Stairway F

H was in a mood today because she wasn’t feeling well, and we all suffered. She called out her former friend and said she wouldn’t participate in the therapy session (though she did) during the first class, and in the second class, she sat in the corner and wrote in her journal and did her work without a word.

When it was time to visit the school food bank before trekking home on the train, she was definitely not up to it. I looked at my recently-arrived Afghan girl whom H has been escorting to and from school every day, and H looked right back at me. They were both standing in Stairway F, not Stairway R, the one that leads to the food bank.

“Well… are you going to wait for R to go to the food bank?” (H’s sister and brother had already fled the premises and were five blocks down Louisiana Avenue, halfway home).

“We’re going home. She can’t go home alone.” It might have been a dirty look H gave me, an exhausted look, a middle-child look.

H is from Sudan and doesn’t speak R’s language. But she lives five blocks away from her, and even though the train takes an hour to bring them both to my school, I convinced R’s caseworker that it was worth her staying, that we have a food bank and a newcomer program with three hours of English and two hours of math and a summer program and therapists and patience, and this Sudanese family that lives five blocks away who could show her how to take the train… But what they wanted was an escort, a female escort, who would make sure that she would be safe.

(When we were learning past tense verbs yesterday via a story about a man who had a bad day, my para talked H through her horrible story about her bad day, where, just like the man in the story who missed his bus, she missed her train because R was late. And H is never, never late. And she nailed those past tense verbs, her long braids that her sister entwined spilling down her back like a river of emotion.)

I had to let them walk down Stairway F. (It was just a few years back that I discovered how many stairways are in our building. They go all the way up to X, if you were wondering how a school built a hundred years ago with three additions tries to fit the world into its walls. Stairway X is in the 1987 addition with the new gym and its fancy foyer and its secret passage up to the third-floor batting cage.)

I digress.

I let them go, and I walked the rest of my class down the second-floor hallway to Stairway R, to the food bank where my most-recently-arrived Afghan boy told me the whole story, through his broken English and broken heart and the translator app on his phone, about the series of scarred slashes on his arm.

“The Taliban?”

Scars so deep that they are still pink, as if cut by a suicidal knife, as if done yesterday. He has photos on his phone from the day of the event, less than a year back, when he was working in a pharmacy that the Taliban decided to bomb, shattering the glass on all the windows, sending the glass into his forerarm, his shoulder, his soul.

“Can you walk with me through the food bank and show me how to get the food?”

The patient Wash-Park mother was making a list of new students. He didn’t know just how to add his name, but his verbal skills are over-the-top amazing.
“How many people are in your house?” I asked because the form asks.

“Twelve. In two rooms,” he informed me, holding up two fingers to prove to me he understood.

“How many children? Adults?”

“Eight children and four adults.”

And before we had walked through, before we had picked out chai tea and lentils and halal meat and handfuls of fresh vegetables, filling not one or two, but three bags for him to carry across the city on two city buses, H appeared in front of me, cutting the line with R, exhausted and sick and putting her arm around her, making sure that she had as many bags of food that she could carry home to her huge family, and…

That is what it is like to teach Newcomer English. Find your H, take the right stairway, and fill your bags with food and hope.

You and Me at Twenty

Now I am a hypocrite to myself. As a Taurean, this hurts more than you will ever know. Because I said I would never, and now I have.

I have asked you to leave.

When I was twenty, the age you are now, I married my husband. We were already living together. We scraped together enough money between his pitiful Airman’s salary and my two part-time nanny jobs to pay our bills and put on a small wedding. He was already fully an adult, calling the bank daily to be assured of his balance, setting up online payments before the rest of the world knew how to do so.

I know he isn’t you and I am not you, and that he and I had a calm childhood, raised as regular kids by two parents in middle-class America, and not as feral cats in gang-ridden Honduras, and that you have a million excuses and valid reasons for your childish behavior.

I know that, and I’ve been using your background as justification for your behavior for the past two years. Justification to keep you here after stealing our car. Refusing to clean your room for so many months that it looked and smelled like a homeless encampment. Ignoring our house rules by staying up all hours of the night talking on the phone and preparing food. Not taking school seriously. Shirking tutoring. Refusing to speak even one word of English. Taking all the money we’ve carefully saved for your future and burning through it faster than we can count it.

And in a year, when you turn twenty-one, will you magically change? Will you mature? Between now and then, would you speak English? Sit with me and set up a spreadsheet to count and organize your spending habits? Regularly attend classes and study for the exam that would give you a diploma? Set an alarm so as not to miss extremely important immigration appointments?

