Tuesday, November 22, 2016

My response to your vote on Oklahoma State Question 779

That's the tweet that finally sparked this, just to let everyone know. I've been meaning to post this since November 10, but I've just never gotten around to it, and hearing those words come out of my wife's mouth this evening, it finally consumed me.

Earlier this year, in October, I was asked to guest blog on a site called Blue Cereal Education, an education blog based here in Oklahoma. I wrote this post. In it, I told everyone that no matter what Oklahomans voted on State Question 779, I'd be fine, and I'd show up the next day at work with a smile on my face.

I lied.

As I stayed up later and later on November 8, it became very clear that Oklahomans had made their voices very clear on a tax increase...no matter how good of a cause it was for. I fumed, and then I fumed more, and finally I went to bed entirely too late, incensed at you people for checking no instead of yes.

I googled the rate of pay for teachers in Arkansas, then Florida, and Kansas before finally my own words drifted through my head.

"I'll die here or retire here." 

So much for that, right?

So on that Thursday, November 10, we had a blood drive at my school. As a teacher, I find it crucial to take time out of my day to give blood, ostensibly extending my planning period by two hours and helping me avoid the after-lunch rush of freshmen.

I'm kidding.

But I did decide to donate, and things went swimmingly. Another teacher so graciously covered my ninth grade class, but not before snapping a picture of me and another student...a student who I love more than I'd care to admit, who is part of a family who I've known my entire thirty-four years of life.

Here's the pic.

Obviously a real intense moment, a moment full of caring and love. 
The teacher who was covering my class (who is a math teacher)—instead of just sitting them down and boring them to tears for an hour—took matters into her own hands and threw the picture up on the SmartBoard, then had them write a short essay describing what was happening in the scene (still think we should step it up, Fallin?).

I walked back into her classroom towards the end of the period, and the entire class looked up from their projects and began to laugh. I glanced up at the SmartBoard and put two and two together, and I smiled. The other teacher began to tell me what was happening, and had all the students gather their work and hand it to me. What followed was one of the best moments of my short eighteen-month teaching career.

Sometimes, I feel like I am blessed with moments of happiness so pure, so distilled, that they're meant never to be forgotten. Moments where you smile, you laugh, you cry, and then laugh again as you're wiping tears and snot all over your face just so you can see what you're consuming.

So as I was wiping tears and snot all over my face, I read the following gems. Now listen up: I know the spelling is atrocious, and I know the grammar is bad. We're working on it. As much as I'd like to be an actual miracle worker, I'm not, but I'm a damn fine teacher, and we're working on it. So judge or judge not, but as the great Ricky from Sunnyvale would say: "Make my words," if you make a comment about the spelling or grammar, I will scour your Facebook feed with all that I am and will bring your every error to light. These are my kids. Enjoy this like I did.

Her story is done, y'all. 
Me being in birth was a popular theme, maybe I should work on my blood giving pose? 
For the record, you could wax my legs smooth and not notice any difference. I am not a hairy guy. 
If this kid only knew how many times I've looked like this because I've eaten something that isn't good for me.
Hey, my reputation went down the drain when I publicly admitted to crying over your stories. 
MR. SLOAT IS SO AMAZING, YES MORE OF THIS PLEASE AND THANK YOU.
Again with the leg waxing, is this a natural position for leg waxing? 
I died a noble death, much like the late Albus Dumbledore. Harry Potter reference achieved. 
I can't figure out if I want to hug this kid or accidentally punch her in the neck. MR. SLOAT OUT.
Well, I mean, doesn't everyone poop like this? Just me? Let's just forget this one. 
*crickets* mmmmm Nacho Day. 
There were so many more, one actually said it looked like I'd just heard all the Destiny servers went down (I brayed like a donkey), a few more about waxing, a few more about pooping, a bunch more about giving birth, and then a few solid hundred about how noble and brave I looked (just kidding they were about pooping). 

If you're a student, you keep reading. Everyone else get out of here after this paragraph. This is my response to you voting whatever you did on SQ779, and I'm through talking about that now. I understand your reasoning, and I'm sorry for lying to you, but "make my words," it was a small stumble along a long and loyal path that will end with my death or retirement from Okay Public Schools. I don't blame you. Now go. Young person, keep reading. 

Thank you. 

From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for taking time out of your day to make me laugh, and to make me feel loved (YOU LOVE ME I'M TELLING ALL YOUR FRIENDS). You gave me a moment I will remember for the rest of my life, and a story I'll tell future students, some of which might even be your kids. Thank you. You are amazing, you are a gifted writer, you are a great human being, and these stories will stay in a box for me to pull out and remind myself just how much I love this job. You did that. You are responsible for my continued happiness. Thank you. 

Now do your dang research paper. I'll see you Monday, and we'll act like this never happened. 

