Graham

Archive for July, 2008|Monthly archive page

Leaving Home

In short story on July 31, 2008 at 10:41 pm

A Short Story by Tad Laury Graham

I am sitting on the steps out front thinking about the last time I tried this, and realizing that I failed because I’m weak.  I’m afraid.  I knew I had to do something, and the only thing that seemed “right” was to leave, but I wasn’t strong enough, wasn’t ready because I was only nine, but I think I’m ready now.

Pause

She was cold.  I never thought she wouldn’t even care.  “You want to leave?”  She said, matter-of-factly, “Here, let me help you,” going to the closet and taking down an old battered suitcase.

I should have left without telling her what I was doing.  That was my mistake.  But there she was, throwing all of my clothes into the suitcase, latching it up, and then going to the front door and setting it on the porch.  “Don’t write,” she said.  “I’ll be much too busy to have the time to write back.”

By now I’m crying because she doesn’t care and I’m committed to something I’m not ready for, so I go out on the porch and sit on the steps, and still crying I yell, “Don’t you think I won’t go because I will!”

My daddy comes out on the porch, looking a little confused, and says, “Where you going, Paddy?”

My mom says, “He’s leaving us, and not a moment too soon.  I was thinking of renting out his room, anyway.”

“Oh, hush,” Daddy says.

“I’m going,” I say, and I grab hold of the handle on the suitcase and start dragging it down the steps.

“Are you sure you want to do this?”  Daddy asks.

I’m angry, now.  So I say, “Yes,” still crying, and I start down the driveway, turn into the unpaved road up to the highway’s edge, and drag my suitcase about a block before I just can’t drag it any farther.  I sit down on the suitcase and try to fight back the tears just as my daddy drives up in the Nash and opens the door.

“Get in,” he says.

“I can’t,” I say.

“Why not?”

“Because Mama doesn’t want me anymore.”

“Your mama’s a bitch, Paddy.  I can’t change that … but I want you.  Now get in the car.”

I stop crying and get in the car, and my daddy backs the Nash up the whole distance I dragged the suitcase, right into our driveway.

“I know it’s going to take some courage, son.  But you square your shoulders and walk right in there and put your stuff away.  Don’t even listen to her.  She’s never going to be happy, no matter what either one of us does.  That’s just life.”

So here I am again.  Only this time I’m not crying.  Now that I’m twelve, I have some ideas about how this is done.  I can’t find the suitcase because I think Daddy threw it out after my last attempt, so I take two pillow cases from the laundry basket and I stuff them full with my clothes.  Then I follow the tracks heading down to the railroad yard, where I’ll hop a freight train to the coast of California.  I saw it in a movie, so I kind of know how it’s done.

It’s time, way overdue in fact.  It’s all well and good that my daddy understands my situation, but he’s never here and doesn’t have to put up with that bitch.  I was a bone fide hero, and she didn’t even say thank you, probably would have been happier with one less child.  Neither of them said thank you.  Come to think of it, Sean didn’t even say thank you and he was the one I pulled out of the river.

Pause

It’ll be dark soon, I need to get going.  I slowly swing the pillow cases over my shoulder and start off down the driveway and into the road, up to the end of the block where I had surrendered to the sergeant on my last attempt.  Pressing onward I realize I have passed a milestone, and I start to feel good about that.  I start thinking about how they will find out.  I didn’t leave a note.  Mom will be doing bed check, and she’ll see that I’m missing.  I don’t know where the Hell Dad is, probably at the base.

Looks like a great night for it, I think.  I never knew running away could be so exciting.  I start to whistle, which my brother Buck says I do whenever I have a secret that I can’t keep, but I think I do it more when I’m feeling happy.   It’s just that some secrets make me happy.

When I get to California, I’ll have to get a job.

Doing what?

I don’t know, but I have to make some money so I can eat.  I can always sleep out under the stars, but I have to eat.

Pause

Sleep under the stars.  It’s getting dark.  Should have brought a flash light … Moonlight helps, but not much.

