First Days of the Rest of My Life.

On the first day of kindergarten, a teacher dragged me kicking and screaming down the hall, as my mom stood at the other end, a silhouette backlit by the morning sun streaming through the windows. As soon as I saw all the toys, and the colorful carpets and chairs, I was happy. I found a nice corner away from all the strange kids and began making a castle out of wooden blocks, nice large ones in triangular and cylindrical shapes. Two larger boys came over, kicked down the castle, then proceeded to kick me repeatedly.

The first day of middle school, I faced an even larger crowd, and the halls were huge. Graduates from five separate elementary schools converged in the sixth grade, and my priority was finding the two or three close friends from mine. One close female friend I knew would not be there, as her parents were sending her to a private school, and I accurately predicted I'd never see her again. We gathered in a large auditorium to get our class assignments, and I found that only one member of my old clique was in the “smart” class with me, which surprised me since we were all nerds. The other guys were in the next “smartest” class. I have no idea how they made the distinctions, or why we were “rewarded” with more homework and a math class that was always a year ahead of everybody else. In the hall, a lot of the older kids would randomly find some new kid to suffer Indian Rope Burns and Noogies, and I was one of the “lucky” ones, soon to be a regular victim.

The first day of high school, I was ridiculously hot in my suit and tie. (In case there’s any confusion, I’m referring to the temperature.) We gathered in a cafeteria for orientation, and had a break to check out the nice courtyard. Despite the fact that it had a fountain at one end, beautiful plant life, bricks covering the ground, and a large window facing the huge indoor pool, I still felt like I was in prison. Maybe it was the fact that there were no girls, or that we all had to adhere to a dress code, or that the pretty courtyard was still boxed in on all four sides by the school building itself. I didn't know anyone, and embarrassed myself by asking one guy who looked familiar if I did know him. No one hit me on my first day of high school, as far as I can remember, but my thoughts were back in my home town, at the public high school where all of my friends were. I had been advised to tell no one the year prior of my “sentence”, and hadn't seen anyone over the Summer. Did they know? Were they wondering where I was? Later when I got home I'd get a few phone calls from the old gang. Most in my thoughts, I pined for an unrequited love, a girl I thought I loved for three years, partly because she was literally the most talented girl in school, and partly because she was a pretty girl who wrote “I think you're really nice” in my yearbook and, desperate nerd that I was, I read too much into it. I'd go on to study the differences between real love and infatuation in one of my high school classes, but I'd always wonder how things might have worked out differently.

The first day of college, I was excited to be among girls again, and I hoped I wouldn't be as shy as I had been four years prior. I'd already failed to speak to a cute girl I'd seen at the orientation near the end of the Summer, and I foolishly kept an eye out for her, among the largest population I'd ever been in. Though I didn't know it at the time, I'd also meet some of the greatest friends I'd ever have. Waiting for an art history class, I noticed a thin, geeky Spanish kid sitting on the floor, sketching a McFarlane-style Spider-man and doing a damn good job of it. He was also singing to himself, “light my candles in a daaaze ‘cause I've found God!” and wearing a long green trenchcoat. Same taste in music or not, I got a weird vibe and opted to avoid him. He seemed crazy. That same day I'd befriend a tall Indian Sophomore who was working on a large oil painting of a barbarian beheading his opponent with an axe, and also doing a damn good job of it. By the end of the semester we'd be good friends and talk about collaborating on a comic book, and at the start of my second semester he'd introduce me to the weird Dominican he'd also befriended, who shared our comic book aspirations. The third really good friend I'd meet on my first day of college also intimidated me. I saw a hulking black guy and assumed he was going to beat me up. Then I saw the crowd gathered to admire his sketchbook, and when I saw the professional quality cartoon characters, I completely forgot what he looked like. Looking back, the first two kids to beat me up in kindergarten were also black, so I wonder if that left any subconscious aversion. I don't think of myself as a racist, and in the course of my life I've had friends from just about every race, creed, color, gender, and orientation. But fear is a component of racism, and my initial reaction to my future good friend probably stemmed from the events of my childhood. Fortunately, I got beat up by kids of every nationality though, which might be why initial reactions can quickly be discarded once I sense a kindred spirit. I really should keep aware of my perceptions and work on overcoming even first impressions.

On the first day of my first real job out of college, at a small book publisher, I'd already been an intern there for several months before graduating and getting hired. I'd already met my mentors, a graphic designer whose future husband would die in the World Trade Center, and our manager, an older Chinese man who'd been with the company from the beginning and who shared with me a wealth of knowledge about the printing process and photography. When the company eventually let him go during a round of layoffs, I inherited his poster of a six-fingered hand that one of the printers had sent him, and I brought it with me when I changed jobs. On that day I also started getting friendlier with a cute girl who handled editing our books, who told me my friends “must be proud of me” when I told her the good news that I'd gotten hired. Unbeknownst to our employers up until the day they let her go two years later, we started dating. It was probably my most serious relationship ever, but she eventually moved out of state and subsequently let me go after two-and-a-half years. Last I checked, she'd since gotten married. Such is life.

