A Tale of Two High Schools

A Tale of Two High Schools

A principal that greeted you every morning as you walked through the double doors, into a brightly lit space, lined with large windows capturing the morning light. The windows were decorated with stained glass, the result of several years of grade 12 art projects, a tribute from the students to the school. Down the main hallway, designed to be extra wide, there were bean bag chairs, brightly colored, lining the wall. Here, over the lunch hour, students and teachers would sit and talk and visit. For those who wanted something a bit more comfortable, they were invited to sit in the coffee lounge just off of the counselor’s office, who made themselves available as required.

The cafeteria was a large room, situated on the second floor of the school, over looking the track and field area out back of the school, with a beautiful view of the mountains behind. On the walls at either end of the cafeteria were large TV screens, tuned into MTV, back when MTV began, only playing the newest music videos.

There were state of the art computer labs, filled with Apple computers. The entire school was wired with TVs in every classroom, satellite signal (this was before the internet), and trophy cases celebrating every achievement of every student current and in the past. The gym was an amazing multi-purpose room that transformed to the need in the moment and just off of the gym was a fully equipped weight training room, open to the students and the staff – even outside of school hours.

This was high-school in this mountain top village. A state of the art, modern high-school, better equipped then most private schools I had heard of or even dreamed of going, filled with young enthusiastic teachers being mentored by older, incredibly gifted teachers – all of whom were excited to be there each and every day.

By contrast you entered this other high-school by entering a compound, reminiscent of a penitentiary, finding your way to the office, hidden behind sliding glass windows and high counter-tops. The brick walls were colored off-grey and were stark, empty, and cold. The lockers, although having random and few colored doors, looked warn and out of place among the many hallways lined with mesh encased narrow windows that allowed you to peer into tiny classrooms.

In order to save on costs this school purchased left over metal desks from world war II – you know – the one pieces that in order to get into them you had to contort your body and slide in sideways. The TV shows from the 50’s made it look easy but in reality you would snag your clothing or pinch your thigh each and every time.

The track and field was just a field, with the hope of cutting any lawn given up one overly hot summer ago, leaving only yellowing patches of ground covering compact dirt. The gym came with warnings, certain sections of seats we were not to use and certain pieces of equipment were best left packed up. There was no computer lab and no pretense to try and fake it either.

Each class was staffed by a teacher who did not want to be there. As it turned out this school is where teachers went to retire. Every year, a bunch of teachers would exit with a brief mention in a school handout and the next year there would be another batch of teachers who didn’t quite make the cut somewhere else so they were sent here to live out their remaining days.

Two high-schools, two different philosophies. Two different stories. The first one would be my home until sometime late into my tenth grade when my family suddenly uprooted and headed into the interior of this western province to a valley filled with dust, sagebrush, and mills. I would be in this second high-school until I got my driver’s license, purchased my first car, and then moved back to the first high-school for my grad year on my own.

Then, part way through my grad year, back in the first high-school, circumstances would dictate that I would have to leave and go back to the new community where my family was, and that second high-school. The principal and teachers at the first high-school were trying to come up with a housing and employment solution for me,which would allow me to stay. The second high-school couldn’t give a shit whether I succeeded or not so eventually I told them to fuck off and quit all together.

“Everything about me is a contradiction, and so is everything about everybody else. We are made out of oppositions; we live between two poles. There’s a philistine and an aesthete in all of us, and a murderer and a saint. You don’t reconcile the poles. You just recognize them.”

Orson Welles

 

The Barn

The Barn

Near the end of my time in this mountain top village, my persona had turned quite dark. I had become quite depressed, dark, moody – what might be referred to as Emo today. I sought out satanic music, movies, and spent an incredible amount of time reading cult literature and remaining in deep trance-like states. My lunch hours were spent sitting in the corner of the school cafeteria with a small group of other like-minded individuals. One of these people was a very tall, slender guy who would wear a black full-length trench-coat to school. He wouldn’t talk to anyone except this small group of people. He was also the reason why many cats would go missing each Halloween.

He spoke in a cryptic way and talked about demonic spirits constantly. A few months before that Halloween he began to share that his life was in danger and that there was a real concern that he was not going to live past Halloween. I didn’t seem him around school very often but each time I did this is what he was talking about. After Halloween I don’t recall seeing him at all. I believe I was mildly concerned but was too busy drinking my life away to care, and within a short period of time I was moving away once again so it didn’t matter.

