I don’t want to give the impression from all this that my junior year or any of my whole high school scenario was in pursuit of girls and God. I didn’t just go back and forth between those two like a yo-yo. There were lots of great, less dramatic moments.(This chapter will mostly be a windy road to take you through some of those; I am not sure it flows well into the story but I’ll throw it in regardless. I promise this should be the only such aberration.)
Every year my high school ordered class jackets. There may have been nothing more nonsensical than this since we went to school where it rarely dropped below sixty; I mean it was subtropical weather. An argument can be made that people would go on to wear these afterwards but really college is not where most people are bragging about what they did in high school.
The previous class, the class of 97, was not the most motivated bunch. There can be many arguments made for this. The student association officers had more juniors in it the year I was religious vice than any other year in high school. There was an annual game where each class brought tons of junk and people had to run random objects into the middle of the room, which was only once not won by the senior class in my four years there. We won it our junior year. In all fairness, we had an atypical motivated class; I mean almost half the class graduated with a 4.0 or above.
But we were speaking about class jackets. Each class got to design the jacket whichever way they wanted with nothing repeating one year to the next, not colors, not design, not anything. It was a big reveal each year and a special moment for each class when they got to wear it for the first time. By complete coincidence, I happened to be in a bathroom when a group of the juniors (I was a sophomore then) said that the jackets had arrived and announced where they were hiding them until the “reveal.” I simply couldn’t resist. I enlisted Alycia to help me move them, and hid them behind the dumpster in garbage bags (yeah that could have gone a lot worse since they ranged like $140 apiece). I then placed a puzzle where the jackets had been at, letting the Juniors know where they now were. When the class of ’97 realized their jackets were missing they blew every fuse imaginable to man. They were trying to figure out who would do this; I don’t know if anyone even tried to figure out the puzzle but obviously no one solved it.
After much pressure, apparently Alycia tearfully broke down and told them I had done it. They came over with wrath and conviction, and tried to get me to tell them. I denied it as long as I could but to no avail. Finally I told them where they were. The “reveal” still came at the scheduled time, the story of the stealing had become as big a part of the story. At the next school assembly, Alycia and I were made to apologize to the entire class of ’97. She again cried through it her sweet adorable pansy nature. I think it took no rocket scientist to realize that my apology was less than sincere.
The next year when we were juniors and the class of ’97 was still around. They were determined to exact revenge. They weren’t interested in the whole class, not even just Alycia and me. Alycia’s weeping confession had let them focus their rage on me. Both they and I had got lucky I’d even gotten a jacket because of the high cost (my father paid for it). I took extreme pains to prevent this revenge: going to the UPS truck to pick the jackets up, locking them up personally until they were delivered, and after it was in my room locking it in a trunk figuring it would be too conspicuous to sneak out a trunk if they anyone manage to get into my room. After a while though I got cocky and started hanging the jacket in the window of my dorm room which was next to a walkway that good share of the student body passed through every day. The disdain I drew from some of the seniors over this, was significant. Of course this level of audacity could not be maintained and eventually one of the seniors, I never learned who, stole my jacket. Since I couldn’t have the satisfaction of having managed to hold onto it, I worked very hard at never mentioning it depriving them of the satisfaction of my reaction. But I was really bummed out because I only got to wear it two or three times.
There were ridiculously good times laughing with people like Michelle, Teresa, Eunice and Kim. They were girls who seemed to giggle on demand, embracing laughter like a form of second breathing. I don’t know if it was nervousness or just finding everything hilarious, but if more people were like that the world would be a better place.
