I’m an asshole, but I haven’t always been this way. I want to chart for you a trajectory of sorts. This is how I’ve grown to become an asshole, and why it is so important to me that I remain one.
When I was young, I was sweet. Too sweet, as it turns out. Too sweet is a real thing. The world I was born into provided the context in which someone could be too sweet. I was really well liked, at first. And by at first, I mean when I was young, and almost all the way through my teenage years. I guess too sweet became a problem for when my father died.
See, when my dad died, I was six years old, and I didn’t get. At least that’s what everyone told me. Since then, I’ve had many compassionate therapists tell me that of course, I got it, just not the way the adults around me understood it. Whatever. All I know is, when my sister came home that morning, I ran to the front door to greet her with a big smile and said, “Dad’s dead!” I wanted her to be happy about it. After all, we were Catholic, and death seemed like a hell of a bargain. You got to go to heaven and hang out on clouds and be with God.
When my dad’s birthday rolled around, I wanted to celebrate it. My mom didn’t think that was a good idea. My mom had become my world, and since she was broken, so was my world. I became very concerned with fixing her. She never seemed happy. I always felt worried. We took trips the next summer. One to Grenada, where my dad’s sister helped her handicapped husband run a medical school, and one to California, where my mother’s brother and sister lived. I didn’t know my mother was auditioning these families and their locales as possible people to live near, as possible places to live. Noone did. When California won the competition, I was ecstatic. Partially because my entire concept of California was Knott’s Berry Farm, Disney Land, the beach, and my Uncly Jimmy farting in the car and telling us it “smelled like roses.” I was ecstatic because I thought my mom might be happy again. She seemed happy when she told us. When she broke the news to my dad’s dad, he was in tears. It was like she was taking everything from him. My sister and my brother cried. I sat, smiling, ever supportive. We made a call to my mom’s sister and sang, “California, here we come, Right back where we started from!” which was strange to me because I didn’t think we started from California. I was seven.
When we moved to California, man. There was a lot of fun to be had. My aunt had a pool and there house was the party house. We swam and they drank and every one was alive and married and well. This didn’t last. Also, my brother and my sister didn’t readily adjust. They were terrified of schools that seemed like college campuses by comparison, and worried about fitting in. They were older. I was worried about my mother, and though I didn’t like that she died her hair blonde (I cried for hours), I liked that she was happy. I stuck by her always. I tried to be gooder than good, as a therapist recently pointed out.
Soon, my mom’s brother’s family fell apart. Cheating. Then the cheated cheated. Then the original cheater cheated more. Plus, as it turns out, a strong regimen of drugs and alcohol puts strain on relationships. Drugs in general put strains on people. My mom’s sister loses her husband, the uncle that put a little extra time into me. He was kind, if occasionally impatient. Things start to get ugly for us. My mom’s commute to Los Angeles from the Inland Empire starts to wear on her. My brother and sister are acting out left and right. I know they are doing drugs. In class one day during our DARE lesson, I almost raise my hand and tell the officer what I know is going on at home, but I was scared. I would have been crucified at home. I tell my mom, and she doesn’t seem to care. She just sort of shrugs and says, “They’re young,” and I collapse in her lap and cry while my sister’s boyfriend sells weed from his El Camino right outside our house.
I start to climb inside myself. I hang out with girls a lot at school. They rarely questioned my manhood, which was great, because I questioned it all the time. They thought I was cute, which was great, because they liked me and accepted me. It was mostly a relief. When we moved in with my mother’s brother so he could get split custody of his kids, I was stoked. We had what felt like a real house — it was the kind of house you saw on TV. Two incomes will do that. I grew to hate the new man of the house though, and soon so did my mom. She kicked him out because he was always fucked up. I was thrilled, but worried. In came my sister, who, by now, had a baby and felt like a soon-to-be guest on Ricky Lake. Her boyfriend moved in too. He smoked weed all the time. I even tried it, and then, true to form, felt horrible about it. Soon, our house was filthy all the time, and my mom was exhausted, and a stack of bills piled up so high in this wicker basket in my mom’s room you would have thought she was going to use it for a campfire. Maybe that’s what she had in mind.
In comes my future stepdad. Steven. Steven King. Harold Steven King. What a fuckwad. Sweet man, but broken, like every other fucking “adult” in my life. Alchoholic. Do stepdads come any other way? He swears to get straight, for my mom. That never fucking works. We all buy in. I even start to love him. Until he breaks his promises again, and again, and again, and again, and again. I start to hate myself. Impotent, I am. I must be. I can’t stop what’s going on. I can’t control it. And you know what? If I wasn’t so “sweet,” I would have never tried to. I would have focused on myself, and made my own life happen. I would have left home at home.
What made me the apple of my mother’s eye, among other things, was school. I was a star in school. I loved it. But, when it felt like my entire home life was some big secret, my academic life I just ripped apart. Slowly, and almost methodically, I worked my way toward flunking out entirely. Started dabbling with drugs. That’s what young people do, right? I needed attention. That’s what they tell me.
One day, I tell my mom I’ve done shrooms, and she tells me that it wasn’t a pneumonia that killed my father. It was AIDS. He was a heroine addict, it turns out. And I’ve always been so much like him, she points out. I should be careful, it becomes clear.
