Category Archives: memories

This happens. This is something that happens.

I am watching Magnolia. It is my favorite movie. This probably says a lot about me; mostly about the fact that I can relate, all-too-well, to broken people, to people with flaws that run deep and don’t ever let them go, not completely.

I’m watching Magnolia today because Philip Seymour Hoffman died, and I wanted to see him in one of my favorite roles of his, in my favorite movie. I wanted to just have a minute to say my goodbye to someone whose work I respect a great deal, and whose death I’m taking maybe a little too hard because that’s a thing I do. I am talking to someone I love about how much this movie means to both of us, how much it affected us back in the days when we weren’t yet part of each other’s lives, and I am crying over this movie, and I am crying over this particular magic, this thing that brings people together at just the right time, in just the right place.

Magnolia has the recurring theme of coincidence, and connection, and how we’re all intertwined; how the smallest action can turn into the one thing that your entire life hinges on. I like this. This is the magic I hold onto in life. This is what I hang around for; those little moments where you can almost see the greater plan peeking through the velvet curtains at the edge of things.

The movie starts with some stories of coincidence, each one harder to believe than the last: a man killed in Greenberry Hill in London by men named Joseph Green, Stanley Berry and Daniel Hill; a scuba diver killed by a firefighting airplane flown by a man he’d coincidentally run into a few days prior; and a teenager attempting suicide by jumping off the roof of his building, only to have his mother accidentally shoot him as he falls past her window – and land in a net put up to save window-washers, so he wouldn’t have died, after all, had he not been shot.

After each of these stories, the narrator tells us “and I would like to think this was only a matter of chance.” Until the last story.

And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that this is not just “something that happened.” This cannot be “one of those things”… This, please, cannot be that. And for what I would like to say, I can’t. This was not just a matter of chance. Oh, these strange things happen all the time.

I’m going to tell you a story.

Once upon a time, I lived across the country. That iteration of Amy was not one I am proud of. I suppose you need to learn from your past, from your mistakes, to form the person you are today; if that’s the case, the mistakes I made, and troubles I dealt with, while living in the western part of the country, built a big old foundation upon which to position this life, the life I am proud of.

I worked at a theater there, for a while. I was one of the broken people, while there. I drifted. I was lost. I was doing what I could to survive. I was in and out of disastrous relationships and crushes on the least-likely candidates. I cried a lot. I was one of those thousand-yard-stare people you kind of see on the periphery.

I loved my time at the theater, though. It was brief – probably 8 months, all-told – but it seems longer, in my mind. I found family there. For someone as lost and alone as I was, this was huge. I had people, and I had a place to go, and I felt like I belonged. I was still broken, and I was still lost, but I had a tiny corner where things could be alright. (Theater’s saved me many times, and I have no doubt it will again – this is a good example of one of those times.)

But I screwed it up, as I did many things back then. Things got hard, and I got nervous, and I eventually shut myself off from everyone I loved there. I left and didn’t go back. I had reasons, which were varied (and kind of ridiculous, and even as screwed-up as I was, I knew they were ridiculous) but when the going gets tough, a lot of times, I just put up walls and make ‘em thick. No one gets in. I don’t go out. And I can pretend I made that choice! I don’t need anyone! But really what made the choice is the fact that I’m depressed and I’m freaking out and it’s easier to not have anyone in your life when that happens. People are just a complication, right?

I think I ended up saying goodbye to maybe two of the theater people when I left the state. I didn’t even think that might be hurtful. I just wanted out, and I wanted to get back to where I thought I could rebuild, and things might start to be ok.

And things were ok. More than ok, actually. I got my fresh start, both due to the change of scenery and a change in me. I didn’t want to be that person anymore. I wanted to be someone else – someone who didn’t hide, someone who had friends, someone who had more blue-sky days than black-cloud days. It’s amazing how far a change in attitude can take you. It wasn’t overnight – the person I was hung around longer than I care to admit – but eventually, I shed most of her off, I kept what worked, and I became the person I am now: flawed, sure, but happy. And happy begets happy. Happy draws IN happy. It’s something I never knew, and something I was so joyful to discover.

I compartmentalized who I used to be; I didn’t shut it off, because you can’t deny things that happened, but I didn’t let it color me, either. I’m friends with a few people from those days in the now; BFF is one of them, and Mer another. They’re my best takeaways from that time, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything. I’m peripherally friends with a few others on Facebook, but you know how Facebook is. You like a status here and there, but it’s what you put into it, and we’ve grown too far apart to mend those fences. I don’t know that we really care enough to, honestly.

