Episode 18: Finding a Way Home

Before getting into the episode, the important stuff: I just want to remind everybody that I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, or any kind of professional with an –ist at the end of their title. I am just a guy who has been there.

If you are in crisis, or know somebody who is, I implore you to reach out to a professional. In the United States, there is now a national hotline you can call or text. 988.

I’ll repeat that because it bears repeating. If you or someone you know is in crisis, I implore you to reach out to a professional. Dialing or texting 988 in the US will put you in touch with a crisis counselor instantly.

Now, let’s get into the episode.

I did go back and meet him once. It didn’t go well.

It was during one of my brief stints in therapy. I forget when and where but it was a long time ago, maybe 30 years. The therapist and I were doing role playing. They wanted me to meet him, talk to him. I was game.

I forget exactly what the therapist did, but I really got into the moment. I saw him sitting across from me. He was always a scrawny, small kid, not hitting his real growth spurt until high school. He always had skinned knees but what little boys don’t? His jeans had holes in the knees until he was in double digits.

He was in shorts that day, in a tank top, maybe a tank top half-shirt. Aye, it was the late 70’s we are talking about here and that was the style. He sat across from me with his feet swinging. His sneakers were tied in double knots, tied with rabbit ears, the same way I still do it today.

I don’t know what my therapist did but that kid, Chrissy, was there, existed. He was staring at me, the slight scar on the chin far more visible from where he had run into a moving car. Long story. He was waiting for me to speak.

This was my moment. I could say anything I wanted to him, and it would be real. He would hear me back through the decades.

I wanted to tell him so much. I wanted to explain to him that he was doing well, the stutter would improve, he would be going to Miami to a new life. I wanted to explain that his dream of being a writer was more than just a fantasy, that in just a couple of years, when he was around eight, he would be published in the Philadelphia newspaper. That would be the first article of many.

He edged closer to the edge of the chair, closer to me.

I opened my mouth to say all those things and more.

“Suck it up kid. You have to be tough. Tougher. The tougher you are the easier it will be.”

He sank back into his chair and nodded his head, his feet motionless. I sank back into my chair and covered my closed eyes with my hand.

I opened my eyes, and he was gone.

Yep, that did not go well at all.

I have always thought about that moment, wondering where the hell it came from. The years would pass, the decades, and I would realize that I really needed a much better relationship with him. I needed to go back and undo some of the things he learned.

He was scrawny, but he was a scrapper. Tough little kid. That was forced into being tough far too early. He even had to be an adult sporadically.

I remember this one time I think I almost set the house on fire. It was my first try at cooking. Mom wasn’t doing well. Maybe she was up in bed in a depressive state–which was far better than the manic state. I was hungry.

I remember that I tried cooking rice and peas in a frying pan. I put them all in the pan, turned the flame on, and then I forgot about it. It was a blackened mess when I came back and was starting to smolder. The paper towels got knocked into everything, caught fire…and I forget what happened next. I think someone showed up to toss everything into the sink with the fire alarm going off. Or maybe I did?

My attention span never got too much better. My cooking only mildly better. I now know to boil rice.

Adultification. It’s a term that Leo Flowers threw at me during our interview. I had never heard it before. Obviously, my computer has never heard the word either because it keeps underlining it in red every time I type it.

I did a little bit of research and came up with scholarly articles going back to 2007. It is what I thought it was, what it sounds like: a child having to step up into a parental role.

Adultification? I don’t know. I would need to talk to an expert more about it. I don’t think it applies to me. From what I read, it is when children must step into parental roles for extended periods of time, maybe even becoming adults at a very young age.

Me? I was surrounded by adults. I had to step up once in a while, but it was very sporadic. Mom would get sick and eventually something would happen that would put me back into the care of an adult.

Is there adultification or trauma in the waiting?

I remember this one time I was about five or six. My uncle met me at the corner store. I’m not sure how I had gotten in touch with him, but we were out of food.

I was crying, pleading, for him to come home with me. He was crying. Said something about his own children and handed me $20. I wiped away the tears, went into J&N’s, and bought lunch meat, rolls and cheese.

