I believe I can remember the very week in 1997 when Mike Judge’s King of the Hill came on the air and into our living room. My father became enthused, loved the show immediately – his Texas accent all-of-a-sudden came out in imitation of all the characters who had a thick, prevailing drawl which colored their speech, even after the show’s episode was over. He affirmed out loud to us the truth of Judge’s representations of his home state’s proud culture and the people of the region he had grown-up around. He also laughed at the fun with which Judge poked at it all, a fellow Texan, who turned a critical eye on his own upbringing. He had stories to tell us about people “just like” so-and-so, just like the show.
We all liked King of the Hill, especially since The Simpsons had long been part of our staple after-dinner-family-time-at-the-TV. The FOX network knew it would ride that series’ rising wave of adult-cartoon popularity (and hey, it had Simpsons writer Greg Daniels co-running with Judge). Texas was on TV, and maybe I took it to give or purporting to give a window into my father’s past. Of course, this was while we were still living in Oregon, about to move to Western New York, and years before we actually all lived together in the damp, constricting heat of North Houston, among the people who were up until then only characters on television, and stories my dad told. That gave me new insight into what kind of environment ‘Bobby’ grew up in – but Bobby Hill on the TV wasn’t one of my dad’s stories. I knew he was actually one of mine.
Four months into this project, the window of his memoir continues to widen, maybe not much more than the 18″-24″ we had for a boxed television set. The stories are flowing, but I become more unsure of the perspective it’s actually granting me. His two chapters on his high school years are cloudier than the first three chapters – in the sense that they suggest shapes of experiences rather than describe them. They have less detail and are washed out, possibly from his own admission of the beginning of drug and alcohol use.
The relationship between his adoptive father and him heightens and becomes more complicated. For instance, there is a “nemesis” older boy that he is forbidden to fight with, someone who egged him on in intermediary school and who had moved on to Stroman High School, where my dad spent his first two years. So, on becoming a freshman, this boy was a junior, and the antagonism begins again. My dad doesn’t really explain why this is a wish he acutely respects of his father’s, whereas other demands of his time & energy by parental authority are challenged. Later, he does admit, that his physical stature always presented him with “social difficulties” (6’2 and 245 lbs.) but he doesn’t explicitly connect this problem to his family or friends – or his rival, who may just have been intimidated. It is a factor he cites with the opposite sex, whom he figures are intimidated by his size, which causes him to be “friend-zoned.” The memoir is a preoccupation with not receiving love and attention and not being free enough to choose – not that one gets to choose one’s body. What he is really receiving (or not receiving) is unclear, scrambled like snow, the image beneath a kind of phantom of psychic energy…
And here I am, again, summarizing and trying to tease out and explain how things add-up, why connections are or aren’t made, wherein the truth my father supplicates before manifests, or not, by the words he has written via the muse, spirit, inspiration. An excerpted sentence:
I was a miserable kid. I was angry and tired of the life I was living, and I know that not one soul cared. I have to be real and reflective about these matters.
Switching from the past tense to the the present in the second sentence is a chief example of the style throughout the memoir. Someone living with PTSD is often unable to know the one from the other, which is one of three of my father’s diagnoses.
Bobby Hill, in the above captured still, asks his father Hank the question “Why do you have to hate what you don’t understand?” I don’t actually know the episode it is from, as I searched through many screen grabs of Bobby, the very same nickname my father was given as a young man. But as I mentioned above, Bobby represented for me how unknown I felt in the shadow of my father. The man lacked empathy, writes how he was unable to develop it, but does not have much in the writing itself, though he claims that now, at 60, he has been able to develop it. I wish I could see that in this writing, instead of the hate which is turned towards that which he doesn’t understand.
It’s really self-hatred that isn’t addressed, but is the next step after a hatred of the life one is living. Internalized, how can one ever get away from that purgatorial cage? How does one begin to understand another if they are always potentially an object of hatred?
I have finished transcribing and am collecting my thoughts for the final post.