I have done exactly 6 things in my life that mattered. They mattered because they were my decision, acts of my own free will rather than simply being buffeted around by the winds of existence.

When I was 14 my grandmother died. She left me a $500 savings bond, more money than I had seen in my entire life. All the pressure was on to put it aside for college and that is pretty much what everyone expected of me. A bug whispered in my ear to be different for once. To try to develop my creative side rather than continue putting all my effort into my left brain. The science weenie said to hell with it and bought a modest professional caliber 35mm. camera.

Up until that moment, my entire life was a script. I was allowed a bit of ad-libbing here and there but my fate didn’t seem to be my own. Grade school, high school, college, these courses, those activities, all followed one from another. I wasn’t doing things because I wanted to but rather because it was easier to do what was expected than to roll the dice and see what happened. To be unpredictable. I stepped outside my assigned script and photography became a critical part of my life for decades.

As predicted, I graduated high school with all manner of awards and astounding test scores. I settled on a University that was safe and close even though I’d had a good shot at the Ivy League. I took a computer science major. Everyone knew I was bound for the sciences.

In the rites of college, one can discard one’s past and start anew. When you go to university, sexual freedom is part of the curriculum. You aren’t stuck with the status and problems of grade school. You can pretend to be Lancelot. This is expected. Everyone – who tries – has more sex in college than high school. I tried hard. And college was very clearly expected of me.

In high school, had I tried to be Lancelot the results would have been ridicule. I was already pegged as Hamlet and the path to climbing the status ladder would have been difficult, to say the least. But in college? Nobody knew me. Even if I did slip down to omega status in the first floor west of the dorm, there were tens of thousands of people who wouldn’t know this. I could keep trying until I found someone who liked me.

And I did find several women who at least liked the idea of recurring sex with me. One was interested in a long term relationship but a guy who was an even bigger loser than I decided to spread some ugly disinformation and ruined that. I was never able to find out what he said, she wouldn’t tell me. She insisted I already knew.

That doofus and I had a couple of fights. I didn’t really want to hurt him. The first time I just pinned him and told him to leave things alone that he had no business poking his nose into. Second time we kind of got separated by the others on the floor. I didn’t want to hurt him and he didn’t want to fight any longer for fear I’d change my mind. I was such a wuss! I should have broken his nose.

At one point I had streaked the laundromat, just for the hell of it. Somebody narced me out and I spent an hour trying not to be kicked out of school by an irate dormitory manager. Talk about no sense of humor!

Wasn’t long after this that I was sitting on the window ledge of 9th floor south, wanting to die so badly but just not quite able to give myself a shove. Some students walked into the lobby and in finest student style proceeded to mock me. It was not what I needed at the time. But you know what? Hamlet never jumped from the castle walls. Neither did I. Conscience made a coward of me. They were right. I didn’t have the balls.

Wasn’t long after that I was glad I hadn’t jumped. I met an older, buxom blonde who looked like Doris Day and we lived together in her room for most of the second semester. It didn’t stick beyond the end of the term. She was mothering me. I didn’t want to be mothered or treated like a child. I was a man, even if It killed me. She saved me – but would have eventually destroyed me. The breakup was painful but predictable. Crashed and burned academically, too.

Sigh! Back to the small town, omega dog existence I knew so well.

Two more years at a local private college who was willing to give me scholarships again. By now I had given up all hope of a career in science. Calculus had avoided my understanding. I couldn’t focus in labs long enough to do the experiments correctly. I settled for an AA in Advertising. It tickled my creative instincts and left a door open for photography, the other great love of my life, to play a role.

After graduation I started a small photography business in the house I shared with my father. My mother had long since passed away from cancer of just about everything. My father was a really nice guy, just passive. (And he had stopped drinking with her passing.) Small town photo studio doing portraits and weddings. Over the local camera shop was a small photo gallery.

Then, one day in that gallery, I met a gorgeous redheaded photographer. We were both looking at the photos. She was beautiful – and 14 years my senior. I said something clever. She said something appreciative. At some point, our eyes had locked and I gave her my most devilish grin. She looked back with green eyes, full of come-hither-ness.

