The Only One

I don’t really believe in the idea of regret. I think that the choices we make, good or bad, have consequences, good or bad, that we either learn from or don’t. Most of the time, I’d like to say I have learned enough from the choices I have made to know what to do in the future.

It’s been ten months since we took this boy into our home and just shy of seven since a global pandemic has more or less shut down the world, but in particular, the school we all attend. The combination of these two events has culminated into nothing less than utter exhaustion on my part.

I’m exhausted being the translator for and from a language I’ve never perfected myself. Being the only one in the house who can communicate with him the good and the bad. Why haven’t you done your chores? Thank you for the note. Why did you miss tutoring again? Thank you for being strong enough to lift this. Why do you not care one iota about your education? Thank you for feeding the cats when the girls again ignored them.

I’m exhausted being the only person who gets to hear his positive or negative reactions to everything. With trying to make him feel at home when he doesn’t seem to want to be here. With trying to show him the world when all he wants to do is play a video game on his phone, not look at the Grand Canyon, not get out of the car to see the ruins of an ancient church, not wake up early enough to hike to an alpine lake, not paddle the board in the heat of the day on a pristine and still reservoir, not take a walk further than five blocks. With trying to show him the things I love only to be disappointed that none of them matter to him.

I’m exhausted with his lack of interest in almost everything. Speaking English. Doing schoolwork. Setting his alarm. Fulfilling commitments. Reading a book. Watching a goddamn movie in English, for crying out loud. Listening to a single song in English.

I’m exhausted that we’re not at school, that he doesn’t have a place in our home, that his only place in this country is with his people, fellow Spanish-speakers, and that most of his friends from last year have dropped out or disappeared, and his two cousins and their families who lived in Denver have moved to Nebraska, and why am I still driving him to 76th and Pecos to get a haircut every three weeks when they no longer live there?

I’m exhausted that my kids could care less about his presence in our home, never including him unless asked, never just thinking that he’s here, that he could come too, that he might want a Starbucks drink or a Wendy’s hamburger, or to visit the mall or the ice cream shop. Never sitting with him to help him read or sharing their favorite Anime tales with him.

I’m exhausted with my husband telling me to stop thinking about him as a part of our family and instead as just what he is: a tenant waiting for the courts to determine if he’ll get deported or get a work permit, which is a three-or-more-year, interminable wait. An interminable weight.

I’m exhausted with him taking his $100 in cash every month and blowing it immediately on chocolate bars and soda or scammy credit cards to buy more upgrades for his phone game, then getting mad at me in the store for not buying him a bag of Halloween candy.

I’m exhausted from just being the only one. Is this what it feels like to be a single parent? The only one to communicate everything, the only one to bear the burdens he carries, his cousin dying, his stepmother dying, his family’s extreme poverty, his father’s endless work for almost no pay, his brother unable to find a wife… The only one who can listen to him, the only one who can try to understand, the only one who will never understand.

And I keep thinking about that Monday morning, ten months back, where I sat in that meeting with the caseworkers and social workers and the interpreter and the head of the department of human services, and they asked him if he’d rather go to Leadville with a Spanish-speaking family or with me, the only kind-of Spanish-speaker in my home, and he chose me because of his friends at school and his cousins nearby, and now he has none of those things, no English, and still no real connection to what he knows and loves best.

And wouldn’t it have been better in Leadville? Wouldn’t he be happier there in a small town, speaking Spanish, learning English, probably never traveling or hiking or camping or all the things he hates? A place where he could see the stars and maybe have a chance at truly understanding the ladders he must climb to make a life here?

Would we all be better? A little less tired. A little less lonely. A little less depressed about the decisions we make in this life that seem to benefit no one, really.

I will never know. I only know what I have now, and it is just. Utter. Exhaustion.

I’m Sorry

Dear Bike Thieves,

I hope that you love this bike as much as I do. I hope that when you text your husband at 12:20 a.m. from the Middle of Nowhere, Arizona, and he doesn’t respond till ten hours later, reading your pathetic apology for being so stupid, his words will have an equal measure of love.

I’m sorry you lost your bike. That does suck since you’ve had that one for so long and rode so far on it. Sorry babe. 😓

He will never say, “I told you so” or, “Why didn’t you…”

He will be right there with you at 12:20 a.m. when your dog barks and you hear voices and you step out of the hotel room into the Dark Sky Universe and all that your blurry-without-glasses eyes can see is… the absence of tires.