Remember the dating site? Yeah, that’s going about as well as you might imagine, but that’s not the point of this story.

The dating site sends you a list of people it thinks are good matches for you. (Strangely, most of these people are what I would consider exactly the opposite of a “good match,” but that’s neither here nor there.) The other day, I was idly paging through them (an audio track of me doing this would be “no,” “ugh, OMG, no,” “where are your CLOTHES?”, and “Why does this site think I want to date a 62-old-man?”) and I saw a photo of someone that looked very familiar.

Now, I’d assumed at some point I’d run into someone I knew. It was kind of inevitable. It’s a big area, but not THAT big. I’m not going to DATE anyone I kn0w – if I wanted to date people I knew, would I be on the dating site to begin with? – but it wasn’t someone I knew from HERE.

It was someone I knew from the theater from all those years ago. J., who’d run the theater; who’d been the one who took me in to begin with, who gave me the family I was too closed off to accept as fully as I should have. I hadn’t seen J. in twelve years. We weren’t Facebook friends. We’d dropped off each other’s radar. Not out of spite or any sort of hard feelings; I liked J. I just lost touch with J., and then compartmentalizing that part of my life hadn’t led me to look up people from that time. Honestly? I didn’t know if they’d remember me. I’d been a bit of a ghost. At first, didn’t even believe it WAS J. – I did a Google seach first, to see if he really was in the area.

Because what are the odds, right? What are the odds that someone you were close to twelve years ago, all the way across the country, would show up in your list of people on a dating site you just joined?

But it was him. He was here, somehow. And after sending him what was probably the goofiest message ever (but, in my defense, he replied with an equally “ZOMG!” email) we met up for dinner the other night.

Dinner became over three hours of talking and catching up and laughing and utter amazement over the fact that it had been twelve years and here we were, and we both looked pretty much the same (few more gray hairs, maybe, but it wasn’t like we were unrecognizable to one another) and how was he here? And what had happened in the past twelve years? And we caught up over food and the time melted away and I remembered some of the good things from all that time ago; that everything wasn’t terrible, not all the time, and the good things I brought forward with me were the things that made my friendship with J. still work.

(And before you all get excited: no, this is not a love connection. I care about J. a great deal, but it’s never been THAT kind of relationship, and never will be. Solid friendship with nothing more behind it. Sorry to burst your bubble, all of you rooting for me to find love on the interwebz.)

I totally told J. "IT WOULD BE LIKE KISSING MY BROTHER" then I realized I probably had to say that was from a movie or it was just a really rude, or slightly incesty, thing to say.

I totally told J. “IT WOULD BE LIKE KISSING MY BROTHER” then I realized I probably had to say that was from a movie or it was just a really rude, or slightly incesty, thing to say.

J. is here working at one of the local colleges, rebooting their theater program. (Can’t think of anyone better to do it; he’s got this energy that just beams from him.) Things have been going well for him; he’s also had a good twelve years. He also realized he needed a fresh start and took his life in a different direction. And I have to admit, it was nice to tell him what I’d been up to; I didn’t have much to be proud of then, but now I can say things like “writing for the paper” and “traveling to Europe in the spring” and “published a book” and MEAN all of them.

And J. and I made plans to get together again, and soon; if the world hands you a coincidence like this, you don’t waste it. You grab that puppy with both damn hands. I can’t wait to introduce him to the theater scene; the first time we met, he took me in, and made the introductions, and I was just given the chance to return the favor.

And there is the account of the hanging of three men, and a scuba diver, and a suicide. There are stories of coincidence and chance, of intersections and strange things told, and which is which and who only knows? And we generally say, “Well, if that was in a movie, I wouldn’t believe it.” Someone’s so-and-so met someone else’s so-and-so and so on. And it is in the humble opinion of this narrator that strange things happen all the time. And so it goes, and so it goes. And the book says, “We may be through with the past, but the past ain’t through with us.”

If the past ain’t through with me, I’m cool with that. I take the magic of the world where it’s given. If the world wants to bring back an old friend when I’m finally at the point in my life when I can appreciate him? I’ll take that magic. With thanks. And tears. And wonder.

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What Have We Learned?

Once upon a time, upon reading one of my blog posts, the most excellent Elaine told me that someday, I should write a book called What Have We Learned? as I used to end a lot of my blog posts with that phrase; I’d write a post and at the end, write “what have we learned?” and sum it up with something sarcastic.

