As I look back, I don’t remember the things that I loved as much as the things I wished loved me.
I wanted to be loved. I wanted a mom who would love me. I wanted acceptance. I wanted to fit in.
I can remember standing in junior high at Kastner and listening to my friends talk, and they’re all dressed cool, and they’re all really funny. I remember thinking man, I’ve got generic brand clothes on, and I just wish I could say something that would be relatively funny. And I just never could.
I just remember feeling so odd, so left out, and so other than.
I was longing to be loved. And what ended up happening – because of that longing – it began to come out in the way I treated people. So the dating scene, or the dating mess, became more of a desire to feel loved than to give love. I was so wounded that there was no health to give. There was just an insatiable need to get love.
I was a taker for years and years and years.
It was very common to have a girlfriend but be talking to another girl on the side. Maybe not cheating on a girlfriend, but just making sure I always had some options, always had a fall back plan. There was always an exit strategy. Always.
I remember walking into parties and wondering, who am I going to connect with tonight? What’s that going to look like? And it wasn’t sexual. It wasn’t about that. It wasn’t about one-night stands. It was all about the conquest. Can I get her number? Can I get her to call me? Can I get her friend to like me too? And then maybe, nothing. Maybe I never call her because it really didn’t matter. It was just about the adventure of pursuit.
I always found myself replaying the tapes. Why did you say that? You shouldn’t have said that. You had an opportunity. You missed it. And then, I wonder what they’re thinking about me now? Did I make a good impression? Are they talking about me now?
It was really narcissistic. Very narcissistic. Very self-focused. And then the continual insecurity. That’s why I drank. I was not an alcoholic by any means, but I drank to take the edge off. I drank because then I didn’t feel like a junior high kid. I was funnier than when I was sober. And I can dance better than I did sober.
I’d go down to Jim’s place in Clovis, a big honky-tonk country bar with a bunch of boot-wearing dudes driving big trucks. My buddy Al and I would walk in with penny loafers on and pleated pants and tucked-in shirts, and we could out-dance any cowboy in the room. We really enjoyed that. We beat them at their own game.
We tend to deal with our brokenness differently. Some people turn to substances. Relationships. Counseling. For me, it was a combination. But the primary avenue in dealing with the hurt in my life was athletics. Competition.
Off the field I was a very nice guy. Teachers in high school loved me. Administrators loved me. I was kind, respectful. It was, “Yes, Sir. Yes, Ma’am.”
But in competition, I’d kill a guy. I pinned a kid from Fresno High in four seconds. I don’t even think that’s possible. I stood up and blew a kiss to my mom – it’s the one wrestling match she ever went to – and I was rebuked by my coach for showing off; he thought I was just saluting the crowd.
I took a kid from Clovis High in the finals of the Doc Buchanan Tournament, one of the most prestigious tournaments in the Valley, if not the state. The winner gets a cowboy hat. They put one mat in the center of the gym and lower the light down over it.
“And in the green corner…” And out from the corner, this guy comes out jumping around, and they go through his record.
“And in the red corner…” I remember coming out and I’m thinking, I’m going to kill him. I’m going to kill him. I’m going to embarrass him in front of his family and friends. I got out there and I swear I threw the kid into the bleachers. Threw him into the bleachers, ran back into the center, and said, “Come on.” And in those moments, I was a totally different guy. And I look at that and go, that was really creepy.
I was able to take all of the hurt and all of the rage and all of the anger, all of it, and in those moments, just turn it loose. And then when it was over, the smile came back on, and it was, “Yes, Sir. Yes, Ma’am.” That was my outlet. That was my therapy. So every day I got to go to counseling – either on a wrestling mat or strapping on a helmet. And then I would go crazy. And after, it was good again.
And that’s where acceptance came.
I realized early on that when I played, people would tell me good job. So maybe I should keep playing well. I had success in this, where other guys were trying, but not having the same kind of success. Maybe I should keep doing this.
We tend to put forth on the outside this façade that doesn’t match what we are really feeling on the inside. So on the outside, I was witty and clever and romantic and had it together. And on the inside, I was dying.