Love you. 

Monday, November 14, 2016

I open at the close

image source

I open at the closet. 

Allison pulled her phone out of her pocket and looked at the text, then looked again. It was from her husband, Brandon, and it lined up perfectly with the morning she was having: it didn’t make sense, and it kind of pissed her off. 

She stared at the tiny pulsating dots at the bottom of the screen, and hoped that the forthcoming explanation would be something funny. Brandon was nothing if not funny, and at one point he made her life interesting, not that she needed any more interesting at the moment. 

Hahaha, I’m sorry. 

•••

I was trying to type Allison, I love you. I am so thankful for you. You have made my life completely different from what it was just a few years ago. You are beautiful, smart, and I always hoped that you’d be the mother of my children. If I don’t see you again, just know that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. I love you. 

Panic raced through Allison’s heart as she read word after word, then read it again. She called up the keyboard and began inputting text at a blistering rate, not caring about the typos this time, he surely wouldn’t care about them this time. 

•••

Before she could hit send, the three little dots popped up again, moving silently left to right, and for just a moment she was able to hear the ellipsis, boom boom boom, boom boom boom, boom boom boom, but then realized she was hearing her own heart, frenetically trying to leap out of her chest. 

Allison whoah, don’t worry abou that I’m fin
•••
I’m fine 
•••
I’m trying to set up an automated message on my phone, I was trying to say Allison, I love you. I am so thankful for you. You have made my life completely different from what it was just a few years ago. You are beautiful, smart, and I always hoped that you’d be the mother of my children. If I don’t see you again, just know that you were the best thing to ever happen to me. I love you.
•••
Ugh! I’m trying to text I open at the close but the freaking thing won’t send before it changes. 
•••

Allison’s anxiety faded, but her heartbeat didn’t quiet. When fear stopped pumping adrenaline through her system, chilling anger took its place, and it did a more than thorough job in fueling her outgoing text. 

Why, Brandon? Why would you send me something like that? I thought you were dead or dying somewhere, why wouldn’t you just call? And what does I open at the close mean? 

•••

Allison, I’m SO sorry. I had no idea I’d saved it, and was just testing it to see if it worked. 

If WHAT worked, you idiot? 

•••

I set up a text replacement in my phone and the key phrase was “I 0pen at the close.” You know the line from Harry Potter? The one on the Golden Snitch that Harry looks at before he faces Voldemort? I just had to put a zero in ‘open’ so it wouldn't send again.

•••

I thought it would be cool to use that as something I could text, then it would be replaced with all that other text, if, you know, if something happened to me on this trip or ever. You know? Just in case? 

Allison’s reply was sharp, and she hammered the rectangular screen as though each letter she typed was a hot coal she pressed against Brandon’s skin, and she envisioned him flinching as he read every word. She knew how important words were to him. 

To be honest, the Harry Potter thing is getting a little weird. I don’t feel good, the commute was hell, and the last thing I need is my supposedly grown husband sending me texts telling me he’s dying and then telling me he’s preparing for the worst by referencing a teenager’s film series. 

There were no more dots. 


Brandon sat back in his office chair, defeated. He knew Allison was going through a difficult time, and since she was going through a difficult time, so was he. He tried to lighten the mood as much as he could with humor, but that only worked so well before he became annoying. It wasn’t always that way; there was a time when Allison laughed at everything he said. He had felt like Dave Chapelle in the good years, before he got all preachy and walked away from television shows. 

But the years passed quickly, and one dream after another had escaped her. College failed. The dream job failed. And finally, what she considered to be the biggest failure of all: she couldn’t get pregnant. Of course Brandon never saw that as a failure, not once, and in fact, he wasn’t even sure if he wanted kids. But Allison did. 

At her insistence, they had tried for eight years to no avail. They had tried everything short of in-vitro fertilization, which was out of the realm of possibility because of the astronomical costs associated, and the risks of needing multiple treatments were too high. Adoption was out of the question because she wanted a biological child…lately it was all she wanted. 

He was leaving today, heading to Washington D.C. for a work conference. Brandon was an information technologist for a mid-level security firm that did occasional work for the Department of Homeland Security, and part of his job included these trips to D.C. once a year for security briefings, which honestly would have been better disseminated in a five-paragraph email. But hey, it gave him a chance to drink a few Yuenglings, and that alone was almost worth the trip. 

As for the Harry Potter obsession, he’d only recently acquired it. He was never allowed to read the series at home; his parents were convinced he’d try to put a spell on his younger brother. The movies were out of the question also, and as he got older and left the house, he never got around to either the books or the movies. That changed on his twenty-ninth birthday, when he picked up Sorcerer’s Stone. Less than two weeks had passed by the time he turned the final page of Deathly Hallows, and he was a fan for life. 

