Like any normal youthful product of the great American dream, I often felt isolated from what peers I had and frequently escaped into a hidden world of fantasy. That fact that my father was in the military only aggravated my desire for separation from what I considered to be a terminally boring reality. Every three or four years, sometimes less, and often in the middle of the school year, I was torn away from the few friends that a skinny kid with glasses can make and shipped off to another region of the American military fiefdom. Virginia, Iceland, North Carolina, Alaska, Missouri, the list wasn’t terribly long, but when you're young time passes most swiftly when you’re separated from the comfortable and slapped down someplace new.
My entire life I was always "The New Kid," and although it seems of trivial importance now, at the time it was monumentally important to blend in. We didn’t have MTV back in those days. What little fashion sense children had didn’t come so much from the pampered extravagances of teen pop stars as it did from watching reruns of the Electric Company. It only takes the smallest of infractions in the cut or color of T-shirt to be labeled as different.
And so, as recourse to what I perceived as the world against me, I retreated from the reality that I disliked. I absorbed myself into the imaginary world that percolated between my seemingly oversized ears. Science fiction was always my first great siren and Kirk was the father I wish I’d really had. Unfortunately, my retreat triggered a domino of effects. The farther I retreated, the less I paid attention in class. The other monsters, sensing my weakness and intangible hold on the here and now, increased their taunting. Consequently I sunk farther and the narrow vision I had for the walls that surrounded me became the thing you could only see if you squeezed your eyes just right. The less I paid attention, the more they poked, and the worse my grades got.
My parents, operating out of what I now realize was a deep concern for my welfare, but at the time believed was an Orwellian plot to destroy me, seized upon the idea of limiting my television privileges until I changed my weirding ways. Once the lip of man hath tasted of ambrosia never more can he feast upon mutton. My world didn’t crumble, but I had known better times.
And thus was my introduction to the written word. Oh, I had read before. My mother had always encouraged us to be literate and often maintained mandatory reading time in the evenings, but I had never really enjoyed it until I was weaned form the phosphorescent glow of the radiation box. In my local library I had discovered that science fiction was not confined to the sparkly interior of my television. Asimov, Heinlein, Zelazny, Harrison, these were my new friends. They nourished me and assisted me in the transformation until I became the fine space pirate that stands before you today.
My mother was ecstatic that I was reading, thinking no doubt that it would assist my education. More the folly her! My attention deviation was simply enhanced. I had all the intrigue, and entertainment I could use and it would fit in my jacket pocket. I took books everywhere. If I was sitting I was reading. I learned that if I sat in the back of the class I could hold my book open below the surface of the desk and read whilst blocking out the monotonous strains of the instructors voice entirely. My instructors were now doctorates in physics, men of the world, dashing explores and heroes willing to risk everything for the fair damsel. Such a thing can’t last forever though and the moderators of my childhood soon learned of my deception.
Around this time my mother, ever stalwart in her attempts to guide me along the path of the light, devised a new punishment. I had been ignoring spankings for years now and seperation from the gamma hole simply leveled a new, more powerful distraction in my direction. She decided to attempt isolation treatment. When I was naughty and set something on fire, I was placed in a little used corner. Laughingly similar to the punishment Dennis the Menace received from his own well wishing mother, although I was not allowed the comfort of a chair or the companionship of a teddy bear.
Again I outsmarted my captors. I realized that I absorbed enough reference material by this time that I didn’t need books, TV, or indeed any outside stimulation to escape my prison of the material plane. I could easily turn off the outside world and slip quietly back to Narnia at will. I sat in corners for hours on end in a veritable trance of fantasy. I was always the hero, and as I got older there were more and more heroines of astonishing beauty and carnal desire. As I entered puberty these fantasies were increasingly pornographic. Had there been a window in my skull that featured my cerebral cinema for external audiences, I’m sure it would have made hardened street walking prostitutes faint from embarrassment. But that’s another story.
At some point in my self education I came across a text outlining the etymology of Christian names. It was then that I discovered the origin of my given name and the meaning it held. My mother had named me after a king of England and had referred to me as her little prince well into my early childhood. My reference text told me that the name also meant "Protector of the Weak." Holy crap, I was a hero!
This single paragraph in a long forgotten book set the stage for the rest of my life. I took the description to heart. I believed I had the power to become the man I had always dreamed I was. It was my destiny. I attempted to live the way I thought I should. I studied the combat arts and became proficient in reading about how to defeat enemies. My expectations were a little skewed and to be honest, I wasn’t really in any physical condition to protect myself let alone anyone else.
My judgment however was affected. I became involved in schoolyard brawls to defend the shaken honor of young girls I did not know, who were not appreciative of my interference. No doubt they were involved in mind numbingly complicated charades of personal injury to attract the attention of the young men I chose to pummel. Most importantly perhaps in shaping my future, my new sense of honor led me down the path of patriot and when I was just old enough, I badgered my parents into signing the paperwork that would allow me to join the Army before I was eighteen. I was going to become an Airborne Ranger! I would protect the frontiers of America against unseen enemies in daring daylight raids against… Oh I don’t know, the Russians.
All things do not happen as planned though, and I was to fail short of gaining acceptance to Ranger School. Eventually, the same injury would lead to my ejection from the military but not before the DOD gave me the skills to be the man I wanted to be. By then I was an adult and realized that I had prepared my entire life for the sort of thing that only happens in movies. I wanted bad things to happen to other people so that I could rescue them. I wanted to be Patrick Swayze, leading a youthful band of rebels against the unstoppable onslaught of an invading Soviet military. I wanted to be the dangerous anti-hero with a heart of gold. Those guys get all the chicks.
My entire life cumulated into a perverse paradox. I had nurtured myself into a caricature, a fantasy that could not exist when compared to the real world. I eventually grew up, but I managed to hold on to enough of that anti-hero bullshit, that people are sometimes wary of me when I attempt to be friendly. It’s great at keeping the crazies from attacking you, but when you sit down with a group of new friends it stifles conversation.
So here I am an adult, with adult responsibilities. I’ve put my fantasy life behind me for the most part. Every couple of years though it rears its head in the form of wanderlust. I’ve been stable too long and it threatens to swallow me. I get the urge to drop what I’m doing and head west, find adventure. I need to find some way to create, an outlet to release all the pent up fantasy.
I’ll move back to Alaska, and live in the mountains. I’ll make hand made furniture and sell it to the tourists. The garden outside my window will be enough to feed me.
I’ll drop everything, pack a single bag and take a bus to LA. I’ll live in a dumpy apartment near the water and write. I’ll own one spoon and one bowl and inspiration will be all I need to satisfy me.
I’ll take the train east and hole up in Brooklyn. I’ll work five nowhere jobs and eat in a different country for each meal. My art will support me.
I’ll travel to the UK and tour the green hills that spawned my family so long ago. I’ll work on a fishing boat to earn my way.
I never do any of these things, I always come back to the here and the now. What of the house? What of my Girlfriend? What of my truck? What of my Puppy? I have friends here. I have a career. I have responsibility. I hate all of it, but I love it so much.
Normally these urges stay rather on the side of fantasy. Recently however, I’ve come to know a great many people. Interesting people, whose lives seem so much more than mine. They live in these places, and some of them do the things I want to do. I visited LA and all I could think about afterwards was "I wonder if the fourth apartment is available?" I could sit out here, overlooking the smoggy trees of the LA river basin. I could write. I could be happy. I hate LA, but I loved it there. It had... history. It had a story, and I wanted to be a part of it.
I need a vacation.