Week sixteen finds us at my house on Christmas day. A Friday in the year 2020. Nel, Pras, Lauryn and my three boys are spending the afternoon hanging out together:
Looking out the window, a flock of pelicans are scattered across the snow-covered front yard. Pras, Nel, and my twins have taken the collection of plastic pelicans from the garage and are now sticking every one of them in the ground around the house. A few summers ago, my family used these sixty pelicans to celebrate a relative’s birthday. At this moment, however, they find themselves taking a stroll in a winter wonderland.
Nel and Pras talked about my boys constantly since they had come over a few weeks earlier on Thanksgiving, and Lauryn made sure I knew that my boys should someday be introduced to her as well: “Don’t you want them to meet Mama, Mr. J?” she said.
When she said this to me it seemed a bit forced, but the fact she was trying to act cheerful allowed me to tell myself that she’d make it past this difficult time. On Tuesday; the last day of class before break, the four of us got to talking about what little plans we had for Christmas this year as the pandemic continued to limit our options: “I’ll just be hanging with the kids later in the day after they open their presents from Santa,” I told them.
“What do they want for Christmas this year?” Pras said in response to this; a standard question people always ask; a question which often reminds me of why I find myself disliking Christmas so much.
“A Tesla.” I told Pras. “They say it’s for me.”
The list my boys made this year was rather standard—more stuff that would just end up in a landfill someday—but this item made me laugh when I saw it on their list.
When they told me why it was on their list, I explained they’d have better luck writing a letter to Elon Musk if they really wanted me to get a Tesla for Christmas. Once I told my boys who this man was, they decided that if Santa didn’t come through this year, that next year they’d give this “Mr. Elon” a try.
“It was a fun conversation,” I said to my students. “One of those conversation that makes you appreciate being a parent.”
“The twins still believe in Santa?” Lauryn said, sounding surprised.
I then told them that my twins have no older cousins or brothers; and two younger sisters at their moms and other dads house. “…Do you think I should tell them?” I said to my students, half-joking.
Lauryn answered for the group. “They already know Mr. J—They just don’t want you to know they know.”
My boy’s other dad and I have this debate often. He thinks they know…I think they don’t.
My students then spent the next ten minutes trying to convince me that they knew my children better than I do. And it was that conversation which led to me inviting them over my house on Christmas day to hang out with us.
Outside the twins continue to play with Pras and Nel. Watching them, I become a bit emotional as I reflect on past memories….
When the twins’ mother and I were separating they were only two years old. Looking back now I’m rather certain she was struggling with some postpartum issues then, and with all that I was struggling with in secret I think our separation was rather inevitable as communication was never our thing. At the time we were living in a long white ranch. The day I pulled out of the driveway to leave the house for good, I remember seeing the twins’ heads pop up from the bottom of a window that was eye-level with the driveway. Their identical little faces in this memory tormented me for a very long time and I remember driving around listening to Highway 20 Ride by the Zac Brown Band just so I could cry; mourning the loss of the family I had spent an entire life trying to put together. I made the choice to leave then, but to say I was confident in my decision would be a lie.
Nine years later, I had just gotten out of the halfway house and sat alone at their fifth-grade graduation while the song “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars threatened those damn tears again. The boy’s grandfather on their mother’s side was there on that day. Him and I were once very close, but he is now the president of my hate club. At the graduation he did not acknowledge I existed—as usual—and his loathing made me despise my very existence—as usual. This man is a great guy; a good father; a good grandfather; a good husband; and a good friend to many—even to me long ago. But he, like millions of other people, has a hard time forgiving. His hatred of me hurts but is something I have to accept because of how much I let everyone down in the past. Looking out at my boys at this graduation—with tears blurring my vision— I feared letting them down again….
The twin boys I watch playing in the snow outside this window know none of this. They smile and laugh and are acting like the goofballs I love. And I don’t feel like crying right now.
Maybe one day I will tell them about everything that happened before. Maybe one day I’ll tell them about Santa. But at this very moment, I am not worried about any of that. I am instead trying to iron in the memory being created with these pelicans, hoping that one day…perhaps… I’ll be remembering the good days and not the bad anymore.
