by Allison McCulloch
The man contradicted himself. He looked like a country boy that was finally beginning to grow old; his loss of hair was starting to appear very distinctly. He had a Master's degree in Biology, yet wasn't extremely intellectual, which makes me fear for the other kinds of teachers that might be out there. He tried to appear engaging in conversation, but most everything he said what against what I believed. So I could not take what ideas he tried to impart to me, even though I liked to be challenged. It was hard to listen to him, because he expected me to take everything he said as truth; I did not bother to try to convince him of my theories, because he was the type of man who was set in his ways. Yet I could hear him saying the opposite of what I was thinking.
"If you prove something to me," he paused, then emphasized, "scientifically, then I will change my mind. I am open-minded. There is nothing worse than a hardheaded person."
Here is where he contradicted himself. He was not being open-minded and he was opposed to what I had to say. He said I could not prove my theory, but he could not prove his.
I believe in a young earth.
"Radiometric dating disproves the young earth theory. Each layer represents millions of years," he said.
"But how do you know that each layer represents millions of years."
"It takes a long time for the rock to be deposited. Each layer represents millions of years," he said.
"How do you know? Who taught you? Prove it."
"The system is very advanced. Professionals know these things."
Even though he did not possess any evidence, he thought he had the right to tell me that I was wrong. If I had no evidence, he would not ever let me be right. So whether the earth is young or old is a mystery. There are theories, but no facts. I wonder if it matters. If it does, I'm sure there are other things more important.
I usually don't read any other section of the newspaper, save for the entertainment. There is no bad news in that section (with the exception of a review of bad album), but there is news of where performers I just might like are going to appear. But the next morning I read the front page for some reason. An angry columnist spoke of how an innocent man was almost put to death for the conviction of killing two young men. This matters. But somehow it was pushed to the very back part of the newspaper. This man had spent almost sixteen years in jail, thought guilty. Truth is hard to come by. How did they not know this man was innocent? What about the other people on death row who are innocent? Why was the truth not found in time for them? But is that man really innocent, McLachlan? Had he ever wished death upon a person that he deeply despised? Wouldn't that man like to kill the aggravator, accomplishing some sort of justice?
I looked at the wall with my face bearing an odd look of partly wonder and partly amusement.
"What are you staring at?" asked a jealous voice. It did not sound jealous, but essentially it was. It may have only sounded like my mother, concerned to inquire to see if her daughter is sane. She knows if I say nothing, she will have to think I am insane. Perhaps she does already. But if I tell her what I am thinking about, she will obviously have no interest. "Why are you looking at the wall?" she repeated. What is worse, though of as insane or rejected?
Rejected. "I don't know," I answered.
I have flirted with the idea of suicide since I was nine. Yet I knew that better things were to come. At nine, however, I perceived suicide in a different way than I presently do. Nine's mind knew it was wrong; nine could not destroy a gift that had been given. The idea of suicide began to evolve in my mind as things grew worse. Would it not be easier to run from pain? However, I did contemplate that it might be more painful to commit suicide and not succeed. Yet I had heard stories of men who are perceived to be successful because of their job, family, and money, but are empty inside and utter failures. So what then, is success? Kindness is success. Touching the lives of others is successful. I did have a selfish thought though: what would I do to make myself successful? Maybe success depends on what I could or would do, but chance also plays a part. Even things that are planned can be failures. But there is a requirement of the chance that there is a Greater Plan that will help achieve success.
So it does not help when you are fifteen, awaiting what good there is to come, yet contemplating suicide, and a science teacher (oh yes, it's always a science teacher) decides to rationalize suicide. This particular man taught high school chemistry. He was tall and old (seventy in fact) and very serious, and happened to be a preacher; he led several funeral services for people who had committed suicide, so he explained how he felt about the matter.
First, he explained his belief in God's mercy. "I don't believe He would send someone who was in so much pain that he committed suicide, to hell."
I was resistant to mercy and to the rationalization of suicide. I would like to believe that mercy would cover my pain. But I could not. I held onto life, though in reality it was a slow death.
