My heart hurts. I just finished Hidden Valley Road. Then again, my adult son has paranoid schizophrenia. Our ten-year journey toward help has been rocky and torturous. My heart often hurts.
Award winning journalist Robert Kolker combines an examination of twentieth century mental health treatment and the components of schizophrenia with the narrative of the Galvin family. Between 1945 and 1965, Don and Mimi Galvin had twelve children, ten boys and two girls. By the mid-1970s, six of the brothers had developed schizophrenia.
The Galvin family became one of the first to contribute to the genetic studies of the National Institute of Mental Health, and for their donation to the body of research, I am grateful. I will continue to keep the remaining family in my thoughts. Part of my sadness lies in the continued wait for a scientific breakthrough.
If you have experience with mental health issues, especially schizophrenia, Hidden Valley Road is a must read. If not and you are interested in knowing more, may you find compassion for those who suffer with severe mental illness and their families who are doing the best they can. There must be better help on the horizon.
“I’m gonna fight ‘em all / A seven nation army couldn’t hold me back.”
The White Stripes
I’ve heard the White Stripes in my head this past week, and their words convey my attitude. As I leave my house each day for my morning walk, my posture and stride seem to say, “Do not get in my way because I will kick your ass.” And that’s how I’ve been making my way through recent days. I carry this mixture of fury and hope, this “I will spit in your eye” mindset along with “God, please help me and most of all please help Drew.” My friends and prayers keep carrying me like a gondola up the mental health mountain I face.
Drew came by our house yesterday morning. The morning sun backlit his silhouette as he unlocked the front door and stood at the threshold. His long curly hair stood on end. A white boy’s afro. He said he was going to use the restroom.
“Did you sleep at the group home last night?” I said.
“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. He proceeded to the bathroom where I heard the flush and then into the garage where I heard the buzz of a variable speed drill. Alone in the house, I decided to write this post.
If you happened to read my post about prayers and friends carrying me last week, you know my son Drew was in the behavioral health hospital. Hospitalization #6. After ten long years of battling paranoid schizophrenia. Drew still has good days. When he left with HPD for the hospital, I found crystal meth in his room. How long have I been finding meth in his room? Has it been two years? Did I ever find meth three years ago when we lived in the La Quinta after the hurricane? How many times have I thrown meth in the trash? Where does he get his money to buy? Is he selling it? Does he have a medication efficacy issue? Is meth or schizophrenia the larger problem? These questions beat me down. Who knows?
Anyway, Drew spent five good days at the hospital. I have no idea what they did for him because he is thirty years old, and HIPAA laws protect his privacy. Drew reports that nothing happened, which could be true or false. The hospital doctor determined he was good to go. No further treatment necessary. The problem is Drew’s behavior leading up to the hospitalization proved dangerous to himself and/or others. Over the past three years, his delusions have progressively worsened along with his reactions to what he hears and believes. His dad and I are not willing to have him in our home at this time, partly because of a police report filed by our neighbors that in part led to his hospitalization. His psychiatrist is aware and unhelpful. Hospitalization #6 was unhelpful. Drew agreed to stay in a group home following his discharge.
By the way in Texas, group homes are not accredited in any way. If I wanted to open a group home for mentally ill patients and feed them and oversee their medication, I could—TOMORROW. IF. If you want to make some money, or at least have someone else pay your mortgage, move to Texas, open a group home, call psychiatric hospitals, and let them know you are open for business. From what I understand, it doesn’t take much more than that. Also, Texas ranks near the bottom of our fifty states for mental health expenditures per capita. Go figure. Should we move?
A Mr. Taylor drove Drew from the hospital to the God’s People group home where Drew called an Uber and returned home to pick up clothes and his car. His car that he had been using as his personal trash can. The same car I had removed trash from little by little—four full kitchen trash bags of McDonald’s trash, two uneaten apple pies and an empty sardine can, seemingly unending soda bottles and cans, empty American Spirit cigarette packs and cigarette butts everywhere—all kinds of empty cardboard box recycling—from a Ryobi Variable Speed Drill to a floor lamp, a Kobalt Retractable Hose Reel with Hose, a DeWalt Heavy-Duty Electric Wheeled Portable Compressor, and sex toys. Oh, and laundry, lots of dirty laundry. Some of which went straight to the trash. Some of which I’m airing now. Again I ask, where in the world is Drew getting this money? Have I been burying my head in the sand? All I know is that I have done the best I can. There is NO REASONING with mental illness, and NO ONE seems to want to help. Oh, unless, we happened to be millionaires. We MIGHT get some help that way. By the way if you Google God’s People in Houston, you won’t find anything. When I type the address into Google maps, I see the location of this group home in a one-story house in a residential neighborhood, likely three bedrooms and two baths.
