Sunday, July 31, 2011

I was chess champion of the 4th grade (Part One)

For several years now, I have recounted the tale of the day I defeated a school bully by winning a chess tournament in elementary school.  On the surface the stories theme is one in which if you put your mind to something you can do almost anything.  The real story is a more personal story of one overcoming their own personal demons to one day emerge as a man who protects science and technology but is ultimately an artist.  The purpose of these next blog entries is to tell the story once an for all, to put my past behind me so I can focus on where I am at now, and where I will be going in the future.

The story begins when I was born, my parents due to some misunderstanding divorce, and my mother moved home with her parents in White Marsh.  My mother Regina was named after my grandfather, Reginald Edwards.  My grandfather Edwards was pillar of the community, a self-taught electrician and entrepreneur.  My grandfather would become the person who I would emotionally bond with at an early age.  It seemed as soon as I arrived I had his full undivided attention.  This was pretty amazing since he had six children of his own for vying his attention. 

The first five years of my life were a whirl wind, I don’t think I was ever alone.  I was always under care by my aunts, uncles, or my grandparents.  I was a family group project with my mother acting as the project manager coordinating scheduling and funding the operations. On weekends my father Lou would visit me.  My father Lou was identified as “Uncle Daddy” which confused me, but it seemed to work.  

With all this attention, I did manage to explore a lot as a toddler.  My grandparents had a small farm off a cul-de-sac with woods, a stream, and plenty of places to roam.  There weren’t a lot of kids my age to play with though, so I mainly would socialize with adults.  I did get great joy when my cousin Shari was born, she and I were only two years apart but she would follow me on my little adventures around the farm when she was able to.  I would eventually develop a habit that would curse me to this day, whenever I would get upset, I would cry.  Crying would trigger to adults to pay attention to me and help me.  I wouldn’t cry all the time, only when I would get upset or in extremely frustrating situations.  Some kids like my cousin Nick or my older Uncles would punch or yell their way out of frustrating situations, I did the opposite, and it didn’t seem like I could control or manage it when it would start.  Otherwise my emotional development was pretty normal growing up until my mother remarried.

When I was three my Mother remarried.  Thomas Myrick was a jack of all trades, but eventually after serving as a US marine joined the Maryland State Police and was a rising star among state troopers.  During a hurricane with severe flooding, Thomas Myrick saved a man from drowning by risking his life to pull the man on top of his flooded police cruiser.  On a more personal note, when I was 2, I got my finger caught in a screen door and was bleeding a lot.  I was under the care of my grandmother Edwards at the time, and she was a panic because she was alone and didn’t drive.  She was afraid to call my mother and upset her, so she called Trooper Myrick’s barracks for help.  At the time Trooper Myrick was dating my mother, in fact they met because he pulled my mother over for speeding in the sports car that she obtained during the settlement of her divorce.  (I was in the back seat looking cute from what I was told.)  From what I understand, Trooper Myrick was notified, contacted my grandmother, and managed to travel from Glen Bernie Maryland to White Marsh in under 20 minutes (which I think means he was doing 120 mph) and whisked me to the hospital where my mother was working.  He comforted my mother while the they administered stitches.  It took several people to administer the stitches due to my reluctance and inhuman 2 year old strength.  I busted out of a restraining device and required a heavy nurse to lean on top of me as they administered the stiches.  (Later when I worked at the hospital, I would work with that nurse, and she would tell everyone that story).  Tom was a man of action, and his actions impressed my mothers family and my father Lou (Uncle Daddy) it would seem.  When my Mother remarried, Lou and Tom agreed it would be in my best interest if Tom adopted me and I took on his last name.  My legal name at the time was Louis Francis Lazzaro Jr. , my adopted legal name became Todd Allen Myrick.  My family always called me Todd, not sure why other then calling me Lou, Louie or Luigi would have been hard on my mother.

When my mother remarried, they rented a townhome close to my grandparents, eventually would buy a home in Parkville, Maryland.  Growing up in Parkville was rather difficult. I was a lone a lot due to both my parents working different shifts, it meant one would usually be sleeping when I was home.  My adoptive father Tom also would work part-time jobs or help my grandfather out on jobs. Sometimes I would have to stay overnight at my grandmothers and be driven to school by my mother.  Most of the kids in my neighborhood were four years older than me as well.  The ones my age were not allowed to go off alone as much as I was allowed to.  So I found myself trying to fit in with the older kids and many times being the brunt of their jokes and abuse.  Eventually they would learn how to trigger my crying and would be unmerciful in trying to get me to cry.  My father and uncles eventually learned of the abuse and decided it was time for me to learn some advanced tactical combat skills.  My fathers skills were more from the school of Judo, my Uncle’s on the other hand were more street fighter.  At first I was pretty successful at fending off attacks, I would take down or quickly stun a bully if they pushed the wrong button, but some of these kids had older brothers and friends who would seek to avenge them.  Eventually my father would get involved when the odds or age of the bully got beyond my ability to fend off.  I think there is something sobering when a police officer shows up to your front door asking why he son was just assaulted.   

