Room Inside a Box

"There is no room inside a box." ~Doug Pinnick

Location: Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, United States

I started this blog as a soundboard for some much needed therapy during my separation with my wife throughout much of 2005. It was truly a blessing to get my thoughts out there through the writing process. Thankfully things have worked out between us. I would have continued to blog, but ever since I started my teaching career, I have found it impossible to do as much blogging as I would like to. So now I hope to periodically post as time and energy allow.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Ghosts of Flesh and Blood

The most chilling thing happened to me a few minutes ago. I’m watching a bunch of Reading High students playing basketball during their gym class, and the other gym teacher who was with me drifted up to me and said, “Daniel Boone.” I looked at him with an empty expression, waiting for him to fill in the blanks. He said, “You went to Daniel Boone, right?” I said that I did, and he said, “I coached you. Seventh or eighth grade, I think. Basketball.” I told him I was sorry, but that I didn’t remember him. He told me he took me home one time. “Something was wrong with the busses that day. You, and another kid I think, I took home. You lived on a windy road in Douglassville.” I was amazed at this guy’s memory, and told him so. More than fifteen years ago we were in a car together—apparently with some other friend of mine—and he can remember it like it was yesterday. And I still can’t remember his name, even though it was only a little more than hour or so ago that he had introduced himself to me.

I wonder what kind of car we were in. Did he drop me off first, or was the other kid the first to go? Did he play any music? Did we talk? If he tried to talk to me, did I make an effort to talk back? I wasn’t then, and still am not, the world’s most talkative guy, especially in situations where I am even the slightest bit uncomfortable. And I remember that those years of my life were the most uncomfortable I think I’ve ever been. But I find myself wishing I could see myself in his car. I find myself wishing I could tell myself to smile, to be more interactive, because I don’t think that I probably was. Above all, I find myself wishing I could tell myself to not be so afraid.

A few nights ago while I was watching my kids take a bath, I noticed how much fun they were having. Usually they fight over bath toys, or Henry is making his younger brother, Devin, cry because he’s dumping water on him. But this particular evening they were thrilled with just being together in the bath tub: experimenting with the drinkability of soapy water, rudimentarily processing the density properties of some of their toys, and testing gravity as they would soak up water in a rag and then squeeze it out onto their own heads, laughing hysterically all the while. I reminisced back to my own bath tub experiments and found myself wishing I could go back in time and see myself in the bath tub. Was my smile as bright as my kids’? Did I laugh in the tub with my brother as much as my children are laughing together right now?

I thought back to a really bad softcore porno I briefly watched on Skinemax at the beginning of the month. DirecTV was running a Cinemax/HBO freeview over Labor Day weekend, and I was curious to see what I was missing (and I discovered that, other than Curb Your Enthusiasm, I’m not missing much at all). Anyway, this terrible movie was about a dude whose girlfriend broke up with him, and this super hot ghost visits him and takes him back in time to show him how abusive he was in all of his past relationships with all of these other super hot women. Dickens will most certainly have a stern word with anyone involved in this most unfortunate debauchery! But then I thought of Dickens’ masterpiece and, as I was putting the bath toys away, I realized why his story of the miserly and sinister Scrooge resonates so loudly in our cultural psyche. Is there any one of us who would not go back in time to see ourselves with wider lenses, to counsel ourselves with wiser words?

And then I thought of my kids again, and I said a prayer for them. I asked God for their memories to be awakened, that they would remember this particular time in the bath tub, laughing and playing with each other in innocence and purity. And then I said a prayer for myself. Since I cannot change the past, I asked God for strength and wisdom to change the present. I thought that if I now have such a strong urge to go back to my childhood and tell myself to act better, how much more of an urge will I have ten, twenty, thirty years from now to go back in time to this very moment, to know now what I will know then, and to tell myself what to do and how to do it. I imagined that I would tell myself to act more lovingly, to act more kindly, to act more humbly, and above all, to act less fearfully.

So now, as I sit in a faculty room at Reading High School, I think of Mr. Z, my former assistant basketball coach and current colleague. He is one of my Ghosts of Tom Past. He takes me back in time and shows me—shadowy as the images are—my former life. He teaches me that our present times all too quickly become our past. He tells me that the only way to change the past is to alter our present and prepare for our future. If I want other Ghosts of Tom Past to present to me good tidings, then I must act now. Now is the time to act more lovingly, to act more kindly, to act more humbly, and above all, to act less fearfully. There are already too many Ghosts informing me of my shameful past—my wife being one of them—and like Scrooge I am haunted to the brink of madness. I only hope now that my wife can be not only a Specter of Tom Past, showing me how things were, but that she can be an Angel of Tom Future, helping me to cast out all my demons of fear and ignorance.

My mother is a firm believer in ghosts. More and more I think I am, too.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The 'Tom of MY Past' was NOT all wrong- very rarely is anyone a black or white character. You learned enormously from the bad- I learned enormously from the bad!- and I wouldn't trade the good for the world.
We need to make mistakes to grow-they have led you to the realizations and the searchings you're experiencing now. They have made you a better man.
So I hope that this Ghost doesn't chastise you anymore- it's in your corner, praying for your future:)
~'Ghost of Tweety Past'

September 30, 2005 2:20 AM  

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