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 Thirty-eight

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

Coronatine, Day Fourteen

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.

 

 

Coronatine, Day Twelve

let me rephrase this:

my students are scared to death

their families could die

they don’t need English

they don’t need online teaching

they need love from us

i wish they could see

the beauty of this sunset

and find hope in it

but like these cracked streets

they’ve lived nothing but cracked lives

(and now they’re trapped here)

here! land of the free!

opportunities waiting

for someone (not them)

yes, i’m a cynic

cause i know without faces

relationships die

Coronatine sucks

the life from all we’ve worked for

and how will it end?

What I Heard Today

“Hiking? In the forest? No. Only to look for firewood to cook our food. Not for fun.”

“Yes, I’ve ‘visited’ Mexico. I was there for two months waiting for the coyote.”

“In a room the size of this kitchen there were forty of us. They gave us blankets just like that [pointing to tinfoil]. And when they had to wake someone up to deport them, they woke all of us. And they came in every fifteen minutes to wake someone.”

“Hermano, mira. Hay una lavandería aquí en la casa.”

“My 23-year-old brother wanted to come, but he can’t run fast enough.”

“He can’t run fast enough?”

“To get on the train. I saw so many… broken legs, arms. Even a body with its legs completely amputated. You have to be able to run.”

“I crossed the Rio Grande on a raft.”

“I’ve never seen a dishwasher. We had to wash our clothes and dishes by hand.”

“Eggs, beans, and rice for lunch and dinner. Coffee for breakfast.”

“My cousin bought me the plane ticket, the phone, everything. And the detention center had all of his information, so when I arrived at the airport, the police were waiting for him.”

“$250 here for strep antibiotics? In my country it’s free. Being sick here is a luxury I guess.”

I guess it is.

Fifteen Reasons Why: We Deserve More, DPS

Denver Public Schools has filed a request for state intervention to prevent the teachers’ union from striking next week. In the 19-page file, Superintendent Susana Cordova and her school district legal team have laid out reasons A-O (fifteen reasons) why the state should intervene.

Fifteen reasons why we, the teachers, deserve to be paid a fair, living, predictable wage.

Fifteen reasons why schools are targeted as the saviors of society in the same moment that teachers are vilified by the press and the public.

Fifteen reasons why we need a strike: let’s draw national attention to our plight, to the plight of a society that devalues education and the teachers who work to change the world.

Below, I have copied and pasted the fifteen reasons with haikus that represent teachers like me who have dealt with every one in some form or fashion:

A. Loss of Instructional Time from Teachers on Strike:
six hours a day
with every kid, every need
(and six more at home)

B. Students with Special Needs:
making learning plans
for families who need voices,
for inclusive rights

C. English Language Learner Students:
try writing our wrongs
again: try righting our wrongs
to build fluency

D. Potential Denial of H1-B Visas:
immigrant teachers:
First Amendment denial
(freedom, too, revoked)

E. Students Enrolled in Affective-Needs/Autism Center Programs:
routine disruption
tears students from what they need:
teachers who love them

F. Students Receiving Mental Health Services:
so much more than school
SSPs save our students
(sometimes from themselves)

G. Students Receiving Medical Care Services:
our school nurse gives them:
medicine, patience, advice,
hope for the future

H. Students Dependent on Schools for Food and Nutrition:
every teacher here
has given to the food bank
(lunch is not enough)

I. Students Dependent on Schools for Shelter from the Elements:
the prison pipeline
could stop with these school buildings
and a teacher’s love

J. Gifted and Talented Students:
let them be leaders
led by those who see their light
(you guessed it–teachers)

K. Student-Athletes Seeking Scholarships:
cultural veto:
to remove a student’s chance
of avoiding loans

L. Students Taking Concurrent College Classes:
what teachers give them:
highly-educated guides
for college keenness

M. Financial Hardship on Families:
double-income trap
means no parent waits at home
(they need our service)

N. Absence of Childcare for Families:
after all, aren’t we
glorified babysitters
asking for too much?

O. Fewer Resources for New American Families:
I beg taxpayers:
come visit our newcomers
to grasp sacrifice

Fifteen reasons why we fight every day for our students’ needs. Our society’s needs.

Thank you, DPS, for laying out our reasons. For proving to our country how badly we need to strike. For creating a legal request to clarify how heavily we carry the weight of the world.

For showing us all how little we earn as we carry it.

Beyond the Bars

To avoid pouring water down the drain, I spend ninety minutes washing dishes in two pans, running water out to my new mulch to dump, and putting everything away while Bruce researches home equity loans and Trump tax cuts that hurt, rather than help, our current situation.

