Week fourteen finds us at the memorial service our school is holding for Candace. She had passed away on Monday November 9th, 2020. It is now Friday afternoon December 11th, one month later:
Standing in front of Candace’s picture, I see her face with no hood or mask covering its features. This allows the young lady looking back at me from the flat lifeless surface to attack my emotions without restraint. To my right Lauryn tells me, “She hated her teeth.” I can barely hear what she says though because of the mask she’s wearing. A fact that has me feeling extra annoyed with life today.
Our school is holding a memorial for the student taken from us, a student some of us barely knew, yet a student we all now realize we loved… Candace is gone. A month has passed since the day of the tragedy and has left Lauryn shattered more than anyone else.
That Saturday night Candace and Lauryn were together and smoked some weed. Our school’s program promotes ‘harm reduction’ which means that what they were doing was not that out of the ordinary. As a school we do not celebrate this, but it is often the lesser of most evils.
Lauryn had taken the weed from a drawer in her mother’s room without knowing that her mother was struggling with Fentanyl use: a very strong opiate that is one of the newer drugs terrorizing addicts. Her mother had knowingly laced this weed of hers with Fentanyl. The combination had both girls nearly unconscious when Lauryn’s mother arrived home.
Lauryn and Candace were both given a shot of Narcan by paramedics that arrived at the scene. Lauryn snapped back to life quickly but had to watch Candace fight to stay alive. At the hospital Candace was put on life support but did not survive.
Candace’s death was a result of an awful mistake. There is zero blame being placed on anyone today. This includes Lauryn’s mother who has faced a legal battle over the past month and who is now in treatment.
Any honest adult will tell you they did plenty of stupid things in their youth, and that surviving mistakes is what lucky people live long enough to do. Whether Lauryn or her mother will ever accept this is unknown (Lauryn’s mother is only thirty-three years old).
My mind swells with all that I reflect on. Looking at the small collection of students, staff, and family gathered around me, I realize that I have attended far too many of these in my life already.
When that homeowner, Nick, fired me I did not go out and tell everyone; obviously. Sirena knew about it and a few other people at the time, but there was one person I definitely did not want hearing about it: my dad.
We did not get fired from jobs. And how in the world would I explain why I got fired?
It is now January of 2015, a few months after my tools were unceremoniously placed in front of that garage, and the first big snowstorm of the year has hit us. My parents live down the street from Sirena and I, visiting them, my dad presents me with the question I have been dreading: “Did you find that shovel yet?”
My dad owns this big black construction shovel; a heavy thing. This was the shovel I borrowed when I did that job. When those tools were placed outside the garage this shovel was not there for me to pack up. I could have asked my uncle for it since he took over the job once I was fired, but I’m too embarrassed and kind of hiding from him at the moment.
“I’m sorry dad I can’t find it,” I lie; playing dumb to the dreaded question.
What my dad is about to say in response to my ‘playing dumb’ is completely out of character for him, but it is what he said, and what I must share in order to tell this story properly.
“Like you care Jose.”
My dad must have just been having a bad day. If he only knew how much time I spent caring about that stupid shovel I’m certain he would have never said this.
I did not want to tell him I had been fired from that job. And I did not want to tell him why I had been fired. But he did not know about any of this. What he said bothered me more than I can justifiably explain today. I remember wanting to shout at him: I—DO—CARE!
I have given my past a lot of thought over the years; trying to make sense of what I have been told and the diagnoses I have been given, and I have come to the conclusion that it was at this moment I broke. With this shovel incident something in my head snapped. I don’t remember what I actually said to my dad that day, I just remember the thought that played in my head afterwards:
Maybe some people act like they don’t care … Maybe some people tell themselves they don’t care … Maybe a select few really don’t care … But in reality—DAD! —most of us care.
For me, I know that I care too much. This was a moment of clarity for me. (Thanks dad.)
Leaving my parent’s house that day I went home and used our snow-blower to clear our driveway. I am listening to a new song titled ‘FourFiveSeconds’ by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney. This song plays on repeat through my headphones, but I am only half hearing it as I am lost in thought.
After I finish snow blowing the driveway, I make a path to our front door. It is cold outside, and I realize how much I love the smell of winter. After I finish the path to the front door, I make a path to the backyard.
The neighbor’s kids head outside to play in the snow. In my back yard, with snow approaching my knees, I decide to create a maze for them. This song continues to play in my ears as my thoughts begin to play in this snow as well…
I think about that manifesto I gave the homeowner that got me fired…that led to this shovel incident with my father. I think about all I’ve done over the years; all that I’ve seen with these different jobs I’ve had; all that life has taught me because of my struggles with drugs. Thinking about all the people I’ve met and tried to understand throughout this journey of mine I start to wonder if other people really do need to hear about what I’ve learned and seen.
