It is Monday and I have been called into a meeting with Principal Sam. This is how week seven begins:
Walking into the office, I am told to shut the door. I do as I am told and then take a seat.
Just like back in August, we are still wearing masks and the office still has nothing on its walls, but there is now more clutter on the desk than there was before the school year had begun.
The back of a head looks at me as its hands do something I cannot see. Principal Sam is always doing a million things at once; a real busy body. On a small table is a giant bottle of hand sanitizer, I squeeze out a little and rub it on my hands to give me something to do. The smell hits my nostrils as the principal begins to speak.
“Now Jose,” the head begins, “You and me need to have a little talk.”
I hear something printing. “Okay,” I say.
Principal Sam then turns around with a few papers in hand to look at me. I immediately feel nervous…I don’t think this is going to be a good talk.
“Would you please explain to me what the hell this is?”
The papers that had just come out of the printer are thrown on the desk between us. Staring up at me is last week’s article with the title DIVERGE typed across the top. Someone has shared it with Principal Sam.
I reach out and grab the papers on the desk. Holding them, I look at the words but find myself unable to read what is in front of me as my brain struggles to figure out what to say.
I go with the truth. “This was something I wrote for a creative writing contest.”
Without delay, Principal Sam responds forcefully. “Yes—I have heard. But why are the students being told to ‘read and reflect on it’ Jose?”
This confirms it: one of my students provided the article and is reporting on what we are doing in my class.
Understanding this, I answer the question. “Because each week I ask them to reflect on a piece of writing that I provide them with.”
“Yes—I know that Jose…but a story about suicide, with our students—ARE—YOU—CRAZY?”
The final three words are spoken in a raised voice. I have been called crazy so many times that the words have become my kryptonite. They stab me in pieces and I silently slide the papers back onto the desk in front of me. I don’t want to touch them anymore. I hate them.
“Jose…” Principal Sam now speaks in a lowered voice; more serious; scarier. “We need to talk about this. We need to talk about your decision making and what exactly you’re trying to do here with my students.”
Hidden from view, I wiggle my fingers and feel them move beneath my thighs. I’m still in control, but barely. I imagine I’m sitting on that white bench again; that name carved into it is staring back at me.
Principal Sam talks as the seconds pass in slow motion.
I continue to wiggle my fingers nervously as a verbal lashing fills my ears. The person across from me begins to fade away…out of focus….
When I got fired from that teaching job, I told myself I would stop using this medicine of mine and put my life back together.
I was gonna stop—tomorrow—always, tomorrow.
Each day I’d tell myself, and Sirena, “Tomorrow will be the day!” And then wake up secretly hating myself more and more knowing I was destined to screw up again. It was like living some sort of drug addict’s Groundhog Day. When my youngest son was born, I accepted I couldn’t stop on my own and needed help: I’d do something about it—tomorrow.
Unable to stop; and not sure how to even go about getting help, I tried to overcompensate by doing as much around the house as possible. The summer after I got fired, I completely finished our basement. As long as I could keep Sirena happy, I could figure everything else out later… tomorrow.
From the outside things looked normal. As a family we’d go for walks almost every day. At night I’d make us dinner and give our son his baths and cut his fingernails. I’d regularly go out and get Sirena ice cream; a hot fudge sundae from Friendly’s with fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt, whip cream, and extra cherries was her favorite. I would put my son to sleep and Sirena and I would watch shows like The Voice and Americas Got Talent together while I gave her back rubs. We would laugh and smile together on those nights, both trying our best to forget how much money I spent during the day in order to feel normal. In the mornings, before this routine would start all over again, I would often make her a pancake—seven chocolate chips, no more no less: “Here Honey, eat this, try not to think about how much I’m about to disappoint you again today.”
Back then I did anything I could so that the flaws in my behavior would stay out of the spotlight. This worked for a long time actually. Everything looked normal…or so I thought.
The ‘medicine’ I keep referring to was Percocet: an opiate prescribed for pain. I call them the most effective anti-depressants on the market. At thirty bucks a pill, one of these would make me a decent human being to be around for a couple of hours. But one was never enough, and I constantly felt like I could be more decent.
After losing that teaching job I somehow continued to “pretend to be normal” for almost a year. Though Sirena and I were constantly on edge and money was always an issue. The shit I put her through because of those damn pills was ridiculous.
Later people would criticize Sirena for not telling everyone about my issues. This always bothered me because the accusations were unrealistic to how life works: We hide the flaws in others we love for so many unexplainable reasons.
