Monday, September 30, 2013

Day 57 of 365: Whilst Unpacking, Episode One

I'm going to try to keep this stuff organized and categorized into their own respective blog posts. Which is difficult, because I'm inundated with emotion and memory and all I want to do is have it all spill out in one congested mess.

My parents recently dropped off a few boxes of my old stuff. Like something out of a State Farm commercial circa 2009, my parents viewed my new home ownership as a chance to reclaim my childhood bedroom. While no one is suggesting a dojo or a sauna, it has become my dad's second office. This meant that he wanted to clear out the contents in and on my desk to better set up his new work station. They came over with three or so boxes of binders and papers and knick knacks and quickly allocated it to the basement, not ready to clutter up my newly-settled house.

After a week of gathering dust in the basement, I finally got the gumption to go through these boxes of essential junk. There was no rhyme or reason to the boxes; it was apparent that my parents just placed any item anywhere and expected me to sort it out. I started with the easier stuff -- stacks of old CDs, pen holders with the pens still in them -- and found places throughout the house for these old relics of my past. Underneath the seemingly random items that had cluttered the top of my old desk was collection of memories that I was not ready for.

Like my ninth grade history notebook.

It's a semi-tattered, navy blue Mead notebook, with the word "HISTORY" punched into the plastic front cover with a series of holes that had obviously been puncture with a pen or a pencil. The inner folder holds a stack of handouts and worksheets and quizzes. The pages are filled with standard high school notes, in standard, high school penmanship. Sometimes I date my notes; sometimes I don't. Every page or two finds a simple doodle in the margins.

My ninth grade history teacher was in a league of his own. He talked to us like an older, cooler brother. He had a voice that forced you to pay attention. He was funny and sarcastic and poignant. His influence was so subtle, but so powerful, that just the tiniest comments would make you completely change how you did anything. He had a meter stick that he waved around and tapped the blackboard and used to emphasize his points. He discussed current events and readily gave his opinion on pop culture matters. He threw chalk at the opposite wall when he found out that none of us had ever seen The Godfather. He was the one who told us that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers -- even when the principal warned teachers not to tell their students. He was the only teacher to frankly discuss war and terrorism with us afterwards. I remember reluctantly leaving his room after the final exam, unwilling to admit that the class had come to an end. I was an exceptionally quiet and reserved student -- especially around teachers -- but I made it a point to say hello to my teacher when I saw him in the halls, because I looked up to him and admired him just that much.

I have been thinking a lot about him as of late. Partly because that's the lasting impact of teachers. And partly because I'm now 27: the age my history teacher was when he committed suicide.

I found out right before the sophomore-year midterms. In a fitting twist of fate, it was my 10th grade history teacher who told us that he had passed on. But she wouldn't say the cause. I spent the entire history exam wondering what had happened, a thousand macabre scenarios playing out in my mind instead of the American Civil War. It wasn't until I met up with a friend before my English exam that I learned the truth.

It was hard -- it was incredibly hard -- even long after the mourning period had subsided. I remember when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years. I remember when they announced that America was going to war with Iraq and Afghanistan. And I remember how desperately I wanted to discuss each of these events with my teacher, how terribly I wanted to hear his opinion on sports and war and how it all tied in with the history of the entire globe.

He would've been somewhere around 37 this year. It's easy to imagine all the what-ifs. Would he still be a teacher. Would he be married, or have kids. Would he be on Facebook -- or would he have a strong opinion against it. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason; it's just that the story we are a part of is so intricate and vast that it's easy to miss the point of certain things. I still don't know what the purpose was for it, but it's safe to say that the ripple effect has been lasting. I still get a heavy heart when I hear "Man in the Mirror" -- a song that became somewhat the anthem of his life and legacy after he died. It's still a bit difficult to look back on the months following his death, especially since the local Catholic churches jumped on the tragedy as a chance to talk about hellfire and damnation (because what 16-year-old doesn't want to hear that her beloved teacher is in hades?) As little 16-year-old students, we learned a lot about our support systems during the period -- and some of the things we learned were not what we wanted to hear.

The first set of notes in my notebook were on the Roman Empire. I had to laugh. I had recently been wildly fascinated with the Roman Empire, particularly with Spartacus and the Third Servile War. While I don't necessarily think that this coincidence means anything in particular, it still made me feel like everything had come full circle. I placed the notebook with the rest of my high school relics. I went through a few more things (things I will discuss in later posts) in the box before having to just take a breather. Because memories are powerful enough on their own. And they only get more intense when combined with something as seemingly innocuous as an old high school notebook.

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