because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Gratitude To The Man Who Taught Me To Embrace Chaos

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It was my third week at Metairie Park Country Day School, and I could barely distinguish the administration building from the science building. I didn’t know where the nearest bathroom was, who to call about the broken desk in my classroom, or how to make the copier stop jamming.

For the first two weeks, I called him Jeff. By the time I got it straight, I realized that Mark Kelly was not the technology guy; neither was he the Athletic Director. He was the Middle School Principal, and he’d come to the English office to pay me a visit, to see how I was doing, if I needed anything. How nice, I thought, how friendly the folks are around these parts. Little did I know that he was out to get me. Little did I know that I’d come face to face with the meanest practical joker east of the Mississippi. I made the mistake of sounding secure.

Mark Kelly

“Everything is great,” I said, trying to sound confident.

“Have you been to the Lower School?” he asked.

“Been there.” I said, feigning a yawn.

“What about the library?”

“Pu-leeze,” I lied.

“So you know what you’re doing?” he said, raising his eyebrow. “You have it all together?”

I nodded my head, snapped my fingers two times for effect, and headed off to class.  Later, after school ended and I had erased the blackboard, reorganized the desks in a circle, and collected my mail, I returned to the English office. I saw it from all the way across the room; my desk had been cleared. Everything was gone.

When I realized the gravity of the situation, I gasped aloud: “My grade book!” It held all my students’ grades, all my attendance records.

I think I vomited a little in my mouth.

Sitting behind me, looking calm, was Mr. Kelly.  “You’ve really got it all together…” He smiled, arms crossed over his chest.

“Where is it?” I squeaked. “What have you done with it?!”

Suffice it to say that Mr. Kelly sent me on quite a scavenger hunt. During my journey, I located the Lower School atrium, the Upper School attendance office, the library – and I met fabulous folks all along the way. In the end, it turned out that Mr. Kelly had stashed all my goods in an empty file cabinet drawer right there in the English office, about two steps away from my desk. I pulled all my belongings out of the drawer, unharmed, and set about reorganizing. Mr. Kelly gurgled and chortled behind me.

Truth be told, I miss the way Mark Kelly batted me around the way some giant cat might play with a mouse or a bird. I miss hearing his booming laugh behind me at school plays; I miss his multi-colored Tabasco ties; I miss his wit, his charm, his teasing, and his teaching. Mark put a little bounce in my step. He taught me to stay on my toes.  He taught me never to brag about being done with something early. He taught me how order in the world is artificial and how easy it is to lose control. He made me explore, go out and meet people, go into unfamiliar territory and find answers. It’s so easy to get stuck in our own little comfort zones.

Mark worked as Head of School at Annunciation Orthodox School in Houston, Texas for many years. I like to think that this little Grasshopper has become like her master and that I instill in my students the same thrill for exploration and the same joy at being slightly off-center.

When is the last time someone made you feel a little off balance – in a good way?

Many Happy Returns Of The Day

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Today is my parents’ anniversary. They’ve been married for 52 years, and they still really enjoy each other’s company. This is a video that I meant to share on my blog shortly after they celebrated their 50th anniversary. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to make it live. Better late than never, right? Please join me today in wishing my parents continued joy, love and acceptance. Whatever they’re doing, it’s working.

Not a Tale for Children

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Recently, I had to make a decision about whether or not to call Child Protective Services. The boy involved is a smart boy. He is not a troublemaker. The people who needed to be reported were the boy’s parents who left him, alone, without any organized adult supervision for several days. In the end, I decided not to do it, but I have fretted over this decision every day since. This is my way of working it out a little.

angel

Not a Tale for Children

His face is not a face. It is an onion to be peeled, a puzzle to be pieced together. His pain is so deep under the surface even he cannot find the center, the source. He remembers very little, but he recalls two sets of hands. The woman’s hands first: long, slender fingers pointing to her chest, and a heart beating there. These hands lifted him when he was tired and could walk no further; these hands ruffled his locks even when he hadn’t bathed; these hands felt like sunshine warming his knee.

The other hands were different. Those hands had fingernails sharpened to claws. Those hands had scarred knuckles. Those hands smelled metallic and gripped a gun with a feeling that he imagines is something close to love. He remembers bruises and fists and, finally, he remembers no hands at all.

He remembers the smell of grass vaguely, but then he is not sure. Maybe he is recalling warm bread with apricot jam, or the scent behind a baby’s knees, or the memory of a thick yellow comforter on a soft bed. A real bed. A place to rest a body or a head.

He remembers he used to have wings, feathers that extended from the center of his back, in the place where his shoulder blades met. His wings were eggshell-colored and silky, too — of this he is certain.

He remembers the day his wings caught fire.

It was the twenty-seventh day after they noticed the wind had stopped moving across the land. Twenty-seven days since the last orange butterfly visited the blue flowers that puffed out purple tongues. On that day, he felt a fist of fire cracking its way up his back and then his wings — which he had always been taught to believe could fly him away from the cracking cement and the muffled rumbling in the distance, the rubble — his beautiful wings turned brown and curled into wispy tendrils of dust.

It had not been a slow burning. His wings exploded into flame and the air around him turned brown and green. He remembers the smell of burning flesh.

Because he was ashamed of his loss, he hid for five days, coming out only at night to scavenge amidst the wreckage, searching for marshmallows and sunflower seeds and bits of cheese. After a while, he forgot what he was hiding for and emerged, small and pigeon-toed. Amazingly, no-one seemed to notice that his wings were gone. Tall, crooked shadows curved over his tiny frame and then rushed past, leaving him questioning if he had ever had them in the first place.

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The Compromise

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image from Bob Magill Photography

We took his motorcycle and drove for two days straight never stopping to shower, only to refuel and refuel and refuel at small convenience stores in quaint little towns where even the fat counter girls looked beautiful to me. Somehow we ended up tip-toeing in the middle of some farmer’s field where the corn stretched tall and sweet to the sky and roots spread underneath our feet, and I felt safe and believed in magic when he clapped his hands once and — without even having to say abracadabra — thousands of crows lit and seeded the sky like a million dark winged moons.

As he held me, they squawked our names, and he taught me how to decipher the screechings of birds, and I was so sure that love like that could never fly away.

But it does and it has dozens of times since then.

But before the pecking and the clawing there were kisses behind a crumbling wall, flowers sent with secret messages, green turtlenecks and green chairs  and the whole fucking world was green with possibility and if I died in an hour no one would know that still I hold these memories, hoard them like chocolates I won’t share, sweet and delicious caramels oozing with my youth fluttering daily away from me on bird’s wings, and I can’t bear to part with a single one; they are all my favorites.

I need only breathe and we are there, his feathers… feathers flickering radiance.

And no one need ever know I sacrificed that kind of love, chose the warmth of a yellow comforter and a rye bagel each morning over the chill of late September rain on my shoulders, something less dangerous than a motorcycle and the uncertainty of a thousand crows screaming our passion overhead.

This week we were asked write about a relationship we knew was doomed from the start in under 400 words. Click on the button above to read other stories about love and loss.

Tell me about one of your doomed relationships: with a lover, a friend, a parent, a child, a celebrity.