Now, let’s be honest: I often don’t have time to do LIFE things on a regular basis, like read, eat on time, or go out with friends I actually care about, so writing a book’s probably not going to happen anytime soon. I mean, someday, maybe when I’m, I don’t know, retired, or something, I’ll have time to sit down and put my thoughts down on paper…or maybe I’ll never get to retire, because apparently when I get to that age, Social Security will have disappeared and I’ll be one of those old women handing out salsa samples at the grocery store. You know those old women. The ones that have those pathetic “PLEASE LOVE ME!” smiles and listen, no one wants their salsa. NO ONE. I’m going to be one of the salsa ladies someday, ladies and gentleman; please be kind to old-lady-of-the-future-me as I attempt to foist unwanted salsa upon your personages.

PLEASE TAKE MY SAMPLES I AM SO ALONE!

PLEASE TAKE MY SAMPLES I AM SO ALONE!

But “what have we learned” is too good of an idea to go to waste. So when it came time to write a post about looking back on the year, I thought…what better than to think about what we have learned in 2013? Because I’m pretty sure we learned some things, didn’t we? 2013 was all about learning things. Whether we wanted to learn them or not, sometimes.

So, ladies and gentlemen and…well, it’s the internet, so kitties and such, too, I suppose, of the interwebs:

What have we learned in 2013?

Sometimes you need a little help.

Sometimes things get a little much. You can try to handle it alone; you can work really, really hard to fight genetics and upbringing and years and years of learned behavior but sometimes you can’t do it alone. There is no shame in getting pharmaceutical help when things get to be too much. You might think there is; our society has trained us to think there is. But you’ll realize, once you find medication that actually works, you’ve been walking around with about two hundred pounds of weight on your back you didn’t know was there, and once it’s gone, you can walk upright again. You can breathe again. You can laugh again; you can go out in public again; you can trust again; you can stand up for yourself again. The very things you were fighting against, that you considered weaknesses? They saved you. There’s nothing weak about needing a ladder to help you out of the pool in which you’re drowning.

You are only as good as the friends you keep.

And good heavens above, do I have some of the best. I have been so lucky in my life. I have somehow come across some of the world’s most amazing people, the kind of people you could only dream of being friends with – and can you even imagine? THEY WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH ME. Me! Dorky, goofy, constant-foot-in-her-mouth, over-the-top, ALL-CAPS, me! I don’t know, either. I’m not going to question it too much, because when you start questioning it too much, I think that’s when you wake up and it’s all been a dream, like in that episode of Buffy where she’s been in a mental institution the whole time? If I’m anything, if I make you laugh or cry or think or anything? Thank them. They make me the person I am today. They’re my scaffolding, you know? They’re my bones. They keep me upright.

Silver linings aren’t just in tacky 70s overcoats.

Just when you think things are at their worst, sometimes something magical happens and it’s like that rose growing out of the sidewalk. Surprise! Beauty where it doesn’t belong! I’ve spent the last year working the best full-time job I’ve ever had; not only do I love where I work, I love the people I work with, and I get paid enough that I can actually LIVE, and not just subsist. I fell into theater reviewing, and that’s been such a blessing; not only do I get to travel, I get to see amazing theater, and I get to write, and I get published, and I get paid for it. An entire year of expecting the other shoe to drop and for me to be back where I was last year, unemployed and desperate. It hasn’t happened yet. Kind of amazing, really.

Time spent alone doesn’t mean you’re lonely.

I stepped back from things this year; left the volunteer work at the theater, pulled back a little from the internet, cut back on the blogging. This gave me a little more time for myself. “What will you do with yourself?” people asked, as if I was going to wander around my place like a little lost ghost. What I did with myself? I read a lot. I watched movies and television. I spent time with friends, both virtually and real-life-ily. I watched a LOT of theater, most of it very good. (44 shows this year! Totally a personal record!) I spent time with the furriest roommate anyone’s ever been lucky enough to have. I wrote a lot of words, some published, some private. I…well, you guys. I enjoyed the hell out of my life.

Not all endings are the end.

Sometimes you come to the end of something, and your heart is broken. Sometimes, that is the end. I’m not going to say it’s not; endings happen all the time. But sometimes, just sometimes, the end isn’t the end at all. Sometimes it’s worth holding out hope; that childish little flame of hope that stubbornly refuses to go out. Not always. Not at all. But it’s that sometimes that gets you. It’s that sometimes that’s where the magic lives. I am so thankful for that magic.

Your comfort zone is a warm cocoon but get out of it, sometimes, dammit.