Eventually I managed to develop some street cred.  Unfortunately most of my friends were older than I was, so my rationalizations and thought process was always underdeveloped for hanging seriously with the older kids.  Hanging with kids my own age was also difficult because I didn’t exactly fit in with their maturity level either.   I was an okay student, but I did have a slight reading problem due to my eyesight and lack of an attention span with overly complicated lessons.  So at the age where I was emotionally developing competence, I was not doing very well.

One thing I exceled at though was playing games.   My family loved to play cards and board games.  They were rather competitive too.  A lot of times in school, assignments were taught in the form of a game or tracked with stars or other markers.  I didn’t seem to have a problem doing those assignments since it was easy to tell what your progress was and some had rewards.  Unfortunately reading comprehension and spelling never seem to click early on for me.  Spelling always seem to break its own rules… I would try sounding out the word and spelling it like it sounded, but it would seem the sound and the rules were never in sync.  I did okay at games like Boggle or search words as long as the words didn’t exceed five letters or I had a pattern I could find, but Scrabble and crossword puzzles were beyond me.  I was okay at reading as long as it was a series of instructions, but if it required me to comprehend what they were talking about, I would get lost.  I was always focused on getting the words right it seemed, not what the story was about… unless it was a comic or picture book.

No matter what struggles I had though, they always seem to go away when I would visit my grandparents home.  Saturdays were always awesome cause that is when my grandparents would go shopping for groceries and out for dinner at the local steak or Perkin’s in Perry Hall.  Eventually though, I noticed my grandfather Edwards wouldn’t be able to go because he was in the hospital.  My aunt would drive my grandmother during these times and I would always want to go see visit grand-pop instead.  It always seemed he was in a place that didn’t allow kids though.  He would get better, but then wind up back in the hospital.  I remember when I was eight, I managed to save up $20.00 and asked my grand-pop to help me buy my adopted father Tom a wheel barrel so it wouldn’t have to borrow the neighbors all the time.  My dad loved it, but unfortunately my grandfather was in the hospital and couldn’t enjoy seeing my dad open the gift that I am sure he helped purchase. 

After Christmas my ninth birthday would follow.  Birthdays were difficult for me as well since it was at the end of January when there would always be snow or a blizzard coming.  My birthday celebration was always delayed for some reason, except for my ninth.  Since the birthday fell during the week, my parents decided to have my birthday on the Sunday before.  It was an awesome birthday too.  My parents gave me my dad’s old stereo with record and 8 track tape player.  All my step and half brothers, close cousins, and neighborhood friends came.   It was the best birthday ever!   I don’t recall what day my birthday actually fell on, I think it was a Tuesday… all I remember was being woken up in the middle of the night to be told my grandfather passed away.  I was hysterical.  I didn’t understand what the hell just happened, but I knew that meant that I wouldn’t be able to see or talk to my grandfather again.  Nothing made sense to me, school was the last place I wanted to be, even though my parents tried to send me there during the day so they could make preparations.  I was a little zombie… well an emotional zombie.  The kids at first were kind, but eventually my sensitivity wore out its welcome.  Even the teachers were fed-up with me it seemed and would look the other way when kids would pick on me.  Kids especially 9 year olds don’t have social filters.  They can be rather brutal with their criticism.  I was subjected to taunts like “Your grandfather must have not really loved you to die on your birthday” that would just crush me.  No amount of advanced combat skill or dirty tricks ever seem to stop the teasing and emotional torment.  The kids knew my kryptonite and would use it whenever it was advantageous or humorous for them.   

When forth grade began, I was a little academically behind the other students, especially in reading.  The kids found a new thing to torment me with as a result.  When reading out loud, kids would find ways to upset me, and afterwards would follow me home trying to assault and batter me more.  Then one day when we could no longer go outside for recess due to it being too cold, it was announced there would be a chess tournament.  I loved games especially board games, but never played chess before.  It looked complicated and I never understood what I saw when I watched people play.  My parents had a chess set, but one of the pawns was missing… replaced with a small pink flimsy plastic pawn from another chess set.  For whatever reason, I came home that day and proclaimed to my mother that I wanted to learn how to play chess so I could play in the school tournament.  My mother didn’t really give it a second thought and said sure, getting down the chess set from the closet. 

And so my training began…

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