Silence

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Sometimes, being silent is virtuous. It’s easy, especially when you’ve been wronged. Ignoring rather than engaging, casting aside rather than letting it infect you. Sometimes, it’s better to wait. Waiting for people to realize exactly what went wrong, when it went wrong, why it went wrong. To engage directly with their faults and misbehaviors. To think things over, to reflect and make right. A conscious choice to let go and ignore and wait. Empty platitudes and niceties have never been enough to convince you in the past; why should they change your mind now?

Here’s the thing: no one is permanent. And unless things change, soon, I’m fine with how things have been. The ball’s not in my court.

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Internship

Friday, 7:30 AM. Your eyes wear a familiar, teenage alertness during these morning and afternoon hours. Like the teenagers whose longing matches yours, you await the powerful, restful silence that only home can bring. Like them, you too feel lost, unfocused, discouraged.

But Block A drags. Your usual time-wasting activities worsen the lull. You feel a sense of vertigo from following a moving object, the minute hand on the classroom clock, too closely. Time is not on your side. It tempts your constant attention. With dazed impatience, you imagine the vertigo grabbing you by the forehead and shaking to and fro until your brain’s fleshy goo spews from your ears and eyes and mouth, forming a slow-crawling desk puddle. Perhaps then the whole school will see it, and then nothing embarrassing or scarring would be worth hiding any more. Maybe, after an extended time poking around at your cerebral spinal fluid, the students and faculty will finally see you have the same insides they do. If only they knew how closely they match. They would bask in each other’s true, raw selves, no superficiality or strings attached.

You wait until the bell rings before leaving Block A. Can’t set a bad example.

While walking to your next class, you view the bright and brilliant sun, and then feel anxious about your clothing. It’s hard not to notice from peripheral vision that the eye in the sky faces you, in every room in the building, even the air-conditioned cafeterias, where your warm-weather outfit feels dangerously uncomfortable. Sweat drips from your eyes to your socks. You wonder if this is judgment day and, in this moment of finality, you are the one being judged. You debate whether you would prefer a cold or warm apocalypse.

When it is time to leave again, you wonder whether to temporarily remove every dark-colored item of clothing from your closet, and stuff them under the bed until winter. Walking down the pavement to and from school, the long stretches of sidewalks and parking lots, your feet grow perfectly circular sores, leaving a dime-sized, vacant space in your socks.

You wonder if you have enough light-colored clothing and socks to last these two remaining weeks. You wonder if the students will notice if you wear the same light-green dress shirt twice in five days, because it fits well and you don’t want to squeeze into another painful costume. But you know they will. How judgemental attitudes are often communicated, but not spoken. Harmless giggles, lips squeezed flat and pulled inward, eyes like arrows piercing flesh. In December, when your trusty brown corduroys no longer fit neatly below your waist. You remember that you aren’t being paid for this. You can’t afford another shirt. You see the flattened lips again.

Remembering what forty inches of snow felt like. How snow day enthusiasm kept you all alive and connected, for a few months. The anxious period before receiving a WTNH text alert: school is closed, delayed, nothing. When it’s 6 AM, you imagine students, staff, admins, parents all waiting at their phones, curling their bodies further into themselves the longer the town waits to announce school status, until there is nothing left for them to curl into. How, on an early February morning, the snow drilled the mailbox into the cement, waking you before your alarm, and yet they waited to close school. You remember sharing your story with colleagues. They applauded you for speaking for the first time.

Remembering this time of inter-personal growth. How the department office dialogue drifts increasingly towards college and injustice and middle-aged angst, even in the heat.

“When I die, throw me in the dumpster by the auditorium. I’m sure it gets cleaned better than my classroom.”

“Dave Grohl is hosting Saturday Night Live this week!”

“Can hardly believe Oliver got into Harvard!”

“I wish Gus would open the cafeteria in the morning.”

“Do you want to join our department’s PowerBall ticket pool?”

After fifty dollars spent in the pool, your return is five. You wonder if your social anxiety is worth spending fifty dollars just to have a regular, shared conversation topic with your department colleagues. You allow it one more run, because the PowerBall is taking a break soon and you can make it through this last pool. You wonder if the price of your self-destructive, social anxiety is worth wearing the light-green dress shirt again.

You rehearse conversation lines in the mirror while brushing your hair. Anxious to say hello in the correct tone, to properly convey both sincere joy and a desperate need for human connection, something to strip away pretense. The easiest connection between colleagues is mutual dislike. The school or the news or the system or the election or what’s on TV or the slippery sidewalk conditions or the unstoppable misuse of hall and office passes, the complete and unfathomable “absence of student accountability IN THIS SCHOOL LATELY!”

