Greg Correll


Greg Correll

Greg Correll
New Paltz, New York, US
September 21
Founder, Chief of Deselopy (small packages); Editor (
small packages, inc.
I write.


Greg Correll's Links

Editor’s Pick
NOVEMBER 13, 2010 9:03AM


Rate: 49 Flag
At fourteen I was filthy in the alley. I missed adolescence, the tumult and the dance, and ended up in jail. I had no team, no one rooted for me. No mother, no father, no better road, no salvation bridge.

I was a runaway from a broken home. One of four, then five, who splintered off the straight beam. I was on the side. At the rim of the light, not fit for decent people. Not even wrong, or bad. Just gone. A mis-step, a broken stride, a stumble without recovery, and a young boy flees to the streets, again and again, looking for hippie shang-ri-la.

The street was too bright, revealed too much dirt, didn't conceal enough beardless cheek, so it was through the yards and alleys and back roads I walked and hitchhiked, begged and slid, into the cold winter of 1969.

I am in those alleys still, in the fading edge of heat and normal life.  I am incomplete, forever denied, forever throwing away what will never be right. I find myself wanting to tell my children, to shake them up, to make them realize how temporary this is, and for no reason other than jealousy over what I mustered for them, the gifts I gave them of reliability and be-there, and love.

When I feel this come on I retreat into the shadows and write. It does no good but it uses up the bad time, sloughs off the perversity of working so hard to make sure they never fear what I feared. And wanting them -- so bad I want this -- to feel it all, the torn nails and cold legs and hunger. How every warm lamplit window was a dead hand in my heart, tramping the midwest so long ago.

I am still incomplete. I feel forever denied, and I have made a life of denial, giving my all to my children, every nerve and sinew I give to them. I don't take vacations or waste money on anything but books -- children grow up smarter in homes with books, studies show, and mine did -- and I gave to them the radiance of whole, the infrared of love, the ultraviolet of steadfast.

This is crap. All these words fail, yes? Melodrama, or else raw chalk on a cheap slate. No careful observation or rendered details will revive that boy or save him. No wordplay or wrenching theatrics will recover him and set him right, return him to better future. No lifting up, what's done is done and what's gone is gone, except it is not gone. I am not all here. I never left that alley. That moment lives in me: days gone on the latest escape, the grease congealed on the wax wrapper, my thin gloves between my knees, my tongue taking up the soggy bread and crusted mayonnaise and stiff lunch meat; both hands turning it, pulling the paper flat, to get everything, from every fold and wrinkle. I still feel it, inhabit it, how I make my glances at the battered metal door, and the sidewalk at alley's end, where dawn blessed the Washington University students, hurrying to early class. I am still afraid  someone will look my way, some dishwasher will open the door.

I zoom in on that boy and I am that boy, uncombed, unwashed. I enter him again and again. I can't control it. Every year, into that hollow heart, that shameful hunger, I return.

I can't forget. I can't stop being in that moment. I will never be the student in a warm sweater, laughing with a girl, rushing to class, or the busy, wet-hands kitchen worker, surrounded by food and light. I was, am, always, the other guy, outside.

It comes to me late at night, during movies, while watching my kids. The alley, the cold Nebraska plains. The terror of being driven by speed freaks deep into the Ozarks, to an abandoned cabin. The limed memories of jail. The tragic hope I felt. I will never really get past those moments, and be a regular guy, whole and confident, in a main stream.

I fake it. I am almost done raising my three superb daughters, who are whole, and who think I am like them. I am not. When they go, when I no longer have them to be bright and upright for, what will become of me? Will I go back and finish? How is that done? How do I re-do?

I can't, I won't, recover. I just moved on. I did something else. I did not return to juvie or end up a junkie.  But I am defined by those years, that alley, that trash can, that dark light, that days-old, half-eaten sandwich.

How could they have let that happen to me?

Don't tell me good things. Don't tell me I rose up and did alright. I know all the things I am and did and made right.

I succeeded because I return, always, to that place of strewn glass and broken plates and passers-by. I feel, because I must, what I am not, what I missed, what was proved in me: I am not lucky. I was not loved as you were loved, or wanted, as my own children, now and forever, are wanted. I was not protected or cherished or watched over or chased down, tackled before I got away. I have ash where you have birthday gifts.

