“Smile! Everyone’s waiting, young man.” She was mad at me again, and it was my fault— again. Camera in hand, she was trying to take a photo of the four of us and I wouldn’t, or couldn’t smile. My eyes were red and I felt self-conscious. Who wants a photo taken of themselves when they look like that? Especially when you’re seven.
I knew it was coming. I’d been trying to smile, but she’d whacked me in the head earlier and I was just too upset. She never hit that hard; it didn’t hurt much, it just shocked me. I was always ducking, cause it happened all the time.
“You should be ashamed of yourself young man!”
It had become like a mantra to me. If couldn’t do anything right, why not just give in to it? The situation was hopeless. Why try if you never get any credit for it?
“Mom, he’s not smiling!” my big sister Jill was smirking at me.
“You know how he is, he just wants attention. Just ignore him.”
Always. It always came to this. The family talking about me as if I wasn’t there.
“Scott, I’m going to count to ten, and you’d better be smiling at ten.”
Screw them all. They may hate me, but I hate them more. I glared, making my face as hard and unsmiling as I could.
“…Seven, eight, nine, ten….” Whomp! Right on the top of the head, her favorite spot. I flinched. Everyone is looking. I’m a piece of shit and they all know it.
I looked over at Jill, who was smirking. Katie and Ted, the little ones, looked scared. Katie looked like she felt bad for me.
“You will smile, if I have to beat it out of you, mister.” Uh-oh. When she called me mister, it meant business. Maybe I should at least give it a try. I closed my teeth and brought the corners of my mouth up in a tight impression of a smile, feeling even more self-conscious as I faked happiness through my tears of rage.
Somewhere, in a shoebox in one of the siblings basements, there is a photo of a beautiful, elm and maple shaded suburban back yard with a blow-up wading pool in the background. In the picture are three nice-looking, well fed, happy looking children enjoying a summer day. If you examined the photo more closely, you might notice that the little boys eyes are red rimmed, but you’d have to look really hard.
The memory of the rest of that day is long forgotten, the photo is seared into my memory like it happened yesterday.
Although my background is in fine art, I have been writing on and off most of my life, most of it nonfiction memoir.
Raised in a “good family” in suburban Chicago I left home at 17 due to stresses at home. It was a given that I would go to study art, as I showed a talent early on; it was also my passion.
Studying art at the University of Illinios, I began to suffer from severe depression and paranoia, and drank excessively to “medicate” my condition. I eventually turned to harder and harder drugs. After dropping out of college, I began to move around the US, sinking deeper into my addictions while at the same time trying to outrun them. I finally ended up a heroin addict in New York City. Not an unusual story in and of itself, but the drug days are rich with engaging stories of madness; much of my stories are about that phase of my life.
After getting sober in the 1990’s, my life changed rapidly and radically. Almost overnight, I found a new, happier life for myself. Fresh out of art school I worked as a freelance artist in advertising for a few years. When the 9-5 cubicle life got to be too much, I “ran away to sea” and worked as a tall ship sailor and officer for many years. After my stint on ships, I got a NYC Teaching Fellowship and and taught ESL for the NYC public school system for one year. Since then I have worked as a swim coach and trainer, culmination in 16 years in Columbia University’s athletic department.
In my down time I am an avid distance swimmer, surfer, skier and sometime sailor. I still enjoy making art, and of course writing. I also play bass guitar and sing in an amateur rock band for fun.
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