This is the way it goes, and it goes, so it goes. Two passes a day. You sit in front of the library and wait, silent. Last block of the day. Weekend approaches. Discipline notices in hand, an expectation in mind. One slip for the student resting on the benches outside room 212, one for the student passing time in the bathroom by the workshop, and another, slouching in the library’s hybridized lounge chair-desks after leaving class “to go to the bathroom.” Just a piece of paper, crumpled under their trampled sweatshirt pockets. These students have a lot in common but have never spoken to each other, and maybe never will. The last bell rings. You watch them pass by, wordlessly, sharing in something more than their cerebral spinal fluid. You envy their silent solidarity.

Shoebox

Sometimes the most challenging part of my day is fitting my thoughts into a shoebox by the closet before I fall asleep. You don’t start thinking until your shoes are on, Ms. Crawford, my sixth-grade gym teacher, would say. She would complain to us when Richie wore flip-flops to class. “Weren’t you in class last week when we talked about this, Richie?” She would then repeat how clothes, and most importantly shoes, kick-start our brains. Better than coffee, she said. “What you wear reflects how you feel, how you feel reflects what you wear! LeBron James doesn’t practice in his sandals!” My mind would race with questions.

When you wear a tuxedo, do you feel rich?

When you wear jeans, do you feel tough?

When you wear nothing, do you feel nothing?

But she never told us what to do when it’s bedtime, and our shoes lay carelessly on the floor, and our restless thoughts like barbarians pillage and scour our heads, searching every room for something torturous to remind us of, something sacred to latch onto with tear-soaked arms, or something comforting to keep them safe from the lurching quiet of the night.

Outside my door, cannibals rave about how I might want to feel tomorrow, when I have to slide into my ill-fitted suit jacket and dress pants for my first job interview. They know there’s no sneaky excuse, no way out of this one.

Eight people in a room. Intelligent, distinguished, experienced, exhausted. They have seen enough people like me. Staring from across a half-circled table, fiddling through paperwork and folders and binders. In a dark room, decorated with half-imagined paintings, charcoal walls, thin suits, thin expressions. One of them leans their hand forward, not to shake mine, but to motion for me to sit.

Why are you qualified for this position?

I freeze. But then I collect myself, remembering my rehearsed lines.

I love teaching: the constant need for adaptability, validation, interaction, and academic learning; the growing community among teachers, among students, and throughout the school; the insightful, pure brilliance of youth; the latent potential in every student to succeed their own way, and the satisfaction when you see it happen; and the unbelievably polarizing highs and lows each day can bring.

Terribly cliche. Didn’t answer the question. They have already given up on me. It was a mistake to come here. I shouldn’t have done this. I sound too prepared. I can’t catch my breath. I feel my chest burst through the suit.

I reach down through my imagined undershirt, unbuttoning the middle button, and feel the shame nesting, growing inside and outside as one waits for their body to ignore the belt’s usual and terrible sensation when around waists too large now to contain. I worry for when wardrobes are not malleable enough to impress any more.

I worry and cry, and they shuffle their papers, and I am escorted away. I scramble for the reset button. It’ll be at least three minutes until I am back to normal. I’m not wearing shoes, but I feel everything all at once.

It’s 2 AM and the sound of an ambulance brings me back to life.

Sometimes all you can do is think, but my thoughts, too, want peace. If I were in debt, owing money to the Bank of Sanity, I would pay my bills in one sitting, no interest statements, no follow-ups, no deferred action plan. One sitting would be all it takes, and then I’m freed.

Sometimes I forget to put my thoughts in their shoebox, and so they run like hell until I realize I can’t sleep until they get to sleep, too. Sometimes I forget about the equitable treatment of thoughts.

Is it worth it?

Waking in the morning is a chore sometimes. When it’s very early in the morning I feel like sleeping not waking. When it’s nighttime I can’t wait to wake again. In the evening there are no chores. Actually sometimes there are chores like sleeping and waking but I don’t do them. Not during the evening.

Each nighttime I ask myself: is it worth it?

