Some reflections on a life of (mostly) failure

ImageI think I should be a success. I’m an intelligent, well-read person who seemingly has all the tools to lead a successful, healthy, happy life, but the truth is, I have failed in my life, repeatedly, over and over again, no matter how talented I may seem in that particular area of failure.

First and foremost in my mind is school. I went through basically twelve years of hell in school, averaging something less than a 1.0 average, despite all my test scores placing me in the upper five to ten percent in the nation. I was told I was lazy, I was told I didn’t apply myself (that term still provokes a feeling of nausea in me when I hear someone utter it.), I was made out to be something that I wasn’t, and as far as I know, not once in that time did anyone ever seriously consider that maybe, just maybe something deeper was wrong. Despite the fact that I had a serious head injury when I was five that required me to stay in ICU two nights.

Socially it was just as bad for me, I only had a few friends, a lot of my class- and school-mates regarded me as a strange, isolated kid who was obviously intelligent but indecipherable, so in addition to feeling like a stupid, lazy piece-of-shit, I was also left feeling like an incredibly isolated, stupid, lazy piece of shit. I used to stare at myself in the mirror and call myself all sorts of horrible names, I told myself how much I loathed me, I hated the ugly image in the mirror. It is no surprise then, if I admit that by the time I was ten, I has already seriously begun contemplating killing myself.

I recall clearly the first time I almost did it. We lived on this incredibly steep hillside in the foothills of the Santa Cruz mountains, and we had this old Dodge pickup truck that was parked pointing straight down the steepest part of our hill, and I sat in that truck, all of ten years old, ready to pull the parking brake, put it in neutral and go to my fate.

It didn’t get easier for me as I got older. My isolation only increased when we moved to Oregon when I was fourteen and suddenly thrust into the country world of Glide, Oregon. The first two years at Glide High School were pretty bad, I was this tiny little dude and definitely got picked on a lot, but by the time I was a junior and senior, I wasn’t getting picked on too much, but I was just as isolated as ever.

Throughout this whole time, I was still essentially getting D’s and F’s, I was still just as baffling and confusing to the teachers and staff at the high school, and my depression was getting worse year by year. The funny thing is, I didn’t even realize I was depressed. I just thought I basically sucked, no one genuinely liked me, and that I would never amount to anything. Actually, that is still my ‘default’ mode that I go into when the black dog visits. In any case, I wouldn’t realize that I was clinically depressed until after I was hospitalized at nineteen.

I ended up dropping out of school when I was six months from graduation, in part because I wasn’t going to graduate anyway. and I in part because I hated it so much I just wanted to get the hell out. I wouldn’t make a serious attempt at formal education again until this year.

Which brings us to my latest failure. I enrolled in UCC for the fall term, got approved for financial aid, and took a step I honestly didn’t think I would ever seriously try. At first, it went pretty well, I felt enthusiastic and energized, I was on top of things, but as the fall progressed, my pain issues increased, dramatically so at the end of the term, and I was in so much pain I began to struggle getting to class. It didn’t help any that I was also feeling anxiety about being around a bunch of strangers when I was hurting so badly that I wasn’t sure if I could suppress a groan when it struck. Plus, I had to take a lot of pain medication, which sure as hell isn’t conducive to things like focus and concentration. Anyway, I really struggled in the lat month, I managed to get caught up in my writing 121 class, and ended up, to my surprise, with an A. But my journalism classes I only got a C and a D, which officially makes me suspended from school.

How can this be? Well, when I was in my early to mid-twenties, I made a feeble attempt at school, but being the dumb-ass that I am, I ended up not going to them at all, mostly due to my then-overwhelming fear of being in any kind of group situation. The terrible part is this: I don’t always understand how systems work, I just don’t get it, and in this case I ended up going to maybe one or two nights, but never again after that. I didn’t, however, take the vital step of withdrawing officially from my classes, not understanding that it would mean three F’s instead of just a withdrawal. So now, with my D in writing for the media (getting this grade also came down to me not turning in one final assignment, which I stupidly did not realize was our final), I am officially booted from school. I doubt I will ever try again.

All I had to do was get a C.

When I was in wrestling, I was pretty talented physically, I was quick and could get take-downs on a lot of opponents, but as talented physically as I was, I was mentally incompetent. I would give up, beating someone but good, then getting tired and giving up, almost always getting pinned in the process. My friend Brandon told me it was the most aggravating thing to watch me wrestle.

When I joined Tae Kwon Do when I was sixteen, things began to shift, but not right away. I took to the martial arts, utilizing my quickness to rapidly establish myself as one of the best in our little dojo within just a few months, but when I went to tournaments, I initially was only able to finish second or third, I was usually too wound up, I was too blindly aggressive and could never get the win. This went from yellow belt through my blue belt. Then, when I was a brown belt, I finally went to a tournament with a relaxed attitude, and I not only won, I dominated. I became a more passive fighter, relying on my defensive skills and preying on my opponents mistakes. After that, something clicked in me and I went on to win five of the next six tournaments. But a tragedy was to soon alter my psychology for many years to come.

I had a friend in high school named Lynn Powell, we were never close, but for a time she babysat across the street, and we would hang out sometimes. She was always really kind to me, and I always felt cared about by her, not a common feeling for me in those days, and I always cherished her friendship for that. She had this vibrant spark to her, and one always felt a little better being around her, at least I always did. So when the news of her death in a horrific car accident reached me that terrible morning so many years ago, I literally went into shock, I couldn’t believe it, not her, not Lynn. I was shaken to the core by her passing.

After that, I really passed into a deep sorrow that I wouldn’t come fully out of for a long time, and I lost the joy I had for the martial arts, and most everything else too. So soon I wasn’t practicing, but I vowed that I would go back, and that I would win a tournament in her honor. After several months of sorrow, I did return, and trained for about one month before entering a tournament that just happened to be occurring locally, at Douglas High School.

What I most remember about this tournament was the fact that I was in a nearly unconscious state when I sparred, I was so fully in ‘the zone’, I remembered almost nothing of the actual matches. I know two of my three matches were stopped because I was beating my opponents by five points, a sort of ‘mercy’ rule some tournaments use. The next thing I know, I am being handed a trophy, I start crying, and I don’t stop crying for half an hour. I had done it. I had won it for Lynn. Later I would take the small trophy and leave it at her grave.

I never seriously trained in TKD again. I was less than six months from testing for my black belt, and I gave up, I quit, never to return.

My daughter Zoe’s middle name is Lynn, and it is partly in my old friend’s memory that she was given that name.

End of part I