Episode 7 - Smile

Episode 7 - Smile

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Episode 7 - Smile

This week Julian finds an essay about the small graces extended by strangers. In this divorced father's essay he talks about his difficult childhood, his early life homelessness, his history of bullying and a moment of thoughtless kindness or "lollipop moment" that helped him in a moment of need. 

Today's song was "Farewell" by Reeder licensed under Creative Commons 3.0 Share-alike License. Today's featured song is from their album "It is the Nature of Dreams to End". Find Reeder on Twitter. Find this song and all their albums on their Bandcamp here.

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Transcript: Episode 7 - Smile

Works of Love is a RoseCraft Production.

Julian: This is "Works of Love: The Podcast" I'm Julian Silver.  "Works of Love" is a meditation on a theme through listener submitted personal essays, that theme? Love, the possession of and loss of it. Today's essay is from Grant Haigh from Albuquerque, New Mexico. His essay is entitled, “Smile”.

Julian (Narration): My son is nothing like me. When the ice cream truck comes round the apartment complex on my weekends with him he lets all the smaller kids ahead of him and patiently waits. He’s gentle, thoughtlessly kind.  

The kid takes after his mother. She’s a mighty fine woman.

At times I wish we were still together.

But I wasn’t a good man to her. I have too much of my father in me. My ex had to teach me how to be a good man and eventually I learned. Shame I only put it into practice after she’d gone.  

We see each other on my weekends with the boy. As our son is getting his weekender bag her new husband and I talk basketball and he brags about him nearly as much as I do.

He’s a good man.

Maybe he had to be taught too.

The boy does have my eyes--golden-green, unusually striking in the late afternoon light. The biggest difference is his are alert, mine suspicious.He didn’t grow up afraid like me.

He is not afraid. I still am.

There are times I’ll startle awake in a cold sweat because the neighbor’s working in his garage and a piece of metal slapped down on the wooden bench or some other loud bang. In that instant crack of sound I’m a boy again. My girlfriend laying beside me but I am not me. I am that boy whose father comes home loud and mean after a series of nights when he was absent and things were peaceful. The familiar terror of  my childhood windows bowing in and out, rattling in the ways trees shake and shiver in the breeze.

But I don’t want to get lost in all that.

My girlfriend sent me a video. Lollipop moments. A moment where some small thing you do creates a large impact in someone else.

I’ve created one in  my nephew who is now in his mid-twentiess. Tall, strong, cut from God’s own wood. Years ago I made a diagram demonstrating how vinyl records work. He’s mostly oblivious to music but whenever he sees an LP he thinks of me. Thinks of the joy of acquiring knowledge. Of an older brother type paying special attention to him.

I don’t remember the moment. I talk enough that most of what I say doesn’t matter. But I want this to.

I want to acknowledge something minute but vital. Something which the person who did the action cannot possibly remember having done this small, good thing. A time when someone committed a thoughtless act of kindness.

. Like I said, I’m not a good man, or I wasn’t. But I had signposts before my ex gave me an education.

I moved out/was kicked out of my childhood home at sixteen.

The reason? Arithmetic. My mother loved my father. My father loved himself.

And I just so happened to also live there until I didn’t.  

So I slept in my car and showered in my high school locker room. I was good at hiding my circumstance but not my anger.

Surprisingly clean socks are enormously important to a feeling of well-being. But the weeks went by and those turned into months. I started getting a reputation as the smelly kid. My counselor panted like a dog when she had to give me a talk about hygiene. Being given a take-home diagram of a sexless male body with the armpits, genital area, neck, and feet circled as a cheat sheet to cleanliness does not alleviate shame.

Before homelessness, school had been about being invisible except to the girls I desperately liked. Well, after homelessness they noticed me. Noticed me and knew me by my smell and were repulsed.

A typical day consisted of doing homework in the library. Changing into my work uniform in the bathroom. Going to work where I’d spritz myself with a new different cologne each day from the samples. Then grabbing a bite at a fast food place, and closing the day by searching for a parking spot where some rent-a-cop on his minimum wage patrol wouldn’t kick me out. Then to wake up early enough to get to the showers, diligently scrubbing the circled areas on my hand-out and stuff my feet into disintegrating shoes where my formerly-white-now-browns sock peeked through the worn rubber.

My fortune was I was tall and broad and knew how to create fear in smaller, weaker kids. It was good, it felt good to extract that fear from someone. It felt good to stare at Jeremy Wilcox during Ms. Acosta’s class and watch him skitter out of the room as soon as the bell rung.

I enjoyed breaking the imaginary world of the indoor-kids-forced-outside playing Magic: the Gathering. To hear their momentary silence and nervous whispers as I walked by.

Senior year, still homeless, still tired, still poor, still angry. But my reputation had grown. And the nerdy lowerclassmen were easy pickings and they whispered my gospel, spreading my name amongst themselves like meerkats alerting the colony.   

And then there was Jay Gallup. Scrawny and shaped into a question mark when he had his book bag on.When I tried to scare him he immediately dropped his bag and puffed out his chest like an adolescent rooster learning its call. When I called him a nerd, his literal reply was “I know you are but what am I?” And though I laugh now, he said it with such a fury that I didn’t press my luck.

