The hillside where I took the bandages off my eyes, the one which I routinely cleaned of garbage, and which was a refuge throughout my childhood and youth, overlooked a small valley on the eastern edge of my hometown. From the vantage point it afforded me, I could see across the valley, and from this height, everything in life seemed smaller and more manageable. The problems I had down below seemed to soften and become muted from up here, while the smells of the grass and the oaks which surrounded me filled my mind with a sense of hope and peace. After spending time on my hill I would usually return to my life with a sense of confidence and courage, with a clear mind and renewed strength. I loved the slopes of this hill almost as if they were members of my own family; I knew in detail the trees, the rocks, the contours of the ground, where it grew steep and where it flattened out, its paths where others trod, and its mysterious clearings hidden from view. My first real adventure took place on my hill, when I was about six or seven, and the two young daughters of our house painter joined me on a perilous journey to the top. They were each a year or two younger than I and I took my role as their guide and protector very seriously. Near the top there is a steep area, from a slide that had occurred many years ago, and this was the most exciting part, as one had to crawl up its face mostly on all fours, and just before it flattens out again, one must maneuver carefully around a large rock face, or fall to one’s certain doom. I explained this to my two young friends so they knew the danger they were facing, and I told them to stay close. We held each other’s hands as we worked our way around the large rock and then finally, relieved to have survived, ran joyfully the last hundred feet or so to the crest of the hill.
My hill was a magical place, a simple retreat, and the environment for much of my youthful contemplations. It was the first place I contemplated death, its meaning, and the fact that I would die someday. My own death seemed very remote to me though and it wasn’t easy to think about. I found it more interesting to think about what I would have done with my bodily remains. I devised an elaborate scheme, only slightly grounded in science, but mostly a product of my own fantasy and science fiction. I envisioned I would have my body placed in a glass coffin and placed at the top of my hill and my body would be covered in strips of potassium because I remembered reading someplace or perhaps observing an experiment in which potassium was ignited and that it burned extremely hot, with a great deal of light and energy emitted; so I would have my body covered by these potassium strips and powder and then lit. In this fantasy, all of the energy from the potassium would consume my body and this would be collected in some type of gadget on the end of the glass coffin, and that collector, which was also a transformer, would convert all of this energy from the potassium and my body, and focus it into a laser, which would be shot across the valley. And that’s how I’d end; in a golden potassium explosion condensed into a vibrant red laser shot out across the sky. It was fantastic, and the idea made me smile, and chuckle a little. I wondered if it could be done. That was the extent of my musings on death while in my late teens.
Although I did often think and worry about my own mother’s potential death. This filled me with fear and sorrow. Since her divorce from my father, which occurred at the tail-end of the general timeframe my three older siblings all moved out of the house, my mom was all the family I lived with through my teens. Within a fairly short period of time our family went from six down to two. It was strange, disconcerting and played a role in my desire to keep her close to me. The tendency I had to protect my two little friends on my hill, also manifested as a very strong desire to protect my mom and to make sure we were safe together. I believed that she was the only stability I had in the world, and to some degree, I would carry this belief within me well into my adulthood, long after I had moved out of the house and lived on my own, geographically far away from her.
Professor Reynold’s offer to get me into the neurology department at his former university back east was still in effect, and he periodically inquired about this with me and what I wanted to do about it. I’ve heard it said that in each person’s life there are only a handful of times that big opportunities come, and we need to be ready to act when they come, before they pass and are lost to us forever. Whether or not this is true in a general sense it certainly has been true for me, and this educational opportunity I was not prepared to act upon; I was incapable due to my attachment to my mom and my need to be close to her. I couldn’t conceive of moving to the other side of the country and spending the next four years, perhaps more, perhaps the rest of my life, that far away from her. I lived for adventures and new experiences, but only when they had an end in sight. This opportunity was too open ended and there was no sense of returning home from it. Professor Reynolds and I never really spoke about any of this since I’m not sure I even understood these feeling I had, so over time the plan to help me just petered out naturally. I still helped him with his distribution of materials for the blind and our relationship stayed engaging, but the original purpose for our meeting, and all the promise that entailed, slowly dimmed and eventually vanished.
Nature abhors a vacuum and so do I; new adventures and pursuits took the place of the old. I made plans to work in Alaska the coming summer following my one and only year at the Junior College. I also applied and was accepted to the psycho-biology program at UC Santa Cruz for the following year. Psycho-biology is the study of the biological basis of behavior and mental processes. It seemed like a great fit for me and the campus was only three hours away. But I still wasn’t ready to move even that far away from home. I didn’t even take the short drive to the campus to check it out, I just let the opportunity pass me by once again. I wasn’t ready to take serious steps towards my adult life because I felt unprepared and ungrounded, which was the truth. I had a mind full of ideas and a willingness to try nearly anything but I didn’t have a solid basis within me from which to live. I had fragments of notions about myself, but no cohesive identity or knowledge of myself. The only stable and trustworthy thing I had in my life at this time, in an emotional sense, was my mom, so I needed to stay close, at least for a little longer.
(to be continued)