Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Product of Silence: A Letter to Ken

After slacking for a while with this Product of Silence bit, I've finally gotten another post together. After a few days of editing, reading, and sitting in the dark, I don't feel it's finished. That said, I don't think I'll ever feel like it's finished. Regardless, I hope you'll share your comments, insights, or stories in the comments. And be sure to check out the other participants this week! This thing is starting to catch on, it seems. WAHOO!

And, as always, I've placed it "after the jump." If you come here for the funny, and don't want anything but the funny, disregard this post and I'll see you on Monday, foo'!

(All the rest of you? Click on "read more" below the picture of the van. The layout is not great, I'm aware, but NOW IS NOT THE TIME!)


Prompt: I've been thinking about a former student of mine lately, and I wanted to put those thoughts down on paper. So, this week, it's a letter that I never intend to send.


I couldn't believe you'd joined the Army. Many of your classmates had planned on it, I remember, but you never seemed strong enough. You were too breezy and cool. You were awkward, had blond hair, and always corrected our pronunciation of your last name. It's French, my aunts tell me. How could that make a soldier? They'd eat him alive.

And it wasn't just me, Ken. Everyone saw it. Was it weakness? Was it fragility? Was it peacefulness? There was nothing wrong with you, Ken, but they were always looking for something. They saw a short pant leg. They heard a smart and seasoned phrase. They smelled your family on your clothing, on your hair. You were not ashamed to be human, of course, but they looked. Soon, I was looking, too.

And what use were you to me? Your academics were meager. Your family was shuffled and scattered, worn and discarded. You farted in class, Ken, all the time! The class would moan and laugh and shake a collective head. And you'd smirk, smile, sit aloof. Do you remember now? How could something come of that, Ken? Where is the drive? The pride? Some in life, you see, need to be in the underbelly. The world is made up of all kinds, Ken.

I heard about the news well after it happened to you. Well after you were scorched and bloodied in the desert sun. Well after you saw pieces of yourself fall apart and away. Well after the world had tried to eat you alive. I heard you had friends around you, Ken. Friends that wanted nothing more than to save you. I bet you'd joked together. I bet you'd had some times, Ken. You were in the underbelly, alright. But, my god, Ken, it's much brighter there than I could have known.

"Can you imagine? Ken? A war hero?" I couldn't. I wrinkled my face and probably even smiled. It sounded absurd, you see. We remembered the farts, Ken. We remembered the scent of your hair. We remembered the way you spoke your name, placing it in the air indelibly. We mimicked your tone that day, Ken, but your name filled the space around our heads, pushing the classroom walls out and over.

You came to see us, Ken, soon thereafter. All I could see was your arm, your leg. Gone. You were a battered body of a man, Ken, and I wanted to weep. I wanted to sit at your feet and tell you I'm sorry. To tell you there is no underbelly, there is no dark. There is nothing but light. But you just sat there and smiled. You offered to buy us lunch. You spoke of how much you loved this place, this school. I ordered a sandwich. I twirled my hair. I said nothing.

Ken, you'll never know how you lit up the world for me, and sometimes, when I see that light begin to fade, I set it all on fire. I'll set this world on fire, Ken, if it's ever too dark to see.

--Ms. H

These other fine people also participated in Product of Silence today. (Don't worry: they're not all depressing! Some are hilarious!) Be sure to check them out. And if you get around to posting one today, email me and I'll ad you to the list!


  1. ...Or something that doesn't make me sound like a total tool. I meant that you did an excellent job of painting a picture of this sad and beautiful and inspiring story with your words. I think its great.

  2. And you. You know it's the lines like "Well after you saw pieces of yourself fall apart and away." that I love. And the light and fire images.

    It's a very uncomfortable experience to have your opinions of someone changed by their circumstances. I really like what you're exploring here.

  3. It's so beautiful..left me speechless...

  4. A true hero. It's funny when you think about the people you used to know in high school and at that time you were so sure who would be successful, and who would fail in life. Seems as though Ken succeeded despite this tragedy. Great post Kristine! Serves as a reminder about prejudging people.

  5. "There is no underbelly, there is only light."
    "I'll set this world on fire, Ken, if it is ever to dark to see."

    Without a doubt, these excerpts stood out the most to me as not only great imagery, but potent ideas.

  6. I'm not that good of a writer, but I decided to join in too. Better late than never, I guess.

    The Cookbook

  7. and you're not mailing this letter... why? Ken needs to read this one, if for no other reason than to know you have come to recognize what he managed to keep hidden behind the facade.

    Incredible post (again... how do you do it? Is there a fountain of "insightful" in your area?)

  8. I always wanted to have a framed school-age photo of someone like Bill Gates in my classroom, to show that the nerds will someday be your boss, so be nice. I had a kid, my first year of teaching that was a total underdog like Ken, and the day we had a play-competition with multiplication facts, the whole class cheered when he was the runaway champ! I was Ken as a kid, and I always considered it a huge triumph when I could make the "cooler" kids see that everyone on our team was someone to value. That said? Next time you do this, I want in. I have a letter to write.

  9. God, that last paragraph...gave me chills.

  10. I have to go read other posts now, hopefully get the tears to stop. Beautiful.

  11. You are making me do this. I'm going to, eventually.

    love love

  12. God, that last paragraph...gave me chills.