The times I’ve gone out on a limb this year and tried something scary and new, something that I was sure I’d hate? Almost every time, it’s been kind of amazing. It gave me a panic attack leading up to it, most of the time, but afterward…it led to me meeting people in real life that have become some of my best friends; it’s led to me saying things I was afraid to say that led to amazing things happening; it’s led to me going places I’d never have gone; it’s led to me being braver than I ever thought possible and making changes in my life that needed to be made in order to move forward from places I was miserably stuck. So sure, your comfort zone is warm, and safe…but that place right outside of it, or even WAY outside of it, sometimes, can be pretty damn fine, too.

Never underestimate the power of words.

Words have been around long before we were even dreamed of, and will last long after we’re gone and forgotten. Never, ever think they don’t mean anything. There are the words in books – the sweep and fall of poems, the truth and heartbreak of prose, the sharing of lives and ideas in nonfiction. There are almost an infinite combination of words, and when you find the ones that get inside you and hit the chords you’ve got so carefully placed in your heart and your mind, it’s a sort of magic, isn’t it? But it’s not just books (or magazines, or blogs, or, hell, status updates or Tweets); it’s the words you get from your friends, the conversations you have, the long emails you get just when you need them the most, the back-and-forth where you share the kind of things you’re not often comfortable sharing with people; those words are just as important as any other, and it’s a shame to underestimate those. They should be taken just as seriously as any other. Your words have the power to help and the power to hurt and the power to heal; your words have the power to lift people up just when they need it, and never think, with just your words, you can’t show people how much they mean to you, and how much you love them. You owe it to your words to give them the weight they deserve; with a combination of letters, you can move the world.

It’s never too late to start over.

I’ve had people re-enter my life this year that, for reasons varied (and some more foolish than others) had been absent. Some for quite some time. Starting over can be scary – but it can also be something very amazing. There’s nothing lost in trying again – and there’s sometimes more than you ever thought to be gained. Letting old grudges go is the lightest feeling you can imagine – and opening your heart is even better still.

All you need is love, love; love is all you need.

And that, ultimately, is what we’ve learned in 2013, isn’t it? There’s nothing that can be done without love behind it. The love of family, and friends, and yourself; the love of what you do, the love of life. If you put love out there, you will get love in return. Why bother putting out negativity when it’s just going to come back to you? Do you really need that in your life? More of that? There’s enough of that as it is. Love. And love, and then love a little more. Put love in everything you do. Put love in every interaction you have. And you’re going to be amazed at what you get back. I am surrounded by the best people in the world. Their love and support of me knows no bounds. And I hope I’m able to return that in the same manner they give it; I hope I live up to their standard, their very high standard, of friendship. They deserve that, all that and more.

Those are a lot of things to have learned, right? Important things. Good things. 2013 had a lot to teach me. I only hope I was able to learn my lessons as they were presented; that’s really all we can do when they come up, try to learn them as best we can.

Happy New Year, people of the blog. Thank you for reading, and for being here. May you shake off your 2013s and step into your 2014s with bright eyes and happy smiles and all the hope for the future; what else are new years for, other than starting over (and, most likely, learning a whole NEW set of lessons?)

May you be up to the challenges, whatever they are. I have all the faith in the world in you. Each and every one of you.


The worst thing ever: a retrospective

You know what’s not fun? Stomach flu. It’s not fun when you’re a child and it’s SURE as hell not fun when you’re an adult.

Today I went to work and I felt fine. About an hour later I thought, hmm, my stomach, it feels kind of icky, like an elevator with the cables cut. That’s a funny feeling. Wonder what’s up with that?

About two hours later, I realized, oh. OH. Huh. I think I’m dying, so I’m going to go home now. And I did. And I slept for FIVE STRAIGHT HOURS. And I was supposed to go to a show tonight but I decided that was a bad idea because although I felt better after ALL THE SLEEPING ZOMG, I wasn’t quite sure I wouldn’t feel like death again in the middle of the show. And the show’s half an hour from my house. And I kind of want to hang out on the couch tonight and loaf with a warm cat curled up to my leg.

Since I have work tomorrow I have to be better by then. There’s not really an option. Calling out sick tomorrow would throw off the whole schedule and make people very upset and I have this crazy work ethic, I don’t know. I might be a little nuts.

This started me thinking. I’m a generally healthy person. Well, other than long-range crap that I take medication for. Those aren’t things that are going to kill me, probably. At least for a very long time. But it’s the short-term things that really stand out in your mind, right? I was talking to someone who’d broken a bone yesterday and comparing war stories and thinking about the various discomfort-scales of things that have happened to me in the past.

Yes, shush, this is what I do for fun. Isn’t this what YOU do for fun?

