It is Monday morning in week ten. Principal Sam, Lily, and a few other administrators from central office sit on stage in the cafeteria:
This morning I watched my clock when it turned to 5:59 and then when it finally hit 6:00. My alarm was set for this time, but I did not need it. I was wide awake already. Worried about this day.
“The things I would do with her if I were you Jose…”
Apparently finding himself funny, Mr. Henry proceeds to speak inappropriately in my ear.
The school cafeteria is filled with chatter amongst staff who are all wondering why we have been called in for this meeting. Mr. Henry seems unconcerned however, as his mind is clearly on other things. What he has just said to me is a reference to Miss Lily; who sits on the stage in front of us looking gorgeous as always. Ever since Mr. Henry and I became friendly, he finds it fun to imagine her and I as an item. Her recent break-up has only added fuel to this little fantasy of his. But really, I am barely listening to what he is saying to me.
—Could you please stop talking to me! I think to myself; lost in my own thoughts.
After posting my Common Sense article on Saturday night I had anticipated a student, or Lily, sending me an email to let me know I had surprised them with that ending, but I ended up going to bed that night without hearing a word from anyone. Sunday morning then came and went, and still nothing. At this point I assumed the students just didn’t read it, yet I figured Lily must have, not hearing from her did have me a little concerned. Finally, around noon on Sunday I broke my silence and texted her: “Okay—I’m dying to know…Did you read it?”
Lily did not respond.
Often Lily goes “off the grid.” She says she does this for “mental health reason.” My day was busy as I had all my boys with me, so fortunately I did not give Lily’s silence too much thought. That was until around four, when a text message chimed from my phone. It was not from Lily however, instead it was from Principal Sam: “Check your email,” it read.
Given my history with Principal Sam, I immediately got nervous upon receiving this text. I then did what was asked and checked my email: “EMERGENCY STAFF MEETING MONDAY MORNING BEFORE SCHOOL,” was the email’s headline sent to all teachers and staff in all capital letters. Inside the email was a short message: “There is a situation we must discuss prior to the students arriving tomorrow. Please arrive to school at 7 AM for this MANDATORY meeting. — Sincerely, Principal Sam.”
I barely slept last night after reading the email; worried that this had something to do with the article I shared with the students on Saturday. Everything in me wanted to text Principal Sam to ask if this meeting had to do with me, but I didn’t let myself. I did text Lily again to see if she knew what was up, but again received no response.
The article was meant to be a lesson. I wanted to teach the students that nothing is truly common sense and that we can be tricked by entertainment unknowingly. Sitting here, I continue to make excuses for that article I wrote; scared of being exposed in front of the entire staff.
Not knowing what’s going on in my head, Mr. Henry leans over towards me yet again. “Grow some balls and ask her out. If not for you, for me,” he whispers; referencing Miss Lily again.
Why had she not called me? Looking at her on stage, her eyes look swollen. Has she been crying?
Wanting to punch Mr. Henry, I watch in terror as Principal Sam stands up and slowly walks to the front of the stage. People in the room begin to stop talking. With each step I watch the principal take my heart beats harder against my ribs…This will be the end of me—
“A tragedy has occurred,” Principal Sam begins. “Two of our students are in serious condition as we speak…”
A deafening silence fills the room, and suddenly, I can no longer feel my heart.
On Sunday mornings at the halfway house Ron and I would carry our dirty clothes in black garbage bags about a mile down the road to this laundromat next to a breakfast diner. We would eat together while we waited for our clothes to dry. The weekend before Thanksgiving, in 2017, this is where we are. I have just been delivered divorce papers two days ago and am telling Ron what I’ve decided to do.
“I’m not contesting anything. And I’m waiving my right to representation. That’s it. End of debate,” I say to Ron, trying to end this conversation we are having.
“But Jose, how did Sirena pay for the lawyer?”
Ron wants me to go after the money Sirena and I have in the house, but if I contest anything, or want any money, then Sirena will be forced to sell. We have over three hundred thousand dollars in equity after the fire rebuild, but Sirena and I have almost no disposable cash right now. Selling the house is not something I want to put her, or our son, or me through.
Yesterday, in John’s office, I was allowed to speak to Sirena in private. I did my best version of Sam Smith’s Stay with Me, but it was not enough to convince her to give me another chance. “You loved your drugs more than me Jose,” she said to me over the phone; a claim that I promised to prove wrong no matter how long it took. In the end, Sirena verbally agreed to give me some of the profits from the house if she does sell; enough to simply get me back on my feet. This agreement made Sirena happy and no fight was necessary.
I speak to Ron. “A lawyer we know helped her and did it as a favor,” I say, answering his question.
Ron is convinced Sirena is lying to me and wants to punch holes in her story. His distrust does nothing but infuriate me. I have started at zero twice before and am prepared to do it again—and I’m going to win Sirena back anyway.