Brandon was fascinated with two particular facets of the series, Harry’s loss of his parents at such an early age and his “Green Mile” moment in the final book. There were times, he admitted, when he felt like his life would have been easier with parents who were less strict, and he was certain the Dursleys were less strict than his own parents. 

As Harry walked to his certain death in Deathly Hallows, Brandon couldn’t help but see the allusion to Christ walking to the cross in the final moments of His life. He also knew this was the kind of thing he could never say to his parents, or they would make his life—even his life away from home—seem like it was being orchestrated by Dolores Umbridge. 

In Hallows, when he read the line “I’m ready to die,” he marveled. Here was a young boy who knew he was going to die, and he willingly walked into it in order to save the lives of his friends and extended family. In the moment, his fear of death was overshadowed by the concern he had for the well-being of those he held dearest. He’d thought about it over and over in the weeks that followed.  

His phone buzzed. He looked down. It was Allison. 

Babe, I’m sorry. I’m frustrated, and I took it out on you. You said a lot of nice things about me there, and even though they were meant to be your last words, it was still comforting to know that you felt that way about me, especially with all that’s been going on. And I really do want to be the mother of your children.

Brandon smiled. Maybe they were turning a corner.


Allison stared at the dots, both wondering if her apology would be accepted, and knowing the last line was a lie. Just in front of her, the television they kept tuned to CNN burbled quietly. She moved to set the phone down on her desk when it vibrated. 

Hahaha, it’s okay, babe. I’m sorry for getting you worked up. It’s just something I wanted to try. I love you, too. And all that stuff is still true, btw. 

His forgiveness did nothing to lighten Allison’s spirits. To be honest, she had been hoping for a fight to help her justify the recent decision she’d made, to give her a target for her anger and frustration. She needed to lash out at Brandon because he was part of the problem right now. Not directly, of course, but he had certainly helped create the problem. 

Allison was pregnant. She had found out a week ago, after a missed period that she could normally set her watch by. Fourteen years she’d had that thing, and for fourteen years it showed up at exactly the same time. When it didn’t happen last week she knew something was up, and immediately thought it was cancer. A routine blood test—“There’s no way I’m pregnant, doc, it’s cancer”—had given her even more surprising news: after eight years, she was, in fact, pregnant. And now the problem was figuring out how to tell Brandon, because two days before she’d gotten the “big” news, she had decided to leave him. 

Figuring out the date of conception wasn’t difficult, Brandon’s birthday had been a few weeks ago, and sex was the only thing he wanted, according to his hilariously inappropriate reply to her emailed question about potential gifts. That had been the last time—the only time—in the past six months that it had happened. It wasn’t that the sex was bad, really. It just felt like a wasted effort to her now. The end result should be pregnancy, and that hadn’t happened, so why couldn’t they both just watch television until one of them either died or got the nerve to file for divorce? 

She once was of the mind that pregnancy would fix all their problems. A baby, she thought, would be the solution to the crumbling marriage, the lost love, and the constant bickering. But when she got the news, her first thought was “How am I going to raise a kid alone?” instead of, “Oh my god we’ll be so happy now.” That had only solidified her thoughts that the marriage wasn’t going to last, kid or no kid.

Brandon of course was as clueless as ever. An eternal optimist. Not that there was anyone else, Allison was a faithful spouse, and she wasn’t interested in other guys any way. There had been a few at the office she could have had if she wanted, and perhaps they thought they had a chance, until they experienced her brusque rejections to even the most innocuous flirting. 

In fact, now that she knew she had a baby on the way, she had begun to think she wouldn’t need anyone else for a long time. She had always been a bit of a loner; someone who preferred the company of herself to others. She thought it might be fun to raise a daughter—or a son, but it would be a daughter, a mother knew—by herself. Sort of a them against the world, sitcom-type of thing. Allison smiled at the thought. 

The phone buzzed again. 

Alright babe, I’m pulling up to the airport. I’ll be leaving soon, I love you, and when I get back we can talk more about what I can do to stop annoying you with some of my habits, hahaha. My flight number is 298, Bismarck straight through to D.C., I’ll let you know when I land.

Allison shook her head, snapped back into reality by text. Oh well, she’d keep him in the dark until he got back.  

I love you too. Be safe, and maybe just forget you’ve ever read Harry Potter, that would be a start. ;-)

The message received indicator changed from Delivered to Read, but there were no dots. Well, at least he wouldn’t bother her for a couple of hours. She shook her head again, then remembered the tiny life—all the websites said she (or he) was the size of a peanut—growing inside her. 

“Don’t worry,” she said under her breath, “I’ll make sure you never meet Harry Freaking Potter.” 


