The little boy looked out the window as his father drove away. His mother had left his father and his siblings to escape the physical abuse of the father. The boy would always wonder why his mother abandoned him to a father who was mentally and physically cruel, especially when he was drunk. Now he was looking anxiously out a window of the children’s orphanage as his father was leaving to serve time in the county jail. A pattern that would be repeated over and over. The child who stared out the window had tremendous potential but the pieces of his life would struggle to come together. The world worked against him. He would become a bright, reasonably good-looking musician, writer, and personable man. But his world was ordered in such a way that none of this would make a difference. His father had beaten out of him confidence in the world and himself. The abandonment of his mother had left him with a permanent scar. And yet both would hold the little boy’s love for his parents until he died. He seemed destined to remain a little boy staring out the window hoping to see his mother or a redeemed father who would whisk him away to a house and make it a home.
The grown man would always be window shopping. His father left him with conflicted emotions. Every relationship he had he struggled to discern if he was loved or despised. His mother’s abandonment left him looking for something or someone to fill his emptiness. The sins of the parents were visited on the child. He searched for a church to release him form the burdens of his sins. This search would lead to travel from church to church seeking forgiveness.
He never thought of college because no one in his family had ever gone. He was even thought lucky to finish with a high school diploma. When he was in his teens he went across America to find himself. He hitchhiked from Savannah all the way to California. Along the way he lay under the stars, listening to a reading of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet. It convinced him there was more, somewhere in this world and he wanted to belong to it. For the first time hope slept with him that night. After the trip he searched around each corner for now he knew the missing piece was out there.
It was in his third marriage that he saw the light when his wife introduced him to Unitarian Universalism. They were a church that did not emphasize sin but instead talked of the potential of individuals. This spoke to him. His social conscience was awakened in this place of new ideas. But in a world of the educated and the comfortable, they were uncomfortable with his lack of education and good breeding. This judging eye would not release his potential but create more bumbling and more insecurities. He now had found a home but was destined to be treated as a second class citizen. He was impatient and easily frustrated. He had trouble staying with one thing and staying in one place. But strangely the new social conscience was here to stay. He became articulate in stating his new beliefs. He joined every movement, hoping to find his place. He began to create the resume of an activist. Yet, insecurities remained. If someone did not return his call promptly he knew they were avoiding him. He belonged to a men’s group and loved the companionship and ideal of the group. It was a place to ventilate and be yourself. But later after the group when he was alone he knew he had talked too much and revealed too little. He soon lost interest and would only attend when he needed to ventilate or he would explode. He had nowhere else to do it. But it left him too a shame to come back the next week. He could never stay put because people would discover who he was and they would be disgusted or leave. He would represent his church at the neighborhood community meetings and was proud to do so. He was chosen to serve on the board and then he quit showing up. He needed something more. Besides once they knew him they would be a shamed he was a part of them. He planned events but would quickly be discouraged and abandon all plan, thus fulfilling the prophecy that it was not going to end well.
And yet, there were moments when all did go well and you could see the possibilities. But he could not stay with the possibilities. It was as though he did not feel he should succeed. Success almost scared him. He longed for respect and position but constantly sabotaged himself.
He worked as a salesman and could make a great first impression. He knew how to talk you up and he had enough charisma to make it pleasant. But the second impression would always show his insecurities and his ignorance of where to go next. He had problems with employers because he knew better than they did, but the recurring problem, was he could not perform better than they did.
He started taking classes to become a paralegal. This would provide a good steady job and hopefully he could be paid to work for the justice he sought. The legal courses were easy. He wrote well. It was the core curriculum of math and biology with which he struggled. He struggled and finally gave up. The law must not want him. It was time to move on to another dream. But he could write and would be published in a local paper several times. He was also a good speaker and would preach at his church often. He had that dreadful combination in life to see what competence looked like and have the tools to master it. Yet success always was a glass too dark to see through. He abused alcohol to escape pain and this abuse would cause divorces, alienated children, and loss of jobs. He could never get traction in his life.
A new UU church with a more social consciousness started up so he joined them. He became a founding member. He played the accordion and he became the church musician. His was the only church in America led by an accordion. He liked the quirkiness of the accordion and told of his grandfather teaching him how to play. This was a whimsical memory his grandfather died when he was very young and had made his father the man he was today. Playing the accordion on Sunday mornings became one of the few commitments he kept for an extended time. The judgment was less at this church he felt more at home.
One day, dreams of California came calling. He had always wanted to go back since his trek across America. He managed to take a one-week vacation to see his sister in Sacramento. It was a powerful and emotional time for him. His estranged mother came down from Oregon for a few days. He was able to attend his niece’s wedding. He felt like he belonged. They did tourist things. It was one of the happiest times of his life.
He returned to Georgia with pictures and stories of family. You could see the little boy in him although he was 58. He wanted the love and the family he never had when he was growing up. This was his quest all of his life. He was drinking again now. The new church had lost its original appeal and was now old news. He wanted home and his mother.
He began to fantasize about how he could regularly see his mother in Oregon if he moved to California. Not realizing she had only come to California for his niece’s wedding not to see him. He wanted to reconnect with his sister in Sacramento and have that feeling of sibling love. But she too had never made any moves to contact him in all these years. The patched together family in Georgia never had made the abandoned little boy feel at home. He was sure a better home awaited him in California. The dream of California took on mythic proportions for him. His mission now was to return there and find his long lost missing piece.
The church he helped found, the activist he had become, and the friends he had made—this was not family. So he left on a train to start over in California. His sister was a bartender; she and her boyfriend drank heavily. Robert’s drinking increased. The economy was bad and jobs were hard to come by. His saved-up funds were disappearing fast. His mother never came to see him and her new family told him he was not welcome to come see her in Oregon. The plan was going awry. The sister lost her job; the rent was coming due without any income to pay it.
He had made connections at a Unitarian Universalist church in California. He played music for some services and joined their social justice and action committee. He joined an Accordion Society and began to play the accordion in nursing homes. He worked odd jobs but could not support himself. Then he met her. She was older but liked his boy-like nature and cornball humor. She admired his social conscience. He needed someone and she had an income; he enjoyed their time together. He struggled to hold his end up financially but it was not working. He began to play the accordion at a local restaurant on weekends. He slowly built a reputation and was able to earn a little money with his accordion. His partner had invested in a co-housing venture and now it was available. They moved into the co-housing together.
He once made a trip back to Savannah. He bought a vintage 1950s trailer like one he would have travelled on vacation on as a youth if he had not spent so much time looking out windows and daydreaming. He wanted to show his new sweetheart around his hometown, with hopes that maybe they would live there. On the trip across country, the trailer hit a bump in the road and the roof collapsed to the floor. His son, with whom he was to stay was arrested and put in jail. They had nowhere to stay and were broke. They took her savings and bought an airplane ticket back to California. He realized the trip had been a disaster. He mused you cannot go home again. But this time at least he had someone to share it with and they had a place to go back to.
One day she looked at him after yet another failed job and said, “How would you like to spend your time only on your music? I do not care how much money you make; we have enough. All I want is for you to be happy.” He had his Unitarian Universalists and his co-housing friends and now he could say “I am a musician.” She would make a good wife. He thought he would find a young tanned blonde in California but he discovered a woman.
Years later he was looking out the window of his new home and called back in the house to his wife like a puppy greeting its master at the door with excitement and pure joy. His friends were coming up the walkway toward their place for the evening’s shared meal. A smile came over his face. The picture window he peered out offered a beautiful view.