Week fourteen finds us at school for Candace’s memorial service. She had passed away on November 8th, 2020. It is now Friday afternoon, December 11th, one month later:
Standing in front of her picture, my heart hurt. She was no longer wearing a hood, or a mask, which allowed the young lady looking back at me from the flat, lifeless surface to attack my emotions without restraint.
“She hated her teeth,” said Lauryn quietly from beside me.
“How could she have hated her teeth,” I wondered to myself, as I continued to take in my surroundings. Our school was holding a memorial for the student taken from us, a student some of us barely new, yet a student we all now realized we loved…. Candace was gone.
A month has passed since the day of the tragedy. The investigation into the incident has left Lauryn shattered more than anyone else. As the story goes, Candace and Lauryn got together that Saturday night and smoked some weed. Our school’s program promoted “harm reduction;” which meant that many of our students still smoked marijuana. Though this was not something we as a school celebrated, it was often the lesser of most evils. The point I’m trying to make here is that what they were doing was not that out of the ordinary.
This legal substance was available to many at dispensaries in our State, but most people still bought theirs in other ways. Which is what Lauryn originally told the police she had done. Come to find out it was actually her mother’s stash she had stolen from a drawer in her bedroom. Unknown to Lauryn, her mother was still struggling with Fentanyl use: A very strong opiate that is one of the newer drugs terrorizing addicts. Her mother, knowingly, had laced her stash of marijuana with this Fentanyl. The combination stopped the hearts of Lauryn and Candace that night.
Both of them were found by Lauryn’s mother close to unconsciousness at the time. Luckily, she was able give the young girls a shot of Narcan and call the paramedics. At the hospital they both fought to live. But, as we now had all come to accept, Candace did not survive this mistake.
The pain every person involved had been dealing with was unbearable to think about.
Let me make this very clear to you right now Dear Reader: This was a tragic MISTAKE.
I, myself, no longer smoke weed, but not because I imagined it would kill me. There was zero blame being placed on anyone by the time of this memorial service. This included Lauryn’s mother; who had faced a legal battle over the past month and was forced into accepting treatment; leaving Lauren to live alone in that small apartment for a little while.
Like I said, it was a mistake…pure and simple.
If you, My Reader, want to blame someone, perhaps this book is not for you. I apologize if these words sound a bit harsh, but all of this is just very hard for me to talk about.
Any honest adult will tell you that they did plenty of stupid things in their youth (Lauren’s mother was only thirty-three herself by the way). Surviving mistakes is simply what lucky people live long enough to do. Whether or not Lauryn or her mother will ever accept this is still up to debate.
At the memorial my mind swelled with all that I reflected on. Looking at all the students, staff, and family gathered around me, I realized then that I had attended far too many of these in my life already.
When that homeowner, Rick, fired me I did not go out and tell everyone; obviously. The fact that I am even telling you about it now surprises me.
Sirena knew about it, and a few other people at the time, but there was one person that I was definitely not letting find out about it…my dad.
We did not get fired from jobs—And how in the world would I explain why I got fired?
A few weeks after my tools were unceremoniously placed in front of that garage the first snow of the year fell. Visiting my parents at their house, my dad asked the question I had been dreading; “Did you bring my shovel back yet?”
Seems a rather boring question you would think, but it was a loaded one.
My father had this big black construction shovel. It was an old shovel, which meant it was made a lot stronger than the shovels you buy today. This was the shovel I borrowed when I did that tile job. And it was not one the tools Rick had left outside of his garage for me to pick up.
I could have called my uncle about it, who had taken over the job for me, but I had hidden in shame from him as well. So, I had simply hoped it would be forgotten. My father’s question made it clear that this would not be the case.
“I’m sorry dad, I can’t find it,” I said; playing dumb.
My dad is the nicest man in the world. When we worked together, we butted heads of course, but that is what happens when you work with family. At home however, he was like a best friend and could always make me smile. What I’m about to tell you he said in response to my playing dumb was completely out of character for him; but it is what he said and what I must share with you in order to tell you this story.
“Like you care.”
