I Was a Boy Without a Country

A boy. A young man in his early adulthood. At least that’s what I was when this whole thing started. Today I believe myself more than that. I am in something of a celebratory mood, as I believe my days, or even my hours, in this odd reality are numbered. Will I wake up in heaven? If I do all speculation will cease and I will be faced only with long-deferred reality. That’s why I want to finish this essay tonight. Uncertainty, after all, plays a big part in my day-to-day ponderings. Furthermore as long as the game continues the contextual vocabulary of it does too. I’ve become particularly sensitized to the subtleties of pronoun use: “he,” “she,” “it”; “them,” “they,” “these,” “those”; and, particularly, “this” and “that.” There is an endless myriad of other associations, of course. Every number, almost every name, every solitary letter. The word “country” too, because you can’t say it without first saying “cunt,” and because the game’s always been about sexuality. That’s one reason I chose to include the word in this essay’s title. Call it an attempt to reclaim it for neutrality’s use, once and for all.

After all the aforementioned association in the word “country” is merely incidental. I mean to say I was without a country in the classical sense: that is that growing up in Oakland as a poor white kid in neighborhoods up to and including the Lower Bottoms left me without a comfortable or sizable group of peers. Sure there were a few. My friends Teddie and Nora, for example, are both hard, proud, white locals, but even they can’t relate to the egregiousness of my upbringing’s border jumping. I used to fantasize about meeting a white girl from the neighborhood who could help me feel a little safer, a little more included. I even had a dream along those lines once, though in reality the girl I dreamt of hailed from the wealthy Berkeley hills. Therefore I used to believe myself uniquely unqualified to write about either side, white or black. My first book, written mostly when I was 24, was about a black family, though I always worried at how a black readership might receive it. What if I got something wrong that only they would know? The potential potholes, surely, were numerous. That book, titled Inheritance, was my first attempt at serious literature, and probably wasn’t quite strong enough for publication, though I came across enough encouragement along the way to believe I had a future in pursuing my passion. Still, I endured what I thought to be a significant handicap. I was a boy without a country, white but apart, coming up in black neighborhoods but very much not among them. I even played classical piano. What a discrepancy to overcome. Now, after a kind of constant emotional combat spanning eight and a half years, I sense that I truly have come to the point of doing just that. Maybe I should even be thankful for my unique perspective. Maybe I am in fact able to guess both ways, towards black and white. I don’t know much about Mexicans. I’ve lived neighbor to Chinese, insufferable as they can be. But the Lower Bottoms? Something tells me my muse hasn’t heard the last from them.

I think my father felt similarly disjointed. As a Hungarian emigré I remember he used to speak of Americans with bald disdain, and the only live-in girlfriend he had while I grew up with him was also Hungarian. Both my sister and I have Hungarian names; call it another familial eccentricity. We don’t even pronounce our own names right. What chance did our elementary, middle, and high school classmates and teachers have of doing the same?

Truth be told I’ve led a very strange life, even before the last eight and a half years. I knew I wanted to be a writer ever since the first time venturing into the craft, in first or second grade, I’m not sure which. I remember telling my mother so on the ride home from school that very day, and I’ve been pretty sure of it ever since. While I’ve never had that much trouble making friends I’ve also always been lonely. Deciding to go to college at Tulane University in New Orleans, about as far as I could get from my parents and my extended family, stands as another odd happenstance: Hurricane Katrina had a big impact on me, and the volunteer work I did sophomore year introduced me to my love for activism. I found the Occupy movement particularly inspiring, partly because it was populated with kids from my generation, whose denizens until then I’d largely discounted as uninteresting and materialistic. How disturbing it was when they so rudely chewed me up and spat me out, merely because I stood out so much. They came to talking to each other about me in code everywhere I went, creating a target of me. I used to believe there was something wrong with me, and what happened at Occupy Oakland seemed to confirm as much. Perhaps it was that same discrepancy I’d felt growing up, unavoidable even in a group of mostly white kids who probably liked to consider themselves more “woke” than your average millennial. For some reason I was simply too easy to single out. I wonder if anything like that ever happened to Dad. I know he got married at a young age. Me myself, on the other hand, I’ve only ever had a relationship with one woman, a girl named Ashley in the spring semester of freshman year at Tulane. I also know Dad was unspeakably cruel to his first family, driving one daughter into heroin addiction, one son into paranoid schizophrenia, and one wife into lesbianism. Maybe it was how he kept himself safe, through emotional violence. I don’t believe myself to be anything like him in that regard. Perhaps if I were my youthful years would have been easier. However, if my victory in the present day proves to be as total as I’ve been led to believe it is, I’ll have achieved a vindication more awesome than anything anyone could ever imagine, and I say that fully aware of the apparent hyperbole. There are so many reasons I should be dead: the machinations of my parents number among them. If they hadn’t been so awful to me growing up I wouldn’t be the person I am today. However, if those e-mails had never gone out I think that my life’s end by suicide would have been quite likely. My parents’ efforts at control and sabotage would have been unrelenting, and, once they’d gotten the better of me, I might have wanted to hurt them. It just would have been a question of which, mother or father, would have succeeded first. My next time getting laid probably would have been my last. Imagine: through those e-mails I found myself confronting an entity almost as dangerous to me as my parents: that is, the whole world. Mother seems to have been bested along with the rest of them — now she is a model of healthy parenting, though it was certainly not without struggle. Father? The only man to ever get the better of Mother? He was altogether too dangerous. The fact is if he were alive today I wouldn’t be. How’s that for existential?

