What Fat Thor Taught Me About Being Okay With My Weight and My Depression.

The uproar over Fat Thor in Avengers Endgame was, to put it simply, idiotic.

Quite the contrary, Fat Thor was brilliant.

Methinks the mindless twits on Twitter with their groupranthink doth protest way too damn much.

Apparently, the fact that Thor having a gut was too offensive for their delicate sensibilities.

Added to that, their accusation that some of the remarks the surviving members of the Avengers in the film made at his physical appearance was a form of “Fat Shaming” is beyond ridiculous.

The Avengers are comrades, they’re friends, they’re like an amiable bunch of athletes. You are going to dig on your friends for two reasons, because they love your quirks and because they call you out.

They did it with Captain America in Age of Ultron with the running “language” bit. They also did the same thing with Hawkeye being old in the same movie. They always dig on Bruce Banner for being geeky and socially awkward.
It’s par for the course.

Before I continue, however, I feel I should be as transparent as possible and establish my bonafides.

First, what qualifies me to talk about the subject?

I’m fat.

I know, it’s a shocking revelation.

I’ve lived most of my life heavier than thinner.

Currently, I’m hovering around the two hundred and thirty pound mark.

According to the height ( I’m 5’11 ½” ) and age chart at my doctor’s office, I am considered clinically obese.
Last year, I was around two hundred and fifty pounds.

There were a couple of years were I weighed a lithe two hundred and twenty pounds.

At my heaviest, back in the mid-nineties, I weighed two hundred and eighty-five pounds.

I’ve struggled with my weight all of my life.

I’ve worked out more often than not for the past ten years, so there is some muscle, but more strength.

Oh, and I still bear the scars of childhood bullying from mean little assholes. The trauma is gone, but the memory is not.

So I feel that definitely qualifies me to talk about this particular subject.

Oh, and I guess I should have prefaced this blog with the words *SPOILER ALERT!!!!!* typed in all caps, bookended with asterisks, followed by a slew of exclamation points, in bold, and underlined.

But really, if you haven’t seen the movie already, then what in the hell is wrong with you?

So, back to Thor.

When I saw Avengers Endgame in the theater, and Fat Thor first appeared, the first of two thoughts shot out into the night sky of my mind and flared like a Fourth of July firework:

Holy crap – that’s me!

That immediate gut reaction was to his physical change.

That was me up on the screen.

I was represented.

Granted, I looked nowhere near as handsome as that damned Chris Hemsworth. His body shape was also slightly different than mine – my gut is not so prominent and my arms are not that muscular.

Nevertheless, I felt the strangest sensation watching him. In a way it was like being home. Like I could breathe comfortably.

Then there’s the scene where Hulk and Rocket Raccoon go to Thor’s home in New Asgard and try to convince him to rejoin The Avengers. There is a lot of comedy in that scene, and it’s easy to miss if you’re viewing it on a purely superficial level, but the mess, the bottles of beer and pizza boxes strewn everywhere, the way Thor’s dressed.

Then there’s Thor’s demeanor – the look in his eye, the way he talks, the way he carries himself. Those are all the telltale signs.

And this is the pure beauty, the sheer genius of Thor’s story arc:

Thor is sad, Thor is beaten, Thor is bruised, Thor is broken, Thor is depressed.

This was the second firecracker of a revelation I saw.

I saw and I understood.

That’s how depression looks like for some people. That’s how it was for me.

Not note for note, of course – because everyone’s battle with depression is different. But it always has to do with slowly being unable to things that others do with no problem, or even with things that you were able to do before with ease that seem impossible now.

Depression can come suddenly with the loss of a loved one. Depression can come with a sudden and drastic life change. Or depression can hover over you like a specter since birth, and wait, biding its time to slip into the cartilage of your joints.

During the course of Phases 1 through 3 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we saw in his struggles, pieces of him hammered, cracked, then chipped away, but he persisted.

He had a duty. He felt it was his job to solve all the problems that were destroying his world and the ones he loved. Only he could do it. He shouldered everything. He didn’t ask for help. Then when the killing blow was struck, it was not he who had won – it was Thanos.

And that was it.

Thor crumbled.

He tried as hard as he could to hold himself together, to put on a brave face and soldier on. Then when he tried again one last valiant time – nothing.

To me, Thor was the image of my depression. In Thor, we see a god-man, once bright and beautiful and unbreakable and unstoppable just pure focus and vision and charm and wit, just the very best of how we see – or want to see – ourselves, and we see him simply break in two.

And the sad genius of it was that it was laid out well in advance, and it happened over time – since The Dark World. We saw him slowly crack. And it’s a scientific fact that if you hammer away at an object with the right tools, in the right way, it eventually cracks.

He lost his mother. Crack.

He lost his father. Crack.

He lost his friends. Crack.

He lost his hammer. Crack.

He lost his home. Crack.

He lost his brother. Crack.

He lost his half his people. Crack.

Then he lost half the life in the Universe. Crack.

And then, finally, he simply lost. CRACK.