He was on my radar, however, life intruded and I couldn’t focus on the target of my intimidation. Perhaps if I were in a better situation I would’ve learned his dad was a captain in the navy. Or that Jay Gallup had been training in Krav Maga for four years. However, if my situation were better I doubt I would’ve needed to rain down my anger on other people.

And then it happened. In spring the economy tanked and work let me go and when I tried to get a Big Mac my account was overdrawn. That night I was woken up at 3am by a security guard who’d recently graduated from my school. His little brother a jock who I’d had scuffles with in the past and was sure to learn about my situation. The security guard held his nose as he told me I couldn’t stay in the parking lot. So I parked my car by train tracks and couldn’t fall asleep until morning and when I’d woken up I’d already missed my first two classes.

I arrived to third period sleep-deprived and angry.  

At lunch I found some uneaten food on top of the trash bin and snatched it then sat at a table alone. LIttle did I know Jenny Koop had seen the whole thing and watched in horror before whispering frantically to her friends who turned and laughed.

I could still hear them as I skulked towards the nerds.

I wanted their blood on my knuckles. I wanted someone else to hurt. Just for a moment.


I chose the heaviest one and got in his face. First I snatched one of his cards and tore it to pieces in front of him. Then I told him he was disgusting, he made me want to puke, no one loved him.  

It wasn’t until I’d grabbed him by the collar that I’d heard another voice: Jay Gallup. A very cold, “Stop it.” His voice cracking between words. Wheeling around on him he looked ridiculous. Fourteen years old and whisper thin. He gave up ten inches and fifty pounds to me.

I hoped my laugh covered my uncertainty. When I went to shove him, he moved quick as a hiccup and suddenly I was on the ground. A sharp pain in my back.

“Say you’re sorry,” Jay Gallup said.

I cursed him.

His knee went harder on my spine.

“Say it.”

I screamed my anger and frustration.

Cooly once again, “Apologize and say you’ll never come back and I’ll let you go.”

Near tears I finally relented and true to his word Jay let me up.

Now this is the part of the story where I tell you Jay letting me up set me on my path. But that isn’t the case. I’m certain Jay remembers that moment near as well as I do. So it doesn’t count as a lollipop moment.

No, after being released and scurrying away like a scalded dog I reached a level of anger I didn’t think possible. But now that I couldn’t bully the indoor kids who was there?

The developmentally disabled.

I’m not a monster.

But I wanted to be.

The bungalows at the edge of school is where the developmentally disabled classes were centered. But you could smell it a good fifty feet away. Sharp and overripe. Cereal milk left out too long.

Walking towards them they acted like elementary school kids. Giddy, chatty, playing as much as their bodies allowed instead of pretending to be cool. The first one within range of me was a short latino. His joints bent into sharp, painful  angles. He was standing, his wheelchair not more than a foot away. His head up, eyes closed, feeling the breeze against the parts of his body which were normally shaped and folded by sitting in the chair.

I looked to him with humiliation, poverty, murder, and hate.

He opened his eyes and did something I’ll never forget: he smiled.

The most genuine smile I’d seen until my wife got to hold our newborn son for the first time. He saw my anger, my rage, my hate of him and took in that gaze and was glad. Was glad of everything.

This big grin with space between the incisors and premolars. This happiness despite the life he’d been given. This joy to be standing with the breeze and to share a moment with someone, despite my intentions.

He smiled and I shook and went to the bathroom and cried. I came to fifth period late because I couldn’t pull myself together. I couldn’t find what I’d been feeling.

After class I went to my counselor and told her my situation.

She worked with me, got me in the system, helped guide me to a temporary home. An elderly African American couple. Very Christian, very kind.

They helped me solidify my grades, made certain I had clothes and food. Reminded me I didn’t have to do everything alone.  

I took my boy to visit and they’re even older now but looked so proud of his kindness, his curiosity. Took pride in the qualities that make him him. And for me being able to create someone so unlike myself.  

Combing through old yearbooks I look for the boy. Jay Gallup is easy enough to find but not the boy who smiled at me. Not the one who in a moment prevented me from doing something I’m not certain I’d ever recover from.

I hope he is well.

I hope he knows at that moment he was one of the angels.

I doubt it, but I hope for it anyway.

Julilan: And that was “Smile” by Grant Haigh.

When I was young I wanted to change the world. I suspected I would die at twenty-seven like Kurt Cobain and that I would also be a rock star. My genius so overpowering the hordes would submit to it and cheer my greatness which would resound through history. After my band broke up these dreams narrowed. I found journalism. I found my partner Rudy. Together we were going to deliver the truth and the truth would change the world and people would recognize our greatness. Silver & Ruiz would displace Woodward & Bernstein.

Now nearly forty, I don’t think I’ll change the world. I sincerely doubt The Economist will carry my obituary. But I’ve made peace with that. One time as Coraline and I were idling in our backyard we got to talking about the end. She was a believer in some afterlife, that there is something more to this world. I have my suspicions that life is  one extended joke you don’t ever hear the punchline to .

I asked her what she hoped happened after she died. She wanted to be buried under the trees, her body allowed to decompose so she could help feed them, be an aid to life after she’d left it.

I think of that often. To encourage life.

Perhaps I can’t change the world, but maybe, just maybe I’ll make someone’s life a little better if even for a moment. Isn’t that enough?

And listener, I hope during whatever trials come for you, that there is thoughtless act kindness to encourage you when you most need it.

This is Works of Love, I’m Julian Silver.