|Posted by daniel.venn on January 9, 2017 at 4:30 PM|
I shuffled into work with my head down, my chin tucked into my chest. Part of it was that it was Minnesota in December and if you hold your head too high the cold will take the air right out of your chest and leave you gasping. Mostly, I just wanted to avoid making eye contact with anyone because having to engage in conversation with another person at six-thirty in the morning has the same effect on me as the cold. Snowflakes meandered into my coffee cup, fading into my dark roast. I had spilled some of it onto my slacks while trying to sip and drive and I crossed my fingers no one would notice the stain on my upper thigh.
Once inside, I couldn’t avoid eye contact any longer. Teaching doesn’t work that way. But, I could keep my door closed, a comfortable boundary keeping my eager students outside while I sat alone at my desk, stared off into the distance, and wallowed until the bell brought my attention back. Usually I’d pull myself together, staple something that resembled a smile onto my face, and force myself out of my chair and over to the door when the first bell rang. More and more, I’d been waiting until the second, sometimes longer, before opening up my classroom.
“You look tired again, Mr. Venn,” a student countered when I offered a half-assed ‘good morning’. I just nodded and mumbled something about grading papers and tried to go back to trying to focus on the lesson plan I’d thrown together late last night and not the questions that had kept me up all night. Was I really tired or was this melancholy something more sinister and what could I do about it?
I asked a lot of people what it was: tired or worse. My friends told me to get more sleep. My mother told me that I choose my mood so why wasn’t I choosing happy? My doctor told me where I could pick up my prescription. In the meantime, I woke up in the morning, made my coffee, shuffled into work, realized my coffee had gone cold, shuffled out of work, and hit the repeat button.
I always wondered if I could zoom out what I’d see. If I could fade back beyond my little school, my little town, my little life and take an aerial view of an average morning in the real world. Would I just be one of many suit and tie soldiers fighting the good fight with their heads down, dreading the day ahead of them, stepping out of their cars into the stiff December air, looking forward to 5 PM but not really sure what they’re looking forward to. I assume we’d look like ants. Little insignificant black dots marching our lives away in neat little lines. Would I stand out at all?
Now that I’ve run away, now that I’ve thrown both middle fingers to the wind, now that I’ve decided to stand out (or at least not blend in), I’ve stopped shuffling to work. I think how I walk into work will always tell me if I’m doing the absolute wrong thing with my life. If I shuffle, I’m in the wrong. If I trudge, I’m not even close. If I stumble, it might already be too late (or I’m just still drunk from last night, which poses its own questions).
Nowadays, I walk to work. Walk. Head up, shoulders back, both hands gripping the straps on my backpack. Occasionally I break into a jog when I get particularly brave crossing the highway that stands between the safety of my home and the danger of the barrio I work in. I suppose I use the word work loosely, my job description falling somewhere in the delicate in between teaching and changing the world. The highway stands like proverbial train tracks keeping the haves separated from the have-nots, the wrong side of town separated from everything else. I’m not sure which side of the tracks I belong to yet.
All my friends back home are in the army of suits. They look at me with confusion spread across their face, unsure if they should consider me a hero or a fool. I always advocate for the latter. Was it bravery or stupidity that convinced me to hold my draft card in the air, pull out my lighter, and head for the border leaving the remains of the carefully constructed real world we’d been born and bred to assume our place in smoldering on the ground behind me?
On the rare occasion that they can track me down, they always throw jealous daydreams at me. “If only” has become their catchphrase. If only I didn’t have this job. If only I didn’t have this house. If only I didn’t have this wife. They’d be out there saving the world with me, they swear it.
If only I didn’t have this life, they say. But they do.
And I don’t.
It’s not like I’m bitter or anything. They have a cause worth fighting for, that makes the war worth it, and I simply do not. When we do talk, they want me to tell them stories. To make them laugh. To make them think. To make them gaze outside their window or their cubicle and wonder if this is all there really is. If they could throw it all away and leave it all behind too and see what world exists beyond the comfortable confines of their everyday life.
They want to hear about the wonders of this world. They want to hear about poverty and hot nights on dirt floors. They want to question how anyone could survive without electricity, or wifi, or Starbucks. They want to see me shake my head, my eyes some distant far away, and struggle to find the words to explain what’s out there so they don’t have to risk opening their front door to find out for themselves.
I don’t mind indulging them. If my life is only worth entertainment at least it’s worth something. But me, I want to hear their stories. I want to be reminded of the delicious, mundane life I left behind and lay in bed and wonder if there will be a day I’ll be ready to put my suit and tie back on and take up the good fight again.