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Why Can't I Be Like That?

Bobby Quinn’s Levi's are always freshly laundered and ironed. His tee shirts are new, pure white, impeccable, and he rolls up the sleeves in neat bands to better display his bulging biceps. Everybody loves Bobby. They fall over themselves trying to be near him, they want to be seen with him, they want him to be their friend. Why? Because he’s so COOL!

Everything Bobby does is natural, effortless. He’s always at ease, supremely confident. He does not fear making a mistake because he never makes mistakes. His instincts are unerring. I never see him embarrassed by anything, never hear him stutter, or hesitate, or look uncomfortable. He cracks jokes, and they’re genuinely funny. Everything he says is amazingly correct, or humorous, or just perfectly right.

Bobby used to go to St. Xavier’s. He sat in the last desk of the first row, right by the window. He never disguised his contempt for the nuns, their fearful Jesuit masters, and the entire Holy Roman Catholic Church. He was perhaps the youngest blasphemer that particular parish ever encountered.

That story about transubstantiation the nervous pasty-faced Jesuits tried to shove down our throats? They claimed that a little dry weightless wafer contains the actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. Not symbolically, but for real.

“That ain’t true,” Bobby tells us. And then, when he sees our frowns, he says, “OK, let's go into the church tonight, open up that gold tabernacle. I’ll stick a knife into one of those things. Let’s see if it bleeds.”

“But if you do that,” someone says, “God’ll strike you dead with a bolt of lightning. It could happen.”

Bobby stretches out his arms. Looks up at the sky.

“FUCK YOU!” Bobby shouts as our eyes widen and our mouths fall slack. “Come on!” Bobby yells. “Let’s see whatcha got!”

We stand silent, we dare not move. After a few seconds Bobby grins. “See? what the fuck did I tell you guys?”

One day Sister Regina calls on him. Asks him a question. Bobby smiles. “I don’t know, sister.”

Uh-oh! He’s in deep shit now!

Then he adds: “And even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”

Sister Regina flushes red and rushes down the aisle between the seats, and seizes Bobby by his curly blonde hair, and is about to slap him. But Bobby suddenly stands up and twists violently, breaking away from that violent old nun’s grip.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Sister Regina shouts.
“I’m getting the hell out of THIS nuthouse,” he says.

And just like that, he walked out of St. Xavier’s and never came back. Both his parents took his side. They didn’t believe their kid should ever be slapped around, by anyone. Not even nuns. And they put their son in public school.

Bobby always is so comfortable with himself. I am the opposite. He knows he’s entitled, I know I am not. He is loved and cared for by his mother and father, and I am alone in that empty cockroach-infested house on Superior Street, until my drunk father or uncle comes home at four in the morning to puke in the bathtub or drop stinking turds into the toilet that won’t flush. I’m not complaining because most of the time I have the place to myself. So I can do whatever I want.

David Cohn. He’s another one. Like Bobby, an absolutely amazing kid. He’s tall and skinny as a rail, just like me. But, astonishingly, he’s not embarrassed at all by his fragile forearms and stick legs. How he looks simply doesn’t matter to him. He goes right up to the football team’s star middle linebacker and says: “Hey, tubby! You better watch your fuckin mouth, or I'll just have to kick your fat flabby ass.”

Marty roars. “This little piss-ant,” he says to his team-mates, “is really funny!”

David has what Bobby has. They both know deep down they are perfectly OK exactly the way they are. They don’t even have to think about it. Why can’t I be like that?

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The lessons of childhood are difficult, at best, to unlearn. I know you know a lot about this through your relationship. We learn coping mechanisms to deal with our childhood traumas. They are honed and placed solidly into our craniums and we can flip the switch on at any given moment, sometimes when we don't even do the flipping... it just automatically kicks in, even if we don't want.

I think all of us knew a Bobby in our lives. But I eventually saw the other side of him, the insecure side that was beneath the façade. I suspect that most people do have this Achilles Heel, careful to cover it to the outside world.

I don't know if this helps, but it's nice to remember.

Proverbs, 16:18, Pride goeth before a fall. Bobby's came when his cute-as-a-button wife of one year dumped him the moment she learned he was screwing numerous other women. I was on leave from the Air Force and I watched him on the pay phone in the bar, bawling like a baby, begging her to take him back. It was a shock to see him like that. He was a total wreck.

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