The Beautiful Literal Truth:
There’s this thing when people say “reach for the stars,” but those same people, you’d never find them standing alone one night out in the far countryside with their arms outstretched to the night time sky.
No, that would be weird. They talk about the reaching, but they wouldn’t ever actually do it because it’s weird.
Dad used to say it’s a metaphor.
But me I’m done with metaphors.
You see I got so sick and tired of metaphors by the end of High School that I put not a single one of them in my end-of-year creative. That lost me a whole heap of marks and my English teacher Mr. Grayson pulled me up in front of the class.
“You’re a smart kid,” Mr. Grayson said. He used to say that to everyone, even the really dumb kids that everyone knew were really dumb. But when he emphasised the smart, like that time with me, you knew he really didn’t mean it at all. He meant you were the dumbest kid in the world. He was just too polite to say it.
I got about a fifty on the creative, so I could tell for sure he was lying to me that time.
Anyway, he told me I was a smart kid – he said that to me at eighteen, called me a kid – that got me all kinds of annoyed.
Then he said, “You need to appreciate the beauty of language. Picture yourself as a young tiger out on the planes, striking out in a pack of Shakespeares and Dantes.”
Dante is this really old poet, from the renaissance – and yeah, he literally said that to me, like he was quoting a speech from Saving Private Ryan.
He was using all kinds of metaphors on me and I was scared that they’d get into my brain and I wouldn’t be able to get them out again. I literally wanted to slap him in the face. And I mean that. Now I’m not a violent guy – I hate violence – but Mr. Grayson was a real grey-son-of-a-bitch and the way he smirked at me like he knew all the secrets of the universe drove me crazy.
Anyways, what I’m getting at is that I disliked metaphors a great, big deal.
And so I could say something like – that particular summer I found perfection in the wild or that I got in touch with myself or that I found ‘me’ or any other kind of green-light fairytale Gatsby crap.
But the truth of it is -and I’m not even joking here- I was literally hit in the head with the beauty of nature… and that’s how my summer began.
But first I have to tell you about a plan.
See after Mr. Grayson called me smart my parents sent me to remedial English class. There were only three weeks left before my final exams and about four weeks before summer and my parents wanted me to become a doctor or lawyer or a pencil-pusher, so I had to work super hard to get super good marks, super quickly; or else.
My parents did ask me which of the three I wanted to become – and I chose pencil-pusher cause it sounded more interesting than the other two, but then I found out it meant government employee, and that government employees were all sad and restless and worked in the same job for about 40 years a piece.
(I tend to get sidetracked a lot so I apologise cause you’re probably old and grouchy and reading this. Probably a government employee and I just insulted your career. Damn, that makes me feel like a complete jackass. You know that, right? It’s just I read this book once called The Castle and it said all government employees were sad and restless and lonely.)
So my parents sent me to remedial English class and I met this girl called Mindy who was so swell it hurt my insides.
“I want to see the whole wide world out there,” Mindy would say, looking out the window like her eyes could travel – erm, like her eyes could see out windows.
See this is the problem with metaphors – they’re bloody hard to avoid using all the time – it’s why I should’ve got a good mark on my creative. It takes work to avoid using them.
“I want to see the whole wide world,” Mindy would say.
Mindy was all doe-eyed beautiful.
“I want to never see a classroom again,” I would say.
Mindy would turn to me and smile. Our dreams aligned, and aligning dreams are like shooting stars dancing together in the – oh for god’s sake.
So, I hatched this plan that Mindy and I would abandon our final exams.
I told her, “Oh Mindy I love ya darling, let’s run away from these awful exams and go to some place nice. I can think of a great many places.”
“Oh Tom, forever a yes,” she would swoon and say.
You get the picture.
The plan was that we would leave in the middle of our final English exam, right in the middle of it when everyone was still writing. We would leave together and it would be this great poetic moment.
So poetic that Mr. Gray-son-of-a-bitch and my parents and everyone else would be so sorry for ever putting us into that stupid remedial English class to begin with.
We would go down in history as les poets extraordinaire.
Bursting across the sky like… like…
Anyways, I wrote to my parents telling them that I’d won this trip to Disneyland and that I’d have to leave immediately after my English exam and that they shouldn’t worry too much about it. I wrote to my dad – cause my dad buys everything I say, and decided to leave my mum out of it, cause she’d question me too much about it.
Dad wrote back, the classic, “No worries. Good luck for the exam.”
And all was set in motion.
Now I’m not exactly terrible at English. Maths was always my worst subject. It’s just that the metaphors get to me. It’s just that you have to like metaphors. There’s not an option. I’d love an option – with an option, I might even get to like them- but nope, not an option.
So the first idea of my big plan was to acquire these speakers. These giant speakers I’d heard about. Mindy knew a guy all the way out in Homebush who worked at this giant electronics store and crossed as a bass player on the weekend.
We called him up and he’s like, “Yup, Sam here.”
“Sam, this is Mindy’s good friend Tom,” I said to him.
