Is it narcissism alone that causes me to write, so often, about myself? Perhaps, to some degree (I believe there is a little narcissism in all of us) but certainly not exclusively; more so than narcissism it is a form of familiarity; I know more about myself than I do any other subject. I am, so to speak, the world’s foremost expert on a subject (myself) which, so far, no other human being has written about; no pen (other than mine) has drained itself for this subject; no typewriter has bled out its ribbon; no paper has been marked; for the subject I so often write about, no time, other than mine, has been spent or wasted. As Henry David Thoreau once said, and since I cannot remember where this quote is taken from I’ll be paraphrasing, “As soon as I know another person better than I know myself, I’ll write about them.” It is both exalting and liberating to discover, in one’s self, a subject they deserve, more than any other human being, to write about. So have your say (and have it you will, if you want it) however understand that this is my soul on the page; this is the subject as seen through the subjects eyes; this is myself as I myself understand myself to be.
In Kindergarten I, along with my classmates, were treated as laboratory rats and put through what I later understood to be the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment; a study in delayed gratification whereby a group of children are each given a marshmallow and told that they have a choice; they can either eat the marshmallow now or they can wait until the end of the day, in which case they’ll be given a second marshmallow. Walter Mischel (who first led the experiment in the 1960’s) theorized that the wheat could be separated from chaff by whether a child ate their marshmallow (the chaff) or chose the more logical option of waiting (the wheat) and thus incurring twice as many marshmallows as they would have had, had they not waited. What, you might be asking, did I choose? Why, I chose to wait (of course) however it had less to do logic or reason (phenomena of an intellectual mind) and more to do with a sense of unease at the way we were being watched by the adults (likes rats in a laboratory) or that we had even been given such an absurd (and unexplained) choice in the first place. I could see it in the eyes of the adults; something was going on; some kind of game was being played; we were be subjected to some kind of confidence racket; they (the adults) were watching us and waiting to see who ate the marshmallow and who didn’t. For this reason I waited and I got my second marshmallow which I gave to a girl who (as much as a four year old can be) I was in love with. Her name was Mary and I had fallen in love in an instant after she had borrowed a comb from the teacher and combed my air (spitting on her hand to dampen a stubborn Alfalfa-esque tuft.) She became, in that moment, the Darla to my Alfalfa, the Sally to my Linus, the Helga Pataki to my Arnold. One time she berated for not drinking all of my milk while another time she lead me, by the hand, into the corner of the room where the other children were playing after I had been told, by Danny Miller, that I wasn’t allowed to play (I had been more than content playing alone however Mary, by leaving the corner to fetch me, had placed in my mind a sense of belonging (a sense which to this day is foreign to me.) At nap time she would always unroll her mat next to mine, that is until one day when I awoke to find myself lying in a puddle of urine. From then on Mary’s mat was unrolled next to Danny Miller’s and I would watch them fall asleep from across the room. Unable to sleep myself I discovered, in the ceiling, the same mercurial and nebulous shapes that I could find, at that age, in the clouds (shapes that later on in life I would find floating in the nebulous and smoke-like marble surfaces of bars.)
A few years later (when I was maybe six or seven) I auditioned for the school play which, that year, was Hansel and Gretel. Since a girl (Charlotte) who I fancied myself in love with was cast as Gretel, I auditioned for the part of Hansel. Did I get cast in the play? I did. Was I cast in the part of Hansel? I was not. That part went to a kid I disliked more than any other on account of his loud and unpredictable nature. Had I any understanding of intelligence I would have thought of him as an idiot; instead I understood him simply to be loud and clumsy. His name? I cannot recall, this is the extent to which I dismissed him. The part I was cast in was that of a candy bar wrapper (a Crunchie I believe, or perhaps it was a Curly Wurly) which was painted onto a piece of cardboard and hung on a string around my neck. As if this wasn’t humiliating enough I then had to stand on the stage for an hour and a half while the boy I hated and the girl I was love with ran around holding hands, talking together, hiding behind a cardboard tree and whispering in each other’s ears. As for my performance, I never moved, not even a flinch; my portrayal of a candy bar wrapper was, if nothing else, inanimate however my performance (tantamount to that of a young Marlon Brando’s performance in A Street Car Named Desire) went unnoticed while the adults doted and fawned over the lovely and adorable Gretel and her handsome brother Hansel. I tell you, mine was the greatest ever stage-portrayal of a candy bar wrapper.
There is one last memory with which I’ll end this piece (one which has just occurred to me, causing my gut to twist and wrench.) At perhaps four years old, after moving from one town to another (looking back it appears we were never in one place long enough to make either friends or enemies) I had been invited, on account of my age, to a birthday party of a girl whose class I would be joining once school started. That is, invited by her mother, of course. After the cake was eaten and the presents were opened we – the girl and her friends (all xx chromosomes) and myself (the only xy in attendance) – retired to the bedroom where I was told, by the birthday girl, to stay in the hallway. There I stood, staring at the closed door which separated myself from the other children, listening to them laughing and playing on the other side. Did I complain? I did not. Did I cry? Nope. I simply stood in the hallway quietly, as I had been told to do, until the mother found me and brought me into the bedroom, scolding the little girl and subjecting me to the resentful, stink-eyed, scornful gaze of this motley crew of four year olds. They didn’t want me there any more than I didn’t want to be there. These were my earliest experiences with woman. One score and however many years later and not much has changed. In fact, other than the clever and cunning (Machiavellian at times) nature of the rejections, nothing has changed at all.
Lou Graves is a writer, literary and music critic, and contributing author to Narrow Magazine. He has been writing since he could hold a crayon. Recent work has appeared in Flash Fiction, Fishfood, Out Of Our, Foliate Oak, The Write Room, A.C. PAPA, Florida Speaks, One Sentence Poetry, and others.