One Box of Paper

That’s right. You are witness to this. That is one box of paper. It costs $28 on Amazon, according to the research of ninety-two teachers who’d Googled it by the end of the afternoon.

One box of paper to last each one of us the semester. One box of paper that the new facilities manager surprisingly found out he had to deliver to every classroom and teacher office in addition to his regular duties of CLEANING AND REFILLING SUPPLIES FOR THE ENTIRE SCHOOL.

One box of paper that will probably, without a curriculum or a single textbook, last me a month.

One box of paper that won’t even make enough copies for one of the two SAT practice tests our school thinks we must administer to students who have yet to write a singular cohesive sentence in English.

One box of paper to “save on resources” so that we can “better serve our students.”

This is what it has come to.

“It’s going to be like cigarettes in prison.”

“I’m sorry…” nicest person in the building says to a teacher in the copy room, “I just can’t let you have any of my paper.”

Every office, every classroom, every kid knows and is talking about this paper.

This. One. Box. Of. Paper.

It’s almost as if the dictatorial mantra of Trump has trickled down into my classroom. Should I bomb Iran and destroy hundreds of lives to distract them from my impeachment? Should I allow states, especially border states, to choose whether or not to accept refugees? Should I take away one of the few resources that teachers have left?

Why the FUCK NOT?

“Use your Chromebooks. We’re a one-to-one school.”

The Chromebooks that have books on them that the kids won’t read because three tabs later there are twenty games and a soccer tournament?

The Chromebooks that my Newcomers can’t small-motor-skills manipulate because some of them have never even learned how to hold a pencil?

The Chromebooks that enhance every screen addiction that has taken this generation away from face-to-face conversation?

One. Box. Of. Paper.

What else is there to say? I better stop typing now, because if you were interested in printing this post, I don’t think it would fit on one page, and every page is worth a lesson.

And I only have one box of paper.

 

Minutes

“Did you see that three blocks down, they’ve torn down a house and are building a mansion just like this one?” I complain on the drive up Florida Ave., noticing another mansion in place of a 1940s war home. “It’s happening. Right in our neighborhood.” Our neighborhood of 1960s NON-war, perfectly-good homes.

“Mama, all you do is complain. Do you realize that? You complain about everything.

I think for a moment. We’ve been in the car for five minutes, and this is my first complaint. Give me SOME credit.

***Three hours later.***

My youngest has her exhibition night. She presents a video with her BFF about the endlessly inevitable impacts of Westward Expansion on Native peoples. She has drawn a calming coloring page with polygons for her math class. She has developed a filter to determine how best to eliminate toxins from drinking water.

And now she is participating in a Socratic seminar, sitting in a circle with her classmates, discussing “technology,” the parents hovering on the outskirts.

In the blink of an eye, the topic moves from the dangers of texting while driving to the dangers of guns. A very well-spoken and adamant eighth grader sitting two seats down retorts, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. My father is in the military, and soldiers have learned how to handle guns respectfully. With control.”

It is 19:22 on a Thursday night. I have sat through two 90-minute classes and two meetings and one long-short drive, fixed a put-together-leftover-dinner, walked the dog, walked to this “perfect” school, and begged my husband to join me for this one last event, only to realize the intense permeation of these ideas.

***Three hours earlier***

“Do you see it, girls? Right there. The original house is gone. Only the scaffolding for a mansion in its place.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” my oldest, money-hungry oldest, demands.

“The best part of living in this neighborhood is how real the people are. How middle class they are. NOT rich. Not taking everything out from under the rest of us.”

But all the people taking everything out from under the rest of us actually surround us. They are in my youngest’s classroom. They are five miles away, intentionally driving an RV into a hijabi woman, mother and aunt to the most precious students one could ever imagine the joy of having in a classroom. They are this thirteen-year-old’s mother, who intervenes in the Socratic seminar when some students suggest that in other countries, there are no school shootings. That in America, maybe we should focus on mental health rather than providing guns to all citizens.

A bulldog, she shadows her daughter, raises her voice, raises her hefty body in a darkened stance, and indirectly threatens the eighth graders. “We as human beings… We are ALL human beings, right? You as a human being have the responsibility to get help if you have mental issues. You have the responsibility. No one else. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”

I have to turn away. Suck in my breath. Stare at the wall. Clench my fists. Her teacher visibly notices my discomfort, walking towards me but not saying a word.

