Preface: Introducing the end.
Most stories begin in the middle. But not all sequences are chronologically driven.
This is not your typical roller coaster, as I am not your average thrill-seeker. For all intents and purposes, I had never sought thrills, but I recognized, after some therapy and research, that my brain was chemically wired with action and irresistible manipulation, and the urge to resist temptation tended to dissolve when a the thrill came and sought me.
If another direction was something I had sought, then another place I may have landed, but I had not thought about a specific destination or any ultimate decision, moreover, my mind’s guidance map was adjacent the middle of nowhere, I was perpendicular to the edge of an unending highway of misinterpretation.
The ultimate forecast was awful.
But I loved bad weather anyway.
We saw it on Friday on the road to Thompsonville, the wicker love seat, right out there, straddling the centerline. I gaped at Susan and she raised her eyebrows, her eyes wide and she uttered a gasp, which sounded like a high-pitched squeak – the likes of which I would have found peculiar at any time prior to this puzzle. I tapped on the brakes of my old Ford; still we slid on the slushy byway. We pulled to the shoulder about eighty yards past the chair. I looked into the side-view mirror. Susan was already out of the truck, with a very red face.
“I thought she burned it, Bobby!” She said and she slammed the door. Meanwhile, I stiffly swung out caught up to her, buttoning my jacket and pulling my hat down to block the Arctic wind. We both staggered and slipped across the icy interstate as she continued to antagonize me.
“I thought you said the bitch told you she had burned it with all the other shit!” She briskly shuffled ahead of me.
“Yeah, that really burns me,” I tried to joke, but immediately felt ashamed of my usual insincerity.
She whirled back to face me, demon-hell in her acrid green eyes and raised her pointed finger at me, almost like a condescending mother would, “WHY do you have to lie, baby? Goddamnit! WHY are you SUCH A FUCKING LIAR?” And with that she was off again, at least twenty yards in the lead of this race to my wicker chair. I hesitated a moment before moving forward. Maybe I was a liar, but not in this case… I started to contemplate that I couldn’t remember if I had or had not been untruthful or not, despite the overwhelming evidence which pointed to the non-charred wicker love seat covered in snow in the middle of the road.
“Hey baby, come on,” I called Susan with the most tender tone I could summon. Susan didn’t slow her pace. I chuckled under my breath with the nonsensicality of it all, all of it, and I picked up my pace. I held my breath and commanded a somber _expression to my misbehaving facial muscles. Man, she was a enchanting illusion in this hallucination of my existence; her long, red tresses were protesting the gusts of wind, like twitching fingers covered with particles of snow that were also stuck to her black overcoat, her once dark boots were completely white.
I tumbled to the ground twice before staggering to her as she approached the old chair. My gut wrenched sickeningly while I watched her disgracefully started kicking it, and I mean beating the living shit out of it, first with her steel-toed boots and then with her gloved fists and purse. Frozen, I observed this obtuse performance – this display of violent rage – that my girlfriend had launched. My chair was actually being annihilated before me, standing on the barely-visible, yellow line. Damn, that wicker love seat had been with me more than any woman in my lifetime of failed relationships.
“Susan?” I touched her shoulder.
She would not acknowledge me. Brusquely, she seized the chair and sat down sternly, staring straight ahead into the great-big-wide unknown. I traced her gaze, imagining what she was really seeing now. The blowing snow became increasingly more intense; visibility was probably less than ten feet and glancing over my shoulder, my old Ford was nowhere in sight. I wanted to go home now: the fuck with Billy’s funeral, the will, my girlfriend, myself. The hell with it all – all of it. Even the wicker love chair. It was all one huge expanding disaster that never would dissolve in tandem with my constant need to swim – shit, even dive and do the backstroke through these obscure and polluted waters of the beaches I inhabited. True, my ex-wife was a pyromaniac. She often set things on fire when she felt broken. I was one of her broken belongings; I have the scars to prove it. Distractedly, I pondered why she hadn’t set herself ablaze by now. At this image, I uttered a half-snort, half-giggle. Ellen, my old hellion, or “Hell-ing” was an appropriate name for my ex-flame.