“You gotta do what you gotta do, brother,” Ron replies, his words reeking of disapproval.
I watch Ron sip on his third cup of coffee. His eyes wander around the diner as I change the subject. “—Hey…when do you think I’m gonna stop having these dreams of her?”
Lowering the cup from his lips, Ron quotes councilor John. “Grief moves at its own pace, brother.”
I am currently past the denial phase regarding Sirena—sort of—and am now onto something else. I’ve been having these vivid dreams of our first encounter, but then—in my dream— this beautiful moment from our past is magically replaced by haunting images of the present, and I find myself watching something I don’t want to see.
Remembering my dream, I explain it to Ron. “You know what it’s like. It’s like I’m Ronald Weasley when he imagines Hermione and Harry in that seductive embrace in the Harry Potter movie.”
Ron offers a weak smile at my eloquent description of these dreams I’ve been having. Realizing that I’m being childish, I add, “Alright…my dream is a lot more X-rated.”
“You think?” Ron says mockingly.
“Yes, you’re absolutely right…” I lean towards him. “You really wanna know what I keep picturing?” I say across the table.
Looking enticed, Ron puts his coffee down. “Yes,” he says, “I do.”
Ron places his elbows on the table and stares at me seriously.
Annoyed, I give him what he wants. “Fine,” I begin, “In my dream, Sirena and Bart are naked and they are swapping O-faces while Sirena dances on his porno-sized piece of THROBBING—MAN—MEAT…”
Ron’s eyes widen. I lean in uncomfortably close. “Is that what you want to hear Ronny?” I ask, tilting my head at him.
It gets awkwardly quiet in the diner. I lean away and look around to see if anyone has heard what I just said: People are definitely looking at me suspiciously.
I hide my hurt with a smile and watch Ron laugh at my pain.
“You’re one funny mother-f****r, Jose,” he says, grabbing his coffee again.
After breakfast, I walk back to the halfway house alone. My left hand crosses my chest holding tightly to the end of the black trash back that is flung over the opposite shoulder. This bag now holds all of my clean clothes in it.
It is a crisp fall morning and the hand holding my bag feels numb as I look at the few leaves still holding onto their naked looking trees. I can relate to how those leaves feel at this moment. In my other hand is a cigarette. Pulling it up to my lips, I inhale; breathing in the worry… the fear… the uncertainty.
***End of Breaking Knews***
In the school cafeteria, Principal Sam begins reading from a piece of paper.
“The incident happened Saturday night, but because of privacy laws we cannot share all the details with you yet. It is very likely however that the other students will come into school today knowing certain things and we need to have a discussion regarding what we can and cannot say to them right now…”
I continue to listen as I look around at the other teachers. I’m concerned, but I also can’t help but wonder if this is really as serious as the principal is making it sound; I’ve found people tend to be a bit overdramatic.
“I’m going to invite Miss Lily to speak with you about how to best support our students,” Principal Sam concludes. “I apologize for the lack of details, but my hands are tied. I hope you listen to what is suggested and see me privately with any concerns you may have after we break from this meeting. Thank you again for all that you do.”
Once finished, I watch Principal Sam take a seat and sit up straight, emotionless. Lily then stands up and walks to the front of the stage. My eyes—along with all the others—follow her. Glancing to my left, I see Mr. Henry has stopped looking at her inappropriately.
Over the next few minutes Lily finally gives us a vague explanation of what has happened, but no names of students are given. The silence makes her voice echo in the cafeteria. “No one has died,” she says, “but things are still very frightening and today is going to be a pivotal day.”
I listen to every word said and can tell that she has prepared them carefully. Lily gives zero inclination as to which of our students we are talking about. With everything we are told the fact she is not giving us names seems silly to me. Secrets never stay secret, especially something like this.
Frustrated with the lack of important details, I hear Lily finish her talk. “As a councilor I am more of a friend than a teacher to our students. Hoping to know what they might need I’m going to meet with a few of you one on one after this meeting. Specifically, with those of you that I think will be most affected, and most helpful, with the situation we are in.”
The meeting ends and everyone begins to get up from their seats. Looking around the room I watch as adults seem lost; not knowing what to say, or what to do.
Between scattered bodies I lock eyes with Lily. Seeing me, she smiles weakly and gives me a look. I study the staff that has gathered around her. All of them look to be alarmed as they talk to her, but I have to assume many of them simply cannot stifle their own curiosity as to what students we are talking about.
Lily flashes her eyes away from me and aims them at one teacher in particular. Does she want me to come save her? I wonder.
As I’m considering this, I watch Lily glide her way through the people trying to ask her questions. Clearing the small sea of bodies, she walks towards me like an arrow.
She carries herself so confidently and looks strong walking across the room, but as she gets closer, I realize that she has definitely been crying; she has bags under her eyes. With her only a few feet away, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do or say. As I’m about to open my mouth, I see them…fresh tears.
