Still trying to catch up, here is another that I thought fit the prompt better than anything else I could write now. Sorry for all the reposting.
Cause & Affect
I have never told this story to anyone; not because it is horrific or filled with things that hold any shame for me. I only recently allowed this story to drift up from the inner recesses of my mind, and now that it is there, right up in front waving its arms pleading for me to show it the attention it deserves, I will succumb to its desires and give it to you. There is no bully, or malevolent aggressor, but I think it will do just fine for our purposes today.
It starts many years ago when I was fresh faced teenager, just thirteen years old. I had been back at home from the farm for only a short time, and was becoming a problem in school. All of the women that worked in the admin office of my ninth grade class knew me on sight; I had been sent there for various disciplinary offenses so many times that they would just shake their head and tell me to have a seat.
About a third of the way through the school year I was called to the Vice Principal’s office; I was genuinely surprised, I had no idea what I had done this time. My surprise turned to fear when I walked in and saw my father sitting there with a look of fiery disgust written all over his face. Before anyone could say more than a few words there was a knock at the door and a man walked in that would come very close to changing my life forever.
He swept into the room with an air of self assured purpose; his hair was as black as any I’d seen and combed back into a large pompadour, almost enough to make me laugh out loud. He wore a mustache that wouldn’t have looked out of place in any 1970’s cop drama or Mexican cantina. He wore a tie but no jacket, and stood six foot tall without an inch of the broken slouch that many of the adults in my life wore with pride.
He introduced himself to me first, and then my father; he said, “You can call me Mr. E,” but all I heard was “mystery”. He began to speak; he talked about a school, for children like me, of which he was the Principal. He talked about alternative teaching methods, and smaller class sizes so kids could get more individual time with the teachers. He went on and on, but I heard very little of what he was saying because there was a miracle happening right before my eyes: he was skillfully plucking all the right strings to keep my father firmly in his seat. My father nodded in all the right places, asked only a minimum of questions; they were old friends just met, or so it seemed.
When it was all over, I was to be transferred to this new school and start the uphill fight to get a high school diploma. My father would eventually shake free of the spell Mr. E had put on him and tell me that I was attending a retard school, but never tried to pull me out. How could he, from that day forward I was a straight A student.
In my first year I worked through three Math books, and half way through a fourth. When I first got there I did a few placement tests to find out where I should start, but once they had a firm grasp on where I needed to be, they handed me a book and told me to go to it. It was simple enough, start at the beginning, do the chapter test, if I passed it, go to the next, if I failed, go back and learn the stuff that needed work. If there was something that I just couldn’t get my head around, there was a teacher that worked her way around the room, and would take as much time as you needed until you got it. There were no two students in that room that were working on the same thing at the same time, several of them were in separate books altogether, but it worked, and I was off to the races.
Another thing about this school was their attitude toward skipping class, if you wanted to ditch a class all you had to do was tell the teacher you wouldn’t be there, no reason given, just the courtesy to let them know you weren’t coming. We called it “speaking”, you would walk into the classroom and say, “I’m speaking, fourth period,” and the teacher would mark you down. That simple, never a lecture, or a stern look, just a quick check mark next to your name; if you didn’t speak, a call would be made home that afternoon. You could go to school first thing in the morning and speak to every one of your teachers for that day and then go about your business, but if you just didn’t go at all, they would call home. If you didn’t want your parents to know that you hadn’t gone to school, you had better speak. I think the philosophy was that once you had gone through all the trouble of going to school, why not stay?
The basic premise was each student was responsible for their own actions; if you wanted to get your education, your diploma, you had to be in class, on time, and do the work. You were the only person to blame if you couldn’t make it in that system, period. I thrived. Every rule at that school had been voted on by students, and were as fair as they could be.
Mr. E was unlike any other principal I had ever met, or met since; he would walk the halls whistling bird calls so loud you could hear him coming miles away. He was famous for sticking his finger in his nose and faking a grand booger flick in anyone’s direction, even some of the teachers. He commanded a room and made everyone feel at ease in his presence.