So—after being released on Thursday, Drew didn’t spend Thursday or Friday night at the group home. However, he had been in contact with me by phone, and he was okay. He said, “I’m at a friend’s.”
“Are you planning to go back to the home?” I said.
“Yes,” he said. Drew is good at telling me what I want to hear. Like when I say, “Will you take a shower?” or “Will you take a trashbag and clean all of the trash out of your room?” I repeat the same question for his car. His response—always the same. Years and years of yesses. How are we supposed to help? By telling him he can no long live with us? By towing and selling his trashed out, torn up, paid for 2010 Honda Accord? I’m tired, and I’m trying to live my own best life despite challenges. How do you help someone who doesn’t want to help himself?
Mr. Taylor says he will let me know if Drew shows up, and for my own mental health I drive to the beach on Saturday. Drew makes a Saturday group home appearance—forty-eight hours after his hospital release. Mr. Taylor texts me about his arrival, and stupidly we pay a pro-rated fee for September housing. I say stupidly because Drew is at home when I return from the beach. He has eaten the leftover pizza, and I am thankful for his nourishment. We have a peaceful conversation about his aquarium and the fish he has recently purchased for his bedroom, and I am thankful for the calm. Drew says, “Their names are Patches and Duke and Catfishy.”
I say, “I named them Tom, Dick, and Harry.”
“Those are terrible names,” he says, and I am thankful for the laughs. Then, he leaves for the night.
Do you remember where this started?
Drew came by yesterday morning. The morning sun backlit his silhouette as he unlocked the front door and stood at the threshold. His long curly hair stood on end. A white boy’s afro. He said he was going to use the restroom.
“Did you sleep at the group home last night?” I said.
“No, no,” he said, shaking his head. He proceeded to the bathroom where I heard the flush and then into the garage where I heard the buzz of a variable speed drill. I would’ve thought the noise a buzz saw if I hadn’t found the cardboard box for the drill in his car. Alone in the house, husband out of town, I decided to write this post. Drew was gone within the hour.
Drew probably slept in his car last night. Possibly for the last four nights. If he’s lucky, he has a friend. Officially this means Drew is homeless. AND THIS IS THE PROBLEM WITH MENTAL HEALTH IN THE GREAT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (and exactly why I want to kick somebody’s ass).
Mid-rage, I stumbled onto Perth Girl’s Saturday post. It begins, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14).
Perth Girl wraps it up by saying, “Be still, my friend, be still. Let the Lord be your shield and your sword. Let Him be your rock and your shelter. Be still and surrender to Him, leave room for God to work, let Him fight for you.”
Then I went to church at Chase Oaks online, and the service ended with this song. Do I hear God’s voice?
And so, as I attempt to re-make my own Monday, to re-make my own week, my own life, today, I choose to let the Lord fight my battles, to be still and surrender, to let go and let God. Oh, and I do have one phone call to make—to a church that can potentially help me. That might not happen today. 🙏🏻
I’ll never forget the first blog post I ever read: “When Ripples Collide” by Baron Batch, March 29, 2011. Baron Batch was a football player at Texas Tech, and the Midland Reporter-Telegram published him as well. If you have some extra time, click the link.
I love his post so much that I’m going to borrow his introduction and riff from there:
“Have you ever watched rain fall on a lake? Each raindrop creates its own ripple.
When you combine the millions of raindrops and the millions of ripples that each singularly creates, you have a countless number of overlapping ripples that all have an effect on one another. The cool thing about this is that each raindrop ripple has an effect on the other ripples in the lake, even if it’s just in a small way. This is how people operate on a daily basis. We are individual raindrops in a huge lake.
