little black rain cloud

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 The soft lilt of his West Indian accent was reassuring, his grin infectious. He patiently covered the same ground with me again and again. I could tell he felt sorry for me, worried even. When his hour was up Father came back into the room. He walked Trevor to the door, all bonhomie and good cheer, with a slap to the back and a shake of his hand, a gold incisor gleamed when he smiled, reminding me of the big bad wolf, "I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down." I shuddered, terrorized. I looked at the door opposite, the one that led to my bedroom and willed myself to get up from the table, to go through the door, escape now while you can, but I knew better, I had better keep my bottom rooted to that chair. The soles of my sandals hasped against the polished black tile of the dining room as I swung my feet, crossed at the ankles, back and forth. At thirteen I should have understood rudimentary math; I didn't. The first two years of high school had been challenging. Chetwood—Chetty, we called him behind his back—was a bully, and my math teacher. He seemed to take pleasure out of picking on me in particular, like a lion does, circling the herd of buffalo picking off the weaker members. Every Friday morning I sat at my desk in fear. I knew what came next before it was uttered. "Sadler," he would announce, in his booming voice, "come down here and add up the lunch money." The class had handed over their change for next week's school meals and I had to stand at Chetty's desk and add together the farthings, and florins, sixpences and thruppency pieces and half crowns. Twenty shillings to the pound, twelve pennies to the shilling. It all added up to so many quid and a few bob. I lost a life time every week. Somehow I always got it wrong, several times, and had to start over, embarrassed and humiliated in front of the entire class, unable to see through the watery eyes as my tears brimmed over threatening to stream down my face. Those same tears stung my eyes right now too.  After ushering my tutor to the front door Father turned his attention back to me, as I had known he would. I sat trembling, red-faced, trepidation written all over my countenance. Standing behind me Father demanded I explain the nature of the mathematical problem on the pages before me. I was clueless. Even after spending the last hour poring over basic formulaic problems I knew I could never explain how a = b + c or some such nonsense. How can letters even be added or subtracted, as if numbers weren't bad enough? And forget fractions, as futile as that was. I expect Father had hoped for a better outcome. I began the teary stammering, my brain in turmoil, until, with a bellow, he struck. The flat-handed slap to the back of my head caught me off-guard and I became powerless to stop my face from bouncing off that shiny Evertaut wooden dining table. Shamed, not just at the action, but at bumping into furniture that was seconds, given to my father by the office furniture company he sold supplies for to retailers, because it didn't sell. Not good enough for customers but free to our home. Father had already broken several of the chairs that accompanied the set and now he seemed determined to break my face too. 

To this day, I flat-line at the mere mention of the word: math. I struggle through life with my father's words ringing in my ears. "You'll never be good enough to do anything but sweep the streets." As an adult I know I am smart enough to look beyond that rebuke, to build my own life, to make my own decisions and yet it hangs there like the little black rain cloud that Pooh sang about, except there is no honey, just bees. Oh, bother! I became determined to escape the home that rejected me, to begin my life over and so I flew Pan Am out of Heathrow heading for America. Albeit it was only a small college in some Podunk, backwards, blink-and-you'll-miss it town in East Texas but it was my experience, my life, my fresh start. Everyone has to start fresh somewhere. Big Sandy was my new birth. In my powder-blue casual suit and clogs I left England, to have a fresh beginning in the New World. With my lifesavings sewn into an inner pocket, I flew over the Atlantic, the pilot straining to gain time as fog in London had delayed the flight, giving my mother an extra hour to worry and weep. The journey was fraught with difficulties from the beginning, causing me to make difficult decisions in order to reach my destination. I could have given up with ease and sat on a curb weeping, but I was there to forge my own path, to make my way in a world I was ready to meet head on, yet those words followed, "You'll never be good enough to do anything but sweep the streets" as if burnt on to the cortex of my brain. They became the central driving force, welded in my unconsciousness, which dominated my world, seeping its way in through pores, embedding themselves in my core beliefs and actions. You see, I've never been much more than mediocre to adequate in anything I have set out to accomplish. High school grades were not important, after all, my career waited for me in the janitor's closet. I am a miserable failure at being a husband – hence five marriages – and as a father. I swore to myself that when I had children I would bring them up differently than my bad-tempered father had me and yet, although not as heavy-handed as he, I still hate myself for my moments of weakness, for being influenced by the surroundings with which I was raised. Although I have worked in the same career field in excess of thirty years the only time I was ever promoted to the top level I could reach I was demoted within six months; never quite good enough. I feel my life has been wasted because of a philosophy passed down to me by a man struggling with his own feelings of inadequacy. His mother was well into the age of menopause when he was conceived, a mistake, something not wanted and she never let him forget he was a second-class citizen. His parents move away after they retired, down south to the seaside, and yet it was always his fault they didn't see each other more, and this is who handed me the baton in a genetically altered relay race that was lost before the pistol indicated it had started. I'd like to think not, but I know still struggle to find my place; to become my own man in a world that is a morass in my attempts at success. 

I have often attempted to place myself in situations that I thought would be an experience to learn from, find meaning in, or indulge in an adventure in order to test my mettle and grow as a human, physically and spiritually. I've stood on stage and acted and sung, joked and announced, witnessed a child be born and a marriage die. I've hiked and biked, taught, written and promoted. Climbed both mountains and in society, been well met and shunned, traveled and travailed and all to no viable end. None of the memorable experiences I went through personally, or witnessed, have provided any self-worth, other than the momentary joy or despair from the experience. I never won the race or in life, never came out on top, never had that earth-shattering breakthrough that I so desperately sort after all my life. No fresh start or new beginning put me on the path in life I wanted. I am not looking for a particular path, only one that will create a sense of well-being, a lasting impression, fulfilment, whatever it is that provides accomplishment, a well met goal. The inner struggles I still face daily leave me as isolated as my childhood was, with few friends, a medium to rare social life and a father who never wanted children in the first place.  By the time I was five years old it was required that I be in bed before Father ever came home, so as not to disturb him. The sins of the fathers are passed down through their children and the predetermined path is set for life, passed from parent to child; the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, just a hereditary generational gap in distance.

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