Thor lost everything that he thought he was. He lost everything that he thought defined him. He tried everything, and nothing worked.

We all saw it onscreen. We saw the result:

All that was left was a man, only a man, a scared man, a raw, vulnerable, frightened human.

It was frightening to see onscreen. It’s even more frightening when you are actually going through something like that.

When you have a job, a task, a responsibility, and the weight of carrying it for so long, in silence, without asking for help, or refusing any help given, but with each step forward you can sense the small cracks underneath you like being on a frozen lake that you can feel breaking, but you ignore it, because that’s what you’re supposed to do, right?

And that is the devil hidden deep in the details when it comes to depression – especially with male depression. We bear our burdens silently, because asking for help is admitting weakness, and admitting weakness is a Cardinal Sin for many of us. It is the fatal flaw in our own, personal Greek tragedy that destroys us in the end.

For me, it was starting up a brand new relationship just eight months after being divorced to my high school girlfriend, the last five years of which was highly toxic. Crack.

My new relationship with my ex-girlfriend, who needed special attention because she struggled with so many mental health problems. Crack.

My trying to be a good man and a good father to her daughters. Crack.

My trying to be a good, responsible son and care for my father who went from having severe Crohns disease to getting terminal cancer of the gall bladder and the liver. Crack.

Me, trying to handle all of this on my own, by myself, not talking to anyone about it. Crack.

My slow-slipping down into reckless behaviors, behaviors which caused my girlfriend and I to break up. Crack.

My father passing away. Crack.

Fortunately, I finally sought help. I saw a therapist, who then said I should see a psychiatrist. I went to my doctor, who referred me to the man who saved my mind.

Almost five years later, I’m still around.

Thor survived, and even fat he stepped up. Even after breaking, with the help of his friends, and his anger and his courage, he helped his friends, he helped them win. Greater still, he overcame his fears.

And though I’ve had days where all I’ve wanted to do was stay home and stay in bed – even with medication – I’ve stepped up and helped those friends and family who needed me. I’ve failed them sometimes, but I’ll never stop trying.

And I will continue to step up, grow stronger, grow calmer, because I have a little eighty year old mother whom I love dearly who, like my father, will need me to see them through to the end.

I know it will be hard.

I know it will devastate me.

But I have friends now, who stubbornly insist that I not slip into the Darkness.

I have family who I am no longer afraid to ask for help.

And I have Fat Thor, beautifully portrayed by Chris Hemsworth, with pathos, grace, and humanity.

Thank you, Chris.

Thank you, Kevin Feige.Thank you, Russo Brothers.

Thank you, Stan Lee.

And thank you, Fat Thor.

Thank you for showing me – this fat, broken, socially awkward old geek –

that I am worthy.

Colors, Patience, Superman – Teaching on the Borderlands.

The little boy would not enter my classroom.

I saw him lingering, out in the hallway in front of my doorway, amidst the organized chaos of our morning routine, as the other students were coming in. Then, a moment later, he was gone.

I didn’t think much of it.

He was either afraid, or he was having a bad day. Or both. His teacher – my colleague – had to take the day off unexpectedly because her son woke up with a high fever.

On days when a teacher is out, we normally split up that teacher’s class between the remaining four 5th grade teachers, so we get an additional five to six more students.

We do this because on a campus like ours, located just a mile away from the U. S.-Mexico border, where we service a heavily Spanish-dominant population whose median income is below the poverty level, and we have to prepare them to pass the 5th grade STAAR exams, losing a day of instruction can really hurt these children.

Rather than having twenty-two to twenty-three students doing busy work, increasing the chances of them acting up with a substitute, it’s better they come to us and continue getting actual instruction.

There are space issues. Classroom behavior spikes a bit, but as long as we’re prepared with constant instruction, lessons, activities, the students are too engaged to even try to act up. Usually it ends up alright.

This day, we’re testing our district’s CBAs – a mini diagnostic to check if teachers have been teaching and if the students have learned what their teachers have been teaching. I get my students settled and working on their morning routine while I make room for the extra students.

Our special education teacher comes in and tells me that the little boy went back to his teacher’s classroom.
He’s in the room by himself.
He doesn’t want to come to my class.

I can cut a pretty imposing figure, with my size and my beard, and the children can find it intimidating – even threatening if I stand too close to a child.

This little boy has ED, so there are times when he won’t cooperate, won’t want to go where he is supposed to.

I head over to his classroom.

The little boy is there, standing up against a whiteboard. He looks unsettled, with a small light of defiance in his eyes.

The substitute is there as well.

I ask her if she could go to my class and watch my students since I left them unattended. She does so.

When she’s left the classroom, I ask the little boy if he’s going to come to my class. He just stares at me.

I ask him what his name is. He mumbles. By this time, morning announcements have begun, and with my peripheral deafness, I can’t make out what he’s saying.

I ask again.

I still can’t hear him. I ask him again and I explain to him why I keep asking. This time he yells out his name.
I shift my demeanor and I tell him firmly not to yell at me like that.