When I arrive home, all the news of the day is a heavy weight. My two girls who graduated nineteen months ago, who walked across Eritrea for fear of persecution, leaving their parents and home behind in search of a better life, who came to our country because their aunt lived here, who couldn’t tell me till the end of the year that the words of The Good Braider were so true for them, the protagonist counting her minutes on her cell phone, working extra hours to buy more minutes, were so true to them because they had to do the same to call home to their mother… And now?

And now some bastard who saw a hijabi Black woman walking home in the middle of a Wednesday from an ENGLISH CLASS rushed across two lanes to murder her?

But guns don’t kill people. People kill people, right?

“You’re not friends with that girl, are you?” I ask my baby daughter.

“God, no, Mama, she’s just awful.”

“OK, I’m just making sure because …” And I begin my rant about guns, the same rant they’ve heard their whole lives, the same rant that causes my middle child to hold up her hand and shout, “Enough with your opinions, Mama, it doesn’t really matter,” and then I hold up my ever-evil, ever-heartbreaking social media page where my close high school friend has to report that her Muslim son was threatened by a classmate to be shot that very afternoon, and I shout back, “It ABSOLUTELY matters, and this is why.”

It’s true. I complain about everything. I complain about injustice, and I will complain about it every minute of every day until the day I die. Injustice in the distribution of wealth. In immigration atrocities. In gun violence. In violent death from the gun of a soldier in the Middle East to the tires surrounding me in ever-so-fucking-golden-Denver.

I wish I could buy more minutes, too, just like Viola in The Good Braider. Just like Jumea and Salihah, who crossed mountains and oceans and discrimination to be given a chance that has been taken from them.

I wish I could buy more minutes of their smiles. Of how hard every immigrant I know works to build those mansions. To make this American Dream a reality. To put this darkness into perspective.

These are my minutes for today. My notes. They may sound like complaints, but they are tinged with the hope that someone will listen. Someone will donate. And someone will see that people don’t have to kill people.

 

Scarred for Life

I was eight when the plastic surgeons took their scalpels and shaved a thin layer of rectangular skin from my upper right thigh to carefully morph it onto my shoulder and, twenty stitches and forty-seven staples later, make me a new scar over my burn scar.

For the remaining years of my youth, every time I wore a swimsuit, a tank top, an open-necked dress, I had to answer questions. “What happened?” “How old were you?” “What were you doing?” “How much did it hurt?”

Even though I know my mother worried that the questions would always lead to blaming  her, no one ever asked me, “Where were your parents?”

Obviously, they had done the best that they could. After a few moments of shock when the six cups of water came tumbling down onto my ballerina-shoe sweatshirt, they ripped off the thick cotton and lifted me towards the sink, flushing me with cold water. They called the neighbor who was an EMT. They placed me in an ice-cold bath to try to soothe the bubbling blisters. They drove me to the hospital, to doctor appointment after doctor appointment for six months. They scheduled the surgery. My mother took off work for two weeks to care for me in and out of the hospital–her only vacation time of the year spent fretting over the major surgery her eight-year-old child had to undergo. The extra three days in the hospital because I just wouldn’t heal. The forty-five minutes I screamed after the surgery because the hospital was undergoing a major renovation and no one could find me a nurse to administer pain meds.

But no matter the sacrifice, no matter the recovery, no matter the gymnastics lessons I took that fall to stretch the skin, no matter the special silicone-filled vest I had to wear for months to press the new skin onto the old, that scar would always be there.

Primarily on my shoulder, but truly spilling beyond their surgical tools till all the way below my belly button, I was scarred for life.

Its bitter reminder stung me on my wedding day when I knew I could only pick a dress that would fully cover my shoulder.

On each of my children’s birthdays, when their anxious, hungry lips opened up a new wound in my left nipple that wouldn’t heal for six weeks of excruciating, needle-through-the-veins pain each time they nursed.

On every cock-eyed look I’d received throughout my life when people noticed the scar more than they noticed me.

I was eight years old when I had the best birthday of my life. My parents spoiled me that year because the surgery would prevent me from swimming in any of the five Finger Lakes for an entire summer, a punishment equal to hell for an upstate-New York kid. They let me have not one (the usual), but three friends spend the night. I got a Smurf watch and two Slinkys and a bouncy Gummi Bears toy that we played with for hours. My mom made a strawberry cake with strawberry frosting because I was obsessed with pink. They borrowed the neighbor’s VCR and let us stay up late watching movies. They made my night magical.