Lots of time wasted thinking of what to do. I remember how to do most of the meaningful things of my life. Fulfilling ideas have become the norm today as I’m now obsessed with following the diabolic and sacred pattern of moving and not moving simultaneously, whilst also not thinking especially while thinking. It’s like when you’re watching an internet video, and suddenly you look at the clock and it’s not the time you thought it was but actually an hour or three later, yet you can still hear the familiar sounds from the video tingling in your ear buds, like indescribably small rockets from space, leaving the ISS and landing on the moon. Momentarily imagine the pain of having an idea, and then imagine the pleasure of not having the idea when you go to write it down, only your brain hears the same sounds from last night’s time-twisting internet video, and again two minutes later. It’s when you mean to work on that project or that essay that the idea of losing oneself in the technological world seems more pleasurable and perhaps more plausible considering most projects and essays require computers nowadays. One time I went outside and it was fine. I felt the sky when it was at its highest. I remember when computers weren’t required and I would make papier-mâché during summer camp. Especially the volcanic kind because those were messy and then I wished I was doing something else like watching internet videos about toaster cats spewing rainbows. Imagining if the cat spewed papier-mâché  instead of multicolored farts oh my. I think every first-world child should be forced to make papier-mâché  volcanoes and feel the absurd pain of having it explode.

When I was eight I liked to play dinosaur games on the computer, and those games took up my time then but at least I didn’t have many responsibilities except for brushing my teeth in the morning and after meals but not at night because I don’t do chores then. Today there aren’t any more dinosaur games only I wish there was one specifically made for me by Nintendo. Eight was also the first time I stared into my stuffed animal stegasaurus’ eyes and named him. Thankfully for Salvador he had a great name and also had the pleasure of being my best friend for a couple years until I liked going to school again and I forgot about Salvador. But he’s still around so I guess he was right about friends.

Doing things during the day can bore me if they’re not intellectually stimulating or spoken with charisma or bravely new or dinosaur-filled or both, if you’d like. Doing things such as showering with the snooze alarm activated and then pretending you can’t hear it over the bathroom sounds seems like an adventure to me because it’s six A.M. Showering is the modern day symbol of Jesus’ salvation. Doing things like playing card games with dogs constitutes a good time for me if you’re interested in what they have to say. I’ve found that dogs can be really worth your time sometimes if you open your mind first.

Midnight?

Midnight?

When I was younger, midnight was a hazard. A horror. So, midnight? What made midnight so frightening as a child?

Was it the tales of Bloody Mary, ghosts, and spectral beings which confounded me? Probably. I remember hearing from a kid in 4th grade that if you look into a mirror, say “Bloody Mary” three times quick, and close your eyes, you’ll reopen those eyes to see the “actual” bloody Mary in the mirror, standing behind you. That was enough to get my imagination running wild. And the worst part about the Bloody Mary story? It could only happen between midnight and two a.m. So, during the hours I had already feared from other stories. 4th grade was a rough time. The haunting tales of midnight mysteries had no positive effect on my upbringing – that’s for sure. If anything, I feel scarred more than learned.

I’m fairly gullible. My willingness to trust others – to accept their stories as factual – has not disappeared with time; in fact, I place more trust in others now than I had as a child, I think. I trust my friends deeply. I trust my family even more. And I trust myself to stay true to myself. Cliches, but with a great deal of truth in them. Or maybe not. Like I said, I’m fairly gullible.

Midnight is the symbol of my childhood insecurities. As a gullible child, who apologized for every small mistake, mishap, or harm I may have brought someone else, I was emotionally weak, and grew up in an imaginary ideal land where everyone was trustworthy and no one’s out to bring you pain and strife. Midnight is like the image of Bloody Mary. I tried to stay so far away from it years ago, but I find myself strangely attracted to the free blackness of night.

What a change of scenery the night happens to be! It promotes and stimulates the creativity I have difficulty evoking through daylight. Midnight evinces messages of freedom. Possibility. And thus, the stubbornly dreamy optimism I held years ago returns.

Maybe that’s why midnight is so bizarre to me.

Heat

It’s hot outside.

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Today’s the kind of day you would remember from years ago, when you used to wake up at whatever time your body’s internal clock thought was suitable, and in your state of remembrance, there’s heat, filing your brain with red and orange-colored thoughts, and if for the fifteen to twenty minutes you’re standing in the heat you feel the sun explode upon your brow you know then that you’ve breached the realm of the hot, the cold, the unbridled amalgamation of tumult weather. It’s the heat you remember. It’s the heat that you hate. You have an affinity for the unreal Saharan desert in the time of Job.

Time is moving so quickly so unbelievably quickly, you don’t notice the exponential growth of humanity combusting into what was years of work into a month of productivity. Years of plowing the fields rendered useless in a week with a machine. The human touch is gone. The human torch is on.

It’s the heat. I don’t like the heat.

