Week 3: Life’s Puzzle

Week three of the school year is under way. I am typing on the computer when my phone rings. Answering it, I lay the phone on the desk in front of me and continue working: 

“How are the candidates?” The voice on the phone says.

“What candidates?” I respond, half-listening.

I am in the middle of typing the words: Stop being a… when Marshall raises his voice. “—Can you stop typing for a few minutes and actually talk to me? I mean seriously…I am me after all.” 

Looking into the phone I see Marshall with an annoyed grin on his face. I save the document I am working on, Life’s Puzzle, then stand up from my desk.

Stretching, I look over and see my youngest son sitting on the couch watching Big City Greens on his iPad. His teacher, Miss Dunn, had just dismissed the students for lunch.

My son is in first grade and being taught remotely also. While I run my class and do what I need to do he works at a little make-shift desk behind me. He has small white board in his learning center where we write the date and our word of the day each morning and I’ve strung up Christmas lights to make him excited for this unique learning experience.

All over the world parents like me are being asked to multi-task like this, regardless of profession we are all teachers in one way or another and juggling responsibilities has become our life: Pandemic Life. 

Currently my son is learning about something called Realistic Fiction; a characteristic of story that was never even explained to me when I was in school. Us parents—slash teachers—are doing the best we can, but most of us feel lost. On social media, hearing parents like me bitch about how math is now taught to our kids has become a regular thing. I do my best not to bitch myself, but it’s hard.

Grabbing my phone off the desk I walk up to my son.

“Ham and cheese for lunch bud?” I say, rubbing the dirty-blonde hair on the top of his head.

Not taking his eyes off the screen in front of him, he responds sweetly. “Yes please.”

“Have you found my shoe yet?” I ask.

He looks up at me innocently—I know he hasn’t looked for it; having to tell kids to do things over and over is part of adulting. 

“No,” he admits, then adds an excuse, “I didn’t know which one you meant.” 

The Nike one…” I say to him, “the one you and your brothers were hiding for fun yesterday.” 

The phone in my hand speaks. “—Junior! What’s up little man?”

This voice causes my son to drop his head and look down at the phone I’m holding.

Seeing that it’s Uncle Marshall he responds shyly. “Nothing,” he says.

My son is not much of a talker with people he doesn’t see in person a lot; something that is becoming an issue with his teacher this year.

Marshall—recognizing that he’ll have to be the one to spark a conversation with my son—presents him with another question through the phone. “Are you letting your dad date yet little man?”

This wins a smile from my son and his face lights up. “Daddy doesn’t need a girlfriend,” he says mockingly, looking into the phone. “He’s never gonna have a girlfriend!” 

This is an on-going joke between the two of them.

“Well…” Marshall responds, “How bout a boyfriend then?” he says, trying to confuse him. 

I interject before my son can think of a suitable response, “—Real nice M.”

***BREAKING KNEWS***

At the halfway house I am four weeks into my stay. My hands are pruned as it is my night to do the dishes after dinner. The water splashes on the lower flap of my shirt and drips off the counter in front of me. Glancing at the pile to my right I estimate that I am about a quarter of the way through this choir of mine. 

While I am busy at work some of the men in the house are playing a card game in the large dining room adjacent to the kitchen; a game called Pitch. It is from their table that one of the men holler to me from across the room.

“Yo—Jose, who killed your dog man?”

It is Saturday and the first day I was allowed to see my wife, Sirena. House Rules permitted residents a two-hour visit after their probationary first month in the house had ended. With not much time for anything else, my wife picked me up for lunch. We ate together in our family minivan so we could catch up. 

“I’ve been talking to someone…” she began. From the driver’s seat my wife explained everything to me without making eye contact. “I didn’t want to say anything to you because we are really just talking, but I know your mom saw his truck at the house the other night and I figured I better be the one to tell you.”

—Anvil.