“Of course each of us has our own ripple, but our lives are primarily made up of other people’s ripples crashing into our own. Many people like to think that our ripples crash randomly into each other without purpose or reason. Maybe that’s true, but then again maybe it’s not true at all. Perhaps I can help you decide. Maybe this story is the result of many ripples just coincidentally crashing into each other. Or maybe each ripple was ordered, measured, weighed, named, and timed perfectly to synchronize with the others to save a life.
“The story I am about to tell shows what happens when ripples collide perfectly.”
(To read the rest of Baron’s story click here. It might be fun to compare his story to mine.)
More and more often I hear from a person who tells me something along the lines of, “I love reading your posts when I need a little pick me up. Keep writing.” I’m always humbled because it’s just me publishing myself, and I never know who might be reading. Like Baron, somehow my writing became “a huge part of who I am.”
“Maybe,” like Baron says, “it’s all a coincidence. Maybe everything is just random…Maybe someone, somewhere, at some time, needed to read something that I would at some point write.”
In July of 2016, Kody’s employer transferred us from Dallas to Houston. While Kody continued to do his same job in a new location. I lost a job that was pretty damn perfect. I worked with true friends, and the kids were amazing. I taught advanced English classes and Creative Writing, and I made time to write. In short, I was fulfilled and content, and I had an amazing circle of support from friends made over the course of twenty-two years.
In August of 2017, I started a brand-new job in the suburbs of Houston, and not long after that, Hurricane Harvey flooded our home. Post evacuation, my family and I walked to a pet-friendly La Quinta where my blog was born and where we would live for the next ten months as we rebuilt our home. I found a formula for peace and hope through a combination of faith and gratitude, and I stuck to that theme in my writing. Did this move and a hurricane provide me an opportunity to encourage others?
My job that year was a struggle, I was short on patience, especially amid the upheaval at home, and this job required patience. I resigned believing I had another job in the bag, but I was wrong. I later realized that Rejection Is God’s Protection.
In August of 2018, I started my second brand-new job in two years. I taught AP Literature and AP Language. My kids were great, and we had some moments of hilarity in the classroom. Outside of the classroom, I worked my ass off.
At the end of the spring semester, I said to my students, “See you next fall.” Do you ever have a story that you start to tell and then you change your mind? I hate when people do that. Let’s suffice it to say, I met a personal challenge last summer that led to my second resignation in two years.
At the same time, I wanted to go back to school, and I had applied to Houston Baptist University for a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. The way I had been working would not have been conducive to school, so maybe the resignation was the right move all along. A ripple “ordered, measured, weighed, named, and timed perfectly to synchronize with others” who would change my life.
In January of 2020, I started my Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Houston Baptist University. Classes began with a week-long retreat at a Galveston beach house with guest professor Bret Lott. Bret read my writing and mentored me one-on-one. He cooked dinner for me and my classmates. He is the nicest guy. Oh, and he’s the author of many novels, New York Times best-sellers, and the Oprah pick Jewel. Did that first ripple of my move to Houston lead me to meeting Bret Lott?
I’ve read quite a bit this semester, and we study author’s style. Short stories by Flannery O’Connor and Isak Dinesen, Mavis Gant and Denis Johnson and Raymond Carver, Chekhov and Hemingway. Memoirs and novels, most of it assigned, some of it not:
How Fiction Works by James Wood
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Beauty in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Love, Faith, and Resilience by Alison Pataki
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Even the Stars Look Lonesome by Maya Angelou
Jewel by Bret Lott
All the Pretty Horses (The Border Trilogy, #1) by Cormac McCarthy
Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger
I’m finishing Glennon Doyle’s Untamed now, and by my Maymester I will need to finish Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient and The Collected Works of Billy the Kid.
The texts chosen by my professors serve as mentors and models of how to write. Practice and discussions help, too. I see my style and revision efforts evolving. Each of those books set in motion by authors sending out their ripples and transforming me in some small way.
My class this semester is all online. I submit all written assignments to an on-line forum, where my classmates and I respond to each other’s assignments in writing. We write in response to our assigned readings and each of us is working on own personal writing projects.
