As a kid growing up, I never went hungry. Not once. I was never homeless even for a night. Millions of people who are alive right now, heartbreakingly, can’t say that. My family had some rough times, times that make or break, or more directly, did both.
Growing up through the ‘90’s we could’ve been considered a middle-class family at times, many other years falling below to a lower-middle-class schema, yet mine and my sisters’ bellies were always full, no matter if it was butter on pasta with parmesan. The upper-class Ramen, if you will. Needless to say, there continues infinite gratitude for many experiences in my young life. My parents and my sister and I moved from Little Rock to College Station, Texas, when I was about six. I started first grade there, then we moved to the outskirts of Dallas in less than a year, my old man being tossed around for his job on his way up the Sam’s Club ladder. One of my first friends in Dallas lived in the apartment next to us. His dad was a kick-boxer who would later be accused of murdering his girlfriend when “kicking a gun out her hand” in an altercation. The son kicked me in the stomach one time too, a literal flying front kick I turned around to catch in the belly. Needless to say this dampened our friendship, while reluctantly teaching me to respect the repercussions that follow from my shit-talking during sports. After they moved out rather hastily following that obviously wild murder accusation, they left scattered belongings which included a Batman Returns poster on the wall which I immediately ‘inherited’ that had the Bat himself, Catwoman, and the Penguin on it—which my mother subsequently took down off my wall the same night ‘cause that shit was scary in the dark. A new family moved in after they took off, and a friendship immediately ignited with their son and I. I forget his name now, although he was my first black friend I ever had, and we went on to have some good times as well as get in somewhat of, what I’d refer to as Major Shit when he told the girl downstairs that since she had already said Bloody Mary three times in the mirror that she was surely going to die, something that would terrify most six-year-olds, really. Like many times in my life, I was guilty by association, pretty much nodding like a goon with him the entire time as he read her fortune of imminent death next time she brushed her f’n teeth. My mother made me apologize, while the mother of the girl actually smiled at me like a sadist through my entire sobbing apology. These same apartments happen to be the place I inherited my first rusty bike from a boy downstairs. My first time on two wheels. Really, lots of things I’ve had and still have are inherited from friends or from family. Otherwise, without these hand-me-downs, there would have been far fewer things. The same time I got my bike was around the same time the Rock Wars started, also. What were the Rock Wars?
There was a pond that separated our regular ol’ apartment complex from what I was told were the “rich kid’s apartments,” and one day we all proceeded to throw rocks at one another across this pond. To this day I can remember in between throwing these rocks, thinking to myself, “This is REALLY dumb,” and my decision took a hard left, meaning I went AWOL after taking a hard rock directly in ‘the goods’. The next day, my only “rich kid” friend got on the bus with a black eye and fresh stitches sewn into the swollen blackish-purple under his eye. Afterward, we weren’t as close from then on. Could’ve been the rock to the face, and that we poorer kids had won the battle.
That’s mixed with sarcasm of course, because remember that the kid was my friend, and I for one made the decision to never go back to the front lines to lose an eye or a testicle for some war of pride—or you could say I never again took part in a bunch of kids simply having a rock fight because of boredom and testosterone. Was this a real class war that took place over the pond? I’m not quite sure.
A year or so later, The Family ended up in South Florida the last few weeks of my 1st-grade semester, living in a Howard Johnson for about three months—with a cat, which I understand was against hotel policy—us staying there til a place opened up for us to rent. Over the next few years is when the family money began to ebb and flow, like the majority of family experiences. We had some financial good years when I got the Power Rangers action figures that I wanted as long as I had decent grades. I started playing football once I turned eight which carried on for the next eight years. For a few of these years, my folks bought me the newest cleats that looked the coolest, that was until my foot grew to a size six and a half and the price nearly doubles cause your six and a half is considered an adult-size for some reason, so the coolest cleats and shoes weren’t in the cards so much anymore. I had some name brand clothes like Nautica, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, Mecca, Lugz, some Deion Sanders shoes, some Reggie White shoes that my friends literally tackled me over to check ‘em out. These name brands really mattered to kids in Florida. A lot. People would outcast you and out you in the classroom for not having names on your clothes, to the point if you wore mismatching brands, Ebony would point that shit out in class. Ebony and I were cool even after she upper-cut palmed me in the face, which I deserved I guess, even though I didn’t mean to hit her and kind of lightly stab her with that pencil I threw at my buddy Ted. Long story.
So, as the tougher years hit, the paying for my lunch in pennies, or the year I only got one single new shirt for school, which I washed the day before and it shrank to my bellybutton, having to wear an old Razorback shirt with my filthy Wal-Mart shoes that were called Turntech if I remember correctly, something my old man and I can still laugh about. It’s bizarre to reflect and remember how materialistic kids can be, taught this by society, and how much it affects people in their choices and how they feel about themselves and others. M friends always had new stuff, expensive stuff at that, and plenty of it, to the point now where I think back on it and these people had shit tons of money. Even though obviously, I didn’t understand it in any real social or political terms, there was this class-system at play, and my subsequent place in it had begun to reveal their features. No, we weren’t poor and hungry like many who suffer throughout the world, specifically in America, the richest nation ever to exist and we still somehow have poor folk—and of course the worst parts of the world I can only consider from a distance. But when you become friends with kids whose parents can and will buy them what they want, materialistically, your mind naturally catches onto this. People have things that you would love to have, new and interesting technology, all the hockey gear you couldn’t afford, new cars and clothes and shoes. They’re all material things that for the most part don’t fucking matter in the end, but we like things, humans like to have things. Luckily, these material things or what-have-you, aren’t the only experiences we have to offer or wish to receive from one another.
We also want friends and family. We need people to love and people to love us back. It’s what we do, it’s intensely awesome that we do it. Actively feeling thankful for loving people and having friends and kids and grandma’s that love you back is a worthy celebration. “Kum-baya, moth-a-f*cka, Kum-baya.”
With these reflections and celebrations on this ending year, this flashbulb rerun of people we love and those that love us, bringing in another year alive together on this spinning-sweaty-rocky-magma-ball, to be grateful for this is a fun and fulfilling thing to get together for, to celebrate with eating lots of food, sporadic guerrilla marshmallow fights, sharing spiked eggnog or other booze, with maybe a tree to set on fire…with lights. We can recognize the equinox or something else pagan while our families mention Jesus a few times, probably. Reflect on the good parts from last year and call those bad parts a funny but fiery mean name. The truly lucky ones out there are likely witnessing everyone around them wearing hideously ugly sweaters on purpose. The possibilities are endless.
To bring it all in, like a huddle on the football-field forming, and to quote ‘roided-out defensive tackle Lattimer in a scene I’ve always enjoyed from the movie The Program, it goes, “We’re the lucky ones.” To love people, to be loved. The Lucky Ones.
‘Tis the season.