The details of that conversation between Sirena and I torment me as I do the dishes. This disclosure of hers is seared into my mind and I feel lost…again: How am I supposed to go on without you? I think to myself.

The question repeats with each dish I place in the dishwasher. My eyes are full and when I lean over I feel like the tears will fall out, but I don’t let them. The reason I was just asked Who killed my dog? by one of the men playing cards, is because I clearly look sad. I am. 

“He found out today that his wife is banging the landscaper,” says Ron from across the table to the other men playing cards.  

Ron and I have become very close over the last few weeks. He is about ten years older than me, and I am about ten years older than most of the younger residents in the house, for some reason we just hit it off.

Ron reminds me so much of Frank from the show Shameless that I asked him if I could call him Frank instead of Ron. He refused.

Earlier this afternoon, Ron let me bum a few cigarettes off him. Prior to my lunch date with Sirena I had gone two weeks without one, so, without any of my own, it was with my new friend’s rollies that I tried to ease my anxiety. It was during this smoke-filled afternoon that I told Ron everything Sirena had said.  

“—I’m sorry…they are just talking right now…she was lonely and needed a friend,” explains Ron to the guys at the table.

He corrects himself after we lock eyes; he sees that I am upset over the crude comment about my wife banging the landscaper.

The guy Sirena is talking to is a landscaper, however; Ron at least got that part right. We had hired him a year earlier to do the site work after the fire. He was not always at the house though. According to Sirena she had seen him on a night she was out having dinner with her friends and they started talking. His name is Bart.

My wife wants to leave me for an effing Simpson’s character—that’s some funny shit! I say to myself, trying to make a joke of this reality. This is not funny! An angry voice in my head shouts back at me. 

“What’s your bid?” A man says to Ron from across the table they are playing at.  

The men continue to play cards as I do the dishes and I am unable to help myself from listening in on the conversation which has now turned into a round table discussion about my marital problems.

The men discuss my situation amongst themselves but are considerate to my eavesdropping. A lot of what they say revolves around claims of women not being worth the trouble. I listen to dialogue between bitter men that are trying to make me feel better. I let most of what I hear go in one ear and out the other—I have to. None of them have any clue how invested in Sirena I am. They do not know our past. They do not know how much we have been through—and they do not know that I’m going to win her back.

What the men say to one another is intended to support a fallen brother, a man they see doing dishes, but one they know wants to run to his room and cry himself to sleep. They know I’m a crier now. Despite my efforts to hide that part of me from them, this secret has been out of the bag for a while.

They don’t make fun of me though. They don’t tease me. Instead, they support me. That’s how it is in places like this…something I’ve learned from experience. 

These are some really great men I’m living with. What they are saying right now is meant to lift my spirits, but this is a feeble endeavor as someone so shattered cannot be glued back together with encouraging words. I need to just grieve—and I need to convince myself that I can fix this.

“It’s her loss,” says one of the men at the table playing cards. “You don’t get even with someone by getting back at them though, you get even by rising above them. When Jose turns himself into a king, then she’ll know she made a mistake.”  

Hearing this, I squeeze the dish in my hand hard. I dream of smashing it on the floor. I fantasize a scream: YOU’RE WRONG!

This seemingly harmless comment dislodges memories that I do not want to be reminded of. If they only knew my past, they would understand why this statement infuriates me. This desire for revenge—this redemption fueled attitude towards life that they are encouraging—has gotten me into so much trouble already. It is exactly this type of mentality that has gotten me locked away—TWICE!

The moment of anger passes, and I do nothing. Eventually I finish the dishes. 

At night I crawl into a ball again and consider the words this man said while lying in my bed. The words scare me.

It’s been an awful past few years—and I can’t keep screwing up. 

***End of Breaking Knews***

Walking away from my son, Marshall attempts to re-start our conversation from earlier.

“The Candidates…how are they?” he says.

Realizing now what he is referring to, I respond smartly, “Changing our future of course.”