I’m writing a memoir of a mom advocating for her mentally ill son on the continued quest for help. Ironically, my son had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and had just been released from his second hospitalization when I read Baron Batch’s blog in March of 2011. Here is where my ripples collide.
I have seven classmates in my program, and they’re honest. Add in my professor, and I receive excellent constructive criticism. They show me where my stories have holes and question me in places where I can develop scenes and clarify ideas. On top of that, they support and inspire and encourage me with responses like these:
“You have a real talent for making everyday life compelling…There’s something about the raw realism of this story that makes it hard to stop reading.”
“I’ve gone through a range of emotions in one reading: laughter, crying, frustration, anger, disbelief. I’m all over the place, and I know I’ll be thinking of this for days.”
“Every time I read your stories, I always envision you sitting in a chair on a patio telling this story to me like an old friend. You make the reader feel so welcome in your world.”
“You write about your life with humility and honesty, and you never shy away from telling us how you feel about something.”
“Best and thank you for sharing your story—not just because it is difficult, although I admire you sharing for that reason—but because it is written so well, and I cannot wait to see what you do with it and its final incarnation.”
“Holy cats! This is compelling. I was disappointed to stop reading. That is about as good of a compliment that I know to give.”
And what if we had never moved? Would I even be a student again? Would I ever have met these awesome people who are literally cheering me to the finish line of completing the book I feel compelled to write? A memoir of a mom advocating for her mentally ill son on the continued quest for help.
“Maybe it’s all luck and chance…maybe nothing we do matters at all…but…what if everything does?” (Baron Batch).
My chihuahua-terrier Rain reigns over my house. Princess from the day I brought her home, prancing as if on parade with delicate feet and ballerina legs. These days she has ascended to the throne, and by throne, I mean, wherever she damn well pleases. Our king-sized bed. The top of our couch cushions. Kody and I, loyal subjects, cater to her whims. We adore her.
And to think what might have happened if I had not been in the right place at the right time. Thankfully fate intervened.
As I stepped off the plane in Mobile, Alabama, with my friend Martha, dark clouds covered the blue sky, and raindrops fell. It was summer 2007. Our friend Mona stood next to the baggage carousel waving and waiting while Martha and I descended the escalator and grabbed our suitcases. The three of us dashed from the airport to the car, the rain drenching us, yet our spirits remained un-dampened. And the rain continued full-force throughout our five-day trip. The three of us, Martha, Mona, and I, went out to eat in the rain, we shopped in the rain, and we drove by the beach in the rain, hoping it would stop. The sky would clear, temporarily, and then rain some more.
After a shopping expedition one day in picturesque downtown Fairhope, Mona said, “I want to take ya’ll to this great little country store. The two girls who opened it are about your age and too cute! You have to see their store.”
We pulled up to the store located in a two-story, Southern-styled, clap-board house with a wrap-around porch. It was nestled among oak trees and backed up to Mobile Bay. As we browsed, one of the young owners said, “We were thinkin’ about havin’ a wine-tastin’. Would ya’ll like a glass of wine?” In no hurry, we accepted the wine and moved outside to sit on the front porch and watch the rain. About that time, a gentleman walked up with a precious, tiny black dog on a leash. She pranced like a princess and wagged her sweet, little, flipped-up tail.
The store owners knew the man, who had been fostering the dog until he found her a permanent home. One of the ladies took a Polaroid picture for the bulletin board inside, and the man with the tiny black dog struck up a conversation with my friends and me. I picked up the dog named Rain. She had been found wandering in the rain, and she licked my face.
Martha said, “Crystal, I think you need that dog.” I held the dog close and stroked her ears. Martha continued, “I think you need to fly that dog back to Dallas.” Rain felt very comfortable in my arms. “I’ll dog-sit whenever you need me,” Martha said.
I had been thinking about adopting a dog, and this one did need a home, and no doubt, she was precious and sweet. So I took the man’s phone number, thinking, If I wake up tomorrow, thinking about that dog, I’m going to take her home.
Well, not only did I wake up the next morning thinking about the dog, I couldn’t sleep at all that night. That’s when I knew—that little dog belonged to me. And I brought her home to Texas, just like Martha said, on the plane from Alabama.