The plane engines hiccuped once, twice, then roared back to their normal pitch. Brandon glanced up from The Goblet of Fire. He’d experienced turbulence before. This wasn’t turbulence. The in-flight map on the headrest in front of him said they were just over Michigan, getting ready to hit the final leg of the flight over Lake Erie. His view of the screen was suddenly obstructed, and it took a moment for him to recognize the object. It was the oxygen mask. He grabbed his phone from his pocket. He looked around and saw he wasn't the only one with the thought.

“To hell with airplane mode,” he said. 


Allison glanced up from her work to gaze absently outside at the storm gathering dark clouds in the distance. It wouldn’t be awful, just another North Dakota spring shower. Maybe some lightning, maybe a few thunderclaps to make everyone here in the ten-story office building jump and give them something interesting to talk about as they passed each other coming in and out of the lavatory. 

Her eyes caught her reflection in the glass—time for a haircut—then she focused on the background and a reversed image of CNN. “eirE ekaL revo nwod seog 892 thgilF :gnikaerB” is what the ticker said, and pieces of metal littered a dark blue background. Her curiosity piqued, she turned around. 

“Breaking: Flight 298 goes down over Lake Erie.” It took a moment for the correctly ordered words to register. When they did, her heart jumped. She knocked over a stack of papers on her desk trying to find her phone, as an urgent knock sounded on her door and all of the lights representing different lines on her office phone lit up at once. She glanced up, still searching for her phone, and saw her boss enter the room, panic and pity etched into her face. 

She felt the phone, finally. Looking down, she saw a notification. 

Messages
BunnyHunch (1)

She hadn’t called Brandon that in years. Why was he still saved under that name? She pressed her shaking thumb nervously against the Home Button, hitting it twice on accident. Her Visa card came up, asking to be passed over the machine that would process her payment. 

Allison cursed loudly, and pounded the button with her thumb, finally clearing her screen. She heard her boss say something, but her attention was now on the Messages icon, and the tiny red number “1” in the corner of it. She opened her messages. 

It was a single line, something so simple, yet so complex, and something that perfectly encapsulated the entire marriage she was now not so sure she wanted out of. 

I open at the closet. 


Thursday, November 3, 2016

A forced entry

These last few weeks I've been struggling with self-discipline.

I'm not making good food choices at home, and I'm not making good food choices when I'm by myself in my truck, speeding off to whatever it is that has me away from home that night.

My workouts are fantastic, and I'm seeing some muscle definition that wasn't there before, particularly in my upper arms and my outer thigh (my inner thighs have enough loose skin to start a whole new human).

Speaking of whole new humans, The Missus and I are, at long last, pregnant. We heard the heartbeat just a couple of weeks ago, and of course I became very emotional and sobbed like a baby, because that's what I do in emotional situations.

One of the things I have been struggling with is how I need to let our three children know that this fourth kid isn't a replacement for them. I don't want them to ever feel that way, but I have a very strong hunch that they already do (and will). I don't want to come right out and say the words, lest I am responsible for putting a thought there that they hadn't even considered.

And so I bite my tongue and I continue to try and let them know they're loved in other ways.

I probably won't ever publish this blog on any social network, so there's a good chance the only people that will see it will be those of you who are stalkers (HI!) and my children when they get old enough to find this thing (Keeli has already tried, unsuccessfully).

Just in case one of the kids is here, maybe you need to see this. I love you. I love you more than you could ever imagine, and the reason why I can say this to you in the future is because that love will never go away. You see, that's the love a parent has for a child. You are my child. You are a Sloat. You are perfect for your mom and I because God brought us together. There is a verse in the Bible that talks about what God brings together, no man can separate. No one can ever get in the way of my love for you.

I think a big part of self-discipline is forcing yourself to do what you don't want to do until it actually becomes something you can't wait to do. I used to be that way about writing. I finished up a piece today that took a few days to write, and it was almost exhausting to get through. I feel like I've let this little blog go, and the only writing I do is for the paper, or for tests to hand out. That surely can't be good.

I told Alicia the other day that I had a pretty good book idea, and this is my official way of logging that, so in ten years when I haven't gotten around to writing it, and someone else comes out with a book about missionaries trying to reach the last people group who hasn't heard the gospel, I can safely say I had the idea first. I had a friend tell me once they believed ideas aren't just given to one person. That there's a huge pool to swim in, and sometimes people are in the same part of the pool at the same time, or someone will swim up to something you just passed. Might not make sense to you, but I wholeheartedly believe that's true.

I need to write more. I need to discipline myself the way that I have with food and exercise. I need to force it until it becomes natural again. That's what this post is, a kick in the butt. Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't.

If you're here as a stalker, I am truly sorry you sat through this garbled mess. If you're one of my kids, I'll say it again, I love you more than life itself, and no matter what happens, that love will never change.