I wasn’t yelling at him and I honestly couldn’t hear him. There was no need for it. I tell him he’s being rude.
He says his name again, this time in a softer tone.

This time I hear him. I thank him.

I slowly walk towards him, but he begins to walk around, opposite me, keeping himself equidistant from me. We’re both feeling each other out, and we both know it.

I sit down.

For a while, I don’t talk.

I just sit there, calmly listening to the morning announcements. I’m not frowning. I make sure that my posture is relaxed.

I make sure that I’m giving off an aura of calm. I let him grow accustomed to my presence. I ask him if he wants to sit. He shakes his head no.

I calmly, gently explain to him that he needs to come to my class and I tell him not to worry.

I explain to him that I don’t want him to get into any trouble.

Then his special education teacher comes in and begins talking to him in a rough manner.

She needs to take him to her room so she can give him his test.

I use this time to call the front office and ask for our assistant principal to come by.

I step out into the hallway and when she reaches me, I explain to her the situation.
She tells me she’ll take care of it and tells me to go back to my class.

I do, and I get my kids settled down and pass out their tests.

As soon as I’m done, I see the little boy at my door.

The security guard escorted him. I tell the boy, hi! Come in and sit by me. I gesture at a chair on one end of my banana table and I sit. He walks in slowly and sits down.

I have a colorful tray filled with different types of markers that I use to create my classroom posters. I give him loose-leaf paper and push the tray towards him.
I ask him if he likes to draw.
He says yes.

I ask him if he could draw me something he likes. I sit there beside him as he draws. It’s a crude child’s drawing of Superman.

I tell him that I like Superman. I tell that I like to draw also.

I ask him, would you like to draw with me? I could draw you Superman after you finish your test.

He smiles and nods yes. His teacher comes for him and he leaves my room to take his test.

I tell him goodbye and that we’ll draw as soon as he’s done.

He never comes back.

Later I find out that he was sent home because of his behavior.

This was Thursday.

It’s Friday now.

We have two 5th grade teachers out all day at a training.

This time I get seven additional students.

We’re done with testing.
It’s “activity” Friday, and I give my students an extra thirty minutes.

Again I’m getting all the students settled and working when a student stops by my class and asks if I can step outside so his teacher can talk to me in the hallway.

It’s the little boy again.

He doesn’t want to go into his classroom teacher’s room.

The special education teacher is there again and she says he wants to go back with me because I told him that I would draw him Superman.

She sounds angry and frustrated but I respond cheerfully, of course he could come with me!

I ask him to come with me.

He follows me.

As I pass, I tell the special education teacher to come by later, once he’s settled down, so he could be picked up and do whatever work he needs to be done.

We can’t have a student out in the hallway unsupervised. It’s a safety concern. Better he’s with me in my classroom where I can keep an eye on him.

The boy sits down back at my banana table.

I sit beside him. I gently explain that he is always welcome in my room and I’ll always find time to draw with him, but he has to go with his classroom teacher later and he has to go with the special education teacher so he can learn and be smart.
He says okay.

Then I explain to him that I have to go about teaching my class and showing them the activities they need to complete.

He doesn’t blow up.

He doesn’t have an episode.

He nods and sits and waits calmly.

I go to my instruction area, I get my students attention, and I begin modeling the activities for my students using my document camera.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I notice something.

I have the lights off, so the class can see what I’m doing on our smart board.

Off to my right, in the back corner of my room, the little boy is standing up.

I continue my modeling with one eye on him and I see what he’s doing. I was actually surprised.

He’s straightening up my banana table, organizing my papers, throwing scraps of cut paper into my recycling basket, putting all my stray markers, pens and pencils where he thinks they belong.
I pause in the middle of my instruction and I tell him thank you, you’re doing such a great job and I appreciate it.

Then I finally reach a stopping point.

The class is working and they’re in their flow, so I’m able to go back and sit down with him.

I have my phone jacked into a speaker system, and I start playing some instrumental chill hop and trip hop. That always gets the kids working but it doesn’t over stimulate them.

The lights are off, but I have a multi-colored octopus lamp that bathes the room in a soothing glow.

I start drawing Superman for him.

He watches me, smiling with delight as Superman slowly takes form, flying up into the air, his cape billowing around him.

It’s not my best work.

I stopped practicing my figure sketching in college, but I would sketch occasionally, and I’ve slowly taken it up again as I sketch out character ideas for the manuscript I’m working on.

I’m smiling, too.

I’m keeping an eye on my students making sure they’re on task, but I’m relaxed.
When I finish, I hand it over to him, and he starts coloring, asking which part of his costume is blue, which is red, and all that.

I tell him, but I also encourage him to color however he wants to, change it up.

I sit beside him and watch.
My students come to me with questions about their assignments.

I answer them.

Eventually, the special education teacher comes for him, and he leaves, not one complaint.

I take a breath.

Seven students working on their own separate activities, my twenty-two students working on their assignments, and this little boy, who calmed down when I began drawing him his Superman.

