I’m not familiar with decent human interactions, nor how they’re supposed to work in order to be deemed “normal”.
Maybe I’m impolite, rude, ignorant, or simply too tired to care anymore. However you want to look at it, I’m not interested in making a good impression whatsoever, so i might as well be straightforward and admit i have no idea what I’ve been clearly struggling to say for the past sentence or two.
I’m not making a scene or merely attempting to fill in some blank space, I’m just trying to get some things off my chest and i figured, old and careless as i am, the best way to do so would be by writing it down.
How do you begin to describe what’s been driving you nuts for decades? And how do you make it stop?
After so much introspection and self-analysis to make the greatest shrinks in the world blush, i decided that maybe the only way out of this internal mess would be by putting all the pieces together; a good walk down memory lane, i guess.
we go together or we don’t go down at all
As i begin pacing around my room losing myself staring out the window hoping to recollect my past, i realize my memory isn’t exactly what it used to be.
I am in my late fifties after all.
Good thing I’ve retired a while ago; i would’ve hated my students to see me like this.
Oh yeah, my students. Guess it’s time to mention i was a teacher pretty much my whole life. English, American literature, Anthropology, history; the boring stuff.
You can bet your asses i was a fun one, though; at least for my standards. I remember the shock and embarrassment on their faces every time I’d walk through the door. No matter what country I’ve taught in or what kind of school, they’d all react the same way.
“Alright alright alright!! People! Stand up right now, put your hands in the air and wave ’em ’round like you just don’t care! Damn it’s hot in here! Has nobody opened the windows all day?!” By then they’d already begun questioning their choice of class. But hell, my forte was having them stretch and do yoga breathing exercises for a few minutes before shouting really loud to get their attention. “Yep, you can sit down now. And nobody say a word unless it’s something cool or funny or I’m playing acoustic Avril Lavigne for the next hour, got it?“, I’d say with the biggest idiotic smile on my face. Safe to say you either loved me or hated me. And i wanted it that way.
I loved my job despite falling into it by accident.
I was born in Wauwatosa, Milwaukee. My mother was a nurse and my father an asshole. I grew up as the man of the house taking care of my younger sister while my mother worked twice as much to provide for us. Not the best of times, for a long time.
I still managed to graduate and fail completely in helping my sis stay out of trouble. I became an uncle way too soon for her own good, and before i knew it i was faced with the toughest decision of my life too: stay in the old freezing dairy-land or move somewhere else to get further education. Learning was always a good experience for me. I never skipped class even though i wasn’t exactly the profs’ favorite. Stuffing my head with great new knowledge every day made me somewhat happy but i always had a tendency to daydream, which didn’t sit well with them. All in all i was a content kid who loved to eat, read and smoke illegal stuff all day. Honestly i believe it was the drive of passion that got me so far with my career, both scholastic and, subsequently, professional. Lucky probably.
However, long story short, i managed to move to Boston and attend university almost right after i graduated, and lord knows i was the life of the party there. I didn’t even need to go out or meet with anyone, all i had to do was show up and everyone would laugh. Not so sure if it was my Smurfs tie or my Milhouse style pants, or maybe my Simon Lebon inspired haircut that made it, but yeah i brought joy. Meh.
Okay well, in between a Sex Pistols song and a faded day off, i ended up getting accustomed to standing up in the middle of class asking..no bombarding-almost draining- the teacher questions about any given subject more and more. Somehow i noticed how oddly strong and dare i say powerful, confident, the good kind not the cocky one, i felt while i digressed ranting over and over often shadowing the poor thing trying to do his job there. And my fellow mates seemed to carry it out with me just fine.
As months went by, i thought i could give it a shot. I mean, i had nothing to lose.
I’m not gonna sit here and describe in detail what went down afterwards. You can imagine for yourself.
Being the nut head i am, i got bored soon. The job itself was nice, but i discovered pretty easily how the American educational system just wasn’t for me. Or maybe i wasn’t fit for it. Whatever it was, i ended up moving to Spain. Guess i wasn’t that bad doing the whole teaching thing.
But then, after two whirlwind years there, the most traumatic thing happened. No no, not what you’d expect.
