Tirador. Throw Me a Line.

I learned a new Spanish word today. It’s the story of my life, really, the story of any language learner. The learning doesn’t end. It doesn’t end with a high school diploma or a college degree or a summer in Mexico or a year in Spain. It just builds, like bricks on a wall, one word after another.

Tirador.

Before I learned the new word, this is how I tried to say it, in my mind combining the word matar with the suffix –dor, knowing, of course (the year in Spain??) that matador means the person holding the red cape for the bull. The person who KILLS the bull: “¿Has oído del matador en Boulder?”

His response? “¿Matador? ¿Como la persona con los toros?”

No, not like the person in the ring with the bulls. Like the person with the AR-15 rifle who killed ten people two days ago thirty miles from our house.

How can I say this to my child who, two days ago, for the third time, left a slipper in the laundry room sink where the washer drains and flooded my basement?

How can I say this to my child, who, two years ago, crossed three borders to find his way into my home?

How can I find the right word?

Google Translate. Shooter: Tirador.

Tirar: Throw. Suffix: -dor–person who…

Person who… throws?

The word in Spanish for SHOOTER is person who THROWS?

He was in the living room and I couldn’t see his face. And though we have an agreement that I speak to him in English and he responds to me in Spanish, I didn’t mince into English this time. Because he might hear some cockeyed version of this story somewhere else, and sometimes things get lost in translation.

El tirador? Quien mató diez personas en un supermercado treinta millas de aquí? El asistió nuestra escuela por un año.”

His response: “¿Es un gringo?”

Me: “No…”

Him: “¿Latino?”

Me: “No…”

Him: “¿Árabe?”

Spanish gone, I whispered, “Yes.” I didn’t want to say it out loud. I didn’t want to say out loud what the world might be shouting right now. I didn’t want to tell this boy that yes, like you, he came to this country hoping for a better life, and yes, like you, he faced racism and prejudice wherever he went, and yes, like you, learning a new language was a struggle.

Instead, the word hung between us. Tirador. Like someone holding a baseball, ready for the pitch. Someone holding a Koosh, ready for a classroom game of Silent Ball. Someone who didn’t know what to do with his anger or fear or loss, someone who walked the same hallways I walked, as a teacher in this high school, as a student in the same middle school I attended, a lost boy who couldn’t find his way.

My son had no other response. His childhood consisted of practically everyone he knew dying of poverty or gang violence, so the shock just isn’t the same.

Instead, I went to work. He came to school. That same place where the tirador walked, that same bubble where I thought the world wouldn’t come crashing down all around me. That glorious Italian architecture wooing me into an imaginary perfection.

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My colleague, teaching with me at the same time, seven years back, brought me a poppyseed muffin this morning.

“We’re all just processing this. Baked goods are always good.”

And how it popped in my mouth, that sweet and perfect bread.

And my daughters, my three daughters where this school has been the center of their lives, as daughters of the teacher, as students of the school, as children of the world?

“They shouldn’t sell guns to anyone with a penis. Obviously, that’s the best way to eliminate mass shootings.”

And how will we walk in these doors? How will we walk into a supermarket? How will we face the world that we have created?

How will we shape our boys?

The boys who leave slippers in sinks and put FIVE blankets UNDER a fitted sheet and spend a year blasting a space heater instead of wrapping themselves in the warmth that exists under the covers?

The boy who comes home to me and screams, “You allowed our daughter to pay a 20% tip to a carpet cleaner??? What were you doing??”

“Well, the soccer practice got moved, and it was only an hour, so I was walking the dog…” (If only I had the cute pic to demonstrate):

“So now you’re a soccer mom, huh? A mom to him. When, a month ago, you said you’d separate yourself, that he needed to figure everything out on his own, that he’s a man, a tenant, that he needed to take the bus or sign up for soccer or buy the cleats or ride his bike or…”

“Are you done?” I ask my boy, my boy I married at twenty, well before my prefrontal cortex was fully developed, well before I knew what it was to be an adult, just like that 21-year-old boy who was allowed to buy a mass-murdering rifle?