Marshall is talking about my students. We had jokingly come to call them ‘Candidates’ when I found out that I’d only have four students in the class. This was a reference to my all-time favorite show, Lost; a show that kept me entertained and engaged for years.

In what can only be reflected on as what might seem like a drunken conversation, I told Marshall, “This class will be my Oceanic Six: Four students, myself, and my readers—out to change the future!”   

Marshall knew that part of the grant that got my program funded required I periodically share articles on an international blog page created to promote recovery. When I was first published on this blog, I remember thinking it was an honor, but today—realizing most of what I share is falling on deaf ears—it feels more like a burden than anything else. It was an article for this blog I was working on when Marshall called. I have not shared anything with this page for a while, so I have decided to kill two birds with one stone: the article I write for my students this week will also be the one I share on this blog.  

On the kitchen counter everything I need to make my son his ham sandwich is spread out in front of me. As I continue my daily lunch duties, Marshall continues to ask me questions; interested to hear how my class is going.

“Have you shown them the video yet?” he says through the phone.   

“I told you, I’m not gonna show them.”  

“Jose, that video explains everything. I don’t know why you’re so embarrassed by it.”  

Walking over to my son and handing him his sandwich, I speak to Marshall in a way that I hope will end this conversation. “My crazy is for me,” I say, “not them.” 

“Alright J… but your crazy is why we’re friends—that has to mean something.”

Knowing he has a point I politely think of a way to change the topic as I take a seat on the couch next to my son.

“They are making fun of my song choices by the way. Got any suggestions?” 

Taking a moment to think about this, Marshall answers. “It’s a no-brainer,” he says in a stern voice, “Inject them with some venom to get them off their lazy asses—Make them listen to Changes by Tupac.”

I look at him through the phone. “Won’t that be kinda racist of me though?” I ask seriously.

“Shut the f*** up—” he says, looking outraged. 

Covering the phone, I look at my son sitting on the couch beside me. He pretends not to be listening, but I know he is; his face moves just a little.

I quickly get up from the couch and walk into my room. Marshall sees what I’m doing and waits so that my son doesn’t hear the language being used. 

In my room, Marshall continues. “Why would it be racist?” He says more calmly, “Because Tupac was black and you’re a dorky white guy? Stop being such a pussy Jose….”

Marshall and I talk for a while longer before ending our conversation.

After saying our goodbyes and eating lunch with my son, I sit back down to finish this article: Life’s Puzzle.

Once I am done, I stare at the posters on my wall trying to come up with a song to use. Reflecting on Marshall’s statement from a few minutes earlier, I try to think of one that will change things up a bit… something that will throw them off my scent.


Week 3: Friday, September 25th, 2020

“Life’s Puzzle”

Hello WORLD, today I am speaking to directly to Y-O-U.

Under such pressure I am left to wonder where someone should even begin. I have been told that starting with a quote is always compelling, so, let’s try it: 

“All men are created equal.”

Thomas Jefferson inspired a nation by using this line in the United States’ Declaration of Independence in 1776.

For a moment let us imagine a person appearing on our televisions today and confidently making this statement. Now let us imagine the avalanche of criticism such a statement would receive; the shitstorm of opinions that would attack such a choice of words. 

Whatever you say can and will be used against you in the court of public opinion. 

This is the truth of the world we live in today. And while disagreeing with a fellow American is a controversial thing for me to do, I think I must in this instance as my audience today is global: All men—and all people—are NOT created equal. 

As of 2020, the Unites States population makes up only 4.5 % of the world population. This means that for every one-hundred people on the planet, around five of them are American. As you now know, I am one of those five. Am I proud of this fact? Damn right I am! Despite our lack of numbers, does the world need us Americans? Damn right they do! 

But why?

If you are an American like me and don’t think we need the rest of the world then you are being unrealistic. Do they need us? Yes. Are we special? Damn right we are! But consider the fact THEY are thinking the same thing. 

