girl needs to understand her teacher but finds something she didn't expect from a past
| I stare at the television screen. I can’t stop staring. Shifting uncomfortably in the soft, over-stuffed leather chair I look around the empty room. My family are still gone; my parents up north while Lu, my brother, down at a friends’; I expect not to see them for three or four more hours.
I lift the remote timidly and change the settings to watch cable. I mute the speakers; I don’t want to listen to blabbing actors now. Particularity not now.
I feel the cold tears roll down my cheek. I stare at the screen some more. I think about everything I know; Vietnam, it’s effects, everything. Had it been like that? I am purely disgusted; with myself, with society, politicians and people in general. Disgusted at how thoroughly the human mind forgets so quickly.
I get up, and walk to the DVD player to put away the disk. My eyes see my hand reach out for the case. Un-weathered by age fingers become blurred to me by tears. Frustrated; I am so young I don’t know many of the nuances of our culture. Often it seems that because I am so young I don’t understand many, many other things because I know so little. Point them out... that is one thing I can not do; but they are there, always there.
Another tear rolls down my face to rest on the wedge of my nose. I’m annoyed, I don’t cry. I never cry, and yet... I am today. Then again, how could I not cry? Grown men continue to suffer from the effects of those actions over thirty and forty years ago. Their lives are still effected. My life is still effected by their lives.
I shove the DVD into the case and into the appropriate place on the shelf. The colored plastic cases shine through my tears. Turning abruptly I march resolutely to the kitchen. I sniffle. Stop that, I tell myself; no sniffling allowed. I jerk my head up in an attempt to staunch the flow of tears.
It doesn’t make any sense; or perhaps too much. Making the hot chocolate in a hurried, bothered manner I contemplate what the options are for the rest of the evening. Not liking the choices open to me I toss the metal spoon into the sink. The noise echoes through out the empty house and into my brain.
Chugging the hot chocolate I burn my mouth and my throat. A sob rips from me, but not because of the steamy liquid. I decide to go back to the living room and wrap up in a blanket. Sob after sob tear from me but the more I attempt to hold back the more they persist. If I try to stop I hurt my burnt throat more. Again I stare at the television screen; still transfixed by the memories of horrible pictures.
My young mind screams again, to send me into another crying fit.
“Why do you want to take this class?” Mr. Breen looks at me inquiringly, he wants to know if I have reason behind my intense desire or if this is just a random teenage whim. How can I make him understand why I need to take this class? How will I make him understand why I feel so lost, why I feel it is my duty to learn American History?
“Do you realize that I know less about US history from 1800 to now then I do the Egyptian pyramids... when I’ve lived in America my whole life? I don’t even know the difference between Korea and Vietnam. I don’t understand a lot of things. I had to ask my history teacher when the Iron Curtain fell and when WWII was fought, for gosh sakes! I’m ashamed of how much I don’t know. ” Perhaps that will give him a clue, a small one. I can’t explain it to anyone... much less myself, for that matter.
“Let me talk to your current US history teacher. I don’t want you to kill your GPA and I don’t want you to take that class for the wrong reasons. Come back some time next week. We’ll see then if you still want to take the class.”
I stiffly rise and exit the counselor’s office. Shoving my hands into my coat pockets I swing my stride off into the direction of my normal spot, across the campus. Turning a corner, I stop short and notice Mr. Cartright copying papers. Leaning against the door jamb I wait for him to divert his attention. I check how many copies are left to be made; two hundred and fifty, lots of time. I just need to talk to someone, out of the family, who might understand... anyone who might be able to sympathize the shock.
“I watched W---------- last night. What are your thoughts?” I cried myself out yesterday, I don’t have anymore for this morning. I put make-up on, to diminish the looks of the puffiness around my eyes. I don’t think anybody’s noticed and I am glad I can keep my voice level.
“Hm, let me think... Yes I remember the movie you’re talking of. I enjoyed the film, in some ways. Watched that one twice.”
“Twice?” I arch my eyebrows in question and pure curiosity.
“Hm, yes. Any movie that’s worth watching once is worth watching twice.” He was teasing, and I grinned. That sounds a lot like something Mr. Cartright would say; right in character. It feels good to smile.
