Stumbling Toward Grace
Around 1 April 1968. 4 min read.
At the beginning of my junior year there were two dramatic changes. The eye doctor gave up on the "Plus Lens" theory and put me in hard contact lenses. And I was sentenced to orthodontics. My cousin got a fancy system of braces about the same time, and was done in less than a year. I was taken to an ancient and senile idiot who handmade everything from bulk strapping and wire, leaving sharp edges and spikes all over my mouth that I'd have to fix with my electronics tools. I quickly figured out what he was trying to do, and would sometimes correct his mistakes - and each time he'd say, "Wow, you made a lot of progress this time!" We did move the most obvious tooth back into line, but after three and a half years he gave up, leaving me with a horrible overbite and a self-consciously phony pretend smile. He tortured my sister for even more years, but our parents refused to listen to us, or consider how much they were paying this imposter.
The contacts were a welcome improvement, except that all the miserable adaptations I'd made to the bifocal glasses were suddenly superfluous - but still active in my brain. By then I'd forgotten about sitting in church blacking out my peripheral vision, and had completely lost awareness of dorsal space vision. But my ventral picture vision was much improved.
Without words to recall and research my inner memories of childhood, they faded to insignificance behind the onslaught of fascinating technology I discovered during my teen years. Soon after I entered the engineering curriculum at the University, I was reading Ayn Rand's Objectivism and looking to the conscious mind for answers to all of life's questions.
And then the "Death of God" made the cover of Time magazine, and I joined a group at the University that was studying Tillich and Bonhoeffer, and fighting for social justice. Met a girl and started a whirlwind romance - my first. I'd been a conscientious objector to the Vietnam war since it began, so driving a car full of friends to the 1964 Freedom Summer campaign felt very validating.
By midsummer that had all crashed away. The state hierarchy that had supported the college religious group turned against the "radical activism" at the university, and essentially ran the leader out of town, collapsing the tiny flicker of social justice activity in that conservative midwestern town. And when my new girlfriend went home for summer break, her old boyfriend enforced his prior claim to her, and she submitted.
I tried joining a fraternity, the basis for most conventional social activity at that school, but quickly found the "brothers" shallow and the rituals disgusting. I moved to an old house with a railroad track down the street in front (rent $15/mo. each) with two other farm refugees, and retreated into my studies. Met a smart but equally confused farm girl, got married, and we moved to Detroit the summer after the 1967 riots, for her year at a special institute.
And there a co-worker at my temporary job handed me a joint, and as a committed experimentalist, I took a hit. I remember thinking, "I always knew there would be something like this, but I never imagined it would be marijuana!" The wordless inner world of my early childhood came flooding back to me. During the years that my friends spent indulging in escapism and "getting wasted", I was intently and methodically trying to reclaim a world I might otherwise have lost forever. I had vaguely wondered what could motivate so many students to read the Castaneda books; now I devoured them. When I returned to school, it was in psychology instead of electronics.
I completed my M.A. with little enthusiasm, and pondered moving east to a seminary to resolve the religious issues. But my wife prevailed, we moved west to join a "group marriage" with one of her best friends. Which quickly imploded. We moved on to Berkeley in 1970, where she chose a job with Bank of America - the organization most hated by the Berkeley left.
I created an independent audio equipment repair service and met a wide variety of counterculture people. She gradually moved on to the "massage" business, where she explored a wide variety of men... We spent our time together discussing our relationship - "The problem is..." - but made no progress. I finally tore up the rent check and gave notice, and I think she was thankful. (She eventually married a very conservative man and walked a mail route in her original home town.)
That was also the year I got a new set of lenses that were so painful to wear I decided to just quit cold turkey. I found I could handle the essential parts of my life without them, and felt much more myself.