I did what I had to do. It became a common theme in my life.

Any adultification I encountered ended when I was about 10. Something had happened, mom was in a manic phase, my stepfather had entered her life, and I guess a call had gone out. An aunt, who had I had spent some summers with, came and picked me up and brought me to her home down in Maryland during the middle of 5th grade. I would stay there until the end of 7th. I was safe.

She and my uncle did what they had to do, I guess. During the summer between 7th and 8th grade, I went to my mom’s and stepfather’s apartment for a visit. I remember the friends I left in Maryland, expecting to see them again at the start of school.

Towards the end of the summer, all of my stuff began to arrive in boxes. I was told that I would be staying and starting 8th grade there.

I remember tearful phone calls. The payphone. They did not accept the collect calls, so I got change somehow or another and started making calls.

“Why? Why, why, why? Come and get me. Please!”

I forget what the answer was, but I started grade school in Springfield, PA at Our Lady of Fatima. I began a new life again with new friends. The following year, I would start High School at Cardinal O’Hara.

It would not be until I was in 11th grade until I ran away from home, from the mania. Had a room in an apartment and everything. Had a job to pay for it all at Macy’s Department Store. But when the high school would not switch my classes to allow me to work full time, I quit school.

I was being an adult. But I was closer to adulthood anyway. 16? I thought I was doing a pretty good damn job of it. But, with the threat of cops from my mom and something about truancy, and not knowing about emancipation yet, it was back down to Maryland for me.  

I would move back down to finish 11th grade, go to bootcamp, get thrown out– again–and finish high-school at Cardinal O’Hara where I would live with my mom and stepfather until I properly moved out after I finished school.

That led to a shared apartment with my best friend. It didn’t work out. He got addicted to drugs and I would come home one day to find all of our stuff missing. We had been “robbed.”

I moved back home, then back to Maryland, then on to Miami for college. It was my “bouncy” days, bouncing from one location to the next, looking for a home. The idea of “home,” a place I was safe and couldn’t be thrown out of or chased from became embedded in who I was, became all that I was, my Golden Grail.

I don’t know if any of that counts as adultification. While researching it, though, I ran across memes for unhealed trauma.

The internet search algorithms got involved in my research for self-help. How thoughtful of it. Information and quizzes about untreated childhood trauma began popping up throughout my social media accounts.  

I finally looked at one, read it. Read the checklist of signs of unresolved childhood trauma. Now, checking off those requirements was like shooting fish in a barrel.

“Unhealed trauma can look like..”

Low sense of worth — check, something I struggle with

Codependency in relationships — check, oh yeah

Fear of being abandoned — check and double check and triple check, something that is constantly being reinforced.

Putting your needs aside for other people — check

Craving for external validation — check, but a small one, though others might disagree?

Always fearing what might happen next — check

Resisting positive change — Big red check mark

Tolerating abusive behaviors from others — check, but getting better

An innate feeling of shame — check. How many of these do I need to test positive?

Being overly agreeable — had to think about this one, but check. Nobody would ever accuse me of being overly agreeable. They would say the opposite. It was much more of a subtle thing, being agreeable by not disagreeing when I should have or giving in when I should not have.

Not being able to tolerate conflict — Nobody will believe me, but check. I enjoyed the hell out of conflict. When it didn’t matter. When it mattered, it was difficult, or see above and apply it to avoiding conflict when I should not have.

The kid is sitting across from me now. I can see him. He’s not swinging his feet anymore. He’s not waiting for me to talk to him. He wants to talk to me.

“Check,” he asks. “That’s it? You should have been tougher. You should have done what really needed to be done so that we would be safe now.”

The scar on his chin…

“They don’t need to know about the scar,” he screams as he balls up is fists. “Tell them! Admit it!”

It is tough staring at him because he is right. I did what I needed to do to survive, but I never did what I really needed to do to heal. It is why I can check off the list in the present tense instead of in the past tense.

Finding a home became my Holy Grail and I gave up everything for it without ever finding it. It became one of those quests that does not have an ending.

He nods. “Go on,” he says.