Pause

I wonder what Buck will say when he hears I’m hopping freights.  He was always the one who was going to “ride the rails.”

Pause

You didn’t leave a note.  How will he know that you are riding the rails?  Probably thinks I’m dead … killed by a child molester.

Pause

Poor planning, I guess.  Half the fun is them knowing what I’m doing, but they don’t know … don’t know, don’t care.

This stuff is getting heavy.  Should have packed lighter.  I switch shoulders.  Never cared.  Never, ever, ever cared.  Not about me.  Wouldn’t care even if I died, which I almost did once ‘cause I thought it was chocolate.  She could have told me when she took it away and put it on top of the fridge.  But she went ahead and let me think it was chocolate.  So I climbed up on the counter, got it off the fridge, and ate the whole box of EXLAX.

Had to have my stomach pumped at the emergency room, which made me sick and on the way home I had to throw up, so they pull over near a railroad crossing and let me out of the car, and there I am heaving my guts, and she says, “Serves you right!  Maybe if you had died you would have learned something.”

Daddy says, “Oh, hush, Madge.  Let the boy alone.”

Man, this is heavy.  Got to do something.  I drop both stuffed pillow cases on the ground, sit down and rub my neck.  After a few minutes of sitting, wondering what to do, I start looking through each one and try to assess whether or not I really need everything I brought.  I really hate this pink and gray shirt I got for my birthday.  Only a sissy would wear pink.  Maybe I could just leave it here.

That’s all it took.  If I could leave one shirt behind, I could leave one whole bag behind.  So I resort my clothes into the two pillow cases:  one I hide under a bush, the other I swing back over my shoulder and renew my quest for the coast of California.

More like walking the rails than riding, I thought.  Can’t wait for the riding part, my feet are beginning to hurt, my neck still hurts and I’m getting hungry.

Pause

I wonder if I will see any hobos.  I hear they live around train yards in cardboard boxes, and they cook over open fires without even taking the food out of the can.  It must be a great life!

Getting cold out here.  Good thing I kept my jacket.  I stop to put it on.  That’s better.  It even lightens the load.  Should have put it on sooner.  Have to learn these things if I’m going to make it.

Pause

Was that a rain drop?  I can’t believe it’s going to rain.  I wonder how far I am from the train yard.  I stop and head for cover under a large, thick tree.  It isn’t a bad rain.  Should be over soon.  Then I can get on with it.

The rain continues for more than an hour.  I hunker down and try my best to stay dry, but soon realize I have no control over the elements and can only hope that it will end soon.  I doze on and off, withdrawing from the immediate reality of this stupid adventure and when it finally lets up, it’s nearly 9pm, and I wonder where the time has gone.  I’m soaked and shivering, frustrated with my inability to handle such problems, and I’m practically starving.

Maybe I should wait to run away until I have enough money, I’m thinking.  It takes money when you’re in a jam.  I should probably save up at least $40.  Maybe more.  Without conscious thought I start the long walk home, retracing my steps so I can find my other bag of clothes, but I never do because one bush looks like another and I had to be so clever to hide it without marking it.

I get home around midnight.  Nobody is waiting up for me, but the door is unlocked.  I sneak in and put away my remaining bag of clothes.  Wonder when they’ll figure out I lost the other half, I’m thinking.  Won’t be long because you can’t hide the fact a pink and gray birthday shirt is missing.  But if they knew, they never said, never even asked why I was out so late or where I had been … never really cared.

2007-0614 Once Upon A Time Copyright © 2008,2012 by Tad Laury Graham; Excerpted from my Novel, Leaving Home.

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Self Help Experts, Gurus and Their Books

In Self Help on July 29, 2008 at 12:02 am

It has been claimed that self help books outsell all other categories. (The only exception is the Bible.) Why is this? Are there really that many different types of problems that we need a comparable number of solutions? Its only my opinion, of course, but if these books were effective I doubt that we would buy so many of them. In my experience, they rarely work as advertised, and we assume that it’s our fault, so we feel some guilt while we escalate the search for the holy grail of self help, or for one of it’s high priests.

