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Alright GF I'll play. Let's get nostalgic.

It seems like there have been several very significant and memorable events of my life which have fallen on holidays. The Christmas that I felt inspired to write my first meaningful contribution to this site, or the St. Patrick's Day when I left my adopted home, and the following year's St. Patrick's Day when I started my new job, or the Easter Sunday of my sophomore year of college when I drank nearly an entire liter of Southern Comfort (I never did find my socks from that night). I can only put it down as coincidental that these events happen to have fallen on holidays. But the significance of these events pale in comparison to one certain Valentine's Day.

Again, a date that I can only interpret as coincidental. I only wish the story involved some cutesy pink hallmark young romance. I was 9 years old on this Valentine's day, and I wasn't particularly interested in the opposite sex. I was a competitive little kid. I liked watching sports with my parents on the weekends. When I was at school, I liked PE. And during recess I liked to play sports with the other kids.

Darius was one of the kids in my class that I got along with generally well. We had a few things in common. We were both fairly competitive, both a little on the chubby side, and both fairly intelligent. That being said I would never say we were close friends, just agreeable classmates. We were playing kickball on that particular day, and Darius didn't seem to be having a very good day. But I was not being very tactful at all. I was arrogant in my competitiveness, and I liked to talk trash. I would never make it personal. It would only be talk that would fall along the lines of "you suck."

But the other kids, though. They like to instigate. They like to stir the pot and escalate the situation, they like to see conflict and drama. All it took was one little chirp, one little troublemaking snitch to tell Darius that I had said something about his mama in the midst of all the trash talk, and Darius charged me. He had his chest puffed out, jawing his fat little cheeks, "You talkin bout my mama? You talkin bout my mama?"

I hadn't said anything about his mama. I might have told him so, I don't remember. I do remember standing my ground. I remember thinking that he was upset but it was just a misunderstanding, and that he just wanted to bark for a minute, and to just let him have it. Then he swung on me.

It didn't hurt. It's not like this kid was training, lifting weights. It's not like he wound up. It's not like he even knew how to throw a punch. I think it hurt my feelings much more than it hurt me physically, because I knew I hadn't said the thing which had made him so upset. I can remember him crying in front of the teacher as we were made to explain ourselves. He was so proud. I felt bad for him. I didn't say anything to defend myself. I didn't confirm or deny saying anything specific, the narrative was simply that I had said something about his mama and that's why he was upset enough to punch me and that's the narrative they went with.

He and I both received the same level of punishment for this - a behavior document. That was a big deal at my elementary school. It wasn't as bad as being suspended of course, but it was something that you had to take home and explain to your parents and have them sign it to bring back the next day. So you were bound to get in trouble on both fronts. I couldn't help but feel like there was some injustice done. That I didn't really deserve to be punished at all, much less to have the same level of punishment as someone who punched me in the face. But I couldn't stop thinking about the way he was crying. It was true that I was talking trash. I couldn't escape some sense of guilt about the whole thing. Or maybe it was shame. Some mix of emotion that was too abstract for a 9-year-old to really understand, but that was most definitely felt. I was still a little upset about the whole thing when I got home, not wanting to face the consequences from my parents of bringing home a behavior document, especially when I legitimately felt like I wasn't in the wrong. I did what most any kid would do. I put it off.

 

 

Valentine's Day never meant much in my household. We were never religious as a family, never very traditional or celebratory or festive. But the nominal (stupid) holiday was enough of an excuse for us to go out for dinner, and so we did. There was a tex-mex restaurant down the street from our house which had been a favorite of our family's for years. My parents liked it because it was cheap and close. My brother and I liked it because we could get kids food, and they had a nice little arcade. There were also things about it that I didn't consciously appreciate when I was younger, like the cavernous old pueblo architecture with the dim track lighting, or the fact that they served sopapillas (I didn't know how uncommon those were north of the border until I got older). But in any case, I enjoyed myself, as I always did at that restaurant, and largely forgot about the behavior document sitting in my backpack.

Apparently at some point in the evening when my brother and I were playing arcade games, my father got a call on his cellular phone (a fairly new concept at the time). Our house was on fire.

The fire engine was still outside our house when we got home. My parents had made a point of explaining to me and my brother before we got back to the house that the damage wasn't all that bad. And it wasn't. Evidently the hot water heater in the laundry room had burst, and started a fire among the pile of clothes that perpetually lined the laundry room floor. Those clothes were obviously burnt to a crisp. Apart from that and the minimal structural damage in the laundry room, most of the damage to the house had been smoke damage. Yet that was still enough to render the place uninhabitable.

For the next 4 months my family would be bouncing between hotels. It was during this time that my parents told me and my brother that they were separating. They finalized the divorce a few years later. June of that year my brother and I moved into a trailer park with my mom. We stayed with her for 4 years, until things got bad, then we moved in with my father out in the country and went to a microscopic high school in the middle of nowhere.

It was the first real experience I ever had with a loss of innocence. A few weeks after the fire we returned to the house. Everything still smelled like smoke. I remember looking in my old bedroom, turning over copious amounts of old toys and stuffed animals, covered with smoke. All these possessions which had meant so much to me a few weeks earlier now seemed so superficial, so unnecessary. I expected to be taking out armfuls, trash bags full, of all my old things with me so that I could restart my life. For all the things lost in the fire, I didn't see anything worth taking with me.

For all the times I've been on the road, every time I've had to travel from one hotel to another or taken a road trip or moved myself permanently, I always go back to this moment. This is the closest I will come to having roots - which is to say, not having roots at all. Having the spirit and the will to abandon all my possessions and to move on completely with nothing. Having the strength to leave the past to its own damage, and to make a brand new start.

 

 

I'm not really convinced that there is "one" turning point. If there is, I haven't really found mine yet. But I think it's more likely that there are many turns we encounter along our own personal rivers. And that it seems a little absurd to qualify their significance. Beause even the turns that are too small for us to appreciate or even notice, they're all relevant. Who are we to determine the significance of a watershed moment, compared to the road not taken?

The day after the fire, my 4th grade teacher told me I could basically "forget" about the behavior document that I was supposed to have my parents sign. Convenient, because I had defintely already forgotten. Til this day my parents still don't know the story about Darius. My 4th grade year was my last year at that elementary school. It was such a good school. The traditions, with the morning announcements in the cafeteria and all the promotion of peace and positivity and encouragement...it was another thing I had truly taken for granted at the time. At the end of that year the principal announced proudly to the student body that there had only been one incident of a "fight" for that entire academic year, and the other student had decided to just walk away. They didn't give names but I knew what incident they were talking about.

That was some bittersweet restitution.