When Glen was in the second grade, when he was six and ready to turn seven in November, Mother finally realized that there was no real bond between them.
Glen was the youngest and smallest in his class, but stayed on that early track because he seemed able to keep up, academically. That is, when the subject interested him. He would be the first to admit that when he was not interested, though he honestly tried, he did not always do his best work. Then, of course, he would get the verbal whipping, but curiously it did not affect him much.
You see, he was never connected to the adults who were his mother and father. Indeed, his connection to normal life at times was tenuous at best. So the words of reprimand, and admittedly they were sometimes cruel words, while they went down deep into his heart, they did little to affect an immediate change in his behavior. Glen could not see any reason to change. He was already the so-called black sheep of the family. As far as he could tell, he did everything wrong. He was to blame for everything, and no matter what he did right he was never going to be praised or treated in any positive way. I suppose the reason he did not change his behavior is because, from his point of view, his behavior was not the behavior that needed to change.
So there he was in the second grade and Mother started a strange conversation. It was about his teacher, and what a good teacher she was and what a good friend of Mother’s she was. Glen supposed she was. He only had three other teachers at that point, in nursery school, kindergarten and first grade, so what did he know about good and bad teachers? Then it came out. The teacher said he was not doing his best work and his parents were concerned. Glen protested to deaf ears. He always tried to do his best. He just found it hard when he was disinterested in the subject.
His young heart cried out that a little encouragement, some praise and positive support when he did well would make all the difference. The problem was he did not know how to verbalize or explain that. He did not have the words. But then, he was not sure it would have mattered. Clearly his parents could not see it. Everything associated with him by that point was cast in the most negative and critical light, and that was all they could see.
It was about that same time that Glen came to understand something special about God. Do be careful what you ask for.
He was seated in church, the one many in town called the glorified country club, and he listened intently to the sermon. It must have been a special Sunday because normally children were not allowed to stay in the sanctuary during adult church. It was probably a stewardship Sunday.
That sermon was on the leading edge of the thinking of the day: That we cannot love God as he loved us. God died for us, but God does not need us to die for him. Instead, when we give to help our neighbor we show our love for God in return. Even at six going on seven it sounded like bull to Glen.
That night Glen prayed. “God, I know the minister said we cannot love you as you loved us. I know loving my neighbor is important, but that is loving my neighbor. If you don’t mind, if it is possible, can I love you as you love me?” To his surprise, he got a clear answer.
“Yes. You can even be crucified after a fashion.”
I am sure that is not what Glen had in mind; but then it was not six months earlier when he made Mother stand at the foot of his bed and repeat the written bedtime prayer over and over until he had it memorized.
All the same, his life continued on the same path. You realize, of course, these are only small examples of the kind of life Glen lived up to this point. In some ways they sound petty and stupid. They weren’t to a child. Granted, no one actually said to his face, “You’re just no good,” but I can see where that might devastate a child and require therapy in later years. In Glen’s case, there were plenty of similar things said, and regularly enough, but he actually found some comfort in the consistency. True, at seven he did not yet understand the things he was hiding in his heart.
Glen was in third grade out on the playground minding his own business and this kid who was small like him suddenly took a swing at him for no known reason. Naturally, Glen defended himself, but when he got home, he had no defense. His parents found out he had a fight at school and the first thing out of Mother’s mouth was, “What did you do wrong.”
“So why did he hit you. You must have provoked him in some way.”
“No, I didn’t. He just started hitting me for no reason.”
“I am sure he did not hit you for no reason.”
“I don’t know why. I didn’t do anything.”
Glen got the looks of disbelief. In this case, though, he got the impression that his parents did not believe he was lying to them so much as lying to himself. It was later confirmed that the other boy, whose parents were getting a divorce, started the hitting so Glen was not asked to leave the school for a couple of days. But that did not matter. In his parent’s mind, he was at fault. He had to have done something, wrong.
It is a wonder Glen never become suicidal. I suppose what his father often said may have made a difference. “I can’t wait to see what is going to happen next.” Then also there was that eternally unanswered question. Why did God let him live? Why was he still here? Glen imagined he would not be allowed to die until he found some peace with that question.