Thirteen years later, Rain’s once-black face and throat have become a sophisticated white, she takes advantage of her beauty rest, and she still loves unconditionally. And Martha? Well, I owe her for the arm-twisting, she has been a dog-sitter for me, and we’re overdue for another girls’ trip.
Ummm, so I realize that I could’ve categorized this post under R for Rain during this A-Z blogging challenge, but I needed a Q. Ummm, now I need an R post. 😊 And this is why it’s called a challenge and why I’m happy for another day. If you liked reading about Rain, perhaps you would enjoy my other posts. It’s all about gratitude this April, and I’m thankful for Rain and Martha and Mona and much:
“I’m working on my memoir,” I typed on my laptop and scoffed, an audible huff through my nose. I feel like a fraud to say it—still I plan to persist. During the summer of 2011, I attended a two week summer writing institute through Plano Independent School District, where I taught sophomore English at the time. I wrote a piece about my son Drew’s paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis and how that came about during his first psychiatric hospitalization. This episode begins the story I must write.
I attended this same professional development opportunity nine years earlier in 2002. At the time I was a novice seventh grade English teacher and hardly a writer, but the course required a final written piece to be shared with our class on the last day. In all truthfulness I lacked the vulnerability to share anything real and the creativity to write believable fiction, so I wrote about writer’s block. Isn’t that ridiculous? Looking back, I would give anything to have written a slice of life involving Drew and Lauren. They were twelve and ten at the time, a cellist and a soccer player. But no, I wrote about writer’s block. In my defense, my piece was connected to my teaching and learning empathy for my students who struggled with their words on the page. And this course transformed my approach to classroom writing assignments—more mentor texts as models, more creative opportunities, more choices, and portfolios to track progress.
By 2013 I landed an opportunity to launch a Creative Writing elective class at my high school. While developing lesson plans, I adopted the philosophy that writers must be readers (and we took time for that) and that writers must write—every day. I remember feeling like a hypocrite, not unlike now, and forcing myself to write—(almost) every day, journaling bits of dialogue and scenes, keeping notes in my phone for later, and writing each assignment alongside my student authors. I’ve taught some truly gifted kids over the years, and my efforts often paled in comparison. Still I persisted. I started my memoir in secrecy during class and in my spare time and as inspiration struck. At some point, I knew I had a story to tell although the words written in 2013 remain really rough. Tell it I did, much more than showing. At the moment I have 53,834 words, single spaced in an 11 point font, on 101 pages, but as Anne Lamott would say, “It’s a shitty first draft.”
In the summer 2016, a job transfer for my husband brought us south from Dallas to Houston, I lost my beloved Creative Writing class and the convenience of good friends nearby, and I discovered a void. I didn’t write much for a while, instead drinking copious amounts of alcohol to fill the growing hole. Fast forward to August of 2017, Harvey, the hurricane, flooded my family out of our house and into a pet-friendly La Quinta for the next ten months. Not only had I saved my laptop, but my laptop saved me. I typed the story of our evacuation and sent my words for the first time into the blogosphere. I typed other stories, too, and again and again, I tapped the blue button in the upper right corner, the one that says Publish. Seventy-nine posts later, I see growth, and this growth encourages me to return to those shitty first drafts.
And in 2020, at age 50, I went back to school for a graduate program in Creative Writing, and my professor wanted to know what I plan to work on this semester and why. So this is it. “I’m working on my memoir.” And still, I shake my head and laugh.
I look at my reflection in the mirror this morning and notice my throat splotching red. But I teach school, and school’s out for summer. I shouldn’t have one iota of stress. I stop for a moment to consider my thoughts. You know those thoughts, the ones you can’t shake?
Present thought—the iceberg. You know, the whole picture—the tip of the iceberg you see above the surface and the huge mass you see below. It’s like how you know a person based on what you see, but you can’t see past the surface, or maybe you can see just below the surface but not too much deeper without asking some heavy questions. When I started Googling images to illustrate this fuzzy point in my head, I stumbled onto Freud’s iceberg theory, and he said exactly what was on my mind. Weird, right? My brain forgets so much these days. I know the theory. I just didn’t remember that Freud fathered it. Anywho, I studied a bit and hope someone else might find the information helpful.
