up to then, had been stellar; I was even participating in the church choir and, to a lesser extent, in the youth group – decreased exponentially. Worse, because Mother was living in government housing and her rent was based on income and since I suddenly had income, the rent skyrocketed. Though Mother wanted me there to help her, we both decided I had to leave. (First time I ever got kicked out of a place for making too much money.) Had Poolshark not been there to take my place (and do a much better job than I ever had), leaving Mother would have been one of the worst things I had ever done, as I still had no idea how bad her health truly was.
After 2004, I moved in with another woman whose health was beginning to fade: my retired grandmother. She was holding on to her good health as best she could, keeping herself as healthy as possible. Then one day, everything fell apart.
That morning, she claimed she was sleeping soundly when an angel at the foot of her bed. (Angel sightings are common in my family.) This angel smiled sweetly, lightly touched her foot and said, “Don’t worry, Bea, you’ve got ten more years,” then vanished.
Later that morning while I was at work, grandmother tripped on a pillow. She broke her arm and her hip, and complications from this resulted in her having to have a pacemaker put in… and the latent Batte family strain of Alzheimer’s disease to expedite itself. Over the years, her body would begin deteriorating along with her mind until she could no longer leave the house.
Grandmother was still in the hospital on the morning of 11 September 2001.
I could play that “where were you when…” game that people play, and have been playing since John F. Kennedy died, but that is a story for another time.
By 2004, I was tired of life. I tried moving back in with Mother after taking a different (and lesser paying) job only to lack enough hours to continue my car payments, and my car was repossessed. I returned to CBS… and to grandmother’s house, as she began to require more and more assistance. My “fiancée” revealed that she’d had a brief sexual dalliance the previous year that she regretted. What she didn’t tell me is that she kissed a former friend of mine when she came to visit me in Texas; I wouldn’t find that out until a couple of days before my 30th birthday (18 January 2012), when my sister finally told me. She found out from Mother, who absolutely hated my long-distance girlfriend after that, though she kept her feelings silent. We tried to move on with the relationship, but I couldn’t. In February 2004, she left me for a guy in Missouri, and for her female best friend.
I hate to admit this, but didn’t I trust lesbians or bisexual girls for many years after that. That aversion was purely illogical, I realize… but I wasn’t quite prepared for how emotionally devastated I was by the termination of the relationship. I pondered slicing my wrists open at work, but one of our meteorologists talked me out of it before I ever made a cut on my wrists.
[Clarification: I wish to apologize to the LGBT community for my mindset at that time. While I have never considered myself a homophobe and I never hated anyone, I still held this irrational mistrust in my mind. I never expressed it, but it was still there. I am sorry I held that against you. It was wrong of me to do so. I have no excuse for that mindset, aside from illogically and unjustly blaming others for my own pain, in addition to the religious and social indoctrination I had been "programmed" with. I would like to apologize for that and, if possible, make amends.]
This was the beginning of a very dark period in my life that would last for almost a decade. I became moody and depressed, and I stopped caring about much. I dated two or three times during these years (literally meaning “two or three dates during this time period”, not necessarily “dated two or three women during this time period”), each time resulting in some sexual mishap/near-mishap. I lost my job with CBS, fired because I couldn’t bring myself to give a damn anymore. I moved in with GoldRyu and a few of our friend, and worked at TelVista as a tech support monkey for about 9 months, but he loneliness of living out there with no social life – along with memories of a very bad relationship that almost happened and shouldn’t have – drove me crazy, so I left. I wanted to go back to school and do something with my life.
Unfortunately, the only place I could go back to was my grandmother’s place. I was hired at the workplace where I still toil away almost six years later, working the night shift as a camera operator in Studio A. I went to school for a semester before I was made a full time employee. Bye-bye, school. Again. I was eventually put on a split-shift, working mornings in Studio B, training in graphics and video editing in the Editing bay, then working in Studio A at night. Work went well and I was going back to church on occasion, but I still had no social life. At one point, I considered suicide again so I wouldn’t be a burden on my family or anyone else. Skinner238 talked me out of that.
I met my ex-wife through the social networking virus we called “MySpace” late in 2007. I asked her to marry me way before either of us were ready to. To this day, I still don’t know why I did it, and I still blame myself for not insisting we take things slower. We planned to have a big wedding the next year, but we rushed into it a month later at the Justice of the Peace. Marrying her was the worst mistake I had ever made.