However, among this group of outcasts was a lone female. Number five. In the earlier grades she was a boy chaser, especially the boys midget hockey team. She ended up with a much older boyfriend, who was not in high school and at that point she was ‘hands off’. After what seemed a long time she began to reconnect with her classmates and it was apparent that this guy had ripped her heart out. Now, she found herself sitting at the same table as me and we would spend our lunch hours discussing the various methodologies involved in passing our hands through solid objects like this table we were seated at.

Late one evening, close to Halloween, a group of us hooked up in order to go and hold a seance. This girl sat as the passenger in the front seat, I was in the back seat, and there was a driver, whom I do not remember. There could have been others in that car but my memory is quite fragmented around this particular event. It was pitch dark as we drove out of the mountain top village and it seemed like we had driven for quite a long time. After awhile we came to a stop along an abandoned road and we all hoped out of the vehicle.

Climbing over a fence we slowly made our way down into a farmer’s field, walking for some distance, until we came to an old barn. We entered the barn, and climbed up into the loft. Someone with us brought out a Ouija board and set it up – I don’t remember if it was brought with us or if it was there. We began to use the Ouija board, calling out to the demonic spirits lurking in the shadows. One answered and as it spelled out its name, the group thought it was amusing that it was my name, only with a couple of the letters reversed.

We had the area dimly lit through the use of a couple of flashlights but the manifestations of this demonic spirit was becoming all too real. As the atmosphere began to change, I now found myself becoming fearful and in that moment someone or something entered the barn through the same doors that we did.

That’s it. My mind blanks out from that point and I don’t remember anything. Years later I managed to contact that same girl and very cautiously I asked her about that night at the barn.

“Do you remember the night at the barn?”

“Yes”, she replied.

“What happened?” I asked tentatively.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said. “Don’t ask me about it.”

I tried unsuccessfully to find out from her what had happened that night. Eventually, she let me know that she would tell me at the upcoming high school grad reunion. I was scared and anxious but was preparing myself for what I might find out. She wasn’t there. I tried contacting her again and again but she would not respond. Now, I can’t even find a trace of her.

Number five. A closed fist. Filled with anxiousness and anger. Filled with questions and remorse. Five women. One massively screwed up guy.

A Fistful of Women

A Fistful of Women

This mountain top village brought five distinct women into my life. Each one would impact me, distract me, tear at me, and frustrate me. When I finally left this place, I was emotionally battered, bruised, and was rigid in my stance that I would never get married, never, ever have children, and instead would pursue financial wealth and independence. My grad write-up made that declaration and the financial compensation contract I wrote  and signed for my parents made that same declaration. Today, I live paycheck to paycheck and I have six children. My only saving grace is that my parents lost that contract or else I would have been out six thousand dollars.

The first girl was my first kiss. As you recall, my teddy bear was a better kisser. However, this was my first sexual experience that did not involve intercourse and therefore it has left its mark. She was a couple years my senior and although I am not sure how we broke up I do remember the night I was kidnapped. She had asked me to attend a wedding with her and I obliged. Afterwards she was driving around and eventually we ended up parked in some church’s parking lot, late at night, overlooking part of the village.

“Well, it’s getting late,” I fumbled with my lines.

“You are coming home with me,” she replied. “I already arranged it with my parents”.

There was no getting out of the car and she was not going to drive me home. The message was clear. I was now hers and tonight was going to be ‘the night’. The thing was, as much as I was a raging hormone-filled adolescent teenage male, I didn’t want to. I was still trying to figure out what sex was and my curiosity around intercourse bordered on fearful palpitations, mixed with a healthy dose of anxiety. A few years later I realized that was a common aspect of love-making and one worked through those symptoms in order to get to some amazing and mind-warping results. But I digress.

Needless to say, I managed to get myself home and that was the end of female number one.

Female number two was now three years my senior and the two of us hooked up at school dance and a french class retreat at a ski lodge. Again, nothing sexual happened – in fact, to be honest even the kissing was shortened by the entire experience. With this girl my brother was mocking me, as he didn’t believe that I had anyone in my life at the time.

My brother would be flocked by girls the moment he left the house and would be satisfied to look like a male pimp out of the 70’s with girls hanging off of each arm, like bracelets.

On one occasion I had her over to our house when our parents were away. I asked her to change her t-shirt so I could show it to my brother and his friends who were upstairs – just to let them know that I was ‘getting some’. She obliged and proceeded to undress in my room, to which I gasped, interrupted her, and fled the area, waiting discreetly outside the closed door. In the end I found out that she was only ‘slumming it’ with me in an effort to get her boyfriend back for something he had done a couple of weeks earlier. Apparently it worked and she dumped me without warning, running back to him.

