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In 1983 I was a troubled fifteen year old kid in a dysfunctional home. My family was very poor. As such, we lived in a very poor housing project, which meant that all of my friends were poor as well. Each of us were dead end kids with very little hope of a future. At the time, every phase of my life was filled with extreme adversity. There is very little from that time period that I recall to be positive. However, I can remember one of my very first escapes from the tribulations of my difficult childhood... baseball. At the age of eleven, I had discovered baseball cards. I was immediately hooked on collecting them. Looking through my baseball cards took me away from the problems that I was forced to deal with in my life. I loved them so much that I would often walk the two miles to school every day just so that I could spend my bus money on baseball cards.
I was an amazing wheeler dealer when it came to collecting baseball cards. I had a knack for finding kids who had old cards sitting forgotten in shoe boxes in their bedrooms. I had a very natural instinct for finding kids who had older siblings that had moved on to bigger and better things than collecting cards. These cards would be left behind, collecting dust. I would trade whatever toys I could to acquire those forsaken treasures.
By the time I reached the age of fourteen I had nearly 10,000 cards. I had cards that were worth ALOT of money at the time that I owned them... and I was absolutely fanatical about their care and upkeep. Every single valuable card was treated with utter reverence and kept in protective plastic. Never once did it enter my mind to actually SELL any of them. Collecting those cards was simply too important to me to let any of them go. It was the one non destructive escape that I had.
Baseball cards were an obsession that lasted until I turned fifteen. It was at that time that things seemed the most difficult for me as a child. My home life was... bad. The adversity of my life at home caused severe repercussions in every other phase of my life. I was constantly getting into trouble. I struggled everywhere I turned. My friends were not much better off than I was. It seems that poverty creates many brands of adversity, and each of us were dealing with something or another that kids should not have to deal with. Then, one day I heard about an upcoming baseball card show at the local mall. Normally, I would have been excited to go. Card shows were rare... and when they did happen, it was better than going to Disney as far as I was concerned. The opportunity to look though so many rare collectibles was something that always made me excited. However, I was excited this time for another reason. A plan had formed in my mind.
On the day of the card show, I packed up my entire collection (which was no small feat) and loaded it into my best friends car. He could not believe what I was doing. When I explained what I had in mind, he tried talking me out of it. He did not know that I had not told him the entire plan yet. Accompanied by several of our core group of buddies, we packed into my best friends car and drove to the card show so that I could sell my beloved collection. Despite the many inquiries as to what we were doing, I would not fully divulge what I had in mind. It probably seems like I should have been conflicted by what I was about to do, but I can assure you that I was not. I had too many problems with too much complexity to enjoy the simple pleasures of collecting anymore. The escape they had provided simply lost its luster.
When I arrived at the card show, I found a baseball card dealer and showed him what I had to sell. Now, I have to tell you... not only was I meticulous... I was EXTREMELY knowledgeable when it came to baseball card collecting. I KNEW what I had. I KNEW the value of every single card in my collection. I also knew how badly the dealer was trying to rob me with his incredibly lowball offer. But... I was young, eager, and I had a plan. Despite the fact that I probably received one tenth of what the collection was worth... I took the deal with a smile.
As soon as the cash was in my hand, my friends followed me to the Radio Shack at the other end of the mall, where I bought the biggest Boom Box radio in the store... along with the eight D-Cell batteries needed to run that behemoth. Next, we went to the record store. I bought an entire stack of heavy metal cassettes. As long as I live I will never forget the excitement on the faces of my friends. They were my true family. They were just like me... kids with nothing. Kids with no hope of ever HAVING anything. When we left the mall with my brand new radio (which was the meanest radio you ever laid your eyes on), along with all of our favorite heavy metal tunes, each and every one of us felt a hope that we never had before.
It was the ultimate sacrifice for that fifteen year old version of me.
Recently, I decided to check up on the value of that old collection. Me and a buddy looked online at card after card from that amazing collection of my past. The dollar value would have been a staggering thing to tally up. I have never once regretted my decision to sell those cards. Not even after seeing how valuable they are now. You see, the music that I bought on that day... it saved me. Time and time again, it saved me. It saved my friends too. We were dead end kids. We had nothing before I made that sacrifice. After, we had the music and all of the joy that it could provide. Everywhere we went, that music went with us. We took turns carrying that monstrously heavy radio... volume cranked up the entire time... and it made all of our lives that much better.
In the decades since, music has never lost its importance. No matter where I am. No matter what I am doing. Music is with me. It is a gift beyond value.
As always, thank you for reading. -John Alexander