Hiraeth Excerpt (Chapter Eleven: Changes)

The following is an excerpt of:

Hiraeth: 

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 Eleven: Changes

 

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch:

               

Things at home were also beginning to undergo a change as well, to much a similar effect. It hadn’t ever been truly easy or carefree for Batmart and his mother, but as he began to take the uncertain steps toward manhood, prodded on by puberty, things began to well and truly fall apart. He was old enough to know when someone was dismissing him out of hand, and no longer would accept the blanket statement of “Because I say so.” In concert with his developing cognitive abilities (one might say hand-in-hand with them), he started to feel the stirrings of what would eventually be diagnosed as Bi-Polar Disorder (Type 2). He had been forced to see a counselor, as was already mentioned, and felt that no matter what had happened, someone was always looking to pin the blame upon him.

At the beginning of 1991, the situation had finally reached the point of no return. Tex had finally realized that there was nothing that his mother could truly do besides yell at him or hit him, and even if she was forced into such action, it was no guarantee that she would achieve the results which she wished of him. He had learned to put his foot down when it came to decisions which affected him, and wielded this newfound power with all of the responsibility of drunken despot. If he had managed to learn subtlety, or even a modicum of interpersonal grace, he might have been able to set his own course much earlier in life, and with far less opposition, but he was also discovering that he was filled with a righteous passion that would not be denied, no matter who might choose to stand in his way.

So it came to pass that, seeking safety in greater numbers, and banking on the respect which her son felt for his grandparents, Tex Batmart’s mother negotiated for, and won the opportunity to move them back in with her parents. She made no effort to conceal her motivations from her son, telling him up front that she felt him to be “completely out of control” and that she would use the full authority of people whom he still cared to bring him into line. Batmart shrugged off her threats, knowing that he would soon have a tribunal before which he could argue his case. He knew that, while it was no guarantee of a ruling in his favor, he was certain that his chances would improve from an abysmal automatic rejection, which is what he could count on from his mother.

The one part about the move which truly irritated him, and had been rubbing him quite raw for the past couple of years, was that, because he was so young it was automatically assumed that his mother was in the right, and it was he who had been responsible for making her life harder. He could see in the eyes of his family at every get-together, and often felt the rage building inside of him. How could they be so blind? he screamed internally, How was it possible that they couldn’t see what was going on? The opinions of his distant cousins and great-aunts and uncles were of no great import, but the look of shame in his uncle’s eyes, or in the frowns upon his grandmother’s lips very nearly broke his heart. He just could not understand why no one would listen to his side of things. Years before he would know the term, and decades before he saw the irony in claiming it, he felt that he was no better than a second-class citizen. It didn’t matter what he did or said, it was never good enough. And so he set thoughts of reconciliation behind him and began his campaign of total warfare.

It was more difficult than he had expected, as he was unprepared for the unconditional support which his grandparents automatically granted their daughter (which was, in itself, another slap in the face, for no one unconditionally supported him), and even when granted the occasional opportunity to make his case upon appeal, his frustration would frequently get the better of him, and all of his carefully crafted arguments against the tyranny under which he had been suffering fell apart, and came out as only fragmented ejaculations of “But she-!” and “It’s not fair!” Had his son been present to watch the power struggle, he would have been unable to contain his laughter in the face of his father breaking Rule Number One: Any argument reduced to the cry of “It’s not fair!” is automatically disqualified.

Ultimately, his childhood reached its inevitable conclusion. He had been determined since birth to be old enough to make his own decisions and forced himself to grow up far faster than, in retrospect, he might have otherwise have preferred. Every milestone had been reached because he had pushed himself, driven himself further. But it wasn’t until his declaration of war that he started to choose how to go about things. Up until that point, everything he’d done had been spontaneous, and yet wholly a product of who he was, at his very core, reaching out to make him who he felt he ought to become.

It became apparent that he would have to begin to plan his moves with more than a moment’s notice if he was to have any success. And though that very item remained at the top of his To-Do List for another three decades, he never had much luck with it. It would still be a number of years until he would be able to accept his inherent limitations, and begin to fashion contingency plans to compensate for them. For the foreseeable future, the only thing which he could do would be to make himself as smart as he could manage, soaking up everything at breakneck pace which would threaten to render meaningless all which he’d hoped to learn.

What he hadn’t been counting on, however, was the role which the girls around him began to play. Physiologically, he may have stepped upon the path through puberty a little early, but it wouldn’t be for a couple more years before he understood the significance of his changing body. He was no longer a little boy, and yet it felt like forever until he would finally be a man.

And that’s it… Aside from a paragraph in Chapter Twelve, that’s everything from the Original Run. Let’s see if I can keep this going…

-Tex

Hiraeth Excerpt (Chapter Ten: Milestones and Snowstorms)

The following is an excerpt of:

Hiraeth: 

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.

 

Hiraeth Excerpt (Interlude: Misfortune)

The following is an excerpt of:

Hiraeth: 

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

Interlude: Misfortune

That year also brought him to the point of emotional collapse. In October of 1989, his cousin, Elizabeth was born on the other side of the continent. She was premature, and it was quite some time before anyone knew with any certainty if she would live or die. Elizabeth was having problems breathing, and her doctors could only try to reassure her parents that they were doing everything they could. It was around this time that Tex was first torn to pieces for having the temerity to attempt an actual conversation about what was going on.

As part of his studies for class, all of the students were required to start reading newspapers and watching the evening news, and there had recently been something which had been given quite a lot of attention: Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. Even in the face of a potential tragedy, Tex wanted to learn everything he could, for he knew, or at least was beginning to comprehend, that there was never an effective solution born from ignorance. As he read the articles again and again, there came a day when the phone call came that Elizabeth had stopped breathing in the night, and that they were only just able to get her stabilized in time.

Curious, he asked if this new thing which he had learned might have any bearing on what was going on over in New Jersey. Years later, he would understand the shocked look his mother gave him, but could never forgive her shouted admonition to shut his mouth. No one seemed to be interested in doing anything. They sat around with sorrow draped across their shoulders, and muttered prayers to their god that everything would be okay. Tex hadn’t fully turned his back on the church yet, but he found it difficult to believe that there was nothing more constructive for anyone to do. And when the doctors help that tiny baby finally pull through, no thanks were given to them, only a gushing to god for being so great.