I am always this way. I chose to turn myself inside out, to make for my children what no hand formed in me. But what is turned is still visible, from the inside, still felt, from the inside. Brick dust. Gasoline. Blisters. Hunger.

I fail at this. Again. So I pat myself. There, there. Let's all feel better now. We'll do what I always do: let it go. I go on, un-nerved. Real people have nerves and full hearts and good  lives, can feel every part of what happened once upon a time. They have reunions and reminiscences. I stay a little numb. At a remove.

It's OK. I have enough to eat now, and my children? My children have everything.

Your tags:


Enter the amount, and click "Tip" to submit!
Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:


Type your comment below:
That is the question: what will become of you? For us, empty nesters, I am reinventing myself, my life. My husband, a lot like you, has reverted to his adolescence, that broken time & hungry time. I remark on it. He says, hang in there, don't give up on me yet.
A very humbling read. Thanks for the insight of your struggle.It seems that you are strong. From whence you came, the cartilage strong, the will even more. Thank you Greg.>r
I understand this (I think) in so many ways. My own sense of insecurity is very easily awakened - I expect the rug to be ripped out from under me. Still, I only have me to worry about.
I love that brave and shattered boy, Greg, and I love when you give him his voice.
Greg you helped me understand just how badly the unwanted, unloved, uncherished, unprotected street teens might feel. My heart aches for your boy. Last night a teenaged boy approached me on the street and asked for the leftovers I was carrying home from our fine dinner. Of course I gave them to him. I haven't had any contact with homeless kids in years. And this morning I find your post. I will be much more aware asI am out and about inthe city today. Feel better Greg, you're awful past has made a difference today.
Very moving piece, eloquent in it's raw-ness and stripped down hungry feeling. A word to the subject, it is so very hard to make our children want what we never had, I have had that feeling so strongly also. Peace to you Greg. Of course you will always go back, I understand this.
Good God, Greg.

We have similar feelings, if for different reasons. When I go there, as I periodically do, I have to write write write. If I don't, I start to burrow and dwell, and that's never good, not for me or anyone close to me.

Peace, brother.
I pick at my sucky youthful memories as if they are scabs, hoping they've healed enuf so I can pull them off and admire the scars. But the damned things never quite heal enuf, do they? And sometimes you pull a little too hard and reopen the wound and then...oh, shit, why'd I do that? I suspect your wounds are deeper than most, Greg, certainly deeper than mine, and you're the more admirable for having survived them and for describing them as eloquently and painfully as you do. And you're the more admirable for having prevailed despite them to do right by your family and give us the gifts of your bleeding reflections. You're the wiser for knowing the damned scabs never quite heal enuf to pull them clean off so you can admire the scars. Wish they would, though. There's nothing written that I know of that they won't some day.
Nobody writes of the shattered myth and truth of self better than you. Nobody. The tragedy is that you had to experience all these things to become the writer you are who bears these gifts for us to be pierced by your words in the comfort of our own warmer pasts. Tears, Greg. Tears.
I find no words adequate to say what I feel after reading this, Greg. However, I can't NOT try. Your steely resolve, your unfathomable pain, your brilliant mind - all of these work together to make you the man whom I admire more than I can say. But, it's the boy in the alley - the one who is forever with you - that boy who haunts you, is the same boy who will push you to find the next road you will walk. You are his champion. Always have been, always will be.
You are loved and cherished now. Which you managed to create and nourish. That's the most meaningful and lasting barrier against the broken glass, inside and out. Believe me, I know.
Children yes, Greg they don't make up quote for the holes in our souls but they do fill in some w joy rated for beauty and truth, friend
Just love you. You have so much much much talent. Your soul is rich.
Yes, I know. I was there, too. Someone recently told me "It's in the past" and I just shook my head. It's never in the past. That will always be a part of me, and some part of me will always be that 16-year-old girl walking the streets all night and sleeping in parks during the day. R
Wow. A book, Greg. About just this. Your writing is world-class.
As someone else who survived a tough childhood and fought back in another way, I feel this. So many others would as well. A book.
Well, now I'm crying on a Saturday morning. *sigh*
I read this and feel humbled.
Bravo. This is reminiscent of Carver.