I was also part of a brass quintet that year. That was probably the best I ever was on the trombone. I played hard and practiced hard. We only played religious stuff and all of it music we played at churches but I loved it. This was also my first or second year in the bell choir. While I’ve rarely admitted that I was in a bell choir (I mean come on how unmanly is that), it was phenomenally fun. All the best people were in it: Josie, Ellen, Kisha, Kendra, Alycia, Gil. But even then music was something that I did mathematically, rhythm that I didn’t feel anywhere near inherently. I could never play the trombone parts of the Candian Brass stuff that said “improvise;” the lead trumpet Eliud would always have to write it for me. Adventists don’t have an official position about it, but they generally discourage dancing, presumably because it can be very sensual and this idea had been carried over too far by me (as it had by many Adventists) to only listening to only religious music. This position is of course absurd as even the Bible has a book that doesn’t mention God, and a book entirely about teaching boys how to be good lovers. God would be an intensely narcissistic deity if he just wanted to be worshipped all day and didn’t want people to have realms of reality. And since I have gone off on a tangent here, may I just tell you the old joke about why Adventists don’t have sex standing up: because it could lead to dancing.
A conservative religion can be bothered by much, some of it silly like dancing, and some of it far more severe like the other thing that happened one year. It was a shock to that entire school system when it was discovered that a significant happening had been occurring for months. Apparently someone had discovered that one of the boys’ room windows opened all the way (the windows were supposed to be fixed to where they only opened about six inches) and that one of the girls’ room windows also opened all the way. For several weeks, in the middle of the night, after both deans had gone to sleep, students were sneaking in from one dorm into the other. Undoubtedly some people used it do more than they should have, but I honestly believe that most just did it because they could get away with it. It had been going on for quite a while when at around 2:00 in the morning, Josie and Alycia woke me up one night. It’s a true testament to how well I had done staying away from girls that year that I didn’t know anything about it until shortly before it was found out. (People did tease that that the reason I stopped having girlfriends was because Jesse had graduated and now I didn’t know who to go after). When it was discovered, the school didn’t know quite what to do. Typically this would be an expellable offense but really, it was financially unrealistic to expel 30 to 40% of the student body. The staff ended up getting some farmer to agree to let all of these students work there for like a week or two, picking cotton or something similar as a sort of in school suspension. The story went around that someone had told on the group. Because they were caught shortly after Alycia and Josie visited me, dozens of people thought it was me. It wasn’t, and no one had the courage to ever say anything to me, but everyone was mad at me for a while for something I had nothing to do with.
There was another unhappy event that bothered me then, and still bothers me now. I was a resident assistant at the dorm that year. I could try to up sell it, but it was essentially a glorified hall monitor. It was a job that many people wanted because it consisted of sitting in the hall doing your homework and making sure everyone was in the proper room at night. It also consisted during the day of manning the lobby in case anyone needed anything. So it was essentially a job where you got paid to study and race in case anything came up. It was generally given to responsible people who the dean trusted and who trusted him. I was monitoring the hall when I came across a student who was about to smoke marijuana. This was my first encounter with the substance. We talked and prayed and discussed the dangers and sinfulness of it. Like many other things I’d never done, I was certain it was a way down a path of no good. The student actually acknowledged that he had a problem with drugs, and that he’d been trying to stop but that he didn’t have the courage to say anything to anyone about it for fear of losing the right to be at the academy. Where he had gotten it from as a dorm student, I honestly don’t know. In a sign of good faith, he said that he would give it to me and I promised that we would find him help.
Recognizing my ignorance towards this, I turned towards an adult I trusted, the dean Mr. Esquivel. Before telling him what had happened, I asked him to promise me that this would be used to help someone and not get them in trouble. He did so and then I told him what happened. Less than 48 hours later, the student was expelled. I don’t want to knock Mr. Esquivel because he was and is a gracious man who worked incredibly hard at helping students. He was a great mentor and father figure to hundreds of boys over the years. There may have been more to the story than I know, but I felt incredibly deceived. Esquivel’s rational in explaining the decision was that sometimes bad influences needed to be taken away. This idea of cutting off a foot to save a leg did not sit right with me then and does not sit well with me now when the leg has the choice of whether or not to let the foot infect it.
Anyway, there was intramurals where we played football and basketball and soccer. There was getting up 5:00 in the morning to run with Mr. Huff, a military man whose stern visage hid the fact that he was actually an incredibly kind man. Faith and fun were not mutually exclusive and often they just echoed each other. When I allowed myself to be human my faith was great, but when I thought that the pastor in me needed to be this image of perfection, I ran into trouble. Since I seem to be fading back into the form of the story, perhaps I should get back to it…