Pain & Joy

Senior year of high school was bittersweet. It was a coming out party for my talents, but my favorite person missed it all. The summer before it all began; my Dad caught another case. For those who don’t know the slang, he was charged for a crime and sentenced to a year in jail. I can’t remember exactly what the charge was or what he did but I can assure you it had to do with a lifestyle of addiction and the hazy fog that became decision making at the time.

It had become the norm. In and out was the process. He would come home from jail, clean and sober, looking great, healthy and fit, ready to take on the world. Within a matter of days, that wall of security would come tumbling down all around us. This year was no different. As he began a year long stay, I began a year long journey of achievements.

It was a good run, starting with my football season. I was told I would be quarterback and safety and asked to lead my team to the promise land. It was incredible. I scored more touchdowns than ever before and crushed more souls of defense than the Egyptian God Anubis. No, seriously, I think I physically crushed a few people’s souls in a collision of exploding plastic. The season culminated in an All-League, All-Area, and All-CIF selection, including three team awards at the banquet. We made it to the second round of the playoffs where we were defeated but basketball season was next. I will never forget the editorial of a retiring sports journalist in the local newspaper who publicly thanked me for, “bringing a swagger to the field unseen.”

Basketball had always been a great love of mine and though our team was not very good, I had another stellar season making All-League, All-CIF, and All-Area selection. We made the playoffs but it was short lived. On to track and field and an independent study. The school was pilot testing a new program where second semester seniors could take an elective or sign up for an independent study where they proposed a project, identified an advisor, set their own schedule, and completed said project in some form of public display to the school community. Set my own schedule? I’m all in!

I chose to write, direct, produce, and star in a one-man show that was loosely based on my experiences in life to share with the community what my life was like outside of the affluent private school I attended. The day of the performance I had to run in the CIF Finals in the 4x400 relay. My coach changed the order 10 minutes before the race. “You’re gonna run anchor leg today.” Okay, here we go. As I grabbed the baton, I raced around the track catching two other runners, finding our team in second place. Another runner quickly crept to my right, attempting to pass. I pushed passed the lactic acid and held him off to give our team second place in the Finals.

As I crossed the finish line, my high school sweetheart was waiting in the car, engine revving. I handed off the baton, didn’t wait for the trophy, ran across the field, hopped the fence and into the car. We had to get back to school immediately for my performance of the one-man show. I showed up with an hour to calm my nerves and slow my heart beat. I then put on the greatest performance I have ever displayed, better than any athletic performance ever given to a stadium full of fans.

The performance ended in a standing ovation, tears from the audience, and adults approaching me with praise I have never felt or heard before in my life. This was my senior year. As it came to an end, there was an annual school wide assembly where awards were passed out. Typically, parents do not come to this event. However, my parents were contacted and told I would be receiving a great honor and they may want to attend. To add to the delight, I received word that my Dad would be coming home the day before the award ceremony. All was right with the world. Even though he missed all the performances over the past 8 months, he would see me honored for my efforts and that was more than enough.

We picked him up outside of the jailhouse, a huge embrace ensued, spilling my guts about everything that happened throughout the year. He would also get to see my play as I was asked to do two encore performances in the following week. Excitement was an understatement.

That night, my Dad ironed his clothes, set them neatly beside his bed and rested his eyes in his own bed for the first time in over 11 months. You would have thought he was receiving an award. I woke up the following morning, threw on my Tommy Hilfiger overalls and football jersey and headed to school. As the assembly began, I looked around for my family. I couldn’t spot them in the crowd but I just knew they would be there.

They went through the middle school awards and some of the high school awards. Athletic awards were next. Our Athletic Director, my former basketball coach, got up and began to sing the praises of a young man’s efforts that year. “This year’s Senior Athlete of the Year, Antonio Harrison. Mijo, come get your trophy.”

I was so proud of what I had accomplished. Sport was my life. As I got on stage and surveyed the crowd, I saw my little sister and Mom in the very back row, sitting in the seats closest to the middle aisle. My smile and joy quickly turned to an indescribable mixture of sadness, anger, frustration, understanding, and love. My Dad was nowhere to be found.

He got up that morning, put on his freshly ironed clothes but as my Mom went to work and my sister and I went to school, he was left home, alone, all dressed up with nowhere to go, until later that day. Well, the drug kept calling. He tried to resist but it had a grasp tighter than the mighty hand of Zeus. He ended up leaving the house to cop. Again, for the uninitiated, he went to buy and use drugs. He missed the award ceremony because of it.

I walked off stage, went right up the aisle, towards my Mom. I remember her having tears of pain, joy, and pride for her son entangled with tears of sorrow and disappointment in her husband. I handed her the trophy in stride, walked right out the auditorium doors, and took the two to three mile walk home. I didn’t speak to my Dad about that experience until later in life as an adult. It was the one time, in all of his mistakes, I held resentment and my unconditional love was tarnished.

As I look back on it, I realize I made a mistake as well. In my pain, I forgot to see the pleasure. I forgot to see my Mom. She had been there for me all year, at my games, supporting me in every endeavor, taking care of our family, and busting her ass at work every day so we didn’t go without. I should have hugged my Mom. I should have thanked her. I should have loved her in that moment. I should have held my head my high, proud of her. This is my biggest regret from that day.

We tend to get wrapped up in the pain. I understand why. Pain leaves scares and pleasure is nothing more than a fleeting memory and emotion. The joy of a supporting mother was overshadowed by the emotional scar left that day. If we take the time to recognize that the pain and the joy come from within, not the external circumstances, we can pause during the opening of the wound and close it with sutures of happiness and joy. Don’t wait for years of repressed anger to be washed over. Find the beauty and gratitude in each moment, good or bad, for it is always present. It must be, as inherent opposites, or neither would exist. Thank you, Mom. I love you.