Arriving at the Friday of our fourth week of school, the students and I had put the month of September in our rear-view mirror. The month of October—2020, had just begun:
Sitting at my desk, on the wall behind me was a large banner I had hung to serve as my backdrop for our virtual classes. It depicted a stary sky with three wolves howling at the moon. I was proud of this little purchase of mine as I felt it would create a unique atmosphere for this class of ours.
On the computer screen in front of me all of my students now had similar backdrops. They had listened to me talk for over a week about how I was waiting for this great backdrop to arrive, and then, once they saw it, they all showed up to our virtual class the next day with a very similar one. They had accomplished this by applying some filter that had come with the program we were using. I clearly had a long way to go with understanding how to use all this technology stuff, but at least my idiocy continued to offer them some more comic relief.
Earlier in the week I promised them we would spend a day listening to and discussing music. This was a result of them telling me that my music choices for the articles I was giving them each week continued to be “tired.” (We all agreed that Lauren would be choosing next week’s song for me.)
As it was now Friday, Nel was currently playing music from his cube on screen. They were required to share songs that they believed shared a positive message. I had chosen different artists for them to pick songs from: it consisted of both old and new artists. My three boys had helped me pick this list of artists over the prior weekend; they always liked finding new music, so this was fun for us.
Obviously, some of the songs the students picked to share this period would not be making my greatest-hits list any day soon, but this was their class period, not mine—for the most part.
Nel was currently playing a song called “Let Me Fly” by the rap artist, DMX. Like I said, I had assigned this artist, Nel got to choose the song. This artist I had chosen for a reason.
Once the song came to an end, I told them why; “Interesting fact for all of you. I lived with DMX for a month,” I said matter-of-factly.
“What?” Said Nel; surprised by this disclosure of mine.
“We stayed at a sober house together for a month up in New Hampshire back in 2017.”
This was true and something I knew the kids would get a kick out of; which is why I had assigned him as an artist for this class of ours. When I was in high school, DMX (aka: Earl Simmons), was at his prime. I remember listening to him on headphones while riding busses to football games: He had a way of getting me in the zone back then. At parties his music was a must during the late nineties and well into the new millennium.
“Did you talk to him?” Nel asked, “Like, can we meet him?”
I laughed, “I spoke two words to him Nel. I said, ‘Thanks Man,’ on a night he bought all the guys in the house pizza. He barely came out of his room.”
As an adult, celebrities no longer held the clout they once did in my mind when I was young. I imagined that the people I saw on television were just as unsatisfied with this world as I was. That they were just as broken as me—probably worse in some instances. Perhaps this was simply my own pessimistic ideologies manipulating the way I perceived reality, but who knows.
Seeing DMX back then confirmed this assumption of mine, “He was in a fight to get his life back together, just like me Nell. I’m sure he hated being reminded of the glory days just like I did at the time. So, I left him alone. I can’t say that about everyone else in the house…but it is what it is. Who the hell was I to him anyway—I just knew you guys would get a kick out of it. I did sneak a picture of him though…”
I showed them the picture and we all had some fun talking about it for a few minutes. Before I knew it, class was almost over for the day.
Looking at the faces on the screen in front of me I attempted to end the week in a productive manner, “Is there anything else we should talk about before we end today?”
Pras jumped at this question of mine, saying, “Yeah—Big Orange tested positive! You obviously heard the news right Mr. J?”
Nodding, I said, “Yes Pras…I did hear that.” While thinking to myself: How in the world could anyone not know that the President of the United States had contracted Covid-19?
“He’s faking!” Pras declared to the class on screen. “It’s all part of a plan to get himself re-elected. Watch, he’s gonna recover and then next week he’ll sign an executive order for another stimulus deal. Giving us all another check with his name on it so that we will vote for him next month. He’s literally gonna buy himself another four years in office—Just Watch!”
It was with this comment from Pras that I realized that I should have stuck to the music.
Back at the halfway house it was not long before I was called into John’s office for an impromptu counseling session. The house had three councilors on staff. All the residents were assigned one while they lived there; John was mine.
I sat in his office waiting for him. Walking in, John shut the door behind him, sat at his desk, and then looked at me. There was a pause; I could see him debating how exactly to start this conversation. He began, “Alright Jose, I’m just gonna put it out there. The rumor is you found out your wife is sleeping with another guy.”
“—Talking,” I snapped.
Putting his hands up, as if the lightning bolts coming from my eyes were a real danger to him, he corrected himself without me having to say another word, “I’m sorry…talking with another guy.”
This was a few days after I had gotten the news. The men at the house had obviously told John their own exaggerated version of the facts. Continuing, John spoke, “You’re at a crossroads Jose, I can see it in your eyes. You’re debating leaving here right now to go out and get her back; aren’t you?”