Some recent research at the University of Hawaii has clarified some of this for me. The tension caused by "fight or flight", which is actually, "freeze, flight, fight, or fright"- keeps the individual in an ongoing state of "stop, look, listen"- unable to let go completely.

My subjective opinion is breaking the cycle as you have done is a prime example of evolution and the evolved being. We have no pie in the sky, only our brilliant children to continue the quest.
"I succeeded because I return, always, to that place of strewn glass and broken plates and passers-by. I feel, because I must, what I am not, what I missed, what was proved in me: I am not lucky. I was not loved as you were loved, or wanted, as my own children, now and forever, are wanted. I was not protected or cherished or watched over or chased down, tackled before I got away. I have ash where you have birthday gifts."

What is given vs what is inside of you seems to be the contrast that drove you to success with your own daughters.
For every thing denied you, your daughters benefitted.
Horatio Alger use to write of downtrodden lifting themselves from the ashes of abject poverty, and of making a life for themselves and for others. "Mark The Matchstick Boy" was probably intended in more of a economic sense, where anyone in American can rise up and achieve the American dream of money and food...but buried in the words is the emotion of clawing his way up.
You may not wish to hear uplifting words or platitudes in these comments, but you must be intellectually aware that you have accomplished what for many is the impossible.
And that core of greyness in you, strange as it may seem;...played a big part in how your girls benefitted.

Platitudes appreciated or not, I admire you more than I can say.
"This is crap. All these words fail, yes?"

'fraid so.
Greg, you are absolutely every way. In ways that boost us up towards a fine reality we all want to grasp, or at least languish in some warm cave of identification.

"...And how every warm lamplit window was a dead hand in my heart, tramping the midwest so long ago."

That part resonates. The aloneness of having no solice in unfamiliar places, even if the "unfamiliar" are the families that do not wholly accept you for the sins of your relatives. It is a cold illumination, like a mere image etched on marble. are, for the world, no less real than the ones who remember the smallest details of their triumphs. Your words allow us to seamlessly glide into the places where your gigantic thoughts are cast, feeling bouyed, feeling safer, feeling more complete...
sounds like traumatic stress disorder

what's impressive to me is that you distill poetry from pain, that your extreme need impelled you to heroic (yes, that's the word, accept it) generosity

what's distressing is that you appear trapped in an amber of agony and despair, does confession free you?
I really believe that once we have children of our own, once we experience that intense love & desire to protect them at all costs, that it becomes more & more difficult to deal with being unloved ourselves. Like you say, "How could they have let that happen to me?" We can try to be reasonable & blame the abuse and/or neglect on the fact that our parents were somehow damaged or ignorant or mentally ill, but reason can't trump the kind of pain you've experienced. A damaged child sees him/herself as immensely unlovable & ugly & wrong. The mirror image we see reflected back is an ogre, no matter that those who love us see someone beautiful & amazing.

So we end up a suicide, or death by anorexia, or death by alcohol or drugs. We try to fake joy, so our children don't have to hurt like we did. But our children are wise, they know more than we think they do.

You are such a gifted writer, I am always in awe of your ability to convey pain, suffering, love. It seems that writing is your salvation & when you're drowning in that river of pain, the pen (or the keyboard) is the stick you grab to reach the still-rocky shore. (Where you lie battered & gasping for breath, but at least it gets you to that shore.) As readers, we benefit from your writing, but ache for the broken child climbing from the words.

