Marvin's Book Chapter 16: Ransoming David

(From Marvin's Book: The Story of a Professor and a Promise, 2011)

October 2010

Zack and I are watching the invasion of Okinawa on World War II in HD series on the History Channel.

He stands next to me, rigidly entranced, and I say, “That’s World War II...”

He nods.

Then I say, “and those are Marines!”

He shakes his head and says, “Wait, wait... we learned about these in class last week. MOM!... Do you KNOW who THOSE MEN are???”

I raise my eyebrows, and he says, “MOM! Those are the PILGRIMS!”

I laugh with him,  explain "John Wayne," then post the story so that other people can laugh with us.
An empty feeling in my stomach reminds me to keep writing Marvin’s book, the one I thought I’d have finished by now.

But I had things to do, and people to help, so I keep going.

On October 28, 2010,  a crew of us assemble to load our cars and deliver the ransom to the VA so they would have our gifts to David Lowe in time for Veterans Day.

We fill a truck, an SUV and a car trunk.

The rain that day is so bad that sane people might’ve stayed home.

When we arrive in Lake City over an hour later, the skies are perfectly clear.

It takes five trips with two carts to move all the loot upstairs.

Like every time before, VA residents come out of their rooms and quietly crane their heads at our parade of gifts and laughter.
Like every time before, David leads the parade, clearing the hallways, announcing, “This is my history professor!” and I say (again and again), “And I’m bringing gifts to ransom him out of this place and back to college! Let him go already!”

On one of my trips unloading bags, I notice a green rock on the floor of Jordan’s backseat.

It looks like one of the stones I give my students. “What is this? Did I give this to you?”

Jordan shakes his head. 

His truck looks like an MP lives in it. 

It’s clean, it has “gear” and nothing extra, and so this rock is really noticeable.

I pick it up. “This is for health, and for protection, but I don’t think it’s from me because I would have given you hematite, which is shiny black.”

He looks at me like I’m crazy, tries to give the rock back and I tell him no.

This rock, which has no will of its own, no power to move, showed up in his car. Clearly he should keep it.

We carry enough bags upstairs to fill David’s bed, his floor, his bathroom and part of a hallway.
It must have been enough, because the VA released him that same week.

I keep teaching and I keep feeling bad about not finishing Marvin’s book; I feel haunted, daily, to write a story with an elusive happy ending. 

I keep writing bloopers, I blog, I tweet.

And then one day, while I’m making dinner, I get a message. “This is Jordan’s Mom. Jordan crashed his motorcycle.”

I put the phone down and sink to the floor.

I’ve told my students at least 100 times that history doesn’t repeat itself, but here we are, again. Another student, another accident.

I knew Jordan had the wrong rock. 

I just knew it, and I had a bad feeling that any book I would finally write would definitely have a section about this brave soldier who survived Iraq only to come home and have his life cut short.

I remain fixed and true to my belief: history does not repeat itself. This wasn’t history repeating itself—it was a whole new event.

I asked Jordan’s Mom if he was alive, and she told me the first people who found him thought he wasn’t. He was en route to the hospital. I asked if I should go, but she said no.

Later she let me know he was awake and got belligerent with a nurse who tried to cut his uniform off of him—insulted, he tried to pull out his tubes and leave.

The next day Jordan calls and leaves me a slurred voice mail, letting me know that he would not be at that week’s exam.

I call him back to tell him it’s fine and thank him for not dying. He worries about missing the exam and I tell him he is excused, this is excused, it would be OK. He could take a makeup exam.

A week later Jordan returns to class and asks me how he can make up the exam.

I think he is teasing.

“We talked about this, remember, on the phone? You were freaked out?”

He remembers nothing. 

November 2010: Seven Holiday Guests
On Thanksgiving, the official start to the holiday season (which, in my mind, ends around the Fourth of July), I get the impression these crazy people who live in my house want me to cook for them.
I can’t cook until the house is bleached down clean, and I don’t feel like cleaning because, well, I’m the Mom and I say so.Anyway, I have something more important to do. I have to warn you about the seven guests that will be visiting you this long Thanksgiving weekend.
She might have hit your house three weeks ago, when someone went through recipes and “planned.” I hear she visits some people in the predawn hours, possessing them to drive towards bright lights that line box-shaped buildings.

She likes to drop in around noon drag you to that ONLY place that is open to find that ONE thing you didn’t get.

To be brutally honest, I was hoping Shopping wouldn’t stop by this year, and when she called me at 8pm the night before Thanksgiving my stomach hurt as I drove to Publix expecting it to be a loud, bright, crowded holiday nightmare. 

It was quiet and empty. In less than twenty minutes, I got everything I needed for under $100 and was out the door.

I enjoyed my time with Shopping and I hope she comes back to visit soon.
It’s inevitable she’s coming by, so you might as well prepare. She can sometimes be a bitch and try to keep you distracted all day, so watch out.

Before she arrives, set a timer for thirty minutes and get ready to work. Spray her favorite perfume around (Clorox®Cleanup®), clean off a few counters and toss some laundry in the wash. Or at least kick the clothes completely under the sofa.

Take clutter off the refrigerator, sweep the Legos® into the shoebox science project and put it all in the closet where you keep your board games (the ones with the missing pieces).

