Chapter 5: The Tiger Awakes

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Chapter 5 The Tiger Awakes

To see in the tiger's eye is a reflection into darkness. The early years growing up in Greenville were a mixture of confusion and self-torment. I was too much comfortable with girls in school. I liked their company; I liked to play their games; but most of all I felt a kindred belonging that I just did not feel with other boys. I suppose that I did not like confrontation, and wished to avoid it at all cost. Unfortunately, the boys also knew this. They seemed to sense it like an animal that senses something different from itself. I used to violate the teacher's rules just so that I might stay after school, hoping that all the other students might be gone by the time I went home. Often this ploy worked, but sometimes one of the bullies would see me walking home and beat me up. I just cried and let it happen. This would appease my assailant for a while, but after a week or two, the cycle would start again. My mother was particularly upset because always my new jeans were grass stained or my shirt torn.

Rudy did what he could to teach me how to fight. He made me put up my hands defensively, and boxed my ears until I cried. Nevertheless, I could not seem to apply any of these techniques in actual battle. I suppose that in time we all began to share in the same hopelessness. I would not be the warrior. I was not destined to seize the staff of empowerment. I wished to escape into literature, only I was a poor reader. I attended a special speech therapy in the first grade for an impediment to learn how to form 'L' and 'TH' sounds, and may have been dyslectic according to a later girlfriend who taught children with special learning disorders. The truth being, I could not read at all until my Aunt Betty gave me a stack of my cousin Tony's old Superman and Super Girl comics. I think the colorful pictures interested me the most. After awhile, I began to recognize words and sentences. Yes, in time I began to read and to comprehend. Then I started reading biographies of men like Abe Lincoln, George Washington Carver and his wonderful peanut inventions, and Thomas Edison, just to name a few. I most liked stories by Herman Melville, Jack London and his call of the wild stories, and especially books written by James Fennimore Cooper. I liked the stories by Cooper the best. I felt to strip away my clothes and disappear naked into the mountain to live as one of his Indian characters. This idea of freedom and social abandonment appealed most to me. Alas, I could only find those moments between cover to cover. I often hid in the school library during lunch or in the bathroom at recess. My only wish was to be left alone. However, I did find one friend. His name was Franklin, a science prodigy who came from an extremely poor family. Franklin made his own reflecting telescope from a discarded milk carton, a pair of eyeglasses, a car side mirror he found when walking home from school, and strips of black electrical tape removed from wire insulation. We could actually discern the borders of the Sea of Tranquility through this homemade device. Later Franklin would give me the idea of creating a moonscape inside a grocery box complete with phosphorescent stars painted against a black background, a black-light bulb sun, and a model NASA lunar landing craft. My mother would help with hours of papier-mâché and the cutting out of cardboard lunar mountains. Rudy gave me a jar of gloss white paint at the end to make it seem real. I would spend hours at night just looking at this grand achievement. Franklin was also impressed.

"I think that you are the right stuff that NASA is looking for," he told me one night as we peered through his homemade telescope. Then pointing to the moon," I know that's where I'm going someday."

Franklin did not ever go to the moon, but he did end up getting an important job with NASA. On the other hand, I would take a different course. However, I think that in the end we both achieved our dream of the stars.

In the third year, Rudy's job took him to Raleigh North Carolina. He became Head Foreman for a large construction company. The projected contract was for two, maybe three years, so the company relocated the families of its staff and paid for temporary housing in the surrounding area. In September, we boarded-up our Greenville residence and moved to Cooleemee North Carolina, a small farming community less than twenty minute drive to the construction site. This house was similar to the one in Liberty, except that it was in deplorable condition.

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