Coronatine, Day Sixty-seven (Social Distancing Applied to Poverty)

So we don’t have a beach in Colorado, not a real one anyway. We do have immigrants from a hundred countries and out-of-state transplants from all fifty states who have come to live here for one main reason: to be outside.

It’s true. Colorado has one of the highest rates in the country for outdoor recreation, and in general, physical activity.

So, after more than two months of being trapped indoors, of ski areas being shut down too soon, of gyms being closed, of mandates that tell us we shouldn’t drive more than ten miles to enjoy the outdoors, this happened: a crowd of just-out-of-school teenagers, more than two hundred of them, ignored all social distancing mandates and managed to get all of the state’s beaches closed indefinitely.

Now, I am a high school teacher, AND I have four teenagers in my house. Are they crazy? Yes. Are they self-absorbed? Yes. Are they reckless? Absolutely.

But must we all, all of us outdoor fanatics, suffer a summer without our “beach” because of a crowd of adolescents?

Because let me tell you who is affected by this new mandate. All the poor people everywhere who crowd into Cherry Creek State Park, conveniently located in the center of the city, on any given weekend because you can fill a car full of people to enjoy the water and sun for a measly $11. You can pack a picnic or a barbecue, relax under a cottonwood, dip your toes in the water, and pretend that the world outside of this sanctuary doesn’t exist. For a few hours, a day, you can have a sense of peace.

I have lived within fifteen minutes of this park for most of my life. On summer weekend days, you have to stake out a spot by 10am if you want the perfect combination of shade and sun. And you will see people from all walks of life enjoying its proximity to the city. Every language you can think of, every tone of skin, every belief system, all enjoying the splashes and sun.

And now we’re in a pandemic. And now we’re supposed to stay home. And now we’re social distancing.

Most of us are.

But guess who still gets to enjoy the water at the fourteen parks with closed swim beaches?

People with boats.

Guess who gets to enjoy the lakes and campgrounds owned by counties in northern Colorado? Lakes like Horsetooth Reservoir with its crystalline turquoise water, surrounded by mountains?

People with hard-sided campers that contain their own private bathrooms.

And guess who those people are?

People with money.

So, in the midst of a pandemic, when the privileged are allowed to storm the streets brandishing military-grade weapons because they want everything open, those same things ARE open. To them.

And to those who can just gather up the $11 entrance fee? They can social distance from home. They don’t need to play golf or take out their speedboat or enjoy a luxurious camper that costs more than they’ll ever make in a year. They can go back to their cramped apartments with no yard space while the rich can back their boats into their third garage and pay their gardeners to perfectly maintain the 10,000-square-foot lot that they COULD be enjoying instead.

And no matter what, don’t you ever forget it, this is the Land of the Free.

Free for everyone with a million bucks, and ever-so-costly for those who can just afford $11.

(I will miss those cottonwoods).

 

Coronatine, Day Sixty-one

I went to the grocery store today, and I don’t want to write about the nightmare I had last night where no one was wearing a mask.

Could you imagine, three months ago, having a nightmare about people not wearing masks in Target?

Actually, King Soopers was well-stocked today. Everyone I saw had a mask on. People at 8:30am obeyed the one-way aisle rules, and best of all? I stayed within my budget.

I made a budget for my post-work husband, starting at the beginning of May. $200 a week. It may sound extraordinarily excessive, but we’ve got six mouths to feed, and these are American prices, after all.

But I bought extras today. This bugleweed. A roll of packaging tape. And sushi because fuck Wednesday cooking.

And, my nightmares should end soon.

Because my post-work husband got a job, a non-union, non-seniority-screws-you job, doing exactly what he’s great at and wants to do forever, in the midst of a pandemic.

And.

And you can call it what you want. White privilege. True. Luck. Absolutely. Divine intervention. Maybe.

Or just… fate. The fate that led him through the Air Force to me, that led the boy to our doorstep, that led three beautiful daughters into our home, that led his previous experience to him becoming the best candidate out of all the others being laid off.

Coronatine, day sixty-one. It’s a beautiful image filled with pets, hope, and love.

And I want to hold on to this non-nightmare feeling for as long as I can.

And.

This cat was born to be a model. Good night.

Coronatine, Day Forty-seven (Land of the Free)

Should I continue to measure quarantine in days, or should this new life be measured in weeks now? Weeks since we’ve been to work. To school. Weeks since I went to the grocery store without spending $300-$500 trying to stock up for when we’re really going to need it.