It wasn’t that Tex couldn’t empathize with those around him, it was just that he saw no point in emotionally investing himself in someone he had never met, and felt that the best way to fight fear was with knowledge, something both television and his family had taught him. Perhaps it was because he had never truly faced the possibility of death, and perhaps it was because he hadn’t known anyone for the entirety of their life, but he felt out of place, and, in the moment when he wanted so desperately nothing more than the ability to help, he was commanded to silence and sent from the room.

Even after twenty years, he found that his mother reacted in the same manner. Far more educated in his mid-thirties than he had been as a boy of almost ten, he still attempted to combat tragedy with knowledge, and was still belittled and told that he had not a clue as to what he had been talking about. This might have hurt him, but as was the case with many things in that time in his life, it was only a matter of weeks or months until he would be proven right. What bothered him was that sense of superiority and willful ignorance against which he was constantly forced to butt his head.

That Easter, however, would test even his clinical resolve.

In the dark hours of the early morning, his grandmother arose from a night of fitful sleep, and, feeling out of sorts, made her way to the kitchen to take a couple of aspirin. By the time she’d reached the sink, she knew that something worse was going on, and took a handful rather than her normal two or three. She’d barely been able to call out and make her way to the telephone to call emergency services and inform them that she was having a heart attack before she collapsed upon the floor. From that moment until she opened her eyes to look out over the Puget Sound as the helicopter rushed her to the hospital, she had no recollection.

By the time Tex was informed, everyone was already on their way over to the hospital. His grandmother was recovering from her bypass operation, and all three of her children were desperate to see if she would be okay. In a small window in his mind, Tex began observing all of the adults around him, noticing the similarities and differences between what had just happened and what had transpired half a year before. His grandfather appeared lost, focused entirely on the task of getting everyone to the hospital (for he was the only one of them who could make his way driving in the city of Seattle, having commuted every day for decades), while his aunt appeared a bit agitated and otherwise out of sorts. His mother was pale, and her faced was blotched with the evidence of tears. Tex himself had no idea what to expect, but was fairly certain that it wouldn’t be anything he’d care for.

She looked so… small. That was what came into his mind the first time he saw her in the recovery room. The passionate woman he had known his entire life was so diminished, and even sitting next to her, he felt as though he was seeing her from very far away. There were whispers all around him, and somber faces, and he wished that he knew what to say or do, yet dared not try, after the last time he’d attempted to help out. After all, it had been his grandmother who had seen him dash quickly from the room, refusing to shed a tear before them, and had gone to comfort him, and thank him for his intention. If he misspoke here, he knew, there would be no one in a position to defend him.

After what felt like months (but in reality was only a week and a half), his grandmother returned home for the remainder of her convalescence. She could barely speak, and was confined to bed for the majority of the day. He could not imagine what it might be like for her, for all he could focus on was what would happen if she stayed like this forever? He felt that if it were him, he would rather have died than be trapped within such a broken shell. Had his counselor not destroyed the trust between them, Tex might actually have had someone to talk to about it that might have been capable of helping him to come to terms with things, but all he had was Arthur, and all they could talk about was how it was a bummer, for neither of them possessed the words to adequately explain what it was which they were feeling.

Slowly, she began to improve, and by the summer, was accompanying her grandson on trips to the park, as she tried to learn to walk again after such an extended period of immobility, and he rode his bicycle in the one place where no one insisted that he wear a helmet. It took months, but she finally seemed to be back to who she’d been before. Tex never realized just how close he’d been to losing her forever, and by the time she returned to work and acting as though nothing had happened, Tex made the mistake of believing her.

Hiraeth Excerpt (Interlude: Outdoor School)

The following is an excerpt of:

Hiraeth: 

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

Interlude: Outdoor School

For years, he had been hearing about it, counting down the time until he himself could go. Every spring, he would watch the older kids get on a bus and not come back until sometime later on that week. It was a fourth grade tradition, and he was finally old enough to actually participate. At first, his mother was unsure if he was well enough to go, but two weeks of constant high-pitched whining did more to sway her than her own doubts could. It was then that he discovered one of his most powerful abilities: winning by default. He still had to choose his battles carefully, for this tactic wouldn’t work for every situation, but if he wanted to be somewhere and his mother was on the fence, all he had to do was make sure she knew that her life would run much smoother if she simply let him go. This, of course, came to a head in June of 1997, resulting in a three-and-a-half-year stretch which would define him well into the furthest reaches of adulthood, but in the Spring of 1990, it simply meant that he could go with all the other kids to the retreat on the Olympic Peninsula and learn arts and crafts while hanging out in nature.

Naturally, the camps were subdivided from within each class, so once again, he wasn’t paired with Arthur, but he did manage to wind up sharing a group and cabin with Dave Banuelos, so at least he had one friend with him. The first day was spent dividing them into groups, laying down the ground rules, and showing them their cabins before settling in for dinner and ghost stories around a campfire. Despite this busy schedule, a couple of the groups of boys decided to band together and launch a raid upon the cabins just down the way, which were inhabited by the girls. Had they been older, perhaps something of a romantic nature might have been intended, but as no one there, besides the teachers and the counselors was above the age of ten, the most they did was start a pinecone war (which they somehow managed to lose).

Having been soundly defeated and driven off, the boys (Batmart, Banuelos, and Arthur among them) were rounded up and reminded that such shenanigans would not be tolerated. Of course, this meant that the pinecone wars were to continue, with the boys and girls exchanging raids for the duration of their stay.

The first night, after the campfire had burned down, and the boys were trying to fall asleep, they became aware that their Counselor, Carlos, had wandered off into the darkness. It wasn’t until the second evening that discovered where he’d gone, and more importantly: why. The counselors were High Schoolers, and Carlos had gone to spend some time with one of the Girls’ Counselors, who may or may not have been his girlfriend. Carlos defended himself, by saying that he was only trying to gather intelligence about the girls’ defenses, but Batmart knew better, for he too had kissed a girl.

