Saturday, May 18, 2019

You Can't Know Who You Are

Greetings, internet friends and neighbors.

Today is, I believe, May 18, 2019. My days are terribly confused since I was hospitalized from April 30 until May 11, and my time has been taken up in recovery since then. That was going along nicely, until the day before yesterday, when I FOOLISHLY and AGAINST ORDERS carried groceries into the house, and in the process ripped open my incision, which had been healing nicely.  I now have a three inch gash in the skin of my belly, which is covered with a wet/dry pack, and I go back to see the surgeon tomorrow. Yes, my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant, foxy, praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA, appropriately rebuked me for my lapse in good sense. I have no excuse.

I do, however, have thoughts. Whether you are in the hospital or not, life carries on. In fact, at the moment, I have one adult child in Europe, a middle school son who spent last week on a school trip in Savannah, and three tiny grandchildren who are not taking a nap. Yes, I DID accidentally pick one of them up, but I dropped her immediately (NO I DIDN'T!).

And, the day after I was admitted to the hospital, my brother-in-law passed away. I missed his funeral, because I was having surgery at the time. Bad scheduling on my part, but what are you going to do?
Bob Kimsey
August 31, 1948 ~ May 1, 2019

I was not there to console my older sister. Nor was I there to console my younger sister, who lost her husband of forty years just last year. Didn't get to be there with my kids. Didn't hear the messages of love, respect, and humor that were shared at the service.

Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to start this blog five years ago (or so) and so I do have a forum to share what's on my heart. Let me give you the punch lines, first.

  • Ain't nobody just one thing
  • Ain't nobody EXACTLY sure of who they are
Erm...the second of those might not be as true as the first, but they are both true. The meaning of the first is straightforward, but what I mean by the second is that sometimes, maybe all of the time, who you are depends on the perception of others. And I have grasped my perception of my brother-in-law firmly, and wrapped it around myself as a warm winter coat, and I will now proudly share with you the Bob Kimsey I knew.

Bob has been a part of my life approaching 60 years, back to my days in elementary school. That's because it was in the SIXTH GRADE that he and my older sister Carol became an item. That's an exceptional fact, and I know of no one else who has had a relationship of that length. That's certainly not the MODERN pattern; it's more like something you might read about in a book of historical fiction. And yet, it's the truth.

I have my own theory about why my cute-as-a-speckled-puppy-under-a-red-wagon sister picked the biggest guy in the sixth grade to be her boyfriend. This is cheap pop psychology of the worst kind, but here it is: I was only 1 year old when my father left, but Carol was 5. That's old enough for it to hurt, and whereas I never had the experience of having a father, she did. And my theory is that she felt the loss, and somewhere inside, resolved that she wasn't going to allow her primary protector to leave her again. So, as soon as she found one worthy of the role, she grabbed him, and she never let go. 
See? I told you it was cheap pop psychology.

But to me, life pretty much went on as usual. Because Carol was four years ahead of me in school, and because we moved around in those days, it was only her distant reputation as smart and wonderful that informed my teachers and classmates about my family. Until I got into the 8th grade.

It was a tough school. The public school system in Macon was segregated by gender, in those days. All the boys went to Lanier Junior and Senior High, and the girls went to Miller. And instead of the calm, orderly, restrained neighborhood schools I'd grown used to, I was dumped into a maelstrom of testosterone-driven aggression as boys from all over the county fought to find their place in the pecking order, without the civilizing influence of girls to ameliorate the issue. Almost everybody survived it. I didn't. I was a skinny loudmouth with a funny voice and glasses, and I hadn't yet learned that a smart remark in class was going to result in a physical beating on the the playground.

But, at some point, I learned I had an ace in the hole. If I could JUST work the fact that my sister was dating Bobby Kimsey into the conversation, I had a chance to get out of the exchange more-or-less intact. Because, Bobby was a star football player. In fact, he was THE star football player, the only member of the football team to be named All-State his senior year. And people knew who HE was, even if they didn't know, or care, who I was. And, instead of picking on me, they went in search of other, less dangerous prey.

So: that's my first REAL perception of Bobby: my protector. And he didn't even know it.