From that day forward, we were lovers. That was different. No one would ever have predicted I would land in bed with a stunning and sophisticated Mrs. Robinson. I should have despaired of ever winning such a prize. I had despaired that way many times before. It was a decision that would drastically change my life.

This was an interesting situation. She was Jewish and in the process of getting divorced from her professor husband. Together they ran a psychological counseling company devoted to “authenticity” and eliminating “self-defeating behaviors”. I was as far from Jewish as I could get and my intact anatomy proved it. But the number of Jews in my community was microscopic and she wasn’t particularly kosher about it.

But, ah! She was an expert at manipulating and seducing men. Those eyes! That voice! And that petite body! I was still young and unjaded and fell for her with all the passion of a 22-year-old kid, desperate for something positive for once. I had outstanding physical endurance in the sack and no inhibitions whatsoever. She had experience, lots of it, knew exactly how to please and exactly how she wanted to be pleased. It was a match made in heaven, except….

She wasn’t loving me, she was controlling me. That was much worse than mothering me. Easy to do when you have some kid hanging on your every word. And I wasn’t the only one. She had other lovers who were being just as manipulated.

One day she decided she had to move to California, make a new life, away from her current mistakes. She would temporarily leave her 2 kids behind with her dweeby ex and go west. (I would not say the kids had a happy life either.) I had gotten into a fight with him, earlier,  when he barged into the bedroom where she and I were playing and assaulted me. As usual, I just pinned him to the floor and explained to him the error of his ways. (One of the things I had learned as a result years of being bullied was the importance of being able to defend oneself. A few years of Tae Kwon Do and weight lifting did the rest.)

In what was the next, real, independent decision of my entire life, I said, “To hell with it! I’m going to California.” I slyly suggested to her all the advantages of having a second driver on the trip and then I would just fly back. I was now manipulating her. I knew she was losing interest in me. It no longer flattered her to have a lover 14 years her junior. We drove to California in her Camero, taking a leisurely week.

The normal decision for me would have been to wave a fond goodbye as she drove off into the sunset. I’d done that before as well. Every prior decision I had ever made seemed to be almost inevitable, flowing along with whatever tide was sweeping me at the time. A to B to C and so on with the next step predicated on the current condition, taking the lowest risk option or the option forced upon me by others. This was a shot in the dark, a “Hail Mary” play. By far the greatest distance I’d ever strayed from home. In the week I was able to stay in LA, I fell in love with the place.

When we got there and it was time for me to leave, she offered me one last whirl in bed, which I declined. (I don’t want mercy sex.) Then she offered to put me up for a while if I ever came to California again. Jackpot!

One year later, much to her shock, I took her up on her offer. Absolutely the last thing she had expected. I’m quite confident she had forgotten I even existed. I had a magnificent time, driving along old Route 66 and camping along the way. She was currently living with a tall, handsome, folk singer (still much her junior) but she managed to put me up with an acquaintance of hers who had a room for rent.

I was back in the groove again – or perhaps I’d just found a new rut. It would be 4 years before I made another decision of my own.

An AA doesn’t cut it in LA. You also need to be personable, confident and hungry. I wasn’t any of those. I didn’t have materialism in my DNA, I had laid back introspection. I had depression and low self-esteem. At the time it was easy to drift from job to job, never making a lot but always making ends meet. Renting rooms in homes, living in my car. Finding a small niche in a group of war and role-playing gamers. Finding a small niche in Mensa.

One night working the graveyard as private security, the guy I was working with started talking about how great the military had been to him. I said it sounded interesting and I might look into it. He replied that he doubted I would. (Actual comment was far more negative.) A couple months later, I enlisted in the California Air National Guard.

It was quite a surprise. Nobody who knew me thought I’d do such a thing. Much too laid back and mellow. Too undisciplined. However, it was my decision and I didn’t think twice about anyone’s advice before I did it. There went number 3!

To be continued…