We can blame this one on this chick. Oh, I hope it’s not offensive these days to refer to women as chicks. I’m okay being anachronistic, but offensive is something I only want to be on purpose and this is not one of those times.
I’ve often wished that I could go back in time, to several times, to give my younger self just the right bit of advice at just the right time. Now that I’m holy shit how’d that happen 51 years old, and in a very good place in life with all of the resolution of past garbage done, I can see that it would always be the same advice: Trust your perceptions, your instincts, and your intuition. Stop doubting yourself and trusting others. Always, without fail or hesitation, go with what you know.
In a few cases I’d add a little something specific to the trial at hand.
The rest of this is written for me, rather than you. You’re welcome to read it, of course, or it wouldn’t be here. It contains some stuff that’s unexplained, but it might seem to make sense anyway.
To my 10 year old self, on one particular sunny day:
You’re absolutely right, little guy, you will never forget this afternoon. Nor should you, because what you just learned is the truth. Shocking truth, surely, but truth it is. This epiphany that you’ve just had is the most important thing that’s yet happened in your young life and the cornerstone of many other important things yet to come. It’s vital that you remember those things that you know right now, and never give in to the temptation to pretend that you don’t know them.
Here’s the scoop and you’re not going to like it one bit: That normal childhood that you want, the one you see other kids having all around you? The one your sister appears to be having? You cannot make that happen. It’s not going to happen. Your parents might hold it out like a carrot used to lead a mule, but it is never going to happen. It’s actually impossible — they’re not withholding it from you, little dude, they are truly and perfectly incapable of delivering it to you. They hold it out to you because you want it and will do anything to get it. You can’t have it, but they will manipulate you with it over and over and over again.
You are absolutely correct in thinking that your parents do not know you. They don’t. That’s why you are always puzzled when they call you names that don’t seem to fit who you are or what you do. They see you as lazy, stupid, a liar, worthless, and all of those other things, and there is nothing you can ever do that will change that. You could be the most perfect kid imaginable, hell, you could have super hero powers, and they will still see you the same way. It’s got nothing at all to do with you, absolutely nothing. It’s not something that can be changed, by you, by them, or by anyone or anything else.
You are right to believe that they hate you, because for all practical purposes they do. It’s not really you, the real you, whom they hate. They don’t even know you. But it’s just the same because you’re the one who’s going to continue being beaten, humiliated, screamed at, and punished in every way they know and every new way they can imagine. Don’t let their hatred for you convince you that what you know about yourself is false. You’re a good kid, always have been. You’ve got bad parents. Very bad, evil parents. No one with a shred of decency would do to a living being the things they do to you.
You’re convinced right now that you can never trust them again and have been foolish to trust them in the past. That’s perfectly true and is never going to change. You’ll be greatly tempted to trust them again, but they will betray you if you do, and every time that you do, for the rest of their lives.
You’ve decided that they do not deserve your forgiveness or your sympathy, and they don’t. But it goes further than that. If you give them those things they will use them against you, every time. It will be hard, damnably hard, to withhold from them those feelings that run so deeply within you, but you must. You’re going to get hurt well more than enough as it is, so don’t invite even more. Harden your heart toward them.
The great differences between your parents that you believe are there really aren’t. They are very much the same, and your father is actually the greater threat to you. You know he’s a pathological liar but you believe you can tell when he’s telling the truth. You can’t. He’s never told the truth, at least not since you’ve been alive. Don’t believe his words just because they’re pleasant — everyone else makes that mistake, and will continue doing so, but don’t you do it. He’s just as you see him now, a great betrayer.
The biggest of his lies that you need to know about right now: You see him as one who won’t hurt you just because he’s not the one who beats you. He’s hurting you, just not physically. He’s telling you he loves you then proving he doesn’t. He’s telling you that he’s keeping the peace with his wife so things don’t get even worse for you and that’s why he doesn’t stick up for you, but the truth is that he wants you beaten. The truth is that if she wouldn’t do it, he would.
Speaking of which, your mother’s a great liar, too. You won’t catch her at it because she’s more selective about when she lies, and far more skillful at it. Here’s the big one you need to know about today: That uncontrollable violent rage that she flies into when beating the hell out of you? It’s all an act. It’s intended to terrify you as it does, to convince you as it has that it’s just a matter of time before she goes a little too far and kills you. You don’t have to fear for your life, little guy, any more. She’ll continue beating hell out of you and it will hurt every bit as much, but you don’t have to fear for your life. But you should act like you’re scared for your life just the same, or she’ll make it worse until you do.
Your sister? You don’t notice her much any more because she’s always hiding in her room with her books, but you’re pretty sure she looks down on you and doesn’t want anything to do with you. You’re right. She believes and will always believe that it’s your fault that you’re treated the way you are — and that it’s a reflection of her worth that she is not. It does not matter that it’s not her doing, that your parents have caused her to believe these things. It does not matter at all. You used to have a sister, but now all you have is someone who sees your only value being what you can do for and give to her. You don’t need that.
