stairway to heaven

Another memory of Lisa from my senior year.

Normally I would hang out near the band room (I was such a band geek), but near the end of high school I was getting tired of that scene. I needed a change, I needed to expand my horizons a little. I was relatively happy the last half of that year, looking forward to a future away from Goldville. I had a few good friends, I was doing well in school, and I was feeling adventurous socially.

One spring day Lisa dragged me out of the band room, and we spent the majority of lunch sitting in the quad, typically the hangout of the “in crowd” and very much the social focal point. Normally I avoided this place, but on this day the grass was a little greener, the April sun warming me inside and out, and I was encouraged rather than unnerved by the sound of people laughing and chatting. I ate a thick chocolate milkshake with M&Ms, the candy freezing hard, crunching in my mouth. We joked, we watched people, we talked about whatever.

The library aide had rolled out a stereo system and big speakers, typical for springtime. Led Zeppelin IV was playing. It was the first time I had really listened to the song Stairway to Heaven. I felt every note. I was very quiet, taking it all in, seeing what I had missed out on during my self-imposed exile from the rest of the world, saving the memory like a video in my brain. Lisa looked over and asked me if I was okay – I must have drifted off into my mindscape again.

Yeah, I was good. I had my best friend, I wasn’t nervous, and I felt the music. I felt alive.


shame on you

It feels like I remember every embarrassing thing I have ever done. All the times felt like I was the center of attention, thinking about all my flaws and shortcomings, while other people probably didn’t even notice me. I obsess over these moments endlessly, thinking about how I felt when the embarrassing moment occurred, or even worse, how I felt about when I eventually realized how stupid I was earlier.

I still feel ashamed for many things in my past. All the inappropriate things I have said at the wrong time, all the stupid things I did to other people, all the mistakes I’ve ever made … they replay in my head frequently, at the least opportune times. I have made apologies to a couple of people for things I did or said, and they accepted my apology gracefully, but it doesn’t erase in my mind the fact of how I feel about these things.

Shame has always been a defining factor in my life. My adopted mother and her adopted mother shamed me constantly, making me think I didn’t deserve anything, and that anything I did to call attention to myself was wrong. I learned early from my schoolmates that doing anything outside the ordinary was a source of embarrassment and shame. As you can imagine, having bipolar as a teenager (and into adulthood) caused me to do more stupid things than ever before and resulted in continuing humiliation when I looked back at my actions.

My intelligence, and my reputation as the smart kid, caused other kids to tease me and exclude me from their social circles, and I learned to hide my intellect to avoid being the focus of attention. In 4th grade I deliberately failed during the school spelling bee because I didn’t want the spotlight focused on me, the person who was expected to win. Because I had more advanced schoolwork than the kids in my classes, I was often separated from them, suffering the indignity of having my own special corner in the classroom, or even worse, being sent to the “special” class where I could work independently. [Funny thing is, the “special kids” were some of the most genuine and kind-hearted people I knew.]

Sometimes I would forget who I was, and get a little false confidence to try something; these times would usually result in the most awkward moments of my life. The 6th grade talent contest comes to mind, when for some reason I thought I could be the emcee and tell jokes in front of the whole school; I failed miserably, and I felt people making fun of me. [Whether they actually made fun of me, I don’t know, but I was my own worst critic.] After these failures, I would retreat into my shell again.

There have been very few times when I was in the spotlight and I actually felt good about it: making a great play in baseball, or nailing my solo during the band performance, or winning the marching competition my first day at college band camp. Some of those memories where I actually accomplished something are still good, and I remember those times very well. But the memories of the times where I failed, or did or said something ignorant or embarrassing, are much stronger than the good memories, and I relive the shame of those moments daily.


I saw your picture on Fakebook, loooking slightly windblown in a sweatshirt and jeans, braving the Mendocino weather. You were leaning on a smooth bleached log in the sand, surrounded by friends, enjoying the moment.

That was supposed to be my picture.

I took you and our friends camping on the beach. I showed you the creatures in the tidepools; you got pinched by a crab, and I kissed your hand to make it feel better. We walked up the beach for an hour, and returned closer than before. The group drank and played games by the fire, and I told you this had been the best day we ever spent together. Your deep brown eyes hinted at something more, and later that night we broke through the “friend barrier”. I cooked everyone breakfast, and you surprised the group by giving me a long, full tender kiss; in response to everyone’s stares, you smiled and said “thanks for breakfast.” Best campout ever.

I saw your picture on Fakebook, and but for a twist of fate, I would have been the one behind the lens.

Of course the world moved on, as did our lives, and here we are years later in separate worlds. As tidepools are abandoned by the receding tide, so do the feelings of love, sadness, and missed opportunity become more isolated over time … until one photo brings the flood of memories back again.