I regretted that instantly cause it implied Mindy and I were just friends but by then we’d already started sleeping together and I thought it might be awkward cause Sam could take an interest in Mindy and then even over the phone I’d have to be backflipping and saying no-actually Mindy and I are in this great relationship together and we’re gonna get married even and it’s gonna be great and you can get an invite if you like Sam it’s just we haven’t organised anything yet so we’ll have to get back to you when we create the invitations and when we set the date and all that and yeah, thanks Sam cya later, thanks for the call. Bye.
The problem is I actually said all of those things and then I hung up so we had to call him again.
“Hello, Sam speaking?”
“It’s Tom again.”
“What’s the deal Tom? I get you’re with Mindy. Is that why you called?”
“No, no,” I said, “We need a set of speakers.”
Sam was receptive and said he’d send us his own set but he wasn’t sure if they’d get to us in time. It was only about a week till the exam by then.
That got Mindy and I all worked up and Mindy wanted to drive all the way over to Sam’s house and pick them up for herself but I said “no way Mindy no it’ll take too long and we’ve got to study for the rest of our exams.”
And she said “By god, you’re right Tom. You’re so sensible you’re like my rock in shining armour.”
That got me all worked up and I told Mindy not to use metaphors on me.
She promised, but I wasn’t quite sure she meant it, cause she said she crossed her heart and hoped to die, and I doubt she really expected to die after saying it so I suspected that she was using a metaphor on me there too.
The day of the English exam came but Sam’s speakers were nowhere in sight. I called him up right then and there. Mindy and I were standing outside the exam room, all eyes at each other, but worried because the speakers weren’t there.
“Yup, Sam here,” he said.
I was about to say that whole thing where I told him I’m Mindy’s “good friend” and all that, but then I stopped myself because I remembered what happened and what a mess that had made of our chat.
“The speaker’s aren’t even here yet Sam,” Mindy said, grabbing the phone from me before I could speak.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to send them, sorry,” he said.
That drove us both crazy.
“Sam, you promised,” Mindy said, and she was about to burst into tears and everything.
“Look don’t worry,” I told Mindy, “I know this guy on the school band, maybe he can get us some speakers.”
“But we’ve only got 30 minutes,” Mindy said faintly.
We hung up on Sam because he sucks – and ran towards the auditorium, where the school band was set up. There, amidst the cacophony of screeches and whining instruments, we dug up a pair of speakers so large that it took the two of us all of our strength just to move them an inch. Enlisting the help of the flutists and saxa-phonies and drummers, we moved them – lifting them and marching them through the school to our English exam room. And with their help – we placed the speakers inside the room in this alcove.
The birds were all a-tweeting and squeaking and one sounded like it had something lodged in its throat – it didn’t sound pretty in the slightest.
Anyway, the speakers were all set up and we were in the exam room –Mindy and I- pretending to write when the music faintly began playing. It was barely audible at first, but soon developed into this nice big rumble.
First there was this guitar rift, repeating on and on and then a few drumbeats.
And then before long…
As the music was turning up and the desks began shaking and shivering, and the teacher looked around in wonder as to where the music was coming from (we’d hid the speakers in the alcove pretty darn well under this blanket and everything).
“We don’t need no education.”
Mindy and I smiled at that – that was our cue.
“We don’t need no thought control… Teacher! Leave them kids alone.”
And with Pink Floyd playing loudly, rumbling so loud that no one could concentrate on anything; Mindy and I got up and left, never to be seen by Grade 12 English Remedial 101 ever again.
So now we get to the start of summer where nature literally slapped me in the face.
You see – as I was leaving the exam room, some giant fern outside literally attacked me. Well not literally. Oh shit, you know what I mean. I mean I walked out and it was this giant thing and it slapped me in the face.
I guess what I’m trying to get at is that I was embracing nature, quite literally, I had to hug the damn fern just to get its leaves away from me.
After the fern attacked me, Mindy and I decided to leave forever as we had planned. We’d brought along these suitcases and set out to the train station. There we got the 203 train to the country.
And Mindy and I left into the sunset of a fading school day, never to return again.
So I guess I should come clean about a few things. You’re not going to like me a whole lot for this, but my dad always told me to tell the truth; and its this thing with metaphors being a lie and all that, and I think I should tell the truth even though you’re not going to like it a bit.
See I know you’ll prefer the lie.
Everything I said above, you’ll prefer that because it’s a lie and people love lies so damn much. They’re so much more exciting than the truth in any case.
Anyway, I should fess up to it. So here goes.
I lied about Mindy. Yeah she had doe-eyes but they were never pointed at me in English class. We never really talked at all, truth be told. I always thought we should, but I guess I never got round to it.
As it turns out she ended up marrying some six-foot guy and I never saw her again – she was always into older guys anyway.
I stayed in remedial English class until that exam and I went to the exam and I passed it and I did alright, I got like a sixty or something. My parents were thrilled.
After that I became a pencil-pusher, exactly like my parents always wanted. What is true is that I did read The Castle. But I read it at work. Sometimes I like to think about how sad and restless I am as a government employee, just like the people in the book.
I guess this whole story was just like one big metaphor.
Truth be told, I love metaphors.
I lied about that bit too.