Ron must have told him. I did not speak when John confronted me with this question. He was right, and he knew it. I simply sat there. Not sure if I wanted to punch something, or cry.
On John’s desk was a jar of jellybeans. My councilor reached across his desk and took the jar; putting it on his lap. There were only two colors of jellybeans in this jar of his. Reaching in, John carefully removed a single red and blue jellybean. He placed them in front of me on the desk and then sat back in his chair letting the silence in the room speak for itself.
I had been through this little routine of his already a few weeks prior. After a pause, he spoke, “You have a choice to make Jose. The choice you make is going to determine how I speak to you here today. If you choose to eat the red jellybean then I will spend our time here trying to comfort you. If you choose to eat the blue jellybean, I will instead spend our time here being honest with you.”
Knowing that this was not really a choice, I looked at the two jellybeans for only a second. Reaching out I grabbed the blue one, threw it in my mouth and chewed it like a child who was being forced to eat his vegetables. John then reached out and grabbed the other one that was left on his desk. He took that red jellybean and put it in the separate jar on the other side of the desk: A jar filled with only red jellybeans.
“Alright,” John started, after I was done with the candy in my mouth, “First things first—You need to know that I do not feel bad for you.”
This hurt to hear in that moment, but really, I knew not to expect sympathy from him, so I was not overly upset with this confession of his. I did not speak, but instead continued to listen, “No one will feel bad for us. That is how life works. We are the creator of our predicaments. You are now dealing with the consequences of your actions. It is as simple as that.”
Seeing that I could handle what he was saying, he continued, “I’ve been here long enough to tell you that what you are dealing with now is not as unique a situation as you may think. Men often lose things that they think are important to them when they first attempt to get sober. Right now, Sirena simply sees you as a lost investment…you must learn to be okay with that. A good relationship can create an unbreakable force Jose; maybe that is what you thought you had. But you must also know this: A toxic one can do just the same. One will lift you up to unknown heights. One can way you down to unknown depths. I’ve said this to men and seen it break them, and I have seen this truth push them forward. How it affects you will be determined by what actions you take in these next few days. You can run, or you can sit in it…”
He had given me a speech similar to this earlier on in my stay: when I was having a hard time being locked away from my family. The way he spoke to me back then pissed me off, but this time around I simply waited for more instructions. He continued, “With that said, I need to tell you that clearly you have a Sprinkler Problem.”
His choice of words confused me: Was this some landscaper joke—Was this really the time to be joking—What exactly is a Sprinkler Problem???
My mind was trying to make sense of his comment before I gave John time to fill me in on what he meant, “You came in my office and were upset by what I said about your wife. I said that she was sleeping with someone and that upset you.” The words were like nails on a chalkboard. “Well, here’s the truth: It doesn’t matter. She is an adult, and what she is, or is not doing, is not important. The details will haunt you, but you have to accept that whatever is happening is out of your control. What she will tell you is going to be sprinkled with truth. She will not want to hurt you so she will only sprinkle you with the facts she thinks you can handle: From now on you have to think of her as a sprinkler Jose.”
This REALLY hurt, as it felt like he was nicely trying to confirm my fears. The exit door at the front of the house began to dance in my mind as I sat in this unadulterated truth. John did not speak for what seemed like forever, as I could feel myself begin to choke on air. Tears began to gather in my eyes. I lowered them and rested my head in my shaking hands.
In an attempt to fill the silence, I spoke, “What do I do?”
“The guys tell me that you’ve been sneaking on the phone a lot. I can only assume that you are trying to call Sirena. Don’t…” He was calling me out, but it did not matter. “You need to talk to your children, but right now you need to leave your wife alone. Next time you call home come up with set times to call and speak with your kids—Only them.” Ouch. “She will respect you more for being a new man rather than simply telling her you are one. So, start acting like one. You do this by being a responsible father and being there for the boys. You do this by being a decent husband and respecting your wife’s need for space to figure things out on her own.”
Handing me a tissue, he asked, “Are you going to be okay?”
“Yes,” is what I WANTED to say. “Yes,” is what I SHOULD have said. “Yes,” is NOT what I said.
Dear Reader, I will not tell you what I actually did say to John that day. Honestly, anything I told you right now would simply be sprinkles of the truth anyway. I fell apart in his room that afternoon. I was completely broken. Any sense of manliness I have maintained here would be lost if I were to tell you any more details from that meeting. Out of respect for myself, I will leave it to your imagination to figure out how the rest of that conversation went.
I will however tell you that in that meeting I made a promise to John: I promised to tell him if I was going to leave.