FLU

I’ve only had the official flu once, I think. I’ve had colds more times than I can count – I mean, who hasn’t? – but when I had the flu last Christmas I pretty much wanted to die. It was two and a half full days of sleeping, one day of being up but WANTING to be sleeping, and then about two weeks of feeling like death after the main attraction was done. Needless to say, I’ll be getting my flu shot this year. At one point I tried to take a shower but couldn’t stand up long enough so kind of sat/squatted on the bathtub floor and dozed and cried a little until the water ran cold. I think if they want to torture people in Guantanamo they could just give them the flu. It’d be better than waterboarding, sincerely. WORST THING EVER RATING: 6/10

BROKEN ELBOW

I assure you there was nothing humerus about it.

I assure you there was nothing humerus about it.

When I was in college, I attempted to put glow-in-the-dark stars on my ceiling. To reach the ceiling, I stood on a chair I’d found on the porch. The reason, I found out later, that chair was on the porch was because it was broken. I didn’t find that out until it collaped under me. I smashed my hipbone and elbow on the floor. “Stupid clumsy me!” I said, and went about my day. Until about an hour later, when I passed out at the mattress store where my roommate was shopping for new bedding. A few hours spent in the ER told me that yes, stupid clumsy me had broken my elbow on the way down. And that is how glow-in-the-dark stars tried to kill me. The next six weeks saw me in a sling (which was SUPER-CLASSY) because they can’t cast a broken elbow, apparently, and I have a bad reaction to codeine and it makes me immediately fall asleep and drool all over and sometimes sleepwalk, so I couldn’t use that as much as I wanted, and there wasn’t a lot of sleeping for a couple weeks because I’d roll over on my arm and wake up saying “OMG OW OW OW!” Also people had to cut up my food for me because I only had one hand that worked. All in all, I do not recommend breaking limbs. It’s not good times. WORST THING EVER RATING: 8/10

KIDNEY STONES

TEN PERCENT! Dude, I don't envy any of you this at ALL.

TEN PERCENT! Dude, I don’t envy any of you this at ALL.

Just after grad school, one night after going out for a very nice dinner, I had a stomachache. I thought maybe I ate too much or something. Stomachache turned into SHARP KNIVES STABBING ME and the things that DIDN’T make me feel better were vomiting, a bath, weeping copiously, or screaming obscenities. AGAIN with the trip to the ER, and they hooked me up to a drip of some sort of painkiller and THAT was nice and then ran a bunch of tests and apparently I had kidney stones and the only thing to help with those is lots of ibuprofen and cranberry juice and you have to let them work through your system. I don’t even remember how long that took but I remember it was NOT FUN TIMES. Worst pain of my whole life. Sincerely. I’ve read that people compare kidney stones to childbirth; if that’s the case, and I ever have a kid, they’re going to have to knock me the hell OUT. WORST THING EVER RATING: 10/10

BRUISED TAILBONE

DON'T EVEN LAUGH. I wanted one of these SO BAD.

DON’T EVEN LAUGH. I wanted one of these SO BADLY.

I’m really terrible on ice. Just the worst. Really ungainly. So I walk like a careful penguin. One day when I first moved here I hit a patch of very tricky ice and down I went right on my caboose and I thought I was fine until I sat down in my car and I was like, huh, that’s a little ouchy. “A little ouchy” turned into “OMG WTF BBQ” over the next couple of weeks and apparently I’d bruised my damn TAILBONE when I fell so I was sitting down like an old person and I think I needed one of those circular pillows people get when they have butt surgery or something. OUCH. WORST THING EVER RATING: 4/10

BROKEN FOOT

I broke one of the...um...middle-purple-colored bones, I think.

I broke one of the…um…middle-purple-colored bones, I think.

In college, I may have had more to drink than was advisable. On a regular basis. One night, we decided to walk to Denny’s (which, in an intelligent marketing move, was right next to the campus – I must have eaten my weight in chain-restaurant diner food over my two years of living on campus, sincerely) and the grass was wet and I slipped. I didn’t FALL, I just SLIPPED. And I twisted my foot a little, and you know, whatever, I’d been drinking. But the next day my foot was all black and blue and it hurt to walk on and it got all swollen up and I’m not quite sure why, exactly, but I totally never went to the health center about it, and eventually it healed but I still have a bump in the middle of the top of my foot where the bone was broken and never healed right. (I have also broken each of my small toes at least once, if not more than once, over the years, because I tend to stub them on things. I’m not smooth, yo. Both of my little toes are hellaciously crooked.) WORST THING EVER RATING: 2/10

MONO

I DIDN'T EVEN GET IT FROM FIRST BASE DAMMIT. Sigh.

