Sabbatical

Say mister, can you spare a dime?
Some change could make a change
Could buy some time
Some freedom
Or an ear to hear my story
It’s all I’ve got
My fiction beats the hell out of my truth
A palm upturned burnt blue

–From Kiss the Bottle by Jawbreaker (Covered remarkably by Lucero)

A few days before I left Ithaca, someone broke into my car. They took nothing but the change I had in the ashtray—a few dollars perhaps. I didn’t get around to counting it, but I’m sure they did. I’m sure that whatever they used that money for kept them from being hungry or sober. I was going to use that change to pay tolls on my way out of Ithaca. For whatever they used it for, I’m sure it didn’t get them far.

I spent the last year and a half living in an apartment formerly occupied by my ex-wife, which I wasn’t aware of until a month into my residence there. Regardless, I did a lot of work in that cave, making up for the lack of writing I experienced when I was married. While moving out of that place provided some sort of closure, it is a place that I enjoyed more as home than a reminder of my ex.

I packed the same boxes I moved in there with, the same boxes I used when I left my ex. The cursive, Sharpie scrawl on the corners of each box had been crossed out, new labels written, and those crossed off as well. I didn’t label the boxes this time. It doesn’t matter. My things, what I have left from “Things Temporary” are the lingering items I’ve used to make a temporary home. Home, for me, doesn’t feel like home unless it is temporary.

This past semester went by quicker than any I can remember over the past five years, and the packing, the box-stuffing routine that I’m so used to, left Kamani restless and wondering—peering at me with her weird ear flopped. She tilted her head and smelled the corners of each box as I packed them. She got excited and jumped around in circles by the door like she always does for trips in the car. When I left her inside to carry the boxes out, she whined at the door until I returned. The ceremony made me grateful to have her, and any pain or horrible part of my marriage is barely remembered because of the joy that animal brings me, and I thought more about the changes over the past year.

I thought about the changes I made in teaching. I changed lesson plans, incorporated what I hoped were more interesting writing assignments. I reserved an auditorium for a big-screen viewing of “Fight Club.” I gave extra-credit in the appalling moments that I discovered most of my students had never seen “The Big Lebowski.” I adopted new connotations and vocabulary, such as bath salts, cake and twerking. I stopped wearing ties to class. I showed them Burroughs’s “Words of Advice for Young People.” I told them that everything they ever needed to know about life they learned in kindergarten. I told them that David McCullough Jr. was right and that they weren’t special. I encouraged them to steal from Walmart.

At the end of this semester, though, the red ink on their papers faded and made its way onto the pages of what my life has been over the past year and a half. As I was packing, I read through some old journals, things I’ve kept for me–a personal perspective of where I’ve come from; how much I’ve grown. I’ve shed most of my anger, my resentment, but I still find myself, at times, repeating things—trying to do things over and hoping that I can do them better. Then I realize that I’ve been walking around the same block in a different direction but I still keep stepping in the same pile of shit.

I’ve been engaging with the same emotional instability, the same vapid, unsupported arguments, the same judgmental sanctimonious bullshit spouted from the mouths of deluded dipshits who build their pedestals with their lack of follow-through and their propensity to point their fingers—the same people who, instead of pushing to make their lives better, wait for everyone around them to falter so they can justify their judgments. Then I realize that I’m the fucking idiot who’s been standing there too long, like I’m staring at lop-sided tits on a mannequin because there was nothing left to look at, and I couldn’t find anything to scrape the shit from my shoe.

Perspectives change, and the benefits of education give us the knowledge to conquer new situations—to nod, pretend we believe the bullshit someone tries to feed us despite how small the spoon is, but in the end, control is the best you can hope for, and I don’t need shoes to drive away.

I’ve been starting over for most of my life. I’ve moved places with nothing but an Army-issue duffel bag and seven dollars in my pocket. I’ve walked away from more than one heart-shredding emotional disaster. I’ve seen my hopes and dreams shattered, but I have always been able to develop new goals. It seems, at times, what we thought we wanted had to shatter to make room for other things to expand, bloom—things that would truly make us happy. Sometimes, we become so enveloped by our hopes that the honesty we need is contained by something that will eventually lead us to resentment—something we realize we never really wanted to begin with. You don’t have to be that far away to miss the rotten petals on the rose.

I’m taking some time away from teaching, time to focus on what’s important to me, time to give more of myself to what matters most. I was fortunate to find that at a young age, during my escapes to the library (the most honest place I’ve ever been) where I could hide from the neighborhood bullies and cower in the quiet corners, bury myself in the pages of a Boxcar Children adventure or a Hardy Boys mystery. I’ll work toward another 10,000 hours, find new characters, develop new plots, use the delete button more, start over again and again and again and again. I’ll make the changes necessary to keep moving forward. I’ll keep my eyes on the road, but I’ll be watching for detours.

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