“I won’t stop you Jose. But respect me enough to let me know that you are going to be safe once you walk out that door.”
At the time I was not sure if I would survive there for another hour; another day; or another week. Originally my wife said I could come home at Christmas; which was almost two months away: But what was the point in staying in this halfway house until then if I would not be returning home anyway?
After splashing some water on my face and slapping my cheeks, I prepared to leave John’s office. At the door, about to open it and face the men on the other side, John called out to me. Turning to look at him, in his hand he held up my yellow client folder, “Hey, Jose—don’t forget that I am required to review this with you. As a resident here you agreed to a disclosure of your criminal record. Yours is rather pathetic compared to some I’ve seen, but I’m very interested to hear about this arrest at a movie theatre in Burlington, Vermont.”
As I opened the door to leave, this comment of his gave birth to frail smile on my beat-up face…
***End Of Breaking Knews***
Getting back to our class: Pras had just done it—He went political. And let me be clear, there was nothing I disliked more during this period of my life than talking politics.
This was not always the case, as I was once very interested in the sport, but any love I had for it died on very specific date in my past. This date was March 3rd, 2016….
On that day I had stayed up late to watch the Republican debate. My horse in the race that year was a Governor from Ohio. Not many people knew of him, but on that night I was hoping the world would see that he was the right person for the job. Unfortunately, that debate turned into a dick measuring contest, literally; as my candidate became an afterthought to the three children on stage comparing the size of their hands with one another.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that I was born and bred to be a Republican. My father started his construction business towards the end of the seventies. By the time I was old enough to work beside him, he had been trained into believing that “Reagan Economics” was what had saved his business back when times were hard: This passive aggressive comment is my way of telling you that I disagree.
While I grew up believing in capitalism like a faithful Republican should, I have since witnessed both the good and bad side of this way of life that we American’s pride ourselves on. As a young man my dad helped me to see it as a three-step process to success: Work Hard—Earn Your Spot —Get Ahead. But growing into an adult beside him I have also seen it as a three-step process to conflict: Work hard—Keep your spot—Get Angry.
We adults find ourselves addicted to the thoughts of so many things because of good memories, when in reality we are merely chasing a high we felt in our youth. In my opinion, Americans’ love of capitalism falls under this umbrella.
I now compare capitalism to a casino.
Now, let me be clear—I love going to the casino! But is a casino really a good place for a person like me to be?
We all walk into casinos with high hopes and big dreams. But when you are in them it is very hard to find many smiling faces (unless you’re watching a movie of people in a casino of course). Then, when you finally leave and walk out that door, most people look pretty damn miserable. To me, that’s capitalism. Well, to be more specific, that is the final stages of capitalism.
Most things in life I’ve found are cyclical and great economies can be viewed through a similar paradigm. The beginning phases of capitalism can be pretty awesome (no wonder we are addicted to it). But towards the end of that economic cycle the deck becomes stacked against us. And that’s where I think most American’s find themselves today: In a casino playing against a stacked deck.
I will forever respect my father, and I respect his beliefs. But as an adult myself I have waivered back and forth between political parties constantly. The reason for this is simple: As a father myself, it is my opinion that the President has one responsibility above all others; and that is to be a decent role-model for my children.
This is something that I would never say to you face to face as I know it is not a popular opinion nowadays. Most people are tired of sleezy politicians with sticky hands and a nice smile pretending to be a “good role model.” Instead we want someone truly transformative. A man (or woman) with big plans and a hardened jaw that will simply “get-shit-done.” I get that: But I cannot tell a lie, so I must say that I’d still take a decent human being over those things.
Dear Reader, I do apologize for having told you all this. I can only hope that we may move forward without what I’ve said ruining our relationship. There are a million reasons I don’t talk politics. The fact that half of you reading this right now are boiling at some of my words is only one. Keep in mind that these are just my opinions and that I’m often wrong. Knowing that, please forgive my personal intrusion on our story and let’s try to move on….
When Pras spoke this theory of his I stayed quiet; silently preparing for the show of opinions that was about to begin on my computer screen (wishing I had some popcorn).
Nel jumped in, ready to fight, “Don’t be an ass Pras. Do you realize how much Trump has done for this country? Show him some respect. I hope you’re right…I hope he does find a way to win—We need him right now more than ever!”
“Even if he has to lie and cheat to get re-elected?” Pras asked Nel through the screen.
“He’s a winner. Always has been,” spoken like a true soldier of FoxNews, Nel punched this opinion of his home, “Americans win, that’s what we do—He is a true American hero!”
