Uprooted Memories – Vol. 1 (The Eucalyptus Tree)

STORM BREWS AND TREEExcept for the obvious storm brewing inside his head, the day had seemed otherwise promising when it started. Morning had come wrapped in a blinding splendor, radiating the kind of confidence and grace only a clear sky could inspire. He stood up and parted the blinds, and his sleepy eyes automatically squinted so as to adjust to the glistening light now penetrating the windows and illuminating the room like an altar or podium of some kind. He stood there for a few minutes staring into the blue canvass before him, which seemed to extend for millions of miles, or just far enough to lose itself inside the shimmering horizon engulfed in an orange and yellow fire. He liked the image and felt a nostalgic tranquility at letting himself get lost in it; it was like staring at a beautiful painting where no single brush-stroke could be detected – it was Marvel and Perfection at its best. His lips slowly parted to let out a nearly inaudible “click” sound and he slowly winked his left eye to mimic the shuttering of a camera, then he moved away to begin dressing himself. But as he reluctantly put on the same white gym t-shirt that was part of the mandatory ensemble at his Private Elementary Christian School, his mind began drifting to an earlier and morbid time which violently shredded the picture he had just snapped. He continued functioning on a basic level, putting his green sweater-vest over the t-shirt and then getting inside his grey trousers, but he was no longer there: his glazed, paralyzed and petrified look clearly said that he had returned to that sinister morning when he had witnessed a brutal accident at the tender age of seven, or perhaps eight years old.

On particularly warm and sunny days when gym class was scheduled for his fourth grade class, the teacher would opt to have the class in a little park that ran adjacent to the east side of the school, only separated by a small street that rarely saw any traffic. Aided by one or two assistants, the teacher had a very well established system for crossing the street, where a chain-link of four or five kids interlocking their tiny arms with a teacher in the middle would look both ways then dash across the street; then the second team would go with one of the assistants and then third. Once across, the kids were always warned not to get out of the parameter the teachers had set for them, for there was a river that ran behind the woods which, although wasn’t easily accessible, could easily mean the death of any of one of them should they fall in, for it was a mighty river that was used to over-flooding in the rainy season and that roared invisibly behind the trees like some kind of hidden wild animal. But there was never any real danger of that, because the parameter was wider than the kids could actually reach, despite how much they’d run. In any case, the kids loved the place, which obviously made gym class everyone’s favourite. But on this particular day that had so callously intruded his memories – and from thereon, in fact – gym-class had ceased to be what everyone looked forward to.

Everything happened almost in sync, like it had been perfectly choreographed in a studio somewhere and was now being faithfully executed, step by step. Just as soon as he had finished crossing the street from the park, still holding on to the teacher’s hand, he turned around to see who his friend was crossing with. At that very moment, all his young eyes managed to see was his friend’s left foot take the first step off the sidewalk and onto the street when a whitish-grayish automobile zoomed by in an almost surreal speed, leaving only the faint trails of the backlights lingering and a white gym-t-shirt that seemed to hover weightlessly in the air for a few seconds before hitting the ground with a petrifying THUMP! The entire scene seemed to come to a standstill for a few seconds and the sound of everything around simply disappeared….it was a soundless and paralyzed scene that seemed to linger for minutes as he tried making sense of what had just happened. Then a sea of people suddenly surrounded what was now probably certainly a cadaver of a seven or eight year old kid, and a horrendous wallowing began to fill the air…There were savage yells echoing throughout what now seemed like a morose and desolate atmosphere, clamouring for “911” and “medics” and every other emergency responder they could think of. Soon thereafter, one of the assistants led him by the shoulder through the Big Metal Gates and into the school while the others scraped the remains of the poor kid off the side of the road. The rest of the kids who had already been gathered in the classroom seconds earlier were speculating about what had happened and what the fate of the kid could possibly be. By their comments, it seemed that nobody had actually witnessed what had happened…except our protagonist, who could not help but be surprised at how easily everyone else around him seemed to toy with the possibility this poor kid whom they had run around with just a few minutes ago might be dead. The conversation went on for a few days before things seemed to just kind of move on…

