The Year of My Breakdown

Did you ever notice how pressure builds up over things until suddenly you notice the gauge is well into the red?

I had a year like that, it was the time of my senior year in high school and the longest year of my life. It was also the point at which I ran out of time. All the decisions I had delayed, all the painful situations I hadn’t learned to deal with, they all exploded at once.

The uncertainty of who I was and the inability to see a path that might bring resolution topped the list. It was followed closely by fear of moving into the next phase of my life.

Would I go to college, which one, to study what? Would the draft get me? The terror I felt at being thrust into situations that would be totally unfamiliar was paralyzing. I didn’t have anyone I could I turn to for advice, yet even if I did, how could I ask for advice when I didn’t know the questions I needed answers to?

I had wanted to be like everyone else, anonymous and successful. The trouble was I let my desire to be part of a particular crowd direct my decisions. I took a very demanding course schedule, subjects that would be difficult even if I wasn’t struggling with so much personal uncertainty. Russian history, physics, trigonometry, Italian, subjects I wasn’t interested in but they were taken by the people I wanted to emulate.

I was also in love, or what passed for love at seventeen. Taking pity on me, friends had taken it upon themselves to set me up with a young woman that apparently was as awkward as I was, naturally my response was to grab on with both hands and hold on.

I had always assumed that my first sexual encounter would solve all the incongruity issues with my gender, that I would finally be able to stand and shout out, see I really am a man, of course the thoughts and feelings continued and in reality, grew worse.

My utter lack of self-confidence colored my world a uniform shade of grey. I was tall and gawky soft and doughy and totally lacking in social skills. I was totally broken and had no idea how to fix what was wrong.

My solution at the time, was, to deny the existence of a problem and flee.

I now recognize when looking back, that this has become my lifelong strategy, it wasn’t until I was almost sixty years old that I finally faced a problem, namely my gender, and did something about it.

But meanwhile back in 1970 I was rapidly racing to the end of my high school career. I should have just closed my eyes and stumbled onward. I had gone through most of the motions, I had taken the SAT test and scored 1,225 and even without studying I still had a B+ average.

But ….

I had discovered the positive aspects of smoking pot and skipping class, neither of which lent itself to planning for the future.

When I got the letter that I hadn’t been accepted to my first choice of college and my only other option was to go to community college I became, the best word I can use to describe what happened, is unglued.

So with ten weeks remaining in my senior year of high school…..I quit

Many people are not able to recognize the moment in their lives when everything changed, I don’t have that problem. My life has been divided into before and after and now, so many years later I still left to wonder where the other road would have taken me.

I did go back the next year and finish up, but the die had been cast and everything from that day forward has carried the mark of that decision.




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