According to Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalytic
theory, the mind can be divided into three separate parts with varying purposes:
The conscious part includes what we can sense in the moment—thoughts, memories, feelings, and wishes.
The preconscious part consists of memories we can pull into our conscious on cue for a specific purpose. For example, you walk into a restaurant to have lunch with a friend, peruse the menu, and say, “What do you like here?” Looking at the menu will prompt your friend to remember.
The unconscious part comprises the bulk of our minds—unpleasant or unacceptable thoughts, memories, habits, urges, reactions, and feelings outside the realm of our conscious awareness, such as anxiety and shame, conflict and broken hearts.
Freud compared the levels of the mind to an iceberg. Above the surface, you see the tip of the iceberg representing the conscious. Below the water, observable at surface level is the preconscious. The massive part of the iceberg extending too deep to be visible represents the unconscious. According to Freud, the unconscious mind affects our behavior and experiences without our awareness or understanding. We all have a storehouse of memories and emotions that we push down deep to forget. Verywellmind.com explains it all very well and dedicates a whole page to psychotherapy. It has been shown that continued self-examination leads to emotional growth over time, and I’m all for growth of any kind.
So as my throat splotches red and I contemplate why people (including myself) do what they do and say what they say and make the same mistakes over and over, the answer according to Freud is pretty simple after all.
I wish I could say otherwise, but this marathon stretches past the normal twenty-six miles into nine new-normal years on a treadmill to nowhere fast. I understand why people quit, and I understand why people can’t pick up the pace. Marathons require stamina and an unswerving belief in the ability to finish, and so I cling to my belief in God and his timing, medical advancements and the promise of stem cells, sun-filled days and peaceful nights.
When I compare each year to the previous one, I measure our progress and remind myself, “The road to recovery is a marathon, not a sprint.” For more of the marathon, click here.
I find myself a little twitchy these days…when I feel like writing, but have nothing much to say or perhaps too much to say but nothing of importance. Ideas spin in my hippocampus* and cerebral cortex*, and I Google words like medulla oblongata* (in case I want to use it correctly, and I find words like hippocampus and cerebral cortex and use them instead), and I question this desire not only to write, but also to share details of my life on the World Wide Web.
Speaking of Hippo Campus, have you heard of them? They’re an indie rock band from St. Paul, Minnesota, and a side note, I dig indie rock with a shovel, so here you go.
Anyway, I began blogging fifteen months ago when an actual hurricane blew into town and dumped 20 trillion gallons of rain on Houston (according to ABC News). Twenty trillion. Can you imagine? Well, Harvey flooded me and my family and our dog Rain right out of our house (along with another estimated 13 million people and countless animals region-wide). Friends and family called and texted their concern and support, and in a post-traumatic stupor, I couldn’t talk about it. But—while propped up on pillows with laptop on lap in my king-sized bed at my post-hurricane home, AKA the La Quinta Inns and Suites, I typed out a little memoir titled That Time When I Met Harvey. I planned to share it with my sophomores as an introduction to a writing assignment, and I did, but suddenly I found myself creating a WordPress account and publishing my first blog post. I chose faith and gratitude during that time, and guess what? Faith and gratitude granted me peace and hope, and that’s the message I wanted to share.
And now, fifteen months and thirty-nine posts later, I realize that not all posts can be about hurricane evacuations or psychotic episodes or purse snatchings. Thank God! And now I waver over possible material. These days I consider writing about the cockroach in my classroom that I silently snuffed out as students sat scribbling down semester exam essays, which I should be grading by the way, but then again cockroach murders do not fit the faith and gratitude theme, unless you count the way I saved the classroom peace. And now I wonder, who really cares to read my ramblings and why am I writing anyway? These questions cannot escape my hippocampus (or is it my cerebral cortex?), and although I do not have all of the answers to life’s big questions or for my own baffling behaviors, I hope in some small way, YOU can relate.
(WE are not alone, and I wish you PEACE and HOPE).
* According to Wikipedia, “Humans and other mammals have two hippocampi, one in each side of the brain. The hippocampus belongs to the limbic system and plays important roles in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory, and in spatial memory that enables navigation.”
