Week 14: P.A.I.N. Through Regret

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. 

***BREAKING KNEWS***

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

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 15: The ‘D’ Words is next)

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

Week 13: A Hole

December of the year 2020 is upon us. It is the Wednesday of week thirteen and I am visiting Lauryn after school: 

I have a poster in my hand rolled up and safely protected in tight plastic. I had debated whether or not to give Lauryn this gift, but ultimately decided it was necessary. 

Climbing the stairs to her third-floor apartment I see her waiting for me. Lauryn takes a lot of pride in her appearance; she is most always prettied-up whenever I see her, right now, however, I can see the toll the last few weeks has taken on her. 

Approaching her, I want nothing more than to just give her a hug, but that is not currently allowed because of social distancing rules, nor would it be deemed socially appropriate anyways. “This is for you,” I say, handing her the hollow tube in my hand. Thanking me, she lets me into her home.

The apartment I see around me is empty. There is nobody else here, though I mean empty as far as stuff. The essentials I see, but this is not a place full of things like most homes I am accustomed to. A single candle is lit on a coffee table in front of a loveseat in the living room; which explains why the whole place smells of pumpkin spice, pointing in that direction, Lauryn invites me to sit down. 

As I take a seat on the couch, I notice a piece of double-sided tape hanging from the ceiling above my head. People use tape like this to catch flies and insects. This one has nothing on it right now, but seeing it makes me think of my drug days and reminds me that there are so many people out there still struggling. 

“What is this?” Lauryn says, referring to my gift.

“Open it,” I say to her. 

Struggling with the plastic, Lauryn is eventually able to remove it. Unrolling the poster, she lays it flat on the table in front of us and then uses the candle as a weight to keep it from rolling back up. 

It is a poster from the movie Mr. Church. On it is a picture of Eddie Murphy wearing a bowler hat appearing as his character, Henry Church. Across the bottom is 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.

“You don’t have to hang this up Lauryn, just promise me you won’t throw it away.” I place my hand on the poster in front of us and tap it with my fingers. “Someday this poster will make sense to you.”

What Lauryn has been through is something I am ill-equipped to educate her on. So, I simply listen and let her talk. 

She talks softly at first but begins to ramble. She wants to know what I’ve heard and what I know. I give her simple answers but do not elaborate. 

What I have heard doesn’t matter, what matters is what she wants to tell me. A lot of what she says is a running script that has been playing in her mind, but now she is able to tell someone else all the things she has been fighting with inside. It is not my place to validate or contradict worries and fears that clearly haunt her. My heart breaks for her.

Eventually she runs out of things to tell me and the room goes quiet. I look at the candle sitting on the poster in front of us and try to think of something to say that will distract her from the guilt she is torturing herself with. 

“Are you planning to go back to work Lauryn?” I ask.

“I got a whole life of working for minimum wage in front of me,” she says in a depressing tone, “I’m in no rush to go back.”

With these words I see her dead eyes wake back up; she looks completely depleted of caring.

“How’s Nel doing?” I say, taking this conversation in a different direction. “He was telling me the other day that he’s playing with names for his little music group thing?”

Lauryn gives me a small smile at this. It lacks the confidence I am accustomed to seeing on her, but seeing it still makes me feel better.

“He’s good,” she says. “Right now, he wants to call it The Recovery High Refugees…What do you think?” 

By the look on Lauryn’s face it appears she is unconvinced of Nel’s idea for a name. Nel has told me about this name already so I’ve given it some previous thought and decide to lay it on Lauryn; hoping she’ll appreciate my honesty. 

“I get it—and yes, I like it…” I say, “But maybe he should shorten it up a bit? The less words to remember the better. People are slightly stupid Lauryn. You know that. The less words to remember the better.” 

For a quick second this comment gives birth to another small smile on her face and I find myself again wanting to give her a hug.

***BREAKING KNEWS***

It is Fall in the year 2014. I had been to detox about six months prior and am now back doing construction after losing that teacher’s job more than a year ago. 

At this point in my recovery you might say I was on the Pink Cloud: a stage of early recovery that involves feelings of euphoria and elation. When you’re in this stage, you feel confident and excited about recovery. This is the stage my friend Ethan was in on that first day at the halfway house; before he relapsed and died two months later: be wary of the Pink Cloud.

Things are going well but something inside does want to hide my past struggles with substance use from the world. Many people struggle like I had and then go about their life like those struggles never happened. For some reason, this approach to recovery disagrees with me. 

I feel as if I have a story to tell that might help other people and feel compelled to share it. Motivated by a sense of redemption, I set out to prove to my friends, my family, and to the world, that I am still a good person who had simply gotten sidetracked for a bit. Inspired to tell my story, I do, by writing about it. 

For a few weeks I spend my nights staying up late and writing what might be called a Manifesto. I called it, “Journey to JoJo: A Trip to Insanity and Back.” JoJo was that word I created that meant I had found my inner child again. 

Once I am done writing this, I give it to Sirena to read. Finished, she puts my writing down and looks at me with a face that does not look impressed. “When did you learn to write like this?” she says to me. 

Sirena reacts as if I have been possessed and I take it as the truest of compliments. Sirena is 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 gave her makes me feel like I’m onto something. 

I am currently doing a bathroom remodel for one of those high-end customers I wanted to target with my construction business. The guy’s name is Nick. I gutted his kids’ bathroom and was creating a walk-in shower with some fancy marble he had purchased. 

Nick owns an ambulance company in the area and we quickly became friendly once I started doing the work for him. Excited with what I wrote—and motivated by Sirena’s review—I give it to Nick in order to get his input. After he reads it, Nick says, “Very inspiring Jose.”

Heading to Nick’s house the next day for work, I come upon a site I have never seen before in my life. Nick has taken all of my tools out of his house and neatly placed them outside of his garage: He has fired me. 

Nick tells my uncle; who had referred the job to me, that he is “unhappy with the work.” 

I find it ironic that Nick makes this decision the day after I gave him this writing of mine. I do not ask my uncle if he mentioned the writing. My uncle finishes the job once I have been fired and this event then takes over as the most embarrassing moment in my life. 

YOU IDIOT! — What were you thinking giving him that? — You let him in… You let him see.  — YOU SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER! 

***End of Breaking Knews***

Back on Lauryn’s couch, she has run out of things to share and I decide that it is my turn to tell her a few things about myself. 

“Lauryn,” I start, “have you been reading the weekly articles I’ve been writing for class?”

“Yeah,” she answers, “I have.” 

“So you read the depression article then?”

“Yeah…I did.”

Whether I’m imagining it or not, it appears to me that Lauryn now wears a look of sympathy that was not there a second ago. What I am about to share with her goes against my better judgement, but I can’t help myself, she has opened up to me about so much that I feel guilty keeping this from her. I did not plan this, but it feels right. 

“Alright Lauryn,” I begin, “I want to tell you something that I would never put in writing, but something I trust you enough to share.” I shift in my seat and look at her. “I hope what I’m about to tell you can stay between us?” 

She nods her head and answers, “Of course.” 

“I talk about my depression stuff with you guys because a lot of people who suffer with substances can relate to it, but what I don’t tell you is I’ve also been diagnosed bi-polar with schizophrenia disorder—” 

I pause. I’ve never actually said the words in that combination out loud and I immediately feel uncomfortable.

“If you talked with my ex-wife, she’d add the word severe to that diagnoses,” I add awkwardly. 

Why I add this piece about Sirena I have no clue. I think I’m just nervous. I heard Sirena describe my diagnoses to someone this way once and it has bothered me ever since: the words people use on us leave a mark. I’m reminded of a family member that recently congratulated me for doing so well now by saying, “You had a demon that lived inside you Jose, but you’ve overcome it.” It would be one thing if this person was referring to addiction, but they weren’t. This family member; that knew my storied past, was inferring that my mental struggles were a result of “the devil” inside me. This one stung. Its thoughts and statements like these from people that want to label me that keep “people like me” in hiding— I don’t know exactly what I am… but I sure as shit know I’m not the devil!

Hoping that I haven’t scared Lauryn, I ask, “Do you know what that means?”

“I know what bi-polar is,” she says, “But does that other part mean you like…see shit that isn’t really there…you know, like in the movies and shit?”

I can’t help but smile at this. Her use of inappropriate language with brutal honesty is painfully heartwarming. 

I look past Lauryn and respond. “From what I’ve been told it means sometimes I lose touch with reality. For some people that means they see things that aren’t there.” I bring my eyes back to her. “I don’t think that’s me, but I do know my imagination has gotten away from me at times…. The real question is why I don’t tell people about this. Do you think you can guess why I don’t?”

“No,” she replies; now fully engaged and not thinking about her own problems for the first time since we sat down. 

“Because I’m embarrassed Lauryn. I don’t want people to lose trust in me or be concerned for me.” I take a deep breath. “The truth I was given this diagnosis during a very dark time in my life and I spent a long time fighting its accuracy. But I’ve come to realize that the accuracy of this diagnoses is irrelevant. I know I have my problems, but as long as I’m taking care of myself, they do not define me.” 

I say the words I’ve been trained to say by others, whether or not I believe them does not matter. 

“Does Principle Sam know?” Lauryn says.

“No—that’s the point, no one knows. I don’t need to tell them because it’s private. As long as it doesn’t interfere with my work, then there’s no reason for them to know…my kids don’t even know.”

“Why not?” 

I stop to think about this. “I don’t know,” I respond simply. “Just not important right now, I guess.”

“Will you ever tell them?”

“Honestly, I hope I don’t have to,” I answer truthfully. “Lauryn…I told you this because what you have been through will scar you. Don’t pretend it won’t.” —I see her eyes harden— “But you must not let it define you.”

I continue to look at her and feel a sense of calmness hit me unexpectantly.

“There are things about my past I don’t tell people Lauryn. And I have literally run away from this world in order to stay hidden at times. I don’t want this for you. What happened was an accident…” 

Time stops at these words and Lauryn looks at me. She is no longer afraid of me, and she is no longer eyeing me like I might be crazy—which often happens when people hear of my diagnoses—but instead she now looks at me like someone that might understand. 

Tears begin to gather in her eyes as I finish my sentence. “We all know it was an accident, the struggle will be accepting that yourself.”

The words I use cut deep, but they do not just attack her, I have the blade against my skin too. I think of hugging her again. 

“I need you to trust me Lauryn. Life is forcing humility on you. And that’s a gift in this life. But there is a thin line between being humble and being ashamed.” 

I look away from her, not wanting her to feel uncomfortable as I see her fighting back the onslaught of tears. 

“Maybe that’s why some people can’t be humble?” I whisper—almost to myself. “Perhaps they are scared of being ashamed? Don’t let that be you…”

I stop talking and look back at her. Her glistening eyes try to look at me.

“You’re a good person Lauryn and you are very special. Do you believe me when I say that?”

With wet cheeks, she nods her head but looks down and stays silent. She focuses on the poster on the table in front of us and refuses to let me look into the hurt.

I put my hand on her shoulder. “That’s a start,” I tell her, “But if you need reminding there’s a lot of people here to help.”


Week 13: Friday, December 4th, 2020

 “A Hole”

(The following story is rated “R.”  Reader Discretion Is Advised. Lauryn, this one’s for you!)

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 travel, listening to some audio book about Inner Peace. I had gotten into a silly argument with my sister-in-law a few days earlier. That argument ended with me calling her a bitch. A word you can’t take back and a word that quickly echoed amongst family after I had used it on her. I was just having a bad day when I said it and know that I should just apologize, but I was recently told by someone that I say “I’m sorry” too much. All of this was weighing on me as I was driving this day. 

Traffic is moving really slow. The speed limit is sixty-five, but everyone is stuck going a steady ten to fifteen because of a merge a few miles ahead. It has been like this for months now, so the delay is not unexpected. Annoyed, but in no rush to get anywhere, I stay in the left lane and listen to instructions on how to breathe through stress

In my mirror I notice a car weaving around the slowed traffic behind me; displaying no regard for the other drivers trying to survive their journey. There is always someone trying to get ahead by doing this, and it always gets under my skin. He is getting closer and closer. What this driver is doing is wrong, everyone knows it, but no one stops him. I decide that I’ll be the one to teach this guy a lesson: This will be fun! 

As this car approaches from behind, I match speed with the car to my right: Act One of a three act F-U. 

By doing so I block this p-o-s from weaving around me; a very common tactic taught to me by my father years prior. In no time, the driver is right behind me. He successfully gets on the ass end of my car but has nowhere to go. Of course, I just play dumb and carefully maintain my speed with the car alongside. He gets closer and closer, eventually laying on his horn once he realizes I am purposely blocking him. With a smirk—that he cannot see—I move to Act Two.

Taking my right hand and shaping it like I am grabbing the fat end of a baseball bat, I turn my head ninety degrees and bob back and forth on the imaginary shaft. Anyone can give the middle finger, but only professionals can wordlessly tell someone to… well… you know…

I KNOW. I KNOW. What a vulgar thing for me to do. My father did not teach me this one. This was all me. It was childish and inappropriate. Yet, it worked like a charm. 

This driver understands exactly what I am saying to him. Pissed off, he jerks around in his car, lays on his horn again, and gives me the middle finger while he swears and yells at me in silence. Amateur.

With a smile—and smelling success—I proceed to the final act. Act Three: The Icing on The Cake. 

Turning my head again, I use my hand to blow this man a kiss. Then I waive at him like a queen would in a parade…slowly dropping one finger at a time until only one stands erect—directly in the center. I then stare into my mirror and admire the anger this man is now experiencing. 

“Bingo-Bango!” I say out loud to myself in the car. “Got you asshole!” I congratulate myself. “That will teach you!” 

In the midst of admiring my victory I do not see the traffic stop in front of me—BAM!

I hit the car in front of me, and as a result I am hit by the man from behind. Traffic stops, and I am 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. Both of us jumped out of our vehicles looking scared. Neither of us got out of our cars ready to fight like you might imagine. 

Standing there, I saw that this man looked ashamed as other drivers who had watched the two of us act like idiots walked towards us. We were both caught, and the fingers we wanted to point at one another were about to become silenced by all the fingers about to point at the two of us. With other drivers quickly approaching, I looked at this man and said two words before they swarmed, “I’m sorry.” 

On that day this man and I could have reacted differently. Things could have gotten really ugly, I assume. Thankfully, instead of anger and revenge, we were both wired to feel sorrow and forgiveness in that intense moment. 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 stuff for a few weeks. Surprisingly, he and I became friends during this process. His name is Nick and he owns an ambulance company in the area. “Kinda ironic a guy that owns an ambulance company drives like such a dick,” I’d later joke with him. 

Nick has a family, just like me. Later this new friend admitted that my act on the road was really quite funny and original.

The lesson I learned that day I try not to forgetWe had a lot more in common than we knew when we were just two A-Holes trying to get to our destination.  

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

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 14: P.A.I.N. through Regret is next)

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

Week 12: P.A.I.N. Through Emptiness

Week twelve brings us to Thanksgiving in the year 2020. Nel and Pras have accepted my invitation to join the boys and I on this day. We are all at my place:

“Look at this noob—sweating,” Nel says leaning forward on the couch; watching the game of Fortnite being played on the television in front of him.

One of the twins jumps up and down yelling the word “Push!” repeatedly. All eyes in the room are focused on the chaotic battle. I struggle to follow the action and listen to them speak a language that is foreign to me. Pras watches himself die and the words “33rd Place” materializes on screen.

Announcing, “He’s a hack,” Pras annoyedly throws the remote onto the couch beside Nel.  

I am observing all of this from my computer desk tucked in the corner of the apartment above my parents’ garage. It is late in the afternoon and already getting dark outside.

My youngest son is currently sitting on the stairs in the hallway; away from all of us. I had put him in a time-out when he had a full-blown hissy fit after getting killed in his game. I call it a hissy fit, but in Fortnite its actually called ‘raging’ according to the twins. Watching Pras throw his remote on the couch I am reminded that most kids have absolutely no idea on how to cope with losing. 

Pras and Nel showed up today wearing collared shirts. Earlier, my three boys snuck into my closet and put my collared shirts and ties on themselves thinking they were funny. The image of all these kids playing a video game dressed up like this is cute as hell. 

Leaving the group, Nel walks towards me sitting at my desk.

At each step, Nel’s knee bends then each foot follows; it is a feature of his walk I noticed the first day we met. Nel is a cocky kid. The fact he’s always wearing expensive looking sneakers only adds to this persona of his. Of all my students he is the one I have the most difficult time relating to. We disagree on many things, but why I’m being critical of him at this moment I have no clue. All my life people would look at me and think I was a cocky person before getting to know me; the same way I’m imagining Nel is; they were wrong about me…Maybe I’m wrong about him?

“You got a nice pad here Mr. J.” he says, once he has stopped his strut.

“Thank you,” I say.  