Teaching children is a nonstop job. You have to be good at juggling and have a quick mind.

You need to teach them the skills in Reading, Math, Science. Writing, often. Social Studies when we can.

But that’s fifty percent of the job.

The other fifty is seeing to their needs – and there are twenty-two very different students with very different personalities, with different levels of learning.

Guiding them when they do their work. Building their confidence by showing them that they can master any concept. Showing them different ways to try and solve problems. Teaching them to recognize their own self-worth. Showing them how to use their words and communicate with one another in respectful ways to settle differences.

These are not suburban kids.

Many of the students I teach have fathers and uncles and cousins in prison.

They come from homes where the stress level is high, parents, single or together trying to make ends meet.

Quite often the default tone at home is yelling.

Some only have the breakfast and lunch the district provides for them as their only meals.

There are some parents, single, grandparents, stepparents, who really care about the education of their children.

And there are an unfortunate few who don’t pay attention.

All these children want is to know that they can be good at something.

All these children want is to learn and be a success and have fun doing so.

All these children want is to know that there is someplace safe, with regularity, stability.

All they want is to know that there is someone who cares about them.

And I’ve grown with them.

I’m a forty-three year old man. I have Major Depression and adult ADHD.
I’ve been medicated three years now, and I finally feel that I am the teacher I want to be.

The loss of my father and my longtime relationship has tempered me.

As a Gemini I seek peace and balance. And all of that has informed my teaching.

I’ve grown into a father figure for my students, my children, whom I love driving thirty minutes from my home to teach.

I’ve been teaching 5th grade at this campus for eight years now.

To teach, it truly takes love – not some squishy, saccharine love, but a fighter’s love, a fighter’s heart.

It takes dedication.

It takes an almost monastic devotion.

There is a craft to teaching children, an art.

It takes a fair mind – free of bias or prejudice.

It takes kindness.

It takes a soft word and a firm but gentle hand.

It takes never giving up on any students.

Not.

One.

It takes humor.

It takes breathing – a lot of breathing.

And it takes patience.

And sometimes, just sometimes, it even takes some colors and Superman.

LivingNighttimeDaydream WakeUp.

And so I’m shedding another skin.

This one was dark but warm sleepy blue like grandfather’s cardigan, and it kept me from the cold.

It kept me sleeping.

I was in a fallow state along with trees in this strangest of South Texas winters.

There was actual snowfall here in Laredo.

Actual.

Snowfall.

I disappeared.

A strange side effect of my ADHD medication is the intense state of hyper-focus it puts me in, and as an educator, I still mark the time the way children do – by the seasons, by the state-mandated school year calendar. It was through this that I saw my rebirth as a focused teacher; every school year was a different fixation, a specific and laser-like focus on one area of teaching. This year was all about my classroom.

I had a vision for my classroom, and the way I wanted to tailor every last bit of towards learner-centered, small group instruction, instead of the shackles of the front and center lecturing teacher.

It began my second week back. I began pulling twelve-hour days, going in at 6 AM and signing out by 6:45 – 6:50 PM. It left me drained, exhausted, and not wanting to go out for anything or anyone – except, on occasion, when my best friend would coax me out. Even then, half of my mind still yearned for home.

My focus was such that I’m just now coming out of it. I actually have the mental energy to write again.

Waking up is always a strange instinctual, mechanical business, though, isn’t it?

That strange segue from the dream state to waking life. Knowing that your mind was somewhere else for some amount of time – that past a gray-misted haze of a memory – as the present comes into slow and clear focus.

I’ve never been more acutely aware of my evolution as a human being since my depression and ADHD diagnosis and being on consistent and effective (for me) medication.

I’ve always loved learning – about myself, about the world – and now I’m getting a crash course in the education of myself as person in more control of his life than he’s ever been, as well as the world of mental illness.

I’ve learned that I’ll never stop learning.

I know that I will continue evolving.

What a strange adventure this is, being human.

This Christmas, the Greatest Gift I Gave Myself Was the Gift of Solitude and Rest.

I’m lying here in the den of The Last Homely House. 

I am alone.

My brothers have taken my mom to spend Christmas Day with her sister and my cousins in San Antonio. 

There are no lights on.

Only the darkening whitewashed water color grayblue of the fading light of the setting sun penetrates what windows it can and serves as the only major light source. 

Aside from that, the Christmas tree lights are on, as well as the lights around the Nativity, the scene of the Christ-child in a manger, sleeping in swaddling cloth upon a bed of straw, with his mother Mary, Joseph, the step-dad to be shepherds, sheep of the flocks they keep, the Three Wise Men, and various livestock that would live in said manger. There is also the soft glow of the candles I’ve lit.

The light is warm, cozy.

I feel safe, calm, at peace.

The TV is off. The music I had been listening to on my headphones is off. Right now, there is only the constant whishing whisper duet of the central heater unit and the overhead fan as they work together in keeping the temperature in here a nice balance of warm and slightly chilly.

My head is free of thoughts.