To make sure Cleaning doesn’t stay all day and drive you crazy, I suggest you turn on some music and introduce her to your family and friends if at all possible. With all that attention, Cleaning gets all shy and slips away. (Then the fun begins.)
He is going to show up. He *always* does—so be ready. Hopefully he will not bring his favorite date, Punishment, because when they arrive together their idea of a good time is ruining the holiday for the rest of the guests.

Maybe he will give you a surprise and unwelcome bear hug after you ate that last piece of pie standing up in the kitchen with your back to the chaos.

Maybe he will bring up the grief you hoped wouldn’t visit today, reminding you of loved ones you can’t see and of places you can’t be.

Perhaps he will just punch you in the arm and say, “You deserve something so much better.”
You have two options when Regret inevitably arrives.

1) Spray Clorox® Clean-up® right into his (invisible) face and shout “AWAY” while spinning around two or three times, or 2) Take a deep long breath of the air that is around you and come back into the present.
Regret loves to drag you through time (forwards and backwards) but if you make space for him to visit for just one or two breaths, he will go quickly on his way to visit someone who welcomes his presence.
Dancing and/or Football
I promise Dancing (and/or Football) will visit you this holiday weekend. Maybe dancing with a baby, a grandparent, or because that Wii game is FORCING you to, you will be visited by Dance (and/or watch Football).

I’ll just say what I say every year when they come over: Hopefully no one gets hurt.
The guest of honor, Celebration, rarely arrives on cue. She might come early, at the airport, in a tearful hug.

She could hug you when that awesome dress zips up. She might show up late, when “they” pack up and finally leave. On a rare lucky occasion, she will show up at the meal intended for her.

If you recognize her and call her by name when you see her, Celebration will make herself a constant companion. 
Generosity is a shape-shifting guest who likes to disguise himself in gestures of patience and hospitality. Make sure to leave extra room for him because Generosity’s constant companion is Gratitude.
The guest few people expect visits everyone, every year, and many of them dread it. Sometimes she visits everyone at once, covering the table with an awkward stillness. She may swing by when they all leave and you feel alone. (Please don’t take the wine if she offers.)

She might be sitting on your chest when you wake up, alone.

When she comes to visit this year, please don’t be a rude host and shoo Silence away, because she’s just trying to introduce you to her best friend, Peace.

December 2010: Red Ruby Writing Slippers
Late in finals week while I’m in my office posting grades I get a terse email from David Lowe saying he won’t be able to go back to TCC in January.

This comes out of the blue I don’t know what to respond— he isn’t asking for help, but I can’t let him just drift away.

He worked too long to get this far, he was too close to his goal. Too many of us were invested in his success to just let him disappear from our community. No way.

I leave my office and walk into the faculty break room, glowering.

The dean is there.

I unload on him.

“I’m angry. I’m frustrated. After almost two years of ransoming David out of that VA hospital, keeping him part of our community, now he’s finally home and ready to go to school, but now he can’t afford it.”

The Dean, a compassionate and generous man, stands still and shakes his head.

I continue. “Someone has to do SOMETHING!!! TCC *has* to have money for situations like this, for people who work so hard and face more and more obstacles like they’re climbing a mountain that just becomes steeper.”

The dean lets me continue, and I don’t remember my exact words but they were passionate and I’m sure I stomped my foot at least once.

When I finish, the dean absolves me from the overwhelming sense of dreaded responsibility I feel for helping shepherd David through whatever obstacles stand between him and crossing the stage at graduation.

He says, “You can’t help them all. What are you going to do when the next one comes along?”

And that was it. Something in me snapped.

Actually, no.

That’s when something in me finally came together.

I tell the dean something like, “Seriously? The next time the universe sees fit to send me a triple-amputee Vietnam veteran or anyone who needs an extra hand, if I’m called to help I will absolutely help. I’m going do something. I can’t just not do anything.”

After that, I stomped off back to my office, packed up and headed home to wait for some sort of answer to fall from the sky, like it always eventually does.

I sat on the floor of my dining room, camped out on a yoga mat in a quiet house and waited for an answer. I tried to keep my mind quiet but it kept marching along, like that CNN scroll.

How much can tuition for one class at community college cost? $300? I can find that.

I could definitely find that to pay for David to come back to school.

And I bet if I asked some other people to pitch in for gas and for books, we could make it work.
But paying for him like that seemed awkward and inefficient.

Then I thought, “Oh, wait, do we have Pop-Tarts®? Why can’t I finish anything?!”

Actually, we did have Pop-Tarts® (because I hid them from the kids, so there), and while I ate the chocolate crust off piece by piece, I got that tug.

It was the tug that told me to stand in the doorway and wait for Carol; it was the same tug that told me to go after Aaron.

While I was breaking the crust off the chocolate fudge rectangles and turning them into squares, I remembered that I already gave $25 a month—$300 a year—to the general fund of my college’s foundation.

Over the past five years I’ve paid $1,500 to the foundation. And while I was waiting to “write a book”—all along I could have been earmarking those funds to Marvin’s Scholarship.

It was only my own idea of having to “go big or stay home” that got in my own way of actually doing something sooner, something concrete that could have been helping real students all these years.
I felt like Dorothy when she found out the power of the shoes she had been wearing.

Empowered and deliberate, I wrote the vice president of institutional advancement to say I wanted to increase my monthly donation and make a multi-year commitment to start “The Hero Scholarship.”
Of course he said yes.

In Fall 2011, David Lowe returned to TCC campus to take the last classes he needed to complete his degree.

Marvin’s book has a happy ending—as happy of an ending I can give it now, from my viewpoint now and here.

