Memoirs Stories

Second Grade

I’d been holding my hand up for so long that my arm hurt. I shook it wildly in an effort to get the obviously blind teacher’s attention. I made grunting noises and ooh ooh sounds to further encourage her that I knew the answer, but she wouldn’t call on me.

“Billy, what do you think the answer is?” She smiled sweetly and I could almost feel the sick pleasure she got in torturing me. “Does anyone else want to answer?” Each word from her lips was like a bamboo shoot under my fingernails, another volt of electricity through my brain.

“Cindy, that’s right!” She exclaimed and heaped on the praise. I continued to imagine that she was hoping for me to explode. I didn’t understand why she just wouldn’t call on ME!

I finally broke down right there in class. It was too much. I started crying. At first it was merely a trickle but then as the full reality of what was happening to me I started to guffaw and gasp with spasmodic shudders.

My feelings were like a large balloon constantly filled to the breaking point. Each time Mrs. Tatangelo called on another student it was like she was jabbing a needle into that balloon. Every poke was taken personally. Every word was scrutinized, weighed, measured, judged and the final verdict was that everyone in the class was against me and this particular day it just happened to be my birthday.

That was second grade. I was only 6. I’d started school early, skipped kindergarden and was right there smack dab in the middle of kids a year and sometimes two years older than me. If I had a superpower back then it would have been the ability to “Feel” things on an extreme level. I was constantly aware of everyone and how they treated me. I was super sensitive. I took detailed mental lists of every betrayal, every slight and I remembered it whether I wanted to or not.

This has been my blessing and my curse my whole life. My inability to shut off my feelings or being overly sensitive to things. On some levels it helps me be the kind-hearted person I am, but on another level it leaves me blubbering over the slightest inconsideration or cruelty. When people don’t show up for my events, I take it personal. When people don’t like my ideas, I can get volatile.

I’m better now that I’m older and I understand myself more, but I’m still not 100% happy with how I respond to things and people who are out of my control. With every strength there seems to be a great weakness.

It’s been 27 years since my teacher didn’t call on me in second grade but I can still remember those feelings I had as if they were this morning. If I took my heart out of my chest and examined it I am sure it would mostly be a large pile of scar tissue, but I don’t mind so much, scars are what remain after a wound heals and those scars are what make me me stronger.

Memoirs Stories

I listened…

On Saturday after Ultimate Frisbee I met up with my family in Denton for some afternoon bowling. I’m not a fan of bowling. It’s a slow sport that requires me to wait for other people and for that slow machine to get my ball back to me and reset the pins. Tap, tap, tap goes my fingers – I’M WAITING. 

However, I have to remind myself constantly that my life isn’t always about me getting exactly what I want and doing everything that I want to do. Ugh, if only…  So I’m bowling along with my sisters and actually having a good time with only a mild amount of effort. My dad isn’t playing but watching and I go over to talk to him and he starts telling me how to bowl better. 

Firstly, I didn’t really care how well I did, I was just there for my family, but I listened to him because he was taking the time to share something with me. I was actually delighted that he was there watching me and even more delighted that he was telling me how to correct my throw. 

I’ve been reading these Wilbur Smith books and there are always these amazing Father/Son relationships where the dad takes time to teach his sons how to build or hunt or fight. I envy those people in the books because my dad and I didn’t have that kind of relationship when I was a kid. When he taught me how to do something it was usually how to mow or weed eat and I didn’t want to learn how to do either. 

But now I’m older and my dad and I have a much better relationship and so instead of telling him that I didn’t care about how well I did, I sat and listened with rapt attention. Afterwards I implemented some of his suggestions and it wasn’t long before I was bowling strikes and dad was giving me the thumbs up. 

I was proud of myself not for getting the strikes but for being mature and listening and realizing, finally, after 32 years that my dad’s way of showing his love is teaching and I allowed him to love me by listening. 

