There are a few things I have wanted to do for a very long time now. This is not to say it can’t happen or it won’t happen. Perhaps these are just ideas I have and they are thoughts which are enough to make me smile with good intention.
For a long time now, I’ve wanted to walk through the hallways of my old elementary school. I want to see what the cafeteria looks like and if the walls are still painted the same way because as best as I can remember, I believe the walls were painted with characters from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Then I laugh a little to myself because in today’s day and age of political correctness, the word dwarf is offensive so perhaps the walls in the cafeteria are changed now. Or maybe Snow White isn’t cool anymore.
I wonder if the Band Cave, which was underground, downstairs near the front, main entrance if I am not mistaken. This downstairs was actually a bomb shelter (that is, if my memory serves) and this is where a man named Mr. Shepard taught people how to play an instrument. My instrument was the trumpet — only, I never stayed with it and I wasn’t a fan of Mr. Shepard. Other people liked him, but I didn’t.
I wonder what the art classrooms look like now. This is where I was sent to the principal’s office for the very first time in my life.
It was in Mrs. Humley’s art class. I was somewhere around the age of second or maybe it was third grade. I was yelled at in front of the entire class for liking and literally enjoying the smell of rubber cement.
Unbeknownst to me, I was doing something that I would later learn would be called “Huffing,” only I never thought I was huffing fumes. I just liked the smell of rubber cement. And it was a big deal too. They sent me down and called my mother for this one. They said I was acting inappropriately. But me, I thought I was just curious and being a kid.
Anyway, there are more places like this I would like to see. Take one of my classrooms for example. I often have dreams where I walk into Mr. Goldman’s fifth grade class. The room is empty and it looks exactly as it did when the decade of the 70’s turned into 80’s. The lower horizontal sash of windows opens outward to halfway and partly tilts with the bottom half of the Plexiglas window tilting inward.
Outside it appears to be midday during springtime. It is recess, I assume, and the class is out somewhere on the playground or playing two-hand touch football or maybe kickball.
In my dream, the room appears almost sleepy and the wind that enters from the open windows is soft but it moves in just enough to blow passed the papers and artwork, which are taped to the painted cinder-block walls.
I can see the papers on the wall slightly fluttering from the breeze in a soundless, almost slightly off-colored as if to offer a retro effect to a sepia type dream.
I’d like to see what the gymnasium looks like now. I wonder how little the boys and girls are because I was that young and small once too. I would like to see these children. I would like to talk to them and tell them a few things.
I’d love to tell them don’t be afraid to dream. I’d love to let them know it’s a good idea to want to be a fireman. It’s good to think about being an astronaut or a pilot. I’d like to tell them that yes, I think it is possible to be anything you want to be.
So don’t be afraid to try.
Another place I would like to stop in and see is my old junior high school.
Well, they call it middle school now.
I wonder if the hallways smell the same as I remember. I wonder if the gym looks the same or if the room where they held detention is the same as it was.
I want to walk passed the principal’s office and remind myself that sometimes in our youth, we behave a certain way and for certain reasons.
I want to look in the I.S.S. room because I spent a lot of time in this place.
I.S.S. stood for In School Suspension. I spent many long odd days in this little room with my head on a desk that was separated by partitions. I spent many crazed and deranged hours cycling through bizarre hallucinations while meandering through an eight-hour psychedelic trip on LSD, which is how I chose to help cure the boredom of my unfortunate surrounding.
I want to go here and see the place where I went from a small troubled boy to a young punk in trouble. I want to see the teachers.
I want to see the principals. I want to meet with the guidance counselors and tell them, be careful. Be aware.
I want to say be advised that these kids are not your problem but they are on your watch and unrealistic regulations held by parents who are unwilling to accept blame for their own faults will fall down on you because, let’s face it; in today’s society, everyone points fingers to blame somebody else.
I want to tell the teachers, you have rights too. No one has the right to be disrespectful. And the students have rights as well. No one has the right to be made fun of, put down publicly or privately, or humiliated to the point where their life becomes painful to simply exist.
I want to tell the teachers we need to make a shift somewhere. There needs to be a change. I want to get them here—right here, exactly where the change begins because here is where kids begin to learn about status.
This is the age where we face the different introductions to cliques and the demographics of hierarchy in the social echelons of popularity.
These times can be cruel times for a kid. And we need to be aware of this. We need to bridge the communication gap and set up a different level of understanding.
I want to speak to the kids here at my old school. I want to tell them that no one has the right to limit you or put you down, call you stupid, or fat, or ugly, too skinny, nerdy, or otherwise.
I want to speak to each and every kid; no matter how many there may be, I want to speak to them all and let them know there is a great big, beautiful world out there. I want to tell them to go outside for a change.
Don’t be afraid to live. Put down the hand-held devices and your technologies and go on a hike. Play something for pretend, just for fun—and just for a minute; be brave enough to be a kid.
Be you. “Be exactly who you are,” I would tell them.
“Because who you are is more beautiful than anything you could ever possibly imagine.” is what I would say.
I want to see the look on their faces when I talk — each of them and all of them — and I want to stand in the auditorium shouting with all that I have and with all my heart to please keep these things in mind.
Youth only comes once.
And so does life.
We only have one chance.
This moment has the ability to be the most beautiful (if you allow it) and if you live up to your best possible potential — no one in the world can ever stop you from being the person you’ve always dreamed you want to be.
No one can stop you from this, “Except for you,” is what I would tell them.
I want to see these kids and I want to smile at them. I want them to know someone believes in them all. I want to see the teachers who try hard.
I want to thank them because my classroom experience was not successful; however, it could have been if there was more awareness of social anxiety, awkwardness, or situational and clinical depression.
