An Autobiography in 20 Random Moments

Recall a few years ago when those Facebook posts were popular: “My 30 Favorite songs” or “20 things you don’t know about me”.  One I have yet to see is this:
20 random, seemingly insignificant, yet nonetheless vivid moments in your life that are not at all monumental.  The idea behind it is this: If you made a list of such memories, would you be able to find a common thread, a sustaining narrative, that would explain you through these small moments in your life?  What was it that made you remember them?  Was it just scents and sounds?  Or was it some underlying significance?

#1989 I’m sitting in the shower on a towel, the hot water hitting at my feet and sending steam into the tile cell.  My legs are against my chest and I’m huffing in the hot vapors, alleviating the croup.  Outside the curtain my mother is on the phone with the hospital.  I cough, and the echo of a host of frogs reverberates.  I feel incredibly cozy, like I could sit in here for hours.

#1990 A group from our church is singing at a nursing home.  My folks took me along. I hear an old man screaming in another room.  The best way to describe what I thought was happening is that he was being euthanized. I “realize” that we came to sing in order to drown out the sound of the old man being euthanized.

#1992.  A friend’s birthday party at Soma’s arcade and batting cage, which was later Lazerventure Pizza and Games, which is now a Lowe’s.  I challenge my friend Austin to a game of Mortal Kombat.  I pick Sonya Blade.  He picks Johnny Cage.  I defeat him.  The tournament master tells me to FINISH HIM!  My time has come.  I press the correct combination: <—, <—, —>, —>, <—, <—, —>, —>, B.  The screen darkens.  Sonya blows a kiss that turns into a fireball that melts Johny Cage into a skeleton.  FATALITY!

#1993. We’re in Mrs. Halstead’s classroom. Austin and I are lying on our backs on the floor. I’m not moving. He’s not moving. The strike has been going on for a full twenty seconds. Mrs. Halstead tells us to get up. “We’re not moving,” we say, giggling. “You moving, Austin?” “Nope. I ain’t moving.” “Me neither.” Mrs. Halstead tells us if we don’t get up and move, we will go to the office. “That’s it, Caleb. I’m moving.” Austin gets up. I’m still lying on the floor. Shoot.

#1994. It’s me, my brother Luke, and our friends Casey, Jordan and Jamie. We are playing “make me laugh.” It’s my turn in the chair. They can’t make me laugh. I have to rise and become the champion. Jaime almost got me, but failed. Casey walks into the room, wearing a flowery hat and holding a straw basket. To the tune of “The More We Get Together” she begins to sing: “Oh how will we fix the basket, dear Liza, dear Liza? Oh how will we fix the basket…” There is a long pause. I’m holding it in. I can’t break. She finishes her song, pulling the tool out of the basket. “We’ll fix it with a spoon.” I’m on the ground. It’s over.

#1997. 5th grade field day. Carter Tate, David Zimmerman and myself are singing “Strawberry Fields” karaoke style to all the kids in our class. We were all singing off key. But we didn’t stand up and walk out on one another. I didn’t know I would never hang out with these guys in middle school. But nothing was real, and there was nothing to get hung about. We were the walrus. Kookookachoo.

#1998. Gym class. I have foot fungus, and can’t participate, but didn’t bring a Dr. note.  My friend Pat and I are discussing whether the birth mark on his butt looks like a peach, when Mr. Cox calls me into his office and asks me if I feel like participating today.  I tell him I don’t know.  He tells me to do what I think I should do.  I still don’t know.  Then he squats down, puts a hand on my shoulder and says solemnly, as if at a funeral, “I think you should do what your father would want you to do.”  I stare at him for a second, then return to the lockers, confused.

#1999. I’m on the stage, and it’s just me and this giant juke box. Months of training at Miss Mona’s school of voice and dance has prepared me for this moment. I tilt my fake straw hat and spin in a circle in my striped suit. The Teresa Brewer tune comes on. “Take us Nickelodeon way back to where music began!” I sing. “All I want is loving you and music, music, music!”