I’ll give you a glimpse into the future now: In a few weeks your best friend Mark is going to pick a fight with you. A fist fight. You’re not supposed to know why, or that he only hangs around with you because the bullies leave your friends alone. You’re not supposed to know that Dale is going to give him a choice: Either Mark beats you up, or Dale beats him up. If I hadn’t told you this you’d have ended up facing Mark, not knowing why, and trying to end it without hurting your friend while the usual rabble stands around egging things on. If Mark were your friend he’d not betray you in this way. It’s time you learned not to associate with cowards anyway, so when the time comes you need to punch his lights out and be forever done with him. If you make up with him afterward he’ll betray you many times, every time the opportunity arises.
Dale will send Tommy B after you later because Mark didn’t beat you up. You wouldn’t have known Dale was behind that, either. That’d be the end of it anyway, but you might want to put the fear and bruising on Dale again anyway just because he deserves it.
It’s going to suck, surviving this childhood, but you’re a tough little dude, and better than that, you’re nothing like those parents of yours. I know you worry about it, but the truth is that this shit is not going to make you like them.
To 16 year old me in June of 1978:
Hey man, congratulations on putting a stop to the violence at home. Right on! The bitch sure did look confused there for a few days, didn’t she? And that look on your father’s face when you squared off instead of cowering? Fucking priceless!
You’re thinking it’s over. You’re thinking you’ve taken control of your own life by paying your own way, coming and going as you please, by getting up in their faces when they start screaming, and so on. You think they’re being more conciliatory and friendlier just because they don’t have any other choice, but you’re wrong. You’re letting your friends come around the house, and for the first time your friends are liking your parents, which is an enormous mistake. They’re ingratiating themselves by taking a more conciliatory stance because you’ve taken their other weapons away and your trust is the only one left.
Dude, you know better. Stop that shit now! If you can hang on until you’re 18 without eating too much shit, fine. If not, get out. Either way, once you’re free don’t ever look back. Don’t call, don’t write, don’t send cards on the holidays. Not even to your sister. Don’t go around the relatives. Just make yourself an emotional orphan and be done with the lot of ’em.
How ’bout that Amethyst chick, huh? You have no idea how right you were when you first looked into her eyes from across the donut shop and thought, “Man, this one’s going to change my life”. She really is The One, man. Not just your first love, but your one true love. You might get to thinking that these feelings are so intense only because she’s your first love and first loves are always the most intense, but you’d be wrong. She’s The One, and no matter what else happens in your life she always will be.
You lucky fuck, you just hit the World Series winning grand slam home run your first at-bat in the majors.
Speaking of what else happens in your life: Keep Amethyst away from your parents at all costs. She’s going to want to get to know them, but you’re going to have to convince her that it’s a very bad idea. If it comes to that, even though she truly is The One, everyone will be better off if you lose her for refusing to allow her near your parents than to accept what will happen if you do. Completely seriously and without any exaggeration at all, generations yet unborn and more than one of them will be grievously harmed if you fuck this up. Keep her away from them, period.
I told you six years ago to get rid of Mark. Do it now. Really. It seemed a minor thing, his trying to push you aside to get at Amethyst on the day you met her, but it’s not a minor thing. He’s got no chance with her, ever, but he’s proven yet again that he’ll always betray you. He’ll always put your interests behind his own, to the point that if you were drowning he’d only throw you a rope if he didn’t have something better to do like opening a bottle of Coke. Oh, and if you’re not smart enough to get rid of him today, in about two weeks your wallet and unopened carton of cigarettes are going to disappear, and you’ll be left begging your friends for grocery money. Outstanding fucking guy that he is, Mark will explain that he can’t afford to give you any money, but he can loan you some if you’ll promise to pay him back right on payday. And that won’t be anywhere near the worst he’ll betray you. Lose him NOW.
That weird arrogant chick who was with Amethyst when you met? Her best friend? Watch out for her. She’s not as audacious as Mark, but she wants you for herself and will betray Amethyst in the attempt.
You’ve got some hangers-on who either never have money of their own or don’t come around when they do. Ditch ’em. You’re going to need the money you’ll save by not paying allowances to other people’s kids. The kids on the street where you live: You’ve been pretty much done with them for a while now, but make sure you’re all the way done. Don’t ditch the president of your fan club, though. She’s cool. The fan club itself isn’t a problem at all, either. But keep the president of it around.
That early graduation you’re working so hard to achieve? It will be legislatively impossible before you can get there. Don’t let that get you down. Dwell on that and you’ll make some big mistakes.
Career advice that no one else is going to give you in 1976: Computer fucking Science, man. Not COBOL. C. And though it’s not even an idea yet, C++ in a few years when it comes along. Servers and networking. Don’t say that out loud, just keep it in mind. Ethernet networking, not that other stuff. TCP/IP. Unix, of course, but what else is there? There will be others soon enough, but don’t bother with them. There’s a big thing coming in the way of a global network, and that’s what you want to be involved with right from the start. Public sector, that is. It’s going to start in government/military but you’ll be able to get to the thing in the UC system. Not CalTech. Sorry, man.
Some dudes up in Cupertino are going to make a bit of noise with a personal computer named after a fruit. Toy with it but don’t commit. It will be significant, but unimportant. Invest in their company when they go public if you want, but don’t get any closer.
Remember these words: Fuck HP.
That’s all I’ve got, man. You’ve got an amazing life ahead of you if you heed these words. So do it.
And now I’m off to fry chicken wings. That chile sauce I made the other day is going to make them excellent. Be well, friends and neighbors.