The inhospitable wind continued to intensify and I broke from my daze to survey our surroundings. I instinctively reached into my slack’s pocket to retrieve a cigarette, and silently cursed upon recalling that I had quit last weekend. Susan was sitting next to me, crying softly with her face buried in her hands; her body was both trembling and heaving, perhaps because of the subzero wind-chill, but I suspected that was only a fraction of the shivering factor.
Then, through the dense blanket of blowing snow, there were two faint lights coming dead at us. For several seconds I blinked my blurry eyes and hazy mind…
Riddle me this: Alright… let’s see here… um, okay… so you got yourself: two headlights + two yellow lines + an ice-covered pavement + a girl in a wicker chair in the middle of the road, a huge snowstorm…
My heart came to a screeching halt and then I screamed at Susan while I tried to pull her by her sleeves from my tattered chair.
“MOVE!” I cried as I watched the headlights of the nearing truck smile and wink brightly at me. Besides the pulsating beams and the ten-ton weights in my shoes, I recall my screaming, “move,” both to the truck and to the crazy woman I was trying to communicate with in my lounger.
As many a story goes, parallel systems collided.
Perception was no longer within me, if you can attempt to comprehend; the material world with which I had been so habituated had abruptly altered validity, hence nothing substantially existed, intrinsically rocketed into my own mind the most incomprehensible state of every condition – of the preposterous phenomenon of tangible thoughts m
Consider the characteristics or conditions of all the substance in your intrinsic perception, such as the entities which one can identify as a solid state or a liquid state, (or even a gaseous state), and you believe you know by the very nature of the “subject,” to be just what it is, because that truth is fundamental. Now, suppose these primary dimensions of your reality are permuted, a metamorphosis which transforms every element, transcending everything so that it is the not only opposite of what it may have once been perceived as but the same in it’s lack of form and no law of the universe has any law or harmony, (the gaseous factors would really be astounding) and everything is nothing, and all that is or is not, is a contradiction of the same problem.
The concrete is now the abstract.
The trivium is equal to the empty paradox.
Pure lack of time and space.
For no conscious reason, my arms extended buoyantly toward the sky, or so I thought this to be something I did, and skimmed over the highlights of the great big unknown as it would travel with me where it would, with or without me, whatever, amen. This action led to my next transitory side-effect which was (after quickly reviewing the causal theory of epiphenomenalism (physical events have mental effects, but mental events have no effects of any kind) how very useless it was to philosophize at this time, how tired my mind was, then snip-snapping right on back to my strenuously draining brooding of the undetermined unknown and how that unknown was always about to increase in conscious life.
There are the places at which you are not, or perhaps where you would rather be, not be, won’t be, the list within the list within the list is infinite, but my point is that the location of where you are (or where you ain’t) is probably the most important place you could ever be. Where you’re not is: any, some, or everywhere you could be, certainly, of course when you have but a critical amount of “time” remaining to reconsider every place where you ever were which led me to this last circumstance in which I was currently entangled, where I was not was anywhere but where I was, at a condition labeled as the end of one’s lifetime; this is the place where you last were, and your mind works itself backwards, instinctively and recklessly, and flashes these excruciating images, words, colors, lines and limits, gaps and speculation, theories, people, pets, regrets, media, motions, accidents, mistakes, recoveries, tastes, dreams, nightmares, mischief, games, fame, humiliation, embarrassment, acceptance, awards, rewards, faith, apathy, remorse, anxiety, true faith, true love, true sex, true blueness of the purest skies, waters, and eyes; good fortune, good graces, all those artistic creations….
The worst part, the most awful worst of all the worsts was terrible: The realization of having to contemplate how anything could be even worse than the worst realization you can contemplate. To me it was feeling that I was departing without saying goodbye; abruptly leaving the party early, sneaking out irresponsibly and silently, the one who didn’t even say, “later on,” and never came back.
