Road Trip 2020, Day Seven

there is no escape here.

only evasion.

it’s up this curvy road packed with hill after horse-country hill,

packed with perfect fences and horses whipping their tails,

with cars zooming past, some honking at my hugging-the-shoulder presence as i pedal



past these race-won mansions,

these stacked-limestone walls that can’t trap me in or out,

into the sunny, humid heat of midday Kentucky,

so far from home, so far from home,

so near to everything that is hard and easy, up and down these endless hills

in a circle that isn’t a circle.

Coronatine, Day Seventy-one (Breaking of the Fast)

Just before the rain, we finished planting all the seeds. Pumpkin and yellow squash, red peppers and zucchini, cucumbers and cilantro.

I am so grateful for this downpour because it’s been a dry month, in more ways than one, for me. A year ago, when Muslim students spilled into my room at lunch to be far away from food during Ramadan, I decided to fast with them. I never told them that I rose before dawn to scarf down overnight oatmeal, avocados, and watermelon, that I drank two giant glasses of water to sustain myself for a busy day at school. I never told them, and they never asked, why I wasn’t eating either. But they would sit in my room and talk about the special meals their mothers would be preparing for that night’s Iftar. They would chat with each other, asking about when the next prayer time would be or what math homework they needed to do before that evening’s visit to the mosque.

There was a safety in that space, my classroom at lunch, the lights off, the sun streaming in through the cracks of the shades. There was no space for judgment or smells of others’ meals, and we were like friends, my students and me.

I cannot replicate it now, and I will never be a religious person, and quarantine is hard enough, but I decided to fast for the thirty days of Ramadan this year anyway. Why would I put myself through such torture when no one in my house would, when we’re already giving up so much right now, when I’m surrounded by a kitchen and pantry packed with food?

And what would anyone think, really, this stupid white girl appropriating another’s culture?

I didn’t talk about it with anyone outside of my family, really.  A couple of friends. I wasn’t sure if I should say anything at all, out of respect, but I saw this article in the Washington Post and I felt better, six days into my decision.

Being at home has its benefits. I burn so many more calories at school, walking from desk to desk, from my classroom to the printer to the copier, to the bathroom, to the office for meetings, to chat with colleagues in other rooms. At home, I can sit on my couch with my puppy and listen to an audiobook and cross-stitch for hours. A few times I even took a nap, though I’m terrible at taking naps.

I barely slept for the past thirty days. Too much goes on in my house that is difficult for me to control right now. Everyone is in one mode or another of depression and anxiety because of this virus that is a weight on all of our lives, because of not wanting to or feeling comfortable about being at home with each other (rather than friends), because I was so stressed about my husband losing his job, and even once he miraculously got a new job in the midst of a pandemic, there was a lingering sense of remorse for all the worry I had wasted for three months.

So rising at 4:30 with my alarm barely happened. Most of the time my eyes popped open around 4:00, just when the birds started their pre-dawn chatter. My puppy thought I was so crazy that he didn’t even beg for bits of food or lick my plate, but rather sullenly remained sleeping on the couch until I roused him for our singular long walk, the only time I would have enough energy to walk 2-3 miles.

Because one thing I have learned about not eating or drinking even a sip of water for 14-15 hours is that it is the most exhausting thing I can imagine experiencing. By 6:00pm, I’d be shaky and loopy, trying to fix dinner with one of the kids. By 7:00, I’d be shaky and loopy with anticipation, so excited for the sweet taste of juice that I rarely drink but have enjoyed for the past month, for whatever concoction we were throwing together for that night’s meal, whether it simply be hot dogs and broccoli or fried chicken and fries.

It’s incredible how amazingly cool and refreshing that first sip of ice-cold juice is, that first bite of food that you want to hold in your mouth and allow your whole body to feel its nourishment. And after a few drinks and a few sips, despite being so starving, I’d feel full, yet still so exhausted that it wouldn’t be long before I’d crawl into bed, ready to begin again tomorrow.

It’s funny how the body works. How the mind works. How hard it was, day after day, wishing it would be over, wishing the new moon would come in its crescent beauty, wondering why I would choose to do this.

I saw so many perfect sunrises.

I spoke to my children with tears in my eyes and a shaky voice many times. There was a weakness there, an inability to scream or argue, that didn’t exist before.

I thought about my Muslim students, so isolated, not in my classroom avoiding the cafeteria, but at home in crowded apartments and small houses, avoiding the world.

I slowed down. For me, this was the hardest part. Giving up food and water was nothing compared to not being able to pull every weed, plant every seed, ride my bike up and down every last hill, walk the dog until blisters appeared on my toes. But sometimes it’s better to just stop for a moment, to let the world continue its craziness around you, to rest your eyes and your heart, trying to see the spinning from a place that is still.

Moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, I made it through thirty of seventy-one days of quarantine without food or drink. And last night’s enchiladas and Libyan honeycomb bread, this morning’s strawberry-rhubarb pie and ice cream, this afternoon’s bike ride with my boys…

They tasted sweeter than you could ever imagine. Like winning the lottery of luck that is my life (because it is). Like putting that first bite in your mouth after a month of fasting, only that bite is Pure. Gratitude.

Because nothing in this life is more precious than what we love, what we long for. A taste. A drink. A relationship with our students, our families, our friends.

And in thirty days, you can truly taste how much joy longing can bring.


Coronatine, Day Forty-eight (Time for Pupusas)

if i just listen

i can gather up his words

thick as pupusas

in between masa

filled with all that he has lost

yet still hopes to gain

(i cannot fill them.

my love will not be enough.

but now we have time.)

quarantined time

to wait for flowers to grow.

to cook together.

it is a gift, life.