Lily doesn’t stop once she reaches me, but instead points towards the door and waves her hand at me to follow. We leave the cafeteria together.
Week 10: Friday, November 13th, 2020
“P.A.I.N. through Anxiety”
When I am feeling overwhelmed by life there is an audiobook that I often listen to. It is titled; The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching. In it, the author says this: “Anxiety is the illness of our age. We worry about ourselves, our family, our friends, our work, and the state of the world. If we allow worry to fill our hearts, sooner or later, we will get sick. Yes, there is tremendous suffering all over the world. But knowing this need not paralyze us.”
I share this with you now so that I may ask this: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN IT DOES PARALYZE US?
On November 19th, 2013 one of my childhood best friends used a gun to take his own life at the age of thirty years old. This friend came from a great family. He had a wonderful wife who had recently given birth to beautiful daughter. He also had a great job. I had just done a kitchen remodel for him only a year earlier… everything seemed fine then.
After his death I learned that my friend’s brain had begun playing tricks on him some time ago. Things had gotten so complicated and convoluted in his mind that he decided that this world—and the people in it—would be better off without him. If he only knew I fought with similar feelings, I thought to myself; sitting alone in the church at his funeral.
While I did not suffer exactly like he had, I sat there that day with a million What If’s running through my mind.
What if I told him of my struggles? … What if we could have helped each other?? … What if I could have saved him??? …
Fully grasping the reality of that moment, my mind swelled to the edges of its skull and my eyes felt like they were about to start bleeding. The pews in the church were filled with faces of people that knew me. Looking around at all of them, I began to sweat.
Holding it together the best I could, my body began to literally shake and it felt like I might throw up. And then, without warning, the tears came. My shoulders jumped up and down uncontrollably as the walls of the church began closing in on me.
All those faces had their eyes on me. Everyone could see the guilt that was eating me alive. I gulped for air, unable to catch it…. unable to do anything… for my friend…or for myself.
Shortly after my friend’s death I again attempted to kick my opiate habit. I did this by locking myself in my basement to try and do it cold turkey. This wasn’t my first attempt at doing it this way, but now I had to quit—for my friend.
Like before, I curled up on the couch with three fans on high surrounding me. The sound of the fans and the air helped distract my body from its endless attempts to crawl out of my skin.
Over a weekend in that basement I watched all the Rocky movies. “Watching” is not really what I was doing though. Fighting the effects of withdrawals doesn’t let you relax and do that. Between punching, crying, sweating, and swearing I was doing my own impersonation of Rocky in that basement; the movies were merely on in the background.
There was a moment in the movies I remember though. It was when Rocky’s wife Adrian goes into a coma after childbirth but finally wakes up just in time to tell Rocky, “I want you to win!”
Watching this scene, I imagined my friend as Adrian. I welcomed this delusion as it removed my desire for a pill in that moment. Turning my head to look at my friend—who was sitting there with me on that couch—I choked on my own insides and told him I’d do it for him.
We are all dealing with a lot right now, which is why I’m sharing all of this with you. But truthfully, I don’t know if listening to other people tell me how to deal with my feelings ever really helped me. In fact, I remember a time that I got really upset with people who tried. Therefore, I’ll do my best not to tell you how to feel at this moment. Instead I will merely talk to myself: “How you feel right now is temporary Jose. You are more durable than you realize and you will survive this. It gets better (trust me) so don’t give up.”
Unfortunately, I was never as strong as Rocky. Eventually that attempt at kicking my opiate addiction was simply another kick in the face. My willpower and desire to do it for my friend was just not enough.
Over time, I learned to accept that I could not have saved my friend as I continued to fight my own battles. But it was not long after losing him that I had a revelation of sorts. Ironically, this revelation of mine began while watching another movie: X-Men.
In this movie Charles Xavier—the bald dude in a wheelchair—says in the opening scene the following:
“Mutation. It is the key to our evolution. It is how we have evolved from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, and normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward.”
When I heard this, a light bulb in my mind went off: That’s what we need — Another leap forward.
I never really gave it much thought at the time, but as I began to look further into my own personal issues, and eventually the problems of the world, the quote from this movie repeated in my mind. Then, while watching a Star Trek film, I wondered to myself what must have transpired on Earth to make this “Enterprise” exist in the future. And it was then I pondered this:
To make another leap forward on this messed up planet of ours would take some sort of superhero to make happen…perhaps humanity needs a new origin story…a new “Enterprise.”
Honestly, I don’t remember if I was on drugs or not when I thought about all this; and I know for certain I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant at the time, but I remember promising myself that If I ever did figure out what it meant I’d make sure my friend would forever be remembered.
I love you AJR. You are missed.
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
In your opinion, is an individual more likely to use a gun for protection or out of anger/frustration?
The Teacher’s Playlist:
“The worst is over now…”
—Broken (feat. Amy Lee) by Seether