Seated at his desk, the teacher stares intently towards the unmade classroom. Lying in front of him is a legal-pad with a list supplies that he needs to purchase and a pen that he picked up on vacation. He sketches a seating arrangement design and then looks at the room to see if it worked. He rises from his chair and begins to walk the room. The creation of his classroom arrangement is quietly interrupted by Tom T. Hall’s classic song, “That’s How I Got To Memphis.” The teacher’s focus begins to drift away and his surroundings fade into darkness. As the song continues, everything that has made him who he is begins to come back to him….
What at first was contrast and shadow, soon illuminates into a cinematic view of himself looking in the rear view mirror at the ominous storm clouds he had just left behind. The car was packed with only that which was necessary to begin a new life, for the fourth time. His Exodus from Indiana to Texas was decided after he read the immortal words of Davy Crockett, “You may all go to hell, I will go to Texas.” Indiana had grown weary for him. Working tirelessly to prove to himself as a teacher, only to see his efforts amount to nothing more than a date of hire. He was cut on April Fools Day. It was the first and only time he lost a job because he did it well. He remembers his department head telling him,”Think of all the jobs that were saved because you lost yours.” The teacher, not a violent man, wanted to cut his #$%^& head off. Resentment and bitterness followed him as he received a part time high school position. This would sadly end in an evaluation so contentious and heated, it made the shootout at the end of “The Wild Bunch,” look like a game of “Chutes and Ladders. His resignation had easily been accepted. He saw himself shouting in the rear view mirror all the comebacks, quips, and witty retorts he meant to say in that meeting but didn’t out of cowardice. He swore that would never happen again.
While passing through Illinois, he remembers his, “dark period.” The pet name for his five years as an actor in Chicago. It is a love-hate relationship he has with that time his life, in that he loves to hate it. He believes that his first time out on his own broke him, when all it really did was cut off the dead weight he no longer needed. He’s always had this reoccurring dream where all the famous people he ever admired were seated in an auditorium. Steve McQueen, John Lennon, Humphrey Bogart, Buddy Holly, among others, staring up at him waiting for his soliloquy. It never happens. The farther he drifted from the stage, the less that dream occurred. Until one day, he no longer had the dream.
On September 11th, 2001, his world view would drastically change. He remembers being on his way to a recruiting office with his blood boiling. He wanted the Marine Corps. He wanted combat. He wanted somebody’s head on a stick. The phone rang just as he was walking out the door. He answered. She talked him out of it. Not three months later she walked away from him. The dead weight was gone. With his heart broken and a defeated spirit, the darkness of indecision and fear fell over him. He was like a ship adrift at sea with no winds. Change needed to come and come soon. The opportunity to be a guest speaker in his brother’s high school English class brought fresh winds to his sails. Finally, he had direction. The moment he registered for classes to earn his teaching certificate, it was as if the heavens opened. The flooding waters of indecision,doubt, and fear receded. His star shine, shimmy shuffle, style had returned.
He arrived in Austin with only three hundred dollars in his pocket and no job. Within a week he had an apartment, within a month he had two jobs. By his second year in Texas, he had landed a teaching job and had met the woman who would become his closest ally, best friend, and companion. Although jubilant days had arrived, they did not always stay. Luckily, life up to this point had prepared him for hardship. He was cut a second time, brought back, and resigned again. With lessons learned, he refused to make those moments, like many times before, the defining scenes of his life. He found a new position, one that would solidify the career that finds him where he his today…happy, hopeful, and more determined than ever before.
The ghosts from his past and present begin to dissolve as the song begins its slow fade, “That’s how I got to Memphis…That’s how I got to Memphis.” He looks down and notices something he scribbled during his reflection, “Wherever you are going… is wherever you are…and nobody knows it but me.” He packs up his belongings, and walks out the classroom door singing new lyrics to a familiar old song…
“When you love yourself enough… you go where your heart says to go…That’s how I got to Texas….That’s how I got to Texas.”
As always, thank you for reading Tales From the Red Pen. I need subscribers! I need comments…feed me! Until next week, I bid you Adieu!