Stalker

Question of the Day: What is the most “stalky” thing you’ve ever done?

As I understand it, the word “stalky” refers to the act of pursuing a person beyond the limits of reasonable pursuit. In truth, I do not tend to stalk people; in fact, I tend to believe people would rather not be bothered by me and tend to leave others alone for the most part.

But there was a girl, once upon a time, that really got to me. It is not one of the better memories that I have. In fact, it shows a certain weakness of my character that I usually keep hidden. In fact, some people might refer to it as a strength of character, but I see it as a weakness.

This was after my divorce, when I was working at the hotel. My full-time job was as office manager at a trucking firm in town, but I had picked up the hotel desk job as a way to pay for my new convertible car (well, it was new to me). The hotel was attached to a Denny’s restaurant, and we were able to get half-price meals when we were working our shift at the hotel. We would go over and place an order with one of the waitresses, and she would deliver the food to us on a tray in the hotel lobby.

I was at a very weird place in my life. As I said, this was after my divorce, which was just one of many failed relationships I had had. I was feeling rather low – in fact, had I realized the symptoms, I am sure that I was clinically depressed. I was all alone, trying to put together the best life I could for my infant son and me. We were living in a mobile home that we were renting in a trailer park.

(I notice here that I’m using first person plural pronouns. “We were renting” a trailer – as if my son was paying rent. I think this is because I’m trying to alleviate myself of some of the responsibility by pretending that others might also be partially to blame. This is not the case: Everything comes down to decisions I personally made all by myself.)

Anyhow, the trailer was, not to put too fine a point on it, a craphole. It was a crappy life. I was lower than I had ever been.

This will seem like a tangent, but I promise to bring it around full circle: Sometimes I think of myself as a knight in shining armor. You understand the archetype, don’t you? I like to be the guy who can come in and save the day, change the world, that sort of thing.

Well, there was, living my crappy life and doing the best I could at the time (I really believe that). Working a good job as an office assistant and starting to make good money (as opposed to the convenience store and restaurant jobs I had held previously). Working a part-time job at the hotel to pay for my new car. Raising my son. But all alone. And feeling unworthy. Unloved.

Another possible tangent: Denny’s waitresses are not always … I don’t know how to put this nicely … they are not always the highest class people. Yes, I know that’s terribly judgmental. Yes, I’m ashamed of saying it. Yes, it was true – at least for this particular Denny’s.

Here’s where I start to tie it all together: There was a waitress who worked at the Denny’s and who I would always put in my order with because I knew that she would deliver the food to me and we could talk for a few minutes. She had great charisma, a great personality, and I thought she was very attractive. She talked to me and seemed to think I was worth some moments of her time (keep in mind how low I was at this time). After a few times of bringing me my food, she would come over to the hotel lobby during her break time to eat her own dinner, and we would talk together then. This was the closest thing to a personal connection I had in those days, but even by today’s standards I would say the foundation was set for a friendship (at least).

As we got to know each other, it became apparent that she had her fair share of personal difficulties. Abusive boyfriend, out-of-control lifestyle, unstable finances, etc. And the White Knight rose up in me and decided that I could change her life for the better – I could rescue this damsel in distress from the dragons that plagued her. We would ride off into the sunset together!

No we wouldn’t. As I said, abusive boyfriend. How would I contend with that? I didn’t want to get beat up. So I friend-zoned myself and just settled for being flirty and sweet. I’m good at flirty and sweet.

So, how is this stalky? I bet you thought I’d forgotten. Nope, here we go.

So one day, I go in to work at the hotel and I’m going to order my dinner, but one of the waitresses tells me that Tina had left. Quit her job. Poof – gone.

Well, so much for that.

And then the restaurant manager comes over the hotel and gives me her paycheck, telling me that her boyfriend is going to come pick it up from me and that I’m to give it to him. She’s not coming; he is. Cool, I get to meet the abusive boyfriend. I wonder if she has told him how flirty I am. I wonder if he’s going to punch me in the face. Excellent, can’t wait.

And he comes in, and he is some degenerate-looking scumbag (I may be slightly biased here). And I give him the check, and nothing else happens. No confrontation, no words really spoken. I think he looked at the check, said “That’s it?” and left.

The end.

Nope, not the end. Because then the stalky part kicks in.

That night, as I’m getting off work about 11, I go over the restaurant to get a drink and one of the waitresses I know is her good friend. So I asked her, kind offhanded, if she knew where Tina had gone. And she told me – she got a different job at the local truckstop working in the restaurant there.

