The Empath

A short road trip, a great concert, some time with great friends, and I do feel a bit renewed. When trying to choose a poem to get the ball rolling again, I came across this poem that’s probably one of the most autobiographical poems I’ve ever written. The funny thing is it’s so old, I have no idea when it was actually written. It was a poem that I came across when I moved last year and I shared with a friend (sort of as a joke) and because it really does tell a lot about my childhood in one poem. She actually loved it and told me it was one of her favorite things I ever wrote. The funny thing is reading it now sort of foretold a lot about my future. When I wrote it, I was not headed in the direction of becoming a therapist. I was nowhere near that. The irony is that my whole life that’s a role I played very naturally to people. I remember countless encounters of sleepovers or trips where my friends would be passed out from a long day and I would be sitting up with one of their parents, often having conversations about their parent’s lives. I remember one time driving home from a waterpark. My friend’s mom was driving and everyone was asleep in the back. We drove the two hours or so just talking about her marriage falling a part and her feelings about it. Riding the city bus, I was always a person to attract someone to sit next to me and tell me their story. I see kids that I work with now who have similar energies to them. They are funny, they connect ok with other kids, and still they love unusual people, facts, stories.. Ordinary things sort of bore them, but they have a gift for their ability to love and accept things that are unique. I love the picture above because I often feel like the kid looking through that hole in the wall, observing the world. There are times I think I developed this trait (which I use daily in my job) because I was born with an excessive amount of feeling. I remember being young and actually having to teach myself to reign in feelings. If I allowed it, I felt as if I could feel right into people. The problem being that was too much feeling and it overwhelmed me.I learned I could observe from a distance and sort of block the feelings from becoming fully mine. So much of therapy is about teaching people not to fear their feelings or how to contain the feelings when someone has too much. I guess I never considered being a therapist as a career because it was just what I did. There are days when I still think, “People pay me to do this?” I never fully understood the extent to which I can read people until I got older and clients that I’ve seen from young to old made comments about how it feels like “I can see right through them.” That is not really the case. The reality is I just have the ability to feel things intensely. At work, and when I am in control of my ability to feel things excessively, it’s a blessing. Then there’s the times when I just want to turn it off or turn it down. It doesn’t always work that well though. Sometimes it’s on when I’m off. It’s probably one of my greatest blessings and has felt at times like a curse. Anyway, I have grown to love this poem. When I read it, I am that kid that loved to ride his bike through the backyards, to the next street over, ready to get involved in everything from listening and talking to the teens, to playing baseball with my friends, to having a conversation with their moms after everyone was asleep. There were a lot of real challenges in my childhood, but when I read this poem it makes me want to hug that kid and tell him he was pretty amazing.

Smith Street

Big Jenny had breasts. Little Jenny didn’t.
They said, “Little Jenny washed her hair with crest.”
Her brother, Matt, ‘did dirty things in the dark.” Michelle said.
She knew it all. Telling me about the sanitarium and the cults that lurked there,
Making me want to go. Instead, I had to be home
‘Before the streetlights came on.” Awake at night,
I pictured sacrificial burnings, blood thirsty humans,
rubber rooms, where people were bounced off walls.
When it rained, I looked at the little white house with the blue roof
And the dying garden, where a ‘sick lady,’ lived.
My path to Smith Street. Baseballs flew,
rubber balls bounced. Alicia and I would meet at our secret spot,
Where she’d say, “I sneaked us a wine cooler,” or
Force me to kiss some girl before I even knew mouths could do such things.
In her attic room she’d put on her pink Jem wig
And scream, I went to a party last Saturday night.
I didn’t get laid. I got in a fight. U-huh, it ain’t no big thing.
There was no big things, no big houses,
No big pools. Just Kelly’s small round above grounder
bought at K-Mart , where Little Jenny was not allowed
After she and Alicia traded and re-traded in best friend necklaces.
Michelle and Lonny traded other things in the basement.
They’d tell me the words to what they’d done,
Leading me to know blow jobs and hand jobs before grade one.
They did it all behind the bar in the basement with the Miller sign and shag rug.
Where John and I played bar, drinking raspberry Kool-Aid, smoking fake cigars
Talking like corrupt Congressmen courtesy of Michelle and Lonny’s lessons.
Upstairs their mom played Tetris in her sports bra all day,
Drinking Pepsi, swearing at a bunch of blocks she was trying to arrange.
Between rounds, she would sit and chat with me,
While John silently fell asleep on the couch
Instead of his race car bed, I wanted to drive right through the wall
Into my own bedroom. Somewhere Lonny and Michelle
Made out goodnight. Alicia’s dad smoked his joint,
While Alicia stole his liquor to spike the punch at our next elementary school party.
Inside, John’s mom told me about her fears.
Her husband’s stroke, her worries for her children’s future,
How she just could not figure out how to beat Tetris,
And I understood it all more than I ever understood
The importance of hitting a ball.

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