Photo by David Banuelos

Hiraeth Excerpt (Chapter Ten: Milestones and Snowstorms)

The following is an excerpt of:


The Boy Who Dreamed and the Big Bad Wolf Which He Became

By Tex Batmart

If you haven’t been with us from the start, check out Chapter One here

Chapter Ten: Milestones and Snowstorms

In many ways, it was the end of an era; it was the culmination of everything he had been working towards. Having survived his first five years at school, he was finally one of The Big Kids. Sadly, it turned out to not be nearly as spectacular as he had imagined it would be. Were it not for his optimism that such mindless tedium could not possibly exceed what he was forced to endure that year, he might not have been able to face the prospect of another seven years of continuing education. He still believed that school could be someplace interesting, that the lessons he learned there would enrich him more than if he had simply stayed at home, and that year had merely been an aberration. Naturally, he failed to take into account the massive letdown which had been his three trimester stretch in the second grade, having very nearly scrubbed it from his memory with back-to-back grades of success and illumination.

Once more, he failed to make it into the same class as Arthur, but was at least comforted to find the familiar face of Dave Banuelos with him again. Their friendship had been growing, though it was of the schooltime-only variety (discounting the time they spent at Cub Scouts with one another), and if it had not been for Banuelos, Tex felt that he might not have made it through the year. Of all the fifth grade classes, theirs was the only to feature two teachers at any given time, which, had both educators been of superior caliber, would have been a joy to have been a part of. Sadly, as is becoming a tangible theme within these pages, that was not to be. Instead of one building upon the other’s charisma and joy for the educational process, matching it with her own, his teachers seemed to latch on to one another early on as they circled in an ever-quickening descent toward  frustration and ultimate failure. Like a blue-collar worker stuck in a job which barely pays the bills, Tex Batmart found that the only thing which helped him keep his sanity was what little time he was allotted in which to drown his sorrows at the water fountain during recess.

By all rights, it should have been a good year, which made it so much more of a disappointment when it became obvious to everyone in that classroom that it would not. Even the suck-ups and brown-noses could barely tolerate the lack of competence from the growingly weary women who stood before them every day for nearly nine straight months. Even the D.A.R.E. Program, which had been moderately entertaining the year before, had become monotonous and farcical. Perhaps if the rest of the class had been going better, he might not have made the connections which he did, and if he hadn’t been on a heightened level of alert for the imminent tsunami of patronization, there is small (but decent) chance that he might have never experimented with narcotics.

This was the year when he began to question everything: from the necessity of time spent within those walls, to the arbitrary rules by which he was obligated to live while he was back at home, every source of authority had come to be regarded with a certain level of suspicion and disdain. To be clear, he hadn’t partaken of anything more than the secondhand smoke to which he was subjected when he went out to dinner with his grandparents (though they were always sure to choose somewhere in the Non-Smoking Section), but he was fairly certain that there was no honest justification for the mantra which he had heard almost his entire life; he no longer believed that he must say “no.”

And so he might have escaped his personal purgatory with nothing more than a slightly bitter taste upon his tongue, had it not been for two major events which came to pass that winter. The first was a classic example of when boredom and sickness combine to create a dangerous (if ultimately avoidable) situation. The other, however, was one of the high points of his childhood, and a memory which he would cherish for the remainder of his life. Let’s begin with the cruel disfigurement:

He had been out for a little while, the result of pulmonary complications due to bronchitis and his asthma, so when the rest of the class had been learning about the proper way to approach the cutting of linoleum to facilitate the etching of a design, he had been lying in bed wondering how many more days of school he could miss because of his heaven-sent infortitude (it turns out to have been fewer than one, as he was forced to go back to school the following day). His classmates had already begun their projects, and, not wanting to fall too far behind, Tex jumped right in, never thinking to ask if there was anything which he should absolutely know before being handed his fountain-pen-shaped linoleum cutter and set to work.

He tried to imitate the other kids at first, carving away from himself, but found that it required a ridiculous amount of effort for hardly any result. Feeling that he was obviously more intelligent than his peers, he realized that he could get more purchase on the tool if he aimed the blade inwards and pulled. He steadied his linoleum with his left hand and gave it a go, aiming the knife with his right hand. In the seconds which followed, he learned two very important things. Number One was that it was, in fact, easier to cut in that position; Number Two was that he may have misjudged just how much easier, as he was forced to watch in slow-motion as the blade began to make its way toward him at an alarming speed. Actually, there were a couple of additional lessons he managed to take away from that experience: The sound of the a blade penetrating the fleshy part of the hand is not entirely dissimilar to that of the first strike required to carve a Jack-O-Lantern, and also, that he did not care for the sight of his own blood.

That, more than anything else, was what nearly caused him to faint. The blade had been so sharp that he had hardly felt it as it made short work of the slight barrier of skin which kept the inside bits inside and free from interference from the outside world. But the sight of his own blood gushing out caused what little pigmentation his skin possessed to flee, leaving the outside of him as pale as waxy candle which had been left burning all night. His art teacher rushed him to the nurse’s office, where he was instructed to lie down and wait for his mother to arrive. It was during this time that he took the opportunity to reflect upon the greater mysteries of life, such as: Would he get in trouble for having hurt himself, and, would he have to go to see the doctor?

