This is the fourth in a guest series by Phil Cate. If you missed previous chapters, you can read them all by clicking on ‘Phil Cate’ under the Categories heading in the right panel. Watch for new installments every Friday.
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Into the Abyss
Mom was not pleased when we were transferred back to Maryland. I thought, Hey, I’ll get all my old friends back. Of course, I never considered we’d be three exits up the freeway, away from all reasonable opportunity to reconnect with my old friends in any meaningful way. When I found that out, I was quite upset. However, we bought an incredible home in an absolutely incredible location. The housing market was in a horrible slump, and Dad was a deal maker.
Our home was in a very well-planned, utopian development with every amenity one could imagine. Our front yard literally hung over a lake where sailboats raced on Saturday mornings. Living in this development gave us access to four Olympic pools with diving wells, all of them just a short ride down a bike path. We were members of a wonderful golf club; and we had parks, an indoor natatorium with diving platforms, two shopping malls including one that was quite large, and tennis courts everywhere. We even had an outdoor amphitheater, where we heard incredible shows like the marching bands of the armed forces, barbershop quartets, bluegrass bands, and pop performers, all right there in our neighborhood. Our life was everything someone would want, and more.
So why was everyone so miserable?
We all had Maryland Terps basketball tickets during the reign of the great Lefty Driesell. We had Redskins tickets. We were right outside the nation’s capital, with all that city offered. We had phenomenal restaurants and even more phenomenal entertainment via the Capital Center and the Kennedy Center. The town and her suburbs were growing like a weed.
Affluence was everywhere around us, yet every family seemed to be in chaos. And it didn’t take long for us to join them.
I had a couple of great summers back in Maryland, primarily spent on the golf course. I’d be there at sunup, and started to really grow my skills. It was also the last quality time with Dad I had as a child. He did love to play and to watch me play. He’d show up at about 5:30 or so, and we’d walk nine more holes before going home for dinner. After our round, we’d always share a root beer on the way to the car.
(Just a side note: I’m sure Dad was often stressed out trying to “provide” the best Christmases and vacations and all of the other amenities for me, just as I have tried for my kids. Yet now I sit here remembering splitting a 25-cent root beer, walking through the parking lot with his long arm draped over my shoulder. Life is funny, isn’t it?)
Anyway, later in life I realized my dad and I had never once fought on the golf course; to the contrary, irrespective of what was going on, that was our place to just be. I’m very thankful to God for giving us that silly little game that bonded us so.
I entered junior high in Maryland and something was amiss. Some of the kids were talking about drugs; some were talking quite openly about sex and their personal experiences. The end of innocence had come; and, you know, I still mourn that today. I wish so badly that I had been able to resist the peer pressure and just go to the golf course, do my thing, and have some friends. I missed so much; life is just not long enough to mourn it all. I did steer clear of the drugs through junior high, but alcohol was certainly introduced. I didn’t like it much, but if you weren’t sleeping with a girlfriend or smoking pot, you almost weren’t trusted if you didn’t at least drink. So I drank, reluctantly.
I’d make up for not liking alcohol a little later on; eventually, I’d have times when it was my only friend.
Maryland turned out to be a totally different deal from Alabama. Everyone was moving at a faster pace, and parents were working more and traveling. The kids had less reins on them, and we all know that kids in puberty with no reins are going to find some mischief. I think this was the first generation really dealing with a lot of this stuff. The days of sock hops and root beer floats at the soda fountains were long gone. Kids were sexually active very young, and booze and drugs were everywhere.
Everything from the previous generation was out of style, and I think God fell into that category as well; He just didn’t seem to be relevant. Not a single one of my friends ever went to church or even talked about anything spiritual at all. It was as if we were living in heaven environmentally, but God had left the building. I know that’s not true, but it felt that way.
The parents didn’t seem to be in much better shape emotionally than the kids. I knew of many divorces and many affairs. Everyone was in the party mode, and it was taking a toll. Parents were busy with work and parties, marital indiscretions and divorces, drug use and tons of alcohol. I think they had lost moral authority with the kids. This was, after all, a generation of parents that had come through the rebellious 1960s in their teens and twenties. In many cases, it was rebels trying to raise rebels.
But in my parents’ case, I think it was a different problem. They weren’t partying or sleeping around, and neither one of them even drank at all. Having grown up in small-town Tennessee, they didn’t even see a lot of what we kids were exposed to, and they wouldn’t have known what to do if they had seen it. I think my parents were really naïve, which made it easier for us to fly a lot of stuff under the radar.
