Saturday, October 15, 2005

Secret Origin of Cap'n Neurotic pt.2: The Ol' Vick Incident

When we last left our good Cap'n, he was just about to tell us in exacting detail just how painfully socially inept he was in elementary school. And junior high. And high school. And . . .

I don't want to give the impression that I was a total outcast back in the Wyandotte days, like the protagonist in a 80s horror film, shunned by all until finally exacting my dark revenge. Perish the thought. My early years were far from torturous, just a bit lonely at times. As I struggle with explaining the particulars of this time in my life, my biggest stumbling block is determining just how to refer to the people I hung out with back then. Is there some word which adequately covers the ground between "acquaintances" and "friends"? Pals? Chums? Homies? My need for specificity of verbiage defeats me.

The problem is, after 13 years at the school, my bonds with many of these people definitely exceeded what the term "acquaintance" covers in my mind. And yet, for the most part, my dealings with the majority of the people I tend to refer to as my "friends" from that time period had little to do with me outside of school functions. School trip or function, I was in the big middle of everything. Party or gathering after the school trip or function, and I'd generally get to hear about it in class the next day.

But, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's take a few steps back and talk about my early school days.

I'm not sure exactly when my weird social anxiety first manifested itself, or what the root causes were. Was I just inherently fearful of rejection, or did some early failures at social interaction make me overly cautious and reticent to make myself vulnerable? I haven't the foggiest. My memories of the early years are hazy; certain things shine in my mind's eye like diamonds, but so many others have been lost to time. I've just become so used to the idea that I don't do well meeting people that I can't picture a time when that didn't define my personality.

I don't think I always focused well on what was going on around me in the early days, often lost in my own thoughts. One of those crystal-clear memories is "meeting" a classmate in the 2nd grade, and then learning that he had been in my class every year since Kindergarten. Is that normal? Granted, he was one of the quieter kids in the class, but c'mon! And if I spent the first several years of school living in my own mental world, is it any wonder that when I tried to interact with other kids on this plane of existence, there was some gap in understanding? I did manage to make some friends over the years, and had the occasional invitation to a sleep-over or birthday party, but most of the elementary years were dominated by my relationship with my “best friend.”

I met the first person I ever considered my "best friend" back in 1st grade. I had just gotten back from a trip to Hawaii and did a show-and-tell presentation. After it was over, he came over and did the one thing that was guaranteed to bring my attention into sharp focus: offered to share some of his comic books with me. Thus began a long and oftentimes dysfunctional friendship with the boy I will call Ol’ Vick. The friendship was based largely on our common interest in those hallmarks of geekdom: comics, SF, fantasy, horror, and good grades. Where the friendship ran into trouble was our differing temperaments. He was much more aggressive than I was, willing to wade into conflicts at the drop of a hat, while I was doing everything I could to avoid them. 9 times out of 10, when we would get into arguments, I would be the one apologizing, whether I thought I was wrong or not, just because I couldn't handle the thought of anyone being upset with me, especially not my best friend.

Now, this passive nature was formed long before I first met Ol' Vick; family stories bear this out. One of my great-uncle's favorite stories is how he and my Papaw were joking around about which of their grandkids was tougher; as Papaw was bragging on how I could whup the tar out of his brother’s grandkid, four-year old me was standing behind him shaking my head vigorously and making frantic "no, no, no!" motions. Quoth young Cap'n Neurotic: "I'm a lover, not a fighter." But while this passive nature was ingrained at a young age, I do believe that Ol' Vick did everything in his power to foster that nature, whether by conscious design or not I couldn't venture to guess. But over the years, he peppered our dealings with little comments and actions designed to put me down, keep me in the passive, subservient, sidekick role: cutting down anyone else I tried to be friends with, reminding me of my inadequacies, taking command of every situation.

One incident stands out surprisingly clearly in my mind; it was probably the first time I was consciously aware of the constant marginalization. We were in 6th or 7th grade, and Ol' Vick was spending the night at my house. Dad had just gotten some firewood, and asked us to unload the truck, which was one of my usual household duties. Well, as we began hurling the logs out of the truck, Ol' Vick kept going for all the heavier pieces, steering me towards the scrawny logs. I don't know if it would have made an impact on me at all if I hadn't gone to pick up one of the larger pieces, prompting Ol' Vick to tell me, in an extremely condescending way, to leave that one for him, since it was way too heavy for me. Now, those who know me pretty well know that the one thing guaranteed to send me off the deep end is being condescended to; add onto that the fact that my blood was pumping from the physical exertion, and his snarky comment made me see red. I snapped at him, told him to stop treating me like I was useless, or something to that effect. He was taken aback (and, on some level, so was I), but I don't think he realized just how profound a change in our relationship had been wrought in that moment.