(even when the batter breaks

we learn to make more.)

Coronatine, Day Thirty-one (10×5)

Not gonna lie, this is getting harder day by day. But here are today’s ten things I love about you, Coronatine.

  1. Snow. Say what you will about snow in April, but just listen to this video. All you will hear is… the soft sound of snow and some birds. No traffic. The world is so quiet right now, as if it needed a rest.
  2. With a quiet world in quarantine, it is nice to see reports of how much air pollution has decreased throughout the world. Being able to see the Himalayas. The air quality in Chinese cities improving. Even NYC has much clearer air. Maybe this quarantine will give us an idea of how much we really should cut back; that we can survive on much less and still have a good life. And we can actually try to save the Earth we have been destroying for so long.
  3. Fabian has not been very motivated to learn English or to watch the videos online. But he finally came upstairs and sat with me for an hour, reading a whole passage in English about Ramadan, answering questions, and really understood a lot. It was a major breakthrough, and I hope we can continue this every day.
  4. Even though they bitterly argued with me yesterday about having to do so, all the girls did get up at 8:30 today as I asked. I want to have some semblance of a routine, and sleeping till noon is not working for our family.
  5. Speaking of the girls, I allowed Izzy to take Riona to the pet store to get things from the pet store for her new cat, and Izzy took her to Chik-Fil-A as well. They both agreed to wear the masks (finally!) though I need to encourage Izzy to wear hers the right way.
  6. A friend of mine suggested a Yes Day for each kid to choose something that everyone in the family has to participate in. I met with the kids yesterday, and they agreed. So we’re having our first event tonight, organized by Riona: Monopoly!
  7. My Newcomers have consistently logged into my office hours every day. Almost every student. They love seeing each other’s faces, talking over each other, and just being their crazy selves. My paras have also both been logging on, and I review each day’s work and they help translate. It takes a village!
  8. Bruce didn’t have to work today since he works this Saturday, so he’s making meatloaf tonight, everyone’s favorite!
  9. Social media. Say what you will… but can you imagine being stuck in quarantine during the 80s? With nothing on TV, no internet, and no one to communicate with? Social media allows an escape, but it also allows a connection. I use it for news updates more than anything else (I probably read 20 articles a day from news agencies I follow or that my friends post), I connect with others (even got a phone call from someone I haven’t talked to in ten years based on something I’d posted!), and I think it can add a personal relevance to what is happening. For example, one of my high school friends lives in Queens, so she is at the epicenter of the NYC nightmare right now. It’s good to hear her first-person account. My college roommate lives in Wisconsin and experienced having her ballot not counted in that primary fiasco. Another high school friend lives in Canada and verified the tweet about actually applying for and receiving help, within two days, from the government.  Social media allows you to see the human connection behind the news stories. And… I love the memories feature on Facebook. Since I post every day, I have memories going 10 years back. I love seeing pics of my girls and me on a farm in the Netherlands, skiing, riding bikes, or even a regular old Monday when we made waffle sandwiches! And my girls would feel even lonelier without their social media connections. As much as we hate it, this is a time to be grateful for it.
  10. To go hand in hand with social media, just being able to connect with the world in unique way and to EXPOSE EVERYONE who is not helping us get out of this horrible situation… I think it’s a good thing. Social media has led to an increased awareness of all different types of people in the world, and has allowed people to read more firsthand accounts of their experiences with world events, and I do think change WILL HAPPEN once this is over. So, number ten for today comes back to hope. We just have to have hope.

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!


Coronatine, Day Twenty-one

The email comes through in the midst of an online staff meeting, and a couple of teachers immediately burst into tears and soon have to log off.

That is the world we live in right now. Every bit of news is a bit of sadness, tears waiting just behind the corners of our eyes, ready for action.

I cannot cry in front of people and refuse to even fully place myself in the video meeting, posting a picture instead. Because I am always ready for action, and I have a list for this day: Home Depot to buy wood and sand, the garden center for my seed potatoes, two grocery stores to spend another huge percentage of our salaries to stock up on food before Bruce’s money is no more.

And while I am at the store, I stock up on all the things my Newcomers certainly don’t have: lollipops, candy bars, chips, pens, pencils, tootsie rolls, card stock, and colored paper.

In less than a year, they moved, with or without their families, across the world. They barely speak English. They barely know anyone. We’ve barely begun making progress towards everything from basic phonics to common expressions such as, “How do you get around your city?”

And the email has officially announced that I will not see their faces in my classroom for the remainder of the school year.

I have been teaching for seventeen years, primarily English to immigrants, but I have never taught truly new immigrants, and it has changed me. It has opened my eyes to the injustices of the world, to the beauty of the world, in a way that no other class ever has.

Everything about online learning will be difficult: those students who left their Chromebooks at home. Those who have to care for little ones. Those who are working. Almost all of whose parents are working and potentially tracking in this virus every day.

Being isolated in a small apartment without any exposure to our culture that they sacrificed everything to be a part of for… who knows how long?

None of this–going to the grocery store without a mask and gloves,  going to teach those beautiful faces, going to travel the world like I’ve always traveled the world–will ever be the same.

None of us–the immigrants who still have hope for their futures, for their families, the teachers who are trying to figure out how to teach piano and ceramics to kids who don’t have pianos or clay, the essential workers who wish they could stay home and can’t, the healthcare workers who are making their wills–will ever be the same.

So this is all I can do, tears present now. Ask my girls to help fill bags. Type up letters and schedules to print in case my students haven’t checked the online updates. Put in colored paper and card stock so that they can make hearts and cards for all that they love and all that they hope for.

And hope that we all make it to the other side of what the world has become.

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.