I’m only focusing on the sound of the AC, the fan, and the gently wavering glow of the candlelit Nativity as it flickers softly.

The family plan was to drive up to San Antonio today, stay tomorrow, and leave Wednesday further north up I35 to Pflugerville, to visit my Brother and his family at Moore Manor – what we call the Pfluggervillian post of the Moore clan –  His daughter – my baby niece – has a birthday coming up, and they were going to celebrate it Wednesday. I think by then I’ll be rested up enough to drive, spend the evening there, and then head back early Thursday morning. 

I was also less inclined to leave due to the fact that I was up late last night from going to the Catholic midnight mass at La Catedral de San Agustín downtown. I haven’t gone since I was a child. It was beautiful. And worth it, but because I normally don’t stay up so late, it really took a toll on me this morning/afternoon. My mom woke me a little after noon, and I said my goodbyes. 

Now it may sound bleak and depressing to you, maybe it sounds like a punishment even, but my depression doesn’t work that way.

To me, this is bliss.

Even though I am and can be a very social creature, who loves spending time talking and being in the company of others, it can also be exhausting – a characteristic common to both introverts and people with depression.

You see, I’m very empathic, I can sense the moods and tensions of those around me, and it physically affects me. I act like a human emotional sponge – I’ll soak up some of what you’re feeling and I’ll feel it too. It can be helpful sometimes, but others, it can be too much, so I have to pull in my sensory feelers and put up a barrier. And maintaining that requires an exhausting amount of energy. So, an empty house means a free me – no additional emotional energy to absorb or block. My shields are down. My guard is down. My sensory feelers can be fully extended and feel nothing.

All I’m feeling right now is a sleepy, relaxed state of bliss.

This is how I recover from my mental stressors: silence, calm, music, resting.

This is how I recharge, restore balance in myself.

But I’m not altogether about living the life of a monk. I began last Christmas building up my talismans, my weapons, my rituals for self-care: my skin care products, my soaps, my beard balms. I invested in that as well as my writing desk and my shelf to create my study. 

Over the summer I did a lot more decorating to my room, and now, finally, I end this year with treating myself to the last of the items I wanted off of my list that I would enjoy. I bought a great pair of wireless Sennheiser over the ear headphones. They’re an excellent brand for audiophiles and I find the gentle pressure of over the ear headphones calming. I got a great deal on a 32″ Samsung Smart Hub TV. It’s HD only – not state of the art QLEV or anything like that, but it does have all my subscriptions: Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.

I also bought myself a wireless sound bar plus a subwoofer, along with a Chrome book, but those haven’t arrived yet – also Samsung – also great deals since they were mid-range items and not top of the line. 

And I didn’t even spend a thousand on all that. I love quality, but I’m no snob and I’m not stupid. I research and find the best quality I can get for the lowest possible price. With that, I can finally, fully enjoy my time at home, when I’m not reading, writing, painting, or playing the drums.

This is self-care. This is how I take care of myself. These are not substitutions for happiness nor are they status symbols signifying that I have “arrived” at some vague and unimportant level of “success,” showing that I’ve “made it.” No. These are merely the tools I choose to use as entertainments, as diversions.

These are the tools I choose to use to keep me even.

Tools that I was lucky enough to have some money for and that were just the right price for me to afford.

Now I’m forty-two. I’m single. I have no children, and I’ve been blessed to have a pretty decent paying career for almost fourteen years now. I can afford this.

But I have friends who are starting out, in college, or just finishing college, or just beginning their lives. Just like I have friends my age who are married and have kids or who are single parents who have kids, and you’re thinking, “I don’t have that kind of money.”

That’s not the point. The point is what feels good to you: 

What recharges You? 

Your spirit? 

Your soul? 

Exercise? Quilting? Crossword puzzles? 

My point is, it could be anything – as long as it does the trick.

Take care of yourself.

 Put yourself first. 

Now that doesn’t mean you get a green light to become totally self-absorbed and narcissistic, no. That just means that you must make time for you, so that your mind, body, and soul are refreshed and sharp, so that you may be able to properly take care of others. And even if you don’t have the terrible privilege of caring for somebody, still, don’t forget to make yourself a priority.

You deserve it.

These items that I’ve been blessed to treat myself to, they are all great gifts. But the greatest gift I’ve given myself this holiday season – as someone battling Major Depression, as a teacher to twenty-three sharp and intelligent students, as the past caregiver to my father, and as the future caregiver for my mother when the inevitable eventually happens – the one truly greatest gift, and the one I’ll get the most out of, the one I will remember the most, is an opportunity for silence, for rest, and for solitude. 

thanksgiven.

 

img_20171123_234602_942841023622.jpgwords

memories

flow

like the

wine

at the dinner table.

warming hearts,

glad to be together.

glad to eat together.

beating.

beating.

past

and present

blend.

memories are remembered.

(remember).

hair grayer

hair silver,

showing

slivers of time

accruing in increments

in multiples of sixty

when halved, thirty

divided by ten

reveals three,

the Divine number,

the mystic Trinity.

extrapolated outward

forming floral petal fractals

that form

our families.