“Job” more like “Jobs,” Steve “Jobs.” The guy who made the Mac. I’m writing on a Mac. An Apple. An iPod, a holy text, a biblical memoir, a sonnet composed on the ancient cavern wall’s of Babylon.

It’s the heat.

It’s hot outside. And don’t blame it being summer – it’s always been like this.

Blue sky

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I love the blue skies.

I lay down on the grass and enjoy the scene I’m seeing. It’s one of the first spring days to feel like a real spring day. Not often is the wind blowing at such a dead calm that it’s not a nuisance but is noticeable all the same. By all counts I imagine the speechless masses emitting sounds and shrieks of anticipation toward the summer, but what of spring? There’s rain, allergies, and sickness, but also a subtle natural brilliance that puts even the most anxious and irritated of people to rest. The leaves of trees grow once more after a long season of ineffable dread. The colors radiate like the birds soaring northward, back home. I love the blue skies because they remind me of spring.

The Rains

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The marshlands were always a place of prosperity and grace. They lived harmoniously. When the rain came, the marsh people rejoiced and returned to their activities, yet for weeks the marshlands lacked the rain they came to depend on.

To those who lived in the marshes, it seemed longer than weeks; the drought drained them of their energy, like a vacuum sucks up dirt and dust from a hardwood floor. They needed the rain. They dined during times to avoid the rain. They hunted for food when the rain had come. They fished when the rivers were high and populous. They worked day and night around the cycle of rain. But then, when the rain disappeared, they became chickens with their heads on backward. In desolation they starved. Their naivety and dependence caused their downfall, but they would not accept that truth yet. Soon, the inhabitants of the marshlands came to the realization that singing “Kumbaya” around the fire would not fix their problems, at least not yet. Sending smoke into the air would not order the rain to return home. Lighting a signal fire would not save them now. A few choreographed rain dances and cheers would not save a dying land from drought. Who would rescue them? What would they be rescued from? Would anyone notice or care? Since the marsh people noticed their emergency, they fought between each other for resources. The lack of rain crazed them, just like the lack of interactive technology would craze a typical teenager.

But in the midst of the last of the fighting and the shouting and screaming and warring conflict between tribes for food and water, the rain returned to wash the blood from their faces.

Perhaps they needed to save themselves from themselves first.

Trail of Tears

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Slingshot knew the path back to his farm in Winston County naturally. He followed it like the wolf followed the scent of its prey, like a hunter followed tracks in the woods. The Native Americans had carved his path centuries ago. He studied their culture for years after sundown, when he no longer could work on the farm. He loved them like friends, brothers, and members of the same pack. They represented what he saw in himself, and he represented them by honoring their traditions. His radio was off. He only heard the wheels of the car grinding and the sound of a siren calling his name. His real name. The road stretched on past the capital and further into the heart of Alabama; he knew it all. In lonesomeness, he drove and the road winded onward like a narrow, slithery snake caught by its tail by a Cherokee on the hunt.

On the way home, while thinking of the Native Americans and their values, he recalled a repressed memory from his youth. He drove on with it in mind.
It was nearing the evening. His family had just finished dinner when they looked out the window. Fog clouded the sun. A dry mist enveloped the farm. The cows and the horses were lost in the confusion. They stopped dinner to try to fix the problem.

They wanted to gather the frenzied animals, and then herd them into the farmhouse by the ranch. They hoped that, by that time, the fog would have cleared.

“We should split up! Meet back here!” his mother shouted to him. “Stay here and wait awhile if we’re too slow for you. We’ll be fine. And when we’re back, we’ll enjoy dinner together at the table!”

They had not predicted this thick of a fog. If so, they would have cooperated. Slingshot ran deeper into it, disobeying his mother, and unsure where he was headed at first. His eyes followed his feet, as he slowly recalled the feel of the soil on his toes. His surroundings came to life in his head. He pictured where he was and he knew where the animals would be. He picked hollow nuts from the ground. To alert the cows, he pelted them with the nuts. The horses scurried rampantly. They trampled fervently over the grass they ate and the soil. In their confusion, they were angry. Anger translated into fear. Fear made them run uncontrollably. The fog was growing. It was late at night, and so they could not see. They could not hear each other’s voices. He gathered the animals quickly by instinct and ran with them . When Slingshot made his trip back to the farmhouse, with cows and horses in tow, he realized that his father and mother were still missing. He shouted, but heard nothing. He herded the animals into the farmhouse, then sat outside and waited.

