with one vacant lot
the clear divide of wealth
My mayor stepped onto a plane headed for Mississippi to visit his family for Thanksgiving in the midst of a level-red, please-don’t-travel-Denver pandemic. My mayor graduated from the same high school as me. My mayor worked to shut down the high school he graduated from. My mayor told me I was racist for walking along a picket line after fighting for fifteen years for a decent wage. My mayor thinks education reform means shutting down the only good thing that most students have: a public, comprehensive school that accepts all students regardless of ability, ethnicity, or work ethic.
Is this why my Sleep Number tells me each morning that I have a shitty sleep score, that I have been restless most of the night?
Or is it because I brought an immigrant boy into my home, a boy who had never laid eyes on a computer, who, two months later, was forced to do online schooling for the duration of his time here because people like my mayor keep getting on planes?
Is it because I have four teenagers in my house, all at one level of depression or anxiety after nine months of pandemia, and I worry that if I don’t let them see their friends I am going to wake to their wrists slit, them hanging in a garage, a bullet to their head? That I spend my early morning hours walking my dog and playing, replaying every fucking scenario. If we get tested today and are negative and promise not to go anywhere or see anyone for two weeks, can they see their friends? But wait… won’t their friends and their friends’ families have to do the same? But wait… my husband has to go to work every day, so… But wait… I have to buy food for these endlessly hungry mouths, so… But wait…
During the strike, I was in charge of Valentines on day three. We were writing love notes to Susana Cordova. My job was to censor, to ensure no cuss words were present.
“But wait,” a teacher held up her, I’m-gathering-the-class’s attention-now finger, “What if I want to say, ‘Susana, I fucking love you'”?
And how could I say no? How could I explain to my mayor that Manual High School changed my life and opened my eyes to what the world could really look like, and why did he think he needed to shut it down?
How could I explain to my mayor that I, too, am a DPS graduate, and DID YOU EVEN HEAR WHAT WE WERE STRIKING ABOUT?
How could I explain to my mayor that I fell for his Democrat-reformer propositions, that I sent two of my girls to his beloved charter schools, that they were put in lines and held silent in the hallway and had to write essays in their hour-long detentions for forgetting a fucking eraser on a pencil???
That if you weren’t academically the best, you were just forgotten?
Maybe he wasn’t there with me last night, tossing and turning. Maybe he didn’t follow my girls to the public high school where the teachers take the time to get to know their students rather than teaching them a rote routine of conformity. Maybe he doesn’t understand that test scores–how he measures success–are meaningless to a teacher of immigrants whose students carry two languages, two cultures, two views of the world, two experiences in America, two lives insides their souls.
Maybe he’s never been outside of the bubble of Denver, the whitewashed, integrated Manual, the real world for our kids.
Maybe he hasn’t seen a sixth-grader have a panic attack because she forgot to put a proper MLA heading on a piece of notebook paper.
Maybe he haunts me in the night, two days before Thanksgiving. Maybe he has another agenda in his third, lame-duck term.
Maybe I should have Thanksgiving with my parents who live fifteen minutes away.
Or maybe I should just sit down. Breathe. And be grateful that I will always apologize when I have made a stupid choice, as a parent or a teacher, and not try to blame my mayor for taking away a wink of my sleep.
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.
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).
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 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.
This cat was born to be a model. Good night.
and from this soil
from blustery spring breezes
good news can blossom
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.
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?
$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.
these organized shelves
ready to be fully stocked
with his last paychecks:
they represent us,
our Coronatine journal,
worry turned to work
work we’re still doing
with tiny pics on small screens
working for our kids
our creative kids
with a cat-house-building night
paw prints, love, and all
“new normal” softens
as we make the best of fate
on day thirty-eight
I’ve made it to the final day of gratitude! The ten last bits of gratitude for the Coronatine.
- Always love a bike ride. We wore the new masks my friend made, even though I’ll admit they weren’t wholly necessary because I planned a route that did not involve crowds (I have avoided the Cherry Creek path like the plague, pun intended).
- We stopped at a local cafe. Of course, it wasn’t the same. We couldn’t sit down, we couldn’t have a nice brunch, but we could still get some lattes and support a local business and tip the server with a 50% tip.
- While we were riding, we saw the Thunderbirds fly right over us on 12th Avenue!
- I spent a lot of time this morning reviewing our budget. I rarely do, and in fact don’t really deal with our money because Bruce is a money master. But I think it might be possible, if we are very careful, to live on my salary (which they’re already threatening might be frozen soon) and our savings for a year, so hopefully, that will give the economy enough time to recover and Bruce to be able to find work.
- Speaking of that salary, I am SO GRATEFUL that I just got a raise on March 1 because of my National Board Certification. What a difference that will make!
- I reorganized the garage, the hall closet, and the basement storage room to make more space for stocking up on supplies while we still have two paychecks. It really is nice to have time to do this without the craziness of working so many hours, especially since Bruce was going to be laid off anyway before the quarantine was put in place.
