I was not a normal boy.
Shawna and the kids spent the time that I was traveling with her family. Gentry's fifth birthday is next month, but since Shawna's family won't be around, they threw him a small party. He got what he wanted. I was walking back to the hotel from dinner (alone), and my cell phone buzzed. It was a picture; of Gentry-standing on his new "skatebowd" a big toothy smile on his face. Shawna was concerned she said, because he was "already getting dangerous" on it. I asked what she meant.
"Well, he's already trying to stand up on it!"
Isn't that what you're supposed to do with a skateboard?
At any rate, I drove to meet them at the tail end of my business trip, and spent a day there with the family before coming home. A group of us went out for the evening, and Gentry, having received the thing he most wanted, moved on to loftier goals.
"Dad, you know what I want fow my birfday," he asked?
"No, Bubs; what do you want?"
"I want a gun."
"Bubba, you already have way too many guns. Let's get creative this birthday," I said. "Let's get you something different."
"No, Daddy," he exclaimed. "Not THAT kinda gun! I want a WEAL gun!"
"A real gun, Bubs? You've got to be kidding me!"
"Pwease, Daddy? I WEALLY want a weal gun fow my birfday."
Papa Marc and Uncle Casey (both Soldier of Fortune type gun aficionados) just laughed.
I never wanted a real gun growing up. I think it concerned my parents, because they bought me one when I was twelve or thirteen. I took it shooting once. I sold it four or five years later. I never had a skateboard either. I was scared of skateboards.
In fact, in hindsight, I was, at best, an eccentric boy; at worst, strange. I only had three real friends as a child. One really quiet guy who was also in band; a really smart girl (who was, in fourth grade, about 5' 10", and maybe 200 lbs); and a guy who lived across the street from me (he was about five years older than me, but was only a grade ahead of me); he was the only one who ever came over to visit, but looking back, it seems that he only came over to let out some pent up anger. Once a week or so, he'd come by under the pretense of playing, and he'd end up grinding my face in the grass for a good 15-20 minutes (until Mother came running out and made him stop). It was a testament to either my long suffering compassion-or my stupidity-that I never turned him away; week after week, he came and beat me up.
In hindsight, I think the lack of friends might have been due to the camouflage, elastic-waisted home-made pants that I wore until I was 12 or so (they had no fly-I don't think Mother knew how to sew in a zipper, so I had to pull them down to use the restroom). They were decidedly uncool (although I didn't know it at the time). Or maybe it was due to the fact that I was good at almost nothing. When choosing teams for baseball, they'd choose the kid in a wheelchair before they chose me. I could NEVER do a pull-up or a push-up (still can't, to be honest).
I couldn't even cuss well. I got sent home (and almost suspended) from school once for cussing a kid out. His name was Jesus (pronounced "hay-soos"). I found out how it was spelled, and started calling him Jesus (pronounced like the one from Nazareth). He must not have been a Christian, because he said a few choice words (none of which, honestly, I knew); I said a few of my own right back; then he hit me. I fell down and started crying. He stood over me, looking down at me incredulously, not sure what to do.
The teacher marched us both to the principals office. He heard Jesus' side of the story first, then called me in, and asked if I'd called him any bad names. I started crying and said yes. He looked at me, disappointed, picked up the telephone, and called Mother. She came and picked me up, furious. She ranted the whole way home. When we finally got home, I sat down at the kitchen table. She sat across from me.
"PJ," she said, "what did you say to that kid?"
"I called him a stupid jerk," I told her.
"Nothing Mom," I said. "That's all I said!"
She looked at me for a moment, then started laughing. She picked up the phone and called the principal. They had a good laugh, then she loaded me into the car, and took me back to school.
And I've never enjoyed playing outside; you get dirty playing outside, and I have always hated to be dirty. In fact, I have, almost since I was Gentry's age, showered at least twice per day (sometimes thrice). I did ask for a BB gun when I was 8 or 9. My parents got excited (hoping, I think, that this was a sign that their son might, in fact, be normal). They got me the gun. I took it out one Saturday, and accidentally shot a bird. I cried. I never shot the gun again.
In fourth grade, kids stopped calling me PJ or Paul and started calling me Picker (because they caught me picking my nose one day in class; a habit that I still enjoy from time to time). But, interestingly enough, that was the grade that kids actually started hanging around me. The two coolest guys in the school suddenly were my best friends (at least in class). It took me a year or so to figure it out, but I eventually realized that their sudden friendship coincided with the earliest group projects. I was their willing intellectual slave; it bought me some measure of admiration (although they still called me Picker).
I saw one of those guys a few months ago. He's a mechanic; lives in an apartment; drives an old beat up car, and is struggling financially. He still calls me Picker.
None of the girls ever wanted to date me. In fact, I didn't have a girlfriend until my senior year in high school. I'm half convinced, to this day, that a few of my friends might have paid her to date me for a few weeks because they felt sorry for me (Katie: is that the case?).
Early on, I was oblivious to my abnormalcy. It didn't phase me. But about the time my name was changed to "Picker" I began to realize that I wasn't well liked; I wasn't popular-in fact I wasn't unpopular; to most, I simply didn't exist. It started to bother me. By that point, though, I simply didn't know how to be cool; I was so far removed from the norm that the idea of my fitting in was almost laughable.
I'm sure I cried quite a few tears to Mother and Dad, and I'm sure they watched, pained, as I fell flat on my face socially time and again. I've never asked. But I look back now, and I'm thankful that I wasn't cool. Most (though not all) of the cool people are now living lives of mediocrity. Once the wave of "coolness" deposited them on the beach of real-life, they realized they couldn't actually walk on their own.
So, there's a part of me that's relieved that Gentry wants a gun for his birthday. I hope that he's a little more normal that I was (I think he is). Not too normal though! I don't want him to be lulled into thinking that his social status as a kid will carry him through to success as an adult. I want to make sure that he can walk when it's time to walk.
So, we make him wear camouflage, elastic-waisted, flyless pants.