Maybe in a few years I’ll revise this story and add an even happier ending.

History is like that, you know.

(From Marvin's Book: The Story of a Professor and a Promise, 2011)

Marvin's Book Chapter 15: Put THAT in your Book

From Marvin's Book: The Story of a Professor and a Promise, 2011)

Eat, Sleep, Fork
My ninety-year-old Abuelo is sitting next to me on his shallow pool steps at his Pompano Beach home on a cloud-free hot July afternoon.

The kids dance and splash and invite us to join their game involving coconuts and shrieking.

He turns to me and says (unapologetically), “I’ve had enough fun.” I smile at him, and he continues, “I mean it. Ninety years of fun is enough. Put that in your book. I’m serious.”

I nod my head at the gravity of the moment, promising him I’d write it somewhere for him.

 After that, we joined the kids in their coconut-laughing game anyway.

The rest of my summer can be summed up as Eat, Sleep, Fork.
One Saturday morning I packed the kids into the car for errands.

By noon we were back home, Zoe watching TV in her room, Zack positioned at the breakfast bar to watch me cook.

“Can I have a spoonful of icing?”

“Icing? No. I save that for bribing you or rewarding you for being sooooo brilliant. How about some muffins?”

“No. Yuck. Those are Zoe’s.”

“Fine. How about some grapes. They’re healthy.” “How are they healthy?” I get some from the refrigerator, buying time for a great answer. “Grapes grow from the ground. They’re natural.” I deposit a plate of grapes in front of him.


“Yes. Grapes come from God.”

He holds on up. “GOD is in this grape?”

“Yes!” I take a moment to coin the phrase “home-churching” and file it away into the many projects I’ll dive into after Marvin’s book.

Zack pretends to hug the grape, then eats it.

“Is God everywhere?”


“Is God in your boobies?”

I laughed and looked down to admire them, then turned to the cabinet and asked, “Would you like chocolate or vanilla icing?”

The best part of not having a laptop on my lap—and not spending the summer writing the book I couldn’t figure out how to write or how to end—was the massive amount of cuddle time I got to spend with the kids, one tucked under each arm on the oversize, stained green recliner.

We ate ice cream by the gallon, popcorn by the bowl and spent an inordinate amount of time at Olive Garden (mostly laughing).

I ordered M&Ms on everything (McFlurry, Frosty, margaritas…), and ate them plain (by the nibble; by the handful) in dark movie theaters cuddled up with my kids, laughing.
Meanwhile, something beautiful happened. After ten years of being awoken by crying infants, breastfeeding babies, screaming toddlers and happy bouncy children who couldn’t sleep past 7am on weekends, both of my kids finally slept late— wonderfully dangerously late—past Regis and Kelly, past Let’s Make a Deal, sometimes even past The Price is Right.

The house felt quiet those mornings while they slept, like the lovely silent pause after an intentional crescendo.

Because I couldn’t write, I spent my vacation mornings in a stupor watching seasons of On-Demand programs so vacuous their titles even now disappear deliciously out of my head like meringue melting on my tongue.  
The only problem I came across in those delicious hours curled up on a recliner was a persistent and recurring itch on my back right behind my bra strap, right where I really just couldn’t scratch. I twisted, wriggled and squirmed against the chairs and the wall and such get the itch scratched but no luck. It just got stronger.

On a particularly quiet Tuesday morning in August while the kids slept late, I had next to me on the coffee table an empty mug of ice cream, a fork and a napkin. 

I wiped the fork off with the napkin, and although I knew I was the only soul awake in the house, I looked around before leaning forward and slipping the fork down my back to JUST the right spot. As it hit the spot an involuntary “ohhhhh” slipped out me before I could purse my lips and look around.
No one. CLEAR. I exhaled a sigh of relief and kept scratching, moving the fork up and down behind my bra, shuddering with pleasure and relief, trying to keep myself as quiet as possible and mostly failing.

Again and again that day and the next while the kids were sleeping, distracted and otherwise gone, while I was alone, during repetitive commercials on On Demand that are too short to fast-forward through, I pulled my fork out (it is mine now, I marked all over it with a red sharpie so that its precious tines will never be immersed in another meatball) and found those elusive itchy spots and scratched them until a little line of drool ran down my chin.

After a week or so of eating, sleeping and forking, I called my Mom.

“Mom, I’m sorry I haven’t called, I’ve had nothing to say because I haven’t done anything because I’ve just been sitting in this chair watching TV and scratching my back with a fork.”

She laughed. “Are you calling for absolution? Is this confession!? You’re forgiven.”

“Oh no,” I answered, quicker than she’d expected. “I do NOT want to be forgiven, lady! I’m calling to BRAG about the fork....”

From there, the conversation went to the kids, to Project Runway, to Abuelo.

A red package of takeout Chinese chopsticks pulled my eye and distracted me from my Mom’s story.
“Mom, I have to go.”

“OK,” she said, not asking why, just letting me be free, because she’s easy like that.

Because she didn’t ask me, I decided to tell her the truth.

“Mom, I have to go because I just found some chopsticks I want to tape to my fork to make it even longer....”

The kids came home before I could find tape, so I didn’t follow through on my plan, deciding it’s some spiritual principle to accept the fork just the way it is.

That night turned into the next night, which turned into another week and then another, which now I’ll remember as the summer I spent away from writing, happily eating, sleeping and forking.