So you know what I did? Sure you do: I went to that truckstop. (See? Stalky.) And she was working. So I walked in like I went there every day after work and sat at the counter and waited until she saw me. Big movie moment! She was so happy to see me! I was so happy to see her! What are you doing here? I came to see you! You did? I did!

And that was it.

Well, that wasn’t “it” it. That was it for the night. That was what I did that was stalky. But there’s more.

Because she soon left the abusive boyfriend. And she moved in with a friend for a few days, until they had a big blowup. And then she had no place to go. So guess what she did…

She called me and asked if she could stay at my place.

Of course I said yes!

Because, you know, I’m an idiot.

It could have been worse. She might have moved in with me and stolen my car and kicked my dog and sacrificed a goat to Satan. But no, she and I were together for – geez, I don’t know how long. Maybe a year? Maybe less, maybe more – how strange not to be able to remember. But she and I were together, so White Knight mode activated: I was going to change her life for the better!

And, you know, I probably did. But, in a way, she change mine for the worse. I don’t spend a lot of time kicking myself for decisions I made in the past, nor do I entertain “what-if” ideas for any sort of self-chastisement. I had never had a relationship with a cigarette-smoking, drug-addicted, alcoholic girlfriend before. I certainly have not had one since. Learned that lesson.

But she was sweet to me. And she was kind, and she was loving, and I know that her personal demons overwhelmed her – I wish I could’ve taken those demons away, but that’s not the way it works.

It’s a very sad story, isn’t it?

Missed the Boat

Question of the Day: What were you talked out of doing that you are going to do the next time you have a chance?

Charlie, my department head at college, sent me an email. I do not remember the exact words as I have long since deleted the email, but this was the essence:

Dear Ryk,

An opening has occurred at our college for a temporary full-time English instructor. Are you interested?

Interested? Of course I was! I was in the 12th the year of teaching high school on what was originally supposed to be a 10-year plan. I had told myself at the beginning of my career that I was going to teach high school for 10 years and then move on to teaching college. That plan had gotten waylaid, however, when I received my National Board Certification. This was a lengthy process that I had undertaken, and aside from the prestige of the position, the certification included a yearly bonus for the next 10 years. I still had six years of bonuses waiting for me as long as I continued teaching high school English.

But teaching college was what I really wanted to do, and I had been working as an adjunct professor for the last five years. Maybe this was my shot. I read on:

If so, you would have a full-time class load for the next three years, minus one semester. Please note that this position is advertised as “temporary” because at that time you would revert to an adjunct status (unless, of course, you were able to attain a permanent full-time position in the meantime).

Let me know if you’re interested.

Best Wishes,

Charlie

Well, that wasn’t quite as good, was it? I mean, if it worked out to be something full-time, great; if not, however, I was going to have to go back to teaching high school as I looked for another college position. But still, full-time college classes – no discipline problems, no parent phone calls, none of the silliness from upper-level administration and government that we have to deal with in high school. And I love teaching college, all the time! Don’t get me wrong: I like teaching high school as well. I wouldn’t continue to do it if I didn’t like it. But college offers me opportunities for professional growth and intellectual development that high school only plays at.

I went back and forth on this, but ultimately I talked myself out of it. It was the whole “temporary” thing that did me in. I wasn’t willing to gamble on the future.

Because here is what I had: I had 12 years invested in the high school where I was teaching. I was well respected and had a group of friends I could rely on. I had a great science fiction and fantasy club that gave me the opportunity to enjoy playing games once a week. I was the literary magazine advisor and had a class every day teaching creative writing. The administration liked me, my department colleagues liked me, I had friends outside my department. I had National Board Certification bonuses to look forward to.

In other words, I had built myself a nice comfortable niche. I was all burrowed in, like a mouse that has chewed up just the right amount of wood shavings to keep it warm and nestled all winter long. And I knew that if I left that school for three years, that position might not be there anymore. I might be able to come back and teach English there (I really loved that school), but someone else would be teaching creative writing. Someone else would be Science Fiction & Fantasy Club sponsor. I would have been forgotten.

And so, I wrote back to Charlie to say thanks but no thanks. I explained my reasons and he understood. End of story.

But not really. Because now, five years later, I have changed schools and it just isn’t the same. I still sponsor the Science Fiction & Fantasy Club, but there are six members instead of 30. This school does not offer a creative writing elective. I revived the literary magazine here, which had lain dormant for over a decade, but we receive less than half the number of submissions I’m used to and we have to do all the work after school on our own time. Really, on my own time: We do not have computers nor do I have time to train students in how to use the graphic imaging software, so for the past three years I have given up the majority of my Spring Break to put the magazine together. Even then, I sell less than 100 copies to a school of more than 2000. And now I’m not even teaching honors English, which is what I was hired to do. I am teaching remedial reading. I don’t actually have a problem teaching remedial reading – I love to read and hope that my enthusiasm carries through to the children – but when I moved to this school it was to teach honors English. Remember how I mentioned intellectual development and professional growth? Not so much of that now.

