Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Best in All the West

You know, I generally think I’m fairly normal. At least that is my first impression of myself. However there is one part of me, I doubt is even in the forth or fifth outlier of normalcy. Sure there may be people who have experienced the same think, but I haven’t met them, and they may not exist. I have broken up with a building. That building was Blackfoot High School.

My love affair with Blackfoot High goes back to my earliest memories and before. The first house our family had in Blackfoot was on Fisher Street, directly across from the high school’s main entrance, and next door to the LDS seminary. I remember seeing those high school kids as they would leave school, or mess around at lunch. They were so old, so mature. They would park on the street in front of out home. In a picture album located in the study of my parents’ home is a picture of me at about two years old. The candid shot is taken from inside the house; I’m blissfully unaware of mother’s camera. I’m facing the high school, staring at it, and am naked from the waste down. Apparently it was more important for me to stare at the high school than to get clothed.

Mom and Dad share much of the blame for my infatuation with this school. They are both Blackfoot natives and high school sweet hearts. Mom was a cheerleader and Dad was the football and basketball star. Our young family would go to the football and basketball games after half time so we could get in for free. One special occasions such as when we played our arch rival, Snake River, we would go to the whole game.

Now there is something you must understand about sports in a small Idaho town before we go on. I didn’t even realize this was the case until I went to college. In small town Idaho, and many other small towns across the nation, the dedication to the sports programs rivals or surpasses the dedication college and professional teams have. In a small town, its pretty common for the only entertainment on a Friday night to be the football game. Going to a basketball game is a community event where you see neighbors, friends and community leaders. The local paper gives top billing to high school contests, and the radio broadcasts the play by play. The community rallies behind the school because it is the pride of the community; the school bares the community’s hopes, fears and name.

So it was in the Blackfoot High gymnasium, pack to overflowing, playing tag under the bleachers that I started to fall in love. When the pep band played the school song, I got chills down my spine, and when it ended with the refrain “we’re the best in all the west we’re Blackfoot High” I believed it. No one was better. We were sending our Broncos to do battle with the Idaho Falls Tigers, the Bonneville Bees, the Pocatello Indians, and the most hated Snake River Panthers. When we won, I was reaffirmed, when we lost the natural order of things had been upset.

As you can guess Blackfoot High is not a new school. Than again you can’t really put an age on it. The main building was built in the 1950’s, with major additions nearly every decade afterward. Possibly the most handicap unfriendly building in the world, it contains 23 staircases, some leading to a whole wing, others to the cramped weight room. To young Jake this building was a castle to be explored. I remember the smoking lounge right outside the men’s bathroom. Or the time I found the door unlocked to the rest of the high school and scampered around the multiple levels until some janitor caught me.

Well I grew, and went to Blackfoot schools. I always envied the letterman jacket wearing jocks when I’d see them around town. I couldn’t wait for the day I’d represent Blackfoot on the field of battle. I finally made it to middle school and was annoyed they had changed the school colors from green, the color of our high school, to blue. But they just didn’t understand the true order of things. Blackfoot was supreme, and the color was green.

The day finally came to enter Blackfoot High. I was a young freshman, and scared to death of all the traditions. The seniors could do whatever they wanted to you. We had pep rallies and assemblies put on by the coolest kids in the school, and my older brother was already doing battle on the field and court as a Bronco.

The SuperFans were a big part of Blackfoot athletics. They were an unofficial club dedicated to the supremacy of the Broncos. We would have 50-60 crazed fans at home games and 20-30 that would make the long drive for away games. My friends, Tagg, Ryan, and I joined our freshman year. We had our own set of chants, our own run ins with the administration, and at least one upper classman who was suspended from attending games after he mooned the entire opposing student section at the annual Blackfoot vs. Snake River basketball game. There were 30 games that year, and I lost my voice 30 times.

I can’t go into all everything about Blackfoot High, but I aged, and went from under classman to upper. Along the way I was elected Student Body Vice-President, my junior year, and Student Body President, my Senior Year. Student government was where I took things to a whole new level. I didn’t make the impact my brother did in sports, so I saw student government as a way to be a part of the school and leave a legacy. Jonny, my older brother was on the wall of fame for sports. When I was elected I made in on the hall of the presidents, where a picture showed each student body president dating back into the 1930’s

Tagg and I, along with a new friend, Clint were rabid supporters of the school. In our student government offices we work tirelessly against the administration, who didn’t have the vision of Blackfoot high. I remember the night we “repurposed” some Kelly green paint from the student government closest to paint the spirit rock of Snake River. I remember getting up at 3 in the morning to hang fliers on every locker in the school for my student body campaigns, and I remember the bonfires, pep rallies, and new activities we planned to make the school year awesome. We even planned the most successful senior sluff day in school history with 85% truancy. Blackfoot High School was my every breath, thought, and action. If I was doing something else, my mind was wandering to how we could make things even better.