The week flew by in a series of unnecessary activities, most of which Batmart wasn’t all too thrilled about having to join in on. On the final night, they presented awards, both in their groups, and as unified class. They also presented skits, which were nearly as awkward as one could imagine, being a combination of fourth grade talent encouraged by teenage sensibilities. Tex never could recall what the official point of the whole thing had been, but he always remembered how much fun he had, and how sad he was to see it end as he climbed aboard the bus and they drove out of the woods and back to their regular lives again.

 

Hiraeth Excerpt (Chapter Nine: The Foreign Exchange Teacher and The Birthday Conspiracy)

The following is an excerpt of:

Hiraeth: 

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 Nine: The Foreign Exchange Teacher and The Birthday Conspiracy

Having achieved his lifelong goal of becoming a published author the year before, Tex wasn’t sure how he would manage to top things in his fifth year of public education. He supposed that he would continue writing, and assumed that he would find only continuing success. Had he known the road which he would come to walk upon, he might not have worn that smug expression for so long. Regardless of the future, though, he was excited to see what the fourth grade would bring his way.

The school district had been busy over the summer, and had rearranged the boundaries throughout the Island between the three Elementary Schools, with the upshot being that Tex would once again be spending recess with his best (and for the most part, only) friend. Upon hearing the news that Arthur would be returning to Wilkes Elementary, both boys checked to see if they would share a class again together. Sadly, though they were schoolmates once more, they had still not been reunited in the classroom. When the school bell rang, they would be sat across the hall from one another, doing their best to soak in all the required knowledge before they could run around like madmen on the playground.

The first week back had been something of a shock for the both of them. When last they had spent any time together encased behind the brick façade of that public school, they had both been more of the quiet type, content to spend their playtime in earnest conversation. In the interim, however, Tex had grown to be a decent Kickball player, owing to his natural speed, and preternatural foot-eye coordination. Arthur, of course, had taken up Wallball, and had actually gotten pretty good at it himself. But the real test of their friendship was when Tex had tried to include Arthur in what had essentially been a three-year-long Live Action Roleplaying Adventure (though none of the participants would have classified it as having been such an activity).

No one in that group, save for young Batmart, really wanted anybody else to join, and, they all discovered, it was kind of coming to an end in any case. It had been loosely based upon Military Adventures, for it was the 1980’s and that sort of thing was rather ubiquitous. By the fourth grade, they had all achieved the rank of General, and best offer they were willing to make to Arthur was a Field Commission Lieutenant. Tex felt guilty those times when he left Arthur behind so that he could play make-believe with the other children amongst the tatters of their shared imaginary world, and within a month, had made the decision to let that part of his life quietly fade away.

In the classroom, Tex was actually far happier. He had heard of Foreign Exchange Students before, and secretly hoped that one day he could go to a foreign country and spend some time anywhere but with his family, but he had never known that countries could also exchange their teachers. At first he was a little let down that the teacher whom he should have gotten (the one the older kids had said was the best teacher in the school) was going to be in England that year. Then he discovered that his substitute would actually be from England. Tex had grown up fairly poor, and had watched more than his fair share of British Comedy on his local PBS affiliate. More than was rightly normal for a kid of his age, he quite looked forward to the pledge drives, when he could marathon through new episodes of his favorite shows, with only minimal interruptions. It is no wonder that he became so enamored of Netflix in later life.

In addition to the regular assignments of math and science, social studies and language arts, he also heard countless stories of life in England, and soaked up his teacher’s accent at every chance. He was too young to be entirely self-aware, and so made more attempts to master a Cockney accent than he might have even two or three years later. Rather than discourage him, or take offense, his teacher would gently correct him if his vowels were off. And she was always happy with him when another story of his would cross her desk. Sure, there were frustrations felt by both parties, on her behalf, it had a lot to do with missing homework, and on his, the constant assigning of the aforementioned work. Still, it was a year in which he actually learned many things, and remained capable of being optimistic on the bus ride into school.

Things were going so well, in fact, that he almost didn’t notice when his birthday began to loom. It was major milestone, and though he was caught a bit off-guard, he was also a little anxious for it. He would be turning 10 that year, and finally joining the ranks of the majority in wielding and age in the double digits. About a week after his birthday had passed, he reflected to himself that he didn’t feel any different than he had all through November, and wondered when he might begin to feel a little more grown up. He might have had these thoughts on his actual birthday, but as it happened to turn out, he was a little busy.

It was a foregone conclusion that this Major Life Event would be spent with Arthur, and even though he felt a little under the weather, he was determined that nothing would stand in his way. Disney had just begun their return to Cinematic Dominance that year with an adaptation of another famous fairy tale. Still young enough to see a cartoon film in the theatre, he went to see The Little Mermaid with his mother and his best friend. For as bad as he felt, he did enjoy the feature, though his mother was a bit concerned, as he ate hardly any popcorn or drank any of his soda. At the end of the film, instead of celebrating, his mother dropped Arthur off at home, and tried to tuck Tex into bed.

That, of course, was when the fun began in earnest. Almost immediately upon returning home, Tex found that he couldn’t hardly breathe. Having grown up an asthmatic, his mother sprang into action, and got the hot water running to fill the entire bathroom up with steam. While Tex, as per instructions from his mother, tried to remain calm and breathe deeply of the vapor, his mother made a call to Tex’s grandparents to arrange for a ride into Seattle. By the time that the water had grown cold (which wasn’t too terribly long, as it was only a moderately-sized hot water heater, his grandfather had arrived, and Tex was being bundled into the back seat of the car, while his mother rode the waves of a keen and brittle parental breakdown.

It was the longest night that Tex could remember, up until that point. When they had gotten to the hospital, the doctors had listened to his lungs and checked for a hernia (which he did not altogether care for, as it seemed inappropriate to him that a doctor would be checking there, as, though he was not well-versed in physiology, he was still fairly certain that his lungs were located a decent distance from his groin), and then finally gotten him a bed. He was still terrified of needles, and his mother’s advice about I.V. placement did nothing to comfort him, although, as it turned out, he needn’t have worried. The only thing they did was to give him a vaporizer, and let him breathe in the medicine at regular intervals. That might have been enough, but they also insisted on waking him up every two hours to see how he was doing. Tex may have only been ten years old, but even he felt that if he was still breathing, he was probably okay.