The whole year my students have teased me about living with my parents, but now that he’s here, Nel can see it’s not as bad as it sounds. Their teasing never penetrated anyways. As I’d regularly tell them, “Laughing at myself is my super-power. Nobody takes the ‘L’ better than me.” (A Fortnite reference I borrowed from my boys.)

Nel—now standing next to me—notices the small yellow sticky note stuck to my desk. Looking at it, he says, “What does ‘SAP’ mean?”

Feeling uncomfortable, I do not try to invent something to tell him. “Nothing,” I lie.

I’ve been writing little notes like this lately whenever I see something that irritates me on Facebook. There’s no emoji to let someone know you think they are a moron—probably for a reason—so, whenever I am disturbed by a person, I take a note like this, write SAP on it, and then jot down the initials of the person that I find irritating. It’s silly, but it is a way of practicing one of my golden rules: be quiet; as I’ve learned that arguing with someone I disagree with doesn’t do me any good. 

I do not tell Nel any of this. All he sees is me wrestle with a meaningless note, crumble it up, and then throw it in the trash. He does not need to know what politician the initials “J.J.” stand for or why I consider him a “Stupid-Ass-Person.” I’ll keep that information to myself.

Now looking over my shoulder, Nel asks another question. “What’s that?” he says.

I move slightly to let him look closer; he chews his gum close to my ear. “It’s my vision board,” I say, “I told you guys I had one when we did that lesson at the beginning of the year—well, here it is.”

He stares at one of my goals on the vision board: Books to Write. Fingering his way down this list he reads aloud, “‘Phase One’ … ‘Exit Ticket’… ‘Lean In.’ … ‘Make It Real’ … ‘Enjoy the Ride’ …  ‘Dream On’ … ‘An Addiction to Believing’.” He then leans away from the board but continues looking at it. “Why seven books?” he says.

Feeling like this might be some sort of special moment, I answer his question confidently. “Because that’s how many I’ll need to re-write history.” He looks at me with a face of confusion. “History is the ultimate weapon Nel. It can harness time itself and can literally alter one’s present.” 

Not stopping to ponder this extraordinary pronouncement, Nel moves on. “You know Mr. J, someone is writing a story about this pandemic stuff right now—You should do that. That’s a million-dollar idea right there.” 

He does not give me time to respond to this million-dollar idea of his before he says what he really came over here to say in the first place. “Hey, can we talk alone for a minute?” 

Nel clearly has a lot on his mind and I can’t blame him. “Sure, let’s go to my room,” I reply. 

Standing up, the two of us sneak past the group of boys playing their game and head towards my bedroom for some privacy. Pras looks at us but doesn’t say anything.

***BREAKING KNEWS***

Leaving the halfway house on the day after Thanksgiving in the year 2017—after I told my councilor John to screw himself— I spent the weekend at my parents with my three boys. They stayed with me on Friday night and Saturday night. 

Being at my parents with them was different but they didn’t ask many questions, they just had themselves a grand old time. It was loud, it was messy, it was crazy…and they loved it. I was never great at adulting, and now there was no one to give them the angry eyes; that was Sirena’s thing and they took full advantage of her absence. 

Late Sunday morning my entire family came over; a little celebration for me coming back home. During this get together, the boys treated the entire house like a playground. There was a lot of “SLOW—DOWN—BOYS!” but everyone just let them enjoy this time. I did my best to keep them under control, but my attempts were very unsuccessful… 

I think the worst part of not having control of your kids is other people getting mad at you for not having control. While no one yelled at them, I could feel people getting annoyed with their behavior. But to me, trying to control them was a no-win situation. If I yelled, someone in the room would tell me not to yell. If I didn’t yell, someone was wishing I would. A quarter the room wanted me to give them a good smack, half blamed it on the sugar I let them have, and the last quarter inwardly debated whether or not I should have them on meds. One hundred percent of the people in the room blamed their behavior on me: Their Forever Failing Father

Watching them that day, I remember getting mad at myself for believing that having another kid would fix things back then. 

The plan going into that weekend was to take all my boys home Sunday at one. I approached it like a finish line to a marathon. After dropping them off, they had worn me out completely and I was glad to be sitting on my parent’s couch enjoying some peace and quiet. A lot of my family was still over then, so there was some background noise as I sat on that couch thinking….

I’m bored—What am I supposed to do now?  I don’t want to talk—When will everyone just leave me alone?  I’m exhausted—How the hell am I supposed to take care of three boys on my own?  —I hate my life. 

I looked around the room wondering if anyone could hear my thoughts…and then began to give myself a pep-talk: Man-up Jose! It’s time to get your life back together— 

Another voice from inside my head interrupted this pep-talk of mine to present a question: I wonder if that’s what Ethan thought? It asked. 

This was the beginning of an anxiety attack. The weight in my chest had come back. I pretended to be watching television like everyone else—like a normal person—but in reality, I was slowly losing my shit.

I’m a twice divorced father of three boys under ten years old… I have two child-supports, a few dollars in the bank, and I’m working for fifteen bucks an hour…. And I live at my f****n* parent’s house! … How the hell am I supposed to do this? … F*** —MY— LIFE. 

Panic-filled, I went outside to have a cigarette. Another one. With water beginning to pool in my eyes, I looked up into the sky above and raised my eyebrows in an attempt to hold in the tears. Exhaling a puff of smoke, I then pulled an Evan Almighty and said: “This life is a goddamn punishment.”

Yup, that’s what I said. The Victim’s Anthem. I remember it very well. I thought someone up there was punishing me and that I was being served a life’s sentence. (Poor me) 

“You’re a resident here until Monday.” 

John’s words when I left his office rang in my head. Walking back into my parents’ house after having that cigarette, my mother looked at me—she knew. 

Shortly after three o’clock on that Sunday my mother prepared to drive me back to the halfway house. As long as I got back by four they couldn’t kick me out for breaking my weekend curfew. 

When I was leaving my parents’ house the living room was still full of family members who had come to celebrate me coming home. Opening the door to leave; with them all silently sitting there, I didn’t say a single word to any of them. I didn’t even look at them. I couldn’t. Because I couldn’t see. I was crying like a little baby. (Poor me)

***End of Breaking Knews***

Shutting the door behind me, I see Nel look around my bedroom. He looks at the bed sitting directly on the floor, then at the bunkbeds. His eyes begin taking in the posters, puzzles, and pictures that cover nearly every inch of the walls. Before he can speak, my three boys burst through the door I had just shut.

“—Dad!” 

“Can we rent Jumanji?”

“Pras said he loves that movie too!”

They are hyper and overly excited with our two new friends being here. “Yes,” I smile, “Just give us a minute. We will be right out.”

Refusing to leave us alone, one of the twins quotes the Jumanji movie they want me to rent for them. “Hey dad…” he says, “The world is a terrifying place! —Be scared of everything!”

This is an on-going joke between me and my boys. I laugh at the reference but truly need them to leave so that I can talk with Nel.

“Dad—” They stand like three choir boys preparing for another Ask. “Vinny said he’d be cool with coming over—Can he?”  

Vinny has become an honorary member of our little squad, of course he’d want to come hang with the older kids; how cool. “Yes,” I answer, “I’ll text his mom and dad.”

Using my right hand, I push them out of the bedroom and hold the door with the other. “Now leave us alone for a minute,” I say, shutting the door. 

Turning to look at Nel, he is unable to contain himself. “Mr. J…” he says, with a funny smirk on his face, “Where’s the Beauty and The Beast poster?” 

This question must have been growing inside him as soon as he walked into the room and saw how it looked. It is a reference to the Ham Sandwich story from a few weeks ago—they had read it. The bedroom he is now standing in very much resembles the one I described in that story. 

“It was a story Nel,” I respond knowingly. “Sprinkled with truth like all stories are. Just like I told you at the beginning of our class. There is no Beauty and the Beast poster…but clearly the boys and I like our movies.”

I can’t see his face as he continues to look around. 

“What did you want to talk about Nel?” I say to the back of his head.

He turns away from the wall and looks at me seriously. “She wants to know if you’ll visit her. She’s back at her mom’s place now.”  

Our entire school knows this. And I know that I’m going to say yes to this request. But I can’t help but feel unprepared for the conversation her and I will have.

Trying to sound like a strong adult, I reply to Nel. “Yes, I’ll visit. Give Lauryn my number and have her text me—we’ll figure something out.”  


Week 12: Friday, November 27th, 2020

“P.A.I.N. through Emptiness”

There are certain things about myself that I keep private. You may be wondering what on Earth that might be given all I’ve shared already, but today’s article hits on a very sensitive subject for me: I’m about to talk to you about my battle with depression.

To begin, let me start by telling you a story…

Back in the year 2016, there was a man that lit his house on fire. It was an accident, but that didn’t matter much. After the fire, this man, his wife and their son lived in a small trailer that was set up in the backyard while he and his wife dealt with insurance claims and eventually rebuilt their home. They lived in that trailer for a year.

The longest year of this man’s life.

On Christmas morning in that trailer this man’s three-year-old son bounced up and down on his father’s chest. He was trying to wake him up so they could go and open the presents Santa had left. This man asked his son to do it without him, but this little boy would not do it without his daddy—a role this man was not enthusiastic about playing. 

This man did eventually pull himself from his bed. He then proceeded to have a cigarette, take a quick rip of weed from his bong, and then finally make himself a cup of coffee while his son patiently waited to open presents.  

Unable to see past his own misery; and unwilling to put aside his issues in order to be a decent father, to any onlooker this man looks selfish. But this man was truly incapable of being anything to anyone at the time. He was broken by life…completely broken…beyond repair…. forever? 

In that trailer was a very uncomfortable leather couch. It was on that couch this man meditated on his misery. 

Lying flat on his belly, he held one hand to his chest and the other just below his belly button. In his mind he called this, The Dead Man’s Pose. He would lay like this for hours, day after day in that trailer, only getting up here and there to have his cigarettes. Yes—smoking those cigarettes caused the fire that had him in this predicament in the first place, yet he still could not stop smoking. Yes, this man was pathetic—Or so he told himself….

Alright kiddos, clearly this man was me, so I’ll stop pretending now. I just needed you to have a good picture of how bad things were and felt a bit more comfortable doing it this way. (If you want a better understanding of how I was feeling in that trailer take a few minutes and listen to Adele sing Hold On and Easy On Me; those two songs pretty much sum up how I was feeling back then.) 

I did have a house to rebuild that year because of the fire, but when I wasn’t helping with that I was hiding in that trailer in the Dead-Man’s Pose I just mentioned. That is where I listened to the seasons pass by outside…

Fall leaf blowers were replaced by snowplows and those were then replaced with lawnmowers. I’d listen to cars driving by and birds chirping. And sometimes I’d even hear kids playing. None of it registered. Once and a while I’d hear people looking for me; calling my name, I would ignore them and hope they’d just go away. Sometimes they did. The world outside that trailer was on play, but my life was on pause—NO—my life was over? 

It got so bad a doctor suggested I participate in ECT to help me snap out of this depression I was in. 

ECT is basically electric shock therapy and studies show it can help some people. For me however, there was no amount of electricity that would jumpstart my brain or my passion for living at the time. 

My favorite part of the treatment was when they would insert a needle in my arm. This needle would put me to sleep before they did whatever it was they did. Counting down from ten, I was grateful to say goodbye to this world for a bit. Unfortunately, I kept waking up.

Originally, I wanted to title this article “P.A.I.N. through Depression,” but changed it to Emptiness out of respect for this diagnosable disease of the mind; also, because I believe the latter to be more relatable to a wider range of people. With that said, let me disclose right now that I have a personal on-going fight with the difference between the two words. 

When I burnt my house down, I DOUBTED my life would ever get better. I was ANGRY with myself and the world. The shame I felt kept me up WORRIED sick. My days were spent not knowing what to do next, and I was full of ANXIETY. 

Do you recognize these words?

I vividly remember performing the Dead Man’s Pose I just told you about for hours. The days were so long, and I remember fearing how many more days like that I could endure. I did feel tired all the time, but I couldn’t sleep, that’s not why I closed my eyes and stayed in that pose: I did it because I had given up. 

The emptiness consumed me, and I remember there was nothing that interested me anymore. Not even my children. To me, this is how depression looked. 

A friend of mine at the time—who knew I had been struggling—left me a card in the mailbox that stood in front of that burnt down house. His name was Billy Preston. In the card was the Saint Francis Prayer and a note that read, “Bring your sorrows and trade them for joy. From the ashes a new life is born.” 

I remember retrieving this card of his from my mailbox one sunny afternoon, and I remember immediately ripping it up and throwing it in the trash: “F*** happy people,” I thought to myself as I ripped that card into pieces. 

When I read my friend’s words, I felt nothing and hated the way his optimism tasted on my tongue. The love this friend felt for me I did not feel for myself. And the words of encouragement only aggravated me at the time. 

Today, that Saint Francis prayer my friend gave me hangs over my bed as a reminder to love others even when they do not love themselves. Tonight, when I look at it, I will be reminded of how much I love all of you. I just wanted you to know—I hope you don’t mind.

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

In only one word how would you describe our world today? Explain why you chose this word.

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“…come and dance with me.”

—In The Colors by Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 13: A Hole is next)

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

Week 11: The Box

Week eleven of the school year has us back teaching remotely again. It is the middle of November and this change is in response to a spike in cases in our district but also in preparation for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday; which they are calling a potential Super Spreader. School districts all over the country are making this same decision. No one is happy with this but this is the year of the pandemic and we have no choice but to adapt:  

On the screen in front of me Pras is the only student attending my virtual class today. 

“Can’t we do something to help?” he says. 

This is a question Pras has asked me ten times already this week. It is now Friday, and while I am sympathetic, I am secretly frustrated with having to answer this question again. 

“It’s gonna take time Pras but she’ll survive this,” I say. “Right now, all we can do is be patient and be there when she’s ready…”

Our topic this week was Reverse Engineering Goals, but since today’s lesson was designed for our entire class to take part in Pras cranked through the work I assigned in no time and the two of us now find ourselves staring at one another trying to get through this last day of the week. Over Pras’s shoulder, I can see the television that is on in the background; it is perched on top of a bureau in his bedroom. The television has been on the entire class period, but just now I find myself unable to look away. 

For some reason I feel myself get annoyed and the plastic-infused face I’m looking at begins to irritate me. Does this intelligent boy really watch that? I think to myself. 

I decide to ask. “Pras, do you watch The Kardashians a lot?”

Glancing over his shoulder, he looks back at me on his computer screen and responds. “Yes, Mr. J.—Do you have a problem with that?” he says, unashamed. 

“I’m just surprised,” I say with a forced laugh.

“Being fake is the only thing that’s real in this world Mr. J.,” he says; sounding like the smart kid I have come to know. “When the History Channel only has reality shows and conspiracy theory re-runs, you know things are messed up. At least they know how fake they are.”

Recognizing how insightful this is, I tell him. “I like that Pras. Can I use that line in my book some day?” 

Your book?” he says.

***BREAKING KNEWS***

At the halfway house, no one was allowed to go home on Thanksgiving: “Too many temptations,” they told us. Instead we did our own little dinner with donated food we received from a local grocery store. The day after, it is approaching four o’clock and I am about to leave for the weekend. This would be the first weekend trip home I was allowed to take since getting here in early October. A lot has transpired in a very short period of time and I have made the decision not to come back.

John, my councilor, is in his office. I stick my head in and tell him my mother will soon be here to pick me up. Creeping in just a step or two, I halfway close the door behind me and say, “I’m not coming back John.”

“Interesting,” he responds; not really surprised as I had told him I was leaning this way. 

My parents have offered to let me stay in their apartment above the garage. I need to begin putting my life back together. I have responsibilities and I have been completely clean for two months. It is time.

Hearing my decision, John speaks to me like it’s just another day, and I am just another face. “Do me a favor Jose,” he says, “Could you come back on Monday to sign you’re AMA release paperwork? That way I can make sure you’ve settled in at your parents and I won’t have to stay here any longer today to file your paperwork—I want to go home too, you know…” He stops and just looks at me for a second. “As far as I’m concerned, you’re a resident here till Monday anyway. You know what AMA stands for right?” 

“Yes,” I respond. 

This stands for Against Medical Advice and I am familiar with what it means from a previous life of mine. Prior to this day, John explained that if I did leave, I’d only be allowed back if I left with notice. Signing this paperwork, I assume, means this is what I’m doing. I do not envision putting myself in the position to ever come back here, but I am not against leaving on good terms. In some ways being in this house did help.

“—Jose—Your rides here!” 

Outside the office someone is letting me know my mother has just pulled up in front of the house.

“Before you go there is one more thing I should probably tell you,” John begins. “We are telling all the guys tonight but since you won’t be here, I’ll tell you now… Ethan overdosed Wednesday night.”

Ethan was the lovable character from that first night. The Anvil Guy. He had left two weeks ago. The guys all wanted him to stay since he had become a house favorite, but he insisted that he was ready to leave. We all think he got himself a girlfriend; or a boyfriend; some of us are a little unsure but love him regardless.