Female number three was a freckled red head that lived across the street from me. In all platonic senses we were friends and enjoyed that friendship for the years that I knew her. However, as that friendship continued I began to really like her and started trying to get a relationship going. She was liking the attention and flirted with the idea. However, in the end what emerged was that she was a devout church-goer and I had absolutely no idea what that meant only that it meant that I couldn’t be her boyfriend. This arbitrary, religiously constructed, rule frustrated me, and in my frustration I, upon a few occasions, embarrassed myself by shouting out my disapproval at the top of a school staircase with her fleeing from the scene a couple of floors down.

Female number four was a surprise. It was a surprise because I began to receive packages through the mail with no return address on the large brown envelope. Inside these envelopes were photocopies and cut-outs of my appearance in school yearbooks, always with my face / picture circled and highlighted. Then these packages included architectural drawings of her dream house with the implications that this was to be our home. Then the letters started and it was in that process that she revealed who she was and what her intentions were. Apparently she had thought out the rest of her life very carefully and I was an integral part of that plan. I was able to navigate out of this by agreeing to meet with her in the most public place I knew, where I carefully calculated my words in order to not overly upset her. I had a friend hiding in the shadows just in case things went bad.

Within the year she had moved out of country.

Female number five was something all together different.

The Deconstruction of The Family (Part Two)

The Deconstruction of The Family (Part Two)

“We say, that we are obliged to keep up an appearance; certainly we are so, – but if we be obliged to keep up an appearance of being that which we are not, it arises from our having improperly assumed that appearance.”

Growing up, my parents – in particular my father – presented a rather specious theory of his parents. The conclusion of the matter was that his grandparents were very wealthy, perhaps even touching some noble class, now only surviving through his Nana, who would spend her time sitting in a high backed Victorian chair, in the middle of her room, surrounded with English antiquities. In my childhood I only caught glimpses of her twice as she was not receiving company at the time.

It was talked about around our dinner table that his dad started a trucking company in a western province before selling it to care for his growing family by packing up and moving out to this furthest west province to open up an automotive service station. The fact that they were renting a home that was flooded in a great flood that buried most of the city in that western province, wherein they lost most of their possessions, and without insurance were pretty much destitute before heading out of province – that part was missed until later.

In fact, one of the saddest times in my life was watching my father’s growing realization of his own parent’s illusion of grandeur, finding out more and more about his own family of origin and the commonness of it all. There was no noble class, no sustaining wealth, nothing. Watching a son’s pride in his identity crumble away is a painful process. Seeing that it was my father was disorientating.  Perhaps if this process for him occurred while we were in this mountain top village our family would have been in a healthier place. But it did not and we were not.

Each of us seemed to be running away from something. My brother and I dealt with these circumstances differently. I was imploding, finding solace in darker and darker mysticism, now being introduced to occultic ways, and he was, well, I have no idea. My mother was hanging out with her new co-workers, occasionally joining up with my father at a work-orientated social event – or at one of his co-worker’s homes where the wives would busy themselves as they did back then while the men talked shop.

All of this was to assist in the falseness of it all, to cope with this mysterious weight that was upon the family. My parents would drink, more than I had noticed them before, and I was intrigued with the allure that it created. It is of no surprise to me that as an addition to my own coping strategy, within the next year and a half, that I began to drink to the same pleasures that they embraced. Rum, Bacardi of course, and Bailey’s liquor, followed by a local favorite beer, produced nearby by the glacier waters.

We woke up each morning and with misery in our eyes we painted our faces with empty smiles to help us get through the day. Never mind the natural beauty of this place, majestic in each season, wildlife freely wandering the streets, European delights, sounds, and sights filling every corner of this village. The miner’s misery and loneliness that they faced deep below this Bavarian place became our misery, and very quickly, the family smiles and laughs were reserved for the social occasions only, for our home held no secrets, only broken dreams and promises.

The Deconstruction of The Family (Part One)

The Deconstruction of The Family (Part One)

Up on top of that miner’s hill sat this idyllic 80’s styled house stuffed full of everything modern and stylish at the time. There was a new car in the carport, new furniture in the living room, and new dishes in the cupboards, although that last part was mostly in part to me breaking all of our dishes on a fairly regular basis. Apparently I was the most clumsy teenager to a fault.

My body seemed to take shifts in how it was growing. First, apparently it was my ass, growing out so much that it hit a neighboring wall whenever I turned. Then it was my feet, which required the iconic clown shoe to have a good fit. This of course, translated into a rather awkward moment during a school basketball match where I was given a breakaway opportunity, wide open with a straight dash to the opponent’s net, only to dribble the ball right onto my protruding foot that slapped the court floor as I ran, projecting the ball like a bullet running parallel to the floor into the audience’s seats.