“There was a bit too much flag waving, for my tastes,” I stare at him, totally surprised. “I don’t know if the film-makers knew if they were trying to glorify or horrify war. And the movie seemed to contradict itself.”
I don’t understand his attitude towards the flag waving. That seems extremely out of character. True, I haven’t seen this side of his character before, but I didn’t think that he would belittle American pride.
The door on the opposite side of the copy room opens. One of the assistants pops her head in. “Mr. Cartright, there’s a phone call for you.” Mr. Cartright glanced at me, asking leave but I am already gone. I plan to talk with him again later, I have no wish to misinterpret those few, scarce comments.
What had he meant by there being too much flag waving? And how can you horrify or glorify war? It’s already horrible enough by itself; it doesn’t need any help. It all seems on the verge of heresy and blasphemy in some ways.
My thoughts begin to merge, in between the movie I watched last night and what Mr. Cartright just said, and my father.
My father is an interesting man, large, tall and muscular. Wearing a T-shirt that says “Veterans of America”, he declares battle against daily routine jobs and everything else in his path. I don’t mean that he destroys everything that could be a hindrance but that he attacks it in such a way that it’s afraid it will be destroyed if it doesn’t move or fix itself. That being said, I’ve never seen him hurt anything or anyone without prior warning and cause.
My father is also a man of much pride. He is proud to be a Veteran and American, yes, but also proud to be a Christian and proud to be alive. He bows to no one except God, but he is exceedingly humble.
My father has a tattoo, on his right for-arm, of a gecko. Simple and pale grey, hardly an outline, it’s been there as long as I can remember. I once asked him what the gecko was, but he receded into himself so much that I dared not ask again. A few months ago I asked Lu what he knew of the grey, faded tattoo. Lu said all he knew was that it was left over from some mission in Vietnam.
Surprisingly, my father does not attempt to hide the tattoo or to have it taken off; he just refuses to talk about it. I’m sure if I asked him now what it was from he would give some kind of answer... but I have no wish to wake that sleeping giant.
The bell rings and I swing my backpack up and go to my locker. Again, I pick at what had been happening, Mr. Cartrights’ short, but unusual speech concerning flag wavers, the movie and how everything works in with my dad. I know this all has something to do with my father; other then he was in Vietnam. But what? I don't think my father has ever met Mr. Cartright; from what I’ve seen of Mr. Cartrights’ political views they wouldn’t get along very well.
Slamming my locker door with excess force I make a firm decision not to ask my father what happened. Hoping vehemently that I will not break that promise to myself, I exit the building and turn to the crosswalk. The red Toyota and my dad are patiently waiting to pick me up on the other side.
It all makes some sense in a rude, kind of... contradictory type way. Almost all of the possible, although hopefully less likely implied meanings meant by Mr. Cartright go straight against the grain of what I believe and know. What had he meant by too much flag waving? Had he something he was ashamed of, like draft-dodging or calling in sick on the day to go fly the mission, like in Catch 22? There are a lot of possibilities, but the ones persisting my thought patterns aren’t pretty.
Jauntily nodding to the crosswalk guard, I cross the intersection. I force a sweet smile. My mouth hurts from false smiling. Setting my foot on the curb, my eyes come to rest on my fathers’ bumper-stickers again. I’ve seen them before, but now they strike a distinct and unforgettable note. “Proud to be an American,” and “My country called, I went.”
Setting the book down on the bed covers, I notice how thirsty I am. Slipping my feet onto the floor, I step over my six textbooks. I feel the carpet between my toes and wiggle them. Opening my door a crack, I look for lights. No one seems to be awake, but I can hear my father mumbling, asleep, in the over-stuffed leather chair as he often does in the living room. Slipping onto the hardwood floor, I pad my way across the kitchen. My sweaty feet stick slightly to the wood floor.
Dad starts mumbling again. I perk up my ears to see if I can gather any information I don’t want to know. I know I don’t want to know it, just as I know I have no use or need to know. But that doesn’t abate the curiosity that comes when my father begins to talk in his sleep.