-FALL 2010-
What if We Already Know This?
The new semester starts and as usual I spend the first day giving a lecture that shows the scope of the class and explains all the connections.

In one particular class—the one that met in the same room that David Lowe’s class had met, and in the same classroom that Carol and Aaron had been in—a student wearing an army uniform crosses his arms as I explain the wars the US has been involved in since 1991.

He raises his hand when I finish and asks, “What if we already know all this?”

I laugh—not at him, but just at the cockiness of the question. “Well then you can sit here while the rest of the students learn where we send our boys these days and why, and they’ll better understand and support you.”

His name was Jordan. He was pleased.

During the third week of classes, after the newbies understand how classes run and things start going very smoothly, I explain to the students that we are going to try to ransom David out of the VA, and we are going to send Victory Boxes to Iraq and Afghanistan.

They ask the same questions that three semesters of students asked before them.

“What do I write? What should I buy? Which project should I pick? How much should I spend? Can my Mom do one too, I told her and she’s excited....”

I tell them the same thing I told the students before them. I say, “This project should be fun, and you should give as you are called to give.”

Jordan wonders why we are sending boxes to Afghanistan, not Iraq, where his buddies are. I tell him to get me the address, and he does, but only after he has to go away for a few weeks of training.
He misses everything between Reconstruction and World War I, but people in the class help him with notes and tutoring and he catches back up.

Meet More Students
In case you still need a reminder at this point in the story, my students wrote these essays, about themselves and I left their spelling/typing errors just s I found them.
J. #8
Hello, J. is an exceptional student. When he doesn’t feel like he is in his comfort zone, he tends to keep to himself and doesn’t try to bother anyone. He attempted to start as a freshman in college back in 2007 but didn’t finish his semester b/c he volunteered and joined the army. He went to Iraq and was fighting on the front line for 6 months. Two days later, he was called back to active duty to be deployed to Afghanistan for what would be his second tour and would be gone for 15months. When he came back to the states in 2009, he started up college once again. But this time the army had a different plan for him, and had paid for him to attend what was known to “the top soldier competition for the east coast”. So leaving in the middle of the semester, he went to Washington dc and competed against 160 other people. In the end, he came out to be placed 8th out of 160 soldiers and was awarded a medal for being in the top ten. In his life he calls the army his home where he has a number of people that he proudly calls his brothers and would risk life or death for them.
Ray, Who Likes to Attend Class
I myself am very quiet. I don’t like to study much but I like to attend class.
Bella, Who Sometimes Daydreams
Bella is a hard working sophomore at Tallahassee Community College who loves energetic teachers who don’t treat her as if she were still in high school. She believes that if the subject is interesting she will enjoy the material better and learn it faster. An under the table racist and highly opinionated instructor turned her off to American history for the longest time. She admits she gets bored easily and may drift off to one of her common daydreams or deep thought of the day.
Camron With a Million-Dollar Smile
Camron is sophisticated, intelligent, outgoing and handsome young successful man. His creative thoughts, analytical mindset, and humble nature makes him a extraordinary person. His charming personality and million dollar smile makes the girls go bonkers. He is a role model in his community, and he’s the only one of his homeboys in college. Camron plans to graduate from T.C.C and transfer to U.F. in another year. Before he dies he wants to visit Africa.
Danielle, Good Company
Danielle is a great girl with a fantastic personality. Her most fear is her English language, she feels a little insecure about it. She is from Ecuador and she moved to the United States three years ago knowing zero English. School for her is a little challenging because of the language barrier, especially on writing, but she is always open for any advice or help so she can improve her English. Last but not least, there is a big percentage that anyone will have a great time and company after meeting Danielle and having her around.
Olivia, Who Dresses Mighty Fine
Olivia is one of a kind; she is a student every teacher wishes they had. Although Olivia isn’t much of an early bird, she understands that waking up early helps her get a head start on things and gives her more energy throughout the day. She is always on top of her homework and never procrastinates. Olivia is a great note taker and does very well on all of her tests; she would never be caught cheating. To add an extra bonus to this miraculous student, she is also a very cute girl and dresses mighty fine. She is always asking her professors if they need any help and sometimes she’ll even surprise them with yummy treats. Many professors get annoyed with their students over time, but not with Olivia. Every teacher who has had Olivia in the past always seem to compare their new and upcoming students to her and they never come close. She’ll make your life so much easier; therefore, you will become an overall tremendously happy and wonderful professor.
Karla, Who Pays Attention
Karla graduated top of her class. She enjoys learning new things, and having fun. She does all of her work, she comes on time, and lastly she is very attentive. Karla also doesn’t like to be late to class. She feels if she is late she misses out on her learning. Also she likes to get a good seat. She hates to sit in the back of a class. Mainly because she is short; so she likes to sit in the front. She my very mindful that she is in school to learn; she knows that school is a place to learn! Not a place to come and see what everybody has on, but a place to apply yourself. So when Karla goes to class she pays attention to what it is that her professor says, and then she applies it.
David, Who Hates Being Lost
I will always try to get a sit in the front of the class, for this reason, I will try my hardest to be there on time. I hardly ever miss any of my classes. I feel if I miss one day of class I will be lost in the next class. I hate the feeling of being lost in a class. I hardly ever speak in class but I always just listen and pay attention to what is going in class. The professor always has my full attention. My phone will never go off because I keep it off. I’m not a very good note taker but I understand my notes. My penmanship is not that good but it will do for now.
Leon, Who Doesn’t Smell like Cigarettes
This was a mysterious but engaging student. [47] It looked like he was sitting in outer space sometimes. His demeanor was so calm that sometimes I can’t tell if he’s serious, sincere, or totally blowing me off when I’m talking to him. Motivation is a day to day experiment with him. Also he does tend to procrastinate and overdo it on ESPN. In addition it to that if he seems like he’s in outer space it’s because he is; he doesn’t always smell like cigarettes. It seemed like he took too many classes or partied every night but he was quiet and detached in class.
Sophia, Nice and Tidy
Sophia is a very good student of mine who always turns in her work on time and is never late to class. She never misses either, unless it’s a true emergency. I wish that more of my students could have attitudes like her. All of her work is very nice and tidy; it’s always typed in good format. It’s never sloppy as if she was running late. She seems to be more of the type of person that it takes a while to warm up to. She takes a lot of notes; however, I think she may take too much sometimes. In other words, she tries too hard to write every word down, and when she goes back to review them, they don’t make much sense. She is very shy, but also a very sweet girl, who I can always count on to be in class, taking notes, and listening instead of talking.
Corey, Who has Always Been This Way
He’s always been this way and I’ll bet it’s the reason he isn’t at FSU already. If you look at his TCC transcript you’ll notice two things, A’s and B’s… and then D’s and W’s. It’s because he actually enjoys going to class when the teacher is exciting and engaging. Corey has also found success in a schedule that allows him to go out at night and have fun. I even heard him last year say, “the teacher is probably wondering how that hung over kid is acing my class.”
Jessica, Not the Brightest of the Bunch
Do you know the type of student that isn’t the brightest of the bunch but gets her work done? Well that’s the type of student that Jessica is. She gets everything done and turned in on time. She is determined to get good grades in school and it shows in her performance in the classroom. She does have a little problem with getting to class on time. I’m not saying she’s always twenty minutes late, but she does seem to slip in about five to ten minutes after class has already started
Bill, Who Has Room to Improve
As a person, I am not the smartest person walking, but I am smart. I know it is still in me because until my 11th grade year in high school, I made A’s and B’s and had a grade point average of 3.4 and not just because I was an athlete. Then I met my son’s mother and it all went down hill. I actually signed up to go into the army, but bad decisions kept me from going. Now I am trying to show that I can make it through determination and college, which is not in my family’s vocabulary. Overall I rate myself a B student because I have room to improve.
Gabriel, Glitter and a Shoebox
Gabriel is known as a perfectionist when it comes to his academics. He is a straight A student with a perfect attendance record since kindergarten. He uses his experience and knowledge of the theatre and film industry to assist in better explaining situations and answering problems. This has taught him to better understand poetry, increased his memorizing skills, and gave him confidence to be more outgoing. When it comes to projects, Gabriel goes above and beyond. He feels like he is a wiz when it comes to making the most out of some glitter and a shoe box.