By this time, my parents were getting very concerned about me academically. I hated school and just wasn’t going to apply myself, and they really couldn’t ignore that anymore. They looked into a reputable military academy in Virginia; I was signed up, and off I went. It was quite intimidating to be away from Mom and the oatmeal I wouldn’t eat anyway. I remember my first pang of depression hit when winter set in over that school. It just seemed colder and darker and gloomier without my family.
I wasn’t sure at the time what a military academy was supposed to accomplish. They did everything they could to discipline us down the straight and narrow, yet I still struggled terribly with not wanting to study. I think by this point, all hope and confidence were gone. Not that I had much of those in the first place, but I had formally tossed in the towel.
Dad was now getting visibly disturbed with me. He had a quite miserly way with money, bless his heart, and I’m sure me tossing a few grand away on an expensive school did not set well with him. Mom, on the other hand, was trying hard not to lose it. She was disappointed in the whole experience; a chaplain was right there on the Academy campus, where she had assumed and hoped that someone would be sensible enough to kick off a good exorcism.
The staff, however, really didn’t see anything wrong with me. They had several hundred just like me. Many of the kids that were there were a tad “colorful” like I was — I guess that’s why they were there. The place was staffed with many ex-military men, so they had different priorities than most teachers. I did learn to shine shoes and few other things. I guess military people think you can do anything you like, as long as you have a short haircut, your bed is made tight, and your shoes are shined. Oh, and I learned to salute my teachers as they gave me my failing grades. So there truly is a silver lining in every cloud.
When I got home, I saw a coldness in the house that was very unsettling. My sister was getting her driver’s license about this time, and she couldn’t wait to get out of the house for any reason. She had by no means given up on the notion of me being rabid; but misery loves company, and she would often invite me to go out with her, visiting whomever or running whatever errand. I guess it was easier to get the car keys if she was going to take the possessed one with her.
I might mention at this time, too, that we never really found a church home during our second stint in Maryland. We attended a church out in the country, and I’ll keep the names and faces out of it to protect the guilty. It was awful; neither I nor my sister liked it. My mom, as I recall, tolerated it, and I think my Dad liked the pastor. I felt no connection at all.
As a matter of fact, my Dad called the pastor to stop by and pray for me, over me, with me . . . I’m not sure which, but it felt weird. Come to think of it, maybe Mom had convinced Dad the exorcism thing was the way to go. I just know I had no connection with this guy, and it turned me off greatly. Not that he necessarily did anything wrong; I just was not in the game.
Lori had a great idea for Sunday mornings. She’d tell our folks we wanted to go back down to the church we had attended in Potomac during the first go around in Maryland. Since Lori had a license, we could go by ourselves. Her main selling point, I’m sure, was that she could get the rabid one in need of an exorcism into a house of God, thereby really performing a public service. Certainly, it was at least a service to my parents, who were running out of ideas. That was her pitch. What really happened is that we’d go cruising wherever her heart desired. This worked great for me; we got to avoid Pastor Boring, and I could at least take off those stiff old dress shoes in the car.
Even writing this now, I can look back and feel how lost we all were. We didn’t know it at the time, but our family was about to blow completely apart.
Well, anyway, church was out, but booze was on the way to being a religion. By the way, we all smoked in the ’70s; it was “cool”, since we’d never seen someone cough up part of a lung. After all, Arnold Palmer and Johnny Carson smoked; and hey, they were the all-American boys. That pesky surgeon general was beginning his war cries, but he was obviously just a health freak or something.
But the booze was about to go to incredible places. All we did was drink. We drank at the club, we drank at parties, we drank in cars, we drank on the way to concerts, and we smuggled booze into the concerts. Amazingly, no one seemed to be the guardian of the gate. If you looked older than twelve, you could get all you wanted. I guess the rebel generation ahead of us didn’t want to be “un-cool”. And they were consumed themselves; it was the three-martini lunch crowd.
Alcohol was everywhere; it was our rite of passage, and we liked it…no, we loved it.
Next: It Starts to Get Really Dark
Phil Cate is a resident of the Atlanta, Georgia, metro area and runs a small medical equipment resale business. He is available for speaking engagements and can be reached at PhilC@ER3.biz or by phone at 678-429-0901
Printed by permission from Phil Cate, Mama told me Jesus saved my soul, but who was gonna save my butt??? Confessions, lessons, and revelations of a born rebel, © 2008.