My dad is 73 years old and will be 74 in November. He won’t be around forever and so I’m not going to act like he is. I’ve spent a good portion of my life lamenting my past, but I won’t let it destroy my future…



“Get your hands off of me you two-balled bitch!” Greg screamed at our neighbor Valerie as she pulled him off of her nephew Bobby.  Greg and Bobby had been in a heated brawl where many punches were thrown but very few landed.

Valerie’s white Chevy truck was parked in the middle of the gravel road and you could see the creek on both sides. My sisters and I watched in amazement, first the fight and then the adult/juvenile confrontation. We rarely heard cussing and this was the first time I had ever heard insults directed with such venom, creativity and alliteration. I was mesmerized mostly because Greg was only 1 year older than me and at 9 years of age I had never seen a child defy an adult both physcially and verbally.

Greg slapped at Valerie but she was a very large woman and his attempts to inflict pain were as futile as bee stinging a rock.  Eventually Greg calmed down once he realized that this wasn’t a battle he was going to win. He got on his bike and rode up the hill towards his own house and Bobby road off in the opposite direction to his house. Valerie got in her car following slowly behind Greg. The rest of us kids stood around talking wildly about the incident, gasping as we recalled the language and Greg’s passionate antics.

Corrida Lane was long gravel road that started at a bend in the road at the bottom of a hill. The decline continued toward the creek which is where we lived and eventually turned into a dead end near the Delgado’s, a Mexican family of 7 or 8.  Across the street from our house there was a small trailer and our friends Ricky and Kelly lived there. The land was cheap in this area, you could get two acres for a payment of only 90 dollars a month and there weren’t any restrictions as to how you lived on your piece of America – which was evident by the appearance of the homes and the junk that surrounded them.

The Delgado’s lived in a mobile home that eventually got reposessed and so they built a one bedroom shack that housed all 8 of them, but right across the street was Bobby’s house and it was a nice two story custom home that made all of the other homes on the street look like crack houses.

Life on Corrida was simple and ucomplicated. We made friends with everyone, event the foul-mouthed Greg. Eventually Greg and I became “best” friends which meant that during the summer we hung out with each other, but during the school year he tried to avoid me most of the time because I was a Christian.

This little fact has made my life miserable, but not as much as it has made it happy…

We became Christian’s at the age of 5, 6, and 7. My parents followed suit soon thereafter. We were one of those families that did everything the Bible said to do and my parents, whose lives before had been a series of mini-hell’s, suddenly found purpose and meaning in their chaotic lives. It was like a new drug, a delicious, sweet cure-all that they couldn’t get enough of.

Being a Christian wasn’t easy. It meant giving up almost all music, going to church every Sunday and at one point it meant giving up our Christmas tree and even our television. My parents listened to Talk Back with Bob Larson and our church, Word of Faith, had a pastor that believed in miracles and demons and the rapture.

This was my world. Jesus was the center of my universe and every single action that I did was checked with the thought, “Is this wrong?”

I had been led to believe at an early age that if you committed a sin and hadn’t repented before you died or Jesus returned then you would go to hell. God was looking for a church that was white as snow and spot and blemish free.

At night I would pray for forgiveness when I laid my head on my pillow. Every single lie or bad thought that I could remember I would confess and repent hoping that God would see my heart and my fear.

That is what early Christianity was for me, a series of rules and a boat load of fear. I’ve never heard Jonathan Edwards’ sermon, “Sinner’s in the hands of an angry God”, I didn’t need to, I understood full well his wrath and I knew that ever day I was teetering on the brink of hell and damnation.

Talk Back with Bob Larson was a radio program where Bob Larson would talk on the radio to people who were involved in Satanic cults. There were some people that would call in and claim to be demon possessed and sometimes crazy things would happen where their would be crazy voices or dead silence and we’d all be in the car listening and terrified.

One caller called in and said that there was a green eye on her bedroom wall and she felt like it was a demon watching her at night. Another woman called in and retold a story of hour her parents were devil worhsippers and how they killed people and ate their flesh raw. They would sacrifice people and then throw their bodies into a pit. If she didn’t do what she was supposed to she would be thrown into the pit with the dead and decaying bodies, sometimes for days at a time.

