with one vacant lot
the clear divide of wealth
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
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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!
dough starts the morning
kneading, needing, rest.
burns through this false spring sunshine
as we drill, hammer
my boy is fearless
removing every last leaf
from our high-pitched roof
my girls love salad
work the seeds into the ground
ready, row by row
we plant potatoes
in our newly-built raised bed
(plants will save us, right?)
it angles others
in defiance of the times
(ready to win this)
my baby makes art
a YouTube challenge (with hearts)
and we win this day
just in time for bread
that rises as the sun sets
we are safe. and well.
should i skip a day?
is the sunrise worth noting?
will it save us all?
bare naked branches
waiting for a better spring
and a lifted tail
that everyone came here for
ready to break you
(could you be grateful?
could you ride/walk/talk it out?)
Could that save him? No.
so I’m bitter. Yes.
afraid, bitter, hopeful. spent.
like a sunrise. Lost.
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!
for someone (not them)
yes, i’m a cynic
cause i know without faces
the life from all we’ve worked for
and how will it end?
as the line suggests
we’ve all rushed imminent death
trying to buy food
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!!”
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.
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).
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.