While I was struggling, Sirena helped me hide flaws in my behavior from friends and family; an unfair burden I forced upon her. I could take a pill and convince myself that everything would be fine, but she couldn’t do that. She dealt with reality while I spent every dollar we had to live in my fantasy world. It was torture—for both of us.
Of course, the tomorrows added up and eventually the flaws were exposed. That is when I finally found myself in a detox facility in the Spring of 2014. Almost a full year after losing that teaching job.
***End of Breaking Knews***
A strange face across from me comes back into focus. “You may leave now,” it says. It’s as if I’ve woken up from a dream and in an instant remember where I am.
I watch Principal Sam stand up in order to look down upon me—strapped in my seat. I am not certain how long I have been coasting through this meeting of ours….
Standing up, I leave the room and walk down the hall to the faculty bathroom. Shutting the door behind me, I reach down and lock the door. Taking one deep breath, I close my eyes and let my forehead fall onto the closed door in front of me…Breathe Jose…
Once I have composed myself, I turn from the door and stand at the sink. I turn on the water: HOT.
Pushing up my sleeves, I lean on the counter with my forearms and put my hands under the running water. I feel it get warmer…and warmer…and warmer. Until it finally burns.
“You idiot,”I say out loud to the reflection in the mirror. “What were you thinking giving them that article?”
Looking at myself, I stop talking out loud and begin fighting the thoughts in my head instead: You let them in—You let them see… You should have known better.
My eyes are starting to look bloodshot. The pressure of my thoughts pushes the tears forward and I fight them like I have become so good at doing. Staring at the face in the mirror—that stupid face! —there are so many things I want to say to that little boy looking back at me.
A moment passes and I realize that not all of this is his fault, so instead of yelling at him, I ask him a question, “What are you gonna do next?”
I consider this question as the water mercifully continues to scold my hands. The pain of the hot water distracts me from the pain of this reality.
This program has been my dream for so long and I fear it is dying… that this opportunity is slipping right through my fingers.
Should I play it safe from here on out? I think to myself.
Contemplating this for just a second, my worry turns into anger. I clench my jaw and turn my hands into two fists. Looking at those eyes in the mirror, I talk to little boy they belong to: “F***—THAT,” I tell him.
With my back firmly against the wall, I decide that it’s time to let the crazy out… What is there to lose?
Week 7: Friday, October 23rd, 2020
“P.A.I.N. through Anger”
“My mind is a home I’m trapped in, and its lonely inside this mansion.”
— From the song titled Mansion by NF (featuring Fleurie)
If I began this article by saying, “People Suck,” would I have to say another word? Or would you allow me to simply drop this microphone of mine and walk off stage right now?
In this class of ours I’ve been trying to convince you otherwise, but you’re right—THEY DO!
This was something I realized after being criticized by Principal Sam for sharing that suicide story with you last week.
Don’t let anyone fool you, being criticized is the worst. As an adult I’m supposed to be able handle it. But I’m not any good at it. Arriving home from school that day I was still upset over that meeting with the principal and decided to go for a walk to try and clear my head….
I always walk by the same man. He has long hair, a graying big beard, and wears sunglasses and a backpack most days. Every time this guy walks by me, he keeps his eyes focused on something ahead of him and does not acknowledge me as I almost brush shoulders with him on the sidewalk we share. On my walk this day I see him and think about who this man is a little more than I normally do. I tell myself that this man looks to have had a hard life. I do not get upset by his avoidance…and move on.
A little later, I come upon a lady jogging towards me. Her earphones are in and I assume that she is lost in whatever she is listening to. “Good for her,” I say to myself. If she did glance in my direction, I would wave to her of course, but she is pretty, which means she is probably worried that acknowledging me would send the wrong message. So, I do not get upset with her avoidance as she runs pass me…and continue on.
Eventually I arrive downtown and turn left around a corner of a building. A teenage girl is looking on her phone as she walks towards me. Somehow, she sees where she is going and moves slightly to her right in order to avoid hitting me. She does this without looking up from the magical device in her hand: the thing that keeps her connected to the world at all times. I get a little annoyed by this, but then I realize that someone has probably told her to avoid strangers. She probably knows that if she doesn’t get past me quickly, I’m likely to do something awful. I do my best to see this young child as a victim of my misguided anger…and press on.
Thirty seconds later I see a group of boys riding their bikes and laughing amongst themselves as they head in my direction. They jump off the curb in order to not run me over. “How nice of them,” I say to myself. Three boys, all wearing helmets. They must come from decent homes, I conclude. Someone has clearly taught them about safety. Racing by me, not a single one smiles at me, or waves, or thanks me for moving over slightly.
Now I’m starting to think way too much.