Your Horse Has Diabetes
During Prohibition, there was an urban rumor circulating that went something like this.

Once there was a guy named Mac who loved his gin and whiskey so much, he stocked up on a bottle a week (sometimes a bottle a day) during all of 1919 as the country faced the countdown to Prohibition.

Years later, when Mac’s supply ran out, he discreetly asked a few friends for a referral and had a few unfortunate disappointments before he found a bootlegger who brought him the smoothest, mellowest moonshine they nicknamed “Mama’s Milk.”

Just when Mac was coming to rely on his new treasure, Mac’s bootlegger gets arrested.

Or was it shot? Yes. He was shot. Dead. No more moonshine for poor Mac.

Instead of moping around, Mac got an inspiration. He filled a tiny shot glass with a sample of his precious remaining jelly jar of Mama’s Milk moonshine and had a courier deliver it to the local pharmacist in a paper bag with a discreet note (wrapped around a $1 bill) requesting all possible tests be done to determine the liquid’s content.

Three weeks later, a thin envelope arrived from the pharmacy: Your horse has diabetes. And she's pregnant. 

When I finish telling the story to my history class, I pause for a second as students scribble pieces of the story down. 

Heads shake. 

Hands shoot up into the air.

A guy in the back row sitting towards the lecture hall’s back door asks, “Was it horse pee? Really?”

I shake my head. “Urban myth. Remember? That’s how I started the story?”

Heads nod. Most of them understood.

A few girls in the middle of the room are still writing so I take another question.

A guy in second row from the back offers, “I peed in a bottle once. At a football game.”

I shake my head at the randomness of his statement and the class laughs.

He continues, “Well, these people kept stealing our beer.”

And this is it.

I fall on my knees dramatically in front of the class, looking to the sky (ceiling), gesticulating a question to the universe of something like “Why is this student telling us this? Why? Is this happening? Do I stop it? Can I crawl under the desk and call it a day?”

He continues, “You know those beer balls?” and continues his college-esque story about punishing some random thieves with urine and, well, I don’t really listen because as I allow him (this once, and only this once) to ramble on, I remain my knees, on the floor, holding my head like “I’m losing my mind, what do I do?”

I’m teasing.

They know I’m teasing.

I run my classes like a totalitarian dictatorship—no cell-phones, no computers, no talking, no tardiness, no getting up and coming back in. I do my best to not waste their time, so that we have digressed for less than a minute is forgivable in the course of a semester.

After we laugh together for a moment or two, I pop back up, brush myself off and redirect our attention to Prohibition, then to the Scopes Trial. 