The next day, the nurse offered him a tray of something which was described as edible, and yet in no way appeared fit for human consumption. Luckily, his grandparents had brought his mom some chicken nuggets, so they traded meals, and each was happy for it. That evening, Tex was discharged from the hospital with an inhaler and instructions for its use. He had also been taught how to breathe more efficiently, expanding his lungs downward and jutting out his tummy, rather than raise his shoulders with every breath. They described this technique as “Stomach Breathing,” which would have been fine, except for an incident which later came to pass at school.

A note about Tex Batmart (especially throughout his youth): he never much cared for admitting that a concept was beyond him, and, if given the opportunity, would attempt to make himself seem smarter than he was. It wasn’t that he was stupid, not by any means, just that he had not gained the wisdom which might have informed him that he was not obligated to fill every silence with his words, or that there is no shame in admitting that he did not know something. When the subject of this breathing technique arose, he explained that he was actually breathing through his stomach via his belly button (anatomy be damned!), and stuck with his story, even in the face of actual and incontrovertible evidence until finally, forced into retreat, he admitted not that he was wrong, but that the doctor who had spoken to him had failed to factually impart the necessary information.

As the years passed, this quirk of his did not disappear. He did, however, manage to learn significantly more about an entire range of subjects to the point where he could pull something out of his ass and have it turn out more or less correct. A good portion of this was due almost entirely to his love of learning and his hatred of appearing to be stupid. By the time he reached adulthood, oftentimes his quips were better worded and more accurate than the things for which he had actually prepared.

Hiraeth Excerpt (Interlude: Mental Health and Other Team Sports, Part One)

The following is an excerpt of:

Hiraeth: 

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

Interlude: Mental Health and Other Team Sports (Part One)

He’d hit puberty a bit earlier than expected, but that only meant that his mental health began deteriorating much more quickly. Over the years, he visited several counselors, all of whom attempted to manipulate him into bargains or behaviors which he found repulsive. And, having been thusly challenged, he responded with acerbic wit and levied the full weight of his hatred and intelligence upon them. He found a sort of glee in dismantling them, like broken toys ripped apart for spare pieces. The final counselor with whom he ever spoke was seeing both he and his girlfriend in the summer of 1998.

One day he happened to compare notes with his friend, Dave Feise, and discovered that they’d been seeing the same professionals, often at the same time. When they checked to see how many had retired, and how soon after having seen them, they were both pleased to discover that they were an effective team. Many years later, Tex would entertain the notion of seeking someone out who might be of some assistance to him, but things kept getting in the way, and, in truth, he was afraid of tarnishing what had been, until that point at least, a perfect game.

When he was sixteen, he was diagnosed with Manic Depression, and very nearly forced to take the latest wonderdrug in the growing Mental Health Industry. He’d been a minor, and on poor terms with his mother at the time, and had he not gone with the deep feeling in his gut that something bad would happen, would most likely have been forced to continue on a regimen of Prozac. The following year, after he’d started up with Her, she’d let him try one of hers, and he took it, curious to see what might have happened all that time ago.

Most doctors will say that it takes four to six weeks for those type of medications to start having a positive effect, but it was less than half an hour until Tex began to suffer from uncontrollable auditory hallucinations. He knew then that he had been correct to waive his family doctor off. Later, he tried Wellbutrin for a while, but found that, rather than cure him of depression, it left him only in a state of rage. It wasn’t until he was hospitalized in March of 2001, that he finally found something which worked for him, though he was never able to get another prescription, as there are no Drug Rep kickbacks to be made from Lithium.

Hiraeth Excerpt (Chapter Eight: Everything Begins to Come Together)

The following is an excerpt of:

Hiraeth: 

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 Eight: Everything Begins to Come Together

If the second grade had been the time in his academic career which seemed designed to make him despise all forms of education, then the third grade was when he found out that he might actually have a chance of making it through until the end, and that he might actually be able to do the whole writing thing, after all. It was also the year that he found out that he didn’t care for homework, and the year he came to know David Banuelos, both as a classmate, and as a fellow member of their local Cub Scout troop. He was still reeling from the loss of Heather Hopkins, but found consolation in the process of writing stories and making friends at school. It was also the year that he began to butt heads with his mother, and the beginning of his lifelong struggle with mental illness, though it was merely in its infancy then.

He had finished with daycare, and was spending his afternoons at his mother’s job until she got off of work. This allowed her to ensure that he still had supervision, while freeing her from the shackles of an ever-increasing childcare expense. For Tex, it was a chance to hang out somewhere new (yet close to home) and play around on typewriters and computers. He wrote a story there during the fall of 1988, the title of which this author has been unable to uncover. Many years later, Tex admitted that he had conceived of, and completed this unknown tale, but had taken steps to eradicate it from the world. The other two major stories he penned that year, Mission Titan and A Nightmare on Oak Street, however, remained extant, despite his best efforts. Perhaps the unknown story might have survived the Great Purge, and Tex’s choice of historical revisionism, had it been included in the class book he and his classmates put together in the Spring, but the children were only allowed two submissions, and he chose his strongest work.

A Nightmare on Oak Street was an homage to the Horror genre, though he had not, personally, ever seen a single film of that nature. Of the two stories which remained from that time period, it was his least favorite. Not because of the quality of his written words, for even in his advanced age, he had to admit that it was not that bad of a beginning, but because it was so entirely derivative of subjects which he did not understand, as well as a product of his time. The additional fact that it managed to boast several chapters, despite its length of nearly one and one-half pages, may have contributed to its exclusion from the subjects of which he was inclined to discuss.

Mission Titan, however, was his pride and joy. He’d picked up a Solar System-themed coloring book from the Pacific Science Center in Seattle over the summer, and had, based upon the science facts within, decided that if there was to be a new home for the human race, our most likely bet appeared to exist upon that moon. Now, owing to the fact that he was only nine years old, many of the details within the tale are plainly wrong. Not to mention that every character who was to appear upon the page was a nod to someone he knew personally, despite the minor detail that they were all under the age of ten. Of course, he’d also set the story in the not-too-distant future, so it was conceivable, at least to him, that the events contained within could, one day, come to pass.