Behind the bars of my security door, I take this picture of the sewer company’s progress replacing a portion of our main drain.

Behind the bars of this security door, I hide from the American Dream. The one that we are all promised and few of us ever attain. The one where we could afford to buy a house, afford to deal with that house’s expenses, afford to send our children to college or even pay off the loans we might still have from our own degrees.

I hide from the dream of all of my grandparents, a combination of immigrants and endlessly American, one grandfather with an eighth grade education, one with a high school diploma, who were able to raise large families and pay off mortgages well before retirement. On ONE income.

I hide from the audacity of insurance that we carry on our homes, our health, our lives. From the premiums we pay that won’t cover pre-existing conditions (like pregnancy!) or pre-existing problems on our properties (like drains), or pre-existing hope–from all the thousands and thousands of dollars we pour into these plans that leave us empty, behind bars, unable to operate a backhoe.

I hide from the for-sale houses in my neighborhood that are now so outrageously priced that my family, and none of the other families on my block, would ever be able to afford to buy the homes we stand in.

Behind the bars of my security door, I am as insecure as everyone in my generation. The generation that faces housing costs that are equivalent to more than fifty percent of what we earn in a month. The generation of debt that is impossible to avoid even with the best budget. The generation that has made the choice to bring children into this world only to constantly think: why would I bring children into this world? Children I feel inadequate to provide for, children who will face even higher college costs, children who will be straddled with debt for their entire adult lives?

Behind the bars, I cannot see the buyers of the $769,000 remodel on the next block. Where they come from. What jobs they have. What magical formula they applied for that allowed them to take a mortgage that costs more than what our two incomes bring home in a month.

Behind the bars, I hear the Spanish language spilling from the mouths of the workers who have to dig a hole in a yard on a holiday. With perfect efficiency, they have repaired a ten-foot section of pipe within two hours, and they will move on to the next family’s crisis, and the next, and the next, before going home to houses on the other side of town that they also likely can barely afford, because we all know that the $6000 we just paid for that pipe is lining the pockets of a white, male, English-only CEO.

Behind the bars, I live in my dream house, my four-bedroom, two-bathroom, beautiful-garden dream house that we waited seventeen years to purchase. I raise a family of three daughters whose pay may never match their male counterparts but, despite this, whose intelligence and candor will allow them to live the life of their dreams. I share my meals, my home, and my love with my husband who has managed our finances to such perfection that we have flawless credit, making an application for an equity loan for both our properties (because nothing can just happen to this house–both need new main drains), virtually seamless. We both work hard at our dream jobs–teaching and telecom–in order to make this picture perfect.

With the door open, before they rebury the dirt, I snap a picture of our pretty kitty hiding behind my glass of stress wine.

I sit on our paid-for leather recliner and feel the cool breeze of early summer and think about my students who have crossed the world to be a part of this American Dream, and how hard they work to make that dream possible, to learn English and learn how to navigate the complexities of our society that sometimes make us feel like we’re all going down the drain. I think of how hard my husband and I have worked to make this day possible–to give my girls a summer trip to Spain, a year in Spain, to see nearly all fifty states–because of how careful we have been with our money. I think of the health insurance that paid for most of my husband’s surgery and how my grandmother’s baby sister died of a simple infection in her mouth after tripping up on a wooden popsicle stick, all because they couldn’t afford a doctor.

With the door open, we host family friends who make us laugh until we cry, whose daughter will join us in Spain, whose presence makes us appreciate what we have surrounding us in life–a life filled with laughter, love, support.

With the door open and the Spanish-speaking workers gone, the Siberian iris frames my kitty, my pet, my perfect yard. I know that I have given so much to get to this picture, and I know I still have more to give. I have daughters who are lucky enough to have access to all the technology, diversity, and coursework that comes from an urban education, and who will enter their adult lives with an open-minded understanding of the world. I have a house that we can afford and enjoy without feeling like our money is going down the drain. I have a job that brings the global perspective to every choice I make in one of the most beautiful buildings our city has to offer. I have a marriage that has lasted from childhood to adulthood, with all the post-adolescent turmoil and trauma, all the sorrow and joy, that comes with making it work for twenty years.

With my door open, I wait for the American Dream. Somehow, some day, some way, I will see how it is both easy and difficult to achieve. If I would learn to always open the door and move beyond the bars, I would see that not everything is going down the drain. I would see the beauty in every choice, the brutality in every loss, and find a way to make a set of silver linings sweeter than a sip of stress wine.

I would be the wife, the teacher, the mother of that perfect picture. That perfect picture would be me.