“You look so freaky. You’re a walking cartoon. Kind of like Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Cool” - it was the coldest emotionless yet sexiest voice i had ever heard in my life. And she spoke English, American English, which was a good change after so much smooth caliente talk. I still missed ’Murrica, i suppose.
I turned around to see a tall weird looking blonde woman staring at me from a hot dog stand.
“Oh please, don’t pretend to be hurt. You know you only dress like that to be noticed. It worked.”
“I’m not hurt, i don’t mind the comparison. Plus it kind of makes an impression when said by a bond girl”
“Good to see it came through. Hot dog?”
“American, English, Mexican, Turkish. I love this stand, it has any sort you crave. Or don’t and you’re simply desperate”
“Sounds nice indeed, but i meant you”
“You know it. You look...quite Finnish, or Norse, or Swedish. You know, from the north. Capital N”
“What the hell? Just ’cause I’m blonde?”
“No! it’s the glasses, i guess”
“You’re not making any sense. Nope. American. Wisconsin”
“Oh boy. I’m from Washington D.C. Technically not really American. I was just messing with you by the way. You turned red. I mean ALL. Your whole face...are you okay?”
She had some kind of boyish attitude to her. You could tell she was in control but i wasn’t so sure whether she was being serious or sarcastic most of the time. That was enough to catch my attention. We scarfed down a couple of ’dogs each and talked about absolutely nothing for over an hour until i got sick. Those things weren’t really the best cuisine. We parted and it was only days later that i realized i had been thinking about her non stop without even knowing her name.
I never saw her again, and as my frequent thoughts about Bond girl faded in the background, so did my love for Spain. Well, i never really liked it that much anyway. But i loved the idea of being able to say i had lived there for a while. I wanted to leave but didn’t know where to go, so i pondered smartly my next move like every mature young man would do. How so? I closed my eyes and pointed my finger on a random spot of a map.
Still not happy at all. But i had confided in chance till then, why stop?
I hadn’t made any friends. Ever. And that didn’t change in the land of croissants, or in that of poppies, or that of sauerkraut and beer.
No human connection whatsoever. Nothing worth mentioning, just work and sleep. Maybe that’s why i never stuck to one country for more than three years.
By then my contacts with mom and Sheila had gotten more and more rare, and as i sat in an half empty Bad Kissingen Airport i began to wonder if i really wanted that to be my life forever.
let your dirty sadness fill me up just like a balloon
It sounded familiar, but wasn’t my name so i let it go.
“At least you fixed your hair”
She looked remarkably different from the last time I’d seen her. Something was missing but i couldn’t pin-point what it was. Her voice was still the same though. Still able to send chills down your spine. And yes, i myself can’t believe I’m saying this.
“Duder. I wear way too much black and my booby game’s a tad weak to be one. Appreciate it though”
I reckoned her sarcasm was still intact too. Good. Not sure how to respond to that physical assertion i walked over to her instead.
“Well. How about your name then? I’m Jim” - i said offering my hand.
“Is it short for something or...? I’m Judith”
“No,it’s a simple three word name. Yours on the other hand, quite high sounding”
“Not sure if it’s a compliment. I like yours. Short and effective. Straight to the point” - she kept nodding while showing no other kind of emotion. Me on the other hand i felt like i was going to have a stroke or something.
“Uhm. Why are you turning into a tomato? You’re really a cartoon then!” - must’ve showed.
“In a way i guess. It’s nothing, happens all the time” - i lied.
“Where are you headed anyways?”
“I’m going back home to my sister’s for the holidays. You too?”
“Not really. I’m going to Italy for work, It’s going to be a while”
The speakers separated us before we could take the conversation to a more personal level. A shame.
Maybe i would see her again.
For how bad my memory has gotten over the years, I’ll never forget those moments, those words, those glares. I guess it doesn’t take much to remain stored in someone’s deep spiritual casket. I feel strangely reassured by that.
Honestly i don’t even know why I’ve gone to recall all that. I never meant this to be an autobiography or some chain of events depicting the story of my life, which i believe is the same. One thing is to put the pieces together, another is to revisit them like a bad movie.
I’m so confused. It’s chaos.
“Dad! Oh dad. This room still feels weird”
My baby girl. My joy, my pride. Just like her mother.
“Sweetie don’t come in here. You know it’s no good”
My, how time has passed.
