Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
McMan's Bipolar Story
Story originally written and published at Suite101

Part One:  When I first knew I was different
Part 2:   Alone, Against the World
Part 3:  Aloysius and Me
Part 4:  Crash and Burn
Part 5:  To Madness and Back
Part 6:  A Companion Called Fred

part 1 of 6

When I First Knew I Was Different

   "Had this been 1955 instead of 1956, I might have passed for
  normal, but 'Hound Dog' blew my cover."

                   I always knew I was different, but the day I
                   knew that I knew came in the fall of 1956 when
                   I was six going on seven. The big event of that
                   time from my perspective - and ultimately the
                   world's - was the Coming of Elvis, but it wasn't
                   until the release of "Hound Dog" that I was
                   aware the cosmic order was no longer the

                   I knew it then and there with all the sagacity of
                   one uncorrupted by life experience.

  The world that fall had irrevocably altered - a techtonic plate shift - a movement of the heavens and the earth that had the ground and everything on it vibrating to a new frequency. Nothing would ever be the same again.

History, of course, would prove me right.

  We had just moved into a new house in a new neighborhood cleared out of woods and old pasture land in central Connecticut. I didn't know it then, nor did the rest of my family, but we were making history every bit as significant as the Coming of Elvis. 

  In moving out of their old Irish Catholic neighborhoods back in
Springfield, Massachusetts - actually a series of moves over eight or nine years - my parents, along with the millions of others of their generation, had taken us to the uncharted shores of a brave new world, an immigration every bit as significant as the ones associated with the Potato Famine and Ellis Island, and I can sum it up in one phrase: Jews next door. 

  With simply this to add: Italians next to them, followed by Irish again, two origins undetermined, German-Jews, WASPs - you get the picture. Whites were integrating. We were never just white.

  It was then and there, in my new neighborhood, just as white America was in the process of becoming one, that I realized I was different. 

  Our new house backed onto second growth woods which abutted pasture land not yet slated for the bulldozer. I had made friends with Bobby, who was my age. Thanks to Bobby, I fell in with his older brother Billy and his friends. The woods in back, together with all the house construction going on, amounted to our adventure playground. 

  Had this been 1955 instead of 1956, I might have passed for normal. But "Hound Dog" blew my cover. I couldn't just splash through the mud or climb trees or kick through smoldering piles of raked leaves or jump off half-finished garage roofs into conical piles of sand like the rest of the kids. No, I had to stop and savor the moment as I gyrated my body and yelled out, "Y'aint nothin' but a hound dog!" at the top of my lungs. 

  There was something about the song that put me in a different place, that temporarily stopped the sun and suspended gravity and lifted me into a different realm. The shrinks have a name for it. Peak experience, they call it. 

  My new older buddies were not slow to recognize the amusement value in my antics, particularly when yet a new Elvis song came to my notice, "Hard Headed Woman". 

  So it happened that one day we headed home from a far-flung corner of our great vast adventure playground, needing only to cross the bull pasture to get back in time for the "Spin and Marty" episodes on "Mickey Mouse". Okay, I confess, it could have been "Corky and White Shadow" or the "Hardy Boys", but "Spin and Marty" with its Triple-R Ranch and kids doing dangerous things on four-legged animals seems altogether more appropriate to a story involving a six-year old Elvis fan and a herd of bulls. Probably they were just steers, but that sort of distinction would have escaped me at the time.

  Anyway, here were all these bulls on the other side of an electric
fence, casually munching grass or else taking their afternoon siestas while the flies enjoyed a field day making their lives miserable. 

  We were standing there, just watching, when the topic of rodeo bulls came up. At first, this was an abstract discussion. Then Billy
happened to mention what a pathetic lot these particular bulls were.  No horns, just munching on grass, lying down, waiting to become steaks, too lazy to even chase the flies away. 

  You could see where this conversation was heading. Now I could vault the fence in a second without getting an electric shock, but Bobby had thoughtfully lifted the bottom wire with a stick so I could crawl under. 