I was late meeting my mother for coffee again, so I took my time driving across the city and remembered to smoke a cigarette when I pulled into a parking spot that should have been reserved for handicapped people or elderly folks, because of the proximity to the entrance. I saw her sitting near the bar and she was dressed in her usual Sunday best, perched on her chair like an extremely overzealous kleptomaniac, in love with the heart of the silver haired gentleman who sat next to her – the heart she destined to steal to remind herself why she was not a petty thief but a renacassine lady, as graceful as her eyes when they swayed into her victim’s gaze. Men watched my mother’s eyes as if they were a nice, firm ass, or a knee-buckling pair of boobs on a 21 year old supermodel. This was one of the main reasons that I never made eye contact with anyone until my fifth therapist told me she would sleep with me if I would just fucking look at her. I was fifteen and she was a knockout, but I was not interested in that challenge. I looked her in the eyes and told her no. Then I took my shirt off and I swaggered out of her office, telling her I would be back next week, and I didn’t turn to look at her as I left, but I knew she was laughing. The next six days I spent every moment I practicing and exercising my right to a dazzling use of total eye action. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom contacting my own eyes and the rest of the time on my cat. He was a not a particularly good subject because he could not see the vast universe which I was engaging him with my newfound cool stare. My oldest brother told me to watch James Dean to see how it was done, but I needed more direction. I stopped blinking for a day and ended up in the emergency room that next day. The doctors seemed to think that blinking was involuntary, but I thought that the art of making true eye contact was part of my perfection. They mentioned that my eyes would dry out if I didn’t blink. What did I do? I didn’t bat an eye.
I have wanted to tell that story since I thought of the punch line… many years ago.
During the next short phase I determined that eye contact meant that you had to come into direct contact with your opponent’s eyeball. I was back at the therapist in less than six days. She was never bored with my brothers and me when we were allowed to spend time in her office, but she was constantly trying to break us of our natural will to be independent and unusual. I knew better than to get better. I knew that there was no cure for the world I had invented and looking into someone’s eyes was a ritual that I frowned upon. Look all around you, but never gaze. When you gaze into the world, you must remember that what you see is dependent on where you look. I wanted to have reflective eyes, like my dad. He didn’t see anything – not because he was blind, but because he was always listening. He was thoughtful and reflective and insightful.
It turned out that I wasn’t. I saw a new therapist soon after I told him about her cure for my eye contact disorder. Dr. Buck was impossible for me not to make eye contact with, not only because his left eye was blue and his right eye was brown, but also he had no agenda to divert my focus. He spoke to me without suggesting there was any purpose for me to look at anything, and by doing so, he taught me to see who I was. He was the only shrink who ever read poetry to me and gave me the freedom to think in detail about what I saw, but allowed me the distance to let go of my constant anxiety. Aristotle Buck was his name. I think he was my only friend when I was a boy.
When my mother greeted me, she gave me a hug which didn’t actually touch any part of my clothing and a kiss that didn’t grace my cheek. I smiled at her friend and ordered a black coffee and a glass of ice cubes to chew on. I found that ice cube chewing soothed my will to smoke when I was around mother, and also annoyed her just as much. I was as aware of this paradox as I was ignorant, but nothing would happen if I had nothing to do.
The conversation between my mother and this stranger ignited that slow fire of tediousness in my stomach, where the coffee and ice cubes met briefly and then mutated into their separate energies; both of these substances made me have to go to the restroom quite urgently. I excused myself from their conversation and asked the cute redheaded barista where the men’s room was. She gave me the look that said, “We only have one per gender in this little restaurant, so try not to eat a bran muffin with your coffee here, sir.” I knew that look. I made more than eye contact with her – she spoke to me with her attitude. I wanted to be an omniscient character suddenly, and wished she was telling my story rather than I was, so I decided to talk to her before I went back to sit down and she wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know. Plus, she used the word, “you” as if it were her own personal pronoun and nothing is worse than second person narrative. I asked her out for a drink and an autographed photograph of Martha Stewart that my sweet niece gave me when she was visiting me in the Catskills that last summer; she claimed I needed some decorations in my tent. That photo has been in my wallet ever since, and it is just what the women who find me interesting need for me to prove that I am not so keen. She frowned as she handed the picture back to me.
“That’s not her autograph.”
“Like hell, it is,” I replied and briskly snatched it from her fingers then carefully folded it and rattled the picture at her. “You are to blame for the trouble around you,” I said and stretched my arms over my head, letting them fall to my sides in a loud slap.
She actually turned away and farted at me, leaving my mouth agape and my heart pounding. I sat back down and ate my spinach eggs and watched my barista fall in love with some young college kid with an Ohio State sweatshirt on and watched myself the same way I watched her and everybody else. My lack of action and my impulse to act were constantly conflicting. I enjoyed my breakfast and decided that I would come back here some day and the young, gassy sass would let me love her.