I DIDN’T EVEN GET IT FROM FIRST BASE DAMMIT. Sigh.

When I lived overseas for a semester in college, I was the lucky recipient of mono, which meant I spent pretty much a month or six weeks or so sleeping. I would get up (well, most days) and sleepwalk to class and go home and sleep. We only had classes Tuesdays-Thursdays, giving us 4-day weekends, so I would get in bed after my last class on Thursday and sleep, with brief getting-up times for bathroom breaks and maybe some toast, for FOUR STRAIGHT DAYS. I’ve never been so tired in my life. My roommates got worried about me and they’d be like, “are you OK?” when they’d see me awake and I’d mumble “mmrph toast sleep bed tired” and go back to sleep. It was a very long stretch of feeling like I was a zombie. I was not a fan. WORST THING EVER RATING: 7/10

CHICKEN POX

Why the HELL does this kid look so CHEERFUL? Sheesh.

Why the HELL does this kid look so CHEERFUL? Sheesh.

I caught chicken pox from my brother when I was much too old to have chicken pox. Third grade, I think. If you get it at that age, it hits you very hard, and you get lots of scars. So my mom would scream at me constantly “DON’T SCRAAAAATCH!” and I’d have to pretty much sit on my hands to stop myself because SO ITCHY. Chicken pox is not a fun illness. I actually was very lucky and I think I only have two scars from it, one on my forehead and one…well, nevermind where the other one is. BAD TOUCH BAD TOUCH.  What’s fun about chicken pox is it can come back as shingles when you’re a grownup, and I had that happen a few years ago. Good times, by which I mean the opposite of such. WORST THING EVER RATING: 3/10

So, in the battle of worst things ever, KIDNEY STONES WIN. I recommend you stay away from kidney stones. How? Hell, I don’t know, what do I look like, a medical professional?

I’m going back to bed now because STOMACH FLU. I have the best furry nurse. He is quite sure he will purr me healthy. I’m not convinced he can’t. He’s a very good purrer. He’d win in the purring Olympics, for sure.


The leader of the children of the damned

Through most of my teen years, I was a fairly quiet, bullied kid.

Except for the time I bullied someone myself.

And, because I have always been a go-big-or-go-home person, I didn’t choose a kid to bully. Oh, no, not me.

I chose a TEACHER.

Mr. P was fresh out of teachers’ college when he showed up in our seventh grade classroom. He looked like a J. Crew model. He was all preppy cashmere sweaters and perfectly blowdried blonde hair and way too many very-white teeth. He laughed heartily. He had pink cheeks and sparkly eyes.

Immediately, my class decided they must destroy him.

Why we came to this decision, I’m not sure. We were a small school in a farm town. Did he represent the other, and we feared that? Was he too gung-ho? Was he trying too hard? Was he just TOO DAMN BLONDE?

I’m not sure why the rest of the class didn’t like him, but my dislike of him was twofold.

First, historically, teachers had been my only safe place. Especially English teachers. They praised my writing and they called on me when no one else would answer their questions because they knew I’d done the reading (hell, I’d probably finished the book on the first day) and they were kind when the kids weren’t.

Mr. P. wasn’t. For whatever reason, he had no time to be kind to the quiet, bullied kid. He graded me more harshly than I thought I deserved (whether or not I was right, I’m not sure – I was twelve, what the hell did I know) and snapped at me quite often in class. He also forced me to participate in things that other teachers would let slide – things where I had to talk in front of the class. Which was my biggest fear. And when I asked him, as I always did, if there was a way I could get around such a thing, he SNEERED at me.

This didn’t fly with the shy, but snotty about her intelligence, kid that I was.

The second reason was a lot more selfish.

All of the other kids were doing it. Dammit, I wanted to be cool. I wanted to be cool SO BADLY. Even though I knew, on some level, I never would be, this seemed like a way to be cool.

It was hard to be cool when you were the school's Napoleon Dynamite, yo.

It was hard to be cool when you were the school’s Napoleon Dynamite, yo.

So I led the class in a campaign of terror against Mr. P.

See, I was quiet, and I was shy…but I was smart as hell. And I read. A lot. I had ideas about how to be cruel to people that the other kids hadn’t even THOUGHT of. (Mostly because they’d taught them to me by being cruel to me all those years.)