Or, the walls that seemed to close in around me as I would walk, most notably, down a hallway where instead of a regular straight jaunt I would ricochet off of both opposing walls, crashing over the telephone stand at the other end. I have fallen backwards through my parent’s glass screen storm door while talking with some of my friends. I have kicked a ball in our backyard at a weird angle, tripping over my ankle in the same motion, only to add momentum to the ball as it went through a window like a brick. My hand has missed the door handle, awkwardly springing out from my body like a recoiled spring snake in a nut can, smashing through the window.  All of these examples, sadly, were taken from this time in this mountain top village and only represent a very small percentage of my awkwardness.

My awkwardness was not limited to my physical apparitions but were contained between the pages of my personal diary as well. A sacred book that I kept well hidden in my room and to which I would retreat several times a day to try and make sense out of my life. In particular I was seeking personal clarification around my sexual being, exploring adolescent sexual awakenings, and finding helpful meaning through overly descriptive language. This came to a crashing halt the day my younger brother discovered my said diary, read the entire thing, not just to himself, but to the girl who was featured in some of the entries, and to his friends. I got the book back but quickly burned it with the renewed energy to make my life even more secretive then it already was.

Oddly enough this is the only memory I have of my younger brother in the entire two and a half years that we were in this mountain top village. I was aware, though, that during our time here he attempted to run away several times, although I couldn’t have been bothered to figure out why or pay attention to how long each time was. We lived different lives even though we lived under the same roof.

Such could be said the same for my parents as well.

I wasn’t the only broke person in our move from the northern city to this place. Very quickly into this new rhythm of life my mom exited the home to enter the workforce. She was doing several different things such as desktop publishing for the local newspaper and involved in a variety of community events but it was her job at the local flower shop that kept her away from the home the most. She formed this micro-community that revolved around this flower shop, run by a couple of flamboyant individuals who loved life and loved their rum. Work hours extended well past the closing of the business and into the evenings where my mother would be most days of the week.

It would seem she was not missed that much by my dad as his job had continued his consumption of his life, his time, and his soul. He had no time for community events, no time for connection with his family at all, for he was feeling the increased pressure to deliver big numbers to head office at the expense of a community that was struggling to make ends meet. The cracks on the veneer were beginning to show.

 

The Center Of The Universe And More Lessons From My Shop Teacher

The Center Of The Universe And More Lessons From My Shop Teacher

Thinking back to my time in this mountain top village summons a typical Hollywood movie scene of some character tripping out to the latest fashion drug. It is psychedelic, chaotic, fragmented, colorful, frightening, and generally makes no sense whatsoever – for the most part.

In one flash I am sitting across from a friend of mine at his kitchen table, his hand lying flat on the table in front of him with his fingers spread apart. In his other hand he is holding a large kitchen knife. He begins to thrust down the kitchen knife in the motion made famous by “Psycho”, stabbing the tip of the blade into the kitchen table, in-between each of his fingers. He increases the speed, continuing this lunacy for the next 30 seconds or so. I look at his face and it almost shows disinterest. No intense concentration. No maniacal or deranged look of a killer. Just disinterest like his life is so fucked up that even this is boring him.

Next flash has me practically running with my best friend at the time to either his house or mine, right after school, so we can watch our daily soap opera. The two TV shows that captured our attention was “General Hospital” and “Another World”. We would be glued to the set in an effort to get caught up with the drama of these different characters. It is somewhat ironic that my friend went on to be an administrator in a hospital while some people close to me may simply chuckle at the inference given with the second choice.

Then there are the flashes that relate back to school. In one scene there is a frantic look on a teenage boy’s face as he is desperately running as fast as he can, all the while looking back over his shoulder at me. I am walking slowly but firmly after him – and like in the movies still able to keep up. He darts into the music room that has been set up with chairs for some class time. As he stumbles and trips in his effort to get around these obstacles I follow closely behind simply plowing through them all – booting the chairs as necessary, sending them flying across the room. It all comes to a rather anti-climatic end with me being constrained by several people and the teenage boy making his getaway.

This other flash intrigues me and I have often shared the story, as an old man often does, in an effort to both inspire and instruct the youth today. In my case it has been my children that get to hear these stories, often timed in the moment of something stupid they are doing, to which they respond with an eye roll, dismissing me and my story with a “we have heard it all before dad” look before they move on with something else. A brilliant strategy on my part whereas I stop their idiotic behavior by imposing upon them an oft-recanted story from my youth. They run away screaming with their hands clasped to their ears, which provides me with amusement, while diffusing the situation that required such actions in the first place.