I continue my walk and try to think happy thoughts. Approaching an intersection, I stop and wait for a car to let me pass. I am in no rush, the cars passing me can obviously see that. Where they are going is much more important than me on this mindless walk of mine, I think. Eventually I realize that I will have to creep into the crosswalk so that I can pass. A car with tinted windows slows down a bit, so, I inch forward. Now able to see inside the front windshield of the car, I can see the driver. As I’m about to smile and wave, the frustrated man inside lifts just his middle finger off the steering wheel and wiggles it at me as a sign to let me pass.
Not one damn wave. Not a single hello. Not even a smile. But hey, I was at least acknowledged with that one middle finger.
I wish I was invisible!
Clearly, I let my meeting with Principal Sam spiral out of control that day. When I sat down to write this article for you, I think it’s obvious I still needed to vent a little. I hope you don’t mind. I’ll be done shortly….
Sometimes I feel like we are living in a world where it is US verse THEM. Where the US is often just ME, and the THEM is very often EVERYONE and EVERYTHING.
“And it’s just getting worse,” says the crowd of people.
We are angry. We are being pushed down. We want to be heard. In order to fight for a change in our circumstance, we go on long rants—like this—and make sure we are doing our part to make things better. (Or to at least make sure people know we are pissed.) But is any of it really working?
Just saying that makes me want to duct-tape my mouth shut, as I know I’m getting myself in trouble here: The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club!
I am trying to escape this cage that seems to be my existence. To break out of the chains holding me back. To change things and make life better on this planet. As my students you all know that by now.
Unfortunately, people today are more likely to believe that the world is flat than they are to believe that someone is genuinely a good person trying to make this world a better place. But seriously, even if I could convince people I was a good person, would they even care?
The majority of people would rather watch shows like Ridiculousness and cheer-on idiocy.
I get it. Being a jerk is cool. Being good is boring. Villainy is sexy. SARCASM—IS—HILARIOUS.
I feel like the world today is in love with the bad guys… The Jokers. I think it’s because we see parts of ourselves in them. I mean, we are all a little angry these days, and the bad guys seem to do a lot more with that anger, so why wouldn’t we be attracted to them? Honestly, it seems pretty natural to me now that I’m thinking about it.
Well kiddos, let me tell you a secret: No one bad is ever truly bad, just like no one good is ever truly good—that’s the truth…eat it.
Speaking of The Joker. For anyone that has seen the latest film, did you happen to notice this character was portrayed as a mentally disturbed individual that society helped create? Do we perhaps think there is some truth in this interpretation of this character? Maybe I’m crazy, but I think there is.
All of this reality upsets me more than you can possibly imagine. In a world so divided how did I ever expect to be a voice that could unite? How silly of me.
People want to be entertained, not united. Lies are always amusing. Revenge is always rewarding. Betrayal is always inevitable. (I bet if someone could read what I just wrote they’d jump out of their seat and give me a big hug for understanding how the world really works.)
You’re right. Every person you meet is a masterful genius in the art of disappointing you, manipulating you, and letting you down. In fact, here is a survival guide for those of you that feel what I’m saying right now: Trust no one—Believe in nothing—Depend only on yourself.
The anger I feel has woken me up and it’s all so clear to me now: Our hearts have become impenetrable…and that’s probably a good thing…
I was never stupid, maybe just a bit naïve. With the rise of social media, we fake intimacy because we want to be sedated. Then we spam each other with our burning commentary masquerading it as insight. Maybe we do this because it’s painful not to pretend—because we’re cowards.
While writing this for you, everything I’m doing here seems pointless. I see a world so easily hurt yet so easily hurtful.
Really, I was never built to be a person that could bring us together anyway. I walk around scared of how my words are interpreted every day of my life. So scared in fact, that the only way I know how to survive is by shutting up. Because when I do talk, I usually end up offending someone somehow. And then, when I listen to other people talk to me, I most always listen as if I’m being attacked. It’s all so messed up.
How do we fix this? I truly have no clue. It’s unfixable. The world is broken. Maybe we should all just quit.
Here is where I’m supposed to tell you that everything happens for a reason, but that’s just some goofy bullshit people who can’t face the truth tell themselves. As your teacher I know that I’ve told you to have faith. But what is faith anyway? Maybe faith is simply stupidity by a different name—or maybe it’s a mental illness like I’ve heard it called.
Whatever. I’m tired and I’m going to bed. Today, you win. I’m done believing in good.
PEOPLE SUCK! (Mic Drop)
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
Do you believe anger is a motivator? Why or why not.
The Teacher’s Playlist:
“I see you’re not satisfied.”
—Mirror by Lil Wayne (feat. Bruno Mars)