Things we did to Mr. P. over the two years we tormented him, that I can remember:

  • all brought apples back from lunch and, one at a time, loudly rolled them up the aisles at his desk when his back was turned and pretended we didn’t know where they came from
  • he brought in an “heirloom mug” to teach us the meaning of the word heirloom (I’m pretty sure seventh graders don’t need an object lesson for such a thing) and one of my classmates broke it (this was NOT on me, I’d just like to make that clear, but I did laugh along with everyone else)
  • we refused to answer any questions in class, raise our hands, etc., until he instituted “participation points” and we were FORCED to, but then we’d answer briefly and in snotty tones
  • we had a class spelling bee, and he was SO EXCITED, and I knew I could win, but just didn’t give a shit, so when it was down to me and another kid I refused to continue spelling and he was all “BUT THE PRIZE IS A CANDY BAR!” all sad-eyed and I laughed like he’d offered me a mudpie and said “you can’t do better than that?” and sat down
  • and, our coup de grace, another student and I took the musical thingy out of a musical birthday card and hid it under his desk, so there was this tinny “happy birthday” music playing all day, and he was all “WHAT IS THAT MUSIC” and everyone pretended they couldn’t hear it and we walked past on a free period and saw that he’d torn all the drawers out of his desk and was sitting in his chair and he was CRYING.

After that, it wasn’t as much fun anymore. I mean, seriously, we made this guy CRY. We BROKE an ADULT.

The worst part, though (I KNOW, there’s a WORSE THING) was that he’d started a junior-high drama club. He actually got me into acting. I should be thanking the poor guy for this, you know? So in seventh grade, we did Heidi. I was Heidi’s bitchy aunt. I sprained my ankle so badly the day before the show I couldn’t perform and my understudy had to go on for me and I was HEARTBROKEN.

In eighth grade, we did The Diary of Anne Frank (I know, this guy was really optimistic about our talent – well, until we got through with him) and I was Anne’s mother. (Yes, I always got cast in the parent roles, or the bitchy roles. I apparently have always looked old and always read bitchy.) In news of ZOMG, my crush was in the play, too (but I didn’t know at the time he was only in the show because HIS crush was playing his wife. Sigh.) At this point, we had bullied Mr. P. to a point of constant nerves. He was no longer cashmere sweaters and perfect hair; he was more often greasy and sweaty, he’d grown a weird, patchy beard, and he had this constant thousand-yard stare.

I’m not sure what, exactly, happened, the night he had the nervous breakdown. We were acting jerky, I’m sure…but keep in mind we were 13- and 14-year-olds. That’s how those kids act, usually. They’re bundles of hormones and jackassery.

I just remember him screaming “THIS PLAY IS CANCELLED!” and it was an hour before the afterschool bus was coming, and he stormed out of the auditorium, and we kind of whispered and then crept out into the lobby to use the pay phone to call our parents to see if they could pick us up early and he was sitting in the lobby, looking furiously through a phone book and rocking.

“What are you doing, Mr. P.?” one of the kids asked him.

“I AM LOOKING FOR BICYCLE STORES,” he said. “I’m going to RIDE a BIKE across the COUNTRY and eat nothing but BEANS for the rest of my LIFE.”

The kids we were thought this was HYSTERICAL. The woman I am now is HORRIFIED. (Seriously, though, we were kids. The word “beans” made us think of “farts” and “farts” was SO FUNNY. Come on, it still kind of is.)

This was near the end of the school year. He did finish out the school year, but the play didn’t happen, and he didn’t come back the following year (his tormentors – us – had moved onto high school at that point, so he’d have probably been safe, but I can’t blame him that he wanted nothing more to do with my school.)

I seriously think back on this time and cringe.

I was TERRIBLE. I wasn’t the only one – we were all little sharks who had scented blood – but a lot of these things wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t said “hey, why don’t we try…” because THOSE KIDS WOULD NOT HAVE THOUGHT OF THEM. I had no empathy for this poor man, who was new in town, new to his job, and probably trying really hard. And who knows why he was (what I perceived to be) dickish to me? Maybe he was trying to get me to work harder; maybe he wanted me to be able to talk in front of people, and thought this was the best way to go about it. Who knows.

I know. I was twelve, and I was a lonely bullied kid. I did a lot of things that were, in retrospect, not good choices. (I also made some brave choices, but the bad ones probably equaled those out.) But this poor guy, sincerely. And he talked me into acting! Which changed the whole course of my life! And my actions (well, mine and others, but I totally egged those other kids on) MADE THE MAN QUIT TEACHING!

I still feel terrible about this. I’ve totally tried to find him on Facebook and on Google and I cannot. I sadly imagine he is still riding solo across the country on his bike, subsisting on nothing but legumes, like a Forrest Gump without a Jenny to come home to. He’s probably about 50 now. Still pedaling. Trying to escape the mean kids and the tinkling “happy birthday” that won’t leave him alone and just…won’t…stop.