Graduation came, and I went to college. But I didn’t really leave. I would come home on the weekends and attend games. People wondered why I was in the student section. I’d meet someone on the campus of Ricks College and immediately judge them based on what high school they attended. Really though I started to feel empty. I had spent my whole life waiting to be the upper classman with the letterman’s jacket. I’d achieved it, now it was over. What’s next? Every now and then I’d pop into my old school, but the sense of pride was replace by bitterness, old teachers and friends, wondered why I was hanging around. It was time to move on they would say.

But Blackfoot was me. It was my identity. I couldn’t let go.

It was a crisp winter night, before the snow had started to fall, but after the grass had become frosted. I drove my old Ford pickup in front of Blackfoot High. I walked up to the main entrance, passing the granite slab our class had gifted to the school, my name etched on the back. I stepped up, looked in the locked front doors. I could see my locker. I had given this school my unquestioned loyalty. I gave it my energy, busting my butt on the football field. I had given this school my sleep. I had never betrayed it. I was always trying to make it better, improve it. It had been the most important thing in my life. In return I had found meaning, status, and belonging. But that was gone now. No one at college cared that I had been student body president. No one cared I had started on the football team. At college my loyalty was ridiculed. It was a wedge between me and others.

I had been betrayed! Betrayed my the school I loved. For 19 years I had given it my heart, now in return I received nothing.

I yelled. I hit her my knuckles scrapping against the aged orange brick. The still air swallowed my cries. I told her what I thought of her. I had given her everything. Now she was silent. When I was finally worn out, I looked at her, waiting for the response. There was nothing. Silence. After all it was only brick.

Years went by. I spent several away from Blackfoot. I found other objects for my loyalty, BYU-Idaho, the Boston Celtics, but it was never the same. I never loved with the same fervor. I came to realize that the problem wasn’t really Blackfoot High, it was me. She had given me, memories of glorious victories and unjust defeats. She’d taught me about leadership, friendship, and plenty of knowledge. I had grown from insecure little boy, to big man on campus. I’d just never realized it had to end. I didn’t know it was time to move on.

I made up with Blackfoot High, oh sure we don’t have the same relationship we used to. But I see younger siblings go through her, having the same growth I did. I see my older brother coaching there, leading the mighty broncos to glory. And I see the same dedicated teachers, raising the next generation. I honor her for what she gave me, and what she continues to give Blackfoot, a place for the sons of Blackfoot to become men, and the daughters, women. A team the town can follow with pride, and one of my connections to youth. She isn’t my only love now, but I look back with fondness for what we had. It sure was quite a ride.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dark Voices

“I hate you--you worthless scum.  You ought  to die.  I don’t even know why you’re here.  You never accomplish anything.  All you do is sit there, sniveling, whimpering.  What are you a dog?  Well why don’t you say anything.  Piece of crap!” 

The acerbic voice yanked me from my dreams.  What was going on.  I tried to gather myself.  I turned to the right looking for my alarm clock.  Couldn’t find it. Turned left, oh there it is.  That’s right.  I wasn’t in the Missionary Training Center anymore.  I was in Marietta Ohio, my first night in the mission field.  I glanced over at Elder Goodwin, my companion.  He was still asleep.  I wasn’t surprised.  He hardly seemed to be the type that’d say such things.  Maybe I’d just dreamt, it.  No, that can’t be.  I’d been dreaming of my dog Spartacus, a fearless Pomeranian, jut before I’d woken up.  Man I missed Spartacus.  He’d always come and wake me up in the morning by pulling the socks off my feet, then barking in my ear until I got out of bed and took him to relieve himself.

Speaking of which I could use some relief.  I got out of bed, stubbing my toe on Elder Goodwin’s barbell. “Bananas,” I cursed under my breath. Glad to see I’d broken my habit of using harsher words and continued to the business room.  I didn’t hear the voice anymore that night, and quickly fell back to sleep. 

The next morning over a bowl of Luck Charms, I spoke with Elder Goodwin.  “Dude, I heard this crazy voice last night.”

“Elder, Don’t you mean Elder.”

“Well I don’t think it was an elder, you were asleep.”

“No, I mean we aren’t dudes out here.  We’re elders.”