Actually, he attempted to resurrect Mission Titan twice more over the next couple of years, but to no success. As his methods grew more sophisticated, he attempted to resolve the major plot issues which had so painfully stood out, but no matter how he tried, he found that he could not salvage this ill-fated tale of woe. As a matter of fact, until he reached his mid-thirties, Mission Titan was the only one of his stories which he ever revisited, unless you count his vacillations regarding whether The Midnight Hour was a poem or short story. Ultimately, though, the only home that story ever knew was in the pages of The Radest Book by the Radest Kids in The Radest World, a title which so entirely encompasses every failing of the 1980’s that even Greatest Hits albums and cocaine cannot hope to overtake it to claim their title.

An additional note, before moving on to other aspects of that year, both pleasant and traumatic: To compliment each story (or poem, as the case might be), each author was also encouraged to be his or her own illustrator, and so the book was filled with childish poetry and prose, as well as crudely drawn interpretations of the major points within each tale. And at the end of each tale (or, in the case of prodigious wordsmiths such as Mr. Batmart, the end of each author’s first tale) was thumbnail photograph of the author which sat above a small autobiographical blurb. The entry for young Batmart, which sat before his photo taken in the second grade (as he had been sick on Picture day that year), read as follows:

Tex Batmart lives on Bainbridge Island with his family. Some of his many hobbies include: collecting Ghostbusters and writing. A Nightmare On Oak Street is his latest work. Tex is also the author of: Who Killed Babyface Barbara? and Mission Titan.

 

Dear reader, you may have noticed an additional title snuggled up within that short bibliography, and perhaps deduced that this may have been the missing story to which I may or may not have referenced earlier. To this, I must admit my complicity in the attempted act of literary redaction. It is my hope that such an admission (necessitated only by the existence of dozens of potential copies of this book) will put to rest any further attempts to discern the title of that tale, and accept, once and for all, that this is the most that you will ever get.

This book was the first work which he ever had published, and, due to parental sales, the project very nearly broke even. Tex was grateful, of course, for the exposure. What he was not particularly grateful for, whether at that time, or at any other spent as a student in his third grade class, was the onerous task of daily homework. Their teacher had put it to a vote at the beginning of the year, and Batmart had been vehemently opposed. He saw through the rhetorical trap which his teacher had so casually set, and was not swayed by such frivolities as “being more grown-up,” or peer pressure. And when he saw that he was firmly in the minority, he argued that, since he had not been interested in participating, if perhaps it wasn’t a trifle of an injustice that he be obligated to do so.

As expected, his teacher informed him that the vote had somehow been a binding one, and that he would have to do that year’s assignments, just like his fellow schoolmates. This, obviously, led to some difficulties at home.

Perhaps if he had suffered on his test scores, or lacked the ability to soak up information and abstracts concepts with an ease which put the process of osmosis to shame, he might have conceded to his mother’s protestations that homework was a necessary evil, but in reality, he found it to be dull and rather pointless. What, he wondered, was the point in countless repetitions when he understood things the first time they were presented? Again, perhaps it was his intelligence which drove a wedge between himself and his mother, but regardless of the reason, a wedge between them there was indeed. He couldn’t yet articulate his arguments against her reasoning, but was determined to find the words to win her to his side. Alas, in his many years of schooling, he never did find those magic words.

What he did find, however, was a trip to a family counselor, which he considered to be an epic waste of his time.

He never reacted well to being patronized, and this counselor was notorious for doing only that. Every Friday night in an office at the local church, Tex would have to sit and listen to this pompous fool go on and on about how everything that Tex was doing was completely wrong. Perhaps the counselor intended to break the boy, correct him early enough to bypass all of that which was to come, but for that to have occurred, he would have had to start several years earlier. The final straw, according to Tex Batmart, was an exercise in which the boy was to imagine all his negative emotions as a steaming pile of excrement atop an extra chair. Having done that, he was then instructed to sit down in the imaginary poo, and describe how it must have felt. It was in that very moment that young Batmart knew that he had won.

Up until that point, his mother had gone along, having placed her trust in this trained professional, but at this exercise, even she could not continue. Would that she could have learned something more from this moment of clarity, but, alas, it was not to be. It would be a number of years before she would try again, but when that moment came, she redoubled her efforts and refused to be denied. Had she only known that was driving her son toward the only sport which every truly enjoyed (aside from baseball).

Hiraeth Excerpt (Interlude: Love and Other Failures)

The following is an excerpt of:

Hiraeth: 

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

Interlude: Love and Other Failures

Though Heather was his first love, she was not his last. Over the years, he fell in love repeatedly, eager to feel the same connection with another person as he had felt that summer back in 1988. He didn’t start dating until High School, but even then, it was more miss than hit, and even when he could get someone to go out with him, it was usually over within a month, having come to an unsatisfactory conclusion. He began keeping track of the girls he had asked out, noting how infrequently any of them had said yes. At first it wasn’t too bad, as he had other things to worry about, but soon his friends also began dating, and it became apparent that he would be the only one among them to die virginally alone.

Of course, that all changed in the summer of ’97, but that’s a story for a little later on. Suffice it to say that, though it lasted nearly four years, it fit into the same pattern which had characterized all of his relationships before, at least upon its conclusion. He kept putting himself out there, only to be torn down time and time again. And while a smarter man might have learned a modicum of caution over the intervening years, Tex was not that man. Each time he wore his heart upon his sleeve, only to dry his eyes upon it just a short while later.

As the years passed, and the number of his ex-girlfriends slowly grew, he began to see pattern coming into focus. It seemed that he found himself falling for women who were the absolute worst for him, while steadfastly discarding anyone who genuinely seemed to give a damn about him. Worse, this made sense to him, as it seemed in line with everything else in his life at the time. He found himself drawn to self-destruction, and it only made sense that he would recruit someone into his life to help him achieve his goals.

