A Colorful Life: Saturday, July 19, 1986 (5:30 pm)I will not lie. This is a very complicated story with so many odd twists and turns. Oddly, enough, it is hard to tell this story even now, because sometimes I have senses of regret. In fact, you can say that this also overlaps and/or borderlines towards a confession. Overall, however, I try to make an attempt to relive the great memories of my childhood and put the bad things into proper perspective and meaning. I know this, life is never easy and simple. In fact, it is very unpredictable. I hear stories everyday about how families are dealing with issues in this new century and decade that continue to divide our nation and neighborhoods. Looking back at my childhood in the 1980s, I was very fortunate to live a life of stability and relative safety.
I lived a unique life because as an Army brat, my family and I moved around to various installations. We live in very dangerous and trying times. One would have thought that living in Germany back in the 1980s was not necessarily safe. It actually was. We lived in American military housing. I and my brother went to Department of Defense schools. I first attended preschool and then elementary school. Then we lived in on-post housing at Fort Leavenworth. Yes, in 1985 and 1986, I was able to live pretty freely, and that included crossing the street when going to friends houses or other places. Not common anymore, especially on military installations.
My earlier life as a boy was very happy & I dare say carefree. In earlier parts of my life, I wore all kinds of colorful shirts, you could say everyone of them covering every kind of color of a rainbow. Every picture I was in, any shirt I wore, whether I was with family, by myself, or with other people I was always happy. I always smiled. Then, there was this tan/khaki & red wide horizontal stripe Rugby (Izod/Lacoste) non-cuffed short-sleeved shirt with a blue Crocodile emblem (located upper left), small white and blue lines between the tan/khaki & red wide horizontal stripes and also a white collar my brother wore when he was in seventh grade. He wore this shirt to my father's promotion ceremony in Germany. The odd thing was I thought my brother's shirt was cool because of it's colorful appearance. Wow, how wrong I was in later years!
When I turned 9 years old, I was excited about my new year of elementary school as a 3rd grader (1985). Then it all started. I was growing up pretty fast. To this very day, I still don't know how that was possible. My mom asked me at this age to decide whether or not I would wear this same hand-me-down shirt to school that my brother wore when he was in middle school. The fabric in the shirt's texture was as smooth as plastic, with a protruding white collar. I must have possessed so much courage I said yes or else I was inexperienced, innocent & unable to make good decisions. I was at that age where I did not want to disappoint anyone (I admit I did not have the heart to tell my mom no). I willingly wore this shirt & tan/khaki corduroy pants (since no other color pants matched) to a public school. I could have sworn I was wearing a school uniform. I was totally over dressed. I felt out of place. Other kids wore t-shirts & jeans. People close to me (my family and friends) said there was nothing wrong with this. If I had gone to a private school where outfits like this were required, I would have agreed with them and wear this outfit without any hesitation. Even my best friend from 3rd grade told me there was nothing wrong with this shirt and told me he thought it was cool. Sad to say, nobody ever convinced me otherwise.
This gets even better (or worse). By the time I turned 10 years old and entered fourth grade in 1986, I still had this shirt & now I wore very short OP (Ocean Pacific) Tan/Khaki Corduroy shorts which had NO belt loops. The summer of 1986 rolls around & my family & I traveled to North Dakota first to visit and stay with relatives at my grandmother's cabin on the lake. When my family and I got to the lake, we were staying with my two cousins, my two aunts, my uncle and my grandmother (on my dad's side). Great trip with loads of fun, right? Not everything about this trip was wonderful. The first day in the car, I wore the shirt & shorts. If wearing pants with this shirt was not bad enough, this was worse. Again I felt overdressed and totally out of place wherever I went while wearing this silly outfit. Sadly, I thought of myself as an outcast. Color coordination was obvious. Like with the corduroy pants, there was only one color pair of shorts that matched this shirt.
Now, being with relatives was wonderful. When we got to the lake, we had many days of fun with the relatives. My brother, my two cousins and I would spend lots of time in the water, swimming and sometimes canoeing. We sometimes also went to the restaurant, which was on the other side. I had lots of fun with my brother and two cousins. There was this one afternoon/evening when I went with them to the lake restaurant. I played some really fun arcade games and talked with some great people. Most of the people who worked at the restaurant knew my grandmother, my dad, my aunt (my dad's sister), my other aunt (my dad's sister-in-law) and my now late uncle. It was wonderful seeing these close family friends. Yet, even with the warm feeling of being around close friends and family, here I was at the restaurant totally overdressed when I wore the shirt & shorts. You would have thought that with all the clothes I had as a kid this age and during the trip, I would for once wear something different and yet less embarrassing. A certain theme resonates here.