By now, he had finished getting ready and eating his breakfast, and was already walking towards the bus-stop where he waited every morning. He tried shaking himself loose of that dark memory but not before wondering if other people also remembered horrible memories like he did – so…vividly. And then he remembered that there were other things on his mind, or perhaps things that should have been on his mind, or perhaps things that were so ubiquitously on his mind that they made everything else as morose and tragic as they seemed to be…But why? He thought to himself. But he did not wallow, and instead he let the warm rays of the sun shower him, which seemed to wash away the lethargy of his soul as he waited for the bus. Moreover, despite the dark and obscure corners children are sometimes pushed into, they are resilient vessels with a kind of Inner-Light, and the inkling of innocence, joy, play and friendship often prevails in them like animal instincts, even if it is in short-dosages. So at school, like every other day, he played, and enjoyed, and laughed with his friends, knowingly distancing himself from the harsh realities of having to see one parent on weekends only and of going to a house which isn’t a home. But the faster his little legs ran after the ball, the more he forgot about it all. When it was his turn to wait on the bench, so as to allow others to play also, he sat back with arms stretched and looked up at the tiny birds dancing in the blue sky; then, feeling the Sun’s Warm Rays on his face, he gently closed his eyes, still seeing the Silhouette of the Heavens and the Tiny Birds above in a reddish hue…For a second, as the Sun’s Rays rained down and engulfed him like a sort of armor, he felt as if the Sun was actually watching over him, and feeling what seemed like the warmest feeling he’s ever felt, he let go of all those fears and worries  that had tormented him seconds before. The Morning came and went like that, slowly disappearing as he sat in class and day-dreamed staring out the window, into the sky full of birds soaring and singing freely. By the time lunch had come, he had forgotten about the Dark Clouds that followed him, and the storm seemed to dissipate.

******

By the time he stepped out of the final class that afternoon, the sun was only a specter of itself, still keeping a vigil on the day, evidenced by the melancholic purple and faint-orange sky, but no longer watching over him; the Sun had left, and even squinting, it was now only a Bright dot in space. Even the warm breeze felt chilly and cavernous to his tender body. He began walking towards the Big Metal Gates slowly and languidly, no longer enthusiastic about the day and rather pessimistic about its ending. But he knew he had to go on. So he did. However, when he finally crossed the doors, nothing was like he expected and, in fact, he felt shaken to his very core by an image he had never imagined he’d seen…at least not while awake.

There were two Black SUVs parked at the curb right outside the Big Metal Gates, and one or two men standing just outside the doors, dressed casually (with black sunglasses) but obviously in command there. Just outside the back passenger door stood the kid’s father, being half-covered by the presence of one of the other men standing by the front passenger door. In his hands he held what the kid immediately recognized as the same plastic, inter-galactic toy-gun they had seen in a window-shop weeks, or perhaps months, earlier. They had been walking along the street looking through shops’ windows and making noise and laughing loudly as always, knowingly but placidly hiding from the brutish toll a hostile separation takes on all family members. Upon seeing the gun on the shop’s window, the kid had immediately demanded it, unable to contain his love for anything that shot plastic bullets, made a loud noise or had bright lights shooting from it. But for one reason or other, his dad had said no; he had resorted to some logical argument, most likely surrounding financial issues, as to why he couldn’t get it at the moment….of course, the kid only heard a big, fat “no”, and disappointment and hate were the only things he could feel…at least for the next few minutes, or perhaps hours…and then, no mention of the gun was ever made again….Until that morning.

The kid knew exactly what the gun signified; what the entire scene yelled at him in the clearest and most direct terms. But it was his father’s face that most struck him. He had never seen something like that before. His father had always been a Eucalyptus Tree that stood high — far beyond the reach of everyday men, of Commonality, of Routine and, particularly, of Fear; and he had felt as being on top of such when he’d ride high on his father’s shoulders, defying the entire world together as one. Indeed, for anyone other than himself, this Tree had seemed un-climbable and out of reach, and certainly unmovable. But now he was privy to something he’d thought the world should never know or see: he had seen the Eucalyptus Tree Moved and Eroded by a Primal Fear – the Fear of being uprooted; of being savagely torn away from the very roots that kept him grounded. Now, the man who he’d though would Never Lose was trembling with fear and loathing at the sheer possibility of being severed from his Seed…Indeed, for the first and only time, he had seen his father Defeated: The tear running down his cheek, so out of place – so foreign to his old and hard countenance – pleaded “sorry,” as his trembling hands yelled “come here, my son!”

