Your Words

A few days after she was born, my mother held Mythili in her arms, Mythili with her ever-open eyes, her neck craning for me or for another look at the world, and my mother said to me, “This one has been here before. She has lived another life.”

Without the spiritual background that is ever-present in so many lives, but not our life, I was surprised by these words from my mother, a second-time grandmother with her second-born granddaughter. But not shock-surprised. Just surprised. And yet, I knew she was right. Mythili had a presence about her from the moment she entered the world, an energy, an awareness of her environment that was never so obvious in my other two girls.

Mythili looked around at the world and immediately questioned it, even from birth. Where’s the milk? (Colostrum delays). Where’s my sister? Where’s my Daddy? Most importantly, Where’s my Mama? She observed, dissatisfied, her mostly-immovable state.

“You have one of those babies who hates being a baby,” the midwife told me at our six-week checkup. “Once she can sit up at about six months, you’ll see a total change in her.”

Mythili, who craned her neck from birth to search for a view of whoever was walking into the room, knew that her surroundings, and the people within them, meant everything in the world to her.

And you asking her to do this meant everything in the world to me.

I know it was you because I searched the crowd after, my face stained in tears, my hands still shaking, my heart still leaping with pride and disbelief. I found her counselor who told me it was your idea, your encouragement, your words that convinced her.

And it was only a moment out of a thousand moments in my daughter’s life. My daughter’s life that has been filled with happy memories and tainted with sadness these past few years. My daughter, who attended the high school where I teach, where I’m given the privilege of seeing one set of graduates after another pass through this gym before the ceremony. My daughter, who was hiding, sitting by herself at the top of the bleachers, all of her Class of 2023 friends gone, chatting amongst themselves, because of grief, loss, rivalry, meanness, jealousy, bitterness… death. My daughter who took this selfie with me but kept the speech a secret.

My daughter, who during the COVID lockdown, when one of her beautiful art pieces was being featured on the school TV show, couldn’t be convinced, not with note cards, not with me filming an example, not with any words, to record a 20-second video to describe her talent and inspiration.

My daughter took your words and put them into her heart, stood upon the stage in front of a thousand people, and honored me, honored the friend she lost, and most importantly, honored herself.

For a decade I have watched my students, my refugees and immigrants, enter this stage and share their 15-second speeches about how Denver South helped them form a new life in America. I have watched as struggling American students, those lost in the crowd, those never-valedictorians, those never-heard-of students, had a moment of glory.

And I can never thank you enough for giving me this moment of glory in my daughter’s life. For giving her your words so that she could find her own.

Thank you for giving my daughter her words with your words. Thank you for giving me this moment with your words.

What I Would Say If I Could

What you took away with your error:

Trust. Friendship. Education. Love. Accountability. Faith.

What you didn’t hear:

Danger. Toxicity. Neglect. Ignorance. Hate tactics.

What we have lost:

The connection of the Kabul airport that they shared. The trauma of it–of suddenly being ripped from the only home they had ever known, of fearing the Taliban would come for them next, or their mother, their father, their faith in humanity. The collective trauma that bonded them together and allowed them a communication that none of us could fathom. A connection, through Dari, Islam, and kindness, brought to her by her paraprofessional interpreter. A confessional for her to share how horrid her foster mother was. An English classroom where all her friends are, where her teacher loves her and wants to help her. The relationships with her peers who now can’t understand the reasons behind her choice.

YOU are the reason behind her choice. You broke your professional commitment to a system we have in place that is meant to protect children, and you gave power to the toxicity of a human not fit to be a mother to anyone, let alone a fragile, motherless child. You sided with lies instead of the truth, and everyone will suffer because of it. Especially her. Especially this girl whose mother was murdered by the Taliban, whose foster mom has stripped her of her religion, language, and connection to her culture, who has manipulated and molded her to be a completely different human being because she was too fragile to say no to her.

I will never forgive you for all those hours you spent in my house, looking me in the eye, holding my foster son accountable, asking me point blank if I’d had enough, listening to me, trusting my judgment, only for, one year later, for you never to trust me again.

I have been teaching for more than twenty years. I have seen belt marks on children. I have heard stories of sexual abuse. I have called to report starvation, emotional abuse, neglect, alcoholism, and drug addiction. I have done my job to protect the children who shuffle in and out of my life year after year.

And I thought you could do yours.


So is mine.

Only one of us is doing it right today.

And it is not you.