Biographical Non-Fiction posted June 7, 2013


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Lessons learned at fourteen

First Love Yourself

by bhogg

Non-Fiction Writing Contest Contest Winner 
Fourteen is an awkward age for a boy. You're surrounded by life lessons. Sometimes you learn them by making mistakes, sometimes by making the right decisions and sometimes from good mentoring. One of my most important lessons learned came from none of these. It was pure serendipity.

I found myself headed to the Assistant Principal's office. That's not good, but even worse, being escorted by my favorite teacher of all time, Miss Taylor. So vivid to me even today was the trip. As a kid, you're usually in the hall before, after or between classes. This was during class. The hall was empty. All I remember hearing was the 'click-clicking' of her heels and the 'swish-swishing' noise of her pants-suit legs. She was motoring.

When we got to the office, she pointed to a bench in the hallway and said, "Sit here." Within a few minutes, she returned and said, "He'll be out for you in a moment." She left, leaving in the same brusque manner as our arrival.

Perhaps it was a moment, but it seemed much longer to me. I was trying to weigh in my mind, how much trouble I'd be in. Maybe in my favor was the Assistant Principal himself, Mr. Leister. He occupied other titles in my life, basketball coach and next door neighbor. He knew me quite well.

His receptionist finally came out and said, "He'll see you now."

When I walked into his office, he was sitting there, flipping through some papers which he finally put away. He then placed a yellow pad in front of him and pulled a pencil from his desk drawer. He looked up at me and peered over his glasses. After a wait, he said, "Sit down. You're in trouble, you know?"

I sat down. It didn't make sense for me to say anything, so I just sat there. The ticks and tocks of the old Regulator clock was the loudest noise in the room.

He finally spoke. "Miss Taylor said that you disrupted her class. Frankly, I was surprised. It didn't sound like something you would do. Also, Miss Taylor is very fond of you. She has told me on numerous occasions that you were one of her best students. You always read your book assignments and turn in all exercises on time. What made you disrupt her class today?"

Looking up, I timidly replied, "I didn't mean to."

He wrote something down on his yellow pad. He said, "She was doing a class exercise and asked the class what fictional character had the most impact on their lives. Since she was getting zero feedback, she specifically called on you, knowing that you seem to read more than the rest of the class. She felt that your thoughtful response might encourage more participation. Apparently, the only participation you encouraged was laughter."

"I didn't mean for that to happen. In honesty, once that answer left my mouth, I wanted to reach out, grab it and pull it back."

"Okay, Bill, for the record, what was your answer to the question of what fictional character had the most impact on your life."

Looking down at my feet, I practically mumbled, "Popeye the Sailor Man."

He wrote some more in his pad. "That's what Miss Taylor said. Now, what is it about that answer that you think wouldn't be disruptive?"

I didn't say anything. Mr. Leister finally asked, "Bill?"

"If I tell you, you'll probably laugh or think I'm dumb."

"I doubt I'll do either. It is a bit unusual that I probably know you better than any other student in this school. I truly do want to hear your answer and have a serious conversation."

Taking a breath, I started. "Until last Friday, Susie Stine was my girlfriend. We went to a party at a friend's house and Larry Eubanks just danced her out of my life. After the party, Susie told me that she just wanted to be friends. Do you know what that means?"

"Well, Bill, it could mean a lot of things. It could mean she just wanted to be friends."

"Come on, Mr. Leister. You said a serious conversation. What it really means is drop dead and get out of my life. Do you know Larry?"

"Well, I don't know him as well as you. I know that he's the quarterback on our football team and is a very good athlete."

"Yes sir, he is all that. He's also an obnoxious bully. Being held back a year, he tends to be bigger than most of us. In classes we've been in together, he rarely does homework and is a big prankster. He always seems to wear the coolest and neatest clothes in school. So, he's the guy that just danced Susie out of my life."

Mr. Leister chewed on the end of his pencil before finally replying. "I know it hurts right now, but I believe you'll have lots of girlfriends in your life. You've got a lot going for yourself. In time you're going to see that this is just another day in your life."

"You might be right, but I know that it sure hurt me. Did you know Chris Brown?"

Mr. Leister was silent for a moment. "Yes, I knew Chris. He was well liked in this school. His suicide last month was a shock to us all."

"Well, it was sure a shock to me. He was my best friend. When I got home last Friday, I actually started to dial his phone number. Girls naturally seemed to like him. I knew he would give me good advice. I'm glad I didn't finish dialing. It's just hard for me to believe that he's gone."

"Bill, I'm glad to talk about these things, but it is unclear to me how they are related to our situation."

"I know, Mr. Leister, but they all connect. This Sunday, I walked down to our basement. My sister was on the couch watching cartoons. I sat there for a minute and wasn't really paying attention. All of a sudden, I noticed that the cartoon was Popeye. Olive Oyl told Popeye that she didn't want to be his girlfriend anymore. At that moment, Brutus drove up. He was in a brand new car and had a fancy suit on. Olive grabbed his arm and they practically waltzed out the door."

I took a breath, really just checking to see if Mr. Leister was listening. He was, so I continued. "Popeye was really broken up. He walked around muttering to himself, stopping every once in awhile and looking up, finally said, "I loves you, Olive Oyl, but you've got to understand, 'I yam what I yam and that's all that I yam. I'm Popeye the Sailor Man." As it turned out, Brutus wasn't all that he seemed to be and Olive came back to Popeye."

"Okay, Bill, I bite. What's your point?"

"Mr. Leister, believe it or not, Popeye made sense to me. Susie might come back to me, and that's fine. If she doesn't, that's fine too. It got me to thinking. I yam what I yam as well, and guess what?"

"What's that, Bill?"

"I'm okay with that. I like me just fine."

Mr. Leister paused for a minute, made a note in his notebook, and pulled out an index card. With a magic marker, in block letters, he wrote, "I YAM WHAT I YAM AND THAT'S ALL THAT I YAM. I'M POPEYE THE SAILOR MAN." He posted the note to his cork board.

Looking up at me, he said, "Just go on back to class. I'll clear this up with Miss Taylor. You know what? You are okay."

 


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A lesson learned at fourteen. You can't control other people, but it's up to you to feel good about yourself.
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