(20) P.A.I.N. Through Fear

Week twenty had arrived. It was Friday and I was at school for my last day teaching. In-person learning for students was set to begin the following week, so the building was filled with other teachers preparing to welcome back students. With no preparing to do myself, I was with Lily in her office watching her wipe tears from her eyes: 

Putting the papers down, Lily began to speak, “That’s beautiful Jose. Honestly I didn’t think she had this in her.”

I had given Lily an essay that Lauryn had written. Lauryn titled this essay of hers;“Through Those Eyes”

Earlier that week the students and I watched a movie together. The title of this movie was, ‘Finding Neverland.’ 

As their final assignment for my class I required them to write an essay or a short story. What they wrote had no parameters except that it had to somehow reference this movie we had watched in two different, and unique ways. Besides this they were free to write whatever they wanted. 

While each of my students provided something great, it was Lauryn’s essay that made my heart hurt with hope when I read it. Watching Lily cry across from me, I could now see she felt the same way about what Lauryn had written.

“I know. It’s amazing right. My son saw the tears in my eyes when I read it too. Pretty powerful—”

A knock on the office door interrupted this moment. Principal Sam leaned her head and asked the two of us to come meet in the break room. I watched Lily wipe her tears and walk out the door; I followed suit. 

Walking behind Lily down the hallway, I could not help but admire how beautiful she really was….and I noticed she smelled good too…kinda cinnamony…. 

As Lily made a turn into the breakroom a loud song began in chorus, “For she’s a jolly good fellow— For she’s a jolly good fellow— For she’s a jolly good fellow … WHICH NOBODAY CAN DENY!”

A few of Miss Lily’s students had come to surprise her on this day. All of the staff knew about this little surprise, yet it was clear Lily had no clue herself. I watched her cry happy tears for the second time in under three minutes.  

Balloons surrounded a dressed-up table which held a few small gifts and a fancy looking cake. On the cake was written; “Congratulations Lilia!”

Standing next to Lily, I leaned in to whisper to her, “They could have at least spelt your name right.”

Turning to look at me, she punched me in the shoulder, but then hugged me, “That is my name you idiot.”

Miss Lily had gotten engaged. That boyfriend of hers had finally proposed after a short little break in their relationship earlier in the year. She had gotten the ring she had been so eager to get, and I was beyond happy for her….

“You had your chance,” said Mr. Henry to me; as I sat with him eating a piece of cake. “I still don’t get why you never went after that?” 

Mr. Henry, I had come realize, was always thinking with his dick. Of course, I never said this to him, but as I watched him drool over my friend it was more obvious than ever. I could not tell him the real reason Lily and I could not happen, so I tried to think of something to say to him that would satisfy the requirement of idle conversation. 

“She is always wearing sunglasses,” I said.

“What the hell does that matter?” 

“Sunglasses intimidate me,” I smiled.

Mr. Henry looked at me and shook his head, “For a good-looking dude, you’re a real pussy you know that.”

***BREAKING KNEWS***

Dear reader, I have some good news for you: This zigzag journey through the ashes of my past is about to come to a close. Although this will not be the last chapter in this story, this will be the last time you come across any of these flashbacks of mine. With what I am about to share I believe you will have all the information needed to get us to the finish line. Though it has been a bumpy ride, I appreciate you holding on. Hopefully I can make it all worth it in the end….

When I saw the fire flowing up the side of the house from out that kitchen window, I ran back into the basement and told Sirena to grab our son and get outside. As she did that, I frantically grabbed my laptop, a few notebooks, and ran out of the basement myself. 

Once outside, I grabbed a garden hose and tried my best to stop the fire from spreading. Only a few minutes of this passed before a fireman pulled me away for my own safety as a propane grille was very close to the flames that were spreading. From that moment on, all I could do was watch.  

Eventually the firetrucks connected their hoses and began working on controlling the blaze. From across the street I stood with my family and some neighbors to watch the flames break through the roof as smoke filled the sky. Lights from firetrucks, ambulances, and police flashed everywhere. 

It was only three in the morning, but no one was going to sleep through this disaster of mine. Standing there, the sounds of shattered glass from windows being broken drowned out the sound of my heart beating through my chest as panic overcame me. 

Our house was gone, and with it, any shot at redemption I thought I might have had. 

“You’re such a fucking idiot Jose….”

You must remember that this house was full of stuff I had been working on to create that video I was telling you about. Watching that fire, I was unsure whether to be upset or scared: Actually, no, I was both…definitely both.  