"Sometimes you just have to get away. I had nothing going for me at home, so I came here," said Marlene, a transplant from Ohio to Tennessee. "I have nothing going for me here either, but hey, it's a change." Marlene loved to talk, was adventurous, and daring. She brought life just by her prescence and always had an exciting story to tell.
But I could not leave like Marlene had. I stayed. I stayed, because I was foolish and selfish. I was foolish, because, because I would not take a risk to escape what was tearing me down; I was selfish because I did not want to suffer any. I would take the money that was promised to me so I could get through college. But what then? Would I completely turn my back on my parents? I wanted to.
I wanted to be like Marlene: only hundreds of dollars in the bank, moving to a foreign state bound to succeed. Money is the root of all evils. How was it affecting me? It was forcing me to stay in a bad situation. Yet I did not want to go into debt. I was taught that debt was the last thing you wanted to get into, and how accumulative interest was.
There is not always happiness, but there is relief. I knew a couple named the Manens. They were a great relief to me. Georgie Manen (that was the wife) would have a conversation with me, but then all of a sudden pull my arm and pull out one of her Merton books and say, "Listen to this," very imperatively. She would proceed to read English words, but as a whole, the concepts and ideas were utterly foreign to me. I could not understand them. But Georgie would keep reading the passages, and they slowly made sense to me. They were about mercy and rain and revelation.
Mr. Manen, "Palapeta", as we all called him, was more challenging. He would just throw something completely off the wall at you. Nothing should be put into writing. Then you were expected to answer him. But as you were doing so, he would throw something else at you. I have been duplicitous. I would like to have taken all of the interviews with the newspapers back if I could. (He was a politician and that is why his opinions were recorded in the newspapers.) First, I made a mental note to look up duplicitous in the dictionary. Then I wondered if I should respond to what he had said, or if I should change the subject.
Though both the Manens were completely different from me, I loved them. Ordinary people did not have such stirring conversations or make such interesting visits for their guests.
It almost seems that logic doesn't need to exist. We all have our own way of doing things. We all disagree, or rather, we simply do not agree on everything. Even if we have a set of ideas, they will probably evolve and change. Is total agreement possible? Questioning logic did not drive me to the thought of suicide, but jealousy, greed, and unkindness. I never seriously considered suicide, but I did contemplate it. It was there; it was an option.
An ordinary person said, "Suicide is selfish. It is an attempt to make those who are living feel bad."
No. A wiser person said, "People want to commit suicide because that is the only way they think they can escape from the darkness of their pain. Not only do those people know that all is vanity and grasping for the wind, but they are faced with utter despair."
But I knew that God would bring me through.
Yet there was jealousy. My mother was jealous of my free time, so she set me to work, giving me responsibility. This was not so I would know how to handle it, but so I could not waste it. If I wasted time, something she could no longer do, I would be taking it for granted, and it was something I did not realize. So I needed to be made to realize work, stress, and burden, and be torn from the mindset of sweet simplicity and doing nothing and being bored. So I inherited jealousy.
Then there was greed. Early on, it was expected that I reach higher than I could possibly attain. A need for money. Money was prestige, and prestige was honor. Make a name for yourself.
Then there was unkindness which I received that almost made me want to rebuke greed and jealousy, or die. Unkindnesses were bestowed upon me: direct obscenities, punishments in anger, feelings of condescending superiority, constant sexual conversation, hearing hateful words about the people you dearly loved, and the denial of it all.
If I ever was innocent, innocence has passed. All I ever wanted when I was five was to chew as much gum as I wanted when I grew up; all I ever want now is kindness. It might have been a severe mercy to have had a cruel childhood. I would now be extremely careful in choosing a husband, if I ever did. It would be terrible to have wonderful parents, yet to be naive and think everyone was wonderful, marrying a man who would only give me hell for the rest of my life. I'd be a naive Marie Antoinette asking for cake, when I was doomed. Maybe it was better for me to have hell as a child, and to have a happier life later on. I believed I'd have a happier life, and that is why I am still hanging on.
This story is kind of true, but some names and situations have been changed. But if a character resembles someone you are familiar with, hey it just might be that person.