(remember).

the sacred mathematics of family,

of love.

the beating of our hearts

beats in time,

the beating of our hearts

never stops

(thetimepassageoftime).

the beauty and humility of

age.

countered

by the morning bell chime

of children’s

laughter.

(remember).

generations gather.

the catching up.

the how’ve you been.

the what have you been up to.

the remember when.

laughter.

erupts

reminiscing

over the

wild foolishness of youth,

of the times when

we shouldn’t but we did,

of the times of Together.

tears.

shed

missing loved ones

gone.

no longer with us,

sailed beyond the Silver Curtain.

(remember).

Music

Playing.

The beating of

drums

like the beating of

hearts

pulsating blood

with the same blood

with different blood

with blended blood.

Mexican Muslim Anglo

-and the transcendent

beauty

of the children of both.

the unity of family

gay lesbian husbands and wives, widows and life partners

never to divide.

souls broken and whole and healing.

the nightmare of Trump’s “America”

is the glorious, glittering living dream of my family.

my beautiful Technicolor family.

adults of paper and children of technology.

joyous hearts beating.

glad souls eating.

bread breaking.

talking.

eating.

(remember).

warm lights and warm hearts and lighthearts.

hearts.

beating.

beating.

the spirits

of generations past,

of those gone on

before us,

among us still,

in the glow of

wine and Christmas lights.

the table that has fed generations.

the kitchen that has produced miracles,

making anger and hunger dissipate

in equal parts.

a recipe for love.

a chemical bond.

a culinary magic,

it’s spell cast,

with each serving served by a loved one

who serves a loved one

who serves a loved one,

serving a circle,

around the table,

in service

of others

for the selfless love

of others

sealing,

offering forth

blessings

of safety,

for protection,

for another year,

for all those that are gathered here.

(remember).

words

memories

flow

like the wine at the

dinner table

while all this time,

new memories are made.

another circle

completed.

another cycle

turned.

the sacred spell sealed.

time passes.

eyes grow tired.

aches are eased.

bellies are full.

souls at ease.

the warmth of

wine and

laughter

and good food served

with love

has done it’s job.

the ritual is completed,

the spell sealed,

the bond is reset.

it is done.

it is good.

clear the plates,

please.

 

It’s time for pie.

 

Dispatches From Teaching on the BorderLands.

She sits at my banana table and she’s talking to me, during my conference period, her tennis looking like puffy pink and white marshmallows at the ends of skinny little legs as she swings them back and forth.

Her eyes are puffy, too.

The dark bags under her wide expressive eyes puff and darken more when she talks about what’s troubling her.

She tells me about needing to lock herself up in her room to get some space, some peace, to escape a while from the responsibility of caring for her younger sister – who’s around five.

I find this out because she mentions going to her room and locking the door a few times during our conference and I notice that every time she does so, her voice breaks up a bit, so I tell her that I noticed and I ask her why.

She says she feels stressed a lot of the time at home because she’s usually put in charge of watching her baby sister.

She tells me there’s only two things that make her feel better: When she locks herself in her room, and when she goes outside and runs. She tells me she runs a lot.

She tells me she doesn’t really eat lately. I gently ask if there’s food at home and if meals are made regularly and she says yes. She does not look neglected nor does she exhibit outward signs of any kind of abuse, so I don’t push the issue.

She got a 54 on a bullshit Reading CBA. She’s not a 54 student, so when I asked her why her grade was so low, she started to explain, but she began tearing up, out of embarrassment, and of fear that I was going to be disappointed in her. It was then I knew, so I asked her, and she told me.

She’s a small, wiry little thing. When she talks about the things that upset her the most, she hunches over the table, bowing her elbows out, her small, birdlike hands palms flat against the surface as she presses down, hard. It’s a physical manifestation of her literally trying to keep herself together, her emotions under control.

She is one of my students.

This is a little girl. 

A 5th grader. 

This is her life.

And compared with some of the other students I’ve taught over the years, her life is not that bad.

This is normal teaching at an At-Risk school along the Texas/Mexico border – along the entire U.S./Mexico border.

The label says it all.

Due to the low economic status and the poor infrastructure, these children have the deck set against them. Our job as teachers and educators at these At-Risk schools is to even the odds. Pick up their English language skills, so their speaking, reading, and writing skills are on par with native language speakers. We’re here to rid them of the shame and embarrassment of not speaking well, and replace that with confidence and pride.

She is incredibly verbal. She is sweet and always very helpful. Once she came up to me, gently placed her hand on my shoulder and told me that if I ever needed help with anything, to let her know, and she’d take care of it. I thanked her. 

She communicates and expresses herself well, and it’s obvious she has a high emotional intelligence IQ as well as a lot of good, common sense. Unfortunately that’s often the result of too much responsibility being placed on one person. They are forced to mature faster. 

In our Mexican culture, it’s still usually the females.

