DECADE TWO: 1953-1963
“And then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel,
creeping like snail unwillingly to school…”
Decent people don’t divorce in 1954.
Mama’s female friends and neighbors sympathize,
but Daddy’s business gots to pot; the alimony’s always late and never enough,
so Mama goes to work and comes home with frayed nerves.
Dad moves out when my first decade ends.
If things aren’t bad already, they get worse.
I make Mama think of Daddy.
If I don’t behave she’s going to
send me out to live with him.
Why can’t I just be like Rhett or Buddy, Johnny, anybody else?
I brood alone in my basement rec room, summer away at camp.
Sixth grade is living hell; junior high has ups and downs
(brief best friendships, crushes, once a steady;
sports instead of drama class, and ballroom dancing,
rock and roll.) I’m still an outcast, on the fringe.
My refuge is the Church, whenever they open the doors:
Jesus loves me. God is Love.
Mama threatens once too often
so I volunteer to go live with Dad
and Ellen, his new wife, and infant Sally,
in a little house on a hill in the middle of a hayfield
on the outskirts of Bessemer City, ten long miles from Brookwood.
Another hell, for all of us, with rare significant exceptions.
Through them I know my first true love
and first conceive my destiny.
Away from home (at last),
I barely scrape through freshman year,
playing cards and drinking beer,
dabbling in theatre (Bill Starbuck in The Rainmaker),
winning, then losing the girl of my romantic dreams;
the next year I hang out with jocks, get laid (at last),
and forge my one-way bond with Joel Climenhaga,
who includes my first soul-searching play in the Playmakers One-Act Play bill
and seals my fate. I decide to major in drama.