Because we were such a close family unit, we didn't really have very many friends outside of church or our immediate neighborhood. There was a family that lived two doors down from us in Huntington Beach. The youngest son was named Robin and he was about the closest thing I had to a best friend as a child. His older brother Robert was the same age as I was, but Robin, who was about a year younger, was more fun to hang out with. Doug was kind of a bully and once dragged me across the yard by my feet causing me to cut my middle finger with a jagged piece of glass. I was rushed to the hospital and had to get several stitches. Soon Dan DeMarco moved across the street and along with Robin and myself we spent quite a lot of time together. During summer vacation, weekends and after school, it became a ritual to go door to door to see who could come out to play. We used to climb trees in the field down the street, play ring and run, and get into all sorts of innocent mischief. Michael and Becky didn't really have any friends of their own and would usually tag along with us from time to time.
Curtis Hayes was my first friend outside of the neighborhood. His family had just moved to the area and we were in the same class at school. He was a Mormon but went to church at a different location. We would spend the night at each other's houses and just hang out together. I remember the first time he spent the night at my house we all went to the drive -in to see a movie. It was such a treat to have a new person enter our little clan but all night long it was Curtis this and Curtis that. As the night went on I became more and more jealous at the attention Curtis was getting. I wasn’t use to anyone other than myself being the center of attention. I soon grew out of my jealousy when the novelty of Curtis died down and he and I became the best of friends.
I enjoyed being the center of attention but felt drawn to the spotlight because I loved to make people laugh. Whenever I was out in public with my family I would use it as an opportunity to put on a performance. I remember on one occasion I was pretending to be physically challenged with a limp and drool running down the side of my mouth. When my mother slapped me for embarrassing her in public she was scolded by a woman for slapping someone in my condition. This would be very politically incorrect now a days but back in the 1960’s and early 1970’s we were a less compassionate culture and at the time I was just a kid that would do anything for a laugh. I was a natural born comedienne and clown and it was time I did something about it. I decided I was going to audition for my first play outside of church. The Huntington Beach Community Theater was holding auditions for The Three Little Pigs. I talked my friend Curtis into riding his bike with me to the audition. Beach Boulevard is a major street in Huntington Beach that ran right past our neighborhood. As Curtis and I started to cross the crosswalk a couple of cars slowed down and stopped so we could ride our bikes across the crosswalk. I went first and as I approached the inside lane of traffic, a man driving a Volkswagen Beetle known as a "bug," plowed right through the crosswalk unaware that I was in his path. The car slammed into my bike throwing me onto the hood and smashing my head into the windshield.
By now the driver of the bug had put on his breaks causing me to fly through the air about thirty or forty feet until I landed on the asphalt in a jumbled heap. Curtis immediately rode his bike back to my house to get my mother. I can only imagine the panic and fear that Curtis was feeling at the time. As I lay on the asphalt, a crowd began to surround and comfort me. I remember that all I kept saying over and over again was, " Get Bishop Lockhart and Bishop Waite, get Bishop Lockhart and Bishop Waite..." They were the Bishop and former Bishop at my church. It is interesting that as I lay dying, I would not ask for my mommy or daddy, but my Bishops. I had a concussion and whiplash and spent about two weeks in the hospital. Even though I was in pain, I would hide my pain pills and pretend to swallow them because for some twisted reason I thought it was a sin to take drugs even though they were prescribed and necessary for my recovery. It was stupid but it is one of the many irrational things people, including myself have done in the name of God and religion. I really thought there was a reason for my accident and a reason why I didn't die. I didn't know what that reason was but I didn't audition for another play for many years after that.
Needless to say, getting hit by a car got me a lot of attention. I got cards and letters from people I didn't even know. Before too long though things got back to normal. When you are a child, each day is an adventure all it's own. Each day, week and month seems to last forever with no end in sight. Believe me, I was aware of this and took complete advantage of it. I loved being a kid and all the joy and freedom associated with it. But childhood doesn't last forever and soon that would become all too obvious.
Soon after Carol Begay left, the Johnson family moved in down the street. Mr. Johnson was African American and Mrs. Johnson was Caucasian. He was the first Black person to move into our neighborhood and from all outward appearances, it seemed to be a smooth and uneventful transition. They had four children, Danita, Karla, Corina and Jeremy. Mrs. Johnson was previously married, with Danita, Karla and Corina a product of that marriage. Danita soon ended up being Shirley Charley’s best friend, soul mate and constant companion. Corina would end up becoming Becky's best friend, confidant and soul mate as well. Danita and Corina became as much a part of our family as Carol Begay and Shirley had been.