Soon everyone was going to find out about what I had been doing in that house for the past few months. That, along with costing my family its home, was definitely going to be the most embarrassing moment of my life: “…They are definitely going to lock me up for this!”

There is something I must address while sharing this part of the story; and here it is: I don’t think Sirena ever forgave me for grabbing my laptop from that house and leaving her to grab our son. 

In retrospect, yes, that decision sounds awful. But in my defense, in that moment I had no doubt she could grab my son as the fire was not big at first. However, she would never have known what to grab off of my computer desk. Nor could she have comprehended how valuable those things were to our future. With that said, this decision of mine forever fractured our already fragile marriage. 

Speaking of that marriage, prior to the fire I vividly remember Sirena asking me once: “What if your story doesn’t work Jose?”  

She had seen how determined I was, and for all the bad things I have said about her throughout this story she always permitted me to pursue this dream of mine. When she asked me this question, I did not want to consider it, I did not want to let doubt creep into my mind at the time.

In the end, this story I felt called to share cost us our marriage. While I do not regret any of it, I do wish that this dream of mine had not caused Sirena such troubles; but she too knew what she was getting into.

After the fire Sirena and I stayed at my parents with our son. No one went into that house those first few days after the fire, but I knew that once they did people would find all the work I had been doing for that video and I’d have some serious explaining to do. 

Contemplating what to do next, I determined that I had one shot to make this right: I was going to make that video.

In desperation mode, I put on headphones and let Eminem sing “Lose Yourself” into my ears as I diligently worked to put it together. Doing this while smoking my weed fed my opiate receptors with the perfect mixture of positive thoughts and delusional dreams. 

While creating the video I decided that the fire must now be part of the story also. As I worked; I wondered, “Maybe this had to happen too?”

Dear Reader, you can imagine how all of this ended up…but I’ll tell you anyway:

On June 4th, 2016; one week after the fire, I downloaded this video of mine onto YouTube. I then used my social media accounts to share the video.  

The next day I was hospitalized: Locked away for my second time in fourteen months at another mental institution for another psychological evaluation.

Seeing this video of mine, my family encouraged me to get help. I voluntarily admitted myself to a psych hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts. Within the first few hours of being there, I left, signing the A.M.A. paperwork (Against Medical Advice). 

I then wandered aimlessly around the city streets in one last-ditch attempt to hide from my problems. A few hours later some friends found me and forced me into their car. 

After a lot of crying, they brought me back to the hospital. With all that had transpired I had absolutely no choice but to accept their analysis of my behavior….  

The world that year, 2016, went forward without me as I struggled to accept how crazy I truly was and fix that house of ours. I spent most of this time lost in a deep and dark depression. That is when I had participated in the electronic shock therapy you heard me reference a while back in this story. During this time, I did my best to present a strong face, but I was beaten and had to constantly fight to simply endure another day.  

On September 25th, 2017; more than a year after the fire and my second stay at a mental institution, I finally began my journey into true sobriety. From that day on I have not used drugs or alcohol of any kind.  

While everyone’s sobriety is different: That is mine. Did I get it on my first try? —I think you now know the answer to that.

***End Of Breaking Knews***

On the drive home from school after Lily’s mini celebration, my phone rang: “Hello my girl…what’s up?” I answered.

“Just wondering how the day went. Are you doing okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. It’s not the end of the world. Plus, I finished the end of my story and I’m taking the students out for lunch tomorrow to read it to them, so I’m kinda excited about that. It’s just a job anyway, it’s the students I’ll miss— You know they all refer to you as X2 now by the way?”

“Real nice asshole,” laughed Sirena through the phone.

I had told her about the lesson from a week earlier. Making fun of one-another and calling each other names was the type of relationship we had nowadays: we did not do it out of hate. 

No longer did we argue about who broke who first, or who owed who what. The two of us had come to understand that the relationship we had together was toxic. Even though we would never be together again in that way, we had survived a battle together and would forever be connected because of it.

It is no secret that I struggled to see Sirena as a good person for a while. Only once I realized that she was simply not a good person for me was I able to move on. Reflecting on our time together has taught me a lot: Like how losing is more traumatizing than winning is awakening; and how for some people the pursuit of love is often more precious than its possession. 

Of all that I have learned however, the most important thing, I think, is this: I am merely a product of my own insecurities. 