I don’t know if he saw something in me, or if he thought I needed a little extra attention, but we became friends. He would talk to me about home, even told me, more than once, that my father was an asshole; something I already knew, but delighted in hearing out of someone else’s mouth just the same. Eventually, he invited me to his house for the weekend, to go hunting with him and a friend of his. I agreed, he called my father and got his okay.
Those weekends were amazing; he had two small daughters and was an extraordinary father to them. He took time with each of them and really talked to them. Listened to what they had to say and gave each of them more attention than I could manage at home in a month. His wife was a beautiful woman that he had met in college, she too was a teacher; there were pictures all over their house of them through the years, and I delighted to see what Mr. E looked like before the mustache. I made fun of him about those pictures at every opportunity. I always felt at home in that house.
By the end of that first year at that school, I felt like I was going to be okay after all, until one weekend when my father and I had a huge argument and he told me to get out of his house. I called Mr. E and he came all the way to town to pick me up; I slept on the same pullout couch I had occupied while I was there on our hunting trips. I knew it wasn’t going to last forever, but I couldn’t help but wish it would.
The following Monday, Mr. E came to one of my classes and called me out; my father was waiting in his office. With Mr. E acting as moderator, my father and I talked, really talked. He agreed to let me come home, and I agreed to a laundry list of new rules; things that I had never started doing in the first place were suddenly forbidden, but it was easy enough to agree to never start, but over the summer, things got increasingly hard at home.
I had started smoking pot, was so blatant about it I never even tried to hide it. My father caught me in one lie after another; I said I was working when I wasn’t so I could go get drunk with friends, I started staying out all hours, and on more than one occasion didn’t come home at all for days on end without so much as a phone call. I just didn’t care anymore, I was no longer afraid of him and there was nothing he could do about it. I didn’t feel wanted there, and made a point of staying away.
On one such excursion, I ran into my step-brother one afternoon and he told me he needed the weed I had hidden in my room for him. He was only a couple of months younger than me, and had asked me to get him some; he had been at work when I got home with it, so I put it away and had forgotten it was there in the few days since. He was on his way to work but told me where to put it in his room and so, I went home for the first time in three days to do just that.
When I got there I was glad to see that there was nobody home; I had hidden the pot in a shoe box in the bottom drawer of my dresser, and so I went into my room, still tiptoeing despite the empty house, and opened my bottom drawer. I reached in and pulled the top off the shoe box, but where there should have been an ounce of marijuana, there was nothing but a note written in my father’s sprawling script. It said, “Surprise!”
I wasted no time putting the lid back on that shoe box and getting the hell out of there. I wasn’t about to get caught there if I could help it. I left and went to a friend’s house for another day, but the next time I went home my father was waiting for me, and he told me to get out, and stay out.
I tried to sleep at friend’s houses as much as I could, but it only took a couple of days before I had no place to go. I decided to call Mr. E; I knew he would know what to do, and so, I bummed enough change to use a pay phone and dialed his number.
Mr. E answered the phone and I said hello, but not much else. He told me that my father had called him, that he told him I was selling pot out of his house and he wasn’t going to put up with it. My father had told him he could have me, and then he told me that he couldn’t condone what I was doing, that I should know that. He said I was on my own on this one, and should go home and try to work things out. Then he hung up.
I never got to tell him that it wasn’t true. That there was weed, but it wasn’t mine. I never got to say that I had made a mistake, but it wasn’t one worthy of being cast out into the world at fourteen years old. I stood there for a few minutes and listened to the busy signal that the old school touch-tone phones used to sound when there was a broken connection, tears stinging my eyes. I had trusted in this man to be there for me when I couldn’t count on anyone else, and even that was gone.
I never again found a connection with someone that I felt I had had with that man, and as the weight of the betrayal I felt at that moment turned to utter despair and I found myself with nowhere to be, I swore to never again trust anyone but myself. Nobody was ever going to take care of me, but me, and that was never more obvious than right then.