In the spring of 2006, he finally decided to do something about it. The decision was made easier by its binary nature. A coworker had informed him that two women seemed to be interested in him. The first was a sexy and sensuous woman who had easily caught the eye of everyone she worked with (not unlike his last long-term girlfriend), while the other was rather plain, but, he was told, was head-over-heels in love with him. If you have been paying attention, then it should be obvious who he chose. That he chose the irrepressible flirt is, then, no terrible surprise. But, as had happened so many times before, that relationship went precisely nowhere, and he was left alone once more.

He might have given it no thought, but then he bumped into the other woman at his friend’s wedding reception, and an idea came into his head. A few months later, he asked out for dinner at a local restaurant, and laid himself bare before her. He had decided on his strategy the week beforehand, and had come to the realization that, if he was to outwit his own instinct for self-harm, he would have to be completely honest with this woman. He told her everything that was wrong with him, from the mental illness to the idiosyncrasies of his apathetic nature. Part of his reasoning was a measure of full disclosure, so that she couldn’t accuse him later of having deceived her, but his other motivation was the small hope that she would become frightened and run away, leaving him to lavish attention upon people who only sought to do him harm.

Within thirteen months they had a son, and within three years they were married. It was everything he’d told himself he’d wanted, and yet he found that it was not. He still fell in love, though he knew he oughtn’t, and found that he was trapped within a prison of his own illusions. As he came to think upon it, he realized that perhaps it was not his gut which was outsmarted on that evening in April, 2006, and that the cruelest form of self-harm he could manage would be to allow himself to have everything he’d told himself he wanted, only to watch it fade and crumble as he realized that it must have been somebody else’s dream.

All he knew was that he wanted to be in love, to feel that excitement and anticipation of seeing someone again. He wanted someone to think that he was handsome, and charming, and something other than a complete and utter failure, which, up ‘til that point in his life, he’d been. What he craved was someone who would believe in him, and hold him so that he could feel vulnerable once more. What he desired, more than anything, was to have that summer back again, so he could tell that girl who kissed him that he loved her.

Hiraeth Excerpt (Chapter Seven: On Love and Kisses)

The following is an excerpt of:

Hiraeth: 

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 Seven: On Love and Kisses

He was eight years old when he first kissed a girl. It was perhaps the single most wonderful moment of his entire life, and no matter what came after, and no matter how hard his inner demons tried, that memory remained true and pure throughout his life. If his grandparents were the basis for what he felt constituted the perfect marriage, then what he had with Heather Hopkins was what he based his expectations of true love upon. That their love lasted mere months never bothered him, aside from the feeling that his chance at lasting happiness had been taken from him. Years later, after he had been through hell and back, he found out that Heather had carried a torch for him until adulthood. He knew that there was no way that he could have made it out to see her before her love for him had finally faded, but he felt that perhaps if he had tried, he might have staved off all of the pain which he borne over those past several years. It was the one event in his life he might have been tempted to go back in time to fix, were he given the opportunity.

Her family had moved into the house at the top of the hill that summer before the start of school. Tex was just about to enter into the second grade, and was pleased to discover someone with whim to spend the wait for the morning bus aside from the weird girl in the mobile home across from the bus stop and the bully who lived just down the road from her. School that year was nowhere near as engaging as had been the year before, and soon Tex found that the best part of his day was the time when he was walking up the hill and past Heather’s house on his way to the giant stump at the corner of Manitou Beach Drive and Mountain View Road. His weekends were dedicated to Arthur, as they’d been going to different elementary schools since the end of Kindergarten, and his weekday afternoons were still spent at the daycare he had been attending, but every morning was set aside for Heather Hopkins.

After having assembled his backpack, and dodged the affection of his mother, he ran out the front door and up the hill. Well, more specifically, he ran out the door and ran up half the hill, while walking quickly up the rest because the hill was quite steep, and he usually ran out of breath before he could reach the top. He would then pause once he had reached the summit, and compose himself before casually striding up to wait in front of Heather’s house. At that point, her brother would, more often than not, burst out of his front door and past young Batmart, squealing, “Race you!” as he bolted toward the bus stop. At first, Tex had run after him immediately, unsure if he could beat him, but as the months passed, he’d learned that he could take the other boy, and began giving him a healthy head start. He usually had enough time to wave to Heather as she stepped outside before he had to take off after John in order to beat him across the finish line.

Then, victory his, he would jog back to meet Heather, who was waiting for him just outside her house, and the pair would walk calmly to the giant stump and talk about whatever elementary school couples talk about. In all honesty, Tex had no idea what was going on, as girls were, in his experience, just strange creatures who seemed incapable of grasping the simple nuances of the latest action figures. And aside from his friendship with her, he had never really spent all that much time in the company of the fairer sex. They were most likely to be found in packs, and, having recently discovered his introverted nature, Tex tended to avoid such groups. He had no training in psychology, and not a clue what was meant by the term “mob mentality”, but he’d found that things usually went better for him in significantly smaller groups. If you were to have asked him that year if he had fallen in love with her, he would have made a face and blurted out some sort of denial, as she was a girl, and the only people that he loved were his family and his friend. But if you had asked him that same question at the end of summer vacation, in the days before he was to enter the third grade, he would have had a different answer entirely.

That school year passed slowly for him, and when it had finally run its course, he breathed a sigh of relief to be free of it. The first few weeks of his vacation were dedicated to winding down, and washing the stink of education from him, but in the first part of July, he made a truly startling discovery. It all began one Saturday, when Arthur had made other plans, and he suddenly had nothing to do that day. He sat sullenly in front of the television and watched the lineup of cartoons, fuming that he wasn’t going to have any fun at all. And then the weird girl from the mobile home just across from the big stump came down and knocked upon his door. She had cotton balls in her ears, and spoke entirely too quickly. Tex soon discovered that she was asking if he’d like to come and play. He was about to gently refuse her offer, as one can never be too careful with little girls wearing cotton balls in their ears, when he saw John and Heather walking up behind her.