It’s getting dark but my brain is more awake than ever. It always worked better when the lights were low. My gift and curse. As i try to make sense of my messy existence my eyes fall on a box stashed away in a corner. I thought i had gotten rid of them; she probably didn’t want to.
Ah memories. Nothing but memories. I forgot how many pictures i had taken over the years. I’ve seen so many places and seen so many faces...wait. This isn’t some cheesy song! Still true though. Every new face i came across i had to render immortal, even if i had no idea to whom it belonged; especially then. I always thought there is no such thing as a stranger. Every single person we stumble upon, even just for a second, every eye contact or lack of such, are all part of our special luggage we carry to our grave. They all make us feel something on the very moment, aware of it or not. Beautiful.
i walk alone, think of home. memories of long ago
Piles and piles of polaroids and modern pics that cover the last thirty or so years of my life. From mom and Sheila crying the day we said goodbye, to the kids’ birthday parties. Man i must’ve been obnoxious with those cameras always in hand! Worth it.
Browse, browse...There you go! Another small box within the main box. A special one dedicated solely to all the classes I’ve taught around the world. I’ve gotta say i always dressed like an idiot. Can’t help but laugh at it. I wonder what they ever really thought of me. Like i said, you either loved me or hated me, and i know the majority of the principals definitely did the latter. With all their guts.
“I’m sorry Farrelly, but this is it. You’ve really reached the limit. Getting drunk with the kids during field trip? Really?! Wandering around Barcelona, high on god knows what, partying together?! How in the world did you come up with that thinking it’d be okay?! Not to mention this is only the latest of many! The ones I’ve let pass already!!!! It’s up to you: either you leave on your own or I’ll be the one kicking you out!”
Yeah well, this Italian creep-o said that i had reached the limit but man, the stuff that i had been storing away for the last 2/3 years before i left were off the hook. I think the only reason i stayed was because i didn’t want to abandon a class i really wanted to see graduate. It took all my patience to make it. Those guys really wanted me to stick around and i i wanted to watch them release themselves from that hell just as much.
Up until then i thought school was an absolute gift to society, a safe haven where children could meet, excited about learning and figuring out the world at the same time. As the years went by i was only let down. No matter where i went, i always managed to find some rotten apple in the educational tree. And it was never a student. Whether it be a teacher or a principal or, even worse, a financial supporter, i found myself emptied of all that enthusiasm that drove me around the world spreading my charisma in the first place.
Here it is. The picture i hold so dear. Vezzagli 2010; graduation year. I still remember the last time we all gathered in the school yard discussing everyone’s plans for the future. I was so proud of them for making it that far with their results and mental sanity still intact. I remember taking them to the AV lab every chance that i got during the final months to wind down a bit, watching movies and cartoons; the stress was very much visible. It also gave me the opportunity to breathe them in one last time before we parted ways forever. It may sound creepy or inappropriate but i seriously cared for those people. Nineteen girls and one boy from start to finish that stood out from every other group since day one. Fun yet mature, smart yet humble, respectful yet not submissive; a true source of inspiration.
I couldn’t bring myself up to attend the final exams. I wanted to remember them like that day in the yard, nervous and smiling happily.
No other group had an impact of such proportions. I had fun in Boston, drew in a lot in Seville, ate awesome food in Marseille and had the time of my life in Bremen. I’m not forgetting about all the other cities I’ve been to, it’s just that they haven’t really enriched me quite the same.
“Dad, dinner’s ready if you want to join us”
Jacob, my buddy, my soul, my son.
“Of course. Give me just a minute and I’ll be there”
Almost two years after i quit my job, i decided i was bored again and unwillingly put my marriage on the line by wanting to take my soul search to the next level. The first step was checking on the last class i took to graduation as somehow i couldn’t keep them off my mind. Lord knows why.
Well, perhaps i figured i could only start a new beginning by closing the previous chapter; and they were the last page.
It didn’t seem a complicated task at first; i got a hold of the facts in a day, although what i discovered left me dumbfounded: the only man of the clan ended up selling fish at an open market in his home town; the two “alternative” girls who wanted to change the world through anarchic revolutions became travelers and nobody ever heard from them again; the loner got married; three girls became psychologists; one an OBGYN; and the remaining either continued studying falling behind or disappeared without a trace. The once tight gang had dismembered completely and their ambitions went totally down the drain. I didn’t know whether i was disappointed or simply sad. After all i wasn’t even sure why it mattered so much.