- I really do work at an amazing place with extremely dedicated teachers and students. Our school’s weekly news show has continued during this crazy time, and this week included an in-depth interview with an NFL player who graduated from South in 2004. He couldn’t stop talking about how influential his teachers were and how his experiences traveling to New York on a student trip and participating in the musical made high school so special. It’s so nice to hear that and to know how important schools are in the lives of students.
- My counselor colleague helped me (through a Facebook post) avoid paying the AP exam fees for the four AP exams for Izzy and Mythili! I really hope that this virus will help everyone realize what a scam standardized tests are. I’m so over the College Board and AP. It’s a bait and switch, most colleges won’t give you credit, and most students can’t get the score they need anyway. So I’m hopeful that all of these tests will become less important in the future.
- In cleaning out the garage, I found the tent stakes I’ve been meaning to put in the tent bag, and since a neighbor girl needed to earn a Girl Scout badge by setting up a tent and didn’t have her own, the tent was already out! I have been trying to get those stakes into that stake bag for three years, and it took coronavirus to make it happen!
- Let’s hope we can camp this summer, or at least go on hikes. Let’s just keep hoping that something is gonna give, soon. Testing, isolation, whatever it takes. Because we gotta make this work for our world. We just gotta.
My elderly uncle with the ‘No Solicitors’ sign on his door happily steps right out onto the covered porch to collect the three Costco-oversized boxes of tissues that I have brought to him.
“Are you going to come in?” he asks as I creep backward, down the three concrete steps.
“You better wash your hands now that you’ve touched those boxes,” I immediately reply. “I could have it, and it lives on cardboard for 24 hours.”
He brushes me off and acts, quite nonchalantly, as if he’s been expecting me. “Thanks, I was waiting for something like this. I use five or six tissues every time I have to clean my catheter.”
What a lucky find, I think. “Well, Floyd, you’re the master of social distancing. How have you handled the Coronavirus?”
It’s true. He’s been reclusive, the middle child and only boy wrenched between six sisters, for his entire adult life. He lives in the same house he bought as a young man, the 1950s Mayfair ranch decorated exactly the same as the original owner, and “Why should I change what’s already there?” He worked as a TV repairman for as long as there were TVs to repair, and happily retired twenty years ago to a lifestyle of only visiting the grocery store and denying most social invitations from his six sisters.
But now there are no tissues in his grocery store. No toilet paper. No frozen vegetables. No eggs. No sense of security for the five square miles he drives within any given week.
He talks my ear off in the fifteen minutes I stand in his front yard, keeping my six feet of social distancing requirement.
This isn’t like yesterday when I drove to all corners of the city to deliver my students their much-needed headsets, folders, notebooks, and supplies, when their parents seemed grateful for my latex gloves and, more importantly, my brevity. “Check Schoology!” I found myself shouting too many times, “It has everything you’ll need for your life right there!”
This is Coronatine, Day Thirteen: my elderly uncle, my not-so-elderly parents (who also need tissues), who I can only stand on the porch with, and not really visit.
“You’re really not going to come inside?” they inquire, and I mention Italy. We’ve all heard about Italy. My father’s mother was from Italy, still has living relatives there. “Over sixty, Dad,” is all I really have to say (my parents are 66).
And how did I manage in the Costco line today? The rain hadn’t started yet, nor the snow. It was cold, and I had my latex gloves on, plus my ski mask (I didn’t think far enough in advance to buy medical masks, so when I put it on in the parking lot, Fabian said he’d prefer to wait in the car. I didn’t care. I’m not fucking with this shit). I waited a good thirty minutes to socially distance myself, six feet back from the guy in front of me, to get in the store.
And they still didn’t have toilet paper.
This was after we visited the Mexican Envios, always open, line out the door, everyone ready to send money home to their poorer-than-any-of-us-here families back home. My boy was in and out in fifteen minutes, but his poverty-stricken father had to wait in line for three hours to get that money we sent him because this was the first day out of seven that the banks were open, and the seventh day out of infinity that he is unable to work and support those two baby girls.
Never mind that he lives in the most dangerous city on Earth with a corrupt government and police on every corner making sure you don’t go where you’re not supposed to.
Never mind that he doesn’t even have a mortgage because his house is a shack on his boss’s property constructed entirely of corrugated sheets of metal.
Never mind that however bad you think this is for us, standing in the cold in the Costco line, cleaning your catheter with the last bits of tissue, wishing you could hug your parents…
We still live here. Where capitalism, evil as it may be, allows me to trump the system and send an extra hundred dollars home to Honduras because, God, why the fuck not?
This is Coronatine, Day Thirteen: six boxes of tissues delivered. Check. Three hundred dollars sent to Honduras to buy food. Check. Wondering who has it among us, and which ones will die. Check.
What else is there to say?
I planted spinach just in time for the snow to water it. Please let it grow. Please, God, let it grow.
we’re winning this day
even if it feels like loss
once we leave this slope