“Well…” he won’t finish, knowing I am done.

“Well, I guess I am. I’m a fucking soccer mom.”

What I don’t say: Better a soccer mom than … Yet the sentence falls flat. It is as empty as the hallways of my high school in the midst of a pandemic. The thoughts are dark, behind the stage, behind the social media, behind those fucking bullets, and broken and cruel and loving and hopeful all at the same damn time.

Better a soccer mom who drives him to every practice and spends $300 on soccer gear and $464 on carpet cleaning because my eighteen-year-old daughter thought a 20% tip was better than pissing off her mama than…

Than a tirador?

A tirador?

A shooter?

Throw me a line. Because this world is fucking drowning me.

And worse, it’s drowning these boys who are just searching for a line to grab onto.

Ancient Wings

I once trained for a half marathon. It was only because we’d bought a treadmill, and I found that thirty minutes a day could grant me three miles and burn 300 calories, so I figured, why not?

I soon learned a huge mistake that many beginning runners make: running on a treadmill cannot properly prepare you for running 13.1 miles on city streets. The only way to train for running on roads is to run on roads.

Once I began running on roads, I immediately hated it (your muscles have to work much harder), and I almost immediately injured a tendon at the top of my foot.

After a visit to the doctor and an analysis of my gait and purchase of new running shoes, the experts advised that my training could ensue on my bike, and I should accept that I’d be walking the half marathon.

I was thrilled. When you run, if you haven’t been lately, it’s a heavy-breathed torture every time. I was literally running in circles in my neighborhood, going nowhere … slowly.

When you click into your pedals, you can feel distance build between you and an actual destination. You can push yourself up a steep hill and discover utter joy while gliding down the other side rather than sketchily searching for a safe place to land your foot.

Alas, by the time the half marathon day arrived, my foot had healed, and I did run it. It felt… like a denouement of minimal satisfaction, and ten years later, I’ve never really run again.

I spend a quarter of every day on my feet, though, putting in as many miles as time will allow. All because of my Pomapoo who forces me out of bed, whom I’ve trained to only poop on walks, who smiles back at me everywhere we go.

My Pomapoo who has an unparalleled love for hiking, scrambling up rocks, dashing ahead, whimpering to go as soon as he sees the backpack appear in the living room.

Since I have an endlessly jubilant companion and we both love hiking, I always have trail running shoes on hand because I despise hiking boots but I need good traction.

All of these things—the dog, the shoes, the stolen bike—came together during the past two days in this little city called Prescott.

It may be known for the university we came to visit where my daughter hopes to study aerospace engineering or for this gorgeous lake or for Whiskey Row which once had fifty saloons for blocks and blocks, but it holds another appeal to me: trails.

Miles and miles of completely empty hiking trails right within the city. Two trailheads are within walking distance of our Airbnb!

The first had a nice view of Thumb Butte, but less than a mile of trails.

The second I discovered while looking for a park. Prescott’s version of a park is a trail through rocks and trees surrounded by the houses that encroach upon everything that is perfect in our world.

Still. A silent, empty trail where my dog can run leash-free for what ended up being four miles? What are these people in these mansions doing at dawn rather than running this trail with me? It’s way too hot mid-day to even consider.

And I thought the flippant Google Review I saw where the guy said he couldn’t find the easy-to-spot, well-marked trailhead was just “off” by throwing in, without description, a picture of a giant boulder with what looked like petroglyphs on it. But when I got to the trailhead myself in the pre-dawn dark, my leash light lit up the map that led straight to Petroglyph Point. A goldmine of luck!

Haitz and I raced up the trail, me thinking it’d be less than a mile like the other. Dawn came and went and, running out of time before my class started, I had to run back.

Boy was I scared. So many rocks, gravel, sore muscles, fear of falling, no experience.

And, despite searching along the sketchy boulders at the peak, I never could find any petroglyphs, and I was beginning to think it was all a scam.

I made it back just in time to shower and pop open my computer for another fun day of remote learning, determined to return the next morning.

