Saturday, May 25, 2024

I Could Have Gone To Jail

Why was Fred so angry?

I have been struggling with how to approach this part of the story. There is a tendency, a need to justify myself, to make what was wrong seem right, to make excuses. I stole money from Fred's best friend. It was wrong. It was selfish. There is no excuse.

I have formed a habitual addiction to escapist entertainment: role-playing games like D&D, board games, Star Trek and Doctor Who. I can (and often do) lose myself inside these things. This has become something of a way of life for me. I think it's okay. I call my addiction a passion. I share this passion with my friends and my beautiful wife. We're well adjusted, "relatively normal" people. This wasn't always true for me.

Comic books were my gateway drug. I learned fairly early in my young life that if I was going to survive, I needed to find a way to shut myself off from my world, because for a long time, my world wasn't a good place. I found my escape in the pages of comic books. This started before Chuck was part of my home life when I was six years old.

My "actual" biological father left my mom for another woman (her best friend) when I was five years old. My sister Sally would have been 3, and my sister Karla an infant of only a few months. Yeah, "dad" was a real gem. He fled and never paid a dollar of child support. I barely remember anything about him. 

I saw my father for the "first" time at my grandmother's (his mom's) funeral. All of his children were now grown to adulthood. I suppose he thought that with his fiscal responsibility over he could "reach out" safely. I didn't give him the time of day, and I never saw him again. Sally was kind enough to stay in contact. Sally is the most forgiving person in the world. I want to talk a little more about her tomorrow.

When my father left, one of the first things that my mom did (that 5 to 6 year-old me remembers) is take me to the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in St. Louis. We lived an hour away in Southern Illinois and she was alone with three kids. So, I got to see her once a week while I was there and she would stay for about an hour. I would scream and cry and throw a fit when she left. One of the things she would do to make me feel better is bring me comic books.

I was consoling myself with comic books before Chuck came along. I used them to hide from my fear as my mom left me in the hospital then, and later to hide from fear of home and of school … of everything in my life. Comic books were everything to me, but I never had "a lot" of them because we never had much money. When Fred came along that changed slightly, but I didn't know that. I was used to expecting not to have money. 

Maybe that's why I didn't just ask mom to buy comics for me. Instead, I stole them. It was easy. The comic rack at the IGA was right by the door. I just walked in, took a few and walked out. I fed my comic book habit this way for over a year. I did this, even though life at home was better. Life at school was better. But, I was used to hiding, and like I said, taking the comics was easy. Until I got caught.

When I got caught I confessed to everything and was banned from the store. That was it. They didn't call the police. They did call my mom. I felt bad. I had always known that it was wrong. Growing up on a steady diet of superhero comics, I cherished the concepts of right and wrong and being the "good guy." But, I wasn't. And I still "needed" the comics, or thought that I needed them.

Honestly, being the "crippled boy" probably saved me from jail time. I was over 18. I could have gone to jail. My life could have been very much different, and I dodged this bullet not once, but twice.

Later that year in the summer I was given a job by Fred's best friend Jim. He had a little bait shop and he paid me to watch it on the weekends. I couldn't go to the IGA anymore to buy comics. I had to order them through the mail. For whatever reason, this wasn't enough for me and I stole money from Jim in order to buy more comics. Of course, Jim figured this out and told Fred. That's why Fred was so angry.

I started this post by saying that I would not make excuses. I broke all this down, not to excuse it, but to try to understand it. My need to escape, especially in the pages of comic books back then, was a conditioned behavior that I couldn't escape. I stole to feed it like one does an addiction. It is still a part of me, but I have learned to balance it with my responsibilities and turn it into a positive thing in my life.

Besides if all of this had not happened, I probably would never have moved to Tulsa. I was a whole different person in Tulsa.

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