I ordered myself a cake to go and was delighted to be somewhere alone, at home, with no one to tell me how things happened that day – no one to all me how the story changes when I am the narrator, and I was ready to be in my own fictional thematic park where I could write about the fiction I saw and plant my own imaginary garden in my little space at my sacred place.
“No Accidents Permitted.”
The tin sign in my mother’s guest bathroom still cracked me up whenever I read it. But I was long gone well before then; I laughed at everything those dark days.
“Your dinner is at the grocery store,” I read the sign on the mirror which sealed my agonizing fate: I was probably going to starve to death. I tore the note down and flushed it down the toilet. I giggled and remembered how this was going to be the summer of my liberation, reinvigoration, inspiration… and god dammit! I was going to make a big deal out of it.
Of course I did not know how I would execute this fluffy goal. I used my new dance technique and waltzed the hallway pretty well all the marble floor was covered with my shoes and ended up I the kitchen. I grasped a butter knife and imagined myself cutting an onion loaf, then gasping as I cut the bread while it shrieked in agony. I said softly and condescendingly, “Bread. You are food and you shalt not scream,” to which the poor loaf replied, “Take the margarine! It isn’t even real butter!” I roared madly and swayed over the cutting board dizzily contemplating my state of mind.
Man, do I need a plan.
I need a plot: A sketch, a motive, an order; a lot of rich ideas in a conscious and chronological structure to guide my inattentive idleness in a clear direction.
I tossed the fake loaf into the trash and headed out the side door for a morning stroll through the swampy, wealthy, expensive, gated neighborhood. I headed east with my pocket compass functioning – I tended to get lost with or without it – but I had it so that this way I had something to blame for my directional mishap, should the case come up.
The deep south had a strict manner of informing and reminding one how unnatural the great outdoors were when one found oneself outside in the thick of it. I sweat like the born northerner who I was while the bugs of impossible shapes and sizes collided with each other in midair trying to bite, sting, kill and who knows what else they had on their dirty little cell-sized minds when they hissed and spit at me. From the moment I had shut my mother’s screen door to when my new Converse touched the asphalt of the sidewalk, the waves of buzzing tore at my eardrums. The nagging lack of stability and my unusual equilibrium was a growing concern for me as I grew older and less balanced, but today’s disconnection I encountered in the southern heat was all too much for me – every time I staggered towards it.
Centuries later I was at the end of the driveway, I wiped the sweat off my brow with the back of my forearm and gazed at my mother’s house reconsidering my walk and other life decisions that only I could remember. Instead of going on or turning back, I stretched my arms in front of me my hands facing outward in front of my chest and I fell straightforward, down into the thick swampgrass of the lawn – a move of nonstrategic condemnation – where I expected nothing else but my mind to take inventory of my intentions.
Digby talked my into skipping school on the last day of Finals. We were both finished with our in-class exams, but I still had to complete my research paper on Post-Modernism and the Decline of Civilization before I could graduate. The paper was due by the end of the school day so I packed up my laptop in Digby’s new ____ and to the beach we headed. Digby’s behavior was more erratic than usual – he wasn’t on the highway for ten minutes when he pulled over to check all the fluids, oil, and tire pressure. I ignored this and tried to focus on graduation criteria, but when he pulled over the fifth time in less than an hour, I closed my eyes and looked at him. Yes, I did this with my eyes closed. This manner of addressing his behavior actually works; he knows I am tired of his torture.
“Dude.” I sucked my breath in and exhaled while I said, “Is the car, like, communicating irrational mechanical paranoia that only a fucking lunatic would listen to?”
Eyes open, wide and wild, I moved over the seat to get in his face. “I have been very patient with you since birth. I am out of patience. Let me drive; you write this fucking paper, and we will be at the shore in less than an hour.”
I unbuckled my seatbelt before unbuckling his, got out and strolled to the driver’s side and told him to get out. He laughed and pointed at a road sign that said Sunnybrook Mental Hospital 10 miles, and instinctively stupid as I am, I glanced at it as he peeled out and was on the higway before I had an option to freak out. Not a big deal, Not a big deal, he will come back… my brother has my ticket to high school graduation in his car and wouldn’t let me down. I started down the stretch of asphalt and watched his fancy new sports car fly over the hill and face away.
