cross the sea to wholly see
how corrupt we are
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.
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?”
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.
“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?
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.
leading via flags:
half-mast for Asian victims;
visit to Georgia
against the blue sky
we try to erase their hate
with gestures of love
trapped behind two masks,
we’re at the pandemic’s will:
all screens. no faces.
only blue today
as we hope for a future
better than our past
like leftover trees
after Christmas joy is gone
this is our country
blue sky autumn day
blue as our new president
not perfect, but. still.
Today is Mythili’s sixteenth birthday, and no matter how hard I try to eliminate you in my mind from the memory of her birth, you will always be a part of it. Eleven days late, Mythili began her entry into the world in my kitchen, where I put the beef stew in the crockpot and made peach pancakes for you, your toddler, and my toddler. I’d been having contractions for most of the day, and you insisted that I wouldn’t have to see the “real” doctor the next morning to ensure the pregnancy was still viable, that I’d have the baby that night before you drove back home.
You were right. Soon after you left, my water broke, my contractions fiercely began, and Mythili came out of my body and into the tub before you’d had time to arrange childcare for your son and make your way back. You ate my sister’s burnt chocolate cake and a few bites of beef stew and told me how strong I was, how sorry you were that you missed it.
Because you understood me. You understood my frustration with Isabella’s hospital birth, where nothing went as planned and doctors wouldn’t listen to me, when I pushed until I could push no more and still she wouldn’t come, where they pushed their epidural wishes that I refused, where they cut the cord way too soon causing jaundice, where they made me feed her formula when we all know mother’s milk is best.
You’d had a similar experience with your son, and we were on a mission, you and I: to become mothers in a more natural way, to choose midwifery over OB/GYNs, to give birth in the comfort of our homes or a birthing center, not a sterile, mechanical hospital.
I will never forget that. How you were the third person I called after labor began, the same for my third child. How we hiked fifty miles in fourteen days on our Outward Bound tour that you talked me into. How we met in college, having had the fake-math and endless-English courses together, and found camaraderie in group projects, complaining about professors, and making it through to become teachers. How we spent hours and days together with our babies. How you were one of my best friends.
My cousin had to change her real name on Facebook for a while because she is a psychiatric nurse and one of her mentally ill patients tried stalking her.
That is the only reason I can think of why someone needs to have an avatar other than teens (can you believe our kids are teens?!) who are trying to hide shit from their parents.
But I noticed today, as memories of my middle child’s entrance into this world always mention you, that you have done this now. You have created an avatar for Facebook, perfectly set with a beach sunset (ever-generic) for a profile pic, even though, as far as I know, you’re not even employed, so whom are you hiding from?
On your Facebook page that I haven’t looked at in years, even though I was really hoping you might come around for the second Catholic ever elected president, I took five minutes to make myself nauseous this morning before the day had even really begun. You have posted how socialism is equivalent to devil worship, how the Bidens are crooks, how the election is fraudulently stolen, how … well, I couldn’t see most of it, to be honest, because Facebook had a huge cover over most posts warning me, “False Information.”
Though we never see each other anymore, you and I have spent way too many hours during the past ten years arguing through Facebook Messenger, texts, or emails about our wildly different views of the world. I have heard your side. You were appalled when the Supreme Court granted the right to gay marriage and even managed to pull up an article written by a bisexual Latino man, raised by lesbians, who was against gay marriage. I noticed that your Facebook page today, before I finally clicked “unfriend”, managed to have videos of two or three of the hundred or so Blacks who voted for Trump, because of course, Trump is for Blacks, right? Just as you told me that the purpose of Planned Parenthood is to eliminate the Black race, and if I really cared about people of color, I’d never support abortion.
Here’s the thing. I could sit here and post one article after another showing my side of the story, and you would, of course, claim that it is all Fake News. And if I mentioned things like, how can you support a man who is well-known for sleeping with prostitutes during each of his three marriages when you don’t even believe someone should have sex before marriage, you will just bring me back to the Mother Teresa quotes which basically say, “All the evil in the world is because people keep killing babies.”
So I am not writing this letter to YOU, my friend.
