My Way Out

I stood silently as my father was buried. All of 11 years old and somehow supposed to understand the undoing of a man in his 30's as he was laid into the ground before my very eyes. Snow fell lightly in that March morning of 1983. Pennsylvania was cold, but surely I felt colder.

My dad was a brilliant man, but he had problems - mostly of his own creation. He drank too much, he spent too much, and he'd been irresponsible in his youth - thus explaining the birth of my oldest sister to a 16 year old mother when he was 18. They married, but it wouldn't last.

Robert Anthony was he, and Robert Anthony Jr. am I - the youngest of three born to he and my mother - all within a four year period.

My parents divorced when I was a year old.

My childhood was defined by two sets of parents, often competing. They lived an hour and a half or so apart for many years, and I grew up in a car, driven from one household to the other. This probably explains my love of radio. I remember my stepmother driving her Ford Pinto station wagon, in which I would lie in the far back and listen to the radio as we drove that 90+ minute trip from Scranton to Allentown Pennsylvania every Friday, and then back again every Sunday.

I enjoyed the trip. These long drives meant solitude for me. A time to be away from the chaos of my childhood life: growing up weekdays in a trailer park with my mother, and weekends in the poor side of another town with my father - never having close friends in either place.

I used to spot planes as they'd fly overhead. I'd wonder where they were going & who was on board. I'd wonder if life was better where they were headed. "They're the lucky ones" I thought.

One night, when I was little, I actually had that conversation with my stepmother as we watched a plane fly by, so high above us.

I was 11, and my father had recently died, so it seemed like an appropriate time to share such a thought. She woke me later that night to tell me the plane we'd been watching had crashed a few miles away. Sad, but true.

Still, I kept dreaming of faraway places and a different life - but I always thought of these as things other people managed to obtain. Better People, I assumed.

On a crisp September morning, an assembly was held in my high school, during which a kid who'd returned from living in Ecuador as an exchange student talked about his year abroad.

I barely heard a word of what he had to say. I was too busy thinking "What a great idea! Anywhere but here sounds perfect! And what could be further away than overseas?"

This was to be my escape. My way out of a life I never wanted to live.

It seemed so simple at the time, but then days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months as a regional pool of hundreds of applicants was to be whittled down to 40 through a series of applications and questionnaires, local interviews and tri-state committee interviews.

And then, one cold but sunny December afternoon, a letter arrived in the mail.

In the letter, I was informed that I'd been selected to be a Rotary International Youth Exchange Student, and that I'd find out where I would be living at an upcoming Rotary International holiday party. It all sounded so official.

I didn't care where I was going, because anywhere else was somewhere else, and that was good enough for me.

This was my way out.

A new life awaited...

...somewhere else.

::::: | Tuesday, Jul 20 2004 at 11:37 PM
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Alice / Blueaxel said:

I can see you clearly in my mind in the back of that vehicle. Listening to the radio. Having the time to dream.

I wish I could have been your friend back then.

My dream spot was sitting on my father's lap early in the morning while he slept. He would get up; shit, shower, and shave. Then have breakfast with me. Just he and I. We did this from infancy until I was about 8 years old.
After breakfast he would sit in his recliner and put me on his lap. He'd click on the radio and take a nap. I learned all of the words to every song back then. He mostly listended to KEX and there was a lot of news.

I had to stay quiet enough for him to nap. I'm sure I was quirrelly some times but mostly not. My imagination flurished. As did my fondness for the radio.

I wish I was your friend back then.

::::: | February 28, 2007 1:14 AM

Michael J. West said:

So this is an older post, meaning you may or may not have sequelized it. Where did you end up going? Was it the escape you'd dreamed of?

::::: | February 28, 2007 8:19 AM

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