His mother gave the go-ahead, and Tex raced outside to join the other children. His mother’s rules had been fairly clear. They could play in the yard, or in the woods behind the house, and if they were going to walk down to the beach, they had to be extremely careful about traffic. Also, they weren’t to go in the water. Other than that, the four children were left to their own devices. Had his mother any clue about what was to transpire that afternoon, perhaps she might have reconsidered granting her permission, but in her mind, there was no way to foresee what would come to pass, for her son was only eight years old, and it was far too early to have worry about that sort of thing. Mostly, her fears involved a car driving down to the beach too quickly and clipping him as he made his way out of the woods. But she also knew that there was safety in numbers, and that her son, for whatever faults he may have possessed, was also actually quite cautious where his physical well-being was concerned. As she watched them run off into that warm and inviting summer mid-morning, she allowed a smile to cross her face, pleased that her son had managed to make at least one other friend.

The children sprinted into the woods. There were overgrown trails and an old building which had burned to the ground around the turn of the century. It was the perfect place for make-believe. There were dragons flying overhead, and Stormtroopers chasing them. They were explorers discovering lost civilizations. They followed the trail down through the woods, and exited onto the road leading down to the beach, but instead of continuing on to frolic on those rocky shores, they crossed the road and worked their way through the vegetation on the other side which concealed yet another overgrown ruin. Just yards away from the road, yet in a place almost entirely untouched by the daylight all around, there was a staircase which must have, one day, led up to another long-forgotten building. This forested area was entirely different than the woods which they had just left behind: dark and closed in, more tangled underbrush than trees.

They might have tarried longer, but John began to grow afraid, and they made their way back out and up through the other woods once more. He hadn’t noticed it at the time, but Tex had not been at all afraid upon that staircase. Normally he would have been almost paralyzed at the claustrophobic closeness of the vegetation, and the lack of light, but he had felt only a grand sense of adventure, and a small pang of disappointment when he’d had to leave that place. Justine and John had raced ahead, eager to get back to the safety of the lawn in front of Tex’s house, while Heather and young Batmart strolled along in pleasant silence, taking in the beauty of the forest, and breathing in the richness of the saltwater air mingled with the scent of pines. As they exited the forest, and the sun spilled down upon them, they were both filled with a happiness and exultation which neither of them could have explained.

The four of them played Freeze tag on the lawn until they could run no more, and then collapsed down beside one another, lost somewhere in the giggles. It had been a perfect afternoon. And then Justine sat up and threw a glance toward Heather (which Tex neither noticed nor which he could have understood), and asked if anyone wanted to play spin the bottle. Our hero had only heard of that game in passing, but was entirely unfamiliar with the rules, and John, it appeared, did not possess even Tex’s limited knowledge on that subject, but Heather was quick to respond with her assent, and Tex jumped in right after, not wanting to be left out. At that point, all eyes fell upon the younger boy, who knew that even if he were to dissent, would still be overruled by the majority. With the small sound of someone who has no clue what is going on and isn’t sure how he feels about it, John said, “Okay.”

 They sat cross-legged in a circle and Justine placed an empty can of Shasta Lemon-Lime in the very center, before laying down the rules. They would take turns spinning the can, and whoever the open side was pointing at when it ceased its spin would be kissed by the person who had done the spinning. It seemed fairly straightforward, and Tex felt certain that he wouldn’t mess it up. Justine spun first, and the can came to rest pointing at Heather, who sat beside her. “Re-spin” she said, to which we all agreed, because neither of the girls seemed to want to kiss the other. In later years, Tex wondered what would have happened if the can had come to point at him, for, in truth, he didn’t really want to get all that close to Justine. As fate would have it, the can stopped in front of John, and the two of them locked lips like one might do with a distant relative. In retrospect, Tex realized that this game must have been played for he and Heather’s benefit, as neither Justine nor John seemed terribly thrilled about playing. “Your turn!” Justine said, as she sat back down again.

Tex had never kissed a girl before, at least never in this context. He felt strange as he placed his hand upon the can and gave it a spin. It was like the sensation which he felt on Christmas morning as soon as he woke up. The can stopped halfway between Heather and Justine. “Spin again,” the girl with cotton in her ears implored him. He took hold and gave it another spin, only to see it stop this time on the boy who sat behind him. Frustration was setting in, and he heard a sigh from across the circle. He grabbed the can again, and spun it as hard as he could muster, only to have it pointing back at him. Justine then reached into the circle and rotated it until it was facing Heather. No one pointed out the obvious violation of the rules, as all four children were just happy that Tex wouldn’t have to spin again. Tex nervously rose to his knees as Heather did the same, and they waddled toward one another until they met up in the center of the circle.

                “Hey,” said Tex, unsure of what to do, for, as was mentioned earlier, he had never actually kissed a girl before. Heather then leaned in and kissed him.

As their lips met, he felt the very center of his being explode in white hot channels of electricity. If he had known that kissing was as cool as this, he might have done it sooner. So entranced with this new sensation was he, that he almost didn’t notice when Heather’s tongue somehow found its way into his mouth. In all reality, it wasn’t the most romantic kiss, for neither of them truly knew what they were doing, and instead of the sensual caress which has come to have been known as a French Kiss, it was more a matter of stabbing tongues at one another. When they finally fell away from one another, young Batmart was in a state of shock. He looked again at Heather Hopkins, and thought, for the first time in his life, that he wished to know what love was, and wouldn’t be opposed to the notion that she showed him. He was also surprised to discover that her mouth tasted quite similar to how her house smelled.

Over the course of the summer, the four children got together several more times, though no more games of Spin The Bottle were ever played. And, after a while, it would just be Heather who would walk down the hill to visit Tex. The two would go on walks through the woods and down into their secret hiding spot upon the staircase hidden beneath brambles, where they would embrace one another, and teach each other how to kiss.

It was the single happiest time in Tex Batmart’s life, and when that summer came to a close, he knew that he had fallen helplessly in love. He began to envision a life for he and his bride-to-be, as they would walk arm-in-arm to the bus stop in the mornings after he had raced his brother-in-law and then come back to her. He knew that he wanted nothing more than to hold her in his arms and watch cartoons as if every morning were a Saturday. There was nothing which could have stopped him at that point, which is why, it seems, that the universe was forced to intervene.