I tell her that I understand. I tell her that’s she’s a great student, a good person, and a wonderful young girl. I tell her that I understand it’s not very fair, the burdens placed on us. I share the G rated version of my story, that I had to take care of my father when he was sick, even though I was the youngest – and I make a point to make her laugh because I emphasize the fact that I don’t look very young.

The curse of being the Responsible One. Adults and older siblings all around, but if you’re the responsible one, your cup gets filled first, and keeps getting filled. This a common occurrence. More common than it should be. I’ve known quite a bit who’re in the same boat.

I tell her the cold, hard truth. You can’t talk about rainbows and sunshine to a child who’s lived mostly in cloudy skies and rainy days. They know how life works. They’re not blind sheep. I tell her that her struggle does make her unique, that it makes her stronger. I tell her that’s why she needs to focus on her studies, get the best grades she can from now till senior year, so she can grow up, graduate, and move away, so she can be free of her obligations and live just for herself. To keep her head down and barrel through.

I ask her if she likes writing or if she’s ever journaled. She says she used to – and write songs as well. I told her that was great because that’s what I used to do, too.

I ask her aside from being in her room, or jogging, what else does she like to do. She says she loves to paint, she loves creating structures and decorating them. I told her that was fantastic, because I’m planning to incorporate those kind of activities in Centers when we start next week.

She brightened up. I told her if she ever needs, she can always come in to class the first 10-15 minutes and write, to just let all that anxiety out. She smiles and thanks me. She looks relieved so I ask her if our talk helped and if she feels better. She beams and says yes.

I tell her to go back to P.E.

I inform my assistant principal. She tells me to call the mom and set up a meeting. I say sure, but I ask if she could be present to give the meeting the sense of importance it needs. She agrees. 

I was fine the rest of the workday. When I got home, it hit me, a pricked balloon, I just sagged, came undone. I barely had the energy to take a shower. I always say, When it comes to teaching, if you come home at the end of the day fresh-faced and full of energy, you’re doing it wrong. These things stay with you. 

Teaching these kids means making sure they’re in a good frame of mind, that they’re not upset because mom and boyfriend fought. I have to make my classroom a safe space, where we can all forget our problems and lose ourselves to the joy and the mental exhaustion of learning, where we can all be better than who we were yesterday. 

It is a challenge. 

That is no lie. But it is worth the fight everyday. And to me, that’s the whole point.

I took this picture that night, to show how worn out it got me.

My Time at the Music House. Part 2.

UHS CoolGuy BreezewayPic

2.

I got three calls the night after my father passed away:

One from my ex-wife.

One from my ex-girlfriend.

One from Marce.

They weren’t good.

I don’t know, but the day after your father passes away, you do kind of expect a certain type of call. You know, condolences, I’m really sorry and all that. These weren’t like that

My ex-wife called me. Her voice sounded rough. Poor thing, she’d been going through a rough patch. By her breath-catchy heaving tone I knew that she had been crying.  “I know you’re dad just died, but I’m having problems with __________ again, and I was wondering …” Okay, Things happen, I thought. I told her it was kind of a bad time. I tried my best to listen.

About an hour later, my ex-girlfriend called me. She asked me how I was, how I was doing, how she felt bad, but then her tone made an abrupt one-eighty from caring to sharp and accusatory. She brought up a girl who wasn’t even a friend of my mine and said “ … so those are the types of girls you like, right?”

My friend from high school, Marcelino, or Marce, sent me a private message via Facebook Messenger that wasn’t so private.

That was enough.

It was like a perverse inversion of the Ebenezer Scrooge tale.

You see the day my father passed away, the deal I made with myself, my body, my god, the Divine, kicked in. The deal was this: I promised that I would do everything in my power to see my father be as comfortable as possible, that he feel safe and secure, and most importantly, that I was not going to let him die alone.

And I did that.

For the three months that we all knew he was terminal with gall bladder cancer that had spread to his liver and chemo was not an option because his body was too weak from all the damage he suffered from his Chrons Disease, I held him and my mother together as best I could, despite the oncoming inevitibility.

I did that.

For the five years previous, I taught and fell in love with a single mother of two who had severe ADHD, severe anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and I did everything I humanly could to maintain that relationship.

I did that.

But after all that, my cup was overfull. I had no more room.

I was just not having it. I told off each one of them. I used my words. I’m very good at them – just ask my two exes. I cut them, and I cut them deep. And I cut them out of my lives. Eventually, over time, I tried my best at mending fences with the two exes.

Hit my thumb with the hammer most of the time, but I did what I could – especially when it came to my ex-girlfriend, Lindsey. I hated her timing, but I really couldn’t blame her anger. The stress of taking care of her and her family and my parents while my father was sick led my then-undiagnosed Major Depression and ADHD to take me down some very dark and toxic roads to find ways to deal, ways that my girlfriend could not forgive. Thankfully, three years later, all of that was addressed. Lindsey and I are still broken up, but now we’ve achieved understanding and forgiveness, and to be quite honest, it’s more than my old sorry ass deserves.