Despite everything–the ugliness of the scar, the ugliness of the pain–the scar became a part of me. So what if every time I went to the beach I’d get a look or too? At least I had a story to tell. At least it wasn’t worse. At least it was the worst thing that had happened to me as a child.

When my fiancé proposed to me more than ten years later, there was only one date I had in mind for my wedding day: 8.8.98. The number reflected everything–twenty years old, infinity, the life-changing events of my eighth year of life.

And though my mother always fretted over my scar, and though I feared making the choice I made yesterday for my entire adult life because of my fear of never healing and that cursed scar, I have no regrets.

It is dark. It is light. It felt like a cat scratching me a thousand times. But it did not feel like pouring six cups of boiling water onto myself. It did not feel like giving natural birth to three 9-pound babies. It did not feel like surgeons pulling forty-seven staples out of my skin graft.

It felt like infinity. Like the perfect figure 8.

Scarred for life. Just like I always have been and always will be.

 

Refocused

with a broken fridge,
 limitations on dry ice,
 and carpool circles
 
 to pick up daughter
 from uncalled-for punishment,
 my Monday sucked ass.
 
 driving home in rain,
 she told me the whole story
 and other teen truths.
 
 then shared her essay:
 perfectly satirical
 (writer at fourteen)
 
 the rain flooded us
 and we laughed until we cried
 knowing that truth hurts.
 

The Last Plane

Red hair, green eyes, tall and sure of himself, he peeks into my room, searching for a familiar face after lunch. I have seen this look before, as my students often seek their native-language counterparts.
 
 “Who are you looking for?” I ask, the after-lunch crowds raucously meandering around our conversation.
 
 “I am looking for you. I am a new student.” His accent is smooth and meticulous, genteel and articulate.
 
 “Oh, OK. What’s your name?”
 
 “Arvin.”
 
 “Where are you from?”
 
 “Iran.”
 
 “Iran? … And… how did you get here??” But I have to look away because the tears are already in my eyes.
 
 “I boarded the plane on Friday morning. I was in the last group of Iranians to come.”
 
 I want to continue the conversation, but I can’t. I can’t because the tears will fall. I can’t because I have to teach for the next ninety minutes. I can’t because every waking moment of my life since this election, since this inauguration, have become a cycle of servitude. Of serving this need or the next, of wishing for this and receiving that, of hoping for the best and seeing the worst.
 
 Instead I tell him where to sit and hand him a hard copy of I Am Malala. We will listen to the lilting Pakistani accent from Audible today as we continue to highlight human rights violations from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (we will highlight thirteen incidents in three chapters; we will connect media suppression and fascism and women’s rights to an education too closely to our lives; we will hear Fazlullah’s rants with an American accent).
 
 My weekly volunteer returns from the library after a time with a group of students. She meets with my Iranian student to explain to him his role in the group as they create posters connecting Malala’s experiences to the UDHR. He fits in well and tells the group he cannot draw very efficiently, so can he please have the role of interpreting the quotation from the chapter and connecting it to the UDHR document?
 
 He has been here for five days. He got in on the LAST PLANE.
 
 After class, my retired-white-woman volunteer asks, “If he just got here from Iran, how come he can speak English?”
 
 And that is when I decide.
 
 I have to start here. Right in this moment. With this woman who drives one mile from her upscale mansion in Cherry Creek North to “make a difference.”
 
 “Pretty much all of the students who come here learned English before they came. Usually only the refugees have interrupted schooling. But most countries start teaching English when the kids are in kindergarten.”
 
 I swear her jaw drops ten inches. She wants to say something, but she doesn’t have the words to describe her ignorance.
 
 “Oh…”
 
 And now you know, I want to say. But I don’t. I don’t cry when I want to, because I have to be strong for them. I don’t tell her that Trump’s America is not my America, not Arvin’s America. I don’t tell her that the combination of students in this room represents the values of our country better than most Americans I know. That a red-headed Iranian entering my classroom five days past an executive order banning Muslims is as beautiful to me as Ziauddin’s tears in the New York Times documentary as he sees Swat for the first time in three months (which we watch at the end of class).
 
 Instead, I say, “Thank you for your help. I’ll see you next Wednesday.”
 
 And that is all I can do to resist.
 
 All for today.