Weeks since I made it through one day without crying.

Let’s try a countdown of weeks. Weeks until his job ends: three. Weeks until I have to spend 24% of my take-home pay on health insurance: four. Weeks until we run out of money based on this: twenty. Weeks until I will feel safe about seeing and kissing my husband, as he will no longer be an essential worker and risking his life every day: five.

Weeks until I make it one day without crying: zero.

But I thought I was done crying! I was writing gratitude posts, 10×10, one hundred goddamn things to be grateful for! On the final day, I spent hours reviewing our budget, stupidly thinking we could manage for up to a year on our savings, our tenant money, and my salary.

Because I saw this and did the math:

And what is $260×2, the bottom left plan, the only one we could afford? It’s $520. And add in dental and vision, it was going to be $650 a month, and we could just. Barely. Manage.

But it was a lie, a lie to myself, a bait-and-switch chart from the school district, a slap in the face at 5:00am this morning when I decided to open enroll. No, not $260 per paycheck. Here is the real price:

For the cheapest plan for my family. The plan with a $7000 deductible. So… other than a singular wellness-check visit to the doctor (should I be grateful this is included?), we will pay $12,000 a year in monthly premiums and then another $7000 if anything happens, and then 30% of the rest until we reach the out-of-pocket max of $12,700. Ummmm… shouldn’t the out-of-pocket max INCLUDE the $12,000 a year already spent on monthly premiums?  (Asking for a friend).

What could I do? What could I possibly do? I looked on the Colorado Marketplace website. On the initial page, I experienced another bait-and-switch: Let me tell you, we’re between tiers 2 and 3, and we have a family of five, not 3-4 like in the picture. Yay! It was looking good! We could get a premium tax credit!

So I started to fill out the application. And guess what?

Do I need to tell you? Or have you lived in the Land of the Free for all of your life and already know what a FUCKING LIE THAT IS?

Here’s the summary:

And here is what it costs without the premium tax benefit for the cheapest plan:

$1409 per month with an $8200 deductible. I couldn’t even make up these prices if I tried!

Dear Colorado and Billionaire Health Insurance CEOs: Would I be ON THIS FUCKING PAGE if I were shopping for health insurance for MYSELF ONLY? Because of COURSE it’s affordable for myself only! And of course, for myself only, according to my beautiful school district blue and green chart, I would be MAKING $11 a month, so yeah, it meets your goddamn threshold of “9.78%.” (But don’t you love how, even on their website, they put the word “Affordable” in quotes because they know it’s a fucking joke?)

Let’s return to the beautiful school district chart that shows “DPS Contributions” and I STUPIDLY thought that meant that DPS was footing part of the bill, but what they REALLY mean is the $422/month on my paycheck labeled “Cash for Benefits” which is unofficially part of my take-home salary. So their contribution is really MY contribution, or, in laymen’s terms, MY FUCKING MONEY.

And if we don’t pay? If we don’t give in to this bullshit in the midst of a pandemic?

You guessed it. We’d lose everything. Because we all know that in the Land of the Free, all it takes is one emergency room visit, one contraction of a deadly virus, one broken bone, to lead the uninsured straight to bankruptcy.

So, after seventeen years of teaching, two degrees, one advanced certification, and having seriously ONE form of debt (a mortgage, not a single student loan, not even a car payment), after working my way and paying my way through those degrees, after keeping my children out of daycare and living on a way-less teacher’s salary for eight years, after EVERYTHING…

We still can’t live on my salary.

How many weeks has it been that we’ve been trapped at home? That my husband has been going to work, entering businesses and homes and fucking medical clinics without a mask (because his company doesn’t provide masks) or any form of PPE, risking his and all of our lives before being laid off?

How many more fucking weeks will it be before he can find a job in this market?

Coronatine, Day Forty-seven. Week 7, almost 8.

Why does it feel like day one thousand, week ninety?

Because we live in the Land of the Free, where every life costs a fortune.

Coronatine, Day Twenty-one

The email comes through in the midst of an online staff meeting, and a couple of teachers immediately burst into tears and soon have to log off.

That is the world we live in right now. Every bit of news is a bit of sadness, tears waiting just behind the corners of our eyes, ready for action.