Others called in with various stories and soon I started to believe that there were demons in our house and eventually there were.

There is a song by Gavin DeGraw called “Belief” and in it there is a line that says, “Belief makes things real.” When I was younger I didn’t understand the power of belief, but I do now. I truly believe that there are powers of good and evil in this world and that if you toy with darkness, if you feed on supernatural things, then you open a door to them and allow them a modicum of control around you.

While living in The Colony, TX we were new Christians and we listened to Bob Larson and other preachers talk of demons and we allowed ourselves to be consumed with the possibility that there was a demon in our house and it wasn’t long before we started seeing manifestations of something. The occasional and unexplained slammed door, lights going off and on, dogs barking at imaginery things – it was very real at the time and very frightening.

Over the years that fear stayed with me. All of my life I have woke in the middle of the night sometimes sensing a presence and wondering if my room was filled with something demonic. I’ve rarely shared any of my fears because most people would think them absurd. They make fun of me when I tell them I don’t like scary movies and they say things like, “It isn’t real, it’s just a movie” but to me it is often very real. It is a horror that will live with me and visit at the most unsuspecting times, waking me at night and reminding me of the terror of my youth.

There is something about being alone in the dark in the middle of the night when you awake from a particularly vivid dream. The images will stay with you, your heart will race and you are afraid. The next morning when you awake the fear is gone as if the light of day has chased away the demons, but during the night it was so real, so thick you could feel it, you could touch it.

Greg was one of my first “friends” that truly helped me to see how different I was from everyone else. As a Christian you really do stand apart. I faced many things in my childhood and no matter how difficult I was always reminded that there were some people who gave their lives for the sake of Christ. My persecution was nothing compared to what Christ suffered on the cross, what I didn’t know then was that most of the time I suffered needlessly and that my Faith was only one more item on a long list of reasons to torment me.

Looking back I can’t help but wish that my parents had used a little bit more discretion when it came to talk of demons and demon posession. I realize that they were just trying to make me aware of the harsh realities that exist in our world, but perhaps they should have waited until I was a little older than 5 years old.

When I look back on my childhood I can see a recurring theme that I have only now realized, that theme is Fear.

Author’s Note: I realize that this post is a bit incongruous, but I’ll fix that later and possibly break this up into two chapters. For now I am going to leave it as is.



Sanger, TX had a population of 2,224 people when we first moved there in 1983. There was only 1 gas station, a Dairy Queen and a small grocery store called “Burrus” which was named after it’s owner Sam Burrus. Just north of Denton, Sanger was so small that many people hardly noticed as they traveled down I-35 on their way to Gainesville or Oklahoma.

There were very few businesses in the town, but when my sisters and I got older we seemed to work at all of them.  My oldest sister worked at Burrus when she turned 16. Our middle sister worked at a local daycare and cleaned the only newspaper office in town – the Sanger Courier.

Eventually my middle sister no longer wanted to clean the newspaper office and I took over for her with very little fanfare. It was like she just handed me the rag and the bottle of Old English furniture polish and I immediately went to work dusting  the layout tables and desks.

The Lemmons’ family was well-known around the town and in my eyes they were rich. They lived in a house that overlooked a huge field and all the windows in the house were huge picture windows that faced South. I did such a good job cleaning the newspaper offices that they wanted me to clean their house too.

“All of the cleaning supplies are under the bathroom cabinets, I like to take this Lysol and spray around the toilet for whenever Blake misses.”

Blake was their youngest and only son. He drive a white Camaro I-ROC Z that happened to be the best looking sports car in town. Blake could have easily been a Baldwin with his Ivy League good looks and his rakish smile.  I had to clean his bathroom, but I didn’t have to clean his bedroom.

I worked hard for the Lemmons’ and eventually I started labeling newspapers for them and doing other odd jobs around the house. I was a hard worker and Mr. Lemmons’ continued to give me work to do off and on for 6 years.

