Pregnant Peila was the common given name to my 8th grade english teacher by a majority of his students. Red and ruddy with quite a round face, arms white with raised goose-pimply pinks, legs as skinny as they come on a tall man, and a firm belly so extremely large and protruding he was considered quite a sight by all the mean-spirited-ready to pick, punch, and wail junior-high kids looking jab and stab. Mr. Peila had the worst classroom in the entire school: a dark dungy basement room with no air or sun or sanity. This man allowed his students to verbally abuse him day in and day out while attempting to teach a thing or two within pockets of actual class control. Due to his physique, his pants would often slip down his butt for a whiles before he noticed, but for a long whiles after we all noticed. He spoke with a bit of a stammer and some sort of lisp, there was always a bright spot of yellow-white froth on the left corner of his mouth, and to top off the list of all the reasons that he was slung so much slang, he was also a gay man.
My year in his classroom also included the company of the three guys most often suspended, referred, and popularized due to their bad-ass behavior. I think the rest of my class was also mostly male, and us couple of chicks stayed quiet in the back so as not to have our bras unsnapped as fast as lightning from a cloud - an amazing feat now that I think about it. They were cruel and rude and loud and crass, and Mr. Peila allowed it all while trying to teach class. He changed my life like no one else the day he came in disheveled in shorts, swollen and red, crying openly and loudly.
Mr. Peila’s grown son had ended his life the day prior by asphyxiation. Mr. Peila told us the whole story: of how the outdoor barbecue had been brought into the house, the cracks sealed, and the entire ordeal of dealing with ambulance, police, and the school who wanted to keep him away for the week. He bawled this story out with all his heart to all of us - all these kids that had been torturing him with abusive disrespect for most of the year. And when the door unexpectedly opened towards the end of our allotted time, there was a thin short mustached man looking a wreck introduced to us as his housemate. I could see that this man just wanted to hug Mr. Peila and hold him and let him birth a deeper bawl. But he didn’t. Not one of those bad-ass bad boys said a word - none of us did. We were all in shock. Mr. Peila showed and shared with us his soul in deep grieving and extreme vulnerability, and although they wanted to smirk and stir up some sillyness, it was just not possible.
And so I share with you a short three paragraphed glimpse of Mr. Peila, and tell you that this glimpse has stayed with me all my life since. All these years I think about how this man bared his soul to his abusers, that on that day he wanted to come to school and tell us and show us his despair. I think about vulnerability and honesty at all costs regardless of the company in our keep. I think about sharing the reality of life no matter what flavor is currently being licked or givin’ us a licking. Mr. Peila showed me human experience honest and unhidden for the first time, and gifted me a great so-far-thirty-year respect for this man that I previously pitied.
Life is Life - a thousand twinkling midnight sun’s worth of flavors expressed within every millisecond of every moment through us, our stories, experiences, interactions, and we have to live it respectfully, honestly, and often vulnerably in the company we choose (or is chosen for us!)
You never know when your courage of honest display will gift another and in thirty years come to play. Thank you Mr. Peila.
On the Shelf