Not knowing what to think about this news, I ask John a question. “Is he okay?”

“He died. Services will be next week sometime. I can try and get you the details on Monday when you come in.” I am surprised by the coldness of these words. “Don’t let it ruin your weekend,” John continues, “this stuff happens in recovery. Go and enjoy your boys.”

I don’t know what to say, so I say nothing. As I turn to leave, John speaks again. “Jose…you won the lottery by the way.” 

Turning around, I see him looking at me with no emotion on his face. “What?” I say to him.

“Sirena divorcing you is the best thing that has ever happened in your life.” 

John says this in an arrogant tone and then leans back in his chair. He does not say this to make me feel better. He is challenging me. But all it does is make me angry. 

I am so sick of this tough-love mentality that it pushes me out the door even further. I now know for certain I am making the right decision not coming back. 

I look at John for a long second. The look on his face tempts me to run across the room and slap his bald head. Instead, I use my words. “Screw you John,” I say, and then turn and walk out of his office—no longer caring about ending on good terms.  

***End of Breaking Knews***

Telling Pras I had always dreamt of writing a book offers us a short reprieve as the two of us share some of our aspirations with one another. Pras is detailing what he wants to do with the rest of his life when my youngest son sneaks up behind me on screen. 

“Dad…”

I turn and look at him. “Yes?” I reply; knowing that this word is always followed by an Ask.

“Can I play on my iPad during break please?” 

Like most kids, he is cute when he wants something. He is still doing classes remotely, so little interruptions like this happen a lot. “That’s fine,” I say to him. 

“Thank you.”

I give him a kiss on his head, smell his hair, and then push him on his way. I watch him shuffle his feet across the room and head into the bedroom. I then return my attention back to Pras.

“—Mr. J, is your son with you all the time?” 

“His mom takes him every Wednesday and every other Saturday.”

“Is she in recovery too?” 

Restraining from putting my own spin on this, I keep my thoughts to myself and answer his question. “No Pras, she’s not.”

Not shy, another question cartwheels out of his head and falls out of his mouth. “Why do you have him so much?” he says. 

He is getting a bit personal, but I don’t think he even realizes it. “When I first got sober I had to be away from him for a while. When I was doing better his mom wanted to let me spend as much time with him as possible just in case I fell back. Now this schedule is just what works best for everyone.”

Depleted of personal questions, Pras’s young bouncy-ball-mind jumps to the next thing that pops-up inside of it. “Hey—did you know the Kardashian’s mother purposely leaked a sex video of her daughter and that’s what made them famous?” 

This question brings our conversation back to the television show that is on in the background. Pras must think this piece of trivia interests me.

Thinking that this can’t be true, I respond. “No Pras, I did not. I’ll have to do some research on that—How about you do me a favor and change the channel though?”

Pras does what I ask and behind him CNN is now on. The caption on the bottom of the screen reads: “Will Trump Concede?” On the right of the screen is the tally of Covid related cases and deaths. 

Apparently bored of me, Pras turns up the volume on the television so that we can hear what is being said. 

The substance Pras struggles with most is benzos (benzodiazepines). He’s told me he likes feeling numb. Right now, I understand why. As his decision to turn on the news does not help my mental state.

***Dear Reader, a while ago I interrupted Jose’s story to tell you that adults lie. Here offers me the opportunity to show you this in action. Later in his story you will hear Jose tell his students the secret to a happy existence. He is going to tell his students to “hate nothing in life”. While he says this to them, he fails to be able to do it himself. The truth is, Jose was tormented by hate; hate for many, many things. Even though I have broken into his story to reveal this to you now, there is one secret I will keep from you: The thing he hated most. Yes, that I will keep secret from you—for now. ***

The opinionated noise behind Pras continues as he turns from the television and talks to me through the computer screen. 

“Republicans didn’t want to win this election, Mr. J,” he says, “That way they can’t get blamed for this virus stuff—”

Donald Trump has lost the election to Joe Biden, but right now, the results of this election are being contested. A fact that has surprised absolutely no one. 

Pras continues his theory. “In four years, he’ll be back. Or maybe his daughter? I’m really not sure. His tribe….”

I let Pras continue to talk but stop listening to any of the fortune telling that is spilling from his mouth. I can’t help but feel like I’m watching a version of my own past re-playing right in front of me. To distract myself, I debate asking Pras the question I have been thinking about asking all week. Approaching my breaking point, I decide to just do it. 

“—Hey Pras,” I interrupt, “Would you and Nel be interested in coming to my house for Thanksgiving next week to hang out with me and my boys?” 

The three of us have become very close and I figure it might be nice to ask them over given everything we’ve been dealing with. Large gatherings are not being encouraged this year because of the pandemic—or even allowed in fact—so most of the day I’ll just be alone with my kids. I’ve decided we can all be alone together. 

“Umm…” Pras says, “Let me talk to Nel and let you know. Alright Mr. J?”

I can’t get a read on how he feels about my offer; I’m sure a teacher asking him over for Thanksgiving has him a bit uncomfortable. “Yeah bud,” I reply, “ask him. We’d love to have you guys come hang out with us.”

Looking at my student on the screen I think about making a stronger plea. Instead I stay silent; not telling him what I want to say so badly: We all need each other right now.


Week 11: Friday, November 20th, 2020

“The Box”

The other day I found myself talking to an older lady I barely knew about my past struggles with drugs. After a few minutes she asked me how it all started. To which I told her about my battles with depression…and feeling like a failure…. about how life had beaten me up…mistakes and regrets, and blah, blah, blah.

After telling this lady way too much information she looked at me and said, “But why even start? Didn’t you know it would just make things worse? Why didn’t you just say no?” 

The questions popped out of her mouth like bullets from a gun. Feeling judged, I quickly made up an excuse and left. 

With everything that is happening at school what this lady said bothered me more than it probably should have. “Just Say No!” is outdated and annoying. It is not realistic and does not resonate with kids today. It is about time someone re-wrote that script and created a slogan with a little more of an edge to it so that the kids today can relate. 

I have decided to give it a try myself by sharing this story with you. I call it, “The Box.”

Imagine you are a teenager.  

You are sitting at home by yourself watching television and mindlessly playing on your phone.  Bored. 

A knock on the door gets your attention. You get up and open it. When you do, no one is there, but you look down and see a box…

On the box, a message is attached. You reach down and grab it: If you open this box, you will have three of the craziest years of your life. If you open this box, your mind will awaken to new possibilities. If you open this box, you will be rid of all the P.A.I.N. that tortures you today.

Reading, you become excited at the possibility, but you are skeptical. 

Below is a warning in big black letters: A Disclaimer: After the three years, there is a 30% chance that your life will be more miserable and emptier than you could ever imagine, likely ending in premature death.

Scared, you do not open the box. You are a wise young person and remember what your teachers told you: “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.” With those words of wisdom floating around in your brain, you put the box in the closet and forget about it. Life is too short to consider such nonsense. You have an amazing life ahead of you. Whatever is in that box could derail your plans for the future. You are the master of your own destiny. “F-That-Box,” you announce defiantly to the Universe, “I don’t need it!”

Someone reading this could be young; maybe a teenager, they did not build this world that they see crumbling around them but they are living in it, and life may be miserable for them already. It is not hard to imagine. They may read the situation outlined above and dream about ripping open that box, not caring about the 30% chance of misery that might await: “Life sucks right now…there is nothing to look forward to…the world is coming to an end anyway…what is there to lose?”

Many others; maybe even the majority, would never open the box. They are content with life. They have found happiness. They don’t need a promise of things being better than they already are. There are plenty of people that feel this way today: Aren’t there?

Then there is another group; the population who struggle over time. For these people, the mystery around what is in that box will torment them. While they may be strong at the beginning, the odds on the warning label eventually start to sound pretty good. At a moment of weakness, maybe they are tempted to peek inside that box. 

…So—WHAT IS IN THE BOX?

It’s unique for all of us, but for me it is a magical three-year supply of Percocet: an opiate and my drug of choice; also known as Medically-Pure-Heroine. 

This drug was introduced to me rather innocently; simple wisdom teeth surgery. Then yet again once my twins were born and their mother had a C-section. It was medicine… What was the harm?

To say it made me feel amazing would be putting it lightly. When the drug hit me, I thought, “This is it…This is the feeling I have been searching for my entire life.” 

When I was young, and I had a lot to keep me motivated in life, this drug was just a small vacation. Later on, after a stock market crash, a collapse in the housing market, and a divorce, taking this medicine to feel better and more optimistic about the future felt like common sense. 

Little did I know I was part of the 30% that struggled with addictive tendencies (always was, never realized it). For me, once I knew how to escape reality, there was no going back.

As an adult, it was the ultimate anti-depressant. It helped me focus and to dream without reality weighing me down. Time slowed when I took it. The weight in my chest lifted, allowing me to breathe in all the hopeful possibilities for the future. To put it simply: It helped me be the best ME. 

Until it didn’t…

My three sons don’t know my story yet. They don’t know their dad’s an addict—recovering. I think I want to tell them though. So that when they get confronted in their life by substances, they can use me as a shield: “My dad’s an addict,” I imagine them saying. In the world we live in today I’m certain these words would stop any friends from pressuring them. They will eventually try things, I know that, I’m not dumb—even if it is just alcohol. But the longer they can put off trying these things the greater the chances it will not sabotage their future (as an undeveloped mind is much more susceptible to becoming addicted to something that may eventually be its demise).

The truth is not everyone that uses drugs become addicted (do some research), but most everyone can feel better by using them (this is also true). I apologize if learning this scares you (or if you did not want them to know). But why did I do it in the first place? … How could I have been so dumb? … “Why didn’t I Just Say No?”  

No one reading this will feel bad for me. Nor should they. I made that choice. I dealt with it. I’m dealing with it still. I did it because I was weak. I did it because I felt like a failure. Life, I thought, could not have gotten any worse. I wanted to feel better. I wanted to be better. I wanted to escape. 

For whatever the reason, the temptation was just too great, so, I opened the box.

Well, today, I can honestly say: “F—That—Box!”

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

“Somethings have to fall apart to come together.” What does this statement mean to you?

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“Is it only me out here?”

Fly Away by Tones and I

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 12: P.A.I.N. through Emptiness is next)

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

Week 10: P.A.I.N. Through Anxiety

It is Monday morning in week ten. Principal Sam, Lily, and a few other administrators from central office sit on stage in the cafeteria:

This morning I watched my clock when it turned to 5:59 and then when it finally hit 6:00. My alarm was set for this time, but I did not need it. I was wide awake already. Worried about this day. 

“The things I would do with her if I were you Jose…” 

Apparently finding himself funny, Mr. Henry proceeds to speak inappropriately in my ear. 

The school cafeteria is filled with chatter amongst staff who are all wondering why we have been called in for this meeting. Mr. Henry seems unconcerned however, as his mind is clearly on other things. What he has just said to me is a reference to Miss Lily; who sits on the stage in front of us looking gorgeous as always. Ever since Mr. Henry and I became friendly, he finds it fun to imagine her and I as an item. Her recent break-up has only added fuel to this little fantasy of his. But really, I am barely listening to what he is saying to me. 

Could you please stop talking to me! I think to myself; lost in my own thoughts.  

After posting my Common Sense article on Saturday night I had anticipated a student, or Lily, sending me an email to let me know I had surprised them with that ending, but I ended up going to bed that night without hearing a word from anyone. Sunday morning then came and went, and still nothing. At this point I assumed the students just didn’t read it, yet I figured Lily must have, not hearing from her did have me a little concerned. Finally, around noon on Sunday I broke my silence and texted her: “Okay—I’m dying to know…Did you read it?” 

Lily did not respond. 

Often Lily goes “off the grid.” She says she does this for “mental health reason.” My day was busy as I had all my boys with me, so fortunately I did not give Lily’s silence too much thought. That was until around four, when a text message chimed from my phone. It was not from Lily however, instead it was from Principal Sam: “Check your email,” it read. 

Given my history with Principal Sam, I immediately got nervous upon receiving this text. I then did what was asked and checked my email: “EMERGENCY STAFF MEETING MONDAY MORNING BEFORE SCHOOL,” was the email’s headline sent to all teachers and staff in all capital letters. Inside the email was a short message: “There is a situation we must discuss prior to the students arriving tomorrow. Please arrive to school at 7 AM for this MANDATORY meeting. — Sincerely, Principal Sam.”

I barely slept last night after reading the email; worried that this had something to do with the article I shared with the students on Saturday. Everything in me wanted to text Principal Sam to ask if this meeting had to do with me, but I didn’t let myself. I did text Lily again to see if she knew what was up, but again received no response. 

The article was meant to be a lesson. I wanted to teach the students that nothing is truly common sense and that we can be tricked by entertainment unknowingly. Sitting here, I continue to make excuses for that article I wrote; scared of being exposed in front of the entire staff. 

Not knowing what’s going on in my head, Mr. Henry leans over towards me yet again. “Grow some balls and ask her out. If not for you, for me,” he whispers; referencing Miss Lily again. 

Why had she not called me? Looking at her on stage, her eyes look swollen. Has she been crying?

Wanting to punch Mr. Henry, I watch in terror as Principal Sam stands up and slowly walks to the front of the stage. People in the room begin to stop talking. With each step I watch the principal take my heart beats harder against my ribs…This will be the end of me—

“A tragedy has occurred,” Principal Sam begins. “Two of our students are in serious condition as we speak…”

A deafening silence fills the room, and suddenly, I can no longer feel my heart. 

***BREAKING KNEWS***

On Sunday mornings at the halfway house Ron and I would carry our dirty clothes in black garbage bags about a mile down the road to this laundromat next to a breakfast diner. We would eat together while we waited for our clothes to dry. The weekend before Thanksgiving, in 2017, this is where we are. I have just been delivered divorce papers two days ago and am telling Ron what I’ve decided to do.

“I’m not contesting anything. And I’m waiving my right to representation. That’s it. End of debate,” I say to Ron, trying to end this conversation we are having. 

“But Jose, how did Sirena pay for the lawyer?”

Ron wants me to go after the money Sirena and I have in the house, but if I contest anything, or want any money, then Sirena will be forced to sell. We have over three hundred thousand dollars in equity after the fire rebuild, but Sirena and I have almost no disposable cash right now. Selling the house is not something I want to put her, or our son, or me through. 

Yesterday, in John’s office, I was allowed to speak to Sirena in private. I did my best version of Sam Smith’s Stay with Me, but it was not enough to convince her to give me another chance. “You loved your drugs more than me Jose,” she said to me over the phone; a claim that I promised to prove wrong no matter how long it took. In the end, Sirena verbally agreed to give me some of the profits from the house if she does sell; enough to simply get me back on my feet. This agreement made Sirena happy and no fight was necessary. 

I speak to Ron. “A lawyer we know helped her and did it as a favor,” I say, answering his question.

Ron is convinced Sirena is lying to me and wants to punch holes in her story. His distrust does nothing but infuriate me. I have started at zero twice before and am prepared to do it again—and I’m going to win Sirena back anyway

“You gotta do what you gotta do, brother,” Ron replies, his words reeking of disapproval.

I watch Ron sip on his third cup of coffee. His eyes wander around the diner as I change the subject. “—Hey…when do you think I’m gonna stop having these dreams of her?”

Lowering the cup from his lips, Ron quotes councilor John. “Grief moves at its own pace, brother.” 

I am currently past the denial phase regarding Sirena—sort of—and am now onto something else. I’ve been having these vivid dreams of our first encounter, but then—in my dream— this beautiful moment from our past is magically replaced by haunting images of the present, and I find myself watching something I don’t want to see. 

Remembering my dream, I explain it to Ron. “You know what it’s like. It’s like I’m Ronald Weasley when he imagines Hermione and Harry in that seductive embrace in the Harry Potter movie.” 

Ron offers a weak smile at my eloquent description of these dreams I’ve been having. Realizing that I’m being childish, I add, “Alright…my dream is a lot more X-rated.” 

You think?” Ron says mockingly. 

“Yes, you’re absolutely right…” I lean towards him. “You really wanna know what I keep picturing?” I say across the table.

Looking enticed, Ron puts his coffee down. “Yes,” he says, “I do.”

Ron places his elbows on the table and stares at me seriously. 

Annoyed, I give him what he wants. “Fine,” I begin, “In my dream, Sirena and Bart are naked and they are swapping O-faces while Sirena dances on his porno-sized piece of THROBBING—MAN—MEAT…” 

Ron’s eyes widen. I lean in uncomfortably close. “Is that what you want to hear Ronny?” I ask, tilting my head at him.

It gets awkwardly quiet in the diner. I lean away and look around to see if anyone has heard what I just said: People are definitely looking at me suspiciously.

I hide my hurt with a smile and watch Ron laugh at my pain. 

“You’re one funny mother-f****r, Jose,” he says, grabbing his coffee again.

After breakfast, I walk back to the halfway house alone. My left hand crosses my chest holding tightly to the end of the black trash back that is flung over the opposite shoulder. This bag now holds all of my clean clothes in it. 

