(I won’t be writing or posting 9/11 memorials. I’ve done that before — in 2015, for example — and in multiple poems, including Old New York Photos, Another Ode To The United States Of America, You Can Not Crush Us, Tonight, and possibly others.)
Recently, my friend Richard Barron dove into his journals to re-ponder 1992, and it struck home to me that 25 years have passed since that strange and disconnected year in my life. I can’t say for certain that 1992 was the weirdest year of my life so far, but it was indeed weird.
If you know my history, it would not be shocking to learn that the first sentence of my first journal entry of 1992 talked about going to Sunday School, or that that the entire paragraph was about church. The year began and ended with me on Christmas break from Bible college, but those bookends resembled each other very little, and the time between was punctuated with frustration, sadness, poor decision making, and death.
Within the first week of the year, I broke off my relationship with my first college girlfriend because “the infatuation is wearing off”. As school began, I complained to my journal that “somehow I’m on a very low social plane”, and that “it could be because I look weird”. I think this was the first time I wrote about my social anxiety and difficulty talking to people — especially strangers or new acquaintances. “All these things run through my mind whenever I talk to people”, I noted.
Oddly — or perhaps appropriately, in light of the previous paragraph — I became a DJ at the small campus radio station. I took a weight-lifting class. I took a job at McDonald’s. I was in the drama club and volunteered at a mission downtown. I picked up the nickname “Webster” from a group of teenagers who thought my answers to questions sounded like I was quoting a dictionary. The nickname would stick for three years.
Despite being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded people, “I had an overwhelming sense of loneliness come over me.”
Despite regular assertions God was working in my life, I was experiencing serious doubt, as expressed in my March 1992 poem So It Seems, doubts that I wrote about several months ago. It looks like I came very close to abandoning religion in 1992, but my brain had been bent for years to not even consider the possibility.
I befriended a young man named Rusty — it was he who’d nicknamed me “Webster”. We shared a birthday, though four years apart, and looked enough alike that people thought we were brothers. We shared a few adventures, but lost track of each other after I left college. I learned in 2011 that he had married a woman with the same name as my daughter, and that he and his wife had disappeared. Later, their bodies were found in shallow graves.
I complained in my journal of “THOSE INEXPLICABLE ANTINOMIES THAT WE FIND SO MUCH IN SCRIPTURE” (a rare use of all caps on my part).
Still new to adulthood, I began to notice that those who had been adults all along were now aging visibly:
On May 14th, my dog Harry died — or rather I drove him to the vet and held him while they gave him the shot that ended his life, and then drove his body back home. I sobbed as we buried him.
I didn’t have much time to think about this; I worked two jobs that summer in hopes of paying off my college bill so I could return in the fall. And then my grandfather died.
I drove alone to the funeral because my parents and siblings were in Seattle. The eight-hour drive was uneventful until the generator quit working in the 1969 VW Beetle, and I made the last hour of the trip without headlights, navigating by moonlight. I was “emotionally overcome” at the open-casket funeral. That same day, I made the eight-hour drive back home, striking a deer just two miles before arriving home. The steel body of the VW was unharmed, but the deer was demolished. I was too tired to think about it.
Some mid-year journal quotes:
I returned to Bible college in the fall, still exhausted from Spring and Summer, and became Vice President of my sophomore class. Yet a month into the school year, I wrote: “I’m beginning to think I’m retarded… I could be retarded, and just not realize it. And people treat me that way a lot.”
Several sentences in my journal begin with “If there is no higher power, then…”
My journal mentions that I grew closer to one particular friend, “but he is still distant, keeping a lot of his thoughts & feelings to himself.” Five years later, he told me he was gay. What a struggle it must have been for him to exist at our evangelical college! I’m sure very little I said or did was helpful to him.
In early December, I wrote Dead Leaves.
As the fall semester of 1992 drew to a close, I was so far behind on my school bill payments that I had to give up leadership positions and was told I couldn’t return after the Christmas break. I vacated my dorm room, storing boxes of possessions in the basement of a friend’s home, accepted the offer to apartment-sit for another friend while he and his wife drove to Ohio for Christmas break, and got a second job as a janitor in a church. A manager at McDonald’s lent me a 1973 Dodge Magnum so I wouldn’t have to walk to work in the snow and ice.
I ended the year listening to a 77s album called… The title was actually blocked out in many Christian publications. It was Pray Naked. I mention it because I can’t think of 1992 without hearing those songs in my head, and I can’t hear those songs without thinking of that tiny apartment where I ended the year alone. All 12 songs, but especially Kites Without Strings (lyrics):