About 10 years ago, I went hiking alone and met an intriguing hiking partner with an interesting past as an activist protesting an observatory on Mt Graham in Arizona. At the time, some of what the man said sounded far-fetched. Though he seemed nice enough, he had a gun. The gun, combined with frightening, paranoid-seeming stories he told, freaked me out.
For a while, my encounter was a story I told. Then, I wrote down what happened. Over time, I ended up looking up many of the things the man said and found that much (though not all) of what seemed far-fetched actually checked out. I grafted my research to my original story.
The final product is “Space Mountain.” I’m very thankful to Terrain.org for publishing the piece, and for the effort it took to present my system of notes. If you’re not familiar with Terrain.org, I’m sure my essay will be a gateway to much future reading!
My story, “If the Odds Don’t Change” is in the Winter/Spring 2021 issue of Euphony. The story follows Simon and Mickey, two high school teacher colleagues, on a frustrating ride home from a bar.
“If the Odds Don’t Change” was inspired by conversations I had many years ago with my friend, Bill Sweeney. Bill was the librarian for the Worcester Public Library in Worcester, Massachusetts and the librarian at Uxbridge High School when I was a student there in the 1990s. He was still the librarian at UHS when I taught there from 2003-2007. Bill and I both lived in Worcester and commuted back and forth to Uxbridge. When one of our vehicles was in the shop, we’d carpool.
Bill tended to keep to himself quite a bit at the school, which I understand. From his private nature arose rumors – some true, some not true. On our commutes together, I got to know Bill quite a bit better and quickly learned he was brilliant, a terrific storyteller, an astute reader, hilarious, and, above all, kind. Bill tolerated people that others often struggled to tolerate. In fact, he more than tolerated them – he treated them with kindness. Whether the person was a psychologically challenged student or a homeless person living on the streets of Worcester, Bill always saw the individual and quietly, without seeking attention, he nurtured them with support and respect. Never loud, never flashy, always helpful. Always brilliant. He’d taken many college classes as a non-degree seeking student because he loved learning. I learned from Bill every time we spoke, and from observing him with students.
I’d been in Arizona for nearly a decade when Bill was in the accident that took his life. I hadn’t spoken to Bill since I moved west, but my friends who still worked with him let me know he’d been seriously injured right away. They knew he meant a lot to me. I wonder if he knew, too.
If you’re from UHS and you read this story, you will recognize Bill as Simon. You may also recognize Mickey. Please know that Mickey was constructed from my experiences with and feelings about the person he’s modeled after, not Bill’s. Bill was kind and accepting of everyone. I’m still struggling to get there.
I will update this post when Euphony puts the Winter/Spring 2021 issue online. If you’re a present or past UHS teacher or alum, send me a message and I’ll send you a .pdf of the story.