He must have been having a bad day. This response implied that this shovel of his was just something I failed to think about. If he only knew how much time I had spent caring about that God damn shovel!
I was dreading him asking for this shovel because I did not want to tell him I had been fired from that job. I did not want to tell him why I had been fired. But he had no clue about any of this. What he said bothered me more than I can justifiably explain today.
I have given my past a lot of thought over the years; trying to make sense of what I have been told and that diagnoses I have been given. I have come to the conclusion that it was at this moment something inside me broke….
With this shovel incident something in my head snapped, “I do care—We ALL care—EVERYONE cares!!!”
I don’t remember what I actually said to my dad that day, I just remember that this is the thought that played in my head.
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, most of us care. For me, I know that I care too much.
“Maybe that’s what’s wrong with this world—We all want to say we don’t care but we really do—What if we all realized how much we really did care?”
Leaving my father’s house, I went home that day and used our snow blower to clear our driveway. While doing this I listened to a song titled ‘FourFiveSeconds;’ by Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCarthy.
This song played on repeat through my headphones. After I finished snow blowing the driveway, I made a path to our front door. After I finished the path to the front door, I made a path to the backyard. In the back yard, with snow above my knees, I decided to create a maze for the kids.
I do not know how long I played with the snow blower that day. All I know is that I started doing it because I was angry, or upset, or whatever. But at some point while doing it, fireworks began going off in my mind. The fireworks I speak of were exciting ones, uplifting ones, revolutionary ones…delusionary ones…
“What if I’m a writer—What if this all had to happen—What if other people could be helped by my ideas and my story?”
I was not longer upset, I was inspired. In my head I had put together a vision of how my story could speak to the world—How it could help the world—How it could save the world!
Yup…maybe this is when I broke from reality a bit. But 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 until later: After you have made your mistakes.
But I had not made my mistakes yet…I would though….
An image in my mind of what to write began that day. Began with that shovel. Was put together in those paths—How would it all come together though?
Once I was done my snow-blowing, I went inside. Looking in the backyard, I smiled. I had a purpose now. I was a writer.
That is when I saw it: The paths in the backyard all intersecting in a seemingly random pattern. But the boarder of this maze of mine had eight sides to it. Looking at it from out the kitchen window, I saw an octagon: “The Octagon of P.A.I.N.”
***End Of Breaking Knews***
Back at the memorial service Nel, Pras, and Lauryn had all driven together.
Standing outside their car with Lauryn, I saw Nel sitting behind the wheel, looking strong, while Pras looked to be wilting in the back seat. Prior to this day, most of us had not seen Lauren cry, but now, in front of me and everyone else, she melted away. Unable to control myself, I hugged her.
With Lauren in my arms, Nel and I locked eyes. We talked to one another without words, in solidarity for the girl we both loved. In that moment; fighting away our own tears, Nel and I made a non-verbal agreement with one another: We would be her strength.
Lauryn is a bigger girl, so she filled my embrace completely. Holding her against me brought a calm that I was unsure how to perceive. “It was Candace’s birthday,” she cried, shaking against my body. A fact I had known, yet one that provided a fresh circumcision of pain to my heart.
After watching my students drive away, I walked to my own car; which I had purposely parked in the far end of the lot. Approaching it, I felt like a boxer who had just lasted till the final round of a fight. Opening my door, I collapsed into the seat.
The weight in the front of my skull increased and I looked around the lot to make sure I was alone. Turning on my car, I put the music on loud so that I would not have to hear my own thoughts anymore. I then looked at my own eyes in the mirror. Others may have seen a strong adult, but I knew whose eyes those were looking back at me. Unable to hold it together any longer I placed my head in my hands and let it happen…
Week 14 (12.11.20):
“P.A.I.N. through Regret”
“If you focus on what you’ve left behind you will never be able to see what lies ahead.”
From the Disney movie; Ratatouille.
An article titled regret, hmmm…. Where should one begin?