My fucking future was over before it even started when I was born with an identical twin brother who was the fortunate one not to have any conscious. I started walking towards the beach with my anxiety and mounting state of despair, and was sure to focus on only one idea. How do drown my self once I made it to the water. Virginia Woolfe-style? Too cliché. Maybe I can find a potential murderer and throw myself at him, thereby saving someone else’s life at the same time I spare my own.
I walked for a few miles, and thought about my regrets and pregrets, my neck was getting sunburnt and my back ached. I put out my thumb to try hitchhiking but the only person who stopped was a cop.
This cop’s name was Jerry Plydo and immediately terrified me with his interrogation of where I was going, should’nt I be in school, why the hell are you hitchhiking, do you have any drugs or weapons, etc. Jerry Plydo was the biggest cop I had ever seen – he stepped out of the police car and I almost fainted.
“Yes, sir” I said, “ I have weapons and drugs and but my twin brother stole them and my car…” I was shocked at myself for such instant deciept, “Can you help me?”
He motioned for me to get in the car and he put out an APB on my brother, then Jerry got even tougher looking when he began to drill me for information.
What kind of drugs?
What type of weapon? How many?
Is he dangerous?
On and on and on. Then there he was. Pulled over checking his dtire pressure.
“That’s him!” Jerry slammed on his breaks and within seconds, had a gun at Digby’s head and he was cuffed up.
“Whoa,” I walked up to Officer Plydo and thanked him, using my ability to produce fake tears. The contorted maliciousness of my brother’s body language screamed at me in it’s silence, and I began to get worried when six more cops showed up.
The real pisser of the whole scenario was that Digby really had a 9 milimeter in his glovebox (unregistered) and I knew he would have used it on me if he not been under the tight embrace of Jerry Plydo. Then the next few moments decreased my chance of survival further. In the midst of the midst, I asked if I could take the car home when Digby was staring at me from the back of the black and white, and the answer was a quick and definitive NO.
Huh? But the… wait, you mean I can’t… of bloody hell. Meekly and with real live wet tears in my eyes I asked, “May I retrieve my laptop please, sir?”
“Sorry, buddy; it’s evidence.” He gave me that cop grin which says “Oh silly civilian! Don’t make me argue with you becaseu I will win. I am a cop. I have a badge and a gun.”
I eased back toward the side of the road and sat on a pointy rock. I gave Digby the finger because he was cuffed and couldn’t return the favor, but mouthed some words through the glass window. This went on while the cops did their thing and when they asked me for a statement, words didn’t work for me. I reached into my pocket and handed them a quarter of weed and my new glass pipe. Please arrest me. If I don’t graduate, I want to spend the rest of my existence in prison.
I turned and spread my hands on the side of Plydo’s vehicle and waited for the inevitable patdown and cuffup.
When I snapped out of my little world after no one had even come near me, I saw Digby laughing. How ironic – he graduates and gets to go to jail.
“Thanks for handing that over, but you can have it. We don’t press charges for anything under an ounce, stupid.” He didn’t say the word stupid but I wish he had.
“So when can I get my computer?” I gave him a smile that was probably more creepy than it was sincere, “I won’t graduate if I don’t turn in a term paper that is on that thing…”
“You should back your homework up, son.” You should be careful who you talk to like that – my brother is a criminally insance felon, I didn’t say.
I agreed but he went on, “It’s not like you seem like the Ivy League type, man. Hell, I better send that PC to the lab to make sure youe ain’t running some drug cartel with your evil twin.” He shook his head and walked toward Digby’s car.
“I have a scholarchip to Yale, you fucking half-wit, you probably got your GED online, your wife is going to leave you because cops are unhappy, lying, stealing, fucks who drink and drive and I have a goddamn MAC for fuck’s sake! I AM Ivy League! Nothing is going to get in my way-“
Then he slapped the cuffs on me. “No one is going to get in your way but yourself.”
My sails suddenly had no wind and my boat had no compass.
I sat next to Digby and felt his eyes on me, waiting for the right moment to make me feel better (that last statement was when I realized that I was even being sarcastic in my own self-dialogue).
“I forgot to mention that I had a gun but it is registered… in your name.”
I decided to hold my breath so maybe I would pass out or die and not have to be in this police car, not be anywhere. And anyway, I backed up your paper last night in case I needed to plagiarize it for something in community college.”