#2000 Church camp. It’s hot and sweaty. I’m in the middle of a field, chasing Ben Simmons because he ripped off my parachute pants and is getting away with them. The previous night I was happily chasing rabbits in that very field with a girl I had a crush on. Now she’s laughing at me. It’s all over. Life is unfair.

#2001 Due to slipping grades (due to apathy), I’m being tested for a pervasive learning disorder.  I have a terrible head cold that day, and am not with it.  The examinee, who looks like a grown up Screech from Saved by the Bell and has a huge mole on his face, asks me the following question: “Explain what you think the meaning of this proverb is: Shallow streams are noisy.”  I sniff my stuffed nose and just blurt out, “Uh, it doesn’t take a lot to make a good sound.”  As soon as he’s done nodding and writing on his chart, I suddenly get it, and facepalm myself.  “Ok, next question.”

#2002. A talent show at Horizons Summer Bible Camp.  A cute, scrawny, quasi-goth girl is singing “Round Here” by the Counting Crows solo on electric guitar.  I must be in a trance, because Kirk Gilpin suddenly says my name twice: “Cabal.  Cabal!”  I snap to for a moment.  “I think I’m in love.”  He giggles, thinking I mean the girl. I’m talking about the song.

#2003. It was a fender bender. I’ve parked my Honda Accord next to the road that leads away from the high school.  I’m exchanging information with the girl who pulled out in front of me.  She is dressed like a cat.  Tail, ears, whiskers, everything.  All the buses drive by us and everyone sees me exchange phone numbers with a cat girl.

#2004. Hardees parking lot in my Accord, waiting on the light and wearing a plain white T-shirt. A cup of v8 Splash and a giant box of licorice have been in the car for 2 weeks because I liked the combined fragrance they made.  Out of the speakers groans Pete Yorn: “I don’t love you, so why should I compete with other guys?”  I sing aloud with him.  My girlfriend turns to me.  “Why did you sing that?”  I watch the light turn green, and decide now’s not a good time. Pete finishes the song alone.

#2005. Henderson, TN at FHU. A bunch of us are standing around a gazebo after singing devotional songs. We are talking about “star tripping“, which essentially staring at a starry sky and spinning in a circle until someone shines a light in your face and you collapse, disoriented. This girl I like—her name is Carrie—tells me I should demonstrate star tripping to a friend who’s never done it. “It’s easy,” I say. “You just spin like this.” I fling my arms out, and my shoulder dislocates. “It’s okay!” I yell. “This isn’t the first time this happened. I just need someone to take me to the hospital.” Guess I’ll have to ask that girl out later.

#2006. I’m laying in the hallway and I’ve had half a racquetball stuck to my forehead for the past 2 minutes, because it was the only way to get Donnie to do it. The hallway smells of mansweat. We are finally told we can take the racquetballs off. A voice yells, “Is that a birthmark?” Someone brings me a mirror.

#2007. Outside the Clayton Chapel building on FHU’s campus. A rope is tied around my leg, suspending me. All I see is an upside down tree, foliage, darkness, and three upside down men in ninja outfits standing around me. I try to remember what I did in the past 48 hours that I should apologize for. Nothing stands out in particular.

#2008. Roanoke. Drenched in summer humidity.  In the distance I hear Black Label Society. I’m in the backyard of some millionaire’s house planting impatiens.  I look up to wipe sweat from my brow, and think I see my brother climbing a tree while wearing a hazmat suit.  I decide that I need a drink of water.

#2011. My wife and I are somewhere in Giles Co. looking for a campground. We don’t have GPS or phone service, and we probably missed a turn. It’s getting dark. That turn has to be somewhere. On the radio, That song by The Doors begins to play, echoing out of our windows and into the woods: “This is the End.” My wife and I turn and look at each other. The end.

#2012. I’m trying to play Skyrim, hold my sleeping newborn, and eat ice cream at the same time. A drop of ice cream falls on my infant’s bald head. I look right and left. My sword-wielding, dragon-fighting cat-person looks right and left too. I lick the ice cream off my son’s head. We’re good.

#2013. Bright sunny day. I am sitting in the front yard with my one-year-old son in my lap. I blow a dandelion and he watches the seeds fly away. He slaps my knees and says “Daddy daddy daddy. Happy happy happy.

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