So, in retrospect, I wish that I had taken advantage of the opportunity that Charlie offered me. But it’s one of those situations that I would not have done differently unless I knew what I didn’t know. So it’s a missed opportunity, one that I talked myself out of, and I wonder what would be different about my life had I chosen differently.

Question of the Day

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I got this book last year when Writers Digest was having a big sale. I got like 20 books from that sale, so this one went on the shelf – with 19 others – to be read later. I happened to see it today on the shelf and I thought, “You know, I’m not writing nearly enough.” And then I thought, “You know, I could use this book for writing prompts every day. Just make it my business to sit down and answer one question per day until I get through the whole book. Why not?”

Why not indeed.

So here’s the deal: I am going to work my way through the book, answering one question per day. Ideally, I will write between 1000 and 2000 words per day. The funny thing about writing as that you never know what memories come to mind when you sit down and just start writing. I’m going to be mining my subconscious for answers to questions, and I have no idea what’s going to come out. Isn’t that exciting?

You could do it too. I’ll post the question, you do the writing. On your own blog, of course. I’ll read yours if you read mine – deal?

One note: this writing is not going to be in any way “final draft” form. I am just going to be writing up the top of my head, going willy-nilly all over the place. This is okay. This is a good way to write, to get past that superficial mind that drives the body and to get into that deeper consciousness that motivates the soul. So there going to be errors and inconsistencies. Point them out if you’d like, but be aware that I don’t care. If I decide anything ever needs to get published, I’ll polish it up then. Another reason my writing may have errors – and you may see some real doozies in this – is that I use a program called Dragon dictation to do any sort of lengthy writing. Dragon Dictation allows me to talk into a microphone and see my words changed into type. I don’t always remember to go back in to see if it heard me correctly and typed the words right.

Anyhow, I’d love it if you wanted to join me on this journey. Leave me a comment and let me know that you going to, and we’ll be writing buddies 🙂

I Owe Thanks

Question of the Day: Who do you owe in life that you can never pay back?

I probably owe a lot of people a lot of things, but I do try to pay off my debts. Not financial debts, of course – I try never to borrow money, especially from friends. But we all have debts of one sort or another: emotional, spiritual, mental, inspirational. For that kind of debt, I try to be sure that I give more than I ever ask. For all that, however, the debt is not usually paid back to the person that is owed. Is this making sense?

Remember that movie Pay It Forward? The premise of this movie, if I remember correctly, is to keep in mind nice things people do for you and to repay that debt by being nice to other people – not paying it back, but paying it forward. It’s a pretty good philosophy for life, don’t you think? Like when I do something nice for somebody, I’m not looking for remuneration. A simple THANKS is all I require. I would like to think that because I did something nice for someone one day, they would do something nice for someone the next day, and so on.

But back to the question: Who do I owe that I can never pay back?

I’ve told this story before, but I have not told here – and it deserves to be told and retold often. Mrs. Alcorn, an English teacher in the seventh grade, is largely responsible for me being who I am today. I do not know her first name, I do not know where she lives (or if she is still living), I do not think she would remember me. But here’s what happened…

When I was in the fourth grade, I was at the top of my game. Yes, I peaked at 10. I was the smartest, I was the cutest, I was the teacher’s pet, I won the school spelling bee, everybody knew my name. What no one knew at the time, however, was that I had Muscular Dystrophy. Even I didn’t know it. And if we had stayed where I grew up, Tonawanda, New York, who knows what the future might have held? But we didn’t. Because of the Blizzard of ‘76 and the Blizzard of ’77, we moved away from Tonawanda. Far away. To North Carolina, where the weather would not be so bad. My father had had walking pneumonia both years, and we needed to go. How they decided on North Carolina, I have no idea; we packed up everything and moved into an apartment.

So there I was, a cocky 10-year-old who thought he was the smartest and the cutest and the funniest, entering a brand-new environment. I didn’t know anybody and nobody knew me, and I lacked the wisdom to lay low and work my way into social situations; I went in guns a’blazing, ready to reassert myself as a superior force. But I was just the new kid, kind of weird, didn’t fit in. And then we moved again the next year, to another city in North Carolina, where again nobody knew me. Over the past two years, my Muscular Dystrophy had become much more obvious to others who started calling me “bow-legged” and “cripple.” And I had no idea what they were talking about, all I knew is that they were mean. So I was a bit of a social outcast, cast down from on high. And then we moved again, this time to Florida.

