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My Evolving Story
"Dawn wakes the silence of a fainted lullaby"
It is often said that life is a sum of experiences that make you the person that you are today: A framework to provide structure for what is to come for each person today and tomorrow. What follows is a short summary of my years to date.
I was born 28 June 1979 and raised in Miles City, MT on a small back street in remote part of town. I spent 9 years of my life in the neighborhood seen below. While it wasn't in a more active part of the community, I didn't mind: It allowed my younger brother and I many opportunities to explore on foot and on bikes without fear of what kids probably face today in more active areas.
One of my earliest memories is playing in the garden early one evening, just as dark was approaching, and standing up in amazement at the clouds overhead. They were a bright red, contrasted with the dimming sky along the horizon and dark troughs to the red waves. I have always interpreted this as an omen for my life, for red skies have indicated--in lore as in science--of good times to come. In the Book of Matthew (half of my namesake) it is written: "He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, [It will be] fair weather: for the sky is red." Sailors additionally delight at red skies at night. Scientifically, this is sound: Because red light from the sun cannot pass through a lot of weather patterns in the atmosphere in order for the red wavelength to reflect from the clouds. Because weather typically follows west-to-east, and the sun sets in the west, it only stands to reason that a red sky at night can only be a good thing. But, I digress.
These years I recall with fond memories: My family had a deep blue two-story house; which had an upstairs room that served as my bedroom for a time; a large, plush lawn with a couple trees; and a big garden that could double as a sandbox (as needed). When I became of school age, I started by attending kindergarten and grades 1 and 2 at Roosevelt Elementary School followed by grade 3 at Garfield Elementary School.
Much of my boyhood here was spent doing what most boys my age did in their youth: I played with friends, drew and wrote stories, and fondly endeared the Star Wars universe. Star Wars, in fact, was probably what fueled my love for science. At this time in my life my science of choice was astronomy: I wrote about it, I drew pictures about it, I fantasized about being an astronaut, and I especially remember many of the early events in my life being shaped by the good and bad of space science. I remember seeing Haley's Comet: An evening under a cold and starry sky with my father pointing up to the sky, "see, there it is." Or the Challenger disaster which found me mourning the loss of some of America's finest and a step back in it's space program.
It was a formative time: One that I will never forget: My first big bike, nights spent at the playground, and staying after school just to wait to play with the girl that I liked. In kindergarten, first grade, and second grade my classmates and I were all like extended family. We entered an unfamiliar world together and we each made our own place in it. When we each went to third grade, however, we went from a single class to two classes, thus splitting up many of us. While this change wasn't necessarily welcomed, but tolerated, as a third grader I just went along with it. I met and made new friends and made more relationships. Among this new group of friends was a kid named Steven Prelwitz. Because of circumstances, however, our paths would go separate ways. The last time I was in Miles City, I drove past where he lived when I was last there. Just as lives change, so do the places it happens.
At this time my father was an employee of Mountain Bell/US West. Since dad was on the line crew at this time and it dictated that he would be away from home much more than he was now--which was a lot. Instead of adding stress to the family by putting it through this trial, my father switched positions out of the line crew to a phone central office in Wolf Point, MT.
My formative years in Miles City allowed me realize my intellect: I had a natural ability to learn things and success in applying that knowledge. I have a distinct memory of this time in my life when my family was staying at a hotel and I sat at a table and jotted down how to manufacture an optically-pumped ruby laser (3 years later a friend and I would re-visit my laser designing days and attempt to produce a liquid-based laser). While it was not a defining event, this is nonetheless one of the hallmarks down the road of life that helps to act as a sum of experiences.
We first lived in a rented house
with a gigantic downstairs bedroom and bathroom that my younger brother and I
With the kids next door my brother and I played "guns" or "Army" or whatever it
was called. Joshua Keller, the middle
kid next door, would later challenge me to a fight...which
I would win. In itself, it would be a pivotal event...but I'm getting
ahead of myself. Getting up early in the morning to get ready for
school, eat my breakfast cereal, watch the
and Gi Joe, and the thrill of getting my first
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
are fond memories I have in this place.