Learned behavior. I know. Learned from a childhood of chaos, never going to school regularly, searching the garbage for food for you and your sisters because your mother could never keep or find consistent work. Playing in the streets till all hours of the night. Trying to avoid gang initiation. Trying to get by.

You learned so many things in your childhood. Most of all, you learned how much you wanted to have a better life, and that is why you came here.

And I tried to give you a better life.

I tried to teach you English, but you prefer to speak to me in Spanish. I tried to take you to beautiful places, but you complained about long drives and boring views. I tried to include you in my family, but you called them cold and never used an English word with them. I tried to emphasize the importance of education over all else, but you goofed off in class and played on your phone. I tried to save your money, but you got your hands on it and lit it on fire.

I know, I know. I’m not being asset-based. I’m looking at your deficits.

Let’s take a look at your assets.

You can learn. You are intelligent and capable. You eat any food we prepare without complaint. You exercise regularly. You maintain many friendships. You can repair your own bike. You learned how to ski after just one day. You have a beautiful smile. You help me with heavy things because you are stronger than anyone in the house. You can sing. And you can read and write despite being brought up by illiterate parents and never consistently attending school. You care deeply about your family back home and plan to take care of them forever.

But I can’t take care of you forever.

What was my breaking point? The money or the mama comment or the night in the midst of a hellish week when you woke me yet again?

It was all of these things and more. Mostly, it was just one thing: you just won’t try.

And I have failed in many ways, and I have lived in situations I have hated, and I have been in toxic relationships, and I have something inside me that makes me want to get out of that, to work harder, to find a better place, to end the toxicity.

But you won’t.

So I will.

I’m sorry that I lied to both you and myself, that you didn’t want another mother, and that you couldn’t just grab hold of the opportunities in front of you and see your one-in-a-million chance.

I hope that you will grab hold of the next one, fully sink your teeth into it, and live the dream you imagined when you took all those trains and crossed that river and came to this country.

I really hope you will.

Coronatine, Day Sixty-seven (Social Distancing Applied to Poverty)

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.

It’s true. Colorado has one of the highest rates in the country for outdoor recreation, and in general, physical activity.

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).

 

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 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 Twenty-eight (10 x2)

Day 2 of Quarantine Gratitude. It’s been a pretty rough day, and I’m disappointed by online learning for Newcomers, so this is going to be hard, but I am trying here!

  1. Gas prices. I know Trump’s an asshole, and these countries are having a bidding war right now, and I should have an electric car, but these prices are eleven years old, this is the first time I’ve filled my car in a month, and it’s a relief.
  2. Speaking of cars… it’s nice to run an errand with just a little traffic. Denver has horrible traffic, and it’s been nonexistent lately.
  3. People listening to the governor. Went to the grocery store today, and they had it all set up for social distancing with one-way aisles, a line around the store, and most people were wearing masks! It was good to not be the only one.             
  4. Speaking of food: our school’s food bank, and in particular, Jaclyn Yelich. She called me two days ago because she just knew some students weren’t getting food. In the midst of a crisis, when she had to move her entire food bank to another location, she knew that some of my ELLs were getting desperate. We made a plan. She formed her delivery team, she asked me to help, and we brought food to six of my Newcomer families. She had a whole warehouse of boxes and bags ready to go for each family. This woman has worked all her life, raised her daughter, and now has given up her entire retirement to feed the families at our school, which takes more time than a full-time job. She gives hope when there is no hope.
  5. The moon. I have always loved the moon, and in high school even won an award for a story titled, “Catch Me a Moon.” In all its clichéd symbolism, its constancy is calming right now. Knowing that it’s up there, shining bright, so far from all of our problems, connecting us all with our own special glimpses of it wherever we might be in the world, is a comfort.
  6. Gardening friends. I am certainly not a master gardener, though I bought a house from one! What a joy today to receive the generous gift of an entire tray of spices and vegetables for my garden. Their petite green stems bring life to this sunny window, waiting, just like us, for the frost to stop and the world to be ready for a permanent move to a better life that is waiting on the other side of the glass.
  7. Audiobooks. In a house of six, it’s difficult to sit down and read. So many distractions and background noise. I love audiobooks because I can take them anywhere with me–in the car, walking the dog, gardening, or cross-stitching.
  8. Cross-stitching. I will never be a seamstress, but this I learned to do when I cross-stitched baby blankets for my three girls. It is relaxing and methodical, and fulfills my need to always be doing something with my hands. And when this is all over, I’ll have a pretty picture to hang! 
  9. Work flexibility. My district and school have handled these crazy circumstances very well, and they’ve offered us so much flexibility with office hours, grading expectations, and the amount of assignments. It has been so refreshing to work within a schedule that I create, which as a teacher, just never happens. It’s so nice to have time on weekdays to run errands, to fit in an appointment, and to make my own schedule.
  10. To go with the theme of weekdays and flexibility, it’s refreshing to be able to clean my house whenever I want and not try to cram the chores in between a harried workday, harried dinner prep, and a harried life. Cheers to vacuuming on a Friday morning and a non-harried life!