The truth is, for a very long time I was ashamed of my life. For a while, part of me blamed Sirena for this. It is easy to avoid telling people about my struggles with drugs and mental illness, but being divorced twice is something one cannot hide from. That reality of mine gets eye-roles that can reduce a person in size to a spec of sand. People that judge me over this do not know my story however: I am more fortunate than they could ever imagine.  

I have been married to two amazing women in my life. I am still friends with both of them which makes raising our children together a blessing. While it took me some time to get here, I now know that this life is not the curse or punishment I had once believed it was. 

Perhaps I messed up. Perhaps I made mistakes that I wish I hadn’t. Perhaps my life would have been better if I had done this differently; or not have done that. Today, none of it matters because I now feel as if everything happened for a reason. 

Does that make me sound crazy? —I really don’t care.

As far as relationships go: Perhaps a relationship does not fit in my life anymore: Perhaps one day it shall. At this moment however, I am in love with a vision I have for humanity and feel as if I have an obligation to make it a reality. This mission, along with being there for my boys, makes committing to a relationship with someone impracticable. In truth, I think it would be a waste. Now let me be clear, saying that does not mean that I’m thinking with my dick, it means I’m listening to my heart… 

“Jose, I know your excited about giving your story another shot but please be careful. You’ve come so far, and I just don’t want to see you lose everything again. I’m very proud of you—you know that right?”

My entire life I wanted people to say they were proud of me. But in that moment, for some reason, I still felt as if I was not ready to hear it.

“Thank you my dear, that means a lot. And yes…I’ll be careful.”

Even though I said the words, I knew that they were a lie. What I was about to attempt was dangerous and I had some real concerns about it. However, Sirena did not need to hear them: The Universe had made it so. 

At this point in my story I knew what had to be done, and I knew that YOU were worth the risk…. 

Week 20 (1.22.21):

“P.A.I.N. through Fear”

What I was looking at could not be real: “After everything that happened, was I right to believe?”

Sitting in my chair, the bright lights shining back at me were blinding. It took a few seconds for my eyes to adjust. When I could finally see clearly the site before me was nothing short of a miracle.  

There was no way I could guess how many people were in the crowd that I saw in front of me. Trying to identify faces I recognized was difficult at first as so many of the people looking back at me were strangers. Focusing a bit more closely, I began to identify some family and friends of mine that were scattered out amongst the vast audience. 

Slowly, my attention was brought to the people sitting in the first row; only a short distance separated us. It was then I realized that everyone from my school was there supporting me. My heart; at that moment, could not have been fuller.  

Letting the scene before me settle in, I had to smile to myself as many people in the crowd were wearing that trademark Ron-Burgundy-Red colored hat. All of them had the big letter ‘I’ stitched across its front that encased the rest of that word of ours.   

For what seemed like an eternity the music that made this a reality played from every speaker in the building. I again smiled to myself; surprised by the song the host had chosen to use for this event. As it played, the crowd danced, with the host right alongside them. I, on the other hand, did not move from my comfy seat as I watched them all jump around like children. 

The craziest thing about all of this was that I was not anyone special. If anything, you could call me a modern-day pirate. I tiptoed onto the scene like a thief in the night. I did not have money, nor was I famous. I stole people’s attention by lying and cheating. I definitely was no genius—anyone could have done it: I was nothing more than your Average Joe.

As the song came to a close the crowd stayed standing. I had never seen so many people smiling at once.

The host made her way on stage with a glowing face that was filled with excitement. Sitting down next to me, folding her legs beneath her, she grabbed a sip of her water and calmly waited for her enthusiastic crowd to go silent as she caught her breath. 

Watching this show on TV I knew the environment was electric, but never did I dream that I would experience it like this. A few seconds passed as the host and I continued to look out at the audience. Then her and I locked eyes with one another. As we did, we both smiled: that type of smile where both people are trying to stop themselves from bursting out in laughter. 

This was really happening; Ellen was about to ask me a question on live television.

“So, Jose, the question everyone wants to know the answer to…. Have you gotten the girl?”

The crowd laughed and my host smiled her signature mischievous smile. I turned red but did not mutter a word, instead I let her continue, “Of course I’m joking—Everyone knows that story already…” Waving her hand like she was swiping the question away, she added, “What I’m really dying to know is what these secret meetings between you and The Rock are all about. Would you mind filling us nosey peeps in?”  

She looked at me: This was theatre.  

The truth was, she knew what these meetings were about as she was very much part of the plan. She also knew that at this moment I could not tell her in front of them. Acting nervous, I shook my head in an attempt to say, “Please No” without having to actually use my words.