I was about to give up and go back to my life when i realized i forgot to check on the girl everyone used to always forget about; ironic. The mysterious shy one who kept to herself under all circumstances and who, i knew, was going places. She was one of the best and I imagined she’d end up teaching too or become some kind of diplomatic translator. I even suggested she’d open an ice cream parlor in London, as long as she got out of that town. She deserved it. I always liked that girl; raw, genuine, intuitive, with a great giving heart. We grew closer over the years as i stood by her side during tough times when no one was willing to be her friend, while she stood by mine when it became me against the world. Again, it may sound awfully not right. I guarantee you, by the time the five years were over, i thought we had been father and daughter in some previous life. Or at least uncle and niece. You know, some nice connection.
I think it can all be summed up into a quarrel we had during the last Christmas period together. I had created this sort of tradition where I’d bring in everything necessary for all the afternoon classes to bake some themed sweets and mandatory waffles. She never joined in. Never. And it wasn’t just an i’m-not-in-the-mood kind of thing, it was more of an i-hate-all-of-you-deeply kind of situation. She would’ve snatched my knife and slaughtered us did she have the chance to. After hours of her sitting alone in a corner mumbling stuff to herself death staring everyone who even dared to look at her, i decided to approach her, furious.
“Ok, why don’t you just go home now?!”
“What do you mean you can’t. You clearly don’t want to be here right now. GO!”
“You can’t stay here and ruin the Christmas spirit for everyone. And for no reason too!”
“I can’t just up and leave, man!”
“Well then you better stop with the attitude pronto!”
The religion teacher stepped in trying to understand what was going on. After a while Verena walked to my desk and casually apologized.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that i have really bad pms right now and a killer headache”
“Oh man, i know what you’re talking about. Wait not in first person. I mean my sister; she had really bad cases of it too so i have a bit of an idea” - i knew she was tip-toeing around the real matter.
“You don’t like Christmas, do you?”
“It’s beginning to snow”
“Yeah they said it would”
“I don’t like people. Christmas’ fine”
“Today’s not very different from any other day except we don’t normally bake. This is the first time in 5 years I’ve seen you this pissed off, though. Nobody did anything to you.”
“This is what you think. I can’t take it anymore. The next six months can’t go by fast enough. I’m sick of pretending to like these fools and I’m even more sick to pretend i give a damn about anything anyone, including the teachers, say for the pure sake of honoring my grades”
A lot of people had gathered around us, not because they cared about her feelings or my concern, but because us speaking a different language meant something was up. Over the years, neither me nor the other tutors had to teach her anything. She was so passionate she did it all herself. She’d often finish the tests early, so I’d offer to relocate to the hallway to chat a little or watch some videos on youtube and she’d gladly accept. The others weren’t exactly pleased with this. The truth is she had this overwhelming sadness radiating from her eyes that people would dismiss as being tired and a bit stressed out from studying but it seemed to me there was more. I felt the moral obligation - for lack of a better word- to do something. School should offer comfort and relief too, or so i believed.
“You’ll pull through and be free before you know it” - she gave me a faint grin.
Bottom line is i had no idea what kind of damage had already been made.
SHIT! I forgot!
“SORRY!!! I’ll be right there!”
Twins. Twice the child, twice the noise, twice the impatience, twice the everything!
I might’ve made what looked like a mistake at the time, throwing my life away like that and what not but, in retrospect, things would be very different now if i didn’t. I wouldn’t be cherishing all the great adventures i had, i wouldn’t be enjoying a warm spring day in Baltimore and hell, i most likely wouldn’t even be having dinner with my children.
It seems like the heavens, or whomever on behalf, wanted to be the ones teaching me something for a change, showing me life was something else than what I’d grown accustomed to. When the sky decides you’ve been doing it all wrong, rest assured you’ll pay for it.
Let me walk you through the most headstrong subconsciously guided events that have impacted me greatly, and allow me to do it through the eyes of the person, right after my Wife, who’s changed my life forever.