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Daniel Maclise: Othello, Desdemona and Emilia (1867)
" I will continually eliminate intrusions and remulch familiar dirt …"

As near as I can tell, and I'm the only one who could possibly know, I felt fairly well suited to this world through the spring of 1963. Since then, things have maintained a steady downward trajectory. By the fall of that year, I registered my first failing grade, an outcome I felt certain was coming before completing the transfer into Junior High, a clear impending disaster against which I possessed no defenses. Junior High attempted to demonstrate that one could successfully educate kids by removing the center of their existence and replacing it with something euphemistically labeled Home Room. There never was anything even the least bit homey about Home Room. It seemed an utterly alien environment, a place where people who would never very well know each other gathered at the beginning of each school day for the purpose of taking role and listening to threatening screeds the Principal broadcast over the school-wide PA system. It set a distinctly prison camp tone, one which unavoidably soured the rest of each day's experience. I started majoring in hiding out, a field of study in which I came to excel. I would have preferred that they offered a letter in that endeavor, but, alas, they did not.

I matriculated into High School, which was Junior High on steroids.
I engaged in advanced studies, graduating by what was left of the skin of my teeth, convinced that education had it out for me and that I would probably be much better off if I thereafter gave it as wide a berth as possible. Other than dabbling in some Community College, which I cleverly characterized as High School With Ashtrays, I succeeded in avoiding it. I dedicated myself to extended independent study in my chosen field, more or less successfully hiding out in a variety of venues until finally, seven years later, entering university, finally convinced that though I was not yet confident that I actually belonged anywhere, I might benefit from gaining an alma mater. I hid out there, too, to the best of my increasing ability, then took a nondescript position out of my degree's specialization, where I continued practicing my dark art. I learned to pretend a little better each year until I attended the most unique seminar from which my wife at the time insisted I had never returned. She was not wrong.

My GraveMisgivings about belonging in that post-1962 world had only increased over the interim years. Very little of what I'd experienced served to even start to convince me that I was not, at root, an alien living in a distinctly alien land. In the seminar, I discovered that I was not alone, as everyone there had seemed to have been similarly faking membership. I found myself increasingly unable to cower beneath the considerable bushel basket I'd constructed over and around me. At the risk of channeling mediocre Broadway, I had experienced my I Gotta Be Me moment. I commenced to constructing a world within which I might fit. I, of course, didn't quite get it right the first few attempts, but I felt as though I might be moving closer. I abandoned much of what I'd built before, exiting more doors than I entered, but once away, I began to see a way that I might eventually belong. I became an outed alien rather than the closeted kind.

When The Muse and I relocated back to my hometown, I sensed that I had finally closed in on the essence of where I might belong. It was not Heaven, nothing like it, but then Heaven had seemed to also be in hiding and largely getting by on a mythical prior reputation, in desperate need up a makeover. The place seemed heavenly enough for my purposes. At least I knew some of the people I encountered at the grocery store, people who already knew some of my reputation from before I'd gone clandestine back in '62. When we left there, I felt as if I'd landed on one of those long descent ladders in the great Chutes and Ladders Game Of Life. I remembered how to go underground and quickly slipped into my old role of Anonymous Man again. The prospect of returning to that place of near convergence with my prior past both warms and terrifies me. I will be faced with the challenge of choosing to be myself again, whomever that might be after such extended incarceration. Here I come.

GraveMisgivings might have become my first name: GraveMisgivings Schmaltz, I might call myself. I have become well-skilled at not joining any organization that might deign me worthy of membership, and rather reveling in that distinction. I have become not just a nobody, but a purposeful one. Even my neighbors can't quite remember my last name, usually conflating it with Amy's. I don't have the heart to correct them because it doesn't matter here. I'm just atmosphere. Back home, I might well face an opposite problem. I know some people there think they know me, but like anyone, I've developed a somewhat shady reputation in the common misconception of who I once was and who I've probably become. Some believe, and apparently unshakably, that I was a draft dodger back in the early seventies, though I never was. That myth's not likely to be undone. Others see the fine house we've retained there and conclude that we must be rich, and the typical small town misconception kicks in. I clearly must have somewhere become a genuine son of a bitch. Nothing else could possibly explain my apparent good fortune.

I might not yet really understand who I am, but I retain a fine sense of who I once was from a time before I began blooming. I know my rootstock well, an underlying identity nobody but I ever understood. That understanding's sustained me through decades of attempting to hide myself, attempting to bloom like a camellia when I knew I was really rose down there. We have a rose garden back home, one with roots at least as deep as mine. The Muse adopted it as her own, pruning carefully each spring. I'd crawl through it, digging up intrusive weeds and remulching. I expect that my return might result in just such a life there, one where I will continually eliminate intrusions and remulch familiar dirt, work I easily identify with, GraveMisgivings notwithstanding.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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