—What if this is my destiny?
I get excited at the prospect and can feel a sense of hope growing inside me. My mind then begins putting together a vision of my story that could speak to the world, that could help the world…That could save the world!
Yup, maybe this is when I broke from reality a bit. Of course, I did not know this then. It is easy to identify troubling thoughts when you look into the past, but when you are living them it is often impossible to see. Later you see clearly. After you have made your mistakes. But I had not made my mistakes yet. I would though.
When I began snow-blowing I was angry, or upset, or embarrassed, or sad, or lost…or whatever. But out of nowhere, inspiration touches me and ideas bubble-up from inside me somewhere.
An image of what to write began that day. Began with that shovel. Was put together in those paths.
How would it all come together though? I thought to myself.
Once I was done my snow-blowing, I went inside. Looking in the backyard from out our kitchen window, I smiled. Mark Twain once wrote that the two most important days of your life is the day you were born and the day you find out why. Looking out that window I felt as if I had uncovered the latter…. For it was at that moment I saw it—
The paths I made all intersecting in a seemingly random pattern. But the boarder of this maze I see outside this window has eight sides to it: I see an octagon: “The Octagon of P.A.I.N.”
***End of Breaking Knews***
Nel, Pras, and Lauryn had all driven together to this memorial service for Candace. Standing outside their car with Lauryn, I see Nel sitting behind the wheel, looking strong, while Pras sits quietly in the back seat.
Prior to today, most of us have not seen Lauryn cry, but now, in front of me and everyone else, she melts. Unable to stop myself, I hugged her. With Lauryn in my arms, Nel and I lock eyes. We talk to one another without words…
The two of us have one thing in common that will forever connect us: our skin color. You’d think this would help us get along, but for some reason him and I always seem to be at odds with one-another and I have to admit that I find him very tough to like at times. He was punished by his parents and made to come to our school after getting caught stealing a few dollars from a teacher’s coat pocket at his previous school. His parents blamed it on his drug use and had him sent here. He could have left by now, but he’s in love with Lauryn and refuses to leave. How his parents feel about this is constantly discussed by staff via email. Whether or not Nel truly struggles with substances only time will tell. I’m critical of him and I know it, but I can’t help it. I think it’s the world we live in today. We judge people that don’t agree with us or have things we don’t have. In this moment however, I am connected to him because of how we both feel about Lauryn.
Looking at Nel, we make a non-verbal agreement with one another: Together WE will be her strength.
Lauryn is a bigger girl and she fills my embrace completely. She feels very warm against my body. “It was her f****n* birthday,” she sobs; her body shaking against mine.
The night they smoked that weed was Candace’s birthday. This is something I know, though hearing Lauryn say it provides a fresh circumcision of pain on my heart. I find myself squeezing a little harder…fighting back my own tears.
After watching my students drive away, I walk to my car which I had purposely parked in the far end of the lot. Approaching it, I feel as if I’ve just gone a few rounds with Mike Tyson pounding me emotionally. Opening my door, I collapse into the seat.
The weight in the front of my skull increases and I look around the parking lot to make sure I am alone. Turning on the car, I take out my phone and find my playlist. I find the song I am looking for and play it: Down In a Hole by Alice In Chains. I turn up the volume.
Like many people I wear a lot of different masks in life. I wear them to hide certain things about myself, and I’ve been doing it way before this pandemic ever started. The one I try to wear most is a smile, but there is no one smiling on this day, and the true me is very hard to hide. I can feel it waking up inside of me as I sit in my car listening to this song.
Councilor John once said it took him five years to become comfortable in sobriety. I hated hearing this at the time. No way it takes me that long, I tried convincing myself back then.
Right now, I’m on year three, and it has gotten better year after year, but I cannot say that I’m a happy person yet. On days like today I consider John’s words and breathe a sigh of relief: I still have time; I now try to convince myself.
The guitar I hear playing through the car radio reminds me of those days: the days I thought I’d be better off at the bottom of a six-foot dirt hole.
I look at myself in the mirror; feeling guilty for ever wishing such a thing right now. Others may see a strong adult, but I know whose eyes those are looking back at me. A shiver crawls up my body and I squint my eyes to keep them focused.
Taking both palms, I press them hard into the sockets of my eyes and drop my head. With my fingernails massaging my hairline, the swelling in my head becomes too much… and I just let it happen.
Week 14: Friday, December 11th, 2020
“P.A.I.N. through Regret”
“There will be an answer.”