Mr. P., it’s too late, and it won’t fix anything now, but I am very, very sorry for the time I decided the best way to deal with an adult was to bully him into a nervous breakdown and to make him quit his job. As an adult now, I know how mean children can be, and I sincerely cringe at that child I used to be. You have no reason to forgive me (and I am quite sure you’re probably never going to read this – what are the odds, right?) but I do hope you’re well, and you found your happiness somewhere, and you were able to forget about those two terrible years in the late 80s when the children of the damned of upstate New York used you as a punching bag.

(I promise I’m doing penance for this on the regular, now. I’m nice to old people AND animals AND children and one time I found a lost kid in the Target and totally brought him up to the customer service desk so he wasn’t stolen by a pervert and his dad tried to give me money and cried. I REALLY AM TRYING TO MAKE UP FOR MY PAST TRANSGRESSIONS.)


On that singular day

I saw Greg Louganis dive in St. Louis
in 1984. Oh, the way he folded and
unfolded in the air. We all gasped
when he split the surface and disappeared.
But he rose up in a shimmering swath
of bubbles, unbounded joy.

Seventeen years later, a man steps out
through the lattice of a skyscraper and
folds himself into a breathtaking pike.
An anonymous diver, abandoning his
day job. Maybe you’ve seen the
photograph? A single body falling, white
oxford full and fluttering, like a peony,
blowsy, on that singular day.

–”The Diver,” Christine Hartzler

Today I am in my late twenties again.

Today I am waking up early in my town in the American southwest to the sound of people shouting on my apartment complex balcony. It is a day I can sleep in. I am working the late shift. I am not pleased to wake up to people shouting this early in the morning. I go out on the balcony and glare at them. They don’t seem to notice. Or care. Even though I’m in my pajamas and my hair is quite fearsome.

Today I am realizing there’s no point in going back to sleep and I might as well run some errands since I have the morning free.

Today I get ready without turning on the television or the radio.

Today I run errands while listening to a tape I have in the car. It’s a Hole kind of day. Courtney Love screams me around town.

Today I still don’t turn on the radio.

Today I get to my old job to help out a little since I’m up early. It is a thing I do, sometimes.

Today I walk in the door and there are people in a tangled knot around the small television in the lobby. The sound is low. No one’s at the front desk.

Today I ask one of my old coworkers what was going on.

Today she turns to me and says, “Two planes flew into the World Trade Center” and her eyes are holes in her face.

Today I ask her, “An accident? There was an accident?”

Today she says, “No. No, Amy, I don’t think so. I think it was on purpose.”

Today I stand in a crowd of people, strangers and friends alike, and we are all as one. Today we watch the television in the lobby and it grows to the size of a movie screen. Today we watch the towers fall. Today we watch news reports come in about the Pentagon. Today we watch news reports come in about a field in Pennsylvania.

Today our hands are over our eyes and our mouths. Today we are sobbing but not making a sound. Today we are praying. Today we are smelling autumn coming in through the propped-open doors of the lobby and we are running through the list of people we know in New York City and we are wondering if they also smelled this autumn morning and we are thinking, were they there? Oh, please, oh, no, oh, God, were they there?

Today I go broken and empty to my afternoon shift at work. My coworker is from Pennsylvania. I am from New York. We are barely holding it together. We are inches from screaming. We are being held together with fraying rubber bands and sheer adrenaline.

Today our boss decides we are not paying enough attention to our job and makes us turn off the television that presides with its cold unfeeling stare over the lobby.

Today we take turns shaking and vomiting and weeping in the bathroom where the clients and our boss can’t see us.

Today I get home from work and turn on the television and watch the ticker of the dead crawl along the bottom of the screen. The channel I’m watching tells the ages of those on the planes. One of the dead is just a baby. I’m having trouble breathing. Functioning. I’m watching the towers fall on endless repeat. I’m watching men leap from windows with a sort of corrupted grace. I am watching survivors painted gray with ashes stream over and over from the city I love so much. I am shaking. I am curled upon myself like a lost child. I am trying to count the dead in the ticker and I keep losing count and it seems very important, somehow, that I know how many of them there were. That each of them are counted. That each of them get given a name; that each of them get given their due.

Today, when my next-door-neighbor comes home, she asks me how I am.

Today, I tell her, “I don’t want to live in this world right now. The good got lost today.”

Today I live all of this all over again. Today and next year and the year after that; every today, I am the person I was on that day.

Today the towers fall, and they fall, and they fall; every today they fall.


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