The Chameleon Complex—Chapter 12 T-Bubba

pile of barbie dolls
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I lived life slightly askew and exaggerated. I felt onstage. I either held the audiences’ attention or I did not. Mostly I did not. I certainly failed to amuse those whose job it was to purvey formal education to me. Teachers assumed that I had few obstacles to becoming whatever I chose. White, male, heterosexual (but I worried that I was gay due to my sensitivity, penchant for books, abysmal athleticism, and lack of aggression), and middle class in twentieth-century America meant that I had putatively won the life-circumstances lottery. Thus, I was an enormous underachiever and a great disappointment. Add to that, my nickname had morphed to “T-Bubba.” It meant “Tim the Brother,” as opposed to my brother or “Tim the Friend,” an older kid who lived across the street. However, the name was a bit too cute for the nonwhining badass I wanted to become—a badass like Dad, a badass like Conan the Barbarian. You’d never see Dad or Conan moping on the curb or mingling with the tumbleweeds. They certainly wouldn’t ask Santa for a Barbie doll for Christmas. As Mom was against gender stereotypes, she bought me the doll. Dad later said that I unwrapped the gift and immediately undressed the blond bombshell for my own titillation. I don’t remember if that was true or a Tays tale. Did he make up that story to be able to accept that his second son (who also didn’t like to fish, hunt, watch football, or work on cars) wanted a Barbie doll? I appreciated his spin, though; the alternative was that I was half a sissy, which was not acceptable for either of us. I got the message: Barbie dolls were sexual objects, not toys. So I switched to GI Joes. The males in my life were soldiers and meat inspectors, hunting guides and powerlifters. None of those activities seemed like a very good fit for me, but I thought they should be. I kept inside the fact that I didn’t want to do those things; I faked enthusiasm. I thought there was some quirk in my genetic wiring. Apparently, what I was supposed to be didn’t line up with who I was and what I wanted to be. Besides being like Conan, I wanted to be a church leader like Mary Baker Eddy and a novelist like Mark Twain. Someday, I decided, I’d publish my own version of Huckleberry Finn. Then I’d press my lips together in a tight smirk to prevent myself from blurting inappropriately, “How you like me now?” Mark Twain must’ve done that, I imagined, or at least wanted to do it, but better judgment than mine kept him silent and wise.

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