— From the song Let It Be by The Beatles
The song above was released in 1970. It was inspired by Paul McCartney’s mother, Mary, who died when he was fourteen years old but had visited him in a dream ten years later during a night in which he was feeling especially paranoid and anxious.
According to Mr. McCartney, she came to him in his time of trouble, speaking words of wisdom that brought him much peace when he needed it.
Our world is very different than it was when Paul McCartney wrote this song, but in many ways it’s the same. Today we are all fighting over what has brought us to this point in history and many of us struggle with ‘The Nostalgia of What Once Was.’
To me, it appears we all have a severe case of the Coulda-Woulda-Shouldas. Or to put it differently: Many of us dream of days past and REGRET the state of things.
People felt the same way back in 1970.
As this world fights, “Let it be” has become my mantra as I sit and wait for that answer Mother Mary promised Paul McCartney all those years ago.
Regret is another emotion that connects all people, and while this can be a very troublesome emotion, let us try and keep things light by focusing on two things that are often associated with it but don’t sound so scary: Love and Money.
Since you all have a pretty good idea about my experiences with love as it connects to regret, let me begin by telling you about an experience of mine with money and regret.
History books will tell you the ‘Global Financial Crisis’ began on September 18th, 2008; the day Lehman Brothers filed for bankruptcy. But for me, it started six months earlier on a Monday morning in March.
On the Friday preceding this Monday morning I had purchased ten thousand dollars of Bear Sterns stock right before the market closed that day. At twenty-six years old, this was a ton of money to me; money I had earned from years of physical labor. Over that weekend this investment looked like a smart one as the talking heads on the business channel I watched were calling it a “Great Buy!” I remember feeling really good about myself over that weekend.
On Monday, March 14th, 2008; six months before history books teach you the market crashed, I turned on that same business channel first thing in the morning. My wife had gone to work already, and I was home alone, once I saw the news I screamed hopelessly into my pillow. Bear Sterns had gone bankrupt— All that a back-breaking money was gone!
I was working at a phone center in Merrimack, New Hampshire for an international financial firm then. When I went into work that day, we had an emergency meeting to discuss how to talk to our clients about what had happened with Bear Sterns. On screen they showed the account of a man who had 100% of his retirement portfolio invested in Bear Sterns stocks prior to the weekend—over four hundred thousand dollars. On the recorded phone call they played for us, we listened to this man cry; “Banks don’t go bankrupt,” he said. I sat in that room feeling bad for this man and at the same time despising myself for losing my own money on such a stupid “investment”.
During the difficult year that followed was when I discovered my favorite alcoholic beverage: Captain-and-Coke (Half Captain, Half Coke); two a day after work to help keep me sane. That was also the year I had my first cigarette. I had it on break with a few people I worked with.
I don’t tell you any of this to make excuses, it’s just a few facts pertaining to my story. Of course, it wasn’t losing the money that destroyed me in the end. The alcohol and those cigarettes though, well, we all know what happened because of them.
I’m going to stop talking about my regrets with you now though. Do you want to know why?
Because no one cares.
Let me be more specific: No one else cares about your regrets.
The same can usually be said about your dreams and your vendettas. You care about these things obviously, but most other people won’t. You are merely a puzzle piece in their story. This is a reality we must accept if we are to reach our ultimate potential. (Trust me.)
Money is powerful. I would never try to convince you otherwise. But all the money in the world would not solve the world’s problems, or even many individuals. In fact, Abigale Disney has been known to compare wealth to addiction—something I thought you’d find interesting. It is a claim validated by Paris Hilton, who once said she would not be able to “settle down” until she had one billion dollars—a statement that seems crazy; from our perspective.
I only bring this up so that you might not look at money as the answer. The truth is, we need a miracle to bring this world together, not money. I’m sure Mother Mary would agree.
Which now brings me to love.
I can understand if you don’t believe in miracles. I don’t know if I believe in love like other people do anymore. As I am constantly questioning if ‘true love’ is even a real thing.
Infatuation, I get. Lust, I understand. Co-dependency, I know very well. But LOVE? I just don’t know anymore.
I’m so cynical about it that sometimes I even find myself thinking that any promise of love between two people forever is simply a mutually agreed upon lie. This is a sad way to think about love, I know, but it is what it is.
Lucky for me, I have recently found myself questioning the possibility of true love once again entering my life.
Yes… there is a girl.
I’m rather certain this girl doesn’t know I exist yet, but that does not diminish how she makes me feel: which is hopeful.
Hope is more powerful than all the money in the world.
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
“Hope is more powerful than all the money in the world.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or Why not?
The Teacher’s Playlist:
“I’s lonely out in space…”
—Rocket Man by Elton John