It was the transition to Jr. High which really put our friendship through the ringer. Blame it on the new school setting, blame it on my growing tired of being the passive one, blame it on puberty; whatever the reason, I suddenly found myself filled with the need to reinvent myself. My relationship with Ol' Vick became more and more fractious, our interactions more and more likely to cause irritation to one or both of us; I found myself trying to put distance between us socially whenever possible, thinking that escaping from Ol’ Vick’s shadow might make a new social standing more easily attainable. It saddens me that I was such a cliché. But, even with growing tensions between us, things remained pretty much the same up until the day of The Incident.

I find some irony in the fact that The Incident which signaled the dissolution of our friendship revolved around the same thing that ignited the friendship in the first place: a comic book. It started when one day we got the word that we had a sub for P.E. and didn't need to dress out, so I took some books over to the gym, figuring it would be a study period. But no, the sub decided to have us play half-court basketball in our regular clothes, splitting us up into 4 teams, with 2 playing at a time. Ol' Vick and I were on separate teams, both of which sat out the first game. Since we didn't really care about watching the others play b-ball, I got out a new comic book for Ol' Vick to see. Soon, it was time for teams to switch out, and Ol' Vick's team went in, while the team another friend (The Comedian) was on came out. The Comedian asked if he could see the comic, and I said sure. Then it came time for my team to go in, and Ol' Vick's team came out. I stood out on the court, doing my best to keep from actually having to handle the ball, which wasn’t too difficult since most of the other guys playing were all too happy to oblige; suddenly, I heard a commotion over on the sidelines. I glanced over just in time to see Ol' Vick ripping the comic's cover in his attempt to grab it away from The Comedian. I yelled at him to let go of it, that he could see it in any one of the other six classes we shared, but he was ticked. Called me an Indian giver, and stormed off. Before the day was over, there was a pretty nasty note waiting for me in the locker we shared.

At the time, I was incredulous that such a small thing would create such a huge effect, but in retrospect, I can see that the comic book incident was symptomatic of a larger problem. Obviously, the growing fractures in our friendship had worn on Ol' Vick as much as they had me, and he had finally reached his own snapping point; maybe my distancing myself had made him overly sensitive to anything which could be seen as a betrayal.

The biggest difference between this blow-up and any of the previous ones (aside from the note detailing all of my perceived character flaws) was that this time, I made no concerted effort to patch things up. Was I saddened by the way things had ended? Sure; I was still the same overly-sensitive geek who wanted everyone to like him. But at the same time, it was huge relief not to have to deal with trying to keep the peace between us at all times. Plus, I had hope that this might be the chance for me to finally re-invent myself, to show everyone that after years of being Ol' Vick's nerdy sidekick I was ready to stand on my own.

Oh, young Cap'n Neurotic, you foolish foolish child.


g'ovich said...

I liked this story better when it was called FIGHT CLUB.

"I am Vick's inflamed sense of rejection."

Cap'n Neurotic said...

Ya caught me, Doc, I ripped the whole thing off of the movie. Minus the bareknuckle boxing. And the vandalism. And the explosives. And the split personality.

But other than that, exactly the same.

Flunky lover said...

I thought that was a really interesting story. It's sad when friends go different directions. I had that happen several times especially in junior high. I had a chance to hang out with the "popular group" in 6th grade but my friend didn't want to. I stayed loyal with her but I've always been a little mad at myself that I didn't go hang out with who I wanted. Our friendship waxed and waned during junior high. At one point I was good friends with her neighbor but that girl was a little too wild for me. Plus she never gave back my Dirty Dancing tape which I still miss.
I was also thinking about something else after talking to you the other day which goes back to the whole perception thing. People can sometimes sense how you see yourself and treat you accordingly. Now this certainly is not always the case but it can make a difference. People can feel confidence in another person. It seems like that is something you were lacking.