 

Funny (Not Funny)

Sometimes negative energy just builds upon itself. I suppose that’s what’s happening now, even though this has been happening to us for weeks and we are just entering the actual week of Daylight Savings, full moon, AND Friday the 13th. Madre mía.

So I am going to look at the funny/not funny moments of the past twenty-four hours.

Funny: In the emergency room waiting room last night, I had to explain Furries to my Honduran son. “Some people just think they are animals, and they like to dress that way all the time, and that’s why he has on the suit and the raccoon tail.” “Oh… well his face already looks like an animal.” I had already looked away, so I had to wait a moment to steal a glance of the dark glasses, the perfectly-raccoon-shaped beard, the dyed mustache, and be ever-so-grateful that Fabian only speaks Spanish so the poor gringo couldn’t understand what he had said as I stifled my laughter.

Not Funny: After a long day of working and screaming at children for ignoring me and running seven blocks in frustration and watching my baby girl kill it in her ensemble role of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Jr., after I had just put on my favorite outfit of all time (pajamas) to settle into a stupid sitcom in my bed with my puppy who has his own water glass (Figure 1)… a loud crash in the kitchen called me downstairs (we thought the cat had knocked over one of her daily glasses).

I rushed downstairs because, as usual, all three girls ignored our, “Clean up after your cat!” calls, and found myself standing in a trail of blood that led from the knife on the floor at the kitchen entryway all the way to the sink where my son stood, trying to flush out a wound so deep and scary that all I could do was grab a wad of paper towels and scream, “BRUCE!!!!! GET DOWN HERE NOW!!”

(No, I did not actually take a picture of the bloody knife. This is a reenactment)

Funny: The mulleted, heavily-tattooed paramedic whose job at the emergency room was to walk into the waiting room and scream out his mispronunciation of names, then rush back behind the desk to reread the names and try again, most times failing on the second attempt.

“Luceeero!!” No response. Breathless rush behind the desk. “Sandra (the a pronounced as in apple, heavy Southern drag to boot) Luceeeero?” No response. Breathless rush behind the desk. “Lu-SAR-oh?” “Oh, yo soy Sandra Lucero.”

“Rizzo! … Rizzo!… ” Breathless rush behind the desk. “Roos! Roos!”

“Do you mean Ruiz? I think that’s us.” (To the side: “Rizzo? Like in Grease? Have you seen Grease? Maybe we’ll have to watch it later.”)

Not Funny: Walking into my kitchen at 9:30 pm on a Friday night after bitching and screaming at my son, after posting a blog post, after my love-hate relationship with him, after everything I’ve done, and thinking, “Is he trying to harm himself?”

Because everything that I complain about means nothing.

Because every spot of blood splattered on my wall, on my tiled floor, on my heart, means everything.

Because if I lost him now, I would be as brokenhearted as if I lost one of the three babies I gave birth to.

Because I love him.

(And he did not harm himself. He is a boy. He ran across three countries to come to my home. And he was literally trying to catch a Japanese steel chef’s knife that was falling from the counter to the floor. Because he’s a boy. And he catches KNIVES.)

Funny: “Oh, I will call the actual police on you! You think I’m part of the DPD? I don’t work for the DPD, and you need to get out of here NOW!!! I will NOT be cussed at! I don’t have your stuff and I don’t know where it is! GET OUT NOW!!”

“Miss, what’s she yelling about?”

“This guy was looking for his stuff, and she doesn’t know where it is, and she wants to call the police on him because he used bad words.”

“See Miss, that’s why you shouldn’t use bad words.”

Not Funny: “This emergency room is so calm and quiet compared to how it is in Honduras.”

“What do you mean?”

“In Honduras, everyone in the emergency room is either dying or dead from gunshots and knife wounds. Everyone is screaming. And dying. Because the gangs have ruined their lives.”

Funny: The doctor asked us to come into the temporary room until we could get to the real “room behind a curtain” that had a bed. He was the only one so far who had attempted to speak Spanish to Fabian, and even though my Spanish is always broken, I don’t think it was as broken as his.

After asking about the cut, the incident, the pain, he asked, “Está numblado?” Fabian didn’t respond. He asked again. No response. “Está dormido?” “Sí, sí.”