Then there was this one Saturday evening, July 19, 1986. I believe that my two cousins, my brother and I were swimming and playing in the lake water when we were told it was time to get out of the water. We got dressed because we were going out for dinner and to see a play performance at Fort Totten, North Dakota. When I was about to get dressed, there was that shirt and shorts on the bunk bed my brother, cousins and I shared. I felt somewhat empty and ill and my mouth fell open. My folks & I argued that evening because I wanted to wear a different shirt but was told I had to wear this outfit and was directed to get dressed. I therefore lost that argument, without question. I was not happy throughout that evening. This reminds me of a book where a boy had terrible day. I felt like Alexander in the story book "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day" by Judith Viorst. In the book, Alexander makes mention of these particular pajamas and how he hate wearing them. I felt like Alexander every single day I wore this stupid outfit. I really tried not to think bad thoughts on days I wore these colors, but it was not easy.
To me, the only one with whom I could talk about this was my grandmother. That same Saturday evening after I was dressed, I went to the living room and sat down when my grandmother noticed I was not happy. When she asked what was wrong, I told her I felt embarrassed and ashamed because I was wearing this outfit. I told her that I looked and felt ugly and foolish. In the end, she conveyed to me that she understood how I felt, but she told me I had nothing to be ashamed of and that it was okay. She told me I did not look ugly and the clothes looked good on me. I knew she was right, but at that time I could not think clearly and felt overwhelmed. I was all cleaned up and nicely dressed, but felt dirty and low inside, go figure. It's hard to admit, but the outfit was a unique combination of light and cool during the warm/hot summers as well as comfortable, bright and colorful.
Then, we posed for a family picture (on Saturday, July 19, 1986 at 5:30pm) (which actually turned out to be two pictures) on that warm evening outside with the lake in the background along with a beautiful sunset. It was a warm, sunny evening at 80 degrees. This was the first time we were together since my cousin and I were born the same year 10 years earlier (he was born two months earlier than me). There was one picture where I smiled somewhat, but you could barely see us because the lighting was not quite right or the camera flash was not on. Then there was this second picture with the same setting in the background, while on the inside I felt empty, insecure and pretty miserable. The sad thing was that I was the youngest in the family and I was absolutely not happy in this picture, no doubt about it. It was easy to identify me because I stood in a fig leaf pose, shirt tucked in the shorts without a belt (!), outfit (with white socks pulled up to my ankles), not smiling and I was the only one with the camera flash covering my eyes. All the light on the camera was on me. It was like I was the sole focus in the picture. It should not have been that way. In fact, as I just found out, it looked like my face was a bit flushed. As scary as it sounds, it really only means that I felt a sense of anxiety and embarrassment as a result of wearing this stupid outfit. It was not a warm pleasant feeling, to be sure. As sad as it is to admit it, I really stood out like a sore thumb!! Then when my grandmother, my two cousins, my brother, & I posed for a picture together, I felt out of place and my face said it all, I had enough. I was so relieved then as I am now that this ugly outfit was worn in pictures only three times and with other family members. Of all the times I was in pictures, I cannot believe I refused to smile in two out of three picture appearances while wearing this outfit! I am so grateful I never wore this outfit in any other photos taken during this particular year or at another location. These bright colors were supposed to bring the best out of me!!
Not only did I wear this outfit on Saturday, but I was told I had to also wear it the Sunday Morning we left to go visit my other grandmother, an older cousin, his wife and a second cousin, just to name a few relatives! My grandmother (on my mother's side) could tell I was not happy. I was glad to see her, but yet again I felt empty inside because I was not comfortable wearing this outfit. The hits just kept on coming.
Then, I wore this outfit to school during my fourth grade year. Can you possibly imagine after the family pictures in North Dakota what it would have been like if I wore this stupid outfit in school pictures? I'm glad I did not have to endure that kind of embarrassment. Every time I got out of the shower and saw this stupid outfit on my bed, I diligently wore it but I was never happy to see it, EVER. Yes, I was not a fast learner and kids made fun of me. At recess, if we ever played kickball, I somehow was always the last kid chosen. I felt powerless and sometimes numb. All who have known me for many years never once saw me get into trouble while I was in school. Some of the kids in my class were trouble makers. Although it never happened, I sometimes wonder, even to this very day, how is it that I was never in trouble or sent to the principal's office? This kind of outfit did represent a sense of discipline that I maintained all throughout school. I never was sent to the principal's office, except to gain some kind of recognition. In fact, I never was in trouble or rebellious with any of the teachers. I always tried to be a good student. Sometimes, though it was hard to concentrate when I felt like what I wore would garner unwanted attention from others. I shudder to think how I would have reacted differently, especially while wearing THIS outfit. Do the color combinations resemble a sense of calm and a bit of serenity, or would they represent more on the lines of anger and fear? I would like to think they represent more of the former and less of the latter. This was the kind of inner conflict a 10 year old boy should not have had to endure. The sad truth is this: I did not like who I was when I wore this outfit at any time.