I’m not sure the class knew it (they will know it now) but somehow, when I fell down right then, I got back up whole again, laughing again and ready to write again.

 Its no coincidence the healing happened in the class where Carol and Aaron had been last semester.
By the last week of October, this class—along with three others—had donated enough bags full of goodies for the VA that I have to slide over my desk to climb out of my office.

They have sent more than 100 boxes to Afghanistan and Iraq; they brought over 200 bags of comfort and gratitude, and from the looks on their faces, they had a great time.

Marvin's Book Chapter 14: Graduation #2

(From Marvin's Book: The Story of a Professor and a Promise, 2011)

On June 28,  2010, Tallahassee Community College awarded Marvin his degree.

I wanted the media there.  wished CNN would be there, that Oprah or Ellen would be there and cover this so everyone in the world might know that Marvin Mark Scott lived, and Marvin Mark Scott always tried and that Marvin Mark Scott would have graduated and gone on to shine his light brightly.

I wanted to wear my academic regalia and march in front of them and somehow make this a graduation ceremony, but it wasn’t meant to be. The board was very busy working to select the next president.

In the minutes before we were called into the boardroom, I stood outside quietly with Marvin’s Mom.

 In the three times I’d met her, we always hugged long and hard and silent, holding each other’s hands in a four-hand-knot, squeezing like long lost sisters who only had a few minutes to catch up with each other.

That day they were all there—Marvin’s father and mother, his sister, his three brothers, their wives, their children.

As she received her son’s degree, Marvin’s Mom told everyone there that her son was a good boy.
He didn’t swear. He didn’t drink, he didn’t do drugs, he loved Jesus, he loved singing and he never missed class.

She was thankful that we remembered him.

I spoke. The interim president spoke. The chairperson of the board spoke. A board member slipped me a tissue behind everyone’s back.

It was solemn, it was tearful. Then we walked out.
Marvin’s family had his diploma. They gave me a lovely clock, engraved with his name. We hugged, we cried, we went our separate ways.

On my way back to my car on that too-hot June day I realized something awful, something I was blind to until that very minute. 

I knew, without a doubt, that a graduation without a graduate was one of the saddest things ever, and not at all a happy ending to this book.

Which left me a little lost since I only write stories that have happy endings.

***Grading Files

The 14th Amendment gave all people born in the US citizenship. This gave rise to many great feets in American History. 

Define Foreign Policy: “A policy by Britain” 

After America became independent from Spain, some years later they created the Monroe Doctrine… 

White Man’s Burden: “He wrote a poem about separation.” 

Conspicuous Consumption: “theories that immigrants were consuming America” 

Lincoln wrote the Proclamation Emancipation Primarily. Wanted Cuba to be a US colony. Lincoln gets shot and passes the 13th Amendment.  

Lincoln is responsible for the Proclamation Emancipation of the slaves. He didn’t’ free them all, just the ones in the south. 

Women throughout history have been basically nonexistent.

Kendrick’s Book and Marvin’s Prayer
The week after Marvin’s graduation was dark for me.

I thought I’d be happy, I thought I’d finish Marvin’s book, tie a bow on it and send it off to the universe.

I expected my heart to be rejoicing, but it was somber. Not sad, just not soaring.

There are pieces of the story I haven’t told you yet that I’m still myself puzzling together.

I spent my very first Mother’s Day with Marvin’s parents and his sister Monica. We fit together like long-lost family. I stayed in touch with Marvin’s brother Kendrick on email and Facebook and cheered him on in finishing a book of his own.

This is the part where I tell you what Marvin never mentioned: his brother was Kendrick Scott, one of FSU’s team captains, credited with inspiring the Seminoles to win the 1993 National Title.
Look him up. He’s amazing.

Kendrick made the All-ACC Honor Roll three times and started taking graduate school classes during his senior year. Because Kendrick’s book, “It’s All Inside You,” was dedicated to his brother Marvin Scott, he asked me to speak at his book signing and tell a story about Marvin.

I went off on a hunt for inspiration, looking through my journals to find out what I was writing, what I was thinking and doing the days before I found out Marvin died.

The journal I was looking for starts on March 8 (which, I note, is Ash Wednesday) and ends as the school year starts in August 2000.

I have never read this journal, but I remember holding it and pouring my heart into it at 5am every morning that Lenten season as I worked my way through a book my mom gave me called The Cup of Life, which I believe had been given to her by a nun from the Sisters of Mercy.

I don’t remember writing anything that fills this golden journal from ten years ago, but I remember the cup.

I remember holding it and hugging it and asking to be emptied of all I didn’t need and to be filled with what I needed.

I asked to be a cup, an offering to others. Nowhere in the journal do I make a joke about wanting bigger boobs, but I want to point out here to the world that my actual cups have overflowed since April 2000. But that’s getting ahead in the story.

I didn’t write anything funny, or any notes for the future. It’s really pretty boring, and actually some parts—the parts I can’t keep my eyes on long enough to believe—are downright mean. In the middle of what I intended to be a sacred book of trying to find a connection to God, I filled page upon page with criticism of how I acted, what I didn’t do, what I should eat, why my weight was unacceptable, and whether my anxiety and constant sense of dread would ever go away. 

I can see now what I couldn’t see then—I hadn’t yet given enough to know what I had to really give to this world, so I didn’t yet know who I was. I wasn’t yet tested enough to know my strengths. I hadn’t lost enough yet to know what to hold onto.