I don't have your eloquence & feel like a kid scribbling in crayon responding to a letter on parchment written in blood with a quill pen. But I want you to know that I care, we all care. It doesn't take away the misery, but it's important to know. And also -- keep writing, write a book -- any form -- if it's too hard to use real names, give your life to a character -- either way it will hold the truth. Gather & publish your essays, whatever -- just keep writing out the pain & maybe it will wear down & leave you. Despite what you write in your tag, I believe there IS hope.
Greg-It is a long journey when we have to find the strength that was not there for us, but must, absolutely must be there for our children. When looking back, the photo album is empty...
Greg, What is more real than this, than you, than the way you tell what you have known and felt and seen and been. Letting go helps and frees until it comes again. It, however it came, however it was, may recede. I don't know that it ever goes away. Who writes of real more honestly and more knowingly than you. We may all want to be who we think we are, but really we are simply who we really are, not just one part though, all of who we really are. Thinking of you and all the words you have written here.
This is paradoxically raw and polished. What will become of you? What you make yourself be. Just as it was before, just as it is for all of us. Yes, some have it easier, and you had it much, much harder than most. And, yes, you carry that baggage, just as we all carry our own baggage, for many, much lighter than your load.

Mine was not as harsh as yours, but I, too, had no idea what being a father was like, not having had one for most of my childhood years. We fashion our behavior out of our hearts. You have done an admirable job, as you say. There is no reason to assume you will not continue to do so in the future. You'd have to have some, ah, nerve to say so.
I've written this in my head many times. I can't write it as well, but I was there, behind or in front of you, lost or mad or confused. Nothing changed, just the confusion!
"How could they have let that happen to me?"

Alcoholic by age 16. Right there with you. Nobody stopped me.

The pain of living in the alley and everything thereafter likely taught you empathy and sympathy. You sent chills down spines today. We are all wiser for having read this. Find comfort in that.
I don't envy you your lost past, Greg, but I am in awe of your present presence.
I am almost speechless here. Your writing is so raw, so excellent. I think we all want to reach out and hug that little boy, take him home and feed him and show him what love really is.
This line touched me:
"I am almost done raising my three superb daughters, who are whole, and who think I am like them. I am not"
When we know what real parenting and real love can makes it that much harder knowing what we lost out on.
Superb. My compliments. My sympathies.
I have to take, so I just take, everything that is true.

Thank you, every one.
What will become of us, without the daily reminders in the faces of our children of the need to do so. I'm struggling with that now. Again, alone. It may get the best of me yet, Greg, but pouring the grey emptiness onto a keyboard is a wondrous gift you have and, although I can't do it myself, I can recognize myself in your words, and am so glad you have offered them to me today. I need them.
Sometimes I think that the way you have found is the only way to redemption--to make it up to the boy you were, the one who deserved so much better, by doing for the kids. And your amazing writing, which never fails to move me, though it is often so far beyond me that I can't often comment.
This post really touched me. I know you can't go back, really, to the boy you were, just as leaves, once fallen from the tree, cannot go back. None of us can actually re-connect from where we came from. We can only be for today and tomorrow. And you, you are the man who loves his children, perhaps more deeply because you know what it is like to live without. R
Your pain is so palpable, I cry. Your words are so relentlessly eloquent, I cry. Your love for your children is so pure and so deep, I cry. But that is good for me, who often forgets just how many people have had such a cruel beginning that will not end.

This piece blows me away. I really can't say more than that.~r
My daughter works with homeless kids in Seattle - I'll forward this to her. I, too, would encourage you to write a book. When I finished Breaking Night by Liz Murray, I understood I had seen just a glimpse of what defined life for kids on the street. But the story really defined resilience and discipline for me. And every time I turned a page, I felt her isolation. What was a touch on the shoulder for me, was, most likely, a bear hug for her. Anyway - it's important for stories like yours to come out of the shadows for kids who find who are trying to find their way out of the allies and for those of us turning on our living room lights at dusk.
By the way, your writing is drop-dead-gorgeous.
So many people who have triumphed over adversity want to put all that behind them. Never forget the unloved and raggedy boy who was once you. He is still there. When your children are on their own, love him yourself by exploring and writing.
Don't have a lot to add, just wow. Wow for the writing. Wow for the insight.
I think this one has a very deep root.
Well written. Remember, though, we will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
I had to sleep on this one. Beautifully written, powerful beyond belief.
The world is a better place because you are in it, Greg.
Can't add anything to the other comments other than your writing is gorgeous, this moved me, and some of us have to work very hard to grab hope when it glances it our direction.
I've read this over and over-- still no adequate words to comment with, still so haunting. Your words just keep drawing me back...