Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Tue, 11 Jun 1996 06:32:34 -0400 (EDT)
A lot of you have been asking me if I know what has happened to Sam. As it happens I do. In fact, I came into the office late this evening to finish pouring over student journals and student self-evaluations as well as notations I made over the course of the quarter, and coming up with those very uneducational things called final grades. But, I've been sitting here at my desk for a while now, listening to the haunting tunes of _Les Miserables_, savoring the fresh sweetness of my Tootsie Pops, refusing to let go of a hand-written note I found laying on the floor as I opened my office door, reading it's words over and over and over again. The note was written on ordinary lined notebook paper, but there was nothing ordinary about it. It is from Sam:
I'm heading home to Eastman today, but I wanted you to know I admire you so much as a person. I am glad that you had what it takes to become the person that you have and that I was lucky to be one of your students. I want you to know the difference you've made in my life. I have had a shitty life, doing so many things wrong and feeling that I could never do anything good and feeling that I wasn't worth nothing much. You didn't see that. You saw me only as a person and cared about me like only my uncles did. I hope that last Monday when you called and stopped me from leaving and helped me with with my courses so I wouldn't fail them and showed me that you and other people cared will be the day when I start to turn my whole life around. It's still all so confusing. I'm still not sure why you care. I guess I've been in the dark so long I'm not sure I'll know the light when I see it. I am still only at the beginning of my struggle, but I did smile in your office and you said that was a start. So maybe now I HAVE SOME HOPE and BELIEF IN MYSELF. I will, like you and my other uncle said, try to start listening to the other voices. I hope I won't let me and everyone else down. Now it's up to me. Thanks for giving me another chance believing and caring and having faith in me I'll see you this summer as I work to make up the work in the class.That note is the result of some responses to my last Random Thought about Sam. I didn't like Anne Pemberton of Virginia, whom I highly respect, for telling me that I had "pushed him away" and "passed off" to someone else like everyone else had done. And, I wasn't comfortable when Rick Garlikov, suggested that I knew I deep down there was more I could have done. Rather than "pass off" the words of these two nice people as they suggested I did with Sam, I read their troubling messages over and over again wondering why didn't I call, as others had also suggested, to see how Sam was doing when he failed to show up for class. I think it was probably the fact that the events with Sam had thrown me on overload, and I didn't realize it. I just had to practice tough love and flunk another student, a struggling alcoholic, who, having worked hard for three weeks, suddenly gave up on her committment to both the other members of her triad and to herself to see the quarter through, had tried to con me into giving her a withdraw/passing grade, and had cried that I had ruined her life when I held her to that committment and refused to sign the withdrawal form. There was another student, a non-traditional student, who had "lost it" just before class as she buckled--collapsed is a better word--under the pressure of being a student, a single parent, enduring the threats to her and her children from an abusive ex-husband while the county authorities refused to enforce a restraining order, and I had to take her over to the councilor. And there was the desperate student who came into the office asking for help because she was to ashamed to tell anyone else that she had contracted VD. I guess when Sam "intruded" on my happiness I subconsciously hung a sign around my neck, "I don't want any more of this shit!!" But, thankfully Anne's words and those of Rick haunted me and helped me to bring myself back. Maybe, I finally admitted to myself, I had unknowingly drawn the line at a place that was convenient for me, but not right for Sam. So, I called him late last Monday afternoon. This is what happened.
Sam told he had been clearing out his dorm room and was about to walk out the door and go home when I called. When he asked why I called, I told him, without any judgemental tone, that I was just checking to see if he was okay and to tell him that I was always available if he wanted to talk.
"Are you in your office?" he asked. When I told him I was, he then asked if he could come over. I told him that I would wait for him. I called my wife and told her that we'd have to push our rendezvous date back about an hour. A few minutes later, Sam arrived and we went out into the hall to sit and suck on Tootsie Pops.
I just leaned against the wall looking at the other wall saying nothing. Then Sam exploded into tears as he struggled to explain between sobs that he not come to class in order to attend his paternal grandfather's funeral out of a sense of family duty. Then, covering his eyes, he told me how while driving one of his grandaunts home to Florida, during a sudden rainstorm, the car skidded. He came out of the accident without a scratch. She was killed instantly.
"I don't know why you're sitting near me," he sobbed. "Everyone who does gets hurt: my father, my brother, my friend, my uncle, now my aunt. It's all my fault. I'm a curse to everyone around me like my father always screamed at me." His chest heaved and then he whispered into his hands. "All I want is for someone to care and pat me on my back and say they care about me." His lonliness screamed out. There he felt he was, forgotten and alone in a dark, dusty corner crying for help to be found and remembered--and no one answered.
"I care," I quietly answered.
I had shivers when Sam said that he thought I really didn't care about him and all that "rah, rah talk in class meant nothing" and was surprised that I had called because he thought "you had pushed me off on to some stranger who didn't care nothing about me and spoke to me like he was reading from a book."
"No," I quietly answered as I remembered Anne's words, "I just thought the councilors could help you better than I can. They always do. This time that was my mistake."
"You're just feeling sorry for me now."
