When I was a youth, my mother had this ridiculous friend, we'll call her Mrs B. Mrs B was ugly as sin, was frequently ensconced in a neckbrace, and was given to lamenting that 'the world was against her'. She had an equally hopeless son who was around my age, fat, myopic, hair that never managed to look clean, cheap supermarket sneakers, took band lessons but never became good or learned any songs that might have contributed to a swinging party, etc. One day Mrs B was enumerating many of the unfortunate facts of her son's existence and personality to my mother, for some reason within my earshot, summing up with the observation, 'not exactly the in-crowd', to which lament my mother found the most appropriate response to be 'sounds familiar'.
In contrast to that story I will tell one about my father's childhood from about 1961, when he would have been around thirteen. There was in his class at school a rather brutish fellow who, in evident confusion as to how to cope with some feelings he was having about a rapidly developing young lady in their class, took the path of invoking her name endlessly in a hostile and negative guise (i,e., 'your sandwich smells like Rhonda'; 'You're as dumb as Rhonda', etc*). My father, who being probably mildly sociopathic was always comfortable in routine social settings and enjoyed a good rapport with women, eventually made a witty observation in front of Rhonda and the rest of the class with regard to this gentleman's apparent obsession that caused some general laughter, and caused the brutish boy no small mortification. In fact, an hour or two after school that very afternoon, this Jimmy, or maybe it was Billy, showed up at my father's house with a couple of his cretin friends, though they were brought along merely to be witnesses, who are always needed on such occasions. My grandmother answered the door, and Jimmy asked with as ominous an air as he could muster for my father, who, after his mother had given these motley characters a quick bemused perusal, was called for. As my father made his way down the stairs or wherever he happened to be coming from, Jimmy, or Billy, supposedly said to my grandmother, "You might want to pull the shades down. There is probably going to be a lot of blood". This being 1961, another kid openly declaring that they were intending to fight with and hopefully injure your child was apparently accepted as a normal stage of development that all boys at least were expected to have to go through. "Oh, thank you for the warning," was all that my grandmother said, and she proceeded then to make a big production of closing the shades. When my father came to the door, she said matter-of-factly, "These fine gentlemen are asking for you", ushered him outside to deal with them, and swiftly closed the door. Jimmy at that point demanded that my father step out into the street and fight with him. He was larger enough than my father and accustomed enough to pushing people around that I guess he was confident he would beat him easily without too much resistance, but in reality of course my father, who turned out to be a Division I athlete and a man who could always self-generate a considerable amount of aggressive fury when he wanted to, pummeled this guy into submission within a few minutes, as his mother doubtless knew he would, though he himself had not, really, until that day. The point of this whole story is the reaction of my grandmother and the way she handled the problem is the exact opposite of how my mother would have handled any such situation involving me. She would have been hysterical and been certain that I would be overwhelmed and crushed.
This business of blaming and holding grudges against one's parents however is very much frowned upon among the leading people, certainly of my generation. They consider it banal. I am highly conscious of this, though the temptation to rouse it up as a cause of or excuse for any deficiency anyone might judge me as having--at the very least to myself-- remains strong. I do not even rationally believe that they could have done anything that would have made any massive difference in the outcome of my life because of my inherent nature, and if anything I have probably done slightly better in most areas than might have been predicted based on the available data. Still, my sense of emptiness with regard to having any kind of real personhood, past or present, is such that somebody has to be the scapegoat for my unhappiness about this, I need someone on whom to focus my displeasure who might actually feel it, and my parents are the obvious candidates. I harbor some hope that intensive psycho-analysis would demonstrate that there is some cause deep in my background that prevented me from developing into a dominant force in the world; whether the particular cause is my parents, or an unexplored phobia of water fountains or carrots or Austrian economics is a matter of indifference to me. Nothing is really their fault, unless all of my frustrations with life can attributed to inferior genetics, but even in that case they would able to plead that I had been the victim of extraordinarily bad luck.
I would discuss this with a psychiatrist but I have not had satisfactory results in dealing with such people in the past, as the ones I have seen haven't seemed to consider my problems either serious or interesting. Perhaps they are not. Still, I would be willing to pay somebody to humor me just a little, at least pretend that I was an adult or some other kind of serious person. I don't know why no one is able to do this with me. I have been told that I lack gravitas, but still, my lack cannot be that much more pronounced than other that of people who manage to get themselves considered as adults.
When I consider how if I could somehow be transported back into the body of a 16-25 year old but possessed with my present mind, if my development and life outcome from that point forward would be substantially different. I am not sure that it would be in any grand way. I think I would be a little better organized with school work and be able to keep up a little better, but would I dedicate myself to habits and a program that would guarantee my entry into medical or law school or some other grand, prestigious and high compensation field? Probably not, because at some point doing that has to become your ruling priority in life, almost your second nature, and I don't seem to have either the background or the sensibility to get to that level. Would I drink less? Again, probably not. I would hope I would be able to curtail some of the more desperation-driven episodes with regard to all bodily lusts, though even if I were to possess my current mind, I would be burdened with the hormones of a twenty year old again and even my present mind is likely not strong enough to constrain and channel those urges in more productive directions. I also miss the camaraderie and social aspects of drinking, which I have not really had now for about 18 years, since I left Prague. Similarly I miss sitting around at meals with people and listening to their conversation as one did at school, even though at the time it was widely noted that the very top students and achievers did not waste time in this way but ate quickly, evidently getting all the social nourishment they required from lunch in ten or fifteen minutes, before going back to their studies, or to exercise, or to work on internship applications and so on. I would probably fall back into that habit as well, because I would not feel the same sense of purpose back alone in my rooms as the high achievers did while knowing my friends were still yakking it up at table. The big changes I would make would be in terms of presence and attempts to be more social. I would try to join more activities, widen my circle of acquaintance. I would go to the dancing lessons, hopefully retaining enough self-possession that the women would find my presence there somewhat welcome and not 'creepy'. I would probably try to join some kind of outing club and a literary society as well. Again I hope I would not approach these things with anxiety or stress. I believe I would be able to control my day-to-day drinking enough now to show up every day for class, at least have read if not understood all the assignments, and be able to bring in my papers on time, though I still do not know that the quality of them would be especially high. In doing all this I could at least cultivate a relationship with some of my teachers as a responsible and well-meaning if not brilliant person, to the extent that they might be willing to write a recommendation for me. For whenever I considered going to graduate school the necessity of having three recommendations was always the major stumbling block (my grades probably would have been another, but I never got so far as to check those), as I could not think of anyone I felt comfortable or justifiable in asking for one from...
My self-imposed time limit on this post is up...
*I don't think her name was really Rhonda