He was patient. During this time, he imagined himself riding his horses into romantic sunsets. He imagined his family and him together eating the rest of their dinner. He imagined the animals grazing in the grass carelessly, not frightened or confused. He imagined his family joining the animals in the field, playing games and feeding them. He imagined the animals stampeding through the farm, but then he cast that dream away. He imagined them frolicking, then he was happy again. He loved to imagine.

After twenty minutes, his patience wore thin. He replaced wishful imagination with worriment. He returned into the fog once more. He traveled aimlessly. He could no longer see his toes, but he felt the trickling blood that streamed off of them. He shouted into the depths of the mist and began to cry teenage tears. He ran for what seemed like an endless stream of time, a cycle. The fog never ended, like his running. It rose upwards in the sky and above the trees. It brought him chaos. Chaos like he had never experienced before. He yelled:

“Mom! Dad!”

His bare feet bled more as he stepped through rough, unfamiliar ground. Jutting rocks and stones from beneath. He wasn’t sure where he was going. The unforgiving nature burdened him. It had never betrayed him this way; they were always together, like partners of a tribe, like members of a family. They understood each other, he thought. He ran faster and screamed louder. The earth had betrayed its most appreciative and loving son.

“Mom! Dad! Where are you?”

He thought the fog had thickened even more. It encompassed his entire world, threatening not only his vision and emotional stability, but his family. He valued his family far above the horses and the cows or the nature of the farm. He cared for his parents like they cared for him. For the first time in his childish life, he felt true fear. Fright. Anguish. His childish imagination would not cast the fog away or find his parents. His screams would not suddenly save his world. It was time to grow up. And in that instant, Lawrence Sloane, Jr., matured. He reached somewhere deep into his frightened mind and found solace. He discovered security and sanctity. Now, he stepped forward into the breach as an adult. The chaos inside the fog rose. His feet sobbed red tears uncontrollably. He felt an imprint on the soil, maybe Cherokee, but he could not make out what it resembled.

And finally after an hour of searching, crying, and yelling, he found their corpses in a field, their bodies trampled by hooves. His father’s arm covered his mother’s back. They must have found each other in the fog, and then died. He wanted to protect her. They were buried in the same way.

The fog had now faded.

He looted a slingshot from his father’s back pocket. He held it dear to his heart and felt the wet wood of the weapon against his jacket like his father’s embrace.

The fifteen year-old Lawrence Sloane, Jr., returned to his ranch and slept in his bedroom for what seemed like days. No one saw him or knew what happened; their ranch was located so far from civilization that the first police officer arrived a mere week after the event. When he awoke, he had adapted to the changes he would have needed to make; he had accepted their deaths. He had moved on. He was an adult. On the next day, he awoke early and returned to the fields, restoring order to the farm animals and renewing the calmness that once settled abound. His presence brought renewed faith to his farm. Nothing had changed, so the animals figured. He had not sought revenge against the horses; they did not know any better. They were as afraid as he was. In their fright they ran, just like he did.

Slingshot drove back to the farm he had inherited and opened the rickety front door to utter silence, for he lived and maintained the whole three-hundred acres on his own. He kept the ranch clean and tidy. He neglected fancy machinery and newfound advancements. He used proper tools, the same ones his parents used years ago. He kept the slingshot hanging from his back pocket like his father had on his dead body; it was his way to remember and accept his self-induced loneliness.

The memory of his parents’ deaths had not haunted him; it had enlightened him. He embraced it. Slingshot would never trust nature with people’s lives again. He trusted no one –he understood the world better now. The immature, ignorant fifteen year-old Lawrence Sloane, Jr., evolved into the stoic, unforgiving twenty six year-old Slingshot. When a fog rose again in Winston County, Slingshot was prepared; this time, there was no one to lose but himself.

And the memory remained with him for the rest of his existence, but he never felt sad; he felt assured. He realized the nature of evil. In the time since their deaths, through ancient Cherokee teachings which he read from books and further outside learning, he discovered that all humans contain the same evil that nature possesses; they all acquire instinct and they all act unreasonably. Some humans are left behind, while others carry on. Animals are excused, for they do not act superior to their environment like the urban human-machines act. He despised the machines as his father did, as his grandfather did, and as his children will in the future, if he even has children to whom he will tell stories and raise up to till the farm for generations to come. Thinking about life, he walked outside during sunset. He turned to his favorite horse and rode it side-by-side the others into the enveloping, protecting wilderness.

 

**This is an excerpt of a novel I am in the process of writing. If you enjoy it, let me know down in the comments and I can send you more of what I have written so far! Thanks!