I often make the cliché comment that “I’ve mellowed out in my old age.” It usually provokes laughter, given that I’m not exactly an old man as I write this (even if I sometimes feel like it, what with sciatica and a whitening beard and all) and that most of the folks I interact with on a day-to-day basis see me only in my professional contexts. In them, I am usually cool and composed, happy to help, blandly inoffensive; it’s not the kind of thing that gives the impression of having needed to mellow much.
I’ve only arrived at such restraint after some time of being the angry young man of story and song, far more like certain execrable groups than I am entirely comfortable recalling, but unlike them in feeling myself bound by law and rules, always more risk-averse than reward-seeking. There are ways in which it is a failure, of course, even if there are others in which the tendency has worked to my advantage–and setting aside that tendency has had the opposite effect. Or so I remember, if perhaps dimly.
Before I started school, I was often in a daycare facility–and how not, with both my parents working to make ends meet, and family living away and still working, themselves? And like many children at that age, I had trouble sharing. (It’s something my wife and I have worked with our daughter on, as well; she was better at it than I was at the same age, in which I take some pride.) I was most important and best, of course. I had to be; my mom and dad said so, lived so. Why, therefore, should I share?
The “why” was supplied by the daycare worker’s command; she was in charge, and she said to do it, so I had damned well better do it, right? Or so I imagine my young mind parsed it, possibly with the mild oath in place. (It’s not like I never heard the word in the world–or used it, as stories from my parents attest.) I don’t remember, of course; I have enough trouble remembering what I’ve thought today, let alone what I thought thirty-something years ago. But I do remember that I obeyed–in a technical sense, at least.
What I am sure had been meant when the worker said “Give him the car, please,” was something like “walk over and gently put it in his hand.” What happened was not that–although it was a certain kind of giving, to be sure, as I side-armed the die-cast metal car I’d been playing with at the other child. The little metal toy shot straight across to him, taking him squarely in the forehead. I think one of the wheels or something dug in enough to break the skin; again, I don’t recall all of the details, but I do remember that he started crying, and I got in trouble both at the day care and at home.
Of course I did. I was a little shit, and I deserved it. Now, I’ve put that kind of thing behind me. I’m a big shit, after all…