I heard you tell story about not being a high-school grad, I am not one either. I was too embarrassed to come talk with you after the show. I am in my second year of GED stuff and this crap is hard, man. How do I get through it? I want this, but I don’t know if I got what it takes.
The scene is a community college parking lot, years ago. It’s nighttime. I’m sitting in my truck, doing math homework for a high-school equivalency class.
I hate math. Math is bad. Math was invented by Satan. I do not understand Math and I do not want to.
Professionally, I began my life as a “grunt.” On a construction jobsite, that’s what workers called young men like me.
“Get my tape measure, and make is snappy,” a Grade-A dipstick might say to a young grunt.
Or he might say:
“Sand this drywall joint!”
Or: “Go to McDonalds and get me an Egg McMuffin with extra cheese and a Doctor Pepper.”
Survival. That’s REAL life. It is about having money to make rent. Survival is real. Math is not.
Be as it may, a drop-out like me had to take high-school equivalency math courses out the kazoo before I could take college courses.
I loved literature. And art. And music. I had a love affair with English.
I almost quit school. But then I met him. On my way into class. I will never forget. We were going to the same classroom.
He had silver in his hair. He was smoking a cigarette in the breezeway. He wore filthy clothes. His work boots were covered in stucco mud. He had books beneath his arm. He was all smiles.
He said in a heavy accent, “How. You. Are. Doing. This. Night?”
“Good,” I said.
Then, a young woman approached us. She stood beside him and took one of his cigarettes. She was tall, and covered in tattoos.
“I see you met Dumitru,” she said to me.
We shook hands. He said something in another language.
“He’s from Romania,” she translated. “He ain’t had no school. Not ever. Plus, he hardly knows English.”
This man grew up in a kind of poverty I will never know. Hunger painted his childhood. He wore cardboard for shoes as a boy, he ate things from garbage cans.
When he met her, she helped him with English. He practiced night and day.
“I practice very lots,” he said. “I am to be good at this English if kill me.”
But nothing was as difficult as math. A language barrier made it impossible. He’d taken one math class nearly three times just to pass it. On our last day of class, we went to get a celebratory beer together.
We were men among grunts. Anyway, that was a long time ago.
A few years later, I saw him in Walmart. She was still beside him. He was much older. They had one child in the buggy.
We all exchanged hugs.
“How ya doin’?” he said with no accent.
This made me smile so big I almost broke a tooth.
“Good,” said I. “How about you?”
“Man, I’m doing real good. Can’t complain.”
He spoke better English than I did.
He went on to say that a few years ago, he’d opened his own business. He was a stucco man. He did roofing, too. In short, he made good money, and he had a beautiful family.
We didn’t have much to talk about, since we weren’t actually friends. But we remembered getting through a math class together once. And we remembered that beer.
“Did you ever graduate?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Only took me eleven years, but I did it. What about you?”
“Yeah,” he said. “One of the proudest moments of my life. I had so much fun in college, I wish we could do it again, dude.”
And I felt humbled. This man had gone through more heartache and sorrow than I will ever know. And he had the audacity to consider it fun.
We parted ways and I wished him luck.
So I don’t know a thing about life, friend. The truth is, you’re reading something written by a man who didn’t complete an education until he was in his thirties. Sometimes, I don’t feel like I have the right to call myself a writer.
But we are brothers. And I’m proud to call you one of my own. And as your brother, I’m telling you this:
This is the most fun you will ever have in your life—except for the math. You deserve to enjoy every second of it.
If a grunt like me can do it. By God, so can you.
Just ask Dumitru.