It was now the beginning of December 2020. Week thirteen takes us on a visit to see Lauren:
I had a poster in my hand. This gift was rolled up and safely protected in plastic. I had debated whether or not to give Lauryn this gift, but ultimately decided that it was necessary. Approaching the top of the stairs to her third-floor apartment I saw her awaiting my arrival just above me.
She looked awful; not ugly, but tired. Perhaps the word broken might fit.
Lauren took a lot of pride in her appearance, as she was always dressed up nice and prettied up whenever I saw her. At that moment, however, you could see the toll the last few weeks had taken on her.
I wanted to hug her but that was not currently allowed because of social distancing rules; nor would it have been deemed socially acceptable anyways. So, instead, approaching her I simply tried to warm her with a loving smile; one that she could not see beneath my mask.
“This is for you,” I said, handing her the tube in my hand.
Thanking me, she let me into her home.
It was empty. There was no one there, but I mean empty as far as stuff. The essentials were there, but this was not a place full of things like most homes I was accustomed to seeing. She had a single candle lit on a coffee table in front of a loveseat in the living room; pointing at it Lauren invited me to have a seat.
“…You can take off your mask Mr. J.”
“What is this?” she asked, referring to my gift; probably appreciating this opportunity to not talk about other things quite yet.
“Open it,” I said.
Struggling with the plastic, she eventually was able to remove it. Unrolling the poster, she laid it out flat on the table in front of us the best she could and used the candle as a weight to keep it from rolling back up.
It was a poster from the movie ‘Mr. Church.’ On it was a picture of Eddie Murphy wearing a bowler hat appearing as his character, Henry Church. Across the bottom read a quote, which was the reason I bought the poster for Lauryn: “A book is read from beginning to end. But is best understood from end to beginning.”
Reading the words, she muscled a smile. Not making her speak, I said, “You don’t have to hang this up, but promise me you won’t throw it away. Someday this poster will make sense to you Lauryn.”
Her and I sat on that couch for what seemed like a very long time. I transformed on that couch; from a teacher, to a friend. What she had been through was something that I was unequipped to educate her on. So, I simply listened and let her talk.
A lot of what she spoke was probably just a running script that had been playing in her mind. But now she was able to tell someone else all the things that she had been fighting with inside. It was not my place to validate or contradict worries and fears that clearly haunted her, so I just let her bleed them away on me.
My heart broke for her. Trying to think of a way to distract her from the guilt she was torturing herself with, I fought inwardly to think of something to say once our conversation had stalled.
“How’s Nel treating you—He was telling me the other day that he’s playing with names for his little music group thing?”
She smiled at this. It lacked the confidence I was accustomed to seeing on her, but seeing it still made me feel better.
“He’s been good. Right now he’s on, ‘The Recovery High Refugees’,” she said, “—Do you like it?”
Nel had told me about this name already, so I had given this some previous thought and decided to lay it on her; hoping that she’d appreciate my honesty, “I get it; and yes I like it, but maybe he should shorten it up a bit. People are dumb Lauryn, me included…the less words to remember the better.”
For a quick second this comment gave birth to another small smile on her face: “If I could only hug her,” I thought to myself again…
Alright Kiddos—We have some jumping around to do yet again.
Nothing irritates me more than not knowing what is going on when a teacher moves to the next subject in class, that being said, I am going to really try and set this section up in a way you can follow.
I’m bringing you back to the late summer of 2014.
This was before the halfway house and before the fire. This is about a year and a half after I lost that teachers’ job. I had been to detox about six months prior and was now back swinging a hammer. If you’re a little lost, don’t sweat it, the timing is not really that important anyway… You with me?
Things were going well with the construction thing, but something inside did not wish to hide my past struggles with substance use from the world. I had a story to tell that might help other people and felt compelled to share it. At this point in my recovery I guess you could say I was on the ‘Pink Cloud.’
This refers to a feeling of euphoria one can get once they ‘get clean.’ I will not go into detail here, but this stage of recovery is worth doing some homework on if you or someone you know is attempting to sober up.
Motivated by a sense of redemption, I set out to prove that I was a good person who had simply gotten sidetracked for a bit; like so many others that were out there still fighting. Inspired to tell my story, I did: By writing about it.
The first person to ever identify I had a knack for this writing thing was Sirena. During that period of time I had spent nights for few weeks staying up late and writing what you would probably call a ‘Manifesto.’
I called it, “Journey to JoJo; A Trip to Insanity and Back.”
Upon reading it, Sirena had this to say; “How did you learn to write like this?”
She did not say; “This is really good, Jose.” Or; “It’s nice.” She doubted that I had actually written it. In fact, I remember her looking at me like I had been possessed or something.