It is a crisp fall morning and the hand holding my bag feels numb as I look at the few leaves still holding onto their naked looking trees. I can relate to how those leaves feel at this moment. In my other hand is a cigarette. Pulling it up to my lips, I inhale; breathing in the worry… the fear… the uncertainty. 

***End of Breaking Knews***

In the school cafeteria, Principal Sam begins reading from a piece of paper. 

“The incident happened Saturday night, but because of privacy laws we cannot share all the details with you yet. It is very likely however that the other students will come into school today knowing certain things and we need to have a discussion regarding what we can and cannot say to them right now…”

I continue to listen as I look around at the other teachers. I’m concerned, but I also can’t help but wonder if this is really as serious as the principal is making it sound; I’ve found people tend to be a bit overdramatic. 

“I’m going to invite Miss Lily to speak with you about how to best support our students,” Principal Sam concludes. “I apologize for the lack of details, but my hands are tied. I hope you listen to what is suggested and see me privately with any concerns you may have after we break from this meeting. Thank you again for all that you do.”

Once finished, I watch Principal Sam take a seat and sit up straight, emotionless. Lily then stands up and walks to the front of the stage. My eyes—along with all the others—follow her. Glancing to my left, I see Mr. Henry has stopped looking at her inappropriately. 

Over the next few minutes Lily finally gives us a vague explanation of what has happened, but no names of students are given. The silence makes her voice echo in the cafeteria. “No one has died,” she says, “but things are still very frightening and today is going to be a pivotal day.”

I listen to every word said and can tell that she has prepared them carefully. Lily gives zero inclination as to which of our students we are talking about. With everything we are told the fact she is not giving us names seems silly to me. Secrets never stay secret, especially something like this. 

Frustrated with the lack of important details, I hear Lily finish her talk. “As a councilor I am more of a friend than a teacher to our students. Hoping to know what they might need I’m going to meet with a few of you one on one after this meeting. Specifically, with those of you that I think will be most affected, and most helpful, with the situation we are in.”

The meeting ends and everyone begins to get up from their seats. Looking around the room I watch as adults seem lost; not knowing what to say, or what to do. 

Between scattered bodies I lock eyes with Lily. Seeing me, she smiles weakly and gives me a look. I study the staff that has gathered around her. All of them look to be alarmed as they talk to her, but I have to assume many of them simply cannot stifle their own curiosity as to what students we are talking about. 

Lily flashes her eyes away from me and aims them at one teacher in particular. Does she want me to come save her? I wonder.

As I’m considering this, I watch Lily glide her way through the people trying to ask her questions. Clearing the small sea of bodies, she walks towards me like an arrow. 

She carries herself so confidently and looks strong walking across the room, but as she gets closer, I realize that she has definitely been crying; she has bags under her eyes. With her only a few feet away, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do or say. As I’m about to open my mouth, I see them…fresh tears.

Lily doesn’t stop once she reaches me, but instead points towards the door and waves her hand at me to follow. We leave the cafeteria together. 


Week 10: Friday, November 13th, 2020  

“P.A.I.N. through Anxiety”

When I am feeling overwhelmed by life there is an audiobook that I often listen to. It is titled; The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching. In it, the author says this: “Anxiety is the illness of our age. We worry about ourselves, our family, our friends, our work, and the state of the world. If we allow worry to fill our hearts, sooner or later, we will get sick. Yes, there is tremendous suffering all over the world. But knowing this need not paralyze us.”

I share this with you now so that I may ask this: WHAT HAPPENS WHEN IT DOES PARALYZE US?

On November 19th, 2013 one of my childhood best friends used a gun to take his own life at the age of thirty years old. This friend came from a great family. He had a wonderful wife who had recently given birth to beautiful daughter. He also had a great job. I had just done a kitchen remodel for him only a year earlier… everything seemed fine then. 

After his death I learned that my friend’s brain had begun playing tricks on him some time ago. Things had gotten so complicated and convoluted in his mind that he decided that this world—and the people in it—would be better off without him. If he only knew I fought with similar feelings, I thought to myself; sitting alone in the church at his funeral. 

While I did not suffer exactly like he had, I sat there that day with a million What If’s running through my mind.  

What if I told him of my struggles? … What if we could have helped each other?? … What if I could have saved him??? …

Fully grasping the reality of that moment, my mind swelled to the edges of its skull and my eyes felt like they were about to start bleeding. The pews in the church were filled with faces of people that knew me. Looking around at all of them, I began to sweat. 

Holding it together the best I could, my body began to literally shake and it felt like I might throw up. And then, without warning, the tears came. My shoulders jumped up and down uncontrollably as the walls of the church began closing in on me. 

All those faces had their eyes on me. Everyone could see the guilt that was eating me alive. I gulped for air, unable to catch it…. unable to do anything… for my friend…or for myself.

Shortly after my friend’s death I again attempted to kick my opiate habit. I did this by locking myself in my basement to try and do it cold turkey. This wasn’t my first attempt at doing it this way, but now I had to quit—for my friend

Like before, I curled up on the couch with three fans on high surrounding me. The sound of the fans and the air helped distract my body from its endless attempts to crawl out of my skin. 

Over a weekend in that basement I watched all the Rocky movies. “Watching” is not really what I was doing though. Fighting the effects of withdrawals doesn’t let you relax and do that. Between punching, crying, sweating, and swearing I was doing my own impersonation of Rocky in that basement; the movies were merely on in the background. 

There was a moment in the movies I remember though. It was when Rocky’s wife Adrian goes into a coma after childbirth but finally wakes up just in time to tell Rocky, “I want you to win!” 

Watching this scene, I imagined my friend as Adrian. I welcomed this delusion as it removed my desire for a pill in that moment. Turning my head to look at my friend—who was sitting there with me on that couch—I choked on my own insides and told him I’d do it for him. 

We are all dealing with a lot right now, which is why I’m sharing all of this with you. But truthfully, I don’t know if listening to other people tell me how to deal with my feelings ever really helped me. In fact, I remember a time that I got really upset with people who tried. Therefore, I’ll do my best not to tell you how to feel at this moment. Instead I will merely talk to myself: “How you feel right now is temporary Jose. You are more durable than you realize and you will survive this. It gets better (trust me) so don’t give up.”

Unfortunately, I was never as strong as Rocky. Eventually that attempt at kicking my opiate addiction was simply another kick in the face. My willpower and desire to do it for my friend was just not enough. 

Over time, I learned to accept that I could not have saved my friend as I continued to fight my own battles. But it was not long after losing him that I had a revelation of sorts. Ironically, this revelation of mine began while watching another movie: X-Men. 

In this movie Charles Xavier—the bald dude in a wheelchair—says in the opening scene the following: 

“Mutation. It is the key to our evolution. It is how we have evolved from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, and normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward.”

When I heard this, a light bulb in my mind went off: That’s what we need — Another leap forward.

I never really gave it much thought at the time, but as I began to look further into my own personal issues, and eventually the problems of the world, the quote from this movie repeated in my mind. Then, while watching a Star Trek film, I wondered to myself what must have transpired on Earth to make this “Enterprise” exist in the future. And it was then I pondered this:

To make another leap forward on this messed up planet of ours would take some sort of superhero to make happen…perhaps humanity needs a new origin story…a new “Enterprise.”

Honestly, I don’t remember if I was on drugs or not when I thought about all this; and I know for certain I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant at the time, but I remember promising myself that If I ever did figure out what it meant I’d make sure my friend would forever be remembered.

I love you AJR. You are missed. 

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

In your opinion, is an individual more likely to use a gun for protection or out of anger/frustration? 

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“The worst is over now…”

—Broken (feat. Amy Lee) by Seether

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 11: The Box is next)

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

Week 9: Common Sense

Week nine finds us sitting in class for some in-person-learning and all four of my students are in attendance; Lauryn, Nel, Pras, and CANDACE. Miss Lily is joining us for class this week as well:

Rising from her slumber—like a sleeping soul rising from the dead—Candace speaks. “I still can’t believe you made me a character in one of your stories Mr. J,” she says.  

No longer wearing the hoody she always wears that covers her blonde hair, I can see her brown eyes looking back at me. Candace is that one shy student of mine. She has talked very little in my class and I have yet to really break through that shell of hers. 

“Well,” I say unapologetically, “if you weren’t gonna talk in my class then I decided I’d make you talk in my story Candace.”

It is Monday and we are in school discussing the story about worry I shared with them prior to the weekend. It has been a good discussion but is now coming to a close. Pras jumps in with one last question. “Mr. J, was the story a sneaky attempt to get us to go out and vote?”

Tomorrow is election day, and the fact it will be the first time many of our seniors in the school are old enough to vote is a hot topic; amongst other things. I, however, refuse to get involved in the drama surrounding this election.

“Common sense might have you thinking that Pras, but no, that was not my intention when I wrote the story—”

Eyeing an opportunity to change the subject, I take it; knowing that Pras would love nothing more than to spend the entire class period talking politics.

“That reminds me of something,” I say with a little enthusiasm. “Do you guys want to know a sure-fire way to piss someone off before we start class today?” 

“Der!” Lauryn says loudly from a few feet away. “Look who you’re talking to Mr. J!”

“Alight then, I’ll share with you three words that will make almost anyone angry… I’ve seen it work on friends, on co-workers, on bosses… even on children just like all of you…” (They hate being called children.) “Can you guess what those three words might be?” 

“—Go F*** Yourself?” Lauryn says quickly. 

In the back of the room I see Lily choke on a sip of her iced coffee and watch as Nel jumps up to give his girlfriend a high-five across the desks they are sitting at. The entire class finds Lauryn’s punchline hilarious.

I offer Lauryn a small congratulatory bow, and then say forcefully, “IT’S—COMMON—SENSE!”  

“What is?” Candace says, still snickering.

“Those are the three words you can say to make someone angry,” I respond smiling.

Turning to my white board I write it out so that they can see it: It’s Common Sense.

“I have found that directing these three words at someone is the equivalent to saying, ‘you are dumb’…” 

When I was young, a history teacher had once made me read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. I loved the phrase then and remember being amazed by how one person could inspire such a following by picking at the heartstrings of a beaten nation. Today however, I have learned to dislike these three words as using them can often belittle a person. 

Maybe I’ve become too sensitive, or too soft, but I have seen these three words start a lot of arguments. But honestly, in our world today—where everything seems to have a double meaning—nothing is truly common sense anyway…

***BREAKING KNEWS***

When I started my business—JoJo’s Design and Carpentry Services—my intentions were to go after high-end homeowners. While I had been struggling with Percocet for what seemed like forever, I quickly reminded myself that my resume was still very impressive, and that people would be lucky to have me work for them. In order to get a decent client however, I would need to impress, so I spent what little money I had creating some knockout flyers and went to work finding customers. 

I chose to go back to construction to avoid “selling shit” after discussing my life with that councilor of mine; Mr. Miyage. With these crisp flyers in my hand I remember thinking: So much for avoiding sales

But this thought was not going to slow me down. I had too much work to do and too much time to make up. I told myself that even if I was still selling shit that this time around things were different. This time: I’m in charge.

***End of Breaking Knews***

After Lauryn’s little impromptu lesson on the power of the F-word, I gave the class a quick explanation of why I disliked the phrase “It’s Common Sense”

Once I am done my little rant, I make a mental note to myself: Common Sense will be the title to the article I give them at the end of the week. I had titled it “A Ham Sandwich,” but I think this new title is better. 

Eventually, the time to introduce this week’s topic arrives: DECIPHERING TEXTS.

Lily and I put a lot of work into this and are both excited to see how things will go. We had created a slideshow that outlines the days ahead…

Slide #1: Tuesday: Students will be introduced to the “Sarcasm Meter.” Using this meter students will read texts provided and give scores based on “Intended Sarcasm” and “Perceived Sarcasm.” This ten-point scale will be further explained using examples.

Slide #2: Wednesday: Students will be separated into groups of two and be given pre-written text conversations. Students will be asked to rate each text using the scale practiced on the day prior from two separate perspectives: (1) As the one sending the text; and (2) As the one receiving the text.

Slide #3: Thursday: Students will role play conversations from the previous day. Each group will work with the other and discuss differences in their ratings after reading text conversations aloud to one another (This should be fun, but remember to PLAY NICE!).

Slide #4: Friday: Students will discuss the following questions: What have you learned about deciphering text conversations? And how is it relevant to your life? After class discussion, this one-page report—done individually—will be due the following week.

Slide #5: Monday—TODAY: Students will analyze the following text: “How you doin?”

Once I am done showing the students the slideshow, I shut down the projector and walk towards the white board. On the middle of the board, in big capital letters, I write the text just referenced: “HOW YOU DOIN?”

I then step aside and hand the class over to Lily.

Lily and I stole this phrase from a television show called Friends. A character in it, named Joey, would use it as a pickup line when talking to women. He’d say these three words with a sexy smile, an eyebrow lift, and a seductively hilarious nod. The show is too old for our students to recognize it and we don’t tell them where it comes from.

“This text on the board seems rather straightforward,” Lily begins. “If I walked up to you and asked you this question, how would you respond?”

Lily walks up to Pras. “How you doin?” she says.

We discussed this introduction and how the whole thing was going to be a bit more difficult with having to wear masks and socially distancing ourselves from the students, but watching Lily now, she is making it work just fine. 

Looking uncomfortable, Pras responds to her question. “I’m good,” he says, while looking at everyone else in the class and avoiding Lily’s eyes.

Lily can appear intimidating when she wants. A skill I see her using now. She had chosen Pras on purpose. She begins talking to the entire class.

“Psychologically speaking, when I walk up to you and ask you this question your mind is doing many things. Pras subconsciously processed the tone in which I asked the question, his eyes attempted to perceive the mood I was in when I said it to him, and then, after he responded, Pras looked around the room in order to figure out if his response was acceptable.” 

Pras nods at Lily’s analyses as he and everyone else continues to listen. 

“We all do this in one way or another, but remember, I’m a teacher and Pras is my student, me asking this question is considered being polite.” Lily walks over to Pras again. Pointing to him and then herself, she says, “But what if I was his girlfriend? How would that change the question I asked him?… Lauryn—What do you think?”

“Did he do something wrong?” Lauryn says, in an attempt to further understand the question.

“Exactly!” declares Lily to the class. “Our relationship immediately makes you think that there is more to the question than what it seems. If I was his girlfriend, maybe I would ask him the question differently…” Lily turns to Pras again, “How you doin?” she says.

Pras responds, “I’m fine,” in a more nervous manner than earlier as Lily now sounds concerned.

Without delay, Lily says it again, “How you doin?”

This time she sounds angry.

“I’m okay,” Pras chuckles uncomfortably, while bringing both his hands up to his thighs under his desk.

Lily turns away from him. “Nel, what was different about how I asked Pras that question the first time compared to the second?” 

Nel sits up in his seat to respond. “The first time it sounded like you thought something might be wrong with Pras. The second time it looked like maybe you were mad at him.”

“Do you get where I’m going with this Candace?” Lily says, turning to her.

Candace speaks confidently. “You’re trying to show us how this one question can be interpreted differently based on circumstances.”

“Yes,” Lily concedes. She then heads towards the whiteboard. “On the board is this question,” she says. “As a class we are going to assume that it is a text message that someone has received. Our objective today is simple: Fill this whiteboard with as many interpretations as possible. Do not explain why someone interpretated it this way or that, just write the interpretation that a person might have.” 

Lily grabs a marker, and says, “For example,” then writes: Did I do something wrong? on the whiteboard.

Moving slightly to the side; so that the class can see what she has written, she then turns to the board again. “Or,” she says before writing: Does this person think something is wrong?

The room stays quiet while Lily prepares to give them one last example. The example she is about to write was the reason her and I decided that she should be the one to setup this day’s activity.

Turning to the board this last time, Lily speaks louder. “—OR,” and then writes: Is this person trying to get in my pants?

Seeing what she wrote the students do not laugh. They stay quiet, but barely; I can see the humor of this interpretation tickle them. If I had written it perhaps their reaction would be different. 

Lily acknowledges the students. “We are all adults here…” Capping her marker, she continues. “There are obviously things that could be interpreted that are not PG rated. Mr. J and I have anticipated this and have come up with some doosies ourselves. That being said, you are allowed to write whatever interpretations those immature minds can think of.”

Turning towards Nel—who had just giggled—she finishes, “But if we see you taking advantage of us treating you like adults there will be consequences.” —Nel stops smiling— “And with that warning the board is now yours.”

She was good. There were clearly many reasons we chose to have her be the one to begin this lesson and not me. 

The students do a great job coming up with interpretations. At first it starts a bit slow, but soon there is no stopping them. The writing on the board begins to get smaller and smaller as they try to fit more and more.

It is fun. It is enlightening. It is educational. It is a great start to the week!

Lily and I work together the rest of the week and are thrilled with how well the students do with the lessons we had created. Before we know it, the week was over.  