But Marce – Marce was a different story.

I just couldn’t. I am not going to get into the details of what went wrong. If you see me out somewhere and ask, maybe I’ll tell you, maybe I won’t. I’d venture to guess he’d say the same thing. He would try to reach out, but I never responded.

Marce and I were never close. We had a lot in common – but we were never close.

I first met Marce in freshman basketball. I remember him having some skill, but mostly I remember him being very uptight back then. I would have my little comments that I would say – to no one in particular – but Marce was pretty vocal about my comments.His face would pinch up and he would ask me why the hell I would say that, and then he would tell me to stop, because he found it annoying.

You see, I hate people like that. Uptight people who think they have the right to tell other people anything about the way they would talk. I always thought that was bad manners. I mean, come on – I have a pretty vast store of vocabulary in my head and I know how to speak English, but I also have my little jokes that I tell myself because I think they’re funny, but I would never criticize someone for talking a specific way – especially of they weren’t picking on me. Marce had no such distinction. So as soon as he criticized me for that, naturally, I did it more to annoy the hell out of him.

Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. I was told by one of the coaches that I was really bad at basketball, and they had to let me go – but I could still come to the practices and workout if I wanted. It was like being dumped by a girl, then having her tell me that we could still be friends.

I didn’t stay for practices very long.

The next time I met Marce, a whole year had passed, and we were already juniors. He had mellowed out some by then, enough to notice that we got along decently, and by chance, he started to hang out with some of the people I would hang out with. And we were able to spend enough time with each that we found we both had a lot in common.

We loved acting. We both shared a love of Mel Brooks’ classic comedies. We both really loved Val Kilmer’s Top Secret. We loved the ridiculousness of it, and we loved acting it out. We were both attention whores – each in our own way. We loved an audience and we played up to them – especially girls. We loved music – listening to it and playing it. We both shared a passionate love for U2, first and foremost, and then Sting, and then Grunge exploded, and we found our music.

grad pic

So we shared these commonalities and a creative chemistry, but we were never close. He never confided his fears and worries to me, nor I to him. My best friend was Carlos. We confided in each other. Marce and I, on the other hand, clicked in a different way.

Usually it was fun. We’d go on trips between classes, walking down the hallways or the breezeways, cutting up, acting like we were straight out of Monty Python or Top Secret, copying riffs from HBO’s The Kids in the Hall – “I’m crushing your head!!!”  — stuff like that.

NOTE: if you don’t know who The Kids in the Hall are, shame on you, when you’re done reading this, and you still find yourself on the interwebs, go to the YouTube, search The Kids in the Hall, watch, enjoy, repeat.

We were like Wayne and Garth, Beavis and Butthead, … I can’t think of any current “dude bromances” – #sorrymillenials.

I got him into acting – UIL One Act Play, we started an awesome UIL Improv team – and placed in our first events ever – we jammed, he played rhythm and I played drums. Marce was pure constant energy. He was fun. In retrospect, my Major Depression had a lot to do with how I reacted to him. Back then, I didn’t realize that my ADHD and Major Depression competed with each other, and that my energy levels came in waves – my highs were really high, and matched Marce’s toe-to-toe, but when my lows came and I needed to recharge silently his sometimes manic energy seemed too much and I got annoyed.

Of course, I knew none of this at the time. So the good aspects of me and Marce’s chemistry, would become the negatives at times. Creatively, we were each other’s Jordan and Pippin, switching roles depending on the situation. We sparked creatively and worked each other competitively to pick each other’s game up. But then my energy would give and the lethargy of my Major Depression would kick in, making me feel like he got the better of me creatively. My mood would sour, and I’d just pout out.

Added to that, my Major Depression made my lips heavy, so it kept me silent in high school. Any beefs I had – with Marce, or with others – I never addressed, leading a lot of people – even my friends, Marce, even my own family – to believe that I was a pushover. I never said anything to verbally defend myself. I merely held it all in and earned the reputation as having not even a pebble for a spine. I wouldn’t do what guys did – call him out or take the piss out of him. I just kept quiet, kept it in. That was not good. That became one emotional item in a growing storage box housed in an ever expanding warehouse of unaddressed issues.

But we kept on, inspiring each other creatively.

And then he introduced me to Ryan.

The first day we jammed together as a “band” – like all other significant firsts a person goes through in this life – was burned in my brain. I can recall every detail. This blue sports car pulls up – Camaro? I can’t remember … – and this skinny white kid with long blonde hair steps out, walks to the back of his car and brings his guitar and his amp.  Marce played rhythm. I played drums. And Ryan waited, counted out the measures and got a feel for the tempo, and shredded on lead guitar. It was fantastic.

That was the birth of the Triumvirate. The connection Marce and I had as musicians was near telepathic. We knew when to change. We knew when to crescendo, when to decrescendo, when to slow the tempo, when to speed it up. And on top of that, Ryan wailed, simply wailed.

trio Grad pic

We were connected.

Back then.