Let’s pretend we don’t know each other, shall we…
“Hello there! I’m a twice divorced father of three boys. I live with my mommy and daddy and I’m almost forty now. There are six nights a month that I am not responsible for children. Responsible is probably not the right word though; clearly, I’m not responsible. It’s more like I play with children for all but a few hours a month.”
This personal profile of mine makes the 40-Year-Old Virgin look like Tony-effing-Stark compared to me.
You joke about me having no girlfriend, but let’s be real, a girlfriend doesn’t exactly fit in my life right now. Even if one did though, could you imagine many Pepper Potts out their eager to jump on this old, wrinkly, uncut Iron Man suit of mine?
I mean, seriously, come on: Who in the world would sign up to join me in this cluster ‘F’ of a life I’ve put together?
Have fun with it. Go and try and put this life of mine on a dating site. See what you get…
“Oh wait…you found someone? … She is willing to have a drink with me?? … Could you please tell her that I’m in recovery and ask if she’d like to go for a walk with me instead???”
“She ghosted me????”
You can laugh. It’s okay. I’m serious. I know my life is a joke. Just laugh already.
I see the laugh growing in your belly. Yup…now it’s moving up your chest. There it is, right there, tickling your throat. I can see it in your eyes. Just do it. Your cheeks are about to break. You’re not going to get past this. Just get it over with already. “I—AM—A—LOSER!”
—Go ahead and laugh at me you little worms!
“—You’re an idiot Mr. J”
“Well, thank you very much….”
Alright then, with that out of the way, here is my truth: I am twice divorced. This is a hard thing to keep secret; trust me I’ve tried. The first divorce was my choice, the second was not. Both of them, however, were undeniably my fault.
Regret, and guilt, when it comes to love has been a constant throughout my entire adulthood. To be honest, I am so cynical over it that I often question if true love really exists. Nowadays, I am more likely to believe that a promise of forever is simply a mutually agreed upon lie.
It is a sad way to think about love, I know, but it is what it is.
With Candace’s memorial this week, why I chose to talk about my failed relationships is anyone’s guess. Maybe there is purpose behind it—Maybe I do it for selfish reasons—Or maybe I’m just a secret mastermind in disguise toying with those young minds of yours???
For now, let’s not think about it and get this class back on track…
I could talk forever about regret (and guilt), as most of you probably could. But we don’t have forever, so, what should we talk about?
Well, love and money are two things that are often discussed when it comes to these emotions. Since I have already told you about my experiences with love, let me give you a quick example of regret as it refers to money for me:
On Friday, March 14th, 2008, I bought ten thousand dollars’ worth of Bear Sterns stock right before the market closed that day. At twenty-six years old, this sum of money was a result of countless hours of physical labor I had done over the years. By Monday, all that back-breaking money was gone. The company I invested in went bankrupt. This event literally marked the beginning of the market crash that year, and I was smacked in the face by it just like so many others across the globe. That unfortunate gamble of mine is just one of many things that I regret in my life.
In your life I can promise you this: You will have money regrets.
Money is the most powerful force in this world next to only one other thing; power itself. It makes me sad to say, but it is true. That is why I brought up this money mistake of mine from my past; because everyone can relate to regrets about money.
But I’m gonna stop right there—You want to know why?
Because no one cares.
But that is a lesson for another day.
As we approach the end of this semester, I must remind you that throughout this journey we have been on I have tried my best to be honest with you. Despite some of the things you now know about me, deep down I always believed that I was a good person. Things I have done however, have forced me to question this a lot over the years.
When we look at the world today, I believe a similar feeling can stir within all of us. We have all seen the ‘good’ this world has to offer. Even if you have only experienced seeing it on a screen, we know that wonderful things and wonderful people do exist (Have you heard that MacKenzie Scott gave away 4.2 BILLION DOLLARS in just four months!?!).
Unfortunately, there is no denying that awful things are happening everywhere we look. And people can sometimes suck. Most of us paying attention want to believe that “good will win out.” But there comes a point when even the most optimistic amongst us has to wonder; “How will it get better?”
You know by now that I do not like to force my opinions on you. This is not the time or place for me to tell you how I think it will get better anyway. So instead, I will try and explain where I think we are at this moment in history.