I had been posting these articles of mine on our website every Friday, but on this week, I decide to do it a bit different: “I’m going to post this week’s article on Saturday night as this one deserves a prime-time slot in your schedule!” I told them with a mischievous grin.


Week 9: Saturday, November 7th, 2020

“Common Sense”

One my objectives for this class of ours is to prove to you that a well-crafted piece of entertainment is capable of manipulating the mind into seeing things in the world around us in a completely different light. I was reminded of this the other day when I heard it mentioned that a certain song had recently hit one billion downloads. To me, this accomplishment highlighted the significance of entertainment in our world today. It was then I decided to try and incorporate this song into my story for you somehow. But how exactly I’d do that had me stuck. To clear my head, I’d have myself a ham sandwich. It was lunchtime anyway, so I figured:

Why Not?


In order to really be alone with myself for a bit, I leave my cellphone on the kitchen counter and head to my bedroom to enjoy my ham sandwich in silence for once. Technology—while useful—can really make it hard to focus on oneself. 

Sitting on the large bed in the center of the room my feet dangle off its edge. The bedroom walls around me are covered with posters from a wide range of movies and shows. Since I share this room with my kids, we only hang up posters of people, or characters, that we find uplifting in some way. We call it our Wonderwall; because it makes us wonder what we ourselves could be someday. 

Gazing around at these walls, my eyes stop at Emma Watson. In this poster from the Beauty and the Beast movie she is wearing a shy-smile and bright yellow dress. A lyric from a song in the movie fills the bottom half of the poster; it reads:

How does a moment last forever?

How can a story never die?

It is love we must hold on to…

Never easy but we try.

I’m the one that hung this poster up, not my kids. But I chose it more because of how much I admire Emma Watson and not so much because of the movie or this lyric. 

My infatuation with this actress is rooted in the belief that she is a kind and humble person in real life; the two qualities I find most attractive in a person. And while she is certainly beautiful and very talented, I’ve also seen her appear honest and very wise as well. A rare combination that has made me such a fan of hers. 

(Alright, you might say I have a little crush on her or something…WHATEVER, I’m allowed. This was my alone time—SO…leave me alone why don’t you!)

Continuing to look up at Emma I think of The Move. This is The Move a person should use when kissing someone for the first time. A good friend of mine always tells people about this move I taught him when were young. For some reason I am just now being reminded of it….

“Holding both her hands, look her in the eyes Tommy.” 

I grab both his hands to show him how it’s done. 

“Don’t talk Tommy, just smile lightly.” He smiles back at me. “—No teeth Tommy—this isn’t a class photo.” 

My friend corrects his face. 

“Look for a smile from her. How she smiles back at you will tell you everything. You go forward; or turn and run, based on that smile. Pay attention to it because you don’t want to get that part wrong. You got that Tommy?”

His big puppy dog eyes look at me and confirm his understanding wordlessly. I continue to hold both his hand and press on with my instruction. 

IF the smile is inviting, slowly bring one hand up to her cheek…Like this…don’t break eye contact Tommy.” 

We are standing atop a hill as I give him this lesson. As I speak, my friend gazes into my eyes with not a hint of embarrassment. 

“Now softly hold her face in your hand…and move your thumb just a little bit.” 

It is cold. I can feel it on Tommy’s face. Under a moonlit sky, I finish my lesson. 

“Now move your hand up along the side—like this…. near her eye—like this…and then brush her hair behind her ear…like this. Then…you slowly move in.”  

Softly holding the side of my friend’s face, I demonstrate how to gently go in for that first kiss….

My friend Tommy is super-successful now and an absolute legend in the town I grew up in, but back then we were really just two high school dorks. At get togethers he’ll throw an arm around me after acting out this story like I just did and say, “If you want someone to love you get in their mind first, that’s where real intimacy lives;” mimicking some silly words I told him as kids. 

Then—to end this little show of his—he says the same thing every time. Something that embarrasses the shit out of me, but something that always gets everyone listening to him to laugh: “I tell ya—” he says squeezing me tightly in one arm, “This sexy son of a bitch right here is a bona-fide Vagina Whisperer!”

Sitting alone in my room; enjoying my ham sandwich, I laugh to myself remembering all of this but never break eye contact with the Emma Watson on the wall. 

All of a sudden, the idea hits me…

I know how to include that song in my story

Thinking this, I rush to finish my ham sandwich. Clean up after myself. Then jump to my feet excited to get to my writing. 

I am grateful for Emma Watson’s role in helping me solve this dilemma of mine. Walking up to her poster I look into her eyes and say, “Thanks Emma,” out loud in the quiet bedroom. Kissing the four fingertips of my left hand, I then use them to softly touch her face and hear myself whisper three more words to her poster: “All of me…”

After this uncomfortably intimate moment with Emma, I grab the dirty napkins off my bed and head towards the door. Stopping suddenly, I deliberate for a moment. 

On the back side of my bedroom door are two questions I wrote and placed there a long time ago. I am now face to face with them: “Are you sure?” and “What am I doing?” 

I had put these questions here in an attempt to practice mindfulness. It was a suggestion in some book I read to hang them in a place I would see each day. Looking at them now, a concerned voice from inside my head says: Are you really sure you wanna do this?

In the past I would get excited to run out a door like this with ideas I thought were exciting. Or fun. Or meaningful. Or funny. Or inspirational. Or so many different things. My mind often did this to me. It gave birth to these ideas that I would convince myself were great, so, I’d want to share them with everyone. But very often, they’d simply get me in trouble. 

Was this going to get me in trouble?

On the other side of this door is the real world. Full of anxiety and fear. Full of judgement and ridicule. It is not the world that exists in my mind—I need to continually remind myself of this. 

Debating whether or not I should do it, I again laugh at myself…and the idea. 

It’s too good, I think…it’s gonna to be hilarious

“Just do it! What’s the worst that could happen?” I finally say out loud, staring at the door in front of me. 

Grabbing the handle, I turn it, ready for the real world that waits for me on the other side….  

In that moment I was grateful for the childhood friend that came up with That CodeThat Code would announce to others that we were enjoying some alone time. We would use those words—That Code—with our parents and laugh at them unknowingly. Those words, ‘Ham Sandwich,’ that we used to secretly tell one another that we were masturbating.  

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

If you discovered a pill to cure hopelessness would you sell it or give it away for free?  Explain your reasoning.

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“The word is on the street that the fire in your heart is out.”

— Wonderwall by Oasis

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 10: P.A.I.N. through Anxiety is next)

Follow us on Facebook: @TheRealGoodLoser
Read our story at: RecoveryHighschool.com

Week 8: P.A.I.N. Through Worry

It is now the Friday before Halloween in 2020 and our eighth week of the school year is about to come to a close. Lily and I are working together in her office as snow begins to fall outside. Yup, snow on Halloween. This year continues to surprise: 

“Are you and Principal Sam on good terms yet?”

Lily and I both have our laptops out and are typing on them. I stop what I’m doing to ask her this question.  

“We will be fine,” she replies. “People just don’t like being called out…it’s an ego killer.” She looks up and gives me a look from over her laptop screen. “Don’t worry about it,” she says.

I had told Lily about the ass-chewing I received from Principal Sam over my suicide story. Lily knew about that story and she knows what I am doing in my class with the students. As the school’s councilor she is very supportive. Hearing what happened, she was not happy with how Principal Sam made me feel that day.

Without my knowing Lily argued with the principal in my defense and after whatever was said between them, I actually got an apology from Principal Sam. I would never have asked Lily to do what she did, but that’s just the type of person she is.

While I might have gotten an apology; and a little pressure taken off my shoulders, Lily was now on Principal Sam’s shit list. There has been tension between the two of them ever since.

We spend the next few minutes gossiping about Principal Sam; about how that ego was long overdue for a little adjustment; and how Lily is everyone’s hero for giving the principal a long overdue reality check. 

Lily opens a piece of chocolate and throws it to me from across the desk. “Try it,” she says, “It’s really good.”

I hold it up to my nose and smell it: Dark chocolate; I thought so by the look but now I know for sure; I don’t like dark chocolate. 

“Smells good,” I say, and throw it in my mouth.

Pretending to enjoy this treat, I watch Lily put her hair into a ponytail. We are working on a project together for my class next week. We are calling the class Deciphering Texts.

Lily flattens her hair on the top of her head and re-focuses her attention on the laptop in front of her. But I don’t feel like getting back to work yet. 

“I’ve got an appointment to get myself fixed next week,” I say; blurting out this piece of private information.

The distraction works. Lily looks up from her computer. “What?” she says.

“You know…” I snip the air with my fingers. “It’s an easy surgery, I guess. Except the guy doing it made feel like I was gonna throw up when he explained it.” I let Lily see me shiver. “I’m not good with blood—at all,” I tell her.

“Do you really think you’re ready for that?” she says inquiringly. “What if you meet someone that wants to have kids?” 

“My boys are a lot and it wouldn’t be fair to them if I had another one…” I answer.

This isn’t the whole truth but it’s enough for this conversation. The truth is I just don’t think if I’m a really good dad. I’m doing the best I can with the three I have but starting this journey all over is not something I’m equipped to handle.

“It’s not like I’m using the thing anyway,” I add with a goofy smirk. “But it would be just my luck to get someone pregnant if I did.”

“You’re an idiot,” Lily says with a smile—a smile that I see quickly fade into serious face again. “You should really think about it Jose… And if you’re not active what’s the point of rushing into that decision anyway?”

“With two ex-wives and three kids, I don’t think you can say I’m rushing into the decision Lily.”

“I think you should wait,” she says assertively. “But we really need to finish these conversations. Let’s just get them done.” 

Adjusting my seat, I comply with her request. “Fine Miss Lily, whatever you say.” 

I resume typing on my laptop and try to focus on my work, but I am now thinking about that surgery and wondering if maybe I should wait like Lily suggests; it’s easy for a someone to plant a seed of doubt in my head.

I was only doing it as to not sabotage my life any more than I already have. But like I just said, it’s not like I’m using the thing anyway—which is probably for the best.

Perhaps waiting might not be a bad idea? I was told I’d have to ice myself for a week and I’m not really sure how I’ll explain that to my boys anyhow… 

A few minutes pass and a knock on the office door interrupts the silent punching of keyboards.

“Come in!” Lily says loudly.

The door opens and Lauryn stands looking at us. “Sorry to interrupt you two lovebirds,” she says, “but can one of you let me in the principal’s office to get the small speaker to bring outside?” 

Lauryn points two fingers at her eyes and then points them at Lily and me. “I’m watching you two…” she adds.

“I got it,” I say; disrupting the awkwardness that has just entered the room. 

Standing up, I grab my mask off the desk in front of me and put it on my face. The only thing Lily and I are guilty of is not wearing our masks in school. We both know Lauryn won’t snitch on us.

The two girls exchange a look with one another as I follow Lauryn out the door.

***BREAKING KNEWS***

After a week stay in that detox facility in 2014, I was prescribed medicine that was designed to block opiates from effecting my system.

This medicine made it so even if I did take a Percocet I couldn’t get high; which meant taking one was pointless. I was told that I couldn’t drink alcohol on this medicine either. This was a good thing as drinking was another devil in disguise for me. I could smoke weed though—A Lifesaver!

Part of the treatment plan I agreed to with my family included weekly counseling sessions with a psychologist. Everyone came together in an effort to find me someone good. Who they found was amazing. 

This psychologist was an older man who got me asking myself some really great questions. He talked very little but like a ninja could pick at my words with precision and say simple things that would force me to dissect what I was saying myself. He was my Mr. Miyage and I was his Karate Kid eager for his instruction.

He was expensive though—eighty dollars on top of what insurance covered per visit—but like he explained to me when we first met, it was worth it

This doctor and I did some sole searching together. He helped me realize that I hated selling stuff. Every job I’d had since graduating college required me to do this—Yes, even teaching; according to my sensei. With this insight I decided that I was going back into construction. I wanted to build things again. 

With renewed ambition and a desire to redeem myself, I started my own business: JoJo’s Design and Carpentry Services.

This word JoJo, as I used it, was a word I had recently invented.

Growing up I worked a lot with my father and his two younger brothers framing houses over the years. They all spent time in Canada as kids and could all speak a bit of French. There was this word I heard them use. The word was Goo. Not ‘go’ with an extra o, but ‘gew’. It wasn’t an actual word in French, just one they made up I think, but for some reason the word always stuck with me. In English, the word might mean ‘adrenaline’ in the way they used it.

Sirena and I later called our son Jojo as a nickname. Somehow my brain connected these two words ‘JoJo’ and ‘Goo’ so that when I felt good about life, I began telling Sirena, “I have found my JoJo again.” 

In my mind, “Finding my JoJo” meant re-discovering my inner child; a sense of childhood adrenaline—my Goo

Naming my business JoJo’s Design and Carpentry Services was a reference to my son but also a private declaration to the Universe that I had gotten my JoJo back: Watch out world, here I come!

Three years after giving my business this name, I listened to my councilor John tell the men in the halfway house, “Big ambitions can have devasting consequences.”

Hearing John say this, I remember looking around the room at the other guys that were with me. I don’t think the warning resonated with them the same way it did with me: A warning without knowing the consequences is merely a temptation.

***End of Breaking Knews***

Our school had decided to celebrate Halloween by letting students go trick-or-treating at decorated stations outside the building; all of it carefully set up to comply with social distancing requirements.

Despite the threat of snow on this day the teachers and other building staff did their best to put together something fun knowing that many cities in the state were not doing trick-or-treating this year due to the pandemic. The whole building was participating, not just our program.

Almost everyone is wearing a costume. I have a Batman’s Robin shirt on. With the heavy sweatshirt I am wearing underneath, the students have been calling me Fat Robin all day; “It’s Robin’s Quarantine-Fifteen,” I tell them jokingly. 

Walking next to me, Lauryn isn’t dressed up—she’s too cool for that—but she is wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey and has been telling everyone she is dressed as her hero for the day. Kobe had died on January 26th, 2020 in a tragic helicopter crash with his thirteen-year-old daughter Gianna sitting next to him. It was heartbreaking; and extra painful for me as the thought of looking into one of my son’s eyes during our final moments made me feel sick. Although she is trying to be cool, I respect Lauryn for wearing this jersey today.

On our way to the principal’s office for the speaker, she says, “By the way, I’m sorry Mr. J… It was me that gave Principal Sam your suicide story.” 

Lauryn decides to get the truth off her chest as we have a few minutes alone. The information she shares is something I already know, so I tell her. “I know you did. And you don’t have to be sorry.”

Not mad; or surprised, she replies, “Maybe I shouldn’t listen to what adults tell me to do so much, huh?”

I assume this means Principal Sam had asked her to report on what is going on in our class.

“You said it, not me,” I say, smiling beneath mask; hoping she can hear in my voice that I’m not upset. 

Walking into the office I tell Lauryn why she really shouldn’t feel bad for giving Principal Sam that article.

“Everything does happen for a reason Lauryn, and I should probably thank you.” Grabbing the small speaker, I look at her. “After that meeting with Principal Sam I had a breakthrough…I realized that I would have to start opening up to you guys if I wanted to make our class work.”

“What do you mean?” she says.

“Just wait until you read this week’s article about worry. You’ll understand.” 

Lauryn looks at me. I know she wants answers, but I say nothing more as we head into the hall.

“What are you doing for Halloween tomorrow?” she says from beside me.

“My town is still doing trick-or-treating, so me and the three boys are going together. I’m pretty pumped about it. I haven’t gone with the twins for a few years.”

Lauryn has learned of my unique family situation by now.

“Mr. J…” she says slowly; as we walk through the door to head outside, “Your life is more f****d up than I can even imagine—isn’t it?”

I respond with a mild laugh. “You have no idea Lauryn…” 


Week 8: Friday, October 30th, 2020

“P.A.I.N. through Worry”

HOW COULD YOU CHANGE THE WORLD?

After writing this question on my white board I slowly turn around to look out at my students. A familiar silence fills the room. 

It is very difficult for a teacher to get their students engaged in class so this silence is something I am accustomed to. In fact, I expected it. 

How could you change the world? What a stupid thing to ask a bunch of kids anyway. But this is all part of my plan for this class of mine.

As a teacher—when I am trying to make a point—I often do this: I ease my students into a lesson by asking questions or doing something I know they will not completely understand at first.

Sooner or later they will understand this about me….

Dear Class,

Last week’s article I wrote was about Anger. After reading it, you may be wondering how I feel right now; worried that I’m still upset over that argument with Principal Sam. Well, I need you to understand that just like every emotion that makes up this class on P.A.I.N., feeling angry is natural. Last week I wrote an article to illustrate what happens when this emotion takes over. 

When I was young, I had quite the temper, looking back, I almost always experienced feelings of shame afterwards. Whether it’s punching a wall or saying something mean to someone, I have come to realize that worrying about things done out of anger is inevitable.