I also wore this stupid outfit locally when going to doctor visits, grocery stores, various shops/malls, restaurants, ice cream parlors, gas stations, playgrounds, movie theaters, and libraries. I could be wrong, but I think I wore this outfit when I went to get my first identification card used at the commissary and PX. I felt out of place because this loud and flamboyant outfit made me feel like a target in public, drawing others' attention, causing them to stare at me.
By the time the August of 1987 rolled around, I was asked to try this outfit on again. Fifth grade in 1987 was a year by which many of my classmates and I did not get along. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the shirt no longer fit. My mom was kind of caught off guard, in some ways. I could only imagine what life would have been like in fifth grade wearing this outfit for the third straight year. As embarrassing as it was in both 1985 and 1986, thank goodness I did not face this situation in 1987.
One thing I am trying to learn from this is that I am not perfect by any means. When one says actions speak louder than words, they are right about that!! Only without saying anything or doing anything, I wore an outfit that spoke in volumes that are beyond one's imagination. The funny thing I often think of is this: If there was a type of fashion police around, was this kind of outfit too outlandish for them? If I could have gone back, particularly to 1986 and change something, it would be to do this: Make sure my white socks were down and not pulled up to my ankles! This outfit was certainly not a good way to get one's attention AT ALL!!
I regret I was not honest enough with my mom about this during these two years. I wish I could go back and change this, but I can't unless time machine travel is possible. The family picture continues to teach me about the virtue of humility and the value of family. In 2010, my uncle and then 17 days later his wife (my aunt) both died within the same month. I regret that I got so wrapped up in looks I forgot back then what's more important: Being around loved ones. I do miss both my aunt & uncle very much.
Here is where humility comes into play, and it is very strange. What I wore in 1985 and 1986 had a strange combination. Here is a crash course (if you will) in color psychology and how colors may affect others' feelings. For example, the tan/khaki had a tone friendliness on the brown side. On the yellow side, khaki meant happiness (however, happiness was not the rule in this situation). The color red represented the love I have for family, yet at the same time it sometimes would represent anger and sometimes passion. When you put them together in a pattern, as with the shirt, you have a sense of mixed emotions that no kid should have to face when they are 10 years old. The blue logo on the top left front of the shirt represented calm, or sometimes it represented sadness. Black represented elegance and mystery, while certainly making other colors brighter. White represented cleanliness, but sometimes could represent concealment. Gray in my glasses represented intellect, but sometimes is dull.
Humility sometimes means being modest. It does not matter how I felt with all these colors put together, I always showed respect and love for everyone in my family. I most certainly tried to be polite when talking with other people, even though, sometimes back then and now I would talk and not think about what I was saying. That's the nature of being human. Being human also means caring about other people and their feelings. Sometimes being human also represents the fact we are very insecure about ourselves and can't express all of our feelings.
I will admit that while I did NOT like wearing this outfit, it represented cleanliness and boldness. I also think it matched my personality because I was outgoing and always liked being around other people. It also represented a sense of uniqueness in that each color worn (black tennis shoes and digital watch, the shirt & shorts, white socks or gray glasses) either matched or blended with other colors worn by the other nine family members. In some strange ways, this outfit also clashed with other colors, but provided a sense of variety and individuality. This outfit was certainly unlike any other in that it could be worn both during special occasions in a formal manner and in an everyday/casual manner. It is not commonplace today, but it certainly was trendy in that period of time in the 1980's. If it makes a comeback, that's fine, however, my tastes have changed and I don't believe in being flamboyant. This outfit was hard to wear as it indirectly drew others' attention toward my direction without me making any effort.
