January 31, 2018
Dear Ms. DeJésus,
If you remember the me that was a 7th or 8th grader between 1993 and 1995 in your Algebra I and II classes, I'm already embarrassed. But, by now, I'm definitively someone else. When I think about the fat kid who penciled knives and guns all over his desk and had to scrub them off, or the one that figured out how to pick the lock to the school pantry in the basement and made off with pepperoni and cheese slices, I can't help but scratch my head. I still ponder the mind of a brat who would throw fruit over the wall at traffic driving by the school, and might know something about an epic bonfire at "the pit." The kid who was ultimately arrested for shoplifting at Schnucks grocery store after picking his way through Crestwood mall. I still haven't completely figured him out.
I think it was a combination of being at a boarding school far from the accountability of my parents and the conservative Southern Baptist collective that I was brought up in, along with the fact that its allegedly infallible protestant doctrine ingrained in me was confident that all of the fine Catholic souls at Thomas Jefferson School who invited me to church with them had been misled by the devil. So my church was mailed to me by my parents on cassette tapes. I listened to it until I decided I'd rather allocate my short-lived AA batteries to Ray Stevens tunes.
For a time, the immediate peer pressure to excel at ignoble pursuits outweighed the heartburn of my conscience that resulted from those actions. After the come-to-Jesus moment that was being loaded into an urban paddy-wagon as a fifteen-year-old and hauled down to the station in cuffs with my friend Jeff, the stellar education I was receiving didn't seem worth leaving my character on a chopping block so far from my roots for four more years. I wish I'd been stronger. Looking back, I’m extremely grateful that my personal Rumspringa happened in middle school. It forced me to grow up a lot in a short amount of time. I was laced straighter than a vector through my high school and college years.
When I think of you, I have nothing but warm thoughts. You were probably my favorite teacher at TJ, and you were good at it, too. You were firm, patient, and kind, to a rare degree— everything middle school students and their little brains soaking in unstable chemical baths need to bring structure to a portion of their day. Your classes weren't easy. Come to think of it, I've never had a teacher I considered great who's classes were easy. They might have been easier if I'd paid closer attention instead of counting how many times you said "okay" or "ok" in a 30-minute class. Okay, I really only did that a couple of times, okay? But you might have come close to breaking 100 . . . okay? ;-)
I graduated from high school in '99, 8th in my class. Not too shabby for a kid whose short-term memory was wiped clean on a monthly basis thanks to epileptic seizures. The last time I had to experience that thorn in the flesh was my sophomore year of college back in 2001. I guess I finally outgrew them.
I graduated from the University of Texas in 2003 with a degree in mathematics, believe it or not. I thought I would end up teaching, and part of me still thinks I should try that, but I've had my share of good teachers and bad ones, and I can't imagine the hell it might be to discover that I’m an ineffective classroom manager.
For going on 13 years now I've worked for Nucor Steel, and with them I've been a draftsman, lead, trainer, estimator/project manager, chemistry lab tech, and now project analyst. I've lived and/or worked for the company in Texas, Arkansas, New York, New Hampshire, and Washington, and dragged my border collie and poor wife around the country with me for the last 12 and 9 years, respectively. We're settling down in the Seattle area, where we've lived for the last five rides about the sun.
All of that moving around has definitely broadened the definition of “right-belief” originally defined for me by a town with a population of 112 nestled in a dry county in Texas. Grace has to be much more encompassing than I once thought if any of us are to have eternal aspirations.
I have to confess that there is one thing I stole from you. And that’s your name. Out of respect for you, and because when you told your class that DeJésus means "For Jesus," the little Southern Baptist demon that I was thought that was super cool. Ever since I started high school I've been writing poetry and almost everything else under the pen-name, Tex DeJésus. It may never show up on the shelves of a Barnes & Noble, but it will be on the cover of In Verse. Thank you for your personal investment in my education and well-being all those years ago. Your efforts weren't wasted on me.
Daniel Loffer, AKA Tex DeJésus