A Pile of Rocks

Because you asked. Because the Afghans this summer during Newcomer summer camp couldn’t understand what happened and wanted to see a picture of him. Here’s the picture of him standing among us like the video game we played too late after that Halloween party, like the one we took in Sintra with the extra child who came on our trip and complained the whole time. Like the broken wings of a family trying too hard.

“What happened? Why did he leave? Where did he go? What did he do?”

None of it matters now, in the long run. And, my gut and predictions were 100% accurate, because my last and (probably) final communications with him, informing him that it was time for him to find his own phone plan, told me exactly what I knew would happen. After everything, after actually achieving the miraculous goal of our government granting him a work permit, he’s living in Nebraska, with his cousins he escaped from, climbing on roofs, making no money, and no different than the life I tried to pry him from.

It doesn’t matter that I tried to show him the world. That I drove four hours out of my way to show him the Grand Canyon, an image so large that it can be seen from satellites, only for him to say to me, “This isn’t even worth taking out my phone for. Why would I take a photo of a pile of rocks?”

It doesn’t matter that we saved $9,000 for him to have a future. That when he needed a bike, a ski pass, a phone (three, actually), a haircut, money to send to Honduras, a helmet, soccer shoes, track shoes, a chance… We gave it to him, and still tucked that money away for more than two years, and made the mistake (or the realization) of giving it to him, and he lit it like a wildfire, and it was gone in two months, and he didn’t have a thing to show for it or one word of remorse or gratitude.

It doesn’t matter that my three girls spent those years watching the way he talked to me, the way he called me a “bitter old bitch” and a “controlling bitch” and an “irrational woman” and all the things before and since. That he would barely go to school or tutoring, that he wouldn’t get a job, that he. Wouldn’t.

All that matters, really, is that I forgot who I was.

I am a person who would drive four hours out of her way, the morning that my favorite non-human possessions were stolen, and let the grandness of the FUCKING Grand Canyon take my breath away, even if this is the fourth time I’ve seen it.

I am a person who would work through any difficulty to make this moment, this life, a bit more tolerable.

I am a person who married the most amazing, loving man, who would live in Spain, stay home instead of working, buy the house I want, cook our dinner, feed our cats, take in a boy, braid his daughters’ hair, give me pleasure, drive ten miles to beer in the rain, hike a mountain, sit on a beach, give up his military dreams, put me first… I am a person who should know better.

I am a person who would stand in the hallway, the never-ending hallway of instruction, and listen to your pleading-heart story well enough to hear that you needed help and I have a room and a heart and a conscience, and I will offer it to you.

I am a person trying to raise three girls to not take shit from anybody. Maybe I did well with this, maybe I went too far. They’ll wear the Cardinal red to a Rockies game not because they care about baseball, but because they care about being themselves, and “Why is it sexy? Because some man decided that the way I dress is sexy?” And all the controversial words you can think of between this question and who I was at age seventeen, and …? Do you think I should have brought a strange young and disrespectful young man into this home?

All that matters, really, is that I knew what I was getting into, and I didn’t listen to myself.

My thoughts were a pile of rocks, the pandemic was a pile of rocks, that goddamn destroyed room was a pile of rocks.

And it’s gone now.

He’s in another state. My girls are free.

I found myself again.

He took me away from me. But I have my own camera. And you better bet that I know that there is a time and a place to pull it out and snap a shot.

It’s four hours away, a two-year interception, a worthwhile detour.

But it is NOT a pile of rocks. It’s the most amazing thing you’ll ever see, discovering who you are.

It’s a pretty fucking GRAND Canyon.

Better

Dear Erika,

I have been teaching for eighteen years. Aurora, Parker, Spain, Denver. I (mostly) grew up in Denver, where the public school system is pretty much a shitshow compared to upstate New York, where I learned everything by age eleven that was then repeated at Merrill Middle School.

I have seen every teaching style, from direct-lecture to let’s-let-the-students-decide (DSA before what it is now). My former school (in Parker) paid $20,000 annually for us to be a part of a program that was based on improving teaching by learning through our peers. Learning labs. Peer observations. The whole gamut.

Just a bit of background to let you know that I haven’t just stood in front of a group of Newcomers for eighteen years.

I’ve seen, co-taught with, and even evaluated, every type of teacher. The let-loose, out-of-control-classes type of teacher. The expert-in-every-way, loving-just-enough type of teacher. The middle-of-the-road teacher.

And it’s taken more than a week for me to write this to you. And I know that he already left and I would never in a million years deny you the opportunity to stay home with your beautiful child.

Yet when I asked you, point-blank as I always do, if you’d come back? It breaks my heart that you shrugged.

Because you are NOT the let-loose, out-of-control-classes type of teacher, nor the middle-of-the-road teacher. You know and I know that you are the one.

The one who, in your own subtle fashion, captures the entire class. Calling on every kid. Listening to what they have to say. Taking in their expressions and their hidden voices. Reading aloud. Helping them to understand the complexities of our oppressive system while acknowledging their experiences with it.

You once brought your mother with you to a PD I was running. How absurd, that I was running a PD for YOU to learn from. As if you couldn’t have been teaching us all, in your calm and supportive way, how to be better. Your mother, also a teacher, who gave you what you have, who put everything into you that makes you who you are.

Better at teaching.

Better at not having those gut-wrenching reactions.

Better at being truthful without being hurtful.

Better at being yourself.

I wish I could be there to witness what you are about to endeavor. The chasing of toddlers. The balancing of life with a firefighter. The even-keeled response to life that encompasses who you are.

I wish I could be there to thank you. Because you are not just a teacher. You are one of the teachers who listened to me when I cried for my daughter’s soul and.

Saved her.

You’re one in a million. Better than I will ever be.

And I hope you know that. I hope those hundreds of kids who have shuffled through your classroom know that.

And that you won’t just be a statistic.

And that you’ll come back.

Because there has never been a better time to have a good teacher. The one with the Birkenstocks. The one whose beauty fills the room. The one whose patience emanates.

One of the best.

Better than the best.