Rising at 5:00 today, I was under the dark sky for fully the first half of our adventure. Haitz stayed right at my heels, too nervous to take the lead without light.

Once the sun came up, he bolted ahead in his usual jubilant fashion, always searching for something that might be just around the bend. It will never cease to amaze me—the love and loyalty of a dog.

We jogged up, me slowing and speeding up depending on the size of the rocks, and made it to the peak once again. I scrambled to the top, flashlight ready in the early-morning light, searching every boulder for a sign of an ancient artist. It seemed like a fitting place, with the sun rising over the distant peaks, for someone to carve their message to catch the morning light.

But I still couldn’t find it. I scrambled back down, ready to give up, and circled back beneath the peak when, looking up, on a rock that seemed precariously placed and impossible to reach for human hands, I saw the carving.

Perhaps they wanted to catch the light of the sunset instead. Perhaps they wanted to send a message to their descendants about the animals they lived amongst during their time. Perhaps they were simply trying to relieve the stresses of the world with art as so many artists do.

There, in the aurora of September’s last day, before the sun beat down, before most people would crawl out of their slumber, I could feel the ancient hand of indigenous people who had painstakingly taken the time to create this everlasting masterpiece.

And even though I didn’t need to, I ran all the way home. I felt the need to run in a way I’d never felt—not when I pushed myself to run 9-minute miles on the treadmill, not when I wanted to run instead of walk my half marathon—just the pure joy of a carving on my soul, energy in my veins, and the wings of our ancestors bringing my feet to each perfect landing.

I’m Sorry

Dear Bike Thieves,

I hope that you love this bike as much as I do. I hope that when you text your husband at 12:20 a.m. from the Middle of Nowhere, Arizona, and he doesn’t respond till ten hours later, reading your pathetic apology for being so stupid, his words will have an equal measure of love.

I’m sorry you lost your bike. That does suck since you’ve had that one for so long and rode so far on it. Sorry babe. 😓

He will never say, “I told you so” or, “Why didn’t you…”

He will be right there with you at 12:20 a.m. when your dog barks and you hear voices and you step out of the hotel room into the Dark Sky Universe and all that your blurry-without-glasses eyes can see is… the absence of tires.

Because he was there when you got that bike, nine years ago. When you went to the spring extravaganza under-the-tent bike sale with $1000 in your pocket from that year’s tax return–the only expendable money we had for a year–placed upon its pedals, teacher’s salary, three kids at home, him not working, “Can I buy it?”

“Of course.”

Of course you can set your alarm for 4:16 a.m. and pedal uphill in your new click-in shoes, before the sun rises, before you can even afford a light, before the world is awake, to put that bike along that endless road for thousands upon thousands of miles.

Of course you can register, pay for, and race a train up and down a mountain with this bike, this bike, these tires, this set of wings.

Of course you can buy a bike box and bring this bike to Spain, wrapped in bubble paper and soul tissue, and ride it to school, to twenty tutoring jobs a week, to the end of the road where the mountains meet the Mar.

Of course you can drive down I-25 on a 90-degree Sunday, new tent in the trunk, and watch your bike fly off its flawed bike rack into six lanes of Denver traffic, and watch your husband, afraid of nothing when it comes to his love for you, stand on the shoulder and wait for the right car to allow him to dash into the middle of an INTERSTATE and save that Baby Number Four.

Of course you will never feel the FEEL of the Sun Road in Glacier National Park without this bike vibrating under your palms.

But it is dark. I have driven 500 miles in a day only to be told by my boy, “I told you so” and “I don’t need to waste a photo on a pile of rocks” when looking at the GRAND CANYON, and…

Thieves. Boys. Oppressed.

You have my bike.

I hope you fix the red handlebar tape that was flapping for 500 miles to Arizona.

I hope you ride it to the edge of the reservation and demand that our government give you running water and a better chance at a decent life.

I hope that you sell it and feed your family for a month.

I hope that you love it as much as I have loved it. That you feel the wind in your hair, the beauty in 600 million years of piled-up rocks, and the words of my husband.

“I’m sorry.”

It’s so fucking simple. And so goddamn hard to say.