Anger is something I’ve tried very hard over the years to learn how to embrace. That doesn’t mean I enjoy being angry, I really don’t. But I’ve noticed that whenever something upsets me to the point of anger there is usually a lesson to be learned once that difficult moment passes. 

Looking at the world today there are millions of things to get angry over. In last week’s article I did my best to stir the pot. I was never really that mad as Principal Sam and I made amends soon after we got in that little disagreement of ours. Some of the more hostile words I used in the anger article were actually pirated from a character named Elliot in the first episode of a show called Mr. Robot (Remember Pras, I’m 1% Pirate!). And the story about my walk around the neighborhood was simply a collection of thoughts I’ve had over the years.

Today’s article is about worry. Something that doesn’t need much explaining as we all know how worry affects us. There is a quote from a comedy movie I always loved which references worry. The movie is Van Wilder and the free-spirited student who is the main character in it says, “Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.” This is very true and very wise—yet worrying does often serve a purpose: like helping us learn from our mistakes and avoiding our past misfortunes. Which makes me think about the state of the world today and is the reason why I’m using this week’s article to get us thinking about that. 

So, without further delay, let us get back to this imaginary class of mine…. 

WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF YOU COULD CHANGE THE WORLD?

After being called “dumb” by one of my students for implying that someone could change the world, I returned to my white board and wrote the slightly different question above. “Imagine you could,” I reasoned, “What do you think would happen?”

Again, nothing but silence. But I see their sleeping minds slowly waking up. I see them now thinking about this question.

To be honest, this is all I ask for as a teacher. To inspire my students to think, to wonder, to ask themselves, “What if?” These types of discussions are my favorite as you can never anticipate where they will go. That is the beauty of encouraging people to use their imaginations—a skill we no longer use enough. 

I have no idea what they are thinking. With no one speaking, I debate having them write in their journals, but then these words break the silence: “You would piss a lot of people off.”

The words are not spoken loudly, and they come out muffled because the student who speaks them is in the back of the room with a hood on and their head down. Like usual, I had simply assumed this child was not listening (you know what happens when we ‘ass-u-me’). But when this student mutters these words the entire class hears exactly what is said. 

“What do you mean by that?” I kindly ask the hooded figure—Candace.

Her eyes raise and meet mine. “Millions of people think they know the best way to change the world,” she begins. “So, you’d have to convince countless people that what they think is wrong…” The room is silent as she finishes her thought. “Who wants to be told that they are wrong?”

I love being a teacher. It is a great feeling to be presented with questions by students that you don’t know how to answer yourself.

“What do you think?” I turn slightly and ask the rest of the class, “Is Candace right?” 

A student who has yet to say anything responds to this question of mine. “Mr. J, I’m worrying about how to change my own life. I really don’t care.”

The words stop me in my tracks. 

I often get lost in these wonderful classes that exist in my mind and forget that all of this is supposed to be about them, not me. Looking at the frustration on the face of the student who just spoke, I realize a lot of what I am making my students talk about is probably annoying them. I’m up here trying to act all cheerful and shit while their minds face other problems that are more personal to them. I know this. And it makes me wonder why I’m up here jamming this idea of changing the world down their throats.

—OH YES! 

I remember now.

Because I need them to change the world! 

This is something I am counting on. With my own children growing up in this sucky world, I need to encourage these students in front of me to do something to change their future. This is my job, and right now, this class is about me— Don’t let them think otherwise, I mentally remind myself.  

All of these thoughts race through my head in an instant after this frustrated student speaks. Without the students even knowing, I gather myself and decide that they need me to act like an adult at this moment: They have no clue how well I pretend to do this.

Looking directly into that student’s eyes, I respond to the comment.

“I understand how you feel… but let me ask you this: Does human conflict affect your ability to find peace in your life?” 

A look of confusion surfaces on the student’s face—or maybe its annoyance—so, I add, “What I mean is does the world around you ever cause you to get angry, worried, or ashamed?”

“Sometimes…I guess so,” the student responds with indifference.

“It does—trust me,” I say this with unquestionable confidence. “Most of us think this world sucks. And we all want to change our lives…So—Why not come together and change the world?”

No one speaks at these words as the students in front of me see that I have taken over as the adult for the time being.

Really, I don’t want them to speak. I want them to think. And more importantly, I want them to realize the truth…

YOU are going to have to change this world.

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

“I have come to realize that worrying about things done out of anger is inevitable.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Why or why not?

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“Some things are worth fighting for.”

— No Easy way out by Robert Tepper

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 9: Common Sense is next)

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

Week 7: P.A.I.N. Through Anger

It is Monday and I have been called into a meeting with Principal Sam. This is how week seven begins: 

Walking into the office, I am told to shut the door. I do as I am told and then take a seat.

Just like back in August, we are still wearing masks and the office still has nothing on its walls, but there is now more clutter on the desk than there was before the school year had begun. 

The back of a head looks at me as its hands do something I cannot see. Principal Sam is always doing a million things at once; a real busy body. On a small table is a giant bottle of hand sanitizer, I squeeze out a little and rub it on my hands to give me something to do. The smell hits my nostrils as the principal begins to speak. 

“Now Jose,” the head begins, “You and me need to have a little talk.”

I hear something printing. “Okay,” I say.

Principal Sam then turns around with a few papers in hand to look at me. I immediately feel nervous…I don’t think this is going to be a good talk

“Would you please explain to me what the hell this is?” 

The papers that had just come out of the printer are thrown on the desk between us. Staring up at me is last week’s article with the title DIVERGE typed across the top. Someone has shared it with Principal Sam.

I reach out and grab the papers on the desk. Holding them, I look at the words but find myself unable to read what is in front of me as my brain struggles to figure out what to say. 

I go with the truth. “This was something I wrote for a creative writing contest.” 

Without delay, Principal Sam responds forcefully. “Yes—I have heard. But why are the students being told to ‘read and reflect on it’ Jose?” 

This confirms it: one of my students provided the article and is reporting on what we are doing in my class.

Understanding this, I answer the question. “Because each week I ask them to reflect on a piece of writing that I provide them with.”

“Yes—I know that Jose…but a story about suicide, with our students—ARE—YOU—CRAZY?” 

The final three words are spoken in a raised voice. I have been called crazy so many times that the words have become my kryptonite. They stab me in pieces and I silently slide the papers back onto the desk in front of me. I don’t want to touch them anymore. I hate them.

“Jose…” Principal Sam now speaks in a lowered voice; more serious; scarier. “We need to talk about this. We need to talk about your decision making and what exactly you’re trying to do here with my students.”

Hidden from view, I wiggle my fingers and feel them move beneath my thighs. I’m still in control, but barely. I imagine I’m sitting on that white bench again; that name carved into it is staring back at me. 

Principal Sam talks as the seconds pass in slow motion.

I continue to wiggle my fingers nervously as a verbal lashing fills my ears. The person across from me begins to fade away…out of focus….

***BREAKING KNEWS***

When I got fired from that teaching job, I told myself I would stop using this medicine of mine and put my life back together.

I was gonna stop—tomorrow—always, tomorrow. 

Each day I’d tell myself, and Sirena, “Tomorrow will be the day!” And then wake up secretly hating myself more and more knowing I was destined to screw up again. It was like living some sort of drug addict’s Groundhog Day. When my youngest son was born, I accepted I couldn’t stop on my own and needed help: I’d do something about it—tomorrow.  

Unable to stop; and not sure how to even go about getting help, I tried to overcompensate by doing as much around the house as possible. The summer after I got fired, I completely finished our basement. As long as I could keep Sirena happy, I could figure everything else out later… tomorrow. 

From the outside things looked normal. As a family we’d go for walks almost every day. At night I’d make us dinner and give our son his baths and cut his fingernails. I’d regularly go out and get Sirena ice cream; a hot fudge sundae from Friendly’s with fat-free vanilla frozen yogurt, whip cream, and extra cherries was her favorite. I would put my son to sleep and Sirena and I would watch shows like The Voice and Americas Got Talent together while I gave her back rubs. We would laugh and smile together on those nights, both trying our best to forget how much money I spent during the day in order to feel normal. In the mornings, before this routine would start all over again, I would often make her a pancake—seven chocolate chips, no more no less: “Here Honey, eat this, try not to think about how much I’m about to disappoint you again today.”

Back then I did anything I could so that the flaws in my behavior would stay out of the spotlight. This worked for a long time actually. Everything looked normal…or so I thought. 

The ‘medicine’ I keep referring to was Percocet: an opiate prescribed for pain. I call them the most effective anti-depressants on the market. At thirty bucks a pill, one of these would make me a decent human being to be around for a couple of hours. But one was never enough, and I constantly felt like I could be more decent. 

After losing that teaching job I somehow continued to “pretend to be normal” for almost a year. Though Sirena and I were constantly on edge and money was always an issue. The shit I put her through because of those damn pills was ridiculous. 

Later people would criticize Sirena for not telling everyone about my issues. This always bothered me because the accusations were unrealistic to how life works: We hide the flaws in others we love for so many unexplainable reasons.

While I was struggling, Sirena helped me hide flaws in my behavior from friends and family; an unfair burden I forced upon her. I could take a pill and convince myself that everything would be fine, but she couldn’t do that. She dealt with reality while I spent every dollar we had to live in my fantasy world. It was torture—for both of us.

Of course, the tomorrows added up and eventually the flaws were exposed. That is when I finally found myself in a detox facility in the Spring of 2014. Almost a full year after losing that teaching job.  

***End of Breaking Knews***

A strange face across from me comes back into focus. “You may leave now,” it says. It’s as if I’ve woken up from a dream and in an instant remember where I am.

I watch Principal Sam stand up in order to look down upon me—strapped in my seat. I am not certain how long I have been coasting through this meeting of ours….

Standing up, I leave the room and walk down the hall to the faculty bathroom. Shutting the door behind me, I reach down and lock the door. Taking one deep breath, I close my eyes and let my forehead fall onto the closed door in front of me…Breathe Jose… 

Once I have composed myself, I turn from the door and stand at the sink. I turn on the water: HOT. 

Pushing up my sleeves, I lean on the counter with my forearms and put my hands under the running water. I feel it get warmer…and warmer…and warmer. Until it finally burns. 

“You idiot,”I say out loud to the reflection in the mirror. “What were you thinking giving them that article?”

Looking at myself, I stop talking out loud and begin fighting the thoughts in my head instead: You let them in—You let them see… You should have known better. 

My eyes are starting to look bloodshot. The pressure of my thoughts pushes the tears forward and I fight them like I have become so good at doing. Staring at the face in the mirror—that stupid face! —there are so many things I want to say to that little boy looking back at me. 

A moment passes and I realize that not all of this is his fault, so instead of yelling at him, I ask him a question, “What are you gonna do next?” 

I consider this question as the water mercifully continues to scold my hands. The pain of the hot water distracts me from the pain of this reality. 

This program has been my dream for so long and I fear it is dying… that this opportunity is slipping right through my fingers. 

Should I play it safe from here on out? I think to myself.

Contemplating this for just a second, my worry turns into anger. I clench my jaw and turn my hands into two fists. Looking at those eyes in the mirror, I talk to little boy they belong to: “F***—THAT,” I tell him. 

With my back firmly against the wall, I decide that it’s time to let the crazy out… What is there to lose?


Week 7: Friday, October 23rd, 2020 

“P.A.I.N. through Anger”

“My mind is a home I’m trapped in, and its lonely inside this mansion.” 

— From the song titled Mansion by NF (featuring Fleurie)

If I began this article by saying, “People Suck,” would I have to say another word? Or would you allow me to simply drop this microphone of mine and walk off stage right now? 

In this class of ours I’ve been trying to convince you otherwise, but you’re right—THEY DO!

This was something I realized after being criticized by Principal Sam for sharing that suicide story with you last week.

Don’t let anyone fool you, being criticized is the worst. As an adult I’m supposed to be able handle it. But I’m not any good at it. Arriving home from school that day I was still upset over that meeting with the principal and decided to go for a walk to try and clear my head….

I always walk by the same man. He has long hair, a graying big beard, and wears sunglasses and a backpack most days. Every time this guy walks by me, he keeps his eyes focused on something ahead of him and does not acknowledge me as I almost brush shoulders with him on the sidewalk we share. On my walk this day I see him and think about who this man is a little more than I normally do. I tell myself that this man looks to have had a hard life. I do not get upset by his avoidance…and move on.

A little later, I come upon a lady jogging towards me. Her earphones are in and I assume that she is lost in whatever she is listening to. “Good for her,” I say to myself. If she did glance in my direction, I would wave to her of course, but she is pretty, which means she is probably worried that acknowledging me would send the wrong message. So, I do not get upset with her avoidance as she runs pass me…and continue on.  

Eventually I arrive downtown and turn left around a corner of a building. A teenage girl is looking on her phone as she walks towards me. Somehow, she sees where she is going and moves slightly to her right in order to avoid hitting me. She does this without looking up from the magical device in her hand: the thing that keeps her connected to the world at all times. I get a little annoyed by this, but then I realize that someone has probably told her to avoid strangers. She probably knows that if she doesn’t get past me quickly, I’m likely to do something awful. I do my best to see this young child as a victim of my misguided anger…and press on. 

Thirty seconds later I see a group of boys riding their bikes and laughing amongst themselves as they head in my direction. They jump off the curb in order to not run me over. “How nice of them,” I say to myself. Three boys, all wearing helmets. They must come from decent homes, I conclude. Someone has clearly taught them about safety. Racing by me, not a single one smiles at me, or waves, or thanks me for moving over slightly. 

Now I’m starting to think way too much. 

I continue my walk and try to think happy thoughts. Approaching an intersection, I stop and wait for a car to let me pass. I am in no rush, the cars passing me can obviously see that. Where they are going is much more important than me on this mindless walk of mine, I thinkEventually I realize that I will have to creep into the crosswalk so that I can pass. A car with tinted windows slows down a bit, so, I inch forward. Now able to see inside the front windshield of the car, I can see the driver. As I’m about to smile and wave, the frustrated man inside lifts just his middle finger off the steering wheel and wiggles it at me as a sign to let me pass. 

—PEOPLE—SUCK

Not one damn wave. Not a single hello. Not even a smile. But hey, I was at least acknowledged with that one middle finger.  

I wish I was invisible!

Clearly, I let my meeting with Principal Sam spiral out of control that day. When I sat down to write this article for you, I think it’s obvious I still needed to vent a little. I hope you don’t mind. I’ll be done shortly….

Sometimes I feel like we are living in a world where it is US verse THEM. Where the US is often just ME, and the THEM is very often EVERYONE and EVERYTHING

“And it’s just getting worse,” says the crowd of people.

We are angry. We are being pushed down. We want to be heard. In order to fight for a change in our circumstance, we go on long rants—like this—and make sure we are doing our part to make things better. (Or to at least make sure people know we are pissed.) But is any of it really working? 

Just saying that makes me want to duct-tape my mouth shut, as I know I’m getting myself in trouble here: The first rule of Fight Club is you do not talk about Fight Club!

I am trying to escape this cage that seems to be my existence. To break out of the chains holding me back. To change things and make life better on this planet. As my students you all know that by now. 

Unfortunately, people today are more likely to believe that the world is flat than they are to believe that someone is genuinely a good person trying to make this world a better place. But seriously, even if I could convince people I was a good person, would they even care? 

Nope! 

—Absolutely not.

NO WAY.

The majority of people would rather watch shows like Ridiculousness and cheer-on idiocy. 

I get it­. Being a jerk is cool. Being good is boring. Villainy is sexy. SARCASM—IS—HILARIOUS. 

I feel like the world today is in love with the bad guys… The Jokers. I think it’s because we see parts of ourselves in them. I mean, we are all a little angry these days, and the bad guys seem to do a lot more with that anger, so why wouldn’t we be attracted to them? Honestly, it seems pretty natural to me now that I’m thinking about it. 

Well kiddos, let me tell you a secret: No one bad is ever truly bad, just like no one good is ever truly good—that’s the truth…eat it. 

Speaking of The Joker. For anyone that has seen the latest film, did you happen to notice this character was portrayed as a mentally disturbed individual that society helped create? Do we perhaps think there is some truth in this interpretation of this character? Maybe I’m crazy, but I think there is. 

All of this reality upsets me more than you can possibly imagine. In a world so divided how did I ever expect to be a voice that could unite? How silly of me.

People want to be entertained, not united. Lies are always amusing. Revenge is always rewarding. Betrayal is always inevitable. (I bet if someone could read what I just wrote they’d jump out of their seat and give me a big hug for understanding how the world really works.) 

You’re right. Every person you meet is a masterful genius in the art of disappointing you, manipulating you, and letting you down. In fact, here is a survival guide for those of you that feel what I’m saying right now: Trust no one—Believe in nothing—Depend only on yourself.