“Why- why me? Three out of fifty! Why me? Why did I have to live? I have no right. Why... why... why,” is the essence of what he said. I’ve heard those words before, but for some reason or other I know that’s what the gecko tattoo is about, that whatever mission he is remembering in his sleep is the mission on which he received the tattoo.
I reach down a glass from the cupboard and quietly run some water into the bottom from the faucet, down the side so as not to make any noise. I take my glass, my water, and my sweaty feet back to my room. Draining the glass I set it on my desk, slip under the covers and turn off the light. I don’t fall asleep.
I glare at the blank page. Unfortunately, the paper glares right back at me, just has been the custom for the last four days. Attempting to put those jumbled thoughts and rambunctious ideas into writing just comes out more confused then when I put them in. So what’s the point?
I return my gaze to the empty sheet and attempt to refocus my eyes. Frowning, discouraged, I erase the date- the only thing I have written in the last fifteen minutes. Scrambling up from my normal spot, I walk over to Mr. Cartrights’ door. Hesitating to enter, I squash myself against the wall. My bare feet are cool on and stick slightly to the tile floor as I squirm uncomfortably.
What Mr. Cartright said about too much flag waving is still bothering me. I know I need to talk to him, to clear up any misconceptions that might have happened. But I am also worrying that perhaps there was no miscommunication, that what I fear did happen is the truth.
I don’t have a destination and have no intention of doing anything once I get to where I am aimlessly walking but I begin to journey anyway. This pointless journey just helps in delaying a conversation I dread but know I need to have. Then again, I also know that if I do not talk to Mr. Cartright now I will not have a chance to do so for four days then I will not do so because it is old history. Turning on my heel I begin to retrace my steps slowly back to his doorway. I bring my pointless journey to a belated end.
Mr Cartright is still correcting papers, it appears nothing much has changed. I still question the wisdom of talking to Mr. Cartright again; but if I don’t, then I will always question whether or not he was a draft-dodger, or worse.
Approaching his desk console, I perch on the table across the aisle. Silently waiting for him to divert his attention, I unconsciously gnaw my lower lip. Again I deliberate if I really want to speak to him again; what blasphemy would he speak now?
“Hello, Avian. I suppose you wish to seek my opinion and advice on an other rather moralistically complicated issue?” He scribbles a grade, initials the essay, writes a percentage on the top and turns the assignment over. He smiles, a crooked and amused twist of his head and mouth. He’s bating me.
I frown. Not a scowl but more of a thinking, rearranging-thoughts type of frown. He waits patiently for me to state my query. My toe rests on the hard carpet, and I mindlessly lean on it.
“You knew I’d be back to talk to you this week.” Mr. Cartright looks at me curiously, seeing an opportunity to tease me.
“Yeah”, sigh, “ I knew you’d be back. Like a painful ingrown toe-nail.” He scowls, to show the discomfort as he simultaneously reaches down to rub his foot.
I frown, and wiggle my nose. “I’ve been thinking about what you said... Tuesday....
about flag-wavers.” I struggle to single out how to put into words what I need ask as I run my fingertip along the edge of the desk. He drops his pencil and leans forward patiently on his elbows. He knows what I’m going to ask.
“I knew you would,” and gestures for me to continue.
“I agreed with half of what you said,” I pause, and push out the rest, “but strongly disagree with the other part.”
“I supposed you would.” he reaches down and picks up his lunch. I need to get this conversation moving; now. I know this is a sticky area, but I don’t understand why he refuses to say anything about it.
“Each to his own opinion?” Mr. Cartright comments and grins in answer as he escorts me to the door.
“Exactly,” I counter. Mr. Cartright takes out his key to lock his room. I fidget uncomfortably as I try to conceive a way to say exactly what I need to hear be put into words. I try to understand the questions I need to ask.
“But your right to your own opinion is given to you by the Constitution.” Mr. Cartright taps his keys towards me, as if in conceding a point.
“Something your generation doesn’t understand... yet.” He grimaces slightly and his eyes glaze over. Suddenly he comes back. Now he frowns at me, as if trying to see if I understand what he is trying to say. He always makes a notation of time when relating to “my generation”.