"I care. I didn't have to call just now. I could have washed my hands of you. After all, you disappeared without telling anyone."
"Why do you care."
"I don't know. I guess I just am dumb enough to believe you're worth caring about."
"Maybe I should die."
"Hell, dying and running away is easy. It's living and facing up to things that's tough. I know. Been there. Done it. Your friend chickened out on his life. Now you're doing the same thing by running from school?"
He explained that he had no choice since he was going to fail all his courses.
"Not mine. I'll give you an incomplete and let you make up the work with a 100-item scavenger hunt to do over the summer."
"But, I'm still going to fail the others and I won't have any money to come back to school."
"What if I can get them to give you another chance with incompletes, will you stick it out?"
"How you going to do that?"
"Leave that to me. I haven't been here 30 years for nothing. You just let me take care of that."
Struggling to open his eyes to see what he has in him, he asked, "Why are you doing this? Why do you care? I guess you just feel sorry for me after I told you about my aunt."
As if I didn't hear him, I asked, "Why did your two uncles take you and your brother in?"
"I don't know. I guess they just felt sorry for us, too."
"They're kindly people who would take in a stray dog, I guess."
"You sure? Too bad they're not alive to ask them."
"One's still living."
Then, I got an idea and said, "Why don't you ask him? You call him tonight and ask him. Meanwhile, I'll call your professors and see what I can do. You come back tomorrow."
We got up from the floor. He threw his hands around me and embrace me in a bear hug as he said, "Thanks for carin'." I walked back to my office wiping my eyes and nose.
I called his other professors, explained as much as Sam had allowed me to say, got them to agree to let him make up the work either during the summer or next fall, and meanwhile give him an "I."
The next day, Sam returned. He told me that he had a talk with his uncle. This is how he described some of the conversation:
"I said to him, 'I thought you just felt sorry for me like you would for any stray dog.'"
"He answered, 'I don't take in strays.'"
"Then, I said, 'Well, you just felt sorry for me because I was kin.'"
"And he chuckled, 'I especially don't take in kin.'"
"Then, I asked him, 'Why'd you take us in?'"
"He answered, 'Don't you know? 'cause I loved you. Why'd you think? To spite your pappy? No matter what your pappy said, You were worth lovin'. You're were a hurtin' child of God in need of love.'"
"Then, I asked him, 'Why didn't you ever tell me?'"
"And he finally said, 'I showed you. No sense wastin' time with plain words. Talkin' don't mean nothin'. It's the farming that counts.'"
"I still was confused. 'But, daddy always said,' I told him, 'when he'd hit me and did stuff to me that I was an abomination of Satan needing punishment."
"And my uncle said, 'Don't pay his voice no mind. Whose voice you gonna start abidin' by?'"
"That's a good question," I said. "Listen to your uncle's voice--and your professors." I told him the response of my colleagues to his plight. He was confused, but happy. "I told them that you would contact them tomorrow and make all the arrangements."
We talked some more. Towards the end of our conversation he uttered a hesitancy which I pounced on. "I want you to think about something. Think you've become sort of comfortable in your pain hiding behind your barricades and walls? Maybe it's become a habit, an 'easy pain.' Think you're afraid to face some 'hard pain', to see whose voice is really the right one to listen to? Listen to your uncle's voice of light, not your father's dark voice."
"How do I do that?" he begged.
"Hear and listen. Talk some more this summer with your uncle--and hear and listen. Talk with your friend and his father who you said befriended you. Talk with me and your professors. Hear and listen to all their voices. Follow them. Let our voices drowned out your father's."
The next day, Wednesday, he came into the office beaming from ear to ear as he told me how kind and understanding my colleagues were. "Do you think they really care or are just doing it for you."
"Just remember," I quickly answered, "they didn't have to agree to anything. Just listen and believe in their voices."
"It feels good to smile. I can't remember the last time I smiled for myself."
He talked about many things: having to learn to love himself before he could tell his girlfriend that he loved here; having to learn to care about himself before he could become a nurse to care for and about others; journaling this summer; writing a letter to his father and getting it all out on paper; a bunch of things. I told him again, "Listen to those other voices, those voices of light. Let them guide you away from those dark voices. I hope you have a summer filled with that 'hard pain.'"
"You know my uncle said something else. He told me I was a good seed, but he said any farmer worth anything knows that even good seed can't grow in worthless dirt. He said it was about time that I started properly preparing my own ground if I wanted my seed to grow."
"Wise man." Sam hugged me again, whispered a "thanks" into my ear, and left the office with an orange Tootsie Pop sticking out from his smiling lips.
Isn't it strange, but the finale to Les Miserable is playing at this moment on the boombox and the dying Jean Valjean is singing, as my e-mail friend, Gary Brice, had reminded me in his message, "to love another person is to see the face of God." Maybe Sam now has at least given himself a change to see that face.
It's dark outside, nearly midnight, but somehow I have a feeling it's dawn. I'm not in the mood to stay here and wrestle into the wee hours with something so uneducational as grades. I think I'll just turn off the lights, go home, and end this day by reading Sam's note to my wife, if she's still awake.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) email@example.com Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____