For the sake of my mental health, I decided to go for walks. This isn’t a new thing for me; in the past, it was what I did almost every day after work. It started off as something more serious – I’d walk and began pushing myself further until it was a sprint, a job, a run.
These days though, I walk in hopes to build some strength back in my lungs.
For those wondering, people-watching is essential to creative writing – be it fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. Jose Skinner taught me of its importance, though it had been a pastime of mine for some time.
When you observe your surroundings with a creative eye, you register things that would otherwise be overlooked. The way a young wife moves away from her husband when he sits next to her. Or how a child darts across the street while his mother scrolls across the screen of phone. Or the mannerisms of a young couple.
They paid no mind to the scent of rain that lingered in the air; they were more focused on studying each others smile. The groove between their hands, their teeth. With the first drops, she pulled him into the open space. They wrapped their arms around each other.
It took me back to a moment in life. One taken for granted. When a girl pulled me outside to kiss in the rain.
It’s difficult to pick which Shane Koyczan poem I love the most, but “To This Day” sits on top of the pile along with “Heaven, or Whatever.”
As a parent, bullying worries me. How can you protect your child when you’re not around? Especially when you know how cruel others can be. Especially if you were the one who was picked last or picked on. Shoved against walls and lockers. Had their possessions stolen because you lacked the physical strength to fight back.
She was eight years old Our first day of grade three When she got called ugly We both got moved to the back of the class So we would stop get bombarded by spit balls But the school halls were a battleground Where we found ourselves outnumbered day after wretched day We used to stay inside for recess Because outside was worse Outside we’d have to rehearse running away Or learn to stay still like statues giving no clues that we were there In grade five they taped a sign to her desk That read beware of dog
And if you can’t see anything beautiful about yourself
Get a better mirror
Look a little closer
Stare a little longer
Because there’s something inside you
That made you keep trying
Despite everyone who told you to quit
You built a cast around your broken heart
And signed it yourself
You signed it
“They were wrong”
Memory a fickle bitch, isn’t it? For those of you not in the know, I have a daily walking regimen. As much as I would like to believe otherwise, it’s purpose exists more for clearing out the daily accumulated mental clutter than for any health benefits I may receive from it. My track has changed in the last few weeks. I took much solace in the emptiness of Sacred Heart Church and Apollo Park, but each day more and more people fill these areas up as kid sports and non-kid weddings are big thing during the summer months. I’ve extended the track to cover places from my childhood. I pass the Fountain Park Boys & Girls Club and Stephen F. Austin Elementary, carved through the sidewalks alongside the housing community, and traveling alongside Lincoln Elementary, one of three alma maters from my childhood.
Taking the path I took when I walked home from school, the surroundings blurred and focus returned to the past. Walking home from Lincoln Elementary everyday with childhood friends, Andrea and Elisa. Passing that prick Ricky’s house. And the memory of his little sister, whose name escapes me. The girl I mercilessly bullied one day.
I am not proud of what I did then. From time to time, I remember her face. I remember her voice. Her screams and tears.
Pushed the thought from my mind, at first. What sort of hypocrite would that make me, though? The person who wants people to own their shit, regardless of how it makes them look to others. So I forced myself to remember the who experience. From befriending her weeks prior. Listening to her stories and jokes. To giving Eliza that look of “back off” when she threaten violence. To the moment of betrayal as Eliza barked, “Get the bitch!” and we broke out in a run toward her.
I followed the path we took to circumvent having to pass their home, but failing to do so. The sound of Ricky’s angry, pre-pubescent voice hollering from across the street. Their mother shouting curses at us, as we briskly walked past the house.
There is no question, I knew what we did was wrong. I had the power to not follow through the plan. I could have warned the poor girl what Eliza was cooking up. I never understood Andrea or Eliza’s hatred for Ricky. Never understood why his little sister acted as his avatar for said hatred.
After fifth grade, I lost contact with Eliza. Searching my memory, I don’t recall seeing her at the sixth grade campus. Whether she flunked or moved away—or, quite possibly, found a home within the fences of a juvenile detention center—is knowledge I’ll never have. I spoke to Andrea from time to time in the halls. Our lockers were near each other. But we lost contact, too, despite living on the same street. And soon, their names were as unfamiliar to me as the girl we chased down the street. And that sucks. Because their names are seared in memory forever, while I can’t remember what hers started with.
In the Season 3, episode 13 of the television series NCIS, there’s a scene with “Probie” Timothy McGee interrogates a schoolyard bully. There’s a line that stuck with me after watching it: When you get older, you’re not going to remember their names, but you know what? They’re always going to remember yours. And I hope to this day she’s forgotten me. Forgotten my face. Forgotten that day. That I am nothing in her autobiography. Not even a footnote on the page.
JT asked if I was reading at the Beat poetry reading. I shook my head. “No,” I said. “Why not?” “It wasn’t my group. I wasn’t invited.”
Last year, I made a snide remark about an anti-bullying poetry reading that excluded prose readers. I compared it to sitting at the loser’s table in the proverbial high school cafeteria. The plagiarist called me on an ironic statement—a poet who doesn’t understand irony? That’s ironic, right?—even went as far as bullying me into apology. That’s right. He bullied me until I apologized to him. As if a mariachi who humiliates someone online has any right to host an anti-bullying poetry reading. That’s not irony. It’s messed up.
But it’s no secret that I’ve been on the outside of his circle jerk of friends. I never conformed to his ideologies, dogma, and never gave him a chance to use me as a stepping stone to the top. Every idea he’s had belongs to someone else. And credit is never given. When I met him at FESTIBA all those years ago, when I bought his self-published book, and shook his hand there was something about him I didn’t trust. He invited me to partake in “his” festival of poetry. An idea that he stole from a friend of mine. There was a charge. I never paid to read before.
“A book is being published,” he answered. A book indeed. A collection of works by those who partake, reminiscent of the poetry.com bullshit from my teenage years.
I danced around the truth when JT asked me why. “I went into hiding,” I replied. “After which, no one wanted to take me back.”
The truth is, the only dick I’m willing to jerk off is mine.