His Inner Search

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, an exodus from the cities brought hundreds of new settlers to the Arkansas Ozarks. Their personal stories are testaments to an awakening shared by many of the Baby Boom generation, personal and communal. This interview is one of 32 personal stories gathered in 1999-2000, and published in Aquarian Revolution: Back to the Land.

I didn’t like the way I was treated as a kid. I was beaten regularly. I don’t think I’ve cried since I was seven years old, because if I cried, they would beat me with a leather strap until I stopped crying. I had a bleeding ulcer from age twelve until it healed up after I left home right before my eighteenth birthday. I had a shrink and a probation officer trying to get me out of my house legally.

I ran away at thirteen and was involved with a stolen car. I remember when we ditched the car, this other kid I was with, he was fifteen, big kid. We were on our way to pick up some fake plates and police chased us because they recognized him so we dumped the car. We jumped out of the car doing about 45 mph, leaving my guitar case and suitcase with birth certificate, everything telling them who I was, and we ran, picked up a third guy, jumped on a bus to Baltimore, blew all the money we had, started hitchhiking. We were on our way to California. The police picked us up at two a.m. on the highway. I never gave them my name. I was planning on breaking out of jail.  I can remember when I was riding that bus, I was thinking about my parents and how much I loved them, but I just couldn’t stand to live with them.

That was about the time I started getting high. A lot of things were about to break then, one way or another. It was either going to come out of me in violence, or… I think I found a channel to do it naturally and just chill out. Just reach in.

They made me see a shrink when I was thirteen because of the stolen car. He said I was afraid to express myself with my dad and that’s why, if anybody crossed me, I’d be right on them. After thirteen, I was getting into a lot of trouble. I was a practical joker who did things I probably shouldn’t have been doing, but I did it with a smile. I had my destructive period. One night three of us smashed a car that was parked alongside the road. We used sticks and rocks and beat it in. Totaled it. Those were heavy years.

I think it was being able to smoke that pulled me out of it. My friends were mostly tough guys, had attitudes. By the time I was seventeen, I had started to drift off with the ones who didn’t.  I remember violence on TV, violence was everywhere. It was either protests or Vietnam. At sixteen, if anyone defied me, I would be down their throat in a second. One time a teacher put me in the front seat of the class, wouldn’t let me sleep. I was, man, you won’t let me sleep, what kind of a deal is this? I might have been getting a D at that point, but I didn’t care about that class. He put me in the front seat, banged my shoulder or something, made me wake up and started talking to me, I told him to leave me alone and he did something else to irritate me, and I jumped out of my seat, grabbed him by the lapels, dragged him across his desk, and smashed him into the blackboard in front of the whole class, and said “Leave me the fuck alone.” So of course, they threw me out of school instantly.

That was my attitude with anybody. People would come to me from the grade ahead, bigger kids than me, and say hey, this guy’s doing this and that, and I’d go confront him. And I wouldn’t just confront him and intimidate him with anger, I’d put it into words. I’d say something to them that they couldn’t argue with. I didn’t want to argue with anybody, but if you’re going to argue with me, stand back or get out of the way, save yourself. My dad didn’t think I was a man because I wouldn’t be angry with him and fight back. Yet I’d go out and fight and do all this.

Coming out of that, I started being friends with all the teachers I had given trouble. My shrink might have been talking with my parents then. I had two shrinks; one my mother took me to and one that came to my school once a month. I had a probation officer, too. First time I went to the shrink, I sat to talk to him, and he said, ok. Then I went out and he talked to my mom. I come back in and sit down, and he looked at me and said, K–, I cannot talk to your mom.

She was so headstrong. You did as she said or whack, or twist your ear. Most of my physical abuse was from my mom. It reached a point with my mom that I was more verbal. By the time I was ten or so, my mom didn’t scare me.

I ended up getting married my senior year. I was moving out. I’d run away another time, it was the third time. It wasn’t like running away. I was walking back and forth with my clothes, patting my mom on the back, saying it’s ok Mrs. C–, it’s ok.  I was outta there. My wife’s parents took me in. The probation people were trying to get me out of my house before I was eighteen if I could find somebody. They knew that anything was better than where I was. As hard as I might have been trying, chilling out, it was hard pretty much to the end.

Finally, I argued back with my dad and that was it. I made a quick exit because he just wanted to knock my block off. I think that changed him. He kind of stopped by the time I was seventeen, eighteen, when I was working for his business doing electrical.