Jacob Bern
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Jacob Bern


Jacob would sigh and daydream through school,
imagining the forts he would build,
the tree houses he wanted to connect to each other via narrow bridges,
and the traps he could make to guard his perceived elaborate childhood creations in the woods.

When not daydreaming he was drawing armies of stick figures
warring against each other in mazes and tunnels.
Miniature tanks spat dots arcing across the page,
while slender soldiers prostrated themselves in the speckled dirt.
Some were digging foxholes, others running, one waving them all on with a long hand.
Jacob would design different flags for the camps,
drawing mounds, wood forts, or elaborate castles.
Monsters with lizard faces, tentacle legs, and human arms capped with taloned fingers
erupted out of the ground,
heaving the scattering stickmen across the page.

His desk was stiff, boring, and old.
It’s only redeeming feature was the metal bar on the right side
that was easily mentally transformed into an explosive cannon.
Wrapping his arm around it and leaning down he would explode lunch boxes,
blow holes through the chalk board, and when he really concentrated,
shoot the dangling jewelry right off Ms. Kelly’s ears.

At his desk,
staring out the window,
the shadows slowly crept across the pavement outside.

When he wasn’t riding the waves of the uncut grass rippling across the field
visible through the window,
Jacob was watching, with occasional outbursts of stifled laughter,
scenes from the cartoons he embraced on Saturday mornings;
the one morning when his parents stayed in bed
and let Jacob eat cereal and watch TV without restraint.

Most of the children didn’t notice or didn’t care,
but Susan Perkins, who Jacob knew because she wrote her full name on every item she owned, would lean over and putting a hand next to her mouth, ask
“what’s so funny?”
He wasn’t sure if she was using an “inside voice” as his Sunday school teachers called it,
or a loud whisper,
but he didn’t like it.
Jacob could still see the cartoon figures suspended in front of him, overlayed across the backs of students and their chairs, the green tile between them.

Jacob was convinced that school was merely an occupation to keep children from being lost
entirely to their imaginations.
For despite Ms. Kelly’s reprimands, he could go an entire school day,
drawing snails and owls, reliving and creating memories with Sam,
and playing in the wet dirt with his toy cars with such vividness
he was surprised she did not scold him for all the dirt on his hands.
“What’s going in that head of yours? Pay attention!”
Ms. Kelly was the only person he’d met that could scold him with her wrinkled forehead and rigid posture
while telling him with the softest inflection,
that she wasn’t angry.
Like an apple hitting soft earth and wet grass somewhere deep in the orchard,
Jacob could tell where the sweetness was even amidst vast space.

He could not understand,
and did not want to,
why students carried books, why they mimicked the writings on the chalkboard,
and why they asked questions besides things like how long it was until lunch time.
Even that question Jacob had learned to answer by watching the bars on the clock.
Ms. Kelly said they were hands, which made no sense.
They were little black guns relentlessly firing in all directions.

It seemed to him his peers were more interested in soliciting the teacher’s attention than her information.
They would eagerly repeat silly things like
they had lost a tooth, or they were going to their grandmother’s house.
Sometimes a student would comment on something worthwhile,
like seeing a snake in the ditch during recess,
or finding a bird’s nest in an old shed.

Walking out of the classroom when the narrow guns had fired at the 2 and 6
Jacob could not have stated with even the most genuine of efforts,
what the teacher had taught, what it meant, or what the purpose was.
All that mattered was he was going home.
And home meant the sound and feel of wind between tree branches and on bouncing leaves,
long grass pocked with strong grasshoppers,
Sam’s warm fur and dark eyes,
his mother’s quiet, perfect smile.



What if you could see your grandfather as a child? See his enthusiasm and innocence? What if you could be witness to his gradual emotional and spiritual decay? Would you not reach out with earnest hands to help bring him home? This is a story of redemption.

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