“Whatever.  So tell me did the good Elder Goodwin happen to hear any voices whilst the elder  slept on  the elder’s bed?  Sir Elder.

He snorted his Fruit Loops.  “You’re such a dork.”

“Oh, so we can be dorks, but not dudes.  I don’t get it.”

I told him about it.  He hadn’t heard it and passed it off as a nervous greenie. We went through the day, spent most of it tracting.  But we did have a dinner appointment with Bill, the member that lived in the house above our basement apartment.  Bill was a bachelor, fresh out of college.  I was excited when I saw the pizza; Elder Goodwin didn’t see quite so excited.

“So what do you do Bill?”  I asked.  Elder Goodwin kicked me under the table.

“Oh I’m looking for a job right now.  The economy is pretty tight right now.  Its been hard to find anything.  Hope I do soon or I’ll have to move back into my parents.  Like anyone wants to do that.”

We moved on to other topics. Elder Goodwin made me provide the thought.  I shared Ether 12:27 and we left. 

Training with Elder Goodwin went very well.  He was a good elder with a strange sense of humor.  He never really talked about home, in fact whenever I would bring up my home, he’d just get quiet.

About four weeks later I was awoken with a thud. I groped for my clock.  It was 1 am.  I was sure the thud came from upstairs, Bill’s Apartment.

“You’re pathetic!”  Piece of Crap.  You don’t do anything right.” The venom poured down the air vent into our bedroom.  “Be a man.  Do something with your life.”

Then there was a second voice, answering the first.  It was weak, pleading, almost at the breaking point. “Leave me alone. I’m a good person.  Shut Up!”

“You, a good person?  You don’t have a job, you don’t have a girl friend; you’re going to live with mommy and daddy.  What value do you have? No one cares about you.  No one likes you.  You’re a worm, a sick little worm writhing on the sidewalk after a storm.  You have no shelter.  You are worse than nothing.  You suck the goodness out of things.”

“Shut up, people like me.  I have friends, I make people happy.”

“Oh really.  You must be talking about the old people at the bingo hall.  You really thing they care?  You really think they would notice if you were gone.  Can’t old Bob Wodskow  just go back to calling the numbers, or is that why you have the degree? Four years in school so you can give old ladies with crooked teeth a candy bar for blackout.  They can’t even eat it. “

I barely heard the next voice.  “I hate you.  I hate you so much.”  There was a thundering cacophony.  It sounded like miniature horses pounding in the ground.  It only lasted a few seconds. Then things were quiet.

I looked over at Elder Goodwin.  He was sitting up in his bed.  “We need to go up there.”

The door was locked, but Elder Goodwin quickly jimmied it with his debit card.  The lights were out as we crept into Bill’s apartment.  My heart was pumping.  Elder Goodwin was massaging his knuckles.  We worked our way through the house.  Entry way, study, kitchen.  Then we saw Bill.  Curled up in a ball at the bottom of the stairs. His muscles were convulsing.   I didn’t see any blood but his arm had an extra bend in it between the elbow and wrist.  We ran over to him.  “Bill are you ok?”  All he did was whimper.  I touched his shoulder, and he jumped.  Each breath shook his entire body.

“Who did this too you,” Elder Goodwin asked?

Bill just looked at us.  He wanted to say something, but couldn’t get it out.   Finally after stuttering he said, “Its kind of bad isn’t it”

“Yeah, we heard you yelling with the guy who was it?  Is he still here?”

“Sounded like he knew you?  What was he doing here?”

Bill looked away.  “ It was me.  I’ve been feeling really down lately,  not being able to get a job and all.  My brother told me I must not be motivated enough.  That I just needed to try harder.  I started to believe him.  So I’d try to get motivated by pointing out all the bad thing I’d done that day.  All the time I wasted.  All the mistakes I made talking to potential employers.  At first it seemed to help.  I used my time better.  But then I started finding more and more things that I was screwing up.  I thought I just needed more motivation, so I stated yelling.  When I started hitting myself I knew it was wrong, but I just couldn’t stop.  The dark voice in my head took on a life of its own.  Seeking out weaknesses from years ago.  Even turning the good things I did into insults. I wanted to stop it, but it is just so strong.  Its insidious.  It pops up just at the times I need confidence.  I don’t know how many opportunities I’ve thrown away because of this voice.  But I can’t stop it.  Whenever I’m alone, it is there.”

We gave Bill a blessing and got him a ride to the hospital.  After Bill got back he’d come down to our apartment for scripture study.  We didn’t hear any more voices in the night and Bill slowly got better.  By the time I left Mariettta six months later he had a job, sure it was at Wal Mart, but he seemed happy.