WARNING: Here is where shit gets a bit nuts.
In April of 2015 (one year before the fire) I got in my family mini-van and started driving. Without my cellphone no one could contact me to ask when I’d be coming home, or to see if I was okay—or to ask me if I had gone crazy after sending that email out.
I drove north from my home in Central Massachusetts for almost four hours. I had no clue where I was headed, I just knew that I wanted to be left alone for a while.
Arriving at my unplanned destination, I parked my van at a public park overlooking a great icy lake. Wherever I was, it still felt like the dead of winter.
I then got out of my van and started walking; stiff from the drive. This lake was huge, like never-ending huge. It looked like a frozen ocean, but the air did not smell oceany; the air smelled clean. Without my phone I had no clue where I was. I walked around, wind-frozen, until I found a map posted on the side of a building in this deserted park. That is when I first discovered I was looking at Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont.
Sitting in that van I kept a journal on a yellow office pad I found under one of the seats. That’s where I write that I have fifty-two dollars in my wallet. I don’t not want Sirena to know where I am, so I make the conscious decision not to use my debit card. “I want to stay lost for just a little while,” I write.
The city is beautiful; “It has kind of a hippy vibe to it.” But since it’s so cold, I spend most of my time sitting in the van. I need to make certain I have enough money for gas, so I don’t spend any of my fifty-two dollars on food. Instead, I use some change to buy a bag of chips and a gallon of water. That’s it.
Back home my family must be worried sick. But I have already made this decision and can’t get myself to go back and face them yet. I sit in this parking lot listening to the radio and wonder if someone there had received that email I sent out. I feel a bit like the character in the movie Gone Girl, and debate if running away will force them to pay attention to what I wrote—What a crazy bitch…
A few hours later, a security guard comes up to the van and tells me the parking lot is closing for the night. I worried he had come to arrest me, but he didn’t. Still not ready to go home and face the consequences of my actions, I exit the parking lot and drive to a highway rest stop nearby. Flattening the seats in the back of the van, I lay down and let the single post light outside comfort me throughout the night.
When the sun rises the next morning, I am awake to see it. I know that I will have to go home this day, but I tell myself that I’ll first enjoy being detached from this life a bit longer— “Not having my phone is more liberating than I could have ever imagined.”
I find being in this Vermont town peaceful. It’s as if I’m an alien from another planet visiting for the first time. The people I study don’t seem so bad. Completely alone, I now realize how different I am from all the normal humans moving around me… Maybe I should just stay here?
On this day, a Red Cross Blood Bank is set up downtown providing free lunch and a movie ticket to donors. With no money to buy food, I decide to give blood. I am not good with blood, but it’s a free lunch, so, I do it… and nearly pass out.
The nice girl that takes my blood waits with me until I get my strength back, and off I go. Soon I will have to go home, but I now have a free movie ticket, so first I will go see a movie.
I use my ticket to see a movie titled “Run All Night.” (I’m not making this shit up. That was really the movie I saw. Its release date is the only way I can remember when all this happened. If me going to see this movie is not the definition of ironic, I don’t know what is.)
You enter this theatre at its center; to my left I can go and sit up front or to my right I can sit above. Since I am the first to enter the theatre, I cross the rows of seats and choose the top right; not all the way in the back but halfway up; far enough away so that other people coming in won’t walk around the one dude sitting by himself.
Before the movie begins only five more people enter. They sit in front of me to the left; a group of three and a group of two. Sitting between me and the exit door to the theatre, we have the place all to ourselves.
The feeling of being alone is therapeutic. Sitting here, four hours from my home, I feel calm. Not a single person in this place has any clue who I am or what I’ve done. On the run, this is an ideal place to hide out.
I love going to the movies by myself. I’m not really certain why, but I do. I seem to learn a lot by sitting alone and I think here is the first place I ever really did this. I grew up being in groups of people all the time and doing something like going to the movies alone would have seemed super weird to my younger self, but as I have grown older the less comfortable I feel being around people. Movies are perfect because I can do something alone with no one really knowing about it. Perhaps I was always this introverted but never realized it given how successful I was growing up.
