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Hello, My Name Is

My high school class lost another member recently, an exceedingly nice guy that had apparently spent most of his life in service to others by way of being a first responder.  His name was Mike.

In response to this, someone created a KHS class of '96 group on Facebook, and I joined when I was invited, because why not?

People started posting pictures that they had dug out of various closets and photo albums.  Someone posted all the pictures of the senior class from the yearbook, and there I am, in a Minor Threat T-shirt that I happened to be wearing when they were taking pictures of all the kids that didn't get senior pictures.  I never got senior pictures.  They were expensive and we were relatively poor, but that wasn't the reason.  If I really wanted them, my mom would have found a way.  She found a way for pretty much anything we wanted or needed.

I haven't posted any pictures, though I have commented a couple of times when I thought it okay.

Here's the thing. I-

So, I have a hard time-

Look, let's face it.  I was a bit of a shithead, okay?  I spent most of those years selfish and rude, and seeing all these pictures, watching our graduation video, I am not filled with a warmth, a big, those-were-the-good-old-days feeling.  What I feel is a vague shame, an embarrassment of the person I was.

I guess its okay for a teenager to be a shithead, maybe I can forgive him. He didn't know any better, I swear to God he didn't.

I see these pictures and I can't help feeling guilty, like I owe someone an apology, but I don't know who.

I am a different person now, and I feel like I have spent a lifetime tumbling in the oceans of life, learning and growing and becoming more integrated and at peace.  I have spent a lifetime working on getting to a point where I didn't feel broken.

There is a picture of a boy.  He is smiling.  He is seventeen years old.  I see him and he is a stranger.

Hello, I am Ralph Pullins.  I am not the person you remember.

Since we last met, I have-

Shit.  I lived in Southern California for a few years. I made terrible choices, made people worry.  Once, I was homeless there, but only for a couple of days.  It sucked.  I spent time on the beach, I learned to skate, I learned to juggle, I tried to surf. I wrote a lot of songs that were never played. Made some friends that I still have to this day, even though we all live thousands of miles from each other.

My friend Jordi and I worked in a Pizza Wagon at the San Diego county fair. Delivered ice there too, some days.

I lived in Alaska for a while, too.  I swam in Resurrection Bay.  I touched glaciers. I lived on a boat with an ex-con named Cyrus, who was a good friend to me until one night we got in an argument and it became apparent that he was half a Nazi.  I decided we couldn't be friends after that.

I waited ten thousand tables, served ten thousand drinks, and I gave every penny I ever made to bartenders and liquor stores and cab drivers and a menagerie of other unsavory characters.

I spent a lot of time angry, a lot of time sad, for reasons it is hard to explain.  I read a lot of books, and somehow I got the idea that things get resolved, that there are ends, and new beginnings.  I wanted life to be story shaped, tidy, contained, not this wild loose mess of events.  I tried to hide from my anger, drown it, escape my sadness in so many ways.

I got a few tattoos, quite a few scars, a couple of broken bones.

I hurt some people's feelings, sometimes on accident, sometimes on purpose. I got my heart broken. Maybe I broke a heart. Maybe I was the worst, maybe I hurt more than I was hurt, maybe I took more than I gave. Maybe. Who can tell? This late in the game, who gets to say?

I have set foot in forty out of fifty states.  Maybe forty-one: I can't remember if I went to Oklahoma or not. I think I may have driven through Delaware, too, possibly. 

I lived in Florida for about six months.  My roommate and only friend there was a body builder that called me bro all the time. We worked out a lot. I wrote some terrible, unworkable poetry.  Behind our house was an abandoned building that was being squatted in by a number of crack addicts.  One time we came home and one of those gentlemen was buck naked on our back porch taking a shower with our garden hose. I hated Florida.  Still do.

There were other times I will not write about here, times when I screamed into the darkness until my voice broke, cried until I thought I had no more tears left, but I was wrong.  There are always more tears.  Always.

I thought I was in love a few times.  Maybe they loved me back, a little.  Didn't matter, though.  I was too self destructive and emotionally wrecked for anything to last.

When I was in California I lucked into a job.  I traveled with a production company that set up lights and sound and displays for hair shows, kind of like a fashion show, but for hair. We did a show in Chicago, and while I was working, I noticed a girl with purple hair.  We spoke a few times and it was nice.  I got her email and then I helped break the show down and moved on.  I emailed her when I got home, and over the course of a year or so, we wrote to each other or spoke on the phone.  My boss for the production company that provided my phone once presented me with a six hundred dollar phone bill, back when they still counted cellular talk time minutes.  Ended up being worth it though. I married that purple haired girl a while later.  She is asleep right now, upstairs.

I went to Salzburg Austria.  I went to Germany, went to Dachau.  I walked through the gate that said Arbeit Macht Frei, which means, in English, "Work will free you," though that was a terrible lie; work never freed anyone that went there.  I saw the ovens, the barracks, the showers.

In 2012, I finished my college degree, a  BA in Psychology.  Summa Cum Laude, if that means anything.

I wrote a novel, a good one, that says everything that I wanted it to say, as hard and as honest as I could say it. Nobody read it, of course.  It is out of print now, after my publisher shuttered. 

I live slowly now.  I have a solid, if somewhat uninspiring job, and a perfectly serviceable three bedroom in suburbia. I am careful to not hurt people's feelings, if I can help it.  I try my best to put more good into the world than bad.  I have an amazing caring, beautiful wife.  Her hair is no longer purple.  I have two sons that I try to raise to be better at all this stuff than I ever was.  They already are.  Sometimes I am still angry, for reasons I find hard to explain, sometimes I feel lonely, even if I am surrounded by people that love me.  Sometimes I am afraid that all this hard earned peace will be taken from me.  Sometimes I worry that I am not good enough, that I do not deserve the love that is given me, that all these blessings were meant for a better man than I.  Sometimes I write about my fears, my anger, my sadness, and they go away, at least for a while.

I know everyone has lived, have done and seen things, experienced joy and heartbreak, have experienced magic, have lived through tragedy.  Some people were a lot smarter than I was, and learned their lessons early.  I only ever learned anything by doing it wrong first.

This is my life, so far, or fragments of it, at least.  And it is easy for me to criticize myself, to think of all the bad decisions I made and wonder what would be different if I had made better choices, but then I think of that girl asleep upstairs, think of my two sons and our dumb dogs, and I am grateful for everything, even the shit, because it all led me here.

Imagine my name as a sticker,  a nametag. Imagine we have never met, imagine I am a stranger.

Hello. My name is Ralph.

Still Writing, 9-28-19    

I wrote this ages ago, obviously judging by the date, and I never posted it out of fear and out of apathy and a whole lot of other reasons, including a healthy dose of who gives a shit, and who would care about your dumb boring story.  I know everyone has a story.  I know everyone has their own tale of struggle and love and loss and redemption.  This is mine.  
If you like dumb jokes and silly comments, follow me on Twitter @rdpullins.  I don't do too much other social stuff, but I am pretty available via email dissent. within at gmail.com 
Peace.

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