“I was getting there,” I say. “I might have been there if it had not been for that damn piece of slippery tile. That’s why we’re stranded in Tijuana, unsafe.”

He shakes his head.

I’ve tried having arguments with him before. It usually goes like this.

But he’s right. I should have been gone from Tijuana long before that first rain, long before I broke my ankle. Staring at him, I am looking at a truth that is being uncovered as I write this. It has to do with that big, red check mark? On resisting positive change?

He nods his head.

I was looking for positive change. No, I say to him as he begins shaking his head violently. Let me finish.

He calms down.

I came to Tijuana because it was the best I could come up with. Personally, I think the little brat is being a bit too harsh. Correct, but harsh. I was surviving. I had a plan. I was feeling good. And then I lost my job.

I was working on positive change, but I needed to be doing it in a far healthier way. I was forced into making a correct decision instead of making it myself. Right after making it, I broke my ankle. I tumbled even further down into unsafety, into instability. The kid and I were screwed again and vulnerable because of choices I did not make.

It’s an argument I’ve given passionately, but with him as a mirror, the argument seems hollow.

I did the best I could with the tools that I had. But it is like the story of the three little pigs. I should have had better building materials, worked on getting better tools. I know what the answers are but didn’t pursue them. I pursued self-destruction instead. I was doing a pretty damn good job of it until the end. Then, I failed miserably at it.

I forget how old I was, but my parents were still together, so maybe the third grade? I have no idea. But I remember they took me for a psychiatric evaluation. I still think the story is funny. I just laughed out loud about it as I am writing this and am now giggling about it. They wasted their money.

–yes, I am going down a tangent to avoid the main path for a little bit, but I think it ties in, so I’m going with it.

I would just start laughing and then follow up with giggles. My parents kept asking me why. I would start laughing when nothing was going on around me. When they asked, I started laughing. Then, when I saw that they were concerned, I made it a point to do it more often. –I can really be an asshole at times.

I tried explaining to them that I found the stories in my head funny. That’s what I was laughing about. That’s it. I had a very vivid imagination. I would create entire worlds populated with characters inside of my head. They would do funny things and I would laugh and giggle. Aye, I still do it. I just don’t do it out loud as often. Of course, in today’s world, I probably could with everybody seemingly talking to themselves on ear buds.

Fantasy books became my escape. I don’t know about Adultification, but I was reading at an adult level when I was very young.

I found this secret bookshelf in my house. I grabbed a book off of the shelf. My mom caught me and snatched the book from my hands.

“You’re too young for this,” she said.

I had no idea why. The book smelled good, old and musty. It had an awful cover but an interesting name: The Fellowship of the Ring. Of course, as soon as I could, I stole it, hid it in my room, and then spent hours and days diving into Tolkien’s fantasy world when Mom wasn’t looking. Then, I grabbed the other ones. The Two Towers. The Return of the King. Finally, The Hobbit. What was wrong with that?

The kid is nodding now so I must be doing something right.

The enormous box of Playboys my father had in the basement made me a very popular kid on the block, but those old, musty books held far more interest to me and far more entertainment.

Funny how things work out. I was eight? At 51, it’s still those old, musty books that grab my attention more than anything else. I can still smell them when I open them on my iPad to read them again. Times have changed, technology has changed, but I have not.

I look up at the kid and he just stares back. I must be on to something here.

Those old, musty books and that fantasy world is where I screwed up. Where I continue to screw up. The kid knows it.

I don’t know what the hell to do about it.

In the top five rules of “how to be a professional writer,” if not in the top three, is “read. Read, read, read, read. Voraciously and across fields and genres. Read what you want to write. It is a very basic part of education as well as the business of writing. Read your competition so you know how they are writing and how to position yourself against them for editors and publishers.

I don’t. I never have.

I did start writing a fantasy series once. Aye, I created the entire world in my head and even started on the mythology. It’s not my style though. I love to read it. Write it? No.

My genre has always been creative non-fiction or literary fiction. I’ve dabbled in reading it. Hemmingway, Faulkner, Steinbeck. Recent stuff? Nope. Magazines and periodicals? Nope. Hell, right now I should be listening to other podcasts and researching what mine is up against. Nope.