The answer to the former was a resounding no, though his art teacher did attempt to reprimand him for failing to utilize the proper technique, until he reminded her that he had been absent for the lesson wherein she instructed everyone not to do what he had done. As for the latter, he did indeed have to pay a visit to the doctor’s office, where he was told that the wound was too small to require stitches, and that he would just have to make sure to keep the hand clean and bandaged until it could heal on its own. His mother almost seemed sympathetic, and Tex decided to milk that for as much as it was worth, reminding her that he still hadn’t felt well that morning, and that if she hadn’t been so determined for him to return, none of this might have happened. Sadly, he was forced to return to school the next day.

And so it went until the eighteenth of December. The weather reports had mentioned a chance of snow in the near future, but having grown up in the Puget Sound area, Tex expected perhaps slightly more than a light dusting, at the very best. He got on the bus that morning in the pitch of winter predawn darkness, and crossed his fingers for good luck. By lunch, it seemed that his prayers had been answered. It began slightly, awkwardly, as if the snow was lost behind enemy lines without a compass or a map. Soon, it began falling with more confidence, piling up upon itself throughout the school grounds, and, in a move quite out of character for their location, steadfastly refused to melt. By one o’clock, it had become such a distraction for the children that their teachers threw up their hands and opened up the doors to let the children go out to play. Of course, they insisted that there were to be no snowball fights for safety reasons, and once they realized that no one was about to listen, cut the recess short.

Shortly after they had made their way back inside, the power went out. Everyone began to stir with that excitement that starts to simmer when everything seems to be going completely according to no one’s plan. Tex overheard that someone had tried to send the buses in time to beat the heaviest of the snowfall, but had only just begun their routes before having to return to the bus depot to put chains upon the tires. As the middle and high school kids were first in line to be taken home, that pushed back the evacuation of the younger kids into the early evening.

The school counselor made her way through the darkened halls of Wilkes Elementary armed with naught but reassurances and ice cream bars which had suddenly become exponentially more perishable. The children were not the type to turn their noses up at an unexpected hit of sugar, but Batmart thought it was a bit jarring to be munching on a frozen confection while the snow continued falling just outside. As the light of day began to fade around four o’clock in the afternoon, the buses began pulling in to their designated spots just in front of the school.

Whereas they had not felt any pangs of fear while still at school, for there was daylight and the distraction of cascading frozen precipitation falling down in broken sheets just outside the window, while the ride home on the bus was another story entirely. The darkness all around was pierced only by the head and tail lights of the school bus, and even then, what visibility there was consisted almost entirely of the brightly lit and casually falling snowflakes. Due to the conditions of the roads, and a visibility of, at best, two yards ahead, it took until around five p.m. for Tex to finally make his way back home. His mother was waiting for him beside the giant stump, with a look of worry upon her flashlit face. Tex, on the other hand, was thrilled to be outside in such conditions.

They made their way down the road, past Heather’s former home, and paused at the top of the hill which they would have to navigate to make it safely home. Tex’s mother picked her way down in the style of a wary mountain goat, while young Batmart flung himself upon the ground and allowed gravity and Newton’s First Law to do the rest. Suffice it to say, he made it to the bottom first, though his mother was caked in far less snow. After changing into something dry and warm, they walked across the frozen front yard where not so long ago he had kissed a girl for the first time (and the thought of which warmed him against the elements) to the home of his great-grandmother. They were welcomed in, and as they stepped inside, were blasted by the rising heat of the wood-burning stove which was located in the concrete basement at the bottom of the stairs which led down from the entryway.

Tex tried to keep himself busy playing his Tiger Electronic handheld version of Altered Beast (the closest he would come to owning a gaming system until he reached adulthood), as the lack of power meant no television, and candlelight was not sufficient by which to read. Eventually, he must have fallen asleep, for he awoke the following morning upon his Gram’s couch. The radio broadcast announced that there would be no school for the day, and Tex turned his thoughts to all of the adventures which he could finally apply himself toward.

It turned out that there would be no more school for the rest of the calendar year. The power didn’t come on until after Christmas, and then, only for a day or so until another weather system (an Arctic Blast screaming down the West Coast from somewhere in Alaska) pounded through and knocked everything out again. As it worked out, they were just a little shy of a week late in getting back to school, something which the teachers and the principal took great pleasure in reminding them would mean that the school year would be extended to make up for what they’d miss. In the end, no one wanted to stick around any longer than they had signed up for, so that threat was found to be, thankfully, empty.

Tex survived the school year, chose his electives for his first year in junior high (which came down a choice between Band all year or one semester of Art and the other in Chorus), and celebrated yet another milestone having (rather like gall stone) passed. He just knew it would be different from then on out, and breathed a sigh of gratitude that the worst of his ordeals had finally come to an end.

It was only a matter of months before he discovered just how wrong he’d been.


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