This flash is of me standing in shop class, clearly having just exasperated my shop teacher with something, I have no idea what, just before he points his finger to the door in a dramatic gesture and says, “Out”. The scene then breaks to me standing in the hallway, bored, just before the teacher comes out of the classroom. It is clear that he would rather do a myriad of other actions in the moment but he composes himself and stares at me, trying to find the words. His one sentence, context be damned, has stayed with me these past few decades, haunting me, and reminding me that life lessons comes from the weirdest places.

If I were to meet him again I would thank him. He didn’t know it, and neither did I at the time, but his one sentence was profound and prophetic. It started a crack that continued to build over the next few years that would eventually lead to my undoing. And that was a good thing.

As he stood in front of me, clearly exasperated, he paused but a moment and then told me, “The world does not revolve around you.”

He then left me standing in the hallway, returning to his classroom.

I was taken off guard. I pause, even as I type this, for his voice and those words still vibrate around me as I remember them. Said in a fit of frustration, when what he probably wanted to do was to tell me off with as many succinct swear words as he could, but instead in that small insignificant moment he mustered whatever he had left of his teaching professionalism, and handed a teenage boy a life lesson that would alter his ways years later.

For, you see, I was convinced that the world, in fact, did revolve around me. My arrogance knew no limits, as arrogance often does, and my foray into a darker spiritualism feed into this egocentric superiority that only justified itself with my daily academic achievements. I was successful at whatever I touched, and that feed into this dark, smoldering arrogant mass that was hell-bent on consuming everything and everyone around them, including itself.

In the moment I dismissed his sentence, convinced that he was, simply, a moron. I left that hallway, even more arrogant then I was only a few moments earlier. My lesson would have to be learned another day.

Resource Management

Resource Management

Written on the summary page of my school memory book for my first year in this mountain top village under achievements is the sentence, “Went from nerd to cool”. A piece of paper, signed by all of my classmates confirms the transition where almost every girl and reluctantly every guy has written down, “Love the suit”. Proof that the transition did in fact occur, although it is not clear if it was me who did the transitioning or my perception.

Either way, I was noticed and I used that to my benefit in every way I could. I was winning awards, I was on sports teams, apparently I was learning a variety of musical instruments as well, having done a spectacular job on the guitar. Oddly enough, that skill did not transfer with me into adulthood where my wife and I were youth leaders for a season and I was inspired to purchase a guitar, always having wanted to play one. I bought it with the intention to play it for the youth and lead them in some singing. To celebrate this moment I brought the guitar to youth showing it off to everyone. I then opened the case, sat down in front of them, and told them that I had practiced a song that I would now play for them.

It was called, “I’m getting out of jail today.” To which I proceeded to use the plastic pick to rub the guitar strings, mimicking the sound of sawing through the bars of a jail cell.

No one got it.

I never played the guitar again.

However, back in this first year in the mountain top village I had the golden touch. Everything I did I received awards and my successes were celebrated. One celebration in particular was most poignant. It occurred in home education class. The semester project was to sew an apron, the resulting creation being graded and that became your final grade for that class. This was a full apron with a bib and neck piece, with two pockets on the waist, tied at the back with two long straps. A complicated piece that required you to pay attention to the different sewing instructions received throughout the semester.

I didn’t.

Instead I called upon a new skill I was developing behind closed doors; people resource management. In particular it was the skill of having other people do your work while having them think it is both their idea and a good idea. I perfected this skill during this home education class and had the opportunity to use it in the years that followed, in particular during my entire grade 11 physics class where my classmates would simply fill in my test score answers for me and in my grade 12 english course where my girlfriend at the time actually completed the entire course for me. That backfired somewhat when it came to the final exam, however I was still able to pull off a low C for the course, her work carrying me through.

But, back in this home education class I took a look at this final assignment. I divided the project into its main components and assessed it against the half dozen work groups that were in the class. Determining the personalities and strengths of each work group I then corresponded one aspect of this project to each work group in order to compound my success. If one group had some participants that enjoyed the quilted bib component then I paired that part of my sewing project to that group.

As a result I had each of the work groups complete one aspect of my sewing project and then I approached another person to sew all the components together. The end result was amazing and I received an A for my work.

In hindsight I wonder if the other people in my particular work group were as impressed with me as I thought they were. They spent their semester watching me work the room and not the project, as they struggled with their own sewing lamentation.

Resource management is not for everybody I suppose.