Middle school came and went without acclaim. I was overweight and sweat in class during the afternoons, much to my embarrassment. I found comfort in the school basketball courts and at the end of lunchroom tables, not a smooth talker with girls like Andy and Drew and Alex. Not a talker at all, really.
I lost 50 pounds during the summer from junior high to high school. Most people did not recognize me, even friends I had known my entire life. My confidence, however, did not surface after my transformation. It was long voided by the bouncing insults thrown my way when I was overweight. Jabs at my belly and a Pilsburry Dough Boy WooHoo every now and then by kids, mostly Jay Williams. In walks to Andy’s house after elementary school, Jay was there. In passes around Tevis when Andy and I walked to Sing Lum, Jay was there. In seventh grade while in the pool at Cody’s birthday party with girls all around me Jay was there making fun of everything I was.
And it hurt.
Maybe still does, a little.
High school found me like this. A shell of a thing in social settings. A kid who wore t-shirts when swimming. A freshman warned not to buy the elevator pass to the non-existent pool on the top of Warren Hall. A fourteen-year-old holding a schedule on the first day of high school with HISTORY and ADAMS, JEREMY listed next to 1st Period.
Mr. Adams’ class was located at the top of Harvey Auditorium. I am home to ghosts and footprints and grains of the 77′ dust storm it would say if walls could talk. The classroom was remarkable. High ceilings produced lofty echoes. A glass case, filled with books and maps and globes and things history classes should be filled with, separated two chalkboards in the front of the class. Everything was stoic. A combination of chalk dust, broken sunlight dazzling like firework flakes, and the invisible sands of 77′ coated the room in a cloud of nostalgia. And the wide, spanning windows ushered in the air and the shadows of the large tree in the courtyard changing colors for autumn, reflecting my own transformation in its green leaves that gave way to oranges and yellows and reds as the tree grew wiser into the season.
Mr. Adams is the focal piece of it all, poised like a statue. A young man fresh from the jungle of college, ready to take our minds to intelligible heights. He is wearing glasses which instantly give him a professors wisdom and is sitting on a stool in the middle of us all. I take a seat and look around the room, waiting for the first day of high school to begin. The tardy bell rings and Mr. Adams, who has been silent up until the ringing, springs from his desk all animated and energetic, enthralled in his teachings and the riveting words of literary minds.
He comes to expect commitment and honest effort from us. At first I complete homework assignments so he will not give me the I’m disappointed in you look he has come to master. I have seen the most lethargic of students shape up under that gaze. It produces effort out of us, an honorable counterpart to Medusa’s stony stare. But as the weeks become months become how is summer already here I learned to excel not for Mr. Adams but for myself.
He taught us more than history lessons. He taught us work ethic and personal drive, traits vital to my growth as a student and a person. Like Mr. Adams dressing in costume to give his lessons that extra bit of spark, I learned to dress my ambition with earnestness and playfulness, because to be serious in life you need to understand the comedic parts and find laughs in them. If I had seen Dead Poets Society by now I would have stood on my desk and cried “O Captain! My Captain!” before leaving his classroom for summer and sophomore year.
When high school came to an end, and my relationship with my first girlfriend came to an end, I found myself in college contemplating the road which brought me there. The important pieces flared up in memory and maybe that is when I first uncovered my desire to become a writer. To document the important pieces in life.
When I read Walden for the first time, and Leaves of Grass for the first time, and learned what writing truly meant and how beautifully it could be interpreted in words, I found the earnestness in me again, the feeling to overcome my own Medusa’s stare and make something out of my passion for writing. I felt like a kid again in the wooden desks of Mr. Adams’ room and finally understood that it wasn’t the history lessons or knowledge of the Greeks or Egyptians or Napoleon that led me to UC Santa Barbara. It was the simple day-to-day transformations I went through. It was the comedy and seriousness and mind-changing discussions Mr. Adams threw our way in the rundown halls of Harvey Auditorium that increased my desire to go to college and continue my education for myself and no one else.
And as I sat, one of five hundred packed into the confines of a college classroom with a professor barely audible, barely moving from my vantage point, like a sleepy text-book waiting to be returned to the library, I silently thanked Mr. Adams for teaching me that knowledge does not come from a talking teacher, that it comes from my ability to breathe it in and make sense of it all, my ability to write the world my favorite color.