I am the very proud principal of the Hartford Area Career and Technology Center (HACTC). And I have a confession to make.
And it has nothing to do with my job as a principal.
This is personal.
I am a reader.
That is the confession.
I find respite in reading.
When my shoulders tense and my hands ring and my leg bounces, I look for words.
Words that form a story.
A story different than my own.
Or a story I wish was my own.
A story of redemption.
(Something so hard for me).
Or a story where someone overcomes the longest of odds to do well.
You know, when the protagonist wins.
I like it when the protagonist wins.
Maybe that is the real confession of this blog entry.
A Principal’s Confession: I like it when good wins.
Like in the Batman comics.
Those stories that made me a reader in the first place.
No matter the villain, Batman won.
Ra’s al Ghul.
All character metaphors for life’s struggles.
But which one is the metaphor now?
That cruel fucker of an autoimmune disorder that has stolen my daughter’s childhood.
And my marriage.
And my happiness.
And any night’s sleep that does not have me pacing circles from the kitchen to the living room.
Stubbing my toe on the bottom of the dishwasher, knocking off the cover plate.
At 2:00 a.m.
Waking the bunny, “Thumper”, in the next room.
Making him ‘thump’ his back foot in annoyance.
I understand, Thumper.
Or maybe at 5:00 a.m.
When I stumble over Clarabelle.
The best friend.
To us all.
A Golden Retriever.
A better human than any of us.
(More on that later).
But after the stub and the trip, I eventually give up.
I give up.
Falling to my knees and burying my head in the cushions of the green couch.
Cushions that have weathered all of it.
All of the PANDAS.
The cushions are stained with them all.
And some yogurt.
They are stained with yogurt, too.
Could Batman defeat that villain?
The villain that comes from nowhere?
And vaccine supporters.
And anti-vaxxers, too?
The Harvey Dent of arguments.
Batman would tough it out, though.
And find a solution.
The Dark Knight Detective.
Something I cannot do.
Because my toughness is gone.
As is my grit.
And my perseverance.
Because whatever villain PANDAS would be, it would be the cruelest.
It would be the villain that instantly - with “sudden onset” - takes happiness and turns it into despair.
Just like the storm cloud that comes out of nowhere.
During a sunny day in the hayfield.
When the tedding is done.
And the wind rows are made.
In their perfect symmetry.
Only five minutes of heavy rain.
But just enough to ruin things.
For a while.
Making my Dad start all over again.
All. Over. Again.
To get all the hay in the barn.
Back breaking work.
Counting on sunshine.
To show up.
And it did.
And also a bit of a breeze.
Eventually, the hay would get in the barn.
But why, Dad?
Why cannot I get this hay in the barn?
Despite ‘Tedding’ again.
And ‘Wind Rowing’ again.
Getting this ‘PANDAS’ hay in the barn.
You taught me to be tough.
Insisted on it, really.
To be strong.
To get up after being knocked down.
If you land on one knee, you are good.
You have another.
Take the punch.
Take the hit.
Use the other knee.
Get on both knees.
If need be.
Because that’s when prayer happens.
But do not fall over.
No matter his villain.
He never fell over.
Or gave up.
You mentioned that one night when I was watering B.B. the cow.
After carrying her water in five-gallon pails from the back of the house to the barn.
In -10 degree weather.
Because you knew Mrs. Manchester gave me the Batman comic.
It was obvious then that I was never to give up.
“Do not give up, Dougie.”
“Get the hay in the barn.”
“Get. It. In. The. Barn.”
“The storm will be quick.”
“It comes down the river, from the north, but it will not last long.”
“It never does.”
“But your toughness will. “
“It will last. “
And I have tried.
I swear I have tried so hard, Dad.
But I cannot do it anymore.
It is still raining.
And the ‘hay’ is getting moldy.
It keeps getting wet.
And I have been on one knee.
And have come up swinging.
Not caring who I hit.
Particularly those who say vaccinate your children.
“Believe the doctors.”
“They know what they are doing.”
Easy to say.
When your child is not the moldy hay in the field.
But I cannot fight any more, Dad.
There is nothing left.
And maybe that is where God wants me right now.
To fight the yet-to-be-created Batman nemesis with nothing but Faith.
Like when Batman fought Bane.
Two knees. For sure.
But twelve issues later, Batman got the ‘hay in the barn.’
Did this all start when I was six?
Was this God’s plan?
Starting when I could not read at all?
And just wanted to give up.
In Mrs. McGrail’s room?
My first-grade teacher.
When I was not a reader?
And not a Batman fan?
When she put me and Ralph Luce in the back of the room.
Reading from the book that had the Caterpillar on the front.
With the cowshit still fresh on our boots from morning chores.
With the other kids in the class reading from the book with the umbrella on the front.
Our smell far away from her.
The symbolism of the Umbrella and the Caterpillar not lost on Ralph and me.
We were slow readers, for sure.
Mouthing the words silently.
But not dumb.
No, we were not dumb.
Caterpillars move slow.
Fun with Dick and Jane, was no fun for me.
Especially when ‘that bitch’ forced me to read out loud to her.
When I was in the back of the room.
And she was in the front.
Behind her desk.
With the umbrella readers between us.
All of them.
At my stammering.
Over the multi-syllable words.
Harder for me than carrying five-gallon pails of water from the house to the barn and B.B. the cow.
Or harder than the whiskey that seems always to be to my left lately when I write.
Words that ended with -ch but sounded like a K were particularly hard.
So were words that had a -gh but sounded like an F.
That made my classmates snicker.
While I read to ‘the bitch’ in the front of the room.
Well, not all of my classmates snickered.
Tommy didn’t snicker.
Thirty-six years later he is still one of my most trusted friends.
Strong Vermont accent.
And an equally strong hug.
Always with both arms.
Every time I see him.
Every. Single. Time.
I am not necessarily a hugger.
But I will never pass up a Hazen hug.
Tommy didn’t snicker.
He just looked back at me and nodded.
He nodded encouragement.
For me to not flip over the chair and yell at Mrs. McGrail.
For the third week in a row.
Tommy would not snicker.
Is that when it all started, God?
To begin prepare me for PANDAS?
Because when Mrs. Manchester realized I struggled at reading, she gave me Batman.
She did not ridicule.
Like Mrs. McGrail.
She gave me Batman.
I loved the pictures and words together.
And could not get enough of them.
I read and read and read and read and read and read.
And then I read and read.
Catching up to the Umbrellas.
Addicted to reading.
Passing the Umbrellas.
And becoming an English Teacher.
Who would have guessed?
Well, maybe you would have, Dad.
You, too, Mrs. Manchester.
And you, too, Tommy.
All the encouragers.
With chores, Batman, and hugs.
All of them I need now.
And you give me now.
To stay strong.
While my daughter struggles.
The ultimate villain.
It did start then, didn’t it?
Maybe God knows what he is doing after all.
God knows what he is doing.
Even in overcoming my unbelief.
My reoccurring unbelief.
To teach me to rely on love.
From Mrs. Manchester.
(RIP, my beloved teacher...and my Dad’s beloved teacher, too).
From my Dad.
With the two-armed hugs.
And from my books.
From the stories.
That give me respite.
Stories, love, and hugs.
Is there anything better?
There is not.
Well, maybe my Dad and his wind rows.
They might be better.
And their beautiful symmetry in the fields.
Despite any impending storm.
Make no mistake, PANDAS can never defeat him.
Or his wind rows.
Or Mrs. Manchester.
And not me either.
PANDAS will not defeat me.
Despite my two-knee kneel every morning.
Brought there by a villain.
But lifted up by my God.