Saturday, July 5, 2014

Day 238 - June 26th

Chatom, AL

There were no official chores today so I took off with John and we picked up Lenzie, Lily and Victoria. This was a new group and a new dynamic and it took a while to figure it out. Lenzie and John were the center, their magnetic personalities directing the actions of our little group. I’m usually on the edges—you get a better view of the middle that way—while making regular incursions to the social center. Lily floated inbetween. I found a friend in Victoria on the quieter fringe. She recently moved back to Alabama from Oregon and I think it was taking her a little time to adjust to the more hyper atmosphere that her old friendships had developed. We bonded over this quietness whenever the social situation became a bit overwhelming.

We hung out at The Camp for a while before driving out to Gina’s house. In Ethan’s room, Storm, Lily, Victoria and I dueled in Call of Duty: Ghosts, a first-person shooter video game for the n00bs who aren't in the know. My most intense matchups resulted between me and Storm and they left me with an insane level of adrenaline. There’s nothing more arresting and nerve-wracking than facing off with a single opponent but I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of trying to outwit and outplay another person to victory. We ended up going 2-1 in Storm’s favor. 

Gina came home then and I joined her in the kitchen. The rest of the gang was outside enjoying the cooler weather but I stuck around because I hadn’t seen much of Gina due to her job. As Gina prepared dinner, I listened to her confide some of her concerns and her hopes about the new job she's applied for. It’s a university teaching job with a shorter commute, great insurance and tuition credits for her and the kids. Gina is also pursuing her college education again so the credits would be especially helpful. The interview went well and she’s expecting to hear from them next week. I really hope she gets it. She deserves the release of pressure it would bring. 

I took my food outside with Victoria, Storm and Lily. The other kids were off somewhere and Abby had a summer class. I wasn’t really saying all that much, just happy to be cool and outside when Storm and Lily started saying some troubling things. I don’t want to repeat them here but the overall bent of the conversation was racist and hearing this sent a shock through my system. For some reason I can justify racism in adults who grew up in a different era but hearing such things from modern kids broke my heart. I tried to correct them and said “You’re wrong to think that” but the futility of my words was all too clear to me. A cloud of despair settled over head. How are we supposed to improve the world when the young people who are going to compose it think like the old generation? Victoria sensed my unhappiness and she understood why and I was grateful to her for that. 

As the day drew to a close, it was time to drop off Victoria, Lenzie and Lily. We piled into John’s car and arrived at Lenzie’s house where I met her mom Miss Kathy and her stepdad Trip. Miss Laura, Victoria’s and Lily’s mom, was also there and we ended up having a second dinner! Lenzie’s little brother Aiden, remembering me from the few times we’d met before, leaped at me and gave me as big a hug as he could muster. He ordered me to carry him around and run about the yard and I complied with a “Yes sir!” In response he gave me a kiss on the arm and said "I love you!" Hilarious and touching sums it up.

John and I drove back to Grammy’s house where Abby had returned after her class. We went down to the den again to hang out. I asked them about their highschool and this opened up a ton of stories, all of which were both funny and a little troubling, although it wasn't the time or place to feel troubled. I found the actions of the teachers to be the most comically ludicrous. In physical education, John and his classmates were given straws to put in their mouths then told to march about the gym while breathing only through the straws. This was to demonstrate what it’s like for people with lymphoma. Another teacher tasks students with preparing his coffee before he arrives to class—with a finger or two of whiskey. In exchange, he gives those students 100% on the next test. The Ag class sounds as though they learn nothing about agriculture. In fact, the students and teacher might only smoke cigarettes and day drink! There is also a Skills class but I'm not entirely sure what that means.

What surprised me most was the institution of corporal punishment. Teachers are allowed to paddle students! Each of them gets their own paddle and several of them have customized it by engraving their names or having students they've punished sign them. One teacher even drilled holes in his to lighten it and minimize air resistance so he could distribute licks swiftly and painfully! At this point my mouth was hanging open and John and Abigail delighted in my shock. To them this is a completely trivial and normal part of the everyday happenings of the Washington County Highschool. 

The shenanigans of their fellow students were so numerous and outrageously funny I began to gather the impression that Southern youth present a pristine, celibate Christian persona to their parents and society while beneath this calm surface rages their real life of turmoil, sex, and confusion. Now, this is possibly not much different than most teenagers everywhere but here, for some reason, the stories and the actions in them sound so much bigger to me. I wonder if the parent’s extra intolerance of “devious” behavior doesn’t add and contribute to the scale and wildness of these teenage outbursts; the kids are forced to conceal and repress almost everything they are struggling to comprehend. They know they'll receive punishment instead of guidance. So many behaviors are outlawed by their conservatively religious parents and the judgmental society of a small town and some of the disciplinary measures they come up with sound completely overbearing, if not slightly insane. Thankfully, many kids of the South excel at miming exemplary Christian behavior for the benefit of their oblivious parents! Teenage rebellion lives on and I love it. Kids are supposed to undermine the rule of their parents. But I do worry. Regardless of the reasons why, I find myself always siding with the kids. I want them to be alright.

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