This evening, though it took him three times to ask me the question in his perfect Spanish due to my completely butchered understanding, I think I was able to answer him with a too-easy level of coherence.
“Why in that one class did we have to climb under the desks and turn off the lights?”
“Welcome to America, the land of the free, the land where gunmen enter classrooms and kill students and we have to spend our lives practicing for the possibility of that moment.”
“But couldn’t a gunman just blow open the door?”
The irony of everything is in his words.
Couldn’t we just pass gun control laws or have background checks instead of practicing lockdowns?
Couldn’t we have immigration policies that wouldn’t leave 17-year-old refugees in homeless shelters?
Couldn’t we raise our sons to be like this one, so grateful that in the course of seventeen days, he has completely changed our lives and filled our home with laughter and love, instead of raising sons who think the only solution to life’s problems is to shoot someone?
He is here now, in my house, safe after his first American lockdown. What else will he see in a year, in a lifetime, as he adjusts to this new world? As he tries his best to catch up with a semester of learning English that he missed, where we started with the alphabet and now are writing sentences that he struggles to understand, relying on the other Hondurans in the class to translate? As he sits in my ninth-grade advisement class listening to me ramble on about graduation requirements that all of us know are inaccessible to him?
What else might he write, between now and when he leaves our house, that could be more beautiful than these crumpled-up words that we threw into the basket, a silly icebreaker activity that was designed to help the students get to know each other and that completely failed in my ever-introverted advisement class?
The task was to read the messages aloud and try to guess who the author was.
But I couldn’t read his words aloud. Not after the lockdown. Not in my broken translation. Not for this emotionless class to hear.
Because I wanted to feel those words deep in my soul, how beautifully imperfect and ever-so-perfect.
- A fun thing you did over break: I went to the hot springs, celebrated my birthday with my great family. I have three more sisters and a new mom and dad who make my life perfect.
- What is an unusual or interesting fact about you? I was adopted by a great family.
Just five minutes after crumpling the paper back to him, the dean came to the door asking for him and his backpack. My blood turned to ice in an instant. I have been teaching for far too long to know what the combination of those words means.
What could have happened between when I saw him getting his coffee from our kitchen this morning and that moment? What could they be looking for? How could they be so wrong?
Every question in the world popped into my brain, and I held back his three friends to ask what had happened in period 2. I told them how scared I was about the backpack request in particular, and they all responded, “No te preocupes, Miss, nada pasó.”
The next seven minutes became my own terrifying lockdown. Because he is not just one of the hundreds of kids they have pulled out of my class in the past sixteen years.
He is my kid.
When he returned during passing period, I couldn’t even let him go to math class without giving him a hug of one hundred percent relief after he told me that his social worker had picked up all his documents from the homeless shelter, and he needed to bring his backpack to keep them safe.
Tonight, I could have told him, if I were less opinionated, that we have lockdowns to keep us safe.
But when you’re in a lockdown, you’re not thinking about safety. You’re thinking about your life. All you’ve been through, all you might never see. You’re thinking about all the kids’ faces, all the struggles of the world, everything bundled up into the silent, dark corner of a classroom, the silent, dark corner of our society.
You’re thinking about the people you love. The people who write kind words on soon-to-be-crumpled paper. The social worker who texted her gratitude one last time right after meeting with him. The family surrounding you who took him into their lives without a second thought.
“Look, Miss,” his friend grinned at lunch, gesturing towards him in the hallway. “No necesitaba preocuparte… Su hijo está bien.”
Yes. Both of our lockdowns have been lifted.
And my son is just fine.