On the first day of my current job, nearly seven(!) years ago, I was excited. It paid a lot more than what I'd been making, and was a much larger company where I'd have real design responsibilities instead of the mix of computer maintenance, photo scanning, file corrections, floor plan drawing, and occasional small design work like invitations or annual catalogs that I had been doing. I wasn't as nervous as I was with my other firsts, because for once instead of leaving people behind I was actually being reunited with one, my old college friend Rey, the “weird Dominican” whose recommendation got me the job. I'd meet my new boss, and not have much to do other than design a few logos and icons for the first two weeks until the person whose position I was filling moved on to other responsibilities in the company. I'd have an amazing cheeseburger and fries in the cafeteria, which has since been renovated and changed management twice, and I'd meet at least one person I'd still be friends with years later. Easily impressed, I’ll always remember the diner quality food from that first day, astounded at the good fortune of working somewhere with its own cafeteria. It felt like the first day of school, specifically college, the best beginning and best years of my academic career. There was still an underlying sense of being a Freshman, and the feeling that I'd never become a Senior. It's hard to believe so many years have since gone by, and how many people, including my first supervisor, aren't with the company anymore. There have been weddings, deaths, births, layoffs, acquisitions, and more. In some ways, the seven years don't seem as long as the 3-5 years each spent at my previous job or schools.

The first day of the rest of my life began near the end of my first year at my current job. I opened my eyes from true oblivion, anesthetic completely removing all sensations. There was no white light, no thoughts, and no dreams. A few days before this awakening, when I felt a birth defect in my intestines rupture while sitting at my desk at work, there had been a bright light. There was a pop, a gurgle, a tingling feeling of pins and needles, and a loud ringing in my ears as I lay my head down and fell toward the light. Then I thought “not yet” and swam back to consciousness, knocking my phone from its cradle and calling my parents for a ride to the doctor. But during the surgery that corrected the problem and saved my life, I was completely removed. One second a doctor was putting a mask on my face and asking me to count backwards as I mumbled I'd be okay because I was Wolverine, and the next second I was in agony, squeezing my eyes as tight as possible, twenty staples holding a four inch incision together in my abdomen. I have no idea how long the surgery was, but what may have been an hour or more in the living world passed in a blink for me. Somewhere outside my clenched eyelids, a nurse told me she was handing me a morphine clicker, and my thumb pressed the button furiously, as though it were an Atari. Fortunately, it only registered the first click or else I would have overdosed. It's a good safeguard, but it wasn't enough relief. When I got back to the Intensive Care Unit, I went to sleep. When I'd wake up, the pain would kill me, and I'd go to sleep again. On and off for fourteen hours I'd continue this pattern, noticing other annoyances like a tube in my nose pumping my stomach to keep any digestive juices from dissolving the stitches holding my resectioned intestines together.

I've always thought that a near death experience is supposed to change a person, that nothing should be the same afterward. To some degree I think my faith was stronger, at least for a while, and it was hard to adjust to my old routines. Even getting out of bed in the morning was a project, and I feared rupturing things even after I was assured I was healed. There would be residual pain for the first few months that I'd learn to live with until it went away, or I simply stopped noticing it. I never made any radical changes, like jumping out of airplanes or traveling the world. Life eventually got back to normal, and I more or less forgot about the surgery and my ordeal, except for whenever I'd write about it. Sometimes I think I write about it too much, other times not enough. I guess something like that is always with me, which is why it worked its way into today's submission for Janet's weekly “Tell It to Me Tuesday”. I know the first month back at work, I eventually got tired of telling the story, and was sure people around me were tired of hearing it. I think the mind discards pain. Scars remain, and we remember how we got them when we pick at them, but most of the time a painful memory might as well be something that happened to someone else, someone who looks an awful lot like me. Every day is a first, no matter how mundane, but some definitely stand out more than others.



Blogger Janet said...

Wow. You DID tell your whole life story, and an interesting story it was.

Only problem is, you're making it very hard for someone like me to challenge you with a new TITMT.:)

9/07/2006 5:52 AM  
Anonymous Lyndon said...

Just out of curiosity, your not secretly Rob Schneider or David Spade are you? Maybe then I could understand why people would want to beat you up :-)

But for the most part, from what I've read and the comments you leave on my blog, you seem like a really nice person.

Anyway it was interesting reading about your first days.

9/07/2006 8:26 AM  
Anonymous TheGreek said...

Rob Schneider!!!! ROFL

9/07/2006 9:02 AM  
Blogger TheWriteJerry said...

So much of this post broke my heart. I was crying. It breaks my heart and infuriates me that kids, that people, can be so mean, especially to people they don't even know.

9/07/2006 1:01 PM  
Blogger Lorna said...

I hope you pick this up again next year...I want to hear about your consequential "firsts". I had a near death experience too---when I came out of it, a Chinese man was beating on my chest with his fist, and yelling in German, "I can't raise a vein!" I promptly forgot what had gone before...

9/07/2006 7:48 PM  
Blogger Otis said...

"Two boys came over, kicked down the castle, then proceeded to kick me repeatedly."

Oh my god, that was you?

Just kidding. Great storytelling as usual.

9/07/2006 8:58 PM  

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