Four moves in four years. That’s a lot for a kid. It’s hard to build roots. Add to that the fact that I was so well-established up in Tonawanda, and now I was transplanted and transplanted and transplanted again. I had grown from being very popular to being almost universally scorned and mocked. So by the time I started junior high, I was pretty battered and bruised – at least emotionally. I didn’t want to know anyone, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I didn’t want to be friends with anyone. I just want to be left alone to wallow in my misery.

At this point, I will add that I am not exaggerating. It is important to me that you know how very real this situation was. I know that there are other kids feel just like I did: isolated, alone, lonely, miserable.

I wonder all the time how much my parents knew about this and how much I kept hidden just by instinct. I think it would be hard for them to tell me at this point in my life, almost 35 years later. I think they knew, but I don’t think they knew everything. In today’s society, they might well have taken me to a psychologist who very well might have prescribed some sort of antidepressant. Looking back on it now, as an adult, I can see that I was depressed. Quite possibly medically so. We’ll never know, and it doesn’t matter at this point.

Back to Mrs. Alcorn. So there I was, in the seventh grade and seeking to avoid everyone and everything. So, so miserable. So, so alone.

My English teacher that year was Mr. Ellerman. He was not a very good teacher. He was what I now know to be a pedantic stuffed shirt. He was good at the technical aspects of English, but he was never able to engage me (nor I assume anyone) in the literature or in the writing. At the end of the school year, he and Mrs. Alcorn switched classes. I believe this is something they had done many times before and had worked out between themselves: her students went to him at the end of the year to learn grammar and mechanics, and Mr. Ellerman’s students went to Mrs. Alcorn for writing.

I was always a good student. I cared about my education. I really tried. I think perhaps it was the one thing I knew I was good at. So I always did my work, never tuned out, always made an effort. Even though I knew I wasn’t good enough for it to matter.

(Pardon my tangent: This was the only time I ever got in trouble in school. Another students and I were caught doing Mad Libs using dirty words. It wasn’t much trouble – she merely expressed her extreme disappointment in us, I don’t think she even called her parents – but that was probably the worst thing ever did in school.)

So Mother’s Day rolled around, and Mrs. Alcorn introduced us to several different forms of formulaic poetry. The one that sticks to mind right now is the acrostic poem (you spell the word down the left margin, such as MOTHER, and then use those letters as the first letters of words for each line). She invited us to write Mother’s Day poems, and I did what was assigned. I believe I wrote an extra one too.

And here’s what Mrs. Alcorn did that I will never be able to repay her for: She made a big deal about my poems. She called me up praised me for being such a great writer. She asked if she could share one of my poems aloud with the class (and pleaded with me when I said no originally). She took my poems home and rewrote them on yellow stationary in red pen in her beautiful cursive handwriting that I can still see in my mind’s eye so that I could give them to my mother.

I still have those poems somewhere, tucked away safe in a box of memories.

She made a big deal about my poetry, acted as if I had done something miraculous, something outlandishly wonderful. And my poor little depressed soul, so lonely and so wishing someone would reach out to me, grasped onto that straw and use it to pull myself ashore. Because she liked my poems, I wrote other poems. And because I wrote other poems, I wrote other poems. I had been locked away in my little box of misery, but now I had a voice to speak to the world.

In the eighth grade, I received encouraging notes in my writing journal. I started to share my poems with other students – cautiously at first, but with more eagerness as I began to gain acceptance. In the 9th and 10th grade, I had another wonderful English teacher who made funny jokes, left my witticisms, and love my poems. And I gained more acceptance, and I wrote more poems, and I touched the world and let it touch me. By the time I was in 12th grade, I was the unofficial Poet Laureate of my high school. I won all of the writing awards, including the Valentine’s Day poetry contest as well as the Who’s Who in English and the Brave Spirit Award in English. I went to college (after a couple years of working at convenience stores) and won the award for Academic Excellence in English, became the first-ever English tutor at HCC Brandon, blah blah blah, etc. etc. etc.

And none of that would’ve happened had it not been for Mrs. Alcorn. Imagine the impact of this one teacher on this one day making a difference to this one student. Imagine it. Put yourself in my shoes and be me for a minute. Put yourself in her shoes and be her for a minute. Imagine how my life was changed because of this woman.

As I said, I’ll never get to say thank you to her. She will never know the impact she had on my life. I figure at this point my teaching career, I have had at least 3000 students. I don’t remember all of them; how could I? And I don’t know that she would remember me. But I do wish – sincerely, I wish this – I do wish that I could take her out to dinner and just tell her how important she was to me.