I cannot cry in front of people and refuse to even fully place myself in the video meeting, posting a picture instead. Because I am always ready for action, and I have a list for this day: Home Depot to buy wood and sand, the garden center for my seed potatoes, two grocery stores to spend another huge percentage of our salaries to stock up on food before Bruce’s money is no more.

And while I am at the store, I stock up on all the things my Newcomers certainly don’t have: lollipops, candy bars, chips, pens, pencils, tootsie rolls, card stock, and colored paper.

In less than a year, they moved, with or without their families, across the world. They barely speak English. They barely know anyone. We’ve barely begun making progress towards everything from basic phonics to common expressions such as, “How do you get around your city?”

And the email has officially announced that I will not see their faces in my classroom for the remainder of the school year.

I have been teaching for seventeen years, primarily English to immigrants, but I have never taught truly new immigrants, and it has changed me. It has opened my eyes to the injustices of the world, to the beauty of the world, in a way that no other class ever has.

Everything about online learning will be difficult: those students who left their Chromebooks at home. Those who have to care for little ones. Those who are working. Almost all of whose parents are working and potentially tracking in this virus every day.

Being isolated in a small apartment without any exposure to our culture that they sacrificed everything to be a part of for… who knows how long?

None of this–going to the grocery store without a mask and gloves,  going to teach those beautiful faces, going to travel the world like I’ve always traveled the world–will ever be the same.

None of us–the immigrants who still have hope for their futures, for their families, the teachers who are trying to figure out how to teach piano and ceramics to kids who don’t have pianos or clay, the essential workers who wish they could stay home and can’t, the healthcare workers who are making their wills–will ever be the same.

So this is all I can do, tears present now. Ask my girls to help fill bags. Type up letters and schedules to print in case my students haven’t checked the online updates. Put in colored paper and card stock so that they can make hearts and cards for all that they love and all that they hope for.

And hope that we all make it to the other side of what the world has become.

Happy Angry Hour

Do you know why he makes me so angry? Do you know why I screamed at him (during passing period) in front of the entire class? Why I was still yelling after the last bell, spilling the whole story to my two unwilling-to-listen-but-forced-to daughters, cuss words and all?

Because I love him.

And I want him to think of me, of all of us, when he doesn’t clean the cat litter or mop the floor. When he pours all the creamer I just bought into one cup of coffee. When he changes his doctor’s appointment that I rearranged my entire day around and had my mother drive across town to bring him to, and doesn’t tell me until two minutes after class STARTS.

I want him to stop running the damn space heater all night long (with the door to his room open) and costing us $100 extra a month.

I want him to care about learning English.

I want him to be my son, to be like my daughters who absolutely drive me crazy in every way and refuse to do chores and forget to turn in work and to tell their boss they can’t work when we have a ski weekend and rearrange their weekends with friends when ski weekends get canceled and then whine about having missed most of the ski season without actually skiing… And get near-perfect grades and would never change a doctor’s appointment without asking me or checking the calendar first.

Alas, I have four teenagers in my house, and one of them is a boy whom I barely know and  from a culture I barely understand and from a not-more-than-a-day-in-advance plan that I didn’t take into account when I asked him to move out of the homeless shelter and into my home.

Alas, that $100 a month on electricity matters to me right now because my husband just got laid off from his job and we have until May 21 to live like kings and the rest of our lives to figure out how we’re going to pay for our mortgage and our health insurance, and Bernie lost Super Tuesday and the stock market shot up 1,100 points the very next day because investors care more about health insurance profits than HUMAN LIVES.

Alas, just when things couldn’t be worse at work or anywhere else, the 1998 Camry died, and now I have another weight to carry each day: the shuffling of more teens to every last event from track practice that he (at the last minute) signed up for to musical rehearsal to never-ending-hours of fast-food employment to driving them to school each day.

Alas, I did not raise this boy to check calendars.

And I want him to listen to me. I want him to think about how each phone call and acting-up-in-class-joke and putting-his-head-down-shutdown is a punch into every last dark hollow of my teacher-mother soul.

But it is almost 5 o’clock. And I am going to walk seven blocks and sell tickets to my baby girl’s musical because, yes, I needed one of my tickets comp’ed so I can pay for the space heater and not spend another $12.

And I am going to smile and wear this shirt in front of all the racist white people at her school.

And that is my happy hour for today.