It really would have been a shame, wouldn’t it? I’ve always thought myself full of potential. Though I was heavily encumbered with parental and societal issues I always believed myself capable of accomplishing something monumental given the right circumstances. I was proud of who I was, though my mistake lay in believing this was both because of and in spite of my parents, when really it was wholly in spite of them. My neighborhood, on the other hand, was something I could work with. Some kind of future in politics, indulging my activist instincts, might not have been out of the question. After all, it would have been far less daunting a task than protecting myself from Katy and Csaba Polony.

As far as writing goes, at Tulane I took two classes on Shakespeare, striking out for inspiration in the most ambitious target I could find: the Bard of Avon. Some ways into the first few months after the world first began trying to murder me, representing perhaps society’s most definitive decision on enforcing my departure from relateability, I wrote a short story titled “He Would Never Be Shakespeare.” That’s what I thought, though I also found it a relief that, everyone else be damned, I could indeed still scrawl words on paper upon the safety of the desk in my bedroom. However, if I’m to believe what I’ve been told, and I’m happy to say that I do, I have met or even surpassed this goal. Even Shakespeare would have fallen head-over-heels in love with me. From there it isn’t much of a stretch to imagine that my writing would only serve to confirm what everyone else believes anyway: sure, I might be the best, most skilled, and most mysterious human being to have ever lived, but I’m also the best, most skilled, and most mysterious writer to have ever lived. Boy do I have a lot of fun believing such a thing to be true. Here I hope to stand amongst the greats: Joyce, Proust, Tolstoy, Shakespeare… and Polony. They’re going to call me by my last name, aren’t they? If my work is good it will be celebrated, and it probably will be because I take it so seriously. At some point though I should probably get around to saying my last name right: not Paw-law-nee, but POE-low-nyee, emphasizing the first syllable. My first name I say mostly right. A good way to remember it is as the opposite of “off-short”: “on-tall.” I guess it’s a beautiful name, isn’t it? My older half brother Attila went by John in high school. Dad himself used to go by Chuck. I guess Mom just liked the sound of Hungarian names. It’s a very difficult language. Its grammar is convoluted and labyrinthine, but perhaps its most difficult aspect is its vocabulary, each word being so incredibly distinct from its English equivalent. Apparently this will not be a problem when I wake up in the real world. Everyone knows every language now. What an awesome concept.

I often wonder what the world looks like. Is it really so amazing? I guess everyone feels that I saved them, though it was mostly by accident. I guess I deserve heaven, don’t I? Once a boy without a country, now, as a man, after first finding infiltration impossible, I’ve forced its establishment upon everyone. Now I could probably get along ably with just about anyone, or any group of people, anywhere and anytime.

God, but that first taste of freedom… All I can do until it arrives is continue to wait. Sure sounds like it will be worth it, and nothing lasts forever, even this bizarre dream, right? I’d love to have a family. In the old world it never would have happened. Now it’s all but guaranteed.

Genuine happiness. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced it. The road ahead almost sounds too easy, though I guess that’s not a bad thing. Here’s hoping I’m not horribly wrong about something, while the moment of truth approaches. If only Dad could see me now. I bet he would be proud of me. He would have regretted his murderous plot’s conclusion, even in its inevitability. In this way he is just like everyone else.

I think that’s all. I hope this essay’s content justifies its bombastic title. Only time will tell. Goodnight.

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