He was only taking one bag with him to college. There wasn’t much to take. He was going to start over. He’d often reach for something, a book or a picture, then he’d remember, “I don’t need that.” He folded the clothes carefully and efficiently, reminding himself that if he needed something later, he could get it there.

He had allowed himself a few indulgences for the bag. One was a tightly folded up piece of notebook paper. He took it out and opened up and read it again. The writing was his, but it was child’s writing, in pencil. The word “Confession” was written in pen at the top of the paper. Did he write that later, he wondered? He couldn’t remember. Maybe it was the teacher who wrote it.

I act Very Bad in school
I Should inprove in the
Way I act. I am not acting
very good in my class. We
put our coats outside when
the teacher told us to where
them. I fool around in class.
I make noise. I bother
Other kids in our clases.
I do not now how to act.
I do not do what the teacher
tells me to do. I do not behave.
I don’t now how to act.
I need to lern how to act.
I do not do what I am
soposed to do.
I do not do what I am
soposed to do when I am
I do not do what I am
soposed to when I am
soposed to do it
I do not do what I am
to do
Someday I will lern to
be quiet. Someday I will
to do what I am to do.
I will sotime do what I
am to do
I do not do what I am to
do. I don’t ever do what
I am to do I never liten
to the teacher I never
do anything right. I don’t ever
iten to anybody

“Little boy,” he said to himself. “You need to learn how to spell.”

It was the first time he was forced to write as punishment. Over the years ahead, he’d write thousands of lines confessing his crimes, and repeating his promises not to commit them again. He remembered how his hands would cramp around the pencil as he wrote words over and over and over again.

He looked at the page and then folded it back into the neat little square. He tucked it into a black book with the word RECORD embossed on the front.

Then he said out loud as he zipped up the bag,

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For, I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

“I can’t believe you’re leaving me behind,” his mother said, standing behind him.

He turned around.

“I didn’t see you.”

“Why do you have to go so far away?”

“The farther the better, mom,” he said. “You made your choices. I’m making mine.”

“I never wanted to leave your dad,” she said.

He looked at her annoyed.

“What difference does that make now?” he asked, “You brought him in here, right into the heart of our home, my life and he tried to destroy it.”

“I know, I know.”

“You know, you know,” he said mockingly. “You’re proving that knowledge isn’t power, then.”

“You’re right.”

“All the abuse from him,” he began to catalog. “The gun, the threats, the breaking things, the lies, your promises.”

He turned and picked up his bag off the desk and set it on his bed. He looked at his mother’s vacant face.

“And the teachers,” he said. “They tried to break me down. They tried. But they failed. It didn’t work.”

“Why can’t you go to school here?”

“And stay here in the desert with you, in the ruins of this place,” he gestured to the room, but he meant the house, the city, the state, all of it. “No. There is nothing for me here now. My future is somewhere else, somewhere far away from here.”

“I’ll leave him,” she said. “If you stay, I’ll leave him.”

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. “How many times have you promised that? More times than I can count. No. I’m finished.”

Now she began to cry, something that he hated. It was all just a trap, a set up to lure assurance and comfort. Emotion that spurred on most people to reach toward it, to be drawn in only pushed him away, repelled him. It was weak, and if weakness had a strength at all, it was making everything around it weak too.

“OK, that’s enough,” he said. “I have to finish up here and get going. I have a cab coming soon.”

“Please. Get out.”

She walked out the door and he shut it behind her. He leaned on the door with both hands. Then he pressed his face against it and held it there and closed his eyes. Then he opened them and saw his book shelf.

He surveyed all that he’d be leaving behind.

“I don’t need that,” he kept saying as he scanned the volumes. Then he got to a small red book in between other similar, small red books. He took it down and opened it to a spot he knew.

“All of are one mind, to quit the guilty land, to leave a place where hospitality is profaned, and to give our fleet to the winds.”

Then he said the words in Latin to himself out loud.

“Et dare classibus austros. Et dare classibus austros.”

He closed the book and took the one right next to it. He held them stacked in his hands.

There was a honking from outside. It was the cab. He looked out the window, then back at the two volumes in his hands.

“I need these,” he said to himself, pressing them into the full bag and he walked out the door, into the hallway and then outside.