Shirley and Danita and Corina and Becky became inseparable. They shared secrets, talked about boys, and camped out together. They went to school together, had slumber parties at our house and did just about everything together. My brother and I built a tree fort in the front yard. No girls allowed. Soon Becky and Corina built a fort in the backyard called, "The Crazy Cats." No boys allowed. Michael used to hang out with Robin, Dan and I, but he didn't really have any friends his own age to play with in the neighborhood.
Things were going pretty smoothly. I was almost thirteen years old now and starting to go through some unusual changes. Then something happened that is normal and natural, but completely caught me off guard... Pimples. One morning I woke up and I didn't just have one zit but dozens of them. Little white bumps all over my face. It was a Sunday and I couldn't go to church, not looking like this. I had recently gotten braces and had to wear headgear. I was now the official poster child for nerds. My initial outbreak of pimples soon went away but my skin problems would continue well past my teens.
Aside from a few setbacks, the perfect charmed life I have described so far continued to thrive. I was still teased at school but it was not as intense as it had been earlier. If there is such a thing as too much happiness, then this was it. But the beginning of the end was closer than any of us could imagine. My mother got a job as a nurse’s aid at a local convalescent hospital. With the extra money we could get another car. With such an active household an extra car would come in handy. My mother ended up getting a really cool T-bird.
My mother started really getting into Motown music. She started buying albums by Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Donnie Hathaway and Roberta Flack. Then one day I came home from school for lunch and my mother was sitting in the living room, smoking a cigarette. She proceeded to tell me that she was having an affair with a doctor she met at work and that she was leaving my father. The doctor just happened to be African American. It was so dramatic and surreal that you could almost imagine a soap opera organ blaring in the background. With this news I returned to school were I started crying and my teacher took me into her office to find out what was wrong with me. The day before we were the perfect family and just like that, it was all over.
It would not have been so shocking if I had seen it coming. But my parents would never argue or fight in front of us kids. I was very naïve in thinking that we were the perfect family unit, even though there were many signs that in reality, we were not. My mother, Becky, Michael and myself were now living with my Aunt Helen and Uncle Tom in Upland. We enrolled in school and tried to make the best of a bad situation. Shirley Charley stayed in Huntington Beach with friends until she could be placed with another family. My Father was living alone in our house but had his mother near by to help out.
We lived in Upland for about a month when my parents reconciled. Shirley came back to live with us and soon everything seemed to be back to normal again. There was no doubt that things would never be the same again, but as long as we didn't talk about it, we could pretend it never happened. Danita and Shirley and Corina and Becky continued to be the best of friends. Mike started to get into peewee football but still did not have any friends his own age to play with. Curtis Hayes and I were still friends but I started to hang out in the neighborhood more often with Robin and Dan. I would also hang out with Becky and Shirley as much as possible so I could be around Danita and Corina.
Our house was always full of laughter, hugs and kisses. We also had the most wonderful pets. Smooch was a white Alaskan Somoid, who was given to us by our next door neighbors, the Kelly's. Their daughter Paula, was also a good friend of Becky and Corina. It was always funny whenever Smooch would get loose in the neighborhood, because we would scream at the top of our lungs for him. Smooch! Smooch! Smooch! In the summer, Smooch’s fur would shed and our yard would look like we had a snowstorm. Jenny was a black toy Poodle we got for my mother after the first separation.
We used to have a lot of fun together and we were always getting into trouble and mischief. Sometimes I would spy on my sisters and their friends and overhear scandalous things that I would tease them about. One time I hid behind Shirley’s bed and overheard her, Danita, Paula, Corina and Becky talking about how Paula had seen her father get out of the shower and his penis looked like a pickle. I tried with all my might not to laugh or giggle out loud and then for weeks I would mention how something looked like a pickle and the girls would start giggling and laughing not knowing that I knew what they were really laughing about. Water fights were still popular and living in southern California gave us the opportunity to either go to the mountains or the beach whenever we wanted. It seemed like we were closer as a family now, than we were before my parent’s separation. I noticed that my father started to take a bigger interest in my life. Over the years I had taken guitar lessons, piano lessons, violin lessons, etc. but nothing seemed to click. I tried my hand at baseball and basketball and other sports but I just wasn't interested.
My Dad would take me to sporting events and let me go with him to work sometimes. He worked in grocery stores for a long time but now he was working as a traveling salesman for a deli company. He would drive all over southern California selling deli goods to supermarkets and cafes. We spent a lot of quality time together but something wasn't right. I wasn't interested in the same things other boys were and it made it difficult for me and my father to communicate with each other. I enjoyed spending the time with my father and appreciated what he was doing, but I had a secret life I didn’t know how to tell my father about. I was still being teased at school but now the names I was being called were getting worse. Sissy, queer and fag were popular names directed at me on a daily basis.