  No challenge from the animals. So far so good. I looked over to my friends, who reassured me with Elvis gestures. I picked an animal that seemed popular with the flies, and without giving the matter a second thought straddled one leg in the air over the reclining beast. I thought this would impress my friends, but half of them were gesturing me to sit while the others were gyrating to "Hard Headed Woman". 

  A brief note of explanation here. I've always had difficulty picking out the lyrics to any song. Words to me have always been a sort of abstract spoken texture to the music, so I usually made them up as I went along. Thus "Hard Headed Woman" became: 

  "She's a hard headed woman, a soft-hearted man," (so far, so good), "there she goes, rockin' rollin, in a garbage can." 

  A few more bars in and I would dispense with the English language entirely. "Shrinka-shrinka-shrinka, oh yeh," fit the bill quite nicely. 

  So now you can picture the entire scene: Me with one leg straddled over a thousand pounds of future ground chuck - who was barely paying me any notice, by the way - looking over to my friends on the other side of the fence for reassurance, one of them urging me to sit while the others approvingly sang out, "shrinka-shrinka-shrinka," which I took to be a good sign. 

  I shifted my weight and the leg came down. Instantly the horizon
dramatically changed. I was high above it and the scenery was
moving. I didn't wait to see how this would turn out. I jumped off, but without kicking off. Somehow, I willed myself into the air, and when gravity reasserted itself I landed like a cat, found my bearings, then dived through the fence with a precision and athleticism that would have put Jim Brown, the best running aback in all history, to shame. Chalk one up to the brain's flight-or-fight center. Mine checked out just fine. 

  My first thought - once the luxury of thought returned - was that I had somehow not lived up to the faith my friends had in me. I had bailed out, aborted the mission in mid-flight. I was nothing more than a scaredy cat, which is the worst fate that can possibly befall a kid, particularly one looking for approval from the older boys. I gathered myself on the ground, trying to hide my shame, then stood up to face the music. 

  But instead of the barrage of ridicule that I expected, I gazed up into expressions of amazement and disbelief, the kind of looks that might have greeted me had I just emerged from a pool of crocodiles. In other words there was no way my older buddies were going to do what I did, not in a million years, not even to show me how easy it was. 

  How could I be so stupid? I suddenly realized, feeling my face go red.  What idiotic thing would I do next? Stick my hand in a running lawn mower? Suppose something had happened? Suppose I had got these bulls really angry? Suppose I had set off a stampede? 

  Bulls on the patio, bulls in the flower beds, bulls crashing down
houses and trampling babies, here in this brave new world that our parents had created. No, it didn't happen, but suppose my friends turned me in? Okay, the law might let me off with a warning, but what about my parents? Maybe I should just start running right now. 

  But it was the prospect of school the next day that frightened me the most, for here I knew with absolute certainty what fate had in store. Humiliation before my peers, forever branded as the moron too stupid to stay away from danger. I could see those big fifth and sixth graders now - hey, kid, come here - not to mention those in my own class.  Even the kindergartners would show me no mercy. 

  But none of my friends were laughing. If I were red, then they were pale. I was safe, I realized, much to my infinite relief. Turning me in, after all, would only draw attention to themselves, brand them as accessories for egging me on, expose them to the same ridicule, get them into even worse trouble than me. This was serious business, and it was all taking place on the unspoken level. 

  It never happened, simple as that. That was the silent pact we made. We wouldn't talk about it, even amongst ourselves. We wouldn't even think about it. It was as if we had the power to take those last few minutes back. By the time I got home it was even a secret from me.

  But one thing had irrevocably changed. I knew that I was different, that the momentary terror I had felt on that back of that bull had been nothing compared to that fear in my gut over being singled out for ridicule for the rest of my life. Sure, it didn't eventuate, but the warning had been sounded. I had been given a little foretaste. 

  In the meantime, I still had a few carefree years ahead of me. Elvis would later go into the Army, and when he came out the world would once again be different. And so would he. And so would I.

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 John's Story Part II - Alone, Against the World

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