* The cerebral cortex “plays a key role in memory, attention, perception, awareness, thought, language, and consciousness” (Wikipedia). I’m fairly certain Hope lives in the cerebral cortex, but Hope in the Hippocampus sounds as cool as the band.
* “The medulla [oblongata] contains the cardiac, respiratory, vomiting and vasomotor centers and therefore deals with the autonomic functions of breathing, heart rate and blood pressure” (Wikipedia). And it reminds me of Bobby Boucher (pronounced boo-SHAY) in Waterboy.
My eyes are bleary, and my head is spinning. The feels of a teacher heading back to school—a new school with two new, advanced preps and new technology—a teacher hired late and cramming the summer reading, cramming the planning, doing the best she can without a user ID and password, hoping to give all of her students a fighting chance of passing advanced placement exams in the spring and earning college credit, hoping to have access to her grade book by day two.
I’m exhausted, I still have so much to learn, and students start today.My future students were assigned Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried to read over the summer. I hadn’t read this novel before, and honestly I hadn’t read anything about Vietnam or any other war, but now I categorize this book as a must-read. In 1968 O’Brien was drafted into the Army’s 46th Infantry and sent to Vietnam, and his seemingly autobiographical work of fiction sheds light on the war from a soldier’s perspective. O’Brien’s narration begins literally with the items that each soldier carried, introducing each character and setting up subsequent chapters, which read like short stories, all connected through mutual experience.
On day one after introductions and expectations, my new 11th graders will write about something they carry, an actual object or otherwise, now or in their past. I’ve reflected upon how I would respond if I were the student. While reading, I began to understand that Tim O’Brien has written over and over about Vietnam, book after book, because of the emotional baggage he carries. Each of his characters experiences compelling and transformative trauma, and theirs triggered mine.
It was a year ago today, August 27, 2017. I’ll never forget sloshing through the rising waters inside my house, opening my front door to a wave of more, wading through the flood over my knees to the evacuation truck, and trudging from the drop-off location another mile or so to a hotel where we would live for the next ten months. I would like to say that Hurricane Harvey is now behind me, I would like to say my ordeal in no way compares to those of a Vietnam veteran or any veteran’s trauma, but in the weeks preceding the one-year anniversary of Harvey, the memories continued to flood my thoughts—in the middle of my professional development sessions, in my car while driving around Houston, in the grocery store while sorting through the tomatoes. You would think my brain would be otherwise occupied, but no. The hurricane still spins with everything else I’m learning and thinking and adding to my To-Do list.
As I read through a veteran’s lens, I saw in those soldiers my friends, my classmates K-12 and co-workers and husbands and kids of friends and cousins of mine and my uncle, all who have served. I couldn’t stop thinking of so many good people I know, veterans, and their untold stories. I especially couldn’t stop thinking of Kenny Perrin, my classmate who always appeared to my left in our yearbooks, our names listed alphabetically—Kenny Perrin, Crystal Petty. He lost his life, just this summer, to illness, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the things he carried. Rest in peace, Kenny. I will never forget you as a friend, and I will never forget the sacrifices you made in the name of duty.
As I carry my own past and the intimidation of an unknown future, I remember a beautiful, smart, athletic former student named Peyton. She messaged me via Twitter this summer in appreciation of giving her “extra confidence” in her writing abilities and coming to work with a “great attitude” and so many kind, kind words. And she remembered “like it was yesterday” walking into class in a cute outfit and me saying, “Peyton, I love your style.” I want to say that she wore white that day, maybe a jean jacket, maybe a blazer, looking super sophisticated as a sophomore. And in her message to me she said, “It’s the little things that give a girl confidence when she needs it most.” And that. That is what I choose to carry with me into this new year at a new school with new preps and new kids. Peyton, whether she knew it or not, gave me a little confidence when I needed it the most and reminded me to keep doing what I do. She reminded me that everything will be okay, and today I pay it forward to you and to my new students and right back to Peyton if she is reading up in NYC between her classes at Columbia. Everything will be okay.
We all carry things—literally, emotionally—some we wouldn’t choose and some we can’t necessarily drop, but we can choose some good to carry along. You know, to balance it all out.