“Successful” — That word makes me laugh now.
Sitting in this theatre, success is a thing of the past. Something that will no longer be associated with me once I go back and deal with the real world again.
Maybe the Universe is sick of seeing me successful? Maybe God has decided that my life is a joke instead? Maybe I no longer give two shits about what is imagined for me?
I’ve literally never seen the entire movie I began watching in the theatre that day. Halfway through it, something happened that I had never experienced before in my life. Something completely unexpected.
In the middle of a scene all the lights in the theatre turn on. Confused, I, along with the other five people in the theatre, look around to see what was going on.
Has the theatre lost power? … Are these the emergency lights?
My eyes adjust to the light and focus on the door to the theatre as it begins to open. Like three angels, they glide through the door and into the theatre. They are not angels, however. They are police officers. They found me…
***End of Breaking Knews***
Behind me, I hear Lauryn and my youngest son playing with Legos. They had come inside to get warm and I had come with them. That is why I am looking out the window at the twins sticking those pelicans into the snow with Nel and Pras.
Turning away from the window, I watch Lauryn and my son playing on the small Lego table that is tucked against the wall.
Above their heads is a picture my son had made for me the year I got out of the halfway house. His teacher wrote, “I am special because,” and the students had to fill in the sentence and draw a picture. My son drew two stick figures and wrote “I see my Daddy!” This is my most valuable possession today.
I watch my son finish spelling his full name out with Legos; they’ve been working on this for a while as it stretches across the entire table and is rather impressive looking. Seeing it completed, I watch Lauryn ask him how many letters are in each part of his name.
She presents this question to my son like he’s still some dumb little kid. This is a role my son doesn’t mind playing, but my son is not some dumb little kid. This boy has a brilliant mind and his questions blow me away on a regular basis.
Just the other day, while driving, we discussed why the moon looks bigger than the sun. I used signs at different distances from us to explain why that was. He then asked about the size of space and if there was an end to it. And then, once he contemplated that, this little boy asked me if at the end of space was where God lived. Yeah, this boy is not dumb.
From across the room I watch my son point to each part of his name and speak assertively to Lauryn. “Six—Six—Six,” he says; to answer her question of how many letters are in each part of his name.
Immediately I see Lauryn put a hand over her mouth and look up at me with shocked fear in her eyes. I shrug and shake my head at her.
She can’t keep a straight face and a devilish smile starts in the corner of her eyes, giving it away. My son then watches the two of us laugh at something he does not understand.
People and their silly signs—I’ll explain that one to him later; once I figure out how to answer the whole God thing—Children and their silly questions.
My three boys find hanging out with my students fascinating. They are being exposed to knowledge beyond their years but seeing high school kids act like children makes it all okay with me. On this day the serious business of growing-up is put on hold for all of us.
With Lauryn and my youngest son still playing on the floor, the only thing I’m worried about right now is how much popcorn to make, as the next event on the agenda is to watch the new movie on Disney+, called Soul.
Lily had suggested the movie. Her text said she’d be arriving shortly. I told her to look for the pelicans.
Week 16: Friday, December 25th, 2020
“Age of Reason”
“Everything’s not awesome, but that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless and bleak.” —A quote from the song in The LEGO Movie (Part 2)
Our classes the last two weeks have revolved around a topic I introduced to you as, THE AGE OF REASON.
My goal has been to help us see the world we are living in today with a sense of Impermanence: A noun, meaning, the state or fact of lasting for only a limited period of time.
Every assignment I gave you was to get us fully emersed in this principle. At the end of last week, knowing we had winter break coming up, I gave you one assignment: Write an essay in which you imagine the world thirty years from now and things have gotten BETTER: How did it happen? (I stole the idea for this assignment from an old Simpson’s episode by the way.)
What you all wrote was very fun to read. In fact, your essays were so good that Miss Lily and I will be asking your permission to share them for a personal project of ours. Here is a summary of each of your reports:
Pras titled his essay ‘Recycle Economics,’ in which he imagined a world that had become more equitable. “If you give the people more money it will be recycled back into the hands of the wealthy…most of the population will die without amassing much wealth but their lives would be lived more happily.” Pras: The entire report was well thought out and very compelling. Nicely done my friend!