Because he was there when you got that bike, nine years ago. When you went to the spring extravaganza under-the-tent bike sale with $1000 in your pocket from that year’s tax return–the only expendable money we had for a year–placed upon its pedals, teacher’s salary, three kids at home, him not working, “Can I buy it?”

“Of course.”

Of course you can set your alarm for 4:16 a.m. and pedal uphill in your new click-in shoes, before the sun rises, before you can even afford a light, before the world is awake, to put that bike along that endless road for thousands upon thousands of miles.

Of course you can register, pay for, and race a train up and down a mountain with this bike, this bike, these tires, this set of wings.

Of course you can buy a bike box and bring this bike to Spain, wrapped in bubble paper and soul tissue, and ride it to school, to twenty tutoring jobs a week, to the end of the road where the mountains meet the Mar.

Of course you can drive down I-25 on a 90-degree Sunday, new tent in the trunk, and watch your bike fly off its flawed bike rack into six lanes of Denver traffic, and watch your husband, afraid of nothing when it comes to his love for you, stand on the shoulder and wait for the right car to allow him to dash into the middle of an INTERSTATE and save that Baby Number Four.

Of course you will never feel the FEEL of the Sun Road in Glacier National Park without this bike vibrating under your palms.

But it is dark. I have driven 500 miles in a day only to be told by my boy, “I told you so” and “I don’t need to waste a photo on a pile of rocks” when looking at the GRAND CANYON, and…

Thieves. Boys. Oppressed.

You have my bike.

I hope you fix the red handlebar tape that was flapping for 500 miles to Arizona.

I hope you ride it to the edge of the reservation and demand that our government give you running water and a better chance at a decent life.

I hope that you sell it and feed your family for a month.

I hope that you love it as much as I have loved it. That you feel the wind in your hair, the beauty in 600 million years of piled-up rocks, and the words of my husband.

“I’m sorry.”

It’s so fucking simple. And so goddamn hard to say.

A Bloody Mess

I don’t want to write a poem tonight. I want to bury my hands in these tomatoes, torn from the garden before the Polar Vortex stole my summer, before we ruined the Earth, before I ruined my daughter’s life. My daughter who, two years ago, proudly backpacked twenty-one miles in three days with me, never once saying it was too steep, her legs were too sore, that I was too much. My daughter who won’t even talk to me now and told me on our last camping trip that she only brought Vans, wouldn’t do a hike with me, and hates camping.

Instead I chop the last carrots, mince the onions and garlic, boil the water so the tomatoes will shed their thin skins and slip through my hands into the pot like the bloody mess that they are. The bloody mess that I am.

Now her sour mouth that she so frequents in our house has moved to the online classroom in bitter words towards teachers she barely knows, and just like everything, of course it’s my fault.

It’s my fault that I cuss out Trump and Republicans and incompetency with guttural indifference every chance I get.

That I share my opinions too blatantly with everyone I know, hence why I have so few friends.

That my girls think they can say anything they want to anyone they want and not regret it.

That I can grow a garden but not be strong enough or patient enough to save it when the time comes, when the weather report comes in and I leave half the green tomatoes on the vine, give up on the remaining zucchini, its parched flowers sucking up the snowflakes like lifeblood, half of the basil dripping from the kitchen basket, waiting to die.

Isn’t that what we are all doing, as Hemingway loathingly loved to tell us? Waiting to die?

I wish she could be in my arms again, mimicking everything her older sister said, taking two pieces of anything–sticks or pasta or dolls–and creating endless stories with characters as varied as the high school she now attends. I wish she could be my Spain girl who translated everything for Daddy by month two, who made a friend on day one, who was the only one who wanted to learn all about the Roman coliseum on a date day with me in our small city.

I wish she could be herself, not this hollow version of herself whom I fear I’ve created, carved out, destroyed.

And I wish she would come out of her room and eat her favorite meal, pasta with my hard-earned, homemade sauce, just the way my Italian grandmother used to make it with the cut-up carrots to sweeten the acidity, to tone down the bitter taste, to remember why fresh is best.

But it’s a snowy September, I don’t have a poem, and all I can do is say goodbye to my gardens.

They’ve grown up. And they hate the snow.

Ode to Toaster Oven

why yes, i bake things

(zucchini things in summer)

feels like Hell’s Kitchen

my oven burned me

burned us all with its heat spread

well, not anymore

that’s right, baby:

a 9×13 glass dish,

two 8-inch cake pans

this Breville will hold

a 12-inch cast iron pan

without burning us

worth every penny

(it’s not even Christmas yet)

boy am i ready