I took this reaction of hers as the truest of compliments. She was an English teacher, and all my life I was just an athlete, a carpenter, or a numbers guy. I was not a writer. Her inability to comprehend how I had written what I had given her made me feel like I was onto something.
At the time I was doing a bathroom remodel for one of those high-end customers I told you I wanted to target with my construction business. The guy’s name was Rick. I had gutted his kids’ bathroom and was creating a walk-in shower with some fancy marble he had purchased.
Rick owned an ambulance company in the area. He and I really hit it off while I was working at his house. Excited by what I had written, and motivated by the review Sirena had given it, I decided to give it to Rick and get his input.
After he had read it, Rick said to me, “Very inspiring Jose.”
Heading to Rick’s house the next day for work, I came upon a site I had never seen before in my life. Rick had taken all my tools out of his house and neatly placed them outside of his garage: He fired me.
This man would probably not tell you he did this because of the writing I shared with him (the day before). I had found out later that Rick told my uncle; who had referred the job to me, that he was: “Just unhappy with the work.”
My uncle; who would make it right, finished the job once I had been fired. At this point in my story, this event took over as the most embarrassing moment in my life.
“How f***ing stupid…YOU IDIOT! What were you thinking giving him that? — You got too comfortable! —You let him in! —YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER!”
***End Of Breaking Knews***
On Lauren’s couch, she had run out of things to share. It was my turn.
“Lauren, have you been reading the weekly articles I’ve been writing?”
“So, you read the depression article then?”
What I was about to share with Lauren went against my better judgement, but I couldn’t help myself. I began, “Alright, I’m gonna tell you something that I would never put in writing, but something I trust you enough to share. I hope it can stay between just us.”
“Lauren, you know about my depression. I don’t keep that secret because a lot of people who suffer with substances can relate to it. But what I don’t tell people is I’ve also been diagnosed bi-polar with schizophrenia disorder. If you talked with my ex-wife, she’d make sure to tell you it’s ‘Severe’ Bi-polar disorder.”
Hoping that I had not scared Lauren, I asked, “—Have you any idea what that means?”
There was a brief pause before she responded, “I know what bi-polar is, but does that other part mean you like see shit that isn’t really there…you know…like in the movies and shit?”
I smiled at her; I love kids and their honesty, “From what I’ve been told it means that sometimes I lose touch with reality. For some people that means they see things that aren’t there. I don’t think that’s me, but I do know my imagination has gotten away from me at times. It’s really not important though; the real question is why I don’t tell people this…. Do you think you can guess why I don’t?”
“I’m embarrassed. I don’t want people to lose trust in me or be concerned for me. The truth is I was given this diagnosis during a very dark time in my life and I spent a while fighting whether it was accurate or not. But I’ve come to realize that the accuracy of the diagnoses is irrelevant. I know I have my issues but as long as I’m taking care of myself then it does not define me.”
“Does Principle Sam know?” asked Lauren.
“No,” I responded. “That’s the point, no one knows. I don’t need to tell them because it’s private and as long as it does not interfere with my work then there is no reason for them to know….my kids don’t even know.”
“I don’t know…too confusing…too scary. Just not important right now.”
“Will you ever tell them?”
“Honestly, I hope I don’t have to,” I answered truthfully.
“Lauren, I told you this because what you have been through will scar you. Don’t pretend it won’t. But you must not let it define you.” I looked at her and felt a calm that hit me unexpectantly, “There are things about my past I don’t tell people. I have literally cut myself off from the world in order to stay hidden at times. I don’t want this for you. What happened was an accident…. We all know it, and you need to know it too.”
Lauren looked at me, no longer eying me like I might be crazy; which often happened when I told people of my diagnoses. Instead she now looked at me like someone that understood. Tears began to gather in her eyes.
“I need you to trust me Lauren. It is going to be okay. Humility is a gift in this life. But there is a thin line between that and shame. Maybe that’s why some people can’t be humble; perhaps they are scared of being ashamed of who they are or what they’ve done. Don’t let that be you Lauren—You’re a good person. Do you believe me when I say that to you?”
With wet cheeks, she responded shakingly, “Yes.”
“Good…that’s a start. Don’t let yourself forget it. But if you do, I’m here to remind you whenever you need it.”
Week 13 (12.4.20):
(The following lesson is rated “R.” Reader Discretion Is Advised. Lauryn, this one’s for you!)
It is very difficult not to swear once and a while as emotions can sometimes take over even the strongest of people. Most of the time we try our best not to use this type of offensive language, but every now and then who doesn’t like to give this world a big old, “F—U!”
Come on now, you know I’m right.
When I was young, I remember seeing a bumper sticker that read: “To go forward in life you can’t be looking in the mirror.”
This is very philosophical and very deep. And very true…to a degree.