The concept of self help is pretty straight forward, but to write a book on the subject requires that we complicate the message to justify the need for the book – or the need for yet another book explaining the first book. The books themselves almost always try to convince us that the author has found the correct system. And if we would only follow the methods dictated by the system, we would attain the mystical experience required to change our lives. Only trouble is, I don’t like the silly exercises, do you?

And there is the key to this whole business, isn’t it? We don’t want to change: we want to be accepted as who we are. In some cases, we want the world to change, but it’s rare that we are willing to reciprocate, even when we continue to say otherwise. If we are honest about it, at least to ourselves, we never really learn the method proposed. And we keep talking about “the problem” until our friends find other friends, and our family discovers the virtues of having things to do somewhere else, other than at home.

Been there, done that. But along the way, I discovered three principles that changed how I felt about myself, and how I felt changed how I behaved, which changed how others saw me. I didn’t discover a system; I discovered some basic, practical approaches to dealing with my world. One thing led to another, and I went from high school dropout to running a 900-person information systems group, which convinced me that making minor adjustments can result in successes which lead to greater successes.

Let me summarize these approaches for you, and if there is any further interest, I will follow up later with more detail and perhaps some examples.

Principle #1:  Take Responsibility for your Actions and Outcomes

You can’t outsource this to a therapist, even if you decide to hire one. This does not mean that you should grade yourself, tell yourself you don’t deserve success, or in any other way focus on your mistakes. Focus on problem solving: and be sure to solve the problem, not the person. Success breeds success, not books. Books, which are a subtle form of criticism, breed more books (as we have seen above).

The bottom line is that most people don’t need therapists, gurus or books to tell them how to behave. They need operating principles – a short list of things to focus on, from someone who has been there, tried everything, and failed a few times before finding success.

Principle #2:  Let Your Feelings Be What They Are

Vestiges of the past, about as useful as an appendix. From an early age we have been instructed to control our feelings. The emphasis was incorrect. We don’t need to be at odds with how we feel, but we do need to refuse to act on feelings alone. Do not let your feelings run your life. They are not an indicator of your sensitivity, only of your preoccupation with self. You don’t need to analyze them, change them, or even control them. You only need to recognize that they are reminders, that they are only one input, and that in most cases they will lessen their hold on you if you stay the course.

Everybody has doubts. Most of us can’t ignore them, but we can postpone them. The next time you start running yourself down, tell yourself that you really are going to give yourself a good talking to for being so stupid, but that you are going to wait until you have more time, say in a couple of days. By the time two days rolls around, you will very likely have forgotten about the “promise.” More important, chances are good that the act of not running yourself down will make a permanent change in you, and in the way your friends see you.

Successful people focus on the process, not on the feelings of self doubt, and they recognize that it may take more than one try to be a success. Ever played a video game? Did you beat it the first time? Or did it take several tries?  Why should life be any different?

Principle #3:  You Are the Source of Your Pain

Am I saying that your pain isn’t real?  Not at all:  the pain is real because you make it real. You are the source or the cause of this pain. People around you almost never appreciate how they are affecting you. Therefore, you are the only one who knows how you feel. Recognize that how you feel is a choice, and that expectations create outcomes.

Once again, delay being critical of yourself, or critical of others, and you will find yourself becoming less negative regarding outcomes, and feeling less pain in your life. Let me sum up the summary for you:

The quicker you own your own mistakes and take action to fix them, and the slower you blame others for theirs, the greater the likelihood that you will feel right about yourself, and that success will follow.

NOTE: If at anytime you experience suicidal, homicidal, or otherwise destructive feelings towards yourself or others, then by all means see a medical doctor because your problem may require medical treatment. However, if you are like the vast majority of us, you can go a long way with some minor tweaking to old habits, attitudes, and behaviors.

2008-0729 Self Help Series # oo1 Copyright © 2008 by Tad L. Graham.