Soon we moved into a trailer house that we moved onto a rented lot down the street. By this time I had decided that I wanted to be an astronaut. I immersed myself in periodicals about the subject and devoted time and energy towards astronomy (armed with a telescope) and learning about the solar system. Every now and then we would have a guidance counselor in our classes to answer questions that we might have. A question that I recall asking is "what does it take to be an astronaut?" The reply was that I would need to go into the Air Force after college, be there for a few years, then go into the astronaut program. I consider myself lucky because of the support that I received from my teachers in this respect: Mrs. Patch would always be sure to inform me of astronomical events happening and encourage me to observe them. Mr. Young, my fifth grade teacher, could always be found challenging me with puzzles and scientific riddles, such as "why can you sometimes find a halo around the moon?" These early years were very substantive for my growth in the sciences.
Obviously having seen my affinity for my beloved Nintendo, my parents broke down and got me a VTech PreComputer 1000. Initially, I was just amazed at the things like trivia and keyboarding, but I soon realized that there was much more to this contraption. The button on the far left-hand side under the 20-character LED screen was something that I found peculiar: A challenge! After reading through the manual I quickly determined that I could manipulate some of the games on the machine. They were encoded into the toy in such a way that there were lines of code preceded by a number (which I quickly noticed went upwards in multiples of 10). Soon, I was programming my own games into the machine using this language that looked a lot like BASICA or GWBASIC. A couple years later, with a similar model that I could attach to a TV screen and a printer I would make a program that did my high school math homework for me.
I was involved in the community, attending church with my family every weekend and partaking in activities that enriched that organization; also taking part in organizations that promoted strong values and ethics: The Cub Scouts, church youth group, sports, etc. Driven by my parents' interest in my involvement in Cub Scouts, I found myself earning merit badges at a high rate of speed. My involvement in sports and my natural charisma at an early age led me to become a coach for a group of girls preparing for a track and field style event.
Keeping a broad network of friends was important to me. When it came time to fight for my honor, they were supportive. Josh Keller, the former kid from next door, challenged me to a fight one day. To this day I can't recall the reason, though it was probably over a girl. To the local bike track we went. With everyone there to see the spectacle, we went back and forth for quite some time. I recall even seeing my mother drive up in one of the family's vehicles to watch. Though he had me on the ground periodically, I was the first one--and the only one--to draw blood from the encounter. Once I had done so, I recall him spitting it all over my arms. By the time the fiasco was over with (I believe it was his mother that broke up the fight) I was the clear champion.
Is violence the answer? No--all other methods of problem resolution should be employed prior to the use of force. When this time comes, the force should be overwhelming and swift in nature. Of course, in the context of a fifth grader and a fourth grader the greater philosophy of reason escapes the primal urge to get one more rung up on the social ladder, to get one more step closer to being king of the hill. The fight with Josh Keller was to prove a lesson: That I couldn't be bullied. The end result was that it worked. It worked well. While I still hadn't quite found the niche I was looking for, the niche that found me worked just fine.
I had found a place amongst my peers after two years. I had many friends and people respected me. I had plenty of friends and at least two girls that vied for my attention. There was intrigue, adventure, action, romance, and suspense: All the elements of a good story.
One such time found a friend of mine and I biking on a nearby bike track: Racing, doing trick, and the usual sort of stuff that kids our age did. We would also play in a group of trees that comprised something of a "fort" nearby. Next to this area was a small shack. Inside this shack there was never anything of consequence. However, on this day we decided to go inside. What we found was a small fire ascending from some smoldering straw. Thinking quickly, my friend and I took dirt in our hands and in a pocket in our shirts and carried it to the fire to put it out. Next, we notified a nearby resident of the fire and our actions so that he could contact the local fire department. By the time the fire department arrived, however, we had taken care of the matter.
In solitude I would let my mind wander into ventures of creativity: A series of stories I had been developing, starting in Miles City with a good friend who illustrated for the stories, flourished in Wolf Point. Late nights in the top of the bunk bed, listening to the pop music of the late 80s broadcast from a Canadian radio station out of Regina, Saskatchewan coming from an old stereo. The likes of Enya, Elton John, and Richard Marx stirred me to dream up the continuing saga.
All things must change, whether we want them to or not. I was not ready for this change: The day which we moved the trailer house from Wolf Point to Bowman is etched into my memory, though not much of a happy one.
All content Copyright © 2007, Matthew A. Hetland, unless otherwise stated or implied