I know. The kid knows. I have had a solid two months now with a broken ankle where I am doing nothing but sitting on my ass. I am unemployed to boot. I have tons of time. I don’t watch television. Even applying to every job I find consumes 5 to 8 hours of my day.

I think that that is one of the reasons that brought me to the brink of suicide. I had gotten so exhausted and so disgusted with myself. Then, there was no escape. I couldn’t read anymore. I tried rereading the old books. I tried finding new books to read. I tried listening to music. Nothing. Nothing interested me anymore.

I wanted to feel something, anything, just to feel again. Nothing. There was only an emptiness.

It was time. I was used up, empty. There was nothing left. There was nothing left in me to even try to push forward anymore. Not even having a home mattered anymore.

I had a home. It was joyless and loveless, but it was stable. I had found my Holy Grail, completed my QUEST…and found it empty. For some reason, the house actually felt better to me when it was empty, after my wide had moved out, and I was alone.

At the last second, way past when it was feasible, I did try to hold onto it. I loved that place. But Covid had hit, and I had already put a most excellent plan in motion, and I couldn’t back out of it. So, I set out across America and towards self-destruction.

I tell people I ended up in Tijuana because I got lost on the way to Greece. It’s kind of true. I just had a few pit-stops on the way. Austin, Texas. Justine, Kate and Sara. An alohaless beach. A self-published book. Pieces of something that could lead to hope. The new books by Robin Hobb. The coldest winter in Texas in 35 years. Dances with Murphy and then finally breaking up with him–you won’t be reading or hearing about Murphy’s Law anymore.

And then the realization that I am not doing this adulting thing very well. Then I adopted a dog. Then I broke my ankle.

I look up at the kid and he’s nodding his head.

Everybody was right. I dove into a fantasy world here in Tijuana. It was so damn easy, too easy. I had savings and a hell of a resume, and the savings would last until I found a remote job.

Maybe it was a good plan, or at least a plan, but, realistically, it was a plan that should have had a two-month time limit to happen. It didn’t, and instead of being an adult and finding a home, a base, I entered fully into the fantasy world.

I look up at the kid from my ruminating and self-reflection. He’s waiting now.

“And that’s why,” I tell him, “we are screwed and not in a safe place. Why we don’t have a home. I failed you. But I’ll do better.”

He climbs down from the seat across from me and gets up into my lap to lay his head on my chest. He is a scrawny, little thing.

He looks up at me, flashing the scar on his chin. He nods.

This has been some heavy stuff. I need to think about a lot of it more. I really need to start talking to someone about it. For now, though, I’ll leave you with the story of the scar. It’s still visible, a tiny bit, on the left of my chin, an effect of a few stitches a long time ago.

At a very, very young age, I was a pervert. In my defense, I was supposed to be. That was the game we made up in SW Philly. It was tag with a twist. It was summertime, we had come out of someone’s pool, and we all wrapped the towels around us like we saw our moms and sisters do.

One kid, me that time, was the pervert who ripped all the towels off and then ran. The chase was on. I ran out in between two parked cars right into a moving car. That’s how small I was: my chin hit above the wheel well. I bounced.

The man slammed on his breaks and jumped out of the car. More of a kid now that I’m thinking about it. He rushed over to me where I was lying on the ground and helped me up. I wasn’t even shaken up. I was laughing. I had been caught but everybody had a shocked look on their faces.

I felt something on my chin and reached my hand up. “What,” I asked, “am I bleeding?”

“Yes,” the man/kid said.

I screamed. And went running to the safety of home and my mommy.

And that is a wrap for this episode.

Be kind to yourself. Be kind to that little child inside of you. Keep them safe. Do right by them.


This podcast is being funded by…nobody. Definitely not NPR. For as little as $5 per month, you can become a patron to help me keep this going and expand it. Wait. That’s not right. You can help me expand it because I’m going to keep talking no matter what.

You can find the link to the Patreon page on my website, http://www.FriendsofGina.com.


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