As I look back on this journal, it is a snapshot of who I was right before a lightning bolt hit my life.

There it is. The day that Marvin died.

Whatever I wrote in my journal had to have been written before I knew he had died. What was I thinking, what was I writing the day Marvin died, before the big waves of change came into my life that lead you and I to this very page of this story?

April 3, 2000
I keep asking myself why I don’t pray very much anymore. But the question shapes the answer so maybe what I want to know is how I can pray more.

Then I skipped a few spaces and wrote, “Be still, and know that I am God!” 

I didn’t expect to see anything like that. The words I saw (a warning? a consolation?) made my stomach hurt, in a good way.

I read on, not recognizing myself or my voice in a narrative it seems I scribbled out for myself, or to God, or to whomever would pick this book up one day and let this story out.

Then I see what I don’t remember writing, not at all, in any way, but there it is, in my handwriting, written days later:
Lord, help me to grow from Marvin’s life.
Help me to gain from his faith.
Lord, help me grow through this pain and this loss.
Open me to your consolation.
Help me live a life worthy of the days you give me.

I copied that entry onto a piece of paper and tape a picture of Marvin next to it inside of a manila folder so I can bring it to Kendrick’s book signing.

At the book signing Kendrick handed the floor to me to talk about who Marvin was—diligent, patient, humble, insightful and musical. I described how I waited for Marvin at the door, how his death changed my life, and I read what I now think of as “Marvin’s Prayer,” to help dedicate Kendrick’s book.

One Monday that summer, Kendrick brought his children to play with mine. Just the idea that our kids would play together was delicious, and we hoped to meet a few times during the summer to talk about writing and let the kids play. We realized how many people we both knew—NFL players, ex-FSU players, students and friends.

We talked about writing, about publishing, about the art of storytelling and about books we love. I suggested to him that he read “The Alchemist,” and then forced my copy on him.  

After that, I sunk into a strangely quiet and almost sad place longer than I’d like to admit, more than once whispering to myself that since Kendrick wrote a book dedicated to Marvin, I won’t have to.

Marvin's Book Chapter 13: Summer 2010

A week after Spring Semester ends, I bring more ransom gifts to the VA in Lake City to try to get them to release David Lowe.

This time, he stands. I wasn’t expecting that, and we fist pump in the fire lane at the VA.
Instead of flags on his cool shiny metallic calves, there are ducks.

“How will people recognize you?” I tease, and we shrug because he is unmistakable, indeed.
We bring the gifts, the letters and the good wishes upstairs. 

He tells me maybe two more months, maybe back to school for fall. I hope so, I tell him. OH! And save the letters, please. Matthew is saving his at Camp Alamo. I want to put them together into a book and raise money for veterans outreach at TCC.

He agrees, and we keep a neat pile of letters next to his computer while filling bag after bag with triple-blade razors, shaving cream, toothbrushes, DVDs, soap, books, office supplies, puzzles, games and clothes.

The letters students wrote him go into a special bin, to be read and savored and passed around later.
After it’s all opened, sorted and admired, we sit out in the common area.

David shows my son Zack his cool picker-up thing that has a magnet and pincher at the end for fetching things on the floor.

Then he smiles, fishes around in his bag and pulls out his phone. “A Blackberry!”

My shiny cool man has a Blackberry, I proclaim, and he’s coming back to college.

All is good in this little corner of the world.

Soon enough, lucky me, I get more students.