On cue, an assistant appeared from backstage. 

Wearing a black butler suit and bowtie, this handsome man walked past Ellen and placed a large silver serving tray on the table before us. Using his crisp white glove, he took the lid off of the tray; revealing a ham sandwich sitting on a single paper towel. 

“In case you get hungry,” Ellen giggled; looking back and forth between me and the audience with wide eyes. 

The crowd howled for what seemed like an eternity. As the joke receded, Ellen spoke again, “Well then, let’s get right to it shall we. You have come here today with the promise of telling us this the secret of yours…. So… What is it?”

This question was a planned part of this interview as well. In that moment, I sat hoping that I could deliver the showstopper-type secret I had promised. My stomach jumped to my throat as I tried to remain calm.

“Were they ready?” I wondered to myself; knowing that I had no choice and would find out soon enough.

In a second I would be telling the audience to reach below their seats. There they would find my secret written with a black-sharpie marker on a small, smooth, white rock. 

Attempting to give this a climactic feel, I did not say a word as I reached down to take a sip of water in order to stretch this moment out further.

As I leaned forward for my water, I realized that my hands would not do as I wanted. I automatically looked down to see what was going on. A ‘straight jacket’ was holding my limbs in place. I could not move.

Looking up in shock, all the faces in the crowd became one, and laughter filled my ears.

This was always my greatest fear.

How could I be so dumb—How did I let this happen again—Why didn’t I just give up???

The audience went silent as the room went dark. A moment passed before the lights snapped back on. Looking up, frozen in fear, a single person was left in the crowd.

But it was not a person: It was a clown.

Moving at super-human speed this clown rushed towards me on stage. Recognizing who it was by the orange face hiding beneath a big red nose, I watched this large man grin down at me. 

Slowly, this clownish figure in front of me pulled his right arm from behind his back. In his hand was a metallic looking gun. Calmly, he lifted it; aiming it directly between my eyes. With the barrel of this gun staring at me, he spoke, preparing to pull the trigger, “You’re Fired.” 

(BANG!)

Waking up, the bed I was sleeping on was wet with sweat. Sitting up, fear again forced me to face the question that had haunted me ever since I came up with the idea… “Do I really believe I can do this?”

Despite this dream (a sign from the Universe warning me to stop), curiosity trumped my fear: I was going to have to find out….

Dear Squad,

Being your teacher this year has been an experience I will forever cherish. Now that it is coming to an end let me share with you a few life lessons that may one day help with your life’s puzzle.

This week’s article was intended to illustrate one undeniable fact of life: Things rarely happen the way we imagine in our minds (or in our dreams).  

Last week I wrote a story describing a future where I had changed the world with a book I plan to write in the next few months. While I painted a grandiose image for us to consider, today’s article imagines a future just as likely. The truth is, no matter how well you plan or envision events in the future, it is important to always stay flexible and be grounded by acting in ways that make you—YOU. By doing this, you will survive anything.

Most of the time, how things unfold in real life is completely unpredictable. 

One day I can guarantee that life will have you feeling overwhelmed. You may be in a rut or going through some difficult times. In those moments try and remember this: 

“Events that change the world often come on tiptoe.” 

— A Little History of Religion by Richard Holloway

If this statement is true about events that have changed the world; can’t it also be true of events that will change your life?  

What if, when you are in a rut; you are being blessed in ways that have not yet played themselves out?? 

What if, during those difficult times; everything you are going through is happening for a reason???

Unfortunately, because we spend so much time worrying about what has happened in the past, or what could happen in the future, we get stuck living in fear: where nothing productive ever takes place.  

Right now, what I’m saying to you may simply float in one ear and out the other. All I ask is that you try and remember some of this as you continue to be patient, ask questions, and have faith in whatever this future has in store for you. 

And with that, let me end by sharing with you my ‘Four Entertaining Truths’:

  1. What we learn as children stays with us forever.
  2. Children believe anything.
  3. We are all children.
  4. Disagreement is as dependable as the funny bone.

“In the vacuum of time. All possessions are merely things.

 Ideas and dreams are the only investments you need consider.”

Seeing the beauty through all this P.A.I.N….. You have all made me a Believer!

I love you all. —Mr. J

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

What are you scared of?

The Teachers Playlist:

“Gonna Find You…”

—Ready Or Not by the Fugees

(Click here to continue to next chapter)

Follow us on Facebook: @SocialRecovery101
Read our story at: RecoveryHighSchool.com

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