Was it me? The kid thought to himself, overwhelmed by sadness and fury. Did I cause my father so much pain over a stupid toy? Did he not know the toy did not matter? Why did he buy it? Did he think he Needed to buy it? Why does an Eucalyptus Tree lose its leaves? Why does it fall?

******

It was a special visit – unscheduled and allowed by both parties: the father and mother who, until then, had not been able to resolve their differences. They enjoyed the rest of the day together, probably shooting that inter-galactic gun at anyone they could aim….

The rest is History…

WHY I PICKED A SIDE IN POLITICS…AND HOW I LEARNED TO PISS PEOPLE OFF WITH THEM…

I remember that around at least six years ago (goddamn, time flies!), right around the time that I was starting University, I had already decided what my stance on the political spectrum would be. I must have been between 17 and 18 years old, fresh out of high-school and hell-bent on picking a side. But let me back-track a bit to give you some context.

For as long as I can remember, politics have always been discussed at family meetings (including our extended family), the dinner table, outings, and especially during those long nights fueled by Rum, heated discussions and a deck of playing-cards. Obviously, I was not always interested, but I remember that even as a kid I could hear the adults talking about Elections and Corrupt Politicians and Wars and other things that although were incomprehensible to me, appeared to hold a great deal of importance to the flabby adults rambling on about it and turning red from ire and too much drink. But it wasn’t until high-school that I became vaguely interested in politics, and it was mostly because I figured out that by taking a certain side or by stringing a few chosen words together, it was possible to piss many people off – and to do so without having to lift a finger.

I remember one time in my grade 11 or 12 politics class an incident with my teacher that I would now say was more or less a defining moment in my life. Well, a few weeks before the incident I had been sitting in a Chinese restaurant on the China-town strip on Spadina Road (in Toronto) with my father, mother and little brother who refused to eat Chinese food and would only fill up on sweets and tea until we left the restaurant and he got a pepperoni slice. While we waited for the food, I was telling my parents a little bit about what we had been discussing in class and about other things that I had heard or read. Then at one point, I remember that I asked them what it meant to be a socialist or a communist. Of course they did not have  a nice, short, compact answer (thankfully); rather, they first asked me why I was interested in knowing about it, what I knew about it, and then went on to give me a brief overview of what they knew of the Cuban Revolution and other such movements. I was smitten with what they were telling me, but when they asked me if I thought I was one, I told them that I couldn’t say so yet; that I thought I possibly would want to be one, but that I’d first need to learn properly what it was and what it meant to be one. We went on talking a little more about that, school and other things as we devoured some of the best Chinese food in Toronto (too bad I don’t remember the restaurant’s name).

Ok, skip a few weeks ahead. I was sitting in class, still rattling with the questions I had asked my parents and the things that I had read since then. Mind you, during the latter part of high-school I was hitting the bong pretty hard, and most of my classes after lunch consisted of either naps or “writing time” as I scribbled some half-baked ideas on my notebooks. But on this particular day, though very stoned, I was paying attention to what the teacher was saying. I had my arms folded across the desk and my chin resting on them, and my half-opened, red eyes were fixed on the hazy figure moving and talking in front. She started giving an overview of what we were going to talk about in the following weeks, or something to that effect. Then she started mentioning things like “capitalism” and “socialism” and “revolution” and “dictatorships”. I lifted my head and tried shaking myself a little more awake to listen better. Then she said it. I don’t remember her exact words (perhaps because I’m still hitting that bong), but the gist of it was that Fidel Castro was a dictator who drove around in golden BMW limousines while the rest of the Cuban people died in hunger and misery. Now, despite the political views of anyone that may be reading this, and whether they believe that or not, I found it arrogant and, most of all, utterly irresponsible for a teacher to state such ludicrous opinions as fact (when even stating them as opinion would be questionable) in a high-school classroom. So I began to protest as I simultaneously lifted my hand up to signal that I was questioning something she said.