Personally, I think the world is currently experiencing a period of regret. Things have changed so rapidly that we are questioning all the things that have brought us to where we are today.
Well, how do we often deal with these emotions?
—We fight them.
We fight with our feelings. We fight with our beliefs. We fight with whatever we can to avoid accepting things the way they are. We fight with each other and we fight with ourselves. That is the process: We are all simply watching it play out right now on a global scale.
It is why ‘Cancel Culture’ has become a phenomenon as of late. Society is attempting to erase everything that no longer makes sense. Trust me when I tell you that this is an impossible task; I know from personal experience.
Like always, I cannot offer a solution to the predicament we are in…I’m just a teacher. But if the world was a person, this is where I would tell it to remember my three tips to survival—Do you remember what they are yet?
Who knows, the miracle this world needs may be on tip toes as we speak, ready to surprise us in some mind-blowing fashion. Whatever you do, don’t give up before we find out what it is.
Which brings me back to love.
I can understand if you don’t believe in miracles. Like I started this article by telling you, I don’t know if I believe in love like some people do. There was nothing in my life that made me believe that ‘true love’ was a real thing. Infatuation, yes. Lust, yes. Co-dependency, absolutely. But LOVE, I just don’t know anymore…I’d need to see it to believe it.
Well, as luck would have it, in the process of writing one of these lessons a month or so ago I stopped working to take my youngest son out for an ice-cream. It was a rainy and cold day, not ideal to make a trip for an icy treat, but he wanted it, and I wanted to get out of my head, so we went.
That is where I saw her…Was this destiny knocking at my door?
Her son was with her in line and we talked while trying to stay warm. My own son had stayed in the car because he refused to put on his mask. Yes, this girl was pretty, in a very unintimidating kind of way. But over just a few minutes I could tell she was kind, and gentle, and perhaps a little insecure as well—Maybe she was broken a bit; just like me…
While talking, her son made a comment about “getting dropped off to dad’s house.” Being divorced myself, I am familiar with this language and looked down to confirm that she did not wear a wedding ring. That is when I started to wonder if this could be her.
The thought tickled my mind.
“Girl, you look delicious,” the only pick-up line I could think of from the Disney movie I had watched the night before danced in my head. “Probably not the best thing to say…” I silently told myself; even if her son was not right there.
Fighting off the temptation to say this to her I struggled to find the right words. She looked like someone famous…who was it?
I could not figure it out.
What can I say—Do I ask if she’s single—How do I do this—What is her son gonna think—Will I look like a jerk?
Unfortunately, I’m a wimp, and could not think of what to say to move our conversation past the friend zone in that moment.
Driving home; with ice cream on the seat beside me, her smile had my mind spinning.
Is there any way I can find her on social media—Did she say anything about where she lived—Would I ever see her again???
Maybe it was the fear of losing her that helped me realize who she reminded me of. Figuring out that she looked just like my celebrity crush I decided to use that fact to get her number. I quickly turned my car around to go back and find her.
Her and her son had gotten into a small, black car. Pulling up beside it, through the sprinkling rain, I rolled down my window. She smiled and rolled down hers, interested to find out why I had driven back…
“You look like Emma Watson.”
This is how the encounter was going to play out. This is what went through my head as I drove back to find her. Sadly, she was gone by the time I got back to the parking lot. I was devastated having just built up the courage to give it a shot. I was back on empty.
Maybe it was not meant to be—Maybe it was just meant to teach me a lesson—Maybe…
The thought of what could have been stuck with me long after. How she made me feel was unexplainable to someone that no longer believed in love. The experience forced me to question my beliefs on the topic completely.
With a new year approaching, my hope for those of you that no longer believe in miracles is that something unexpected happens in your life in the coming year. Something that makes you wonder, “What If…”
This is a great feeling that I hope to be able to one-day share with you; and one I know Candace would want for all of us as well.
—With Love, Mr. J
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
Do you believe in miracles?
The Teacher’s Playlist:
“I’m gonna make you see…”
—Give In to Me with Garret Hedlund & Leighton Meester