I did not even know for sure what those words really meant. Much the same way I didn't recognize the word masturbation when I was interviewed for the priesthood. I had a pretty good idea, but I was a very naïve child and there are many things in life that have to be spelled out for me in order for me to understand. I wasn’t stupid but I wasn’t exactly a genius either. I could not understand why certain people could see or tell that I was different and felt obligated to mention it whenever they wanted. The unusual thing was how some people could tell there was something different about me even before I could. What other people thought of me was not important because I felt normal. Although I knew there was something different about me I did not feel abnormal about those differences. I also could not understand why my parents or relatives never mentioned anything about my mannerisms or Homosexual tendencies. I knew I liked my neighbor and friend Robin more than just a friend but I didn't realize there was a name for it or that eventually I would want to act on my romantic and sexual feelings. I used to have secret crushes on other boys, but it was something I never spoke of...to anyone…ever. It was as if my sexual identity just did not exist. I knew that this was something I needed to hide and keep a secret. I was twelve, going on thirteen.
A popular Mormon tradition is fast Sunday. The first Sunday of each month members of the church are encouraged to skip breakfast and lunch in an effort to cleanse the soul. Then during church services members had the opportunity to get in front of the congregation and bare their testimony. I would frequently bare my testimony and share my feelings and declare my love for God in front of everyone. But there were many times though when I would pretend to get sick on Saturday nights before fast Sunday so I could stay at home and eat something and watch TV. I had to plan it so it wasn't obvious what was going on, but I'm sure my parents could tell something was wrong. I also started staying home from school more often, saying that I just did not feel good.
My sister Becky started to "catch on" and soon she was getting sick a lot too or so I thought. We always had so much fun together and I appreciated every minute of Becky time I could get. My parents started to accuse us of lying just so we didn't have to go to church or school. For me at least it was true. Becky and I began to spend more time together because when the school we went to changed to a year round schedule, we transferred to another school so we could still have our summer vacations. We usually rode our bikes to school, but when it would rain or was cold we would take the bus. We went to Mesa View for awhile then we transferred to Dwyer Jr. High. Dwyer was two blocks from the beach and had a spectacular view of the Pacific Ocean.
I started teasing and picking on Becky and Michael more than ever. I would find something that irritated the hell out of them and relentlessly pursue it until a fight broke out and we had to be physically pulled apart. We didn’t fight all the time but there was an air of hostility in the air that must have been a foreboding of things to come. The more I was teased at school, the more I seemed to tease Becky and Mike at home. I began to notice that most of the people, who teased me at school though, teased other people as well. Just when it seemed that there was something wrong with me that would warrant such vulgar and cruel teasing; it became obvious that the people who were teasing me had serious problems of their own. I was always afraid that my family would discover the name-calling I received at school, but unfortunately they were never a witness to it. I had so many issues and problems that I kept inside, that the only way I could express my confusion and anger was by teasing my brother and sister. It was the only outlet I had for releasing my frustrations, or at least the only outlet I knew of at the time
One Sunday morning, Becky and I had been arguing and fighting since we woke up. We argued all the way to the church and when we pulled into a parking space my parents made my sister and I sit in the back seat until we could behave like normal human beings again. After being alone in the car for a few minutes we began to fight and kick each other with all our might. We were finally interrupted when another family pulled in next to us. On another occasion I had my brother pinned on the floor and would not let him up. Out of nowhere Becky came up behind me and punched me on my back, knocking the wind out of me.
Such severe forms of aggression really were rare but still uncalled for.
My grandmother Morton lived about a mile away and I began spending more time at her apartment. She would bake me pumpkin pies and make hot chocolate whenever I wanted and generally just spoiled me and I took advantage of it. Once when my brother, sisters’ and myself got in trouble, our punishment was that we could not watch the Wizard of Oz that night. This was unusually cruel punishment as far as I was concerned because each year when the Wizard of Oz would rerun on TV it was a special occasion, and we never missed it. (This is years before video tapes and DVD and cable when everyone was at the mercy of a handful of television channels for their limited viewing choices.) I made a phone call to Grandma Morton and asked her if she had any chores she needed me to do for her. I told her she needed to call my parents and ask if I could spend the night to help her with some small superficial chore. It may have been manipulative, but it was the Wizard of Oz for goodness sake.