Meet My Students
( Everything below was written by the students about themselves. It is all in their own words.)
Gina By the Door
You can find Gina sitting by the door, which I’m guess is because she is eager to get out of class when it is finished, probably because her hand hurts from taking so many notes. She is always on time and always prepared for class. She knows one of my pet peeves is students interrupting my lectures, so I can tell Gina has great respect because she is always in her seat when class begins.
Joy, Who Travels and Works
Joy believes that you are never too mature to learn and earn a college degree! She is a bright, intelligent person with the desire to achieve her dreams. Working full time with the distraction of some mandatory travel is a concern to her but she works diligently to keep up with her assignments. Sometimes she comes off as being overly concerned about “bothering” you which makes her appear shy until you get to know her. Once you do then you realize it’s because Joy is an independent, self reliant person who can’t stand to have anyone waste her time either!
Very Sleepy Victoria
Victoria likes to take a corner seat towards the back. Victoria will start losing focus towards the end of the semester, and therefore will begin arriving late to class. Sometimes Victoria feels as if she is too good to take notes so she might just sit in class and text on her phone. If you have Victoria for an early class be careful because she is defiantly not a morning person. She is prone to doze off in the middle of lecture and not even know she did.
Charming Charlie
Charlie is a student that is energetic and loves to ask questions in class. He brings a good vibe to the class every time he walks in. He is an average test taker and an outstanding flirt. He lacks the ability to get all assignments turning in on time, can be easily distracted but is easy to bring back to focus. He is a respectable man and is a great joy to have in class.
Army Anthony, Close to Perfect
Anthony is a very well rounded individual who shows a lot of maturity for his age. He already seems like he is already past his years. He is a young veteran of the armed forces. His character and personality overshadows the fact that he actually served in combat for his country. Although very soft spoken, he still asked questions and took active roles in class lectures. His attentiveness and willingness to learn had also brushed off on some of the other students in my class. He holds study group meetings that are open to the whole class. He is as close to perfect as they come as a student.
Serious Smith
I pay for the class, so I will be in class. I think that I am a hard working student, I enjoy coming to class, and I do all the work I am assigned to. I attend class regularly and if I do some how miss a day of class, there is a good explanation to why I missed that class. This semester I only missed one day and that was due to an accident I was involved in on the interstate.
John, Zoning Out
I hardly ever miss class usually participates if class interest me, and material doesn’t make sleep. Sometimes I tend to fall asleep in class or total zone out whatever you say. I also sometimes text on the cell phone during, mostly when bored.
Colleen With a Small Problem
Colleen is a hard-working student. She had a rocky start in the beginning of the semester due to a family emergency. She comes to class on time every day and sits in the front seats off to the side closest to the door. She likes to take thorough notes and will share them with anyone who needs them. She likes to write just about everything that she hears and she will not hesitate to raise her hand to ask what you were just talking about so that she can add it into her notes. While she may be a good student in the classroom, she has a small problem of not turning in work on time, or not at all. Hopefully this is something that she is working on to be the best student that she can be.
Air Force Anna
Attention all professors I know this fantastic young woman who has a passion for learning. She is a member of Phi Theta Kappa international honor society and a veteran of the United States Air Force who is motivated and dedicated to learning.
Sammy, Fun and Bubbly
Sammy, who some people call her “Sammy-Joe” but I swear she’s not a hillbilly, is a well prepared student who is always present and on time for class. Although she may sit in the back row, she is still very focused on the discussions and makes sure to take very detailed notes so that she is always prepared for either an essay or test. She is also very generous with help and/ or advice if any student may need so in class. Since she is tad bit on the OCD side, she is always extremely organized with her school work and very conscientious of others. Since Sammy-Joe is taking five classes this semester, she makes sure to start her work ahead of the due date to ensure that she gets everything accomplished without having the stress of a pile of work to do at the last minute. Although she may come off as shy and not be the first one to speak up in class, she has a very fun, bubbly, loving personality who always tries to stay on a positive note and keep others around her laughing and positive as well. Any professor should find her to be a joy in class because she is determined to not let you down.
Jake, Respectful and Mannerable
Jake is the student who sits all the way in the back on the back wall he is very quiet. He always turns his work in on time, and is always on time to every class. As a professor I never get any trouble out of Jake, every time I ask him a question he is very respectful and mannerable saying yes ma’am or no ma’am.  He always comes to class prepared to work; he also comes to class well dressed. If he was having troubles in his life which I know everyone has, a person can never tell because he also always comes into my class with a smile on his face. I believe I will enjoy Jake as a student this year and I am very proud to have him as a student in my class.

Who is THIS?
One semester as part of a pretest I put a picture this of Fidel Castro up and asked, “Who is this?”
Out of two classes, about 50 percent correctly identified the man in the picture as Fidel Castro (not all spelled it the same way. There were a few “Kastro” and some “Feedels” and a “Phedel,” which I decided to count as sort of correct, as in more correct than calling him Saddam Hussein).
Twenty-three students thought the image was Osama bin Laden.
Six thought the man in the picture was Saddam Hussein.
Other Answers:
Tom Cruise (2)
Liam Neeson (2)
George W. Bush (2)
Lincoln, LOL
Middle Eastern Terroriots
Theodore Roosevelt
Kumar from “White Castle”
Jimmy Frimmel
Hitler’s cousin Jimmy
Ben Linden
John Cock
John Cain
Jeff Clain
Jeff Swindell
A smoky guy
Jose Cuba
Coy Moses
My Dad
Casa Blanca

The Lady Sings
The president steps down, and the vice president for academic affairs steps forward as interim president.
We have worked together for a long time.
When I flew to Tallahassee in 2005 to interview for my position, after meeting with a committee and the dean and seeing campus, I interviewed with her alone.

Out of all the interviews I’ve ever been on, she asked the only question that I still remember.

“Teaching the same history classes over and over semester after semester can become tedious. What will keep you from burning out?
I answered her, “I don’t teach history. I teach students. As long as there are new students coming with new minds and new stories, I won’t burn out.”
We both smiled. Until she asked that question, I didn’t know the answer, either.

On Memorial Day weekend I fly to Austin for the NISOD conference to get my first teaching award. It is a round medal with the Texas Tower on it, nicknamed “The Manhole Cover.”

At the official “Medal Ceremony” on the last day of the conference, I sit next to the interim president, and after catching up on other things, I ask, “Remember Marvin? Will you give him his degree?”

Without hesitation, she pulls her phone/calendar out and simply says, “Yes, at the board meeting on June 28.”

“Thank you. Can I call the family? For real? Definitely June 28?”

I see her type “Marvin’s degree” into her phone. This is real.

The award program starts.
It is beautiful, funny and heartwarming, but mentally I’m only partially in the room.

 I want to pull my phone out NOW and email, text and facebook Marvin’s family the GREAT news.

As my colleagues and I received our medals, a beautiful lady sings that Bette Midler song, the one about wind and wings and heroes.

The interim president slips away before the ceremony ends, and with her gone I feel emboldened to break my own rules.

I pull my phone out and text “Best Day Ever. Marvin gets his degree on June 28 if you can make it,” to Marvin’s brother and sister, knowing they will pass it to his other brothers and his parents.

I sit there for a minute, misty eyed, letting the song, the day, and my whole ten-year journey to find and write a happy ending to Marvin’s book finally sink in.

Now that I know when and how Marvin will get his degree, I can finish the book I promised him and his family, which I never doubted would have a happy ending.