I wish I would have had someone like me back then. I wish I could speak to the teachers that knew me when I was young. I would have told them why I behaved as I did and what went on behind the half-shut eyelids and bloodshot eyes. There was a reason for this. I was never stupid. I was not bad or worthless — I only thought I was. It would have been nice if maybe they noticed it too.
My next stop would be the high school I never had the chance to attend. I want to go here now. I want to see a graduating class. I want to speak to them and tell them, be aware. There is a whole big world out there and fairness is not always on the menu. You will have to compete now. You will have to perform. No teacher can prepare you for this lesson that will come your way. Only experience teaches these things. You’ll have to try now. The social setting you find yourself in is not the same. The popular side of the lunchroom does not exist in the corporate world.
I want to see the graduating class and say how I envy them. I envy their youth because youth is an irreplaceable thing. Youth comes with resiliency. And of course it does. Look at them.
They are still young. They have endurance.
They can run miles around the word, three times over because they are young enough to still have the energy to dream. If I could say anything, I would stand in front of the classes and say do not give in.
Do not lose hope and do not lose sight of the person you want to be.
It will take work to get where you want to be. You will bleed and you will sweat.
You will fall and make mistakes. You will fail more times than you could possibly imagine but the ends will justify the means and if you give all you have, you will return with more wealth than you could ever possibly imagine. I would tell them all that this is true and that they are all worth the extra effort.
I want to go to the high school I was supposed to attend and tell them to be mindful of their choices. I want to explain how everything wild seems like a good idea at the time — it’s all about having fun and the drive to feel that rush, to feel that extra spark, the adrenaline, the high, the surge of ecstasy, the perfection of a great night with a great time, a few drinks, some chemicals, maybe a pill, all while screaming mad down the hometown streets, painless, rebellious, alive in a way that adults could never understand— I want to meet these kids who feel this way and I want to tell them, “Be careful.”
I have been speaking to a 17 year old girl who lives in Pit County, North Carolina. I will not reveal much out of respect for anonymity; however, I will reveal the conversation.
I advised her to be cautious. The path she chose was the wrong one. Nothing good happens here. No one ever walks away the same.
She explained that she knew what she was doing. She told me she knew how to survive. She told me “Don’t tell me because I already know what I’m doing,” in a rebellious way. And I quote her exact words, “I don’t give a fuck what happens next.”
I wonder how she feels now. I wonder how the owner of the car they stole feels. I wonder what the driver of the 18-wheeler that collided, head on with that stolen car feels because the driver of that stolen car was a young girl, also 17, and she’s dead now. I wonder f the driver behind that 18-wheeler is a dad. I winder if he has a daughter and he blames himself for the accident, thinking, “Good god, what have I done?”
There were four young people in that car. The boy in the driver’s side backseat cut off his ankle bracelet while under house arrest and took this ride. He was on life-support for a while. He is home now but his life is forever altered. He is only 15.
The other boy in the backseat was about the same age. He escaped without a scratch; however, his probation officer has a few things to handle on this one. And as for that 17 year-old girl I’ve been speaking with, she is in a facility that is not unlike the facility that helped me when I was her age.
We spoke on the phone yesterday. I had asked her if she remembered when she told me three days before the accident, “I don’t give a fuck what happens.”
And of course, she remembered, to which I asked, “Do you still feel the same way now?”
Four teenage lives were altered. One child is dead and I say she was a child because 18 years-old is still so painfully young. The two boys caught more than they bargained for when they took that ride in a stolen car. But it all seemed like a good idea at the time. And I suppose parents will read this. And I suppose they will blame someone. I figure many will read this and they’ll say, “That will never happen to my kid,” or “That will never be me.”
Well, those four kids didn’t think it would happen to them either.
But it did.
I want to go back to all of my schools or any school that invites me and let as many people know that the world doesn’t give everyone a trophy.
Not everyone wins. Life takes effort. I want to tell these kids that no one ever has the right to hold them back from being successful.
I want to scream until they know that this isn’t me being a “Dad,” thing or me being an adult who doesn’t understand. No, this is me being someone who cares. And yes, I have a few scars of my own which is why I take this personally. But maybe if more of us cared or took this personally then the idea of “It takes a village to raise a child,” will come into play.
As I write to you, I am currently on call. What does that mean? It means from 7:00am this morning to 7:00pm this evening, I will be on call and ready for deployment to either of four hospitals in my nearby area.
I am deployed after an opiate overdose. I took this gig because I’m tired of what I see. And the last thing I want to see is another kid fall to waste. I don’t want to see anyone’s life go to waste.
I want to go out and empower people. I want to empower our children. I want to tell them stop believing the lies they’ve learned. Right now, I am on call with the opioid overdose reversal program. Half of me wants to be deployed so I can help someone but the other half prays that I’m not because maybe one less person will choose to die today.
I spoke with an Aunt who lost her Nephew the other day. I spoke with a Mom who dropped her son off at a treatment facility last night. On Wednesday, I spoke with a girl who had no idea she was so amazing. Thursday night, I spoke with a dad who said, “Ben, I just don’t know what to do anymore.” Last night, I spoke with a young man who is unaware of his value. He never knew what he is worth, and with each of them, we have all decided to work on a strategy to strengthen and better our position.
Together, we made a decision that we will not be afraid to “Be First!”
I have an outreach program in the works at the homeless shelter at Hackensack that will be called, Sunday Morning’s Breakfast with Benny.
This is a big thing for me. This is my way of fighting back
I will do all that I can and everything I can to make an impact in my community.
But that’s just me . . .
What will you do?