I breathed and was so relieved that my lying ratass borther stole my paper that I felt gaggy with relief.
“I doubt you could even get accepted to a community college in prison, you ugly waste of oxygen.”
We both watched his new car get hoisted onto the tow truck.
“God, that was stupid,” Digby said, but not to me or anyone in particular.
“Welllllll… You consistently and subsequently make bad choices. You shouldn’t be allowed to make a decision. You should bein a straighjacket in a padded room.” He smiled and cocked an eyebrow. I clawed at my cuffs to slide out of themand pull out his eyeballs. He got my leg under his and managed to headbutt me four times before I passed out briefly.
“At least we have eachother,” Digby said when I was coherent enough to understand him. The fear of sharing a cell with him was almost too much. I fainted and dreamt of my life as an episode of Lockup Raw.
“Ivy League…” I kept repeating as I drifted in and out of reality.
I woke up at a hospital. I was tied down and immediately knew Digby switched identities with me and I was in the Mental Ward. And since that seemed like an appropriate venue to voice my newfound horror, I began to scream/moan for someone to help get these onions off me. After a few minutes of that jibberish, I really did slip into a true-life jaunt of hysteria. I felt my pupils take over my entire face and I could not breathe, then I was unable to even swallow; I was having a seizure of sorts, but a very nice nurse named Henry gave me a shot and put me at ease. You are only dreaming, silly-head… I smiled and tried to hug him but my arms were both numb and strapped to a crazy table.
“You’re momma and brother are coming to pick you up in the morning, hon. You have restraints on becasuse when you were asleep, you were yellin’ about killing and digging.”
“Killing Digby?” Whooooa, wait. “Isn’t he in jail or juvie?” This was confusing. “May I have my medicinal marijuana back please?”
Henry smiled. He was kind of good looking when he smiled. Violet eyes and luscious eyelashes. I stared at him until I caught my googly eyes and warned them to quit being gay-curious. At least wait till I straighten out the other confusing elements I had in my little cloud of metaphysical siege.
Under the April skies….
The Jesus and Mary Chain
One day and a half shy of my brother’s “A Month Among the Living” party, my mother’s title for the enormous gathering of the most influential folk in the state of Arizona, to celebrate the anniversary of thirty-one days out of the psychiatric institution where he was condemned to a year of physical and socio-psychological rehabilitation, or imprisonment as he labeled it, Digby committed suicide in my mother’s dining room. Digby was never fond of that room, and as soon as I shook his stiff leg to rouse him for our lacrosse game (we were well on our way to becoming 3A State Champs that year), three major ideas consequently clanked in my cluttered head.
It doesn’t appear that he is going to get up without me wrestling him to his feet.
The dead man impression has either gone too far, unless, he is dead!
Jesus! He looks dead! He cannot play like this!
Why the hell would he die in this awful, cold room?
I pronounced my twin brother, Digby Atticus Best, dead at 12:32 pm on Saturday, the first of April first. Cause of death: Suicide. Evidence: The suicide note taped on the antique étagère.
I folded the note and placed it into the inner pocket of my jacket. Systematically ignoring the passage of time, I kneeled by Digby’s side for an inconsequential series of non-moments, only passage revealing my beingness was defined by my vague awareness of the icy marble underneath my tender knees as they ached and trembled and shuddered slightly intermittently between my extensive non-thought. I angled my shoulder toward the ground and let myself fall softly next to Digs, then I stared intently into his absurdly calm, grey eyes; I tousled his long bangs and repeated the process in my mind. Where am I? I imagined him asking himself.
Interrupting his silent treatment, I asked him directly, “And so, what the fuck am I supposed to tell mom?”
I leaned back onto my elbows and fixed my eyes on the prismatic chandelier. I smiled coaxingly and nudged his shoulder, “and you know that I don’t want to play today either, man,” I looked at him out of the corner of my eye then back up to the floating pyramids of light floating above my head. A sudden reckless insight amused me and I cleared my throat. It felt like little pebbles were dripping down the back of my vocal chords.