Years passed, things happened. After being given a full scholarship to play football for UGA, Bob had just about all the football he could stand, I believe. And he walked away from the books and the playing field, and he and Carol eloped in 1968. 
How it came about, I don't know, but they both started working at what was then (I think) Macon City Hospital, later the Medical Center of Central Georgia. Both of them were working entry-level positions in respiratory therapy, and SOMEHOW, they both managed to go to school as well. Carol went to nursing school, Bobby went to night school, and THAT'S the point at which he decided he had enough of people thinking he was nothing but a big dumb football player. I was living elsewhere then (a different story), but I do remember the point at which Bobby had made the Dean's List for eight straight quarters. 

Changing my perception: the guy who had been my protector was smart.

If you weren't alive and aware at the time, you have no idea how important The Draft was to young men (and, to a lesser extent, those who cared for the young men). We thought of it as a meat-grinder, scooping up young men, turning them into soldiers, and sending them to Viet Nam. There were all kinds of ways of avoiding it; student deferment was one. That made you safe - until you left school. I have one relative who went to seminary to avoid getting drafted, and there were an amazing number of young male teachers back then; I suppose teachers had exemptions, too. And, for those with the means and inclination, you could always present some medical issue, or you could go to Canada.
But Bobby enlisted in the Georgia Army National Guard, where he served for the next six years. He told me once later that the hardest part was rolling his socks up to fit in the tiny space allocated to them in his foot locker; Bobby had HUGE feet.

And my perception changed, a bit more.

Not too long after that, I join the ranks of high school graduates, go to college, and discover the delightful psychosis that IV amphetamine use brings. It all crashed down on my head in a very short period of time; I lost my girl friend (that's a HUGE deal at age 19!) lost my scholarship to college, and finally, lost my job. I saw no hope for the future, and decided my life was over, and the sooner, the better. My guilt and shame over my lost opportunities wouldn't permit me to talk about them, though, so I just festered, waiting for the opportunity to end it all; until Bobby picked me up in his Volkswagen, gave me a beer, and told me he would listen. And I talked. For the first time, I was able to admit that I was at the end, and that I needed help, because I could absolutely not see how I was going to make it another day. And he and Carol arranged for me to get some help.

And the big smart guy, who had been my protector, and was a soldier, became my counselor. And actually, that's a position he never yielded.

Here are A FEW of the times Bob was significant to me. This isn't all of them; frankly some of them are too deeply personal to share, and also, I don't want to breach closed issues. But:

In 1977, when my disastrous & brief first marriage was falling apart, he told me to seek God. I already knew about God, of course, but hearing Bobby say that gave me just a little bit more to make it through.
In 1983, when my first son was born, Bobby talked to me about the joy of being a father, and how quickly the time passes. 
In 1986, when I STARTED a PhD program in business, he was encouraging, and in 1987 when I dropped out because I hated it so badly, he understood; that's probably because he had paid the price to master that area of knowledge, and he personally knew how tough it was, and how everybody wasn't cut out to handle that sort of thing.
In 2009, my marriage of 30+years was over, and I could not lift a finger to help myself; and Bobby reached out to me, and told me he loved me, and to call on him.

Here's something that I know to be the truth, without a shadow of a doubt: no one on earth knows what Bobby meant to me. My beloved sister Carol certainly didn't; she got mad at Bobby for giving me a hard time about the length of my hair about a year ago. She didn't know that he got to do that; he had earned that right, and I had gladly given him permission to do so. I tried to tell her that this was free speech, and what both Bobby and I had served our country for; I, so that Bobby could have the freedom to criticize my appearance, and he, so that I could have the freedom to wear my hair any length I wanted to. But, she didn't get it. That's okay. She didn't HAVE to get it. 

No one on earth knows what Bobby meant to me. I fear that included Bobby as well, although he and I ALWAYS communicated clearly (at least for the past 30+ years, we did). I don't think he could comprehend the respect I held him in; I don't think it was in him to hold himself in the same esteem that I held him. That's because he had been the protector; does the strong one know what it's like to be weak? Not sure, not sure. 

But, he did know this: he knew I loved him. Even though he didn't know who he was to me, because I don't really think you CAN know who you are to others, he knew I loved him. And I'm gonna have to be okay with that, because I think that's just about as good as it gets.
Really, I think it's all that's necessary.

Peace be on your household.

1 comment:

  1. He sounds like an amazing man. Such a blessing to have him in your life; such a grievous loss in his passing. I am so sorry for your loss.