After he wrapped it up, he told me he thought Fabian cut a nerve, and that was why it was numb. “But you know, I don’t know why he wouldn’t respond to me. I use that word all the time, ‘numblado,’ and usually I get some response.”

Fabian and I returned to the waiting room. I must admit that, other than dormido, I didn’t know the word for numb in Spanish. “The doctor was asking you if your finger was numblado, did you not understand?”

“Like, the sky is cloudy?”

“No, not nublado, numblado, because the word in English for dormido is numb. Numblado? Es una palabra?”

I pulled up Google Translate. “Numb: entumecido.

And we were crying laughing. Because language is so hard. And the poor doctor took the word numb and added “-lado” and it sounds like the word for cloudy skies (nublado), not a slashed-nerve finger. And because it was almost midnight by then and he’d lost a lot of blood and we were exhausted and everyone around us was wearing a coronavirus mask and he just couldn’t understand why. And it was just… funny.

Not Funny: “I hate hospitals. I’ve seen too many people die in hospitals.”

His cousin. His other cousin. His friend. His everyone-in-his-life-he-can-think-of killed. By gangs.

Funny: Me telling the story to the girls over biscuits and gravy the next morning.

Numblado? Numblado?”

And Fabian smiling like he’s not in pain, like it doesn’t matter, like life can go on because this scar will match all the other scars he’s acquired from his life lived in poverty searching for food, searching for transportation, searching for a reason to keep on keeping on.

Not Funny: Everything I just put on this page.

And life. Life is funny. (Not funny).

Happy Angry Hour

Do you know why he makes me so angry? Do you know why I screamed at him (during passing period) in front of the entire class? Why I was still yelling after the last bell, spilling the whole story to my two unwilling-to-listen-but-forced-to daughters, cuss words and all?

Because I love him.

And I want him to think of me, of all of us, when he doesn’t clean the cat litter or mop the floor. When he pours all the creamer I just bought into one cup of coffee. When he changes his doctor’s appointment that I rearranged my entire day around and had my mother drive across town to bring him to, and doesn’t tell me until two minutes after class STARTS.

I want him to stop running the damn space heater all night long (with the door to his room open) and costing us $100 extra a month.

I want him to care about learning English.

I want him to be my son, to be like my daughters who absolutely drive me crazy in every way and refuse to do chores and forget to turn in work and to tell their boss they can’t work when we have a ski weekend and rearrange their weekends with friends when ski weekends get canceled and then whine about having missed most of the ski season without actually skiing… And get near-perfect grades and would never change a doctor’s appointment without asking me or checking the calendar first.

Alas, I have four teenagers in my house, and one of them is a boy whom I barely know and  from a culture I barely understand and from a not-more-than-a-day-in-advance plan that I didn’t take into account when I asked him to move out of the homeless shelter and into my home.

Alas, that $100 a month on electricity matters to me right now because my husband just got laid off from his job and we have until May 21 to live like kings and the rest of our lives to figure out how we’re going to pay for our mortgage and our health insurance, and Bernie lost Super Tuesday and the stock market shot up 1,100 points the very next day because investors care more about health insurance profits than HUMAN LIVES.

Alas, just when things couldn’t be worse at work or anywhere else, the 1998 Camry died, and now I have another weight to carry each day: the shuffling of more teens to every last event from track practice that he (at the last minute) signed up for to musical rehearsal to never-ending-hours of fast-food employment to driving them to school each day.

Alas, I did not raise this boy to check calendars.

And I want him to listen to me. I want him to think about how each phone call and acting-up-in-class-joke and putting-his-head-down-shutdown is a punch into every last dark hollow of my teacher-mother soul.

But it is almost 5 o’clock. And I am going to walk seven blocks and sell tickets to my baby girl’s musical because, yes, I needed one of my tickets comp’ed so I can pay for the space heater and not spend another $12.

And I am going to smile and wear this shirt in front of all the racist white people at her school.

And that is my happy hour for today.

Dread

i have no energy to write tonight

’cause i’m trapped in  the battle of fight or flight

(i know i’m not and i can’t rhyme for shit

but this crushing feeling is def legit)

what an insult, this new paygrade i got

why should i bother with this cursed rot?

because it is the weight i must carry

since he is the one i chose to marry

of course i love him more than anything

but that will never take away the sting

of knowing that i must pay all the bills

with a paycheck that allows zero frills

 

and the frills are what makes life worth living

after hours and months and years of giving

yet this is my lot on this Tuesday night:

not quite fight or flight–rather fright, fright, fright.