Who Am I?

If you really knew me, you would know…

That when my eleventh birthday was around the corner and my father had failed at student teaching and we were living on my mother’s newspaper salary of $6.25 an hour, my mother scraped together every last dollar to present a $20 bill for me. That we were about to move away from my beloved childhood home where I was best friends with everyone within shouting distance, where I was about to be the king of the elementary school that I could ride my bike to, that I’d be moving to a big city and knew no one… and that $20 was like a gold brick because of all it could buy at the Gorham Market, my childhood store with 3-cent Bazooka gum and fireballs that would spice your whole mouth for an hour and 10 cents.

If you really knew me, you would know that when I got to Merrill Middle School, it wasn’t a pretty picture. I got lost on the first day because the yellow school bus number had changed from morning to afternoon, and my oversized high-top boys’ sneakers, all the fashion rage in upstate New York, were just a reason for kids to trip me in every hallway in Denver, shouting, “What’s with your giant shoes?” I spent two years at that school finishing all my homework in class and getting straight As without even trying while girls in the hallway pulled each other’s hair out and every race, blended in the remnants of forced-integration bussing, smacked me in the face with the word that would always haunt me: “You’re such a loner.”

If you really knew me, you would know that when someone’s beautiful voice came over the PA system and announced that a new arts school was opening in Denver, and if anyone was interested, they should apply and audition, you would know that I spent the next six weeks of my life creating a portfolio and writing and rewriting every last word that tumbled around inside my head and that in those same moments my parents, having dragged me halfway across the country, had decided to separate, and I needed that arts school like I needed to breathe, and yet… even with my best words on paper and an interview I thought I nailed… I got put on the alternate list.

If you really knew me you would know that when all the racist fucks on my side of town realized that their innocent white daughters would be attending Cole Middle School and Manual High School, they withdrew their interest. You’d know that my parents, back together after sending my sister and me to New England for the summer, called and told me, “You got in. This is your chance,” because we’d moved to Denver to be in a more diverse space after my mother’s racist parents fled to the northern suburbs during the 1960s “white flight”, and that I took that chance and two RTDs or seven miles on a bike to get to that school every morning for the next five years, where I met Kevin who came out just in time for his Catholic parents to kick him out, and Lisa who taught me what a bat mitzvah was, and Jermaine who lived three blocks from the school and taught me that you could be Black and beautiful and openly gay in 1993, and Olivia, my forever best friend whose father was from Panama and whose mother’s white parents disowned her for marrying a black man… And of course, Mrs. Clark, the mother of us all, who raised her writers with as much love as her five biological children, and has always lived by the same simple phrase:

Love everyone.

If you really knew me, you would know that I have had a taste of poverty. That I have become a mother who was shaped by a high school that ditched the dress code and told every kid that being gay or straight or trans or Black or Brown was just the way the world was, that I have known kids who were shot by gangs in the distance between Manual and Cole in the same the four blocks we walked each day for our arts classes and that those years between my $20-bill eleven-year-old-self and when Mrs. Clark gave me this paperweight to put on my desk because she just “knew” I was going to be a teacher–? These moments, these memories, make me the mother who doesn’t think twice about what my daughters wear to school or what our school puts up for all the world to see in the gym on the first day.

If you really knew me, you would know that Mrs. Clark is why I stand here today, and why I am asking you to share a little bit of yourselves with me.

If you really knew me, you would know that I care about what you have to say.

A Pile of Rocks

Because you asked. Because the Afghans this summer during Newcomer summer camp couldn’t understand what happened and wanted to see a picture of him. Here’s the picture of him standing among us like the video game we played too late after that Halloween party, like the one we took in Sintra with the extra child who came on our trip and complained the whole time. Like the broken wings of a family trying too hard.

“What happened? Why did he leave? Where did he go? What did he do?”

None of it matters now, in the long run. And, my gut and predictions were 100% accurate, because my last and (probably) final communications with him, informing him that it was time for him to find his own phone plan, told me exactly what I knew would happen. After everything, after actually achieving the miraculous goal of our government granting him a work permit, he’s living in Nebraska, with his cousins he escaped from, climbing on roofs, making no money, and no different than the life I tried to pry him from.

It doesn’t matter that I tried to show him the world. That I drove four hours out of my way to show him the Grand Canyon, an image so large that it can be seen from satellites, only for him to say to me, “This isn’t even worth taking out my phone for. Why would I take a photo of a pile of rocks?”

It doesn’t matter that we saved $9,000 for him to have a future. That when he needed a bike, a ski pass, a phone (three, actually), a haircut, money to send to Honduras, a helmet, soccer shoes, track shoes, a chance… We gave it to him, and still tucked that money away for more than two years, and made the mistake (or the realization) of giving it to him, and he lit it like a wildfire, and it was gone in two months, and he didn’t have a thing to show for it or one word of remorse or gratitude.

It doesn’t matter that my three girls spent those years watching the way he talked to me, the way he called me a “bitter old bitch” and a “controlling bitch” and an “irrational woman” and all the things before and since. That he would barely go to school or tutoring, that he wouldn’t get a job, that he. Wouldn’t.

All that matters, really, is that I forgot who I was.

I am a person who would drive four hours out of her way, the morning that my favorite non-human possessions were stolen, and let the grandness of the FUCKING Grand Canyon take my breath away, even if this is the fourth time I’ve seen it.

I am a person who would work through any difficulty to make this moment, this life, a bit more tolerable.

I am a person who married the most amazing, loving man, who would live in Spain, stay home instead of working, buy the house I want, cook our dinner, feed our cats, take in a boy, braid his daughters’ hair, give me pleasure, drive ten miles to beer in the rain, hike a mountain, sit on a beach, give up his military dreams, put me first… I am a person who should know better.

I am a person who would stand in the hallway, the never-ending hallway of instruction, and listen to your pleading-heart story well enough to hear that you needed help and I have a room and a heart and a conscience, and I will offer it to you.

I am a person trying to raise three girls to not take shit from anybody. Maybe I did well with this, maybe I went too far. They’ll wear the Cardinal red to a Rockies game not because they care about baseball, but because they care about being themselves, and “Why is it sexy? Because some man decided that the way I dress is sexy?” And all the controversial words you can think of between this question and who I was at age seventeen, and …? Do you think I should have brought a strange young and disrespectful young man into this home?

All that matters, really, is that I knew what I was getting into, and I didn’t listen to myself.

My thoughts were a pile of rocks, the pandemic was a pile of rocks, that goddamn destroyed room was a pile of rocks.

And it’s gone now.

He’s in another state. My girls are free.

I found myself again.

He took me away from me. But I have my own camera. And you better bet that I know that there is a time and a place to pull it out and snap a shot.

It’s four hours away, a two-year interception, a worthwhile detour.

But it is NOT a pile of rocks. It’s the most amazing thing you’ll ever see, discovering who you are.

It’s a pretty fucking GRAND Canyon.

Road Trip 2022, Day Eleven: Cades Cove

a magical place:
the only way to describe
these teenage smiles
even pup loves it 
cycling past wildlife
below the Smokies
where can you see bears
and collect salamanders
under the same sun?
this mountain-framed pic
taken on the same soil
twenty-three years past
we’re fatter, older
while the mountains are hotter;
such is life—sad changes
yet look at our girls
fearlessly taking this on
one moon-wing a time