Everything I did for the Lemmon’s was pretty basic manual labor. Blake picked up on the fact that I was strong and that if he used phrases like, “Let’s see if you can carry that dresser onto the U-Haul by yourself” that I would actually try to do it just to impress him.

That is what I learned most working for the Lemmons’ – how to impress people with my strength and speed, but I also learned the true meaning of the word Envy.

Blake had everything, a nice house, a beautiful car, good looks, cool friends. When he moved in with 2 other guys they got a house close to the lake and drank beer and had a pool table. Neon Bud Light signs hung on the walls of their house and there was a large boat parked outside.

Blake was known to be an excellent skier and he dated pretty girls and I had to clean his bathroom. As hard as I tried not to let it bother me, it did. The Lemmons’ family was in a different class. They drove Mercedes and wore Polo. Their refrigerator was full of food and they had an entire walk-in cupboard full of food. Their house was fascinating, he living room filled with plants and expensive furniture and a cool mint green carpet that was thick and plush and clean. Compared to the two-bedroom trailer that I was living in it was a palace and it was then that seeds of materialism became planted deep within me.

I learned fast how to make money. By the time I was 24 I was making close to 55,000 dollars and I had nice Jeep Grand Cherokee and an expensive apartment. I made more money than all of my friends. I had a nicer car than my parents. Unfortunately, it took me many years to realize that no matter how much you gussy up the outside, it is the inside that matters.

When I look back on those crucial teen years I realize that what I envied most about Blake was his confidence and the fact that he seemed to be perfectly secure in himself. This is what I envied most… and there are times I still envy him that.



My sister sat proudly on my real dad’s shoulders. She had told him that her feet were hurting her and so he picked her up and carried her. After a while my feet hurt too and I complained non-stop. “My feet hurt so baaaad…” I whined and whined.

Our day finally ended and I remember my read dad pulling his belt off and whipping me for complaining so much. It was the first and only time that he ever spanked me. I couldn’t believe it. I was so upset, not because of the spanking, but because he never picked me up and carried me. My feet did hurt, but more than that I wanted his attention, the attention that he gave my middle sister doing very little to hide the fact that she was his favorite.

Over the years my real father continued to wound me with his lack of attention. He came in and out of our lives doing more harm than good, making promises that he rarely kept, inflicting wounds on me that he couldn’t possibly begin to fathom.

At 17 my real father wanted to take me to dinner for my birthday. He hadn’t called all year, hadn’t visited, but suddenly he must have wanted to play the father role and so he had given me a call. By this point I had built up some resentment towards him and I actually took a bit of pleasure in telling him that my step-dad was taking me to dinner that night and “could we do it another time?”  He responded somewhat tersely, “Well, call me when you have time.”

I didn’t call for 10 years.

When I turned 27 I thought that I had forgiven my real father for his transgressions. I told myself that people make mistakes, they often don’t understand what they are doing to someone. I made excuses for him. When my sister called me and said that he wanted to get together for dinner I said “Sure.” “Really?!” She was surprised and delighted. Unlike me she had kept up with him all these years. They had dinner monthly and she bought him birthday presents.

We went to dinner and made small talk. There were no big speeches, we just acted like everything was fine. We didn’t mentiont the fact that he had missed out on my entire life. We ate and at the end of the meal I hugged him and said, “I love you” – but I wasn’t really sure if I did.

I’ve always been an extremely forgiving person. I can normally let things go, especially if someone apologizes. However, the wounds my real father has inflicted on me are wounds that I deal with every single day of my life. It’s like waking up with a gaping hole in your side and trying to forget that it isn’t there or who caused it. My wounds are a constant reminder of how desperate I was to be loved by him, desperate to understand why he wasn’t around and why he didn’t want to be a part of my life.

Now I’m desperate to forgive him so I can be rid of the pain, but the fact that he doesn’t call me still burns a little. The idea that my own father isn’t desperate to be with me stings because if I had a son there isn’t anything in this world that could stop me from being with him.