It was March of 1983. I was a junior in high school. As a consequence of this, I was desperately, elbaborately, inconsolably unhappy. The totality of my lonesomeness and misunderstoodness could hardly have been more complete. I was lost and forlorn, purposeless and fraught. I may not have been fully subhuman, but I was definitely a pretty piss-poor specimen - horny, joyless, pitiful.
I was unmoored and futureless.
My mom's boyfriend was a dour and pinch-faced asshole. Mom, who'd had my brother and me when she was way too young, was working all the time, and in a belated stab at the kind of soft-headed vision-questing in vogue during the 70s, she was either finding herself or self-actualizing. I cannot now recall. Our dad had been gone for like six years, and we'd seen him maybe a half dozen times for stilted outings to arcades where the good consoles were all on the fritz, and meals of spongy, savorless pizza. Dad would kill himself in another three or so years.
Given my state - one of perpetual and obdurate turmoil - I was an academic catastrophe, of course. I was behind in every subject, and could not muster anything like giving a rat's ass about the rapid onrush of consequences for my insolent torpor - not only would I not get into college at my current pace, I might not even make it out of goddamn high school. The one teacher who retained an interest, or who even took much notice of me anymore was Mr. Jacobs, my English teacher. He seemed to be able to see the embers of promise that glowed in the pit of me when others had written me off as a sullen wad of futility.
I had to meet with Mr. Jacobs after school so I could serve him another helping of the thin gruel of my excuse-making for my many missing assignments. I was a confounding mess to him - I would show up every day, sit in each class, smart and capable, but resolutely refusing to participate in full-on Bartleby style. To outward appearances, I was staging a years-long sit-in, declining at every turn to do a goddamn thing. Mr. Jacobs was able to set aside his well-earned exasperation with me, though, to recognize my extravagent professions of boredom and disdain as the crushing depression that they were. For many of us, rancor and peevishness are expressions of distress.
After supressing a laugh in the face of my bullshit excuse-making, Mr. Jacobs peacably, delicately interrogated me about what in the hell was going on with me. Having long experience as a high school teacher, he could plainly see that I was a baffled and ungainly animal in pain, and that the nature and limitations of the teacher-student relationship precluded anything like a direct and personal intervention on his part - he could not call my mom in to say "I understand your boyfriend's a bit of an asshole," or write my father to tell him that he needed to quit being such a selfish twat. I mean, there was likely some (shitty, insufficient, long-since discredited) protocol for him to follow if he honestly believed me to be a clear and present danger to myself. But in terms of emotional damage of a more or less garden variety for a teen, there's not really a ton a teacher can offer without blurring boundaries/skirting the inappropriate.
But Mr. Jacobs did, anyhow. He sent me to the movies.
As I furrowed my brow and pitied myself, he asked if I knew Monty Python. This was - for the particular form of nerd I was then and remain today - an insulting question, a question so basic, it amounted to "Are you a biped?" or "Is bacon delicious?" I endeavored nonetheless to answer it in a way that would disguise my indignation. He asked if I'd seen their newly released picture "The Meaning of Life." I had not. My poverty was another item in my litany of woes.
Mr. Jacobs reached into the back pocket of his rumpled off-brand khakis and produced his well-beaten wallet. He removed a ten bucks from it and handed the bill to me. In the shitty movie version of this - the cloying Robin Williams-makin'-a-connec-with-young-Will-Hunting version - the bill would virginal and crisp. Not so the real bill. It was old and friable as lichen. But it was a potent talisman anyhow.
"Take this," he said. "Go to see 'The Meaning of Life.' It is very smart, and raucously, inappropriately funny. It will furthermore offer you philosophical comfort." I reached for the bill, mortified and thankful. Mr. Jacobs didn't let go for a second and he held my gaze for a second of two of tug-of-war. "There are many other less sustaining ways you could spend this money. Ways less wholesome and useful. Don't. Use it to go to the movie."
So I did.
On my own. I used to love going to movies by myself. Did it all the time. And that weekend, I was so sickened by the company of other humans, I was grateful to have a half a row to myself as the lights went down.
As it got rolling, and I powered down the popcorn, the crysalis of my foul mood commenced to crack apart. I howled with laughter - a laughter in appreciation of the audacity and craft of the bits in the movie, for sure, but also a laughter of the kindred - the laughter of the one who's wandered far out in the wilderness and, after fearing himself lost, has found his way back to his tribe. I'm not ashamed to say I wept a bit during that movie - both from an overpowering sense of relief that I might, in fact, ultimately be OK, but even more because a kind human - one whose stake in my fortunes was ostensibly professional only - had extended to me a redeeming gift he was under no obligation to give.
I paid Mr. Jacobs back the money. But I feel quite certain I could never repay him his kindness - a kindness rendered all the more singular because he obviously had no expectation that I do so. It may seem overblown to say that Mr. Jacobs delivered me that day from harm. But I don't believe it is.