Perhaps the biggest handicap in life is wanting everyone to like you. It fences you in and is a hard rail to climb over. It isn't logical and it borders on insanity. It's a syndrome. It is self-suffocation.
And along the line The Kid caught this disease.
There was a period of forced isolation in his early childhood. (See the posts in "Bends of the Brandywine" such as: Swamp Rat, Snippet Scenes, From the Snows of the Himalayas to the Rails of Glenloch and Real Nightmares or the short story Ground Dog Day in "Currents of the Whiskeyrye". [Click on the underlined titles if you care to read any.])
The Kid was born six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Thus like many of his generation separated from his dad in my infant years by war. He was isolated from fatherhood and his dad did not really impact The Kid’s life until age six, when dad returned from battle. Even then there remained separation for his dad became a long-distance trucker and was seldom home. In those first years of his return he moved the family to the solitude of a swamp.
Solitude, with its constant companion of loneliness, can be a bountiful garden for growing a child's imagination, even for fertilization of the developing intellect, but it is a desert of uncultivated social skills. The Kid’s social abilities were on the level of a cactus, too prickly and unlovely to encourage the embrace of others. When he finally moved back to the relative civilization of town life he may have been physically contemporary in age with other children, but they were hardly social peers.
It began with verbal insults. He was constantly ridiculed about his clothes, his hair, his speech patterns and even his cap; that is if classmates or neighborhood kids even deigned to speak to him at all. The counterbalance to the mocking was ostracism. In other words, he was not allowed to join in the reindeer games, unless forced by authority; i.e., school teachers. When this was the circumstance and he could not be simply ignored, The Kid would be kept waiting until the end of choices before being picked. He couldn't blame them; he had no experience with team sports.
If The Kid was suffering the slings and arrows of unreasonable ridicule, his friends were on the receiving end of cultural prejudice. Whether any of them were ever further stigmatized by association with The Kid he did not know, but as he grew older he began to share the bigotry toward them. This was especially true as he crossed paths with more kids in junior high school. Very nasty epithets were sometimes hurled his way. They usually came hyphenated, such as "friend-of-%$#&@" or "*%^$&#-lover".
Then came the bullying.
The Kid had a paper route. He avoided one street because when he rode his bike thought it objects, as well as words, were thrown at him. Twice older, bigger kids jumped him in the field next to his home. One time he managed to fight the kid off and escape; the other his dog broke free and chased the varmint away.
When ever he went into the next block up on his street it was carefully, with constant looking every which way and if necessary hiding behind trees, cars or shrubs, for on this block was a gang. Oh, they weren't gangs as we probably picture today. They were a half-dozen guys, all a year or two his senior in age, who lived on that block. For some reason only they know, it was their goal in life to torment The Kid, to threaten and to chase him. He lived in constant fear of meeting one or more of these guys anytime he was out and about.
The Kid also came to hate going to junior high school. It was often a game of dodging abuse and ridicule. One time a group of guys grabbed a friend and him, forcing them into the empty locker room behind the gym.
While a couple held his friend, the others took The Kid into a darkened changing room. One held his right arm and another held his left. He had no idea what they planned to do, but for some reason he began to joke about the situation. He was probably so scared he didn't know what he was doing, but he learned a lesson that day, which was humor could be a weapon or at least a defensive tool. After a while of not taking them seriously, they let him go. The Kid was pushed out of that space and his friend was brought in. The Kid didn't know exactly what they did, but whatever it left his friend trembling and crying.
There were times The Kid wished to die rather than face another day of such torments. Although I don't think he would have ever committed suicide, he certainly thought about it. More often he expressed to his mother or just to himself the wish of having never been born. Oddly, no guardian angel trying to win its wings ever showed up to show him how much he would have been missed.
Now there have been those who retreated into such self-pity they did end up killing themselves. There have been those who became embittered and so angry they inflicted pain and suffering on others as a form of revenge. The Kid never succumbed to deep self-pity or outrageous anger at the world. What saved him were those years of isolation. He had learned how to be by himself and survive in loneliness.
And yet beyond all of this and that, what The Kid really wanted was to be liked. He was catching that disease.