Looking in life’s rear-view mirror can lead to guilt and regret, there is no denying that. But there are also good things that can happen by looking in our past as well. Like avoiding making the same mistake twice—or three times, or four, or five, etc.
Which brings us to our story for the day. I hope you friggin like it!
It was a few years ago now, but I remember it like it was yesterday….
I was on my way home from work. Traveling the same two-lane highway I always traveled. Listening to some audio book about ‘Inner Peace.’
On this day, traffic was moving rather slow. The speed limit on that particular stretch of road was sixty-five. However, everyone was stuck going a steady ten to fifteen because of a merge a few miles ahead. It had been like this for months now, so the delay was not unexpected. Frustrated, but in no rush to get anywhere, I stayed in the right lane and listened to instructions on how to “breathe through stress.”
In my mirror I noticed a car weaving around the slowed traffic behind me; displaying no regard for the other drivers trying to survive their journey. There was always someone trying to get ahead by doing this, and it always got under my skin. He was getting closer and closer. What this driver was doing was wrong, everyone knew it, but no one stopped him.
I vividly recall thinking that I’d have to be the one to teach this A-hole a lesson.
—This would be fun!
As the car approached, I matched speed with the person next to me: Phase one of a three stage “F-U.”
By doing so I blocked this punk from weaving around us. A very common tactic taught to me by my father years prior.
In no time, the driver was right behind me. He successfully got on the ass end of my car but had nowhere to go. Of course, I just played dumb and carefully maintained my speed with the car alongside. He got closer and closer, eventually laying on his horn once he realized I was purposely blocking him.
With a smirk, I moved to stage two.
Taking my right hand and shaping it like I was grabbing the fat end of a baseball bat, I turned my head and bobbed up and down on the imaginary staff. Anyone can give the middle finger, only professionals can wordlessly tell someone to, “Suck a dick.”
I know, I know: This was awful of me to do. My father did not teach me this one. What I did was childish and inappropriate. It is embarrassing to admit to now. However, back then, the act worked like a charm.
This driver understood exactly what I meant. Pissed off, he jerked around in his car, laid on his horn, and gave me the middle finger; while he swore and yelled at me in silence.
With a smile, and smelling success, I progressed to the final stage; stage three: The Icing on The Cake.
I turned my head slightly and gently blew this man a kiss. Then I waived at him like a queen would in a parade.
I could not help but stare in my mirror and admire the anger that his man was now experiencing.
“Bingo-Bango,” I said to myself, “Got you A-hole. That will teach you.”
In the midst of admiring my victory I did not see the traffic stop in front of me.
I hit the car in front of me, and as a result was hit by the man from behind. Traffic stopped, and I was about to encounter the man who I had just told to…well, you know….
—This would not be good.
Then, something amazing happened that opened my eyes forever. A miracle, I think. Instead of being pissed off with one another, this A-hole and I immediately seemed remorseful. Both of us jumped out of our vehicles looking scared.
—Perhaps fear is something all humans have in common.
On that day, neither of us got out of our cars ready to fight like you would imagine: A miracle; I know.
Like me, I saw that he felt shame as other drivers who had watched the two of us act like idiots were now blaming him and I for the accident that stopped traffic. Rather than pointing fingers at each other, both of us recognized our roles in the predicament we were in.
Putting on our big boy pants, we took responsibility—together….
Maybe he and I could have reacted differently. Things could have gotten really ugly I assume. Thankfully, instead of anger and revenge, we both were wired to feel sorrow and forgiveness that day. This is not always the case, I know—That’s why I called it a miracle.
After the accident he and I had to deal with insurance and all that other stuff for a few weeks. Surprisingly, he and I became friends during this process. His name was Rick and he owed an ambulance company in the area. He had a family, just like me. Later he’d admit that my ‘act’ on the road was really quite funny and original.
The lesson I learned that day I try not to forget: We had a lot more in common than we knew when we were just two A-Holes trying to get to our destination.
Today I want you to think about what happens when tragedy occurs. Is chaos and selfish behavior inevitable in these instances? Or, can we use these difficult and trying times as opportunities to come together and unite with compassionate hearts?
Maybe, once again, you think all of this is just a bunch of bullshit. Maybe you are currently experiencing a severe case of the “F***-It’s,” and refuse to see the world through my eyes.
I cannot blame you as I have been there many times. All I can suggest is that you ask questions, be patient, and have faith; “That f***ing miracle might be right around the f***ing corner…okay you A-hole!?!”
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
“We had a lot more in common than we knew when we were just two A-Holes trying to get to our destination.” What does this statement mean to you?
The Teacher’s Playlist:
“Maybe I shouldn’t be singing this song….”
—A*****e by Denis Leary