By Josh Weckesser
The opening of the play. Thomas opens the play reading from a dictionary, and quoting his high school English teacher, Mr. McConnal.
(Reading from dictionary.) "Love. noun. A feeling of strong attachment induced by that which delights or commands admiration; preeminent kindness or devotion to another; affection; tenderness. Whatever you do in your life, do it with love."
(Speaking to audience.) My English teacher told me that on the last day of my senior year in high school. He always was a bit melodramatic. He believed that all of his students would change the world one-day. He believed that everything they did was on a grand epic scale. He gave us Dum-Dums on that last day too saying, "Ignorance is enjoyable for a while, then you just end up with a wet stick." (Shrugs.) I really don't know what that means.
Mr. McConnal, what a man. There is something about the closing of a book that is final, the story ends. (Closes dictionary.) Bam! For good or bad, right or wrong. When Mr. McConnal closed that book four years of my life came to a sudden end. What did I get out of it? An education for sure, both in and out of the classroom...
The opening of the second act. Again, Thomas talks about his English teacher.
"To friends who are more than friends and family that is more than a name." That was Mr. McConnal's toast at every meal he'd eat with my family. I grew up with Mr. McConnal. He had long been an old friend of the family and, as he had no family himself to speak of, he spent a great deal of time with mine. I never thought it was odd that I called him Mr. McConnal growing up. I finally found out his first name at his funeral. Thomas. Sometimes I can't shake the feeling that he gave me his name. All my family, which I guess was his family, too, called him Mr. McConnal. I guess when he joined there already was a Thomas. He'd shrug it off, say, "I've given everything to teaching. What's in a name?"
Thinking about it now, I feel that it's a little, maybe more than a little; sad that this man gave even his name to children who will never understand or appreciate what he did for them. I appreciated him, I had lived all my life with his little truisms and the first day I entered his classroom I was ready to learn what he had to teach me. At that point I'd been waiting most of my life to sit in one of his classes. He didn't let me down, he was a wonderful teacher; the best I've ever had. I know people say good things about the university and the professors, but it was at the university that I discovered cocaine and most likely because of the cocaine that I only spent a year and a half there. What's a year compared to a lifetime? One time I asked Mr. McConnal, right before he started the last class of his I ever sat in, if it was all worth it, all the sacrifices he'd made. He gave me a queer smile, as if he thought I knew the answer to the question before I'd asked it. He thought I was testing him and he said to me, "I've done it all for love, Thomas. I didn't sacrifice a thing."
I think that's the only time in my life I've ever heard him call me Thomas.
Thomas grows weary of routine.
There's a point in time in high school in which the routine becomes so routine that time seems to drag on forever, as if it'll never end. I think that's why people remember that time of their life so much, because something about seeing the same people and doing the same things every day slows down time enough for people to age, to mature into the adults that they're supposed to be. It's a strange sort of ritual here in America. I think I'd prefer the spirit quest or maybe circumcision and some wine. Why do we have to learn while we're young? Why can't we just grow up and learn when we're older? Why can't we just fucking live forever? Maybe this could be why some people retire and look like they're older than the sea, because doing everything in the exact same way everyday is the thief of time. If we could live forever it wouldn't matter, we could recover from the mistakes we've made and even though we've lost so much time our whole lives wouldn't be a loss, because we'd have all of this time in front of you. Life just becomes so automatic that you aren't aware enough to hold on to the moment. In high school you're lucky though, after four years you get a nice slap in the face that is graduation. It was something we had seen coming for four years and were powerless to stop, so we continued on as best we knew how; which was basically sticking our heads up our asses as far as they could go.
The end of the play.
I couldn't help but remember that line in Aladdin, Jafar says it at the end, "It's all unraveling fast now, boy." And that's exactly how I felt. Not just that everything had unraveled but also that I was living in some melodramatic cartoon. That I'd go to sleep one day and wake up freshman year, get a chance to set things right. I think I would do it again, given the chance to change things. I've been wanting to go back and change things for most of my life. [beat] Freshman year, I remember how I felt then. I felt the youthful enthusiasm that life would begin at any moment and when it did I would rule the world. [slight pause] Why? Because it would be poetic and just. And Mr. McConnal had told me so. That man was a prophet. [softly] A goddamned prophet. He'd tell me, "Nothing you do is unimportant."
And he was right. I wanted to tell him that he had used a double negative, but I'm sure he would have come up with some witty retort that would have made me feel silly for bringing it up. He never did tell me that life begins in high school or college or some mystical date ordained by the fates, but that it's always going on around you and all you have to do is grab on. But I'm sure he knew and he would have told me if I asked. He would have been right then too, because he was always right. Except for once, and that was his gem, his most favorite:
"Love. Noun. A feeling of strong attachment induced by that which delights or commands admiration; preeminent kindness or devotion to another; affection; tenderness." Whatever you do in your life, do it with love.
After everything that's happened, I don't know if that's such good advice.
These monologues are from the full-length play Gray Matter by Josh Weckesser. If you would like to read the entire play, you can purchase and download an electronic (PDF) copy of the script for $7.00.
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