Slightly throwing up in my mouth, but maintaining a poker face, I just listened as Pras punched back, “Nel, I love you buddy, but you’re the reason people hate this country.” (ouch)
Lauryn then jumped into the conversation to put the men in their place, “You are both f***ing morons. None of it matters. You’re falling for their voodoo. It’s all rigged—it always has been. Money runs this country. The president is simply a pawn in the game.”
A break in the action made it clear that it was my turn to step in. Hiding my popcorn from them I said, “Alright my friends. Let’s play nice.”
One of the advantages of not teaching at school was that I did not have to listen to staff talk about all of this. I needed to squash this conversation in its tracks so that we could all maintain our sanity before the weekend began, so I asked, “Do any of you care to know what I think?”
This was a set-up, which they walked into perfectly by shutting up and waiting for me to speak, “If there is one thing you remember me telling you in this class it is this….” Pausing for theatrical purposes, I waited and then spoke very slowly, and very clearly, so that they would not miss it, “If you want to change the world…DO NOT ENTER POLITICS!”
Week 4 (10.2.20):
“P.A.I.N. through Doubt”
Last week’s article, ‘Life’s Puzzle’ discussed struggle and how every human being experiences it in one way or another. Today we will move forward in this class by focusing on one word: ‘Doubt.’
The last piece of writing you received from me was very ‘philosophical.’ Sometimes this can discourage many people as it can lead to debates over who is smarter or wiser than the other. With that said, let me make a quick disclaimer.
As we take this journey together there is one thing you must keep in mind about me as your teacher: I am often very insecure. Because of this, I avoid conflict and controversy in my life as much as possible. While I could get angry about why I am this way, I have instead learned to embrace it and try to have faith that it will one day serve a purpose in my life.
Why do I bring this up?
Well, because today I want to take a step back from philosophical discussion and tell you a story: The story is about a boy, a man, and a woman.
The boy in this story grew up doubting that his life would ever surmount to anything. As a child he believed that there was nothing special about him. In the early years of his life, the one emotion that many believe is the purpose for living was non-existent: This boy did not know love. He did not know what it felt to be loved or even what it was to love. In a world that we say is magical, this boy only knew P.A.I.N.
The man in our story had become like a king in early childhood. People all over the world admired him and his rise to fame. Unfortunately, this man felt as if he was simply playing a character in someone else’s story. What he said, was not how he felt. What he did, was almost always not his choice. This man lived most of his life doubting that people would ever respect him for who he really was. In a world so fake, this man only felt P.A.I.N.
It doesn’t make sense yet but both this boy and this man were brought to life by this woman. A woman with a dream. Unfortunately, the world she lived in did not think kindly of people with dreams. Because of this, this woman was destined to suffer. People told her that even if she could write a book or make a movie, no one would understand a world that only existed in her mind. As others doubted her, she was forced over and over to doubt herself. In a world so real, this woman only saw P.A.I.N.
The boy, the man, and the woman will forever be connected to one another. One without the other would have each and every one of us living in a world much different than the one we now know. In order for us to have gotten here, each of these three had to experience P.A.I.N. In their P.A.I.N., there was one common ingredient; doubt.
The boy in this story is Harry Potter, I think you know him. The man is Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who played Harry Potter in the movies. And the woman is J.K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter.
Living under the stairs, Harry Potter doubted that anyone even cared he existed. Living on top of the entertainment world, Daniel Radcliffe doubted that anyone really appreciated him for who he really was. Living in poverty, J.K. Rowling doubted that anyone would ever respect the dreams she held in her mind.
The point of telling you this story is to help you recognize that doubt is part of life.
Many of us grow up learning certain things. We learn these things from our parents, from our teachers, from society, from television, from movies, from books, from the internet (from me). We are told how things are, and how things work. As a result, we expect certain things in life. When things do not seem to make sense with our pre-conceived beliefs, doubt creeps into our mind. Some people doubt themselves; some naturally doubt others; some doubt EVERYTHING.
Doubt is ‘ever-present’ in our lives: it never goes away. Even for those approaching the end of life, doubt is there.
Questions will always haunt our minds: What is the meaning of life—Or—what comes next?
As human beings, the result of doubt can often lead to feelings of anger. We get frustrated with ourselves, with others, with the world, with ‘Life;’ with EVERYTHING.
If it is natural to doubt, then it is natural to become angry. That is how this cycle works: Do you agree?
Whether or not you do, let me leave you with one last piece of advice: Whatever you are going through today, don’t let those muggles get you down…this world needs Y-O-U!
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
Who can you relate to more; the boy, the man, or the woman? Why?
The Teacher’s Playlist:
“… attracted to things that will bring you trauma.”
—Where is the love? by Black Eyed Peas