I knew I had signed up for too much when I started to feel the wave of saltwater sting my face and eyes, causing my balance to reject the circumstances I had asked
Ms. Griffin called on me and I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t used to being in a classroom so large but the class was so small: ten of us were in eighth period Language Arts class and the chances were that we were not awake at that time of the day. I had been beat to hell in seventh period gym class with our substitute teacher from Canada, Dr. Will, had made a decision to make that 55 minutes precious time to shape us up while he told us how Americans were lazy, obese, and ignorant and therefore our generation had to “learn to burn.” Dr. Will was going to destroy my writing career as well as my relationship with Ms. Griffin if he continued to break us down mentally and physically. Today, we were not allowed to have both feet on the ground while he taught us how to use our 55 minutes to maximum weird obsessive calesthetics. When the bell rang to let us out of class, he hadn’t even let us change back into our uniforms for eighth period and being late for class was a demerit and I had never had one, nor did I want one. The word “demerit” scared the crap out of me. It was a badge pinned onto those who failed to obey the rules and thus disrespected the classroom, teacher, and the honor of the school itself. Among the elite students at Tremont Academy, only a few kids got demerits, and they were just the kids who were sassy or late to class, and if you just played the game right, you would not get one. Three demerits got you an after-school detention and I didn’t even want to think about what that was all about. I was in my second year of Latin and I could break words down and figure out that anything with a “de-“ before the root was a substandard term when it came to academics and scholars. I imagined the detention hall like my brother described it: they chained your hands and feet to the desk and you sat there and did nothing for two hours while the Detention Guard stared at you and waited for you to utter a word or take a nap or even go to the bathroom. You just sat there. I was horrified by the cloud of filth that seemed to surround the Detention Hall and I made it a point to never even walk past it. I would travel across the length of the school and take the stairs on the opposite side of the building to avoid looking at it. But I was as brainwashed as the rest of the academy kids before I even knew it, and I never broke the rules because the consequences were worse when the expectations were higher, and I fell into the intellectual, reflective, and selected crop of students who had to swim because there was no sinking; the feelings of inadequacy and misplacement soon faded after a week’s worth of classes and I was buried in homework, after-school sports, plays, and music lessons so that there was no time to break any rules because we were exceptional students at the most prestigious school in the Midwest and if we were going to have consequences to our behavior, the results were measured by positive reinforcement, and this concept seemed to work well for me because I was scared that I was just not smart, rich, or cool enough to be there, and I lived forty-five minutes away from the rest of my classmates. I was an outsider anyway and often found myself wondering how I got to this place, and then I knew not to wonder – I had to study.
“Nothing gold can stay,” I said and looked at the floor while the heat from my nervous energy transcended into my ears and face and I waited desperately for someone to pull a fire alarm or a tornado warning to turn this moment off.
My heart sank and the scent of early springtime felt like somewhere else was never going to come soon enough and I was sure to be disregarded and ought to go back to public school and fade into the swirling crowds of despondency and mediocrity, wasted money, time, and values for the daydreamer who hailed from the suburbs and though I was probably going to be the successful storyteller they recruited based on my integrity and talent, and now I was practically on fire with humiliation and self-loathing.
“Well, that is an interesting perspective,” Ms. Griffin smiled at me and I wanted to die right there. She was on to me. She knew right then and there that I was a fraud. I didn’t have a choice! I wanted to tell her; but the dullness of the path to destruction was broken by a dose of love from a teacher who had nothing to gain by ruining my life that day, and she moved on with her lecture and assigned us a shit-ton of homework, and while the air in my head began to leak out, my mind grew a little bit: I was so sorry and ashamed of myself that I had not expected to be loved when I was certain that I deserved to be punished.
Mechanically, I started my homework because she gave us fifteen precious minutes of class time to get it going, and my heart opened up and popped a few times – my exhaustion combined with a splash of dignity was as breathtaking as Ms. Griffin was – I fell in love with her and she knew it – and when the bell rang, I looked up at her and smiled and she thanked me for coming to class and I thanked her for general purposes (school honor code and respect and other codes of moral conduct) but I was so young, so lucky to be there, that analyzing a previously unknown selfless kindness from a teacher expecting the best from me, plus the effect of a profound level of mutual respect, was an enigma in my life – why I had never felt so forgiven before this experience was not as important as the break I needed in my young life, and that moment separated the good from the bad.
I finally knew that I had a choice in making a person feel good or bad about who they were – and how simple it was.
I never had a chance to thank Ms. Griffin for showing me that I deserved some good consequences as long as I learned from distracted decisions.