I had to get out of there. I joined the Air Force, but couldn’t let my friends down that last weekend. I always had to show them how much I didn’t give a fuck, how much I could flout authority. So, since they actually watch you put your dick into a cup and piss when you are in boot camp, I, of course, popped a positive and got separated after four weeks. Took a bus home because we were so broke. Home is New Jersey again, because after his third DUI my stepdad couldn’t face the consequences and fled the state. After a short stint in Georgia, my mom shunned my stepdad’s southern roots and essentially told him, “We’re here cause of you, so why should I be somewhere I don’t like?” So, back to Hudson County it was. When I got there, after about four or five days of Grey Hounds and unisoms and scary fucking bus stations, I made it home to an empty apartment. He started drinking within days. He couldn’t handle my presence, for whatever reason. Could have been that I ratted him out to his son — told that smart, mature young man everything his dad had done to my family over the course of seven years. His son ex-communicated him. Fuck them both. I wrote the guy from boot camp, and he didn’t want anything to do with me either.
Turns out, I am the addictive type. After my mom makes me stay with her sister for about a week, finally they decide he has to go. He goes to Georgia. I can’t recognize anything about my life anymore. I ruined everything, for all the wrong reasons. I thought people would come to my rescue, the way I tried to save them. I thought my family would notice my weakness, that they would intervene. It’s like I jumped in a toilet, and flushed it, and they didn’t realize where I was or what I was doing, and without knowing my location, took a seat and shit while the water still spun.
What could I do? Go to a Junior College? I was in AP classes by my sophomore year. What the fuck would I learn at a JC? How would I relate to those students? So, I started writing instead. Lyrics, mostly. My friend tells me to come join him back in Cali. I go. We make music. It’s bad. It’s sentimental and filled with pleas for help. We take drugs to complete the starving artist personas we purchased retail. I have a seriously hard time staying sober. I start to develop social anxiety. All the people in my life — all of them — they are not supposed to be there, I decide. This is not supposed to be my life at all.
I go back home, and I bring a girlfriend I don’t love back home with me. Why? Too sweet. I couldn’t tell her she should stay. I couldn’t tell her what I needed. I had told her I loved her, so how could I tell her I needed to go home, and re-focus on myself, and get sober, and figure out my life. When she shows up in Jersey, she shows up addicted to meth. I hide it from my mom. My mother hates her fucking guts, and this brings me a lot of pleasure. Finally, after I start school (at a junior college), we break up. My mother, whose cancer had hardly registered with me at all when she was diagnosed, gets a recurrence. This is right after my stepdad falls down a flight of stairs, and acquires brain damage right alongside divorce papers from my mother who… wait for it… had finally had enough. So, it’s me and her, and she’s sick, and my whole family comes to live with me, and I feel so utterly exposed that I seriously consider suicide. I was the wonder boy. Now, as she practically decomposed before our eyes, I was a call center rep with a 4.0 GPA at a community college and an incredibly bad case of naivete. You see, they knew I thought I was still going to make something of myself, but they saw my utter lack of direction marry my hopeless romanticism and threw rice at the wedding to be polite.
She died. I got life insurance money, and became a tutor. Too sweet. I decided to take a minimum wage job at the community college I attended because it seemed noble and good. I soon ran out of money, and found a girlfriend who needed my sweetness. In exchange, she helped me get by when I floundered, and I was constantly floundering.
My last hope was my band. It was my point of pride — the thing that was going to prove all had not been for naught. I paired up with an old friend. He was a graphic designer. I was in a writing groove like I had never been in before. Some songs we made were shit, but some were good — really fucking good. He as a guitarist. We spent a year in the format of he was the cool guitarist, and I was the deep lyricist/vocalist. When we changed it to behoove him, so he could get more mic time, we became what I wanted least of all, a rap duo. That’s the group that I was in before. That’s butt of the jokes I was trying to pull pants over. But, I am too sweet, you get it? I said yes.
I pushed full steam ahead. Everything was about the band. Everything was on the line. We’d get to practice at his house, and we’d wind up watching a movie with us girlfriend. I’d seethe the entire time. At my place, we’d work. To prove to him that the band wasn’t my entire life, I started going to massage school. He was a web designer. He didn’t need it all like I did. He could be patient. My impatience freaked him out.
I put together a campaign on Indie-Gogo and raised money so we could record. After hearing Matt fail again and again on songs I so wanted to complete, after pushing, and begging, and forging ahead, we had ten songs I felt were pretty fucking okay. I’m swimming in debt. Matt sends me a song that he started, after we had agreed on our ten song album, that he wants to add to the record. It’s sick. It’s sicker than anything he’s written up until that point. It’s as sick as many of the things I was forced to leave behind because he “wasn’t really feeling it.” You may not believe this part of the story. I don’t think I would, if I were you. But I wrote many extremely well composed verses that amounted to squat because getting him to focus on anything that didn’t come from his own mind was almost impossible. And now, if I wrote this last song with him, he would almost definitely be the writer of the best verse on the album.
And then I snapped. I became an asshole, 100%. And I am proud. I took the money we raised, and I moved to HI in exactly one fucking day. Packed two bags. Landed with $600. Never looked back. And now, I don’t do what other people want, and I don’t try and rescue people, and I do a good job at work, and I don’t hang out with people who do drugs. I say no. And anyone who can’t deal with me putting my wants first can read this fucking story and eat my dick.