For two and a half years we suffered through being two dumb kids who shouldn’t have gotten married, neither of us having a clue what to do as we bounced from living with my grandmother’s (because nobody wanted to leave grandmother alone by herself) to my mother’s (because mother’s health was getting worse). We stayed with mother until her death in 2008.
After that, we lived in a small apartment on the East Side where the managers didn’t believe in fixing anything that was broken, and our neighbors were either drug addicts, whores or university students who couldn’t find better living spaces (though it was on the upscale East Side, so they were nice drug addicts and whores). The ex had a miscarriage. We had several fights, and we were in marriage counseling for a while until the pastor who was counseling us had to get a full time job to keep his bills paid. My depression grew worse, and I was manic enough to try cutting my wrists again; I actually got the knife to my wrist before the ex screamed at me and snapped me back into reality. (That, and the sight of my own blood shocked me more than I thought it would.)
Nearly a year after Mom passed on, Grandmother died, speaking of her dearly departed middle child and her long dead husband all the while and reducing the ex and I to tears by seeing a little girl in the ex’s lap mere months after the aforementioned miscarriage.
We got tired of apartment life and decided to move in with GoldRyu so we could save up enough money to get our own house. It was all my decision, for good or for ill; after decades of being an indecisive wreck who let others – including the ex – tell me what to do, I decided to make the move, and the ex supported me (though she felt it was the wrong move to make). For two months we had huge fight after huge fight…
In hindsight, it wasn’t the wrong move. I was meant to be where I was meant to be; I just wasn’t meant to be with who I was with at the time.
Then came the divorce.
We had been pretending everything was alright for months, that we were doing even better than before when we were really only a breath away from falling apart… then one day, the ex tells me that she no longer loved me as a husband. I wish I could say that I didn’t see that coming, but I did, and though I felt devastated, part of me was relieved. A few nights later, she moved in with her grandmother. My friends showed me what I already knew deep within: that the divorce was for the best, that we had tried and failed to work it out before and that it probably would never have worked out. The next day, I got a Facebook message from her: “…I’m thinking maybe we should get divorced.”
We had considered divorce twice before. Both times, I did whatever I could to keep us from getting divorced. At the time, we both wanted to make it work. Our friends and family also wanted it to work, though a few of them would later tell me they knew it wouldn’t long before the divorce happened. The ex and I were both very different people, both of us had our prior issues to work out, and the relationship between us was never truly good. This time, though, the ex wasn’t the only one who wanted to bring the relationship to an end. Something had changed in me as well. I realized I was just as tired of it all as she was. Whatever feelings I had for her were gone by then. When I received her Facebook message, I just shrugged my shoulders and told her, “Alright. I’ll take care of the paperwork.”
I wish her no ill will, only good fortune and good health. We simply were not meant to be.
In 2010, immediately after the ex-wife moved out, there was a fire at GoldRyu’s house. Fortunately, it only affected one room and was relatively easy to put out. Unfortunately, it burned through the power cables and would have cost thousands to fix, probably more than his house was worth. For three months, we lived in a house with no electricity. That time would have been intolerable, had Dragon’s Girl not stepped and helped us out. A week later, I was in a nasty automobile that totaled my 2007 Ford Focus; fortunately, the other party’s insurance paid for a new car, a 2010 Ford Focus. Soon after that, GoldRyu and Dragon’s Girl got together.
Looking back, I realize that I’ve become a different person since then. More jaded than before, not quite as naive in some respects yet very naive still in others, snarkier and more sarcastic, more pessimistic, more misanthropic… depressed more than ever, lonelier than ever. Deep within, the idealist I once was still remains, though that lofty idealism slowly gets chipped away with each passing day.
I no longer attend church services of any kind (though my roommates, GoldRyu and his fiancée Dragon’s Girl, believe I should). Over the past five years, I have seen enough religious hypocrisy to show me what “good” the church can do, though I still believe in the validity and good intentions of the Christian denominations. In a way, the clock has turned back and I’m fresh out of high school again: my slightly Gothic tendencies have made a comeback, and I find myself listening more to industrial and electronica than to worship music. All that I once believed about religion, politics, even silly old conspiracy theories has been overturned several times, and I find myself wondering what to believe about so many things.
All that has led to this moment in time. I sit here, still contemplating the past, still depressed, still antisocial and misanthropic… but the past is prologue, and it can only tell me what I was. Yet, this past is so hard to break away from.
I hope that by writing it all down here I can finally get it out of my skull, so I can fashion a blank slate and chase after the future… as long as those old demons of yesteryear will leave me alone.