“Regardless of the land on which you reside, we all call this planet our home, and the reason why they need us and why we need them will be the two greatest questions humanity must answer if any of US are going to survive on this planet much longer.” (Does this fall below Twitter’s character limits? If it doesn’t, I’ll keep working on it.)

It is okay to disagree with some of the things I have just said. Or to ask questions. We are human beings after all. It is what we do. With the help of social media, you could even call us experts at it. 

What is real—What is fake? … Who is real—Who is pretending? … When will it get better—How will it get better? 

Unfortunately, for someone trying to live in recovery partaking in the socially acceptable behavior of questioning everyone and everything like this can be toxic.

Let me be clear: I am not here to tell you to stop asking questions. Questioning things is important. I will however warn you that expecting answers without a sense of patience is a recipe for disaster. Sometimes we need to have faith that the answers to our questions will come in time. 

But not everyone is trying to “Live in Recovery”, so, why should THEY care about any of this? 

Let’s try and tackle this question right here, right now. 

First off, it would be helpful to find some common ground between you and I before moving on. Are you an addict in recovery? Do you suffer from what others describe as mental instability? If so, then great, we know each other already. Don’t we? If we do not have these characteristics in common, then how in the world can we relate to one another? 

Luckily, in my experiences, I have found one thing all humans across this vast globe have in common. I bet you know what it is, but to discover the answer let us look at the human experience together: Let us call it LIFE.

LIFE presents each and every person a puzzle to put together. The pieces of that puzzle are unique, and when we begin building it there is no way of knowing how all the pieces will fit together. For some, happiness and prosperity will fit together first. Building your puzzle will come easy and you will not know how to look for the pieces that represent struggle and hardship because you do not know what those pieces look like yet; or where they fit in your Life’s Puzzle. For others, struggle and hardship may make up the entire boarder of your puzzle, so naturally you begin working there. To you, happiness and prosperity may or may not even exist in your puzzle, so why would you waste your time trying to find pieces that may never fit?

This analogy serves two purposes. Firstly, both people are in a struggle to put the pieces of their lives together. In that, they have something in common. The other thing I hope you realize is that there is no definitively right or wrong way to work on your puzzle (though you may choose to argue this point). Some may choose to focus on the easy parts first and struggle with the difficult parts later. Others may choose to do the opposite.

In LIFE—unlike this puzzle analogy—we don’t often get to choose: “You get the hand you’re dealt.”

There are millions of tragedies I have not had to endure in this life. Because this is true, there is no way I could understand what you have been through in the process of putting your puzzle together. Similarly, I cannot know what it is like to be a child today, dealing with the hardships you are going through, managing the rapidly changing world the way you are now. While I do not know you; how many years you have walked this Earth; your gender; your race; where you live; who and what you love…if you love…I am comfortable telling you this one truth about me: I have been both blessed and cursed in this life.   

Can you relate?

In this experiment called LIFE we all suffer, in suffering we can all relate. It is the realest thing in this world.

But remember, it is not the only thing. 

While I do not pretend to have all the answers, I have learned three key skills to successfully putting my Life’s Puzzle together that I’d like to share with you now. 

One. Ask Questions. 

Two. Be Patient. 

And Three. Have faith. 

While doing these three things is always helpful, if the desire to change the world still stirs inside of you after practicing them, then please add this final piece to your puzzle: Take Action!

I believe that the future for us is bright. With more resources at our disposal than ever before we can use them to write a new story. One that will create a new future. One that will serve as a monument to all that we wish to become.

If we are to accomplish this however, there is one thing that we must first accept: This world needs Y-O-U to make it happen.

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

What does the word faith mean to you? Does the word bother you? Why or why not.

The Teacher’s Playlist

“I’m on my way to the promised land.” 

—Highway to Hell by AC/DC

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 4: P.A.I.N. through Doubt is next)

Follow us on Facebook: @TheRealGoodLoser
Read our story at: RecoveryHighSchool.com

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