In the week before he was to enter the third grade, Heather came to say goodbye to him. He thought it strange, at first, for it was only a week until school was set to start again, but then she broke the news to him. Her father had just gotten a new job, and the family would be moving to Moses Lake, which was somewhere in Eastern Washington (though, for all his ability to travel, it might as well have been New York). They made plans to stay in touch, neither of them realizing that it never works out that way. For an afternoon, they sat together, holding hands, and trying to reassure each other that this wasn’t going to be forever, that they would see each other again someday. And he walked her up the hill and to her front door, giving her a hug before she went inside, he felt an emptiness begin to grow inside of him. By the time he had walked ten feet, tears had begun to stream silently down his cheeks.

He didn’t know it at the time (although, perhaps he did), but that was to be the last time in which he would ever lay eyes upon her. His mother wasn’t sure what was going on, and when he explained the facts to her (for he knew that she would never understand a concept as vibrant and confusing as True Love), she thought that he was just sad to lose a friend. The reality, though, was that his heart was breaking, and had no idea what he was going to do.

Hiraeth Excerpt (Interlude: The Great Purge of 2000)

The following is an excerpt of:

Hiraeth: 

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

Interlude: The Great Purge of 2000

The year 2000 was not an especially great year in the life of Mr. Batmart. Despite all of the dire warnings regarding the Apocalypse (which would be brought about by the ubiquity of poorly-coded software which would be unable to understand that December 31st, 1999 was not immediately followed by January 1st, 1900), the new year came as easily as all which had come before, and rather than a sense of wonder at a brave new world, Tex was left with the sinking suspicion that things would be a repetition of everything that had come before. He was especially disappointed when the power remained on at the stroke of midnight, having harbored a secret hope that someone working at the power plant might have had a sense of humor. Instead, he was left to mingle with drug addicts and wonder if there was any way that his year could get any worse.

Apparently, he had not learned that lesson from his two decades of life, and in the wishing, most likely sealed his fate for what was to come. That year would see his relationship split violently apart at the fraying seams which had held it together in something resembling that which might have otherwise one day worked. It would also bear witness to his first (and second) bouts of homelessness. He met someone that year who had been in love with him, someone who he allowed to be his girlfriend because he was simply too numb to care. That year also brought about a criminal record, and his first experience (as an adult) of working for the man. But it wasn’t until the very end of it, in the first half of December, when his life began to fully fall apart.

His ex-girlfriend was driving him out to the County Seat so that he could visit Her in jail. Of the lot of them that had been arrested, only She had managed to stay locked up. He knew it was her charming personality and respect for authority which had done her in, but went to see her anyway. He didn’t know that She hadn’t put him on her list of visitors, nor that he wouldn’t have been able to see her that day even if She had. The plan was to take his three crates of writing, two-thirds of his life’s work, somewhere for safe keeping after going to visit Her in jail.

These were the days before smart phones and GPS, when the internet still took effort, and was often more trouble than it was worth, and before long, he and Amy had gotten completely lost on the winding back roads of Port Orchard, Washington. It had begun to rain, but neither of them really noticed, as rain in December was nothing knew, and they were otherwise preoccupied and lost within their own thoughts. He thought of how nice it would be to see his love again, and she thought that she wasn’t sure if she could stand to be around him. She didn’t know why she still loved him, when he had never looked at her that way, despite the fact that they had dated all that summer, when She was off trying to figure things out.

As they began down a hill, Amy tapped lightly on the brakes, having noticed a pickup truck at the bottom of the hill, waiting (for literally no one) to turn left. It took Tex just a moment longer than it took Amy to realize that the car wasn’t going to stop. As they continued down the hill, gaining momentum as the tires refused to grip the pavement, and hurtled forward and down along the tug of gravity, they both knew how it would end. Amy tried honking her horn, but the driver of the pickup truck gave no indication that he heard it. Seconds later, Amy’s car came to an abrupt halt as it collided with the pickup truck at thirty-five miles per hour. Neither Amy nor Mr. Batmart were injured in the crash, nor was the driver of the pickup truck.

The two occupants of the now-totaled car stood on the shoulder in the pouring rain and waited for the tow truck to arrive. Tex had grabbed what he could carry, and Amy told him that they would go back the next week to recover all of the rest. Their friend, a fellow dealer in the circle in which they had been running, arrived just before the tow truck was to depart. Batmart gave a glance at the trunk of his ex-girlfriend’s car, and shook away a growing feeling of loss.

The following March, when Tex had finally saved up enough money to pay off the debt his ex-girlfriend owed the wrecking yard (and managed to get Amy to give him the ticket for her car so he could present it to them), he and his girlfriend drove back out to the County Seat to rescue his life’s work. They arrived about two o’clock in the afternoon, and Tex walked up to the man who looked like he must be in charge and asked to have his stuff back.

                “Yeah,” said the man with a tone of indifference, “We don’t have that car anymore.”

                “What do you mean?” Tex asked nervously, his grasp on reality beginning to waver.

                “Yeah, we only wait a couple of weeks, and then we junk it.”

                “Okay, but there was stuff in the trunk. My stuff. I’ve been trying to get out here this whole time but the car’s owner couldn’t find this!” Tex began to waive the ticket in the air between them.

                “I get that,” the man in overalls said, this time a little more gently, “but if it was in the car, then it’s been gone for months.” He must have seen something break within Mr. Batmart at that moment, for Tex could feel himself shattering into countless pieces. “Sorry, kid.”

Tex walked back to Her car, and slowly, numbly, got inside. She knew what had happened by just one glance at his face. They drove back home in silence, stopping only to spend the money which had been set aside for salvage on a quantity of drugs which Tex neither needed nor desired, yet consumed anyway, hoping that maybe if he did enough, it might slow the rending, searing pain within his breast. Three days later, after being roused by Her from his hibernation, he finally let go of all the pain, all of the overwhelming melancholy which had defined him, and felt the final strands of sanity slip through his rope-burned fingers.

That day, months prior, he had lost, save for a handful of poems and short stories, two-thirds of his entire life. Boxes of poetry, of stories in various stages of completion, all of his Black and White negatives. On March 21st, at 11:23 a.m., the weight of loss and failure nearly crushing him, Tex Batmart took the only option left to him, and went truly and properly insane.

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