The strange thing about this story is that I was confused back then and I still have some conflicting thoughts about this experience to this very day. I don't know how, but the feelings are mixed. Yes, I wore many colorful shirts (including this one) as a boy because I liked variety. To this day, I don't know how I could have pretended back then to like this one shirt. Back then, at 6 years of age, I said I like the shirt and really wanted to wear it. Then, fast forward three/four years later and all of a sudden, I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed wearing this shirt and the pants/shorts in public? How is that possible? It could be that I felt uncomfortable because once again, it seemed like I was wearing some kind of uniform. I certainly did not know how to make my own decisions responsibly. I was not assertive enough to take a stand and now I begin to realize that back then, I only did something just to please somebody else. Now, that I think about it, I can't believe that I lied to my mom back then about wanting to wear this kind of outfit and then all of a sudden, have a change of heart!! Talk about inconsistency!! Wait a minute, I need to remind myself of this: I was only a kid back then.
Unlike my brother, I did not mind going to church every Sunday as a kid. I was always a willing participant, yes even during children's sermons. I, however, must admit back then I did not know how to turn to God to answer my questions and doubts as a 9 and 10 year old boy. I was too young and naive back then to think things through or appreciate my surroundings and happenings. I did not know how to make the best of this kind of complicated situation. I did not think of the consequences. I did not fully appreciate the gifts that come from God. The worst thing is this: During these two particular years, I sometimes felt lousy and uncertain about myself. Thank goodness I was only a young boy with family & friends who cared about me.
I read somewhere that throughout one's childhood, thought processes develop and get more complex. The funny thing is that by the age of 9 and 10, the thought processes are even harder to understand. My life experience during these two particular years gave me more interesting and difficult perspectives than I even began to learn throughout school and college!! At 9 and 10 years of age, how's that even possible? Well, my outfit colors are a perfect example. They are simple to identify but very complex to analyze. They produced a sense of some unity and conflict. My mind at this point in my life was also like this, as it is most of the time in anyone's life.
Significant complexities that need to be addressed. The first complexity is that normally 9 and 10 year old kids don't necessarily think about what they are wearing. To this day, I still cannot begin to understand why these colors had me somewhat all tied up in knots and conflicted if I told my mom it was okay to wear this outfit. I liked wearing colorful clothing, so this should not have been any different. The second problem is that I was supposed to be a kid concerned with those things that kids are normally consumed with: going to school, playing with friends, doing my chores at home, going shopping with my family, learning how to swim, learning how to play the piano, playing with toys, going to church and Sunday School, watching cartoons and other programs like Sesame Street, and being in Cub Scouts. I was supposed to be happy and somewhat carefree, but sadly I did not feel that way, especially where this kind of clothing was concerned. Why was my outward appearance so important to me? It should not have been during this particular time in my life. It was NOT this way in prior years. Third, and this one kind of troubles me and makes me wonder the most: Why did I get the feeling I did not like who I was when I wore this stupid outfit? Part of me thinks that every time I wore this to school, I was more quiet and reserved, and that was not typical for me and my kind of personality. The fourth and final complexity was that I never pretended to be someone I was NOT. The outfit and colors, to me symbolize what snobby rich kids wear to a stupid country club. I certainly fit the definition of preppy, but I was NEVER a snob. I always treated people with genuine respect. My family was not rich by any means, without a doubt. Why did I have such complicating thoughts at an early age? One true, scary but positive answer was that I must have been growing up faster than I had wanted or could have possibly imagined.
Earlier I mentioned that at 9 and 10 years of age, I somehow began to develop lots of complicating thought patterns and theories. I guess one could say that prepared me well when I went through junior high, high school, college, tech school & the rest of my life. My way of looking at the world is complex. Unlike my elementary school years at third and fourth grade, however, I am able to make choices and one of those choices entail deciding what clothes I like or make me feel good. I also make sure that nothing I like to wear grabs unwarranted or negative attention from anybody. So far, I think I have succeeded.
I continue to feel overwhelmed, confused and conflicted every time I look back at this family photo. In spite of all of this, my life has been great. God, however, tells me now as he told me then being different is not bad at all. He made us in his own image. It's good to be different. One thing I have done over these past many years is choosing carefully what I will wear so that I do NOT feel uncomfortable about myself. I continue to work on accepting what I cannot change. I need to be more assertive and do something because I want to do it, not because I need to satisfy or please others and their needs. I also try to be thankful everyday for all of God's gifts. I have come a long way, but I have much more to learn and a long way to go in this journey of life. Most of all, I continue to pray that God will inspire me to not be ashamed of who I was then. I laugh when I admit this to myself but I seriously have to be reminded of this: How many 10 year old boys in 1986 wore this kind of outfit? Not many boys in the 1980s, to be honest, would dress that clean or nice, even though, this kind of outfit was common during this particular era. I am thankful to be alive and continue to learn from my past so that I can set a better example for future generations, INCLUDING my two nephews!!