“Wow, wow, wow,” I started, trying to sound sober. “You can’t go around stating your opinions as fact, miss! I don’t even think that what you’re saying is true…” And I went on saying some other things.  Now this was in high-school, so I may have been a bit blunter, but there was never any swearing or blatant disrespect but for the fact that I interrupted her tirade. Well, she was furious. She cut me off right away and told me that I had to put my hand up if I wanted to speak, to which I tried frantically responding that she was wrong and shouldn’t be saying things like that and blah blah blah. Ultimately, she told me that I shouldn’t be so rude and openly contradict teachers in a classroom, and then she gave me detention after school. I tried protesting a bit, but obviously it was to no effect. I didn’t say much else after that, particularly because I was paranoid being so stoned and for the dope that I was carrying in my pockets, so I just said, “I don’t think that’s fair, but ok…” and shut up.

When I got home extra late that evening after being held for an hour or so I told my parents what had happened, infuriated, and they replied, also infuriated with that hard-headed, immature teacher of mine. I don’t recall the exact details of their meeting, but my father tells me that shortly after that (perhaps the next day) he had a one-on-one meeting with her where they discussed that incident, among other things. I don’t believe that I was aware of that meeting, because the following day, as I sat in class, too stoned to hold a grudge with anyone, something the same teacher was saying caught my attention again. However, this time, it was not the content of what she said but rather the words that she was using: they were the exact words that I had heard my father speak a million times before. She began saying something about when people get old they often forget about what they were like in their youth and the mistakes that they may have committed; and that it was the gift of the wise adult to tactically deal with such situations; and finally that it is characteristic of the wise adult not to feel vindicated but rather happy when young people show any interest in what they are saying, even if they happen to disagree. It was like hearing my father speak, almost verbatim, in fact, because I had already heard that lecture many times before. She went on teaching the class regularly, but when we were done she told me to stay for a while so we could talk. She apologized for having given me detention, admitting that it was the embarrassment of being contradicted so bluntly in front of the others that pissed her off, and not the fact that I spoke out of turn. For my part, I also apologized for having spoken without raising my hand first, but I assured her that I would do it again if she said things like that another time, lest she shows where she got her facts from. And that’s how we left it. We never spoke again after that, except in class. Actually, I returned to the school on one of my days off three or four years later to visit some teachers and I ran into her. We had an amicable and brief conversation, though there was obvious tension. I have never seen her since.

But it was during that classroom that I realized that there would always be people exposing those opinions as facts, particularly about Cuba and about anything that had to do with Socialism. I did not start considering myself a socialist then, but I certainly took on an interest about the theories of socialism and capitalism, finding myself very naturally attracted to the first. It was at that moment also that I realized that by taking a side, I could piss people off, for better or for worse. This became more and more evident throughout University, where heated debates between advocates for both sides always left me wanting more, until eventually I started taking place in them. As the years went by, I began to understand all those things that the flabby adults would speak about and I even began contributing my own fractured and still not fully formed opinions during family visits.

During University my views solidified. Though I couldn’t say I know everything about it, I have arrived at a conclusion that only through Socialism can the Human Spirit flourish; that capitalism, despite its obvious benefits, ultimately leads to the impoverishment of the largest sections of any society that adopts it; and most importantly, that I live in a system that is inevitably filled with people that, like that teacher, will try to impose their views on the easily influenced rather than presenting facts to help us arrive at our own conclusions. Unfortunately, political views are just as capable of destroying as they are of creating relationships, connections, friendships and alliances. However, in my opinion, the biggest lesson I learned with that unfortunate experience in high-school and my subsequent time in University, was not that I like Socialism over Capitalism (that would have become evident as soon as I began reading up on those things). Rather, it was the fact that I realized that seeking the truth – or verification or clarification – behind politically charged statements or opinions can end up infuriating those who hold them, particularly when they themselves began holding these opinions as a result of others inculcating them inside their heads with preaching; and particularly when certain views are held for personal gain, economic or otherwise. And in my experience, when speaking with others of the benefits and shortcomings of both socialism and capitalism, the Truth is something to be dug out from deep under personal prejudices and complexes.

In my opinion, Socialism is alive and well in the 21st Century as it becomes more and more evident than Capitalism is a Goliath falling on its knees and decimating the society around it as it does.

So now I always fight my fights from the Far Left, with paper and pen as my Rifle and Knife.