The anger I feel has woken me up and it’s all so clear to me now: Our hearts have become impenetrable…and that’s probably a good thing…

I was never stupid, maybe just a bit naïve. With the rise of social media, we fake intimacy because we want to be sedated. Then we spam each other with our burning commentary masquerading it as insight. Maybe we do this because it’s painful not to pretend—because we’re cowards

While writing this for you, everything I’m doing here seems pointless. I see a world so easily hurt yet so easily hurtful. 

Really, I was never built to be a person that could bring us together anyway. I walk around scared of how my words are interpreted every day of my life. So scared in fact, that the only way I know how to survive is by shutting up. Because when I do talk, I usually end up offending someone somehow. And then, when I listen to other people talk to me, I most always listen as if I’m being attacked. It’s all so messed up. 

How do we fix this? I truly have no clue. It’s unfixable. The world is broken. Maybe we should all just quit.

Here is where I’m supposed to tell you that everything happens for a reason, but that’s just some goofy bullshit people who can’t face the truth tell themselves. As your teacher I know that I’ve told you to have faith. But what is faith anyway? Maybe faith is simply stupidity by a different name—or maybe it’s a mental illness like I’ve heard it called.

Whatever. I’m tired and I’m going to bed. Today, you win. I’m done believing in good. 

PEOPLE SUCK!  (Mic Drop)

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

Do you believe anger is a motivator? Why or why not.

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“I see you’re not satisfied.”

—Mirror by Lil Wayne (feat. Bruno Mars)

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 8: P.A.I.N. through Worry is next)

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

Week 6: dIverge

Week six brings us to the middle of October. Pressure was put on schools to offer in-person-learning and this is the first week we are back in the building. Today is a Professional Development day for teachers, which means the students have the day off. I am sitting with Lily in her office at lunchtime waiting for our afternoon meetings to begin:

“Jose, has anyone ever told you that the pursuit of love is often stronger than possessing love?” 

“No,” I reply, uncertain of why Lily is saying this to me right now.

“Listen…” she says, “I know you still care for her, but it is sure sounds to me like Sirena trapped you back then.”

Once I get to know a person, I’m an open book. I’ll tell you almost anything. More simply: I talk too much. I’ve gotten better at editing what I say, but I am definitely not an expert at it by any means. Something that is now evident as I’ve just finished saying things to Lily I immediately regret: details pertaining to my relationship with Sirena. 

I am not in a good mood today. Sirena is selling the house. The one we built after the fire. There is no guy or anything; Bart the landscaper is long out of the picture. Sirena explained everything to me yesterday over the phone. “I just can’t afford living in such a big house by myself anymore Jose,” she said. All of this has me feeling a bit off as I have long held onto the idea of moving back into that house with her and becoming a normal family again—well, kind of normal.

Realizing I had painted some poisonous images on Lily by what she just said to me, I try my best to backtrack. “You are only hearing my side of the story Lily. Sirena has her side too.”

“We have time,” Lily says in response to this. “Why don’t you tell me her side of the story then?” 

I see Lily lean back in her chair; an inaudible way of telling me she is all ears. She does this a lot; doctoring our conversations, I call it. 

Knowing what she’s doing, I do as I’m told. “Well, first of all, Sirena and I grew up practically neighbors, so we were best friends for much of our childhood.” Pausing a moment, I try to think of the humblest way to say this next part. “She might have been a little in love with me our entire lives.”    

“Oh—get over yourself Jose!” Lily says, annoyed. “Explain. Did she love you or not?” 

“Yes. She did,” I admit. “As kids it never turned into anything more than friends though. Sirena will tell that’s because she was an ugly girl growing up. I’d tell you it’s because I was smarter as a kid than I am as an adult.”

Lily smirks at my comment, but then tilts her head and scrunches up her face. “Sirena is beautiful. How ugly could she really have been?”

“It was her awkward faze,” I reply. “She wasn’t ugly, but you’d understand why she calls it her ugly phase if you saw pictures.”

“Please; there’s no way,” Lily says in disbelief. 

“As a twelve-year-old girl she was heavier back then Lily. And she had dry, rashy skin, with bright pink cheeks…and a set of full lips she hadn’t grown into yet.” —An image of Sirena is brought to life in my imagination— “Every day she would ride her bike past my house to see if I was home wearing this pink helmet with frizzy hair bursting out the sides. And she’d always be wearing cutoff jean shorts…”

Lost in thought, I begin to feel something in my chest. Not wanting to think about what that means I look at the wall above Lily’s head. “I can still see her in those shorts. She’d wear them no matter how cold it was—Actually—” My eyes snap down from the wall. “She looked just like the girl in the movie My Girl—Have you ever seen it?”

“Um…” Lily replies, “Maybe?”

It takes me only a few seconds to pull up a picture on my phone. Leaning in close, I show Lily the picture of the girl from this movie I just referenced. “Sirena was always wearing those shorts, like…literally, always.”

Lily sits back. “Honestly, that sounds adorable to me Jose,” she says.

Earlier in our conversation I was upset about Sirena selling the house and it now dawns on me again that I said a lot of stuff about Sirena I wish I hadn’t. I made it sound like she was some sort of super powerful enchantress that had swooped in and ruined my life. I do sometimes feel this way, but I shouldn’t have let Lily know that. I need to remind myself that I can’t always trust the way I remember events from my past…and that loving someone like me isn’t easy.

Trying to erase the image I had painted of her, I speak again of Sirena. “For the majority of her life she wanted to be more than friends with me. How we got together wasn’t a strategy she masterminded, and she definitely didn’t trap me. She actually helped me break out of a reality I was unhappy with back then and I was grateful at the time.”

I feel exposed at this confession and a caving silence grips the office as Lily does her councilor thing; deciding in her mind how bad of a person I really am.

While I feel uneasy at the moment, there is something about Lily that makes me feel comfortable in a way I have not felt around a girl in a long time. She definitely has a strange effect on me. And I have to say I kinda like it—which scares the crap out of me.

Finally, Lily talks. “Jose, you are very sincere person. You can’t fake that. I know I’m younger than you, and we haven’t known each other that long, but I have studied people a lot and there is something about you I don’t see often. You’re an outlier…A real-life Jon Snow—”

At this, Lily smiles at me. She had begun watching the show Game of Thrones a week or so ago. We were just talking about it a few minutes earlier, so I understand what she’s inferring by using this name. But unlike her, I’ve finished the show myself and don’t take it as the compliment she intends it to be. I see this character she is referring to as easily manipulated…and I know the fate of guys like that in the real world. 

The room goes quiet again and I smile back. I then watch Lily open her lips to finish this thought of hers. “I’m serious Jose. You’re special. Something inside me thinks you need to hear that.” 

I turn to stone and wonder to myself why she thinks I need to hear this; it’s my natural instinct to feel defensive. But looking at her I can see she is being kind.

Not knowing what to say, a moment passes, and I realize that I probably shouldn’t say anything. I look at the powerful set of eyes across from me and can’t help but think… I love you.

***BREAKING KNEWS***

In June of 2013—two years after my first divorce—I am teaching sixth grade math at a middle school in the town I grew up in. 

“Jose, we are not going to re-hire you for next year.” 

The woman that says this to me has not aged since I knew her as a child; she sits across from me to the left of my principal. I feel like a little boy again as I look at her speak. The room is hot as the summer heat has arrived. I feel myself begin to sweat. 

The administrator from downtown that sits beside the principal was a teacher of mine when I was in middle school. In her class I recited a Martin Luther King speech for some project of hers and she told my parents, He’s a really great speaker. She is also my good friend’s mom. I went on a trip to Washington D.C. with their family on a summer vacation when I was young. Sitting in this office—with her across from me—I am more ashamed and embarrassed than I have been my entire life. The room gets hotter.

This is my third-year teaching after I left my job in finance. If I made it through this year, I would be tenured; meaning it becomes very difficult to lose your job afterwards; the first three years is pretty much a probationary period. I am brought into this office and told I have not been ‘re-hired’ on literally the last day they can tell me. Regardless of the words they use, the truth is they are firing me. The room now boils.

—Anvil Number One.

Though they do not need to give a reason for their decision, sitting here I feel they know exactly what is going on with me—they must know.

Seeing how upset I am, they let me go home for the remainder of the day as making me teach the rest of my classes unable to see must seem like excessive punishment to them. At this point in my life I’m an emotional wreck. Every day, not just this one, is a struggle. 

In my car, driving down the hill away from the school, I have a choice to make: Where am I going to go? 

Ultimately, it isn’t really a choice at all.

I go straight to my dealer’s house.

Sirena—my second wife—is teaching at the same school as me. The school that has just fired me. She is four months pregnant with my youngest son.

Normally, I’d be in and out at my dealer’s house quickly. Rushing to get somewhere and pretending to be normal. But today, I have nowhere to be and no more pretending to do at the moment. 

This dealer is not just my supplier, but my friend. When you’re in the game that’s usually how things work. After getting the medicine in me I feel better. A shower of calmness cascades from the top of my head all the way to my toes, with it, I realize that my life is not yet over— “I can fix this!”

With nowhere to be I offer to bring my dealer to get groceries for his family as his car is not currently working. This will be a drive that sticks with me long after. 

We drive with the windows open and let the summer air keep us cool. While driving I tell my friend/dealer everything that happened and all the challenges I have ahead of me. “I’m a talented guy… I can do anything… Maybe teaching isn’t for me,” I say to him; before outlining the number of different things I can do…trying to plan an escape route. 

This reprieve from worry would soon come to an end of course. While I may feel optimistic in this moment it is only a matter of time before I need more medicine to simply breathe without the million pounds of anxiety restricting my airways. The fear of needing more medicine is a constant threat to feeling at peace when you’re a drug addict. 

Of all the things I say to him, there is one thing I’ll always remember saying on this drive of ours. Something that I now see forecasted a future breakdown: “I think its destiny that I lost this job. Maybe I had to lose it? I just feel like I’m meant for something more.” (Insert Crying-Laughing Emoji Here)

***End of Breaking Knews***

Leaving her office, Lily and I head to the afternoon assembly. The Director is coming in to give us some big pep-talk about having kids back in the building for in-person-learning. Very exciting stuff.

“How’s the article coming by the way?” Lily says as we walk side by side down the hall.

There is a creative writing contest I have been encouraged to enter. Lily knows about this and I have also told my students about it. The short story I enter in the contest will double as this week’s article. I have titled it DIVERGE. 

“I’m almost done,” I reply, “I’m just trying to figure out the right words to use at the end.”

I had gotten the idea for the short story I’m writing when Lauryn did her report on the television show 13 Reasons Why last week. Writing it has been emotionally challenging for me, but I think I’ve done a good job creating something unique; both for the contest and for my students.

Taking our seats in the cafeteria, the meeting has just begun. I have my phone out doing my regular mindless scroll when Lily stands up and gently taps me on my thigh; “Put it away,” she whispers.

The chairs for this assembly are all placed six feet apart and everyone is wearing their mask. Doing anything other than listening at this meeting is going to be impossible. This will be hard for me as I make a living being inappropriate during these types of important gatherings.

For the first fifteen minutes we listen to steps the district is making to “Keep kids and staff safe.” My mind struggles to stay present as the meeting is handed off to someone I do not recognize. This person is going to talk to us about administering MAP testing to our students next week.

MAP testing is just another standardized test created and administered to track student progress. A complete waste of time—and money—in my opinion. 

Silently frustrated, I let my mind leave the meeting. None of what is being talked about is relevant to my class anyway.

Paying little attention to the voice in front of me talking about “The importance of data driven analyses,” I instead use this time to debate which words I’ll use to end my story…. 


Week 6: Friday, October 16th, 2020 

“dIverge”

What if I could have caught a break? … What if I didn’t give up? … What if they believed me? …

As I sleepwalk the quiet streets in darkness, the WHAT IF’S come and go like the streetlights passing by, one after another. This has become my life now. Even though today will be the day, it is truly no different than any other. There is no room in this world for me.

The date today is Friday, April 15th, 2050

… When did this life diverge on me?

I know the answer to this question. It was the day of that fire. The day I learned of the two different kinds of pain in life: the kind that hurts and the kind that alters. That day changed me. And I was never the same afterwards. 

My feet are heavy, and they hurt with every step; from my ankles all the way up to my lower back. On my way to the All-Powerful Oz I can’t help but wonder if this was my destiny all along. I feel like the rusty-tinman, scared-scarecrow, and cowardly-lion all at the same time.

I did try to get better back then. For my kids, my family, and my friends; for all those people that believed I could. But I failed everyone when I could not defeat the demons that tormented me.

I remember it all so vividly. The dark clouds that blocked all light from entering my world and the all-consuming sadness that people told me was just in my head. They wanted “happy me” again, so—what else could I do? … I was just doing what they wanted … Wasn’t I? …

Questions continue to float around my head as I continue towards my final destination.

I decided that alcohol was never my real downfall, so I let myself have a few drinks to feel more comfortable around people back then. It was never my drug of choice, yet it still helped me to escape.

But of course, it would never last. I know that now. 

Eventually I lost control. And everyone got fed up with that me as well. Even then, I did not give up. I did what I had to in order to get back on that bull. To be the person they all wanted me to be. That I wanted to be. But it was too little too late. 

My kids were kept from me “until I got better.” My parents had to walk away from me completely because watching what I was doing to myself destroyed them. Everyone did what they had to for their own personal salvation. I never blamed them. And I do not blame them today. 

For a while I stayed in sober living and was grateful to have a roof over my head. I say that now that I know what it’s like to live on the streets. Maybe I wasn’t truly grateful back then. Who knows? …

I remember everything today.

I remember that for a while, that minimum wage job gave me some purpose. I remember that for a while, I felt proud sending what little money I could to my kids. I remember that for a while, I did my best to do the next right thing. 

Unfortunately, I could never accept where life had taken me. I remember. 

Today I am sick. I know I should not have left the hospital, but really there was no point in staying. I am now beyond repair. Broken. Just another loser in this game called life. 

My liver is failing, and I don’t have much time left. My body is shaking because it needs its medicine, but it is late, and no one is on the streets. During the day I could scrape together a few dollars for a cheap bottle and a bag of chips; my diet for so long now. 

Approaching the entrance to the tunnel, I reflect on the first time I begged for money. 

It was at this intersection right here. I was ashamed—obviously—as I remembered how I looked at beggars earlier on in my life. Quickly, however, I realized that no one here knew me. Even if they had known me in the past, no one recognized the person that the pain had turned me into.

Life on the streets became normal. Never easy, but normal. 

Over the years I have been laughed at and ridiculed more times than I can count. I remember the man that stopped in front of me once and had a heart to heart with his son…. 

“See this man right here son, he could go get a job and work but instead he sits here wanting us to feel sorry for him and give him money that we work hard for. We do him no good by giving him our money. Most of them are faking and have more money than us anyway. Don’t be a sucker, son.” 

I remember the boys’ eyes. At first, they looked at me with empathy; perhaps a bit of fear danced in them, but in just a few seconds I saw that look turn into disgust. 

I said nothing that day. How many times had I been told to get a job? If I could hold a job of course I’d want one…it would make supporting this miserable existence much easier.

In reality, the money people gave me on the side of the street kept me alive. I know I wasn’t living the life they wanted me to live, but that’s why I was here, and they were there.

Little did that boy’s father know I once dreamt of being the person to change the future for that son of his. How delusional I once was…

The guy that was gonna change the world…hiding in plane site—HA!

I descend the stairs and see my friends in their usual places as the last train will be making its final stop for the night. We need to find a place to sleep down here before they close the gates or we will be left out on the streets for what remains of the night. Sometimes we are kicked out, but not tonight. Thank you for that, a grateful voice from inside my head says.

I can smell the moldy air and moist concrete as I glance at the digital clock on the wall: 1:19 AM. 

It is time.

Focusing on the ground I walk with faked purpose. Arriving at my planned destination I quietly lower myself onto the tracks—in the shadows so that no one can see. It is the least I can do. If I time it right no one will even know—that is how I want it to be.

Lying on my stomach I let the heavy track split my body in two. As I rest my head on the metal, it immediately dawns on me how tired I am.

Looking across the track, I find myself thinking about my three boys… 

I once had dreams of making you so proud… but I failed you…you that mattered to me the most… and everyone that ever needed me… I failed you

I think of their faces. The smiles I was never able to bring them. The laughs we should have shared if I could have simply been better. The hearts that will stay frozen long after I’m gone. 

All of these thoughts splinter in my mind and I find myself repeating “I failed you” over and over in my head as my cheekbones begin to feel the train approaching.

A tear drips down the side of my face. Not wanting to listen to my thoughts any longer, I quietly speak into the stale air around me. 

“If there is anyone listening, I am sorry…. If you want to grant me one wish, let it be that they all forget me.”

I sense the bright light approaching as the noise becomes louder and louder. I close my eyes as my heart begins to beat uncontrollably. I am scared.

Maybe a different life wouldn’t have been any better? …

Maybe this world was going to destroy me no matter what?

——— I failed you….

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

In your opinion, will things in this world get better or worse over the next 30 years? Why?

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“Who do you call when you need some help?”