Mr. Cartrights’ manner when he talks of it is as if he’s expecting something to happen, something that we won’t be able to run from, which will change our lives drastically and, most certainly towards the worst. He’s expecting something to happen that no matter what any one does, or says, isn’t going to be forestalled. But, on the other hand he never names what the horrible menace is.
How much do I need to spell out to bring an understandable response? “And that’s why I’m a flag waver.” If I said everything else, I should say that too.
“Each to his own belief?” He gestures to the door. My blank page and pencil are skewed on the floor waiting to have words inscribed on them. I frown, I still don’t think I can explain what I want to write. I try to form a few sentences in my mind, see if I can make the first paragraph take form. As we saunter towards the door, I think about every step and rearrange my thoughts and beliefs some more. Unfortunately, every step is one step closer to not getting an answer; of any sorts.
“And that is why they fought. To preserve those values,” I don’t know if I am trying to corner him or begging for different words on the subject. Either way, I just need to talk to someone who might, even slightly, understand.
Mr. Cartrights’ eyes catch mine, attempting to discern how much meaning there is behind the words that had leapt out of my mouth. I don’t know what he saw in my eyes that time, but what he saw did change his attitude.
“And that,” his words come out a whisper, as a weak wind over jagged rocks. “Should be your reason to be a flag-waver... if you chose to be one.” I stare at him, stunned that he had finally given a distinguishable answer.
The rain is pouring outside, a good, heavy constant rain; I can smell the freshness the water gives the air. Mr. Cartright opens the door and steps out under the overhang. I have gone this far; I’m not going to go through the agony of approaching him again. I follow. Even if he has given an answer, I still do not understand why he refrains from speaking on this specific subject when he was more than willing to give a monologue on everything else.
“So what are your reasons for not being a flag waver?” I force the words out; I know I either ask now or forever hold my peace.
He turns to me, his eyes furrowed; maybe even a little hurt. “Who says I’m not?” and he folds back the sleeve of his sweater. I had never noticed the tattoo, partly because he keeps it well hidden. The gecko is pale from old age, and the skin white from a lack of sun. I suck in my breath. Stunned, I stare at him.
It is the same tattoo that my father has. Apparently, Mr Cartright and my father had been on the same mission.
I try to mumble out an apology. How could I possibly accuse him of being against what he had fought for? I stumble backwards on to the hard pavement, fold my self up into a tight ball. Mr. Cartright holds out his hand to help me up, but I do not see it. Again I try to form an understandable apology, but my brain is having a sensory overload problem.
Mr. Cartright nods understandingly and quickly pulls his sleeve back down to hide the tattoo. “Your father never told you what happened?” He seems surprised, that my father had never said anything. But why should he? I have no desire to know any of it. My curiosity has gotten me into another situation I don’t want to know about.
My heart forces something out of my mouth. I have to say something, anything. “Each to his own...” I peter out. I don’t know what belongs at the end of that sentence anymore.
“Exactly.” Mr. Cartright slowly nods and knows the fact that he has shaken my world. He walks deliberately to his Volvo and drives away.
As much as I don’t want to know my fathers’ past, I know that his past will shape my future. It’s up to me to decide if I will live in the past, forget or to move forward and face life as my father wishes me to; except now knowing what he could not explain.
It was certainly a surprise to learn my democratic liberal English teacher and father and fought beside each other, probably saving each others’ lives. Even so, I know I will see Mr. Cartright on Monday, and the next day and every school day until I graduate. I know that because I am so young I am impressionable and forget things easily; I need this silent reminder. For the remainder of that lunch, I sat in the rain and thought. I wasn’t hungry and my heart and mind hadn’t digested the new circumstances so as I could write.
The rain did pour down; it washed away the tears that I cried, although it did not wash away the reality of what happened.
IGNORE THIS WHEN REVIEWING! i have to store this info here because i'm not at home and i can't make drafts in my email address thing gummy. sorry....
Blue Lake Orchestra Program
Session II: July 14-July 25
Session III: July 28-August 8
Midwestern Music Camp
couldn’t find info
Interlochen Center of the Arts
8-week Session: June 20 - Aug. 16
Session A: June 20 - July 17
Session B: July 19 - Aug. 16