Lauryn titled her essay, ‘Non-FAF,’ in which she imagined a world that had outlawed filters on social media platforms because they were identified as a public health risk. Parts of her report made me literally laugh out loud when I read it. Lauryn: I don’t do TikTok (yet), but the statistics you cited regarding the growth of “influencers” since its creation absolutely blew my mind. Understanding the opportunities and risks of all these means of communication we have available to us is important. Good work my dear!
Nel titled his essay, ‘Scroll Free,’ in which he imagined a world that had banned advertising on all news websites. “Playing a game of dodgeball with advertisers to get your news became a thing of the past.” I was able to relate to this passage from his report so much. Nel: While I think we both understand none of this is ever really going to happen it is still fun to imagine. The fact that you recognize it as an issue shows wonderful insight on your part. Way to go kid!
Now, where do we go from here?
We cannot live in the future. While the exercises over the past two weeks have been fun, we must all face the days ahead.
Let’s be honest with ourselves and accept that things on this planet of ours will not get better overnight. In fact, the time it will take for us to get to some resemblance of a healed world will probably take more time than you and I have. Meaning: We may never see it in our lifetimes.
This is how the evolution of any species or civilization works. But that does not mean this life of ours is lost. Someday history books may be discussing the role we played in creating their better world. The question therefore becomes: Will we be the superheroes in their stories or the supervillains?
How does this evolutionary process of healing begin? Well, to quote one of my books; “When ignorance comes to an end understanding arises.” But rather than arguing over what this means, I’d like to keep it simple by suggesting you do something that you’ve heard many times before: Be the change you want to see in the world.
An entire class should be taught on how to do this, but here a few things to get you started:
Acknowledge one another (It’s a skill: a smile or a wave works—eye contact is optional). Pick up after yourselves (You can even try picking up after others without making a big deal of it). Say outrageous things throughout your day (Like: Please and Thank You and You’re Welcome). Hold the door for the person behind you—even if the person in front of you just slammed it in your face (It will mean more to the person you hold the door for and the person who slammed it in your face will notice). Let that person be right—even though you know they are wrong (This applies to most situations, best to er on the side of caution: perception can be a killer).
Forgive if you can.
Forget it you must.
Be grateful—keep growing—be patient—be kind—AND—every now and then—be a bit quieter. (Yeah, I said it, own it.)
Also: DO NOT KEEP A SCALE.
We all do this whether we realize it or not. We keep a scale of our good deeds and weigh it verse good deeds done for us. We are so focused on what’s going on with ourselves, yet we still find time to think about this scale. Try not to.
Bringing this up makes me think of a movie titled Billy Madison; a comedy classic…
Billy is a spoiled rich kid in his late twenties that goes back to school so he can graduate and prove to his father he’s not an idiot (he is). Having a change in heart, Billy calls a kid he bullied when he was younger. This kid he bullied—now an adult—answers Billy’s call and accepts Billy’s apology like it’s no big deal. But then we see this guy cross Billy’s name off a list that hangs on his wall: PEOPLE TO KILL. This grown man—who looks normal—does this and then proceeds to put lipstick on himself.
The point of my story: Don’t keep a scale and DO NOT KEEP A LIST!
The truth is, we are all troubled high school kids whether we realize it or not. So, I understand why doing some of this can be difficult. We all carry baggage. But to this I say: “BE SELFISH!”
Be kind to yourself and others because it makes you feel better. Be kind because that’s who you are, or because that’s who you want to become.
Try not to do nice things because you expect something back: the favors we give are rarely matched by what we get back. And that’s okay. We become happier people by loading that scale with our good deeds.
All of you can do this, I know it. You’re not like the others. You’re from a whole nother world—a different dimension. You have all opened my eyes, and I’m ready to go. Lead me into the light. (Please?)
QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:
“We become happier people by loading that scale with our good deeds.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not.
The Teacher’s Playlist:
“When you hear the call, you’ve got to get it underway.”
—Word Up! By Cameo