—Let Go by Beau Young Prince

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 7: P.A.I.N. through Anger is next)

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

Week 5: The Bull

Our school district has announced that in-person-learning will begin next week. But for this fifth week, we are still on the computers. On our screen is a quote I am reading out loud to the class: 

“Future civilizations will study how technology transformed our world. They will analyze how humanity was molded by television, literature, and all forms of entertainment. They will be able to look at our behavior differently with an advanced understanding of which we cannot comprehend today. They will use what is happening now to improve future life on this planet.”

Once I have finished reading, I minimize the quote and put all the students back into their boxes on the computer screen in front of me.

Now seeing all of them, I ask, “So—What do you think?”

Yesterday I had given them this quote at the end of the day to read and reflect on in their journals for homework; I am requiring that my students keep a journal for the class. Not getting any volunteers, I move the conversation forward. “Pras, tell me what you think.”

Pras reads from his journal. “From an evolutionary standpoint we are infants when it comes to understanding the technology we have today. For that reason, I agree with the statement completely.” 

Looking up, Pras sees me encouraging him to go on. Not looking at what he wrote anymore, he elaborates. “I mean, classes are taught to kids about the Industrial Revolution and how that changed everything, someday I imagine a class will be taught about the Internet Revolution and what is happening right now….and how that changed everything too. That’s pretty much what the quote means, right Mr. J?”

“That makes perfect sense to me Pras,” I reply, nodding. “What do you think Lauryn?” 

“Honestly…I think it’s a bunch of crap,” she says calmly. “Fancy f****n* words to distract us all from what’s really going on. God has a plan. This world is destined to end and everything going on is just part of His plan. Thinking that we can control things—or fix things, is the devil’s work.”

Lauryn speaks of religion a lot and I immediately question if I should have anticipated this reaction from her.

Her comment makes me think of an old friend Billy Preston; my religion expert, who told me, “God created religion because he knew people needed to feel part of a story. A faithful person will not be judged for believing the wrong story because they all lead to him in the end.”

I can’t say I exactly agree with Billy’s statement, but his words echo around in my head at this moment. 

“I’m sure you’re not alone feeling that way Lauryn,” I respond sympathetically; remembering my friend. “Nel—How about you? What do you think?”

Nel is quick a response, “I agree with Lauryn,” he says reflexively.

From the top left corner of the screen I can see Lauryn smile, and then Nel smile too on the other side of my screen. They don’t smile to each other, but instead to the camera in front of them. On a computer this whole flirting thing is super awkward. Everyone else in the class feels like a third wheel on a date.

Amused by this, I butt in. “—Nel, how about you think as an individual and not as a boyfriend for once. I promise Lauryn can take an honest opinion on the subject from you.”

Nel’s face turns serious. “I agree with Lauryn,” he says again with unwavering conviction.

I see my computer image smile on screen at Nel’s statement, and I can’t help but think to myself that Nel is a smarter kid than I give him credit for…

***BREAKING KNEWS***

I graduated high school in 2001. In my senior yearbook I was voted Most Athletic by my classmates. While this was an honor, the award I really coveted in those days was Most Likely to Succeed. I remember privately consoling myself back then: “You can’t have it all,” I told myself unbelievingly.

Regardless of what award I won, there was no one more likely to be a productive member of society than me. I was blessed both physically and mentally. And to top it off I came from a great home. This combination of things left me privileged, white, and talented: the three pre-requisites one needed to conquer the world: THE GOLDEN TICKET—or so I was told

Being the oldest of four children, often my siblings would get angry at the relentless success I encountered throughout my youth. “Sorry no one can be as perfect as Jose,” was a common phrase my siblings would mutter over the years. A comment made laughable for many reasons later on in my life. 

As a freshman in high school I met my future wife. A beautiful and shy brown eyed girl: Falling in love with her at the age of fourteen was my very first addiction.

After high school I enrolled at a state college in order to stay close to her. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Doing this allowed me to work with my father doing construction and continue my education at the same time. All part of a plan to get me living the Simple Man life as soon as possible. Just like Leonard Skynyrd had so poignantly advised in the song. The fact I was in such a rush to get to this “simple life” I now find ironic.

It was during my first month at Umass that the September 11th attack terrified the world in 2001. It was a bright blue-sky day that Tuesday morning. A day that turned scary in an instant. It was that day I first remember wondering if maybe I did not understand the world I lived in as well as I thought. (I didn’t.)

Fortunately for me, life went on after that event, and four years later I graduated college. Shortly afterwards I began living the life I had been looking forward to. 

By the age of twenty-six, I was married, built a beautiful home, and had myself a good job in the field of finance that college had prepared me for. To top it off, my wife gave birth to a set of healthy identical twin boys in August of 2008.

For me, living the American Dream was—for a little while—a dream

Until the divorce. 

For anyone not connecting the dots, let me clear things up: Sirena is my second wife, from my second marriage: I am a dirtbag. 

Clearly this reveal means I have a lot more explaining to do regarding my love life in order for this story to make sense. But that will come. This rollercoaster has only just begun.

In retrospect the cracks in the foundation of my fairy tale existence began to appear during the 2008 stock market crash; right before my twins were born. Up until then I had followed all life’s rules and colored within all the lines, but it was at this point I started to lose faith in the yellow brick road I was on. 

Fighting a money war from a cubicle left a sour taste in my mouth that year. Getting to where I wanted to be in life, and not being happy, it was then I chose to change my profession and decided a career in teaching would be more rewarding. With a degree in finance, I took the Massachusetts State Tests to become a certified math teacher and got myself a new job. 

Making the career change was not too difficult. Though the transition into teaching was not as smooth as it may have appeared at the time. Something that would become evident in 2011, when—in the face of mounting family turmoil—I decided that a divorce would give me the new start I really needed in this life. 

Of course, this divorce from my first wife was not the new start I had imagined for myself. Rather, this decision marked the beginning of what would be a slow and painful transformation into the asshole I am today.

***End of Breaking Knews***

Back in class the students and I are eventually able to move past our daily warm-up exercise and get started with the day’s lesson. All week I have been working with the students on something I titled THE SPRINKLE SCALE.

The week began by defining this word as we would use it: Sprinkle (verb): to tell a story using pieces of the truth.

It was the word councilor John used to describe Sirena at the halfway house, but my students don’t know its origin. The scale is a horizonal ten-point scale. On the left of is the number zero, along with the word Real. On the right of the scale is the number ten, with the word Fiction

The idea for this lesson was actually born out of a conversation with my twins. We had just begun to watch scary movies together and one morning they stopped on a channel showing the movie Seven. Seeing that it looked scary they watched while I sat next to them; it was towards the end of the movie; when the killer is in the back seat of the police vehicle. Watching this scene, I explained to my boys the manner in which this killer was choosing his victims. “The movie is called Seven because he’s choosing one victim for each of the seven deadly sins,” I said. The boys then asked if it was based on a true story. I explained that it wasn’t. Shortly after this conversation one of the boys made up his mind: “Someone could really do this dad,” he said. Presented with this teachable moment, I took that opportunity to explain to them my opinion on the subject. 

After that discussion was when I came up with this lesson of mine.

Introducing the lesson to my students, I stole a quote from that movie I watched sitting next to my twins. “Wanting people to listen, you can’t just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You need to hit them in the head with a sledgehammer. Then you’ll notice you’ve got their strict attention.” I described the conversation with my twins to my students and used this quote and a few others from a show Westworld I’d been watching to illustrate to them how writers are able to insert words into their stories that speak to how he or she truly see the world. “Pay attention next time,” I said, “—I promise there are secrets hiding everywhere that they want you to find.”

My students and I used the Sprinkle Scale to rate television shows, movies, and single scenes of entertainment all week. The premise was simple: How much of this story we are being shown is based on real life stuff, and how much of if it is sprinkled with fiction in order to make it more entertaining to the viewer? 

Each day a student picked a show or movie of their choosing and ranked it using our scale. As a class we would then discuss it; and either agree with the ranking or offer a different one of our own. After our warm-up to start the class today, we use this class period to continue working with this scale. It is Lauryn’s day to pick a piece of entertainment for us to discuss… 

“I ranked it a two on our scale,” Lauryn says; after reviewing her choice, a show called ‘13 Reasons Why.’  

Lauryn’s ranking suggests that she feels the show is very accurate to how things are in real life. 

This show is a high school drama; a soap opera for kids and a perfect choice for this class of ours. A child in the show had committed suicide and left a video outlining the 13 Reasons Why she felt compelled to do it.

Lauryn was required to inform me of the show she would be discussing so I watched two episodes last night. The premise is one I’ve seen many times. Someone gets treated bad so that person treats another person bad, and so on. This cycle continues until no one is to blame but everyone. While I haven’t seen the entire show, I am rather certain this is where its headed.

The Sprinkle Scale we are using is not a scientific instrument. “There are truly no right or wrong numbers to assign a piece of entertainment using the scale.” I explained this to my students over and over throughout the week. “It is simply a tool to get you to acknowledge the entertainment value of the food you are feeding your minds.” 

All week I have mostly agreed with my students ranking of their choices; letting the students disagree with one another and keeping conversations on track when needed. I am about to step out of this passive observer role with Lauryn—knowing that I am destined to get myself in trouble by doing so.

“What if I told you that I rank the show an eight on our scale Lauryn,” I say, as kindly as I can.

My ranking suggests that I feel the show is more based on fiction than on how things are in real life.

Lauryn does not need to defend her ranking of the show, Pras jumps in instead. “Mr. J,” he says, “Bullying is real. You can’t say the stuff that happens in this show isn’t happening in real life?”

“Bullying is real Pras, I agree with you on that,” I answer. “All you have to do is walk around one high school football game to see how crappy kids treat one another most of the time. But to make this show entertaining they bundle the worst of the worst and feed it to us like it’s normal.”

“No way!” Nel says loudly, in response to my statement. “This shit happens every day—at every school—all the time!”

I reply calmly to Nel, “Alright, give me an example,” I say.

At this, noise fills my screen as all of my students quickly jump at the opportunity to give me examples: to describe the cruelty that childhood seems to require these days.

One after another they tell me things that happened to their friends; things done to people they know; things they heard about on the news and on the internet; thing…after thing…after thing. As I listen, I can’t help but think that asking for examples was a dumb idea on my part. 

I know that kids have been treating other kids poorly forever, and I also know that we will always turn that behavior into good entertainment, but I refuse to accept that things can’t get better—in real life. Thinking this to myself, I continue to listen to them feed this hate until I can’t listen to it anymore.

“—How many of you have seen the show Cobra Kai on Netflix?” I interrupt their vent session to ask.

As I expected, everyone confirms they’ve seen it. It’s been number one on Netflix for a while now; my boys love it. 

Looking at my students, I ask a follow up question. “Are any of you as mean to each other as the kids in these shows are?” 

Blank faces look back at me on screen.

All of them eventually confirm that they are not this mean—they know better than to admit otherwise to a teacher.

I then ask if they’d be friends with someone that treated people so poorly.

We discuss this for a few minutes until we all come to an agreement: No, we would not like to be friends with someone so mean.

“So…” I say in conclusion, “if you’re not this mean, and you wouldn’t be friends with anyone that’s this mean, then where are all these mean people hiding in the real world?” 

Lauryn speaks for the group. “EVERYWHERE!” she says.

Lauryn says it so confidently that I lose track of what I want to say next. Part of me wants to lecture her: It’s entertainment Lauryn…How do you not recognize that!?!

Reflecting on my personal experiences—experiences I cannot easily explain to them—I look at my students and try to collect myself. People are not as evil…or entertaining…as we make them appear on screen or in books. Some might try to be, but they’ll usually let you and themselves down by doing so. Despite our strongest wishes, deepest desires, and most fabulous fantasies…life IS NOT a movie!

Thinking about all I’ve seen on this crazy journey of mine thus far, I speak to my students in a way that I hope might touch a piece of them beaten into submission long ago.

“I’m sorry Lauryn, but from what I’ve seen in my life, and what I see on this computer screen in front of me, I have to respectfully disagree with you.” 

Hearing the change in my tone, Lauryn doesn’t argue with me.

“Some people choose to see the ugliness in this world…the disarray” —Lauryn tries to say something but I cut her off— “It’s everywhere, I know. But I choose to see the beauty Lauryn. That’s everywhere too. It’s just not as easy to see sometimes…especially with a screen in our face all the time.” 

***Dear Reader, as your Guide I’ve done my best to leave you alone as Jose tells his story, but I must quickly interrupt here to say just one thing. Teachers, parents, and most decent adults often tell children things they do not always believe themselves. Yes, they lie. They do it hoping to encourage change in the children looking up to them. This may or may not have been one of those moments in Jose’s life. ***


Week 5: Friday, October 9th, 2020 

“The Bull”

“Did you know they put an elastic string around a bull’s balls to make it go crazy like that?”

When I was around eleven years old, my older cousin said this to me at one of our regular Sunday dinners while the family watched television. A bull riding competition was on.

To set the scene properly you must understand that this was before we could pause live television.

Over time, more and more family members joined my cousin and I around the couch. Was he right? Was there really an elastic string tied around this bull’s testicles?

Each time the bull started kicking its back legs we would jump to our feet and stare into the television to get a closer look; thinking we saw a string in that millisecond. For the record, I had strong feelings against animal cruelty as a young child, so I remember being upset thinking my cousin was right. That did not stop me from laughing, however. And it was not just the kids that were entertained by this either; aunts, uncles, parents, and even grandparents pondered the validity of my cousin’s statement. There would be no proof though unless one of us actually saw it though: You have to see to believe.

So, we watched, and we all laughed.

Everyone was so consumed by this that my grandmother forgot something on the stove that day and the entire house ended up smelling of burnt food. It’s one of my favorite memories of those Sunday Roasts we would have. 

I know this will sound cliché, but it was simpler times back then. Nowadays, any one of us would have jumped on our phones and Googled it. But I promise you it was a lot more fun the way things went down in my grandparent’s living room.

To this day I’m still not sure if my cousin was right or not. Though I’m rather certain one of you will find out the answer for me after we end class here today. Just remember to delete your browser history!

—But anyway…

All of us know first-hand how hard it is to kick an addiction. Or, how hard it is to stay emotionally stable in the midst of a life crises. OR—how hard it is to stay sane in a seemingly insane world. 

None of these things are easy to do. 

Life is hard. Life is long. Life can feel unsatisfying. Life can be overwhelming and boring at the same time. Life can feel meaningless.

I’m not here to tell you anything you didn’t know already. 

Some days we are sad. Some days we are angry. Some days we are annoyed, worried, anxious, stressed. Somedays we might be scared that this life will never get better for us: “Momma said there’d be days like this.”                

But some days we are happy. And that’s the goal—Right?

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news here but for many people living in this world, surviving another day is the goal, not happiness.

I wish this was not the case, but unfortunately there is too much evidence to support this statement. Tragedy strikes everywhere you look and life for the majority gets harder year after year. No wonder Hollywood has made a fortune making movies about a pending apocalypse. Certainly, some people must find hope in believing the end of days is near. 

Do not be mistaken, the pursuit of happiness is not something to be ashamed of. Just like many of you reading this, I think my well-being lies at the center of the Universe also. It is how the human brain is wired and there is nothing wrong with that. Something to do with self-preservation, I think.

Understanding happiness is complex endeavor. For all of history it has been studied and pondered over. I have yet to figure it out myself but bringing it up offers me the opportunity to remind you again that I do not have all the answers. I do, however, know this: We are all at our best when we feel like we have a purpose. 

Now, if that purpose is to be happy, then you should fight for it with everything you have. Just try and remember that for some people, survival is the goal, so give yourself a break today and be grateful for being alive—because trying to stay happy in this life is like riding a bull

Life will kick you around. Life will punish you. Life will test you. It will make you hold on while you wait for it to get tired and give up before you do. Unfortunately, the bull always wins, and we all eventually fall off. The real question is: Will you get back on?

My hope is that you will, because there is no way to Google what the future holds for us. Perhaps all the turmoil we are watching on our televisions today is simply one long commercial the Universe is playing for us before it releases the grand final act.

Which reminds me—Did you know that in some religions the word Apocalypse represents an awakening period for all humanity? This is quite different than what Hollywood has us thinking it means. Which version do you think will come to be? 

Regardless of what Lauryn tells me, only time will answer these questions, but whatever happens, it promises to be great show. So, gather your friends and sit up close—you won’t want to miss it!

By the way, I was never able to see that string tied around the bull’s testicles like my cousin said, but as an adult I have often felt like that bull; wondering whether or not I had a string down there myself. Only recently have I discovered the truth: That I am nothing like that bull. Instead: I am more like the string. Do you see it?

QUESTION FOR REFLECTION:

“We are all at our best when we feel like we have a purpose.” Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not.

The Teacher’s Playlist:

“I could take you for a ride.”

—Levitating (feat. DaBaby) by Dua Lipa

(Click here to continue your journey; Week 6: dIverge is next)

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