I am writing this letter to the person who collected glass beads from each of my friends and loved ones for me to hold during the labor of my third child. I am writing this letter to a friendship that changes over time, no matter how many rocks we climb or peaks we conquer. I am writing this letter to a person I don’t know, who could be kind and gentle, whose faith guides her life, who claimed that love was at the center of everything she touched.
Because for you, a white, wealthy, privileged woman, this is just an election. You, just like me, will not really lose either way. Trump did not reverse Roe v. Wade, just as no president ever has. Trump gave you a boost in your income with a tiny tax cut. Trump made sure everyone had jobs even though, for the uneducated masses, those jobs don’t pay a living wage. Trump told you COVID was mostly mild, and you’re OK, because even if you get it, the doctors are going to believe your white mouth and not turn you away as they do to so many Blacks who say their rallying cry to our racist world, “I can’t breathe.“
I know, I know. I’m posting Fake News again, right?
So let me tell you a true story. About my classroom. About a boy who came to my school and then to my home after months of travel on trains across Mexico where he threw rocks at pigeons to survive and tied himself to the top with a belt, after living all his life in a shack along a river, after barely going to school, after being raised by illiterate parents, after being put into a metal cage by the Trump Administration, after witnessing his cousin beat up his wife and get taken to jail, after living in a homeless shelter for four months.
Let me tell you a true story. He’s shy in English and outspoken in his native tongue. He calls my daughters his sisters and our house his home and me his fourth mamá. He can sing any song in the most melodic voice and will never say no to helping me build a patio, clean a gutter, fix a pipe. He translates for the other kids in class now because he’s so smart and no one has ever given him the opportunity to prove it.
Has it been easy? Has it been perfect?
But have I walked the walk? Have you talked the talk?
But have you … I could ask. Have you ever lived in an “evil socialist” country? I have. I went to Spain on a whim and a dime during a time when they had 33% unemployment. I brought my whole family of five there! “You’re basically choosing to enter the Great Depression,” my mother warned me. “People are going to be desperate, living in the streets.”
And what was it like? Families took care of each other. Adult children lived with their parents until they could, possibly years later, find work. Healthcare was incredible–I paid 3 euros for a strep medication for my youngest that, nine months later, I paid $250 for in the U.S. Schools were open, and universities charged their “ever-exorbitant” 600 Euros a YEAR, so everyone still continued to learn about how the world really works. Every café was filled, every day of the week.
I saw one beggar and not a single gun.
But you don’t want to hear this. You don’t want to hear about my son whom you probably think doesn’t belong here because he doesn’t fit into your white world. You don’t want to hear about how socialism ACTUALLY HELPS PEOPLE.
You want to claim that the rich take care of the poor and gay marriage is evil and our country is filled to the brim, so stop coming.
You want to blame every choice ever made on abortion. We’re at war because we abort babies. Blacks are disappearing because we abort babies. Poverty exists because we abort babies.
OK, I get it. Everything and everyone is evil because we abort babies. And this is the hill you will die on.
And this is the hill I will die on. Because even though you and I climbed the same mountain, our view from the top wasn’t the same. You chose to insulate yourself as you have always done, in your white suburb, in your church, in your family, and I chose to experience the world, meet every type of person who walks this Earth and take the time to hear their story.
And someone who takes the time to collect glass beads for a new mother and write love letters to her high school sweetheart and to lovingly cradle her young babies should not be the same person who believes a candidate is more important than the democracy we’re trying to save and claims gay marriage is evil and that my students don’t belong on the Earth you want your unborn babies to be a part of.
But that is our hill.
And I’m crying now not because I have lost a friend, though you were once one of my best friends.
I’m crying because we have lost goodness. Kindness. Love.
Because how can we keep climbing these mountains only to throw each other down the other side?
I’m crying because I cannot look my students in the eye and tell them I am here for all the reasons they are here and be friends with someone who supports bigotry. Oppression. Xenophobia. Racism.
I’m crying because I thought you were a person who loved God who loves everyone.
I’m crying because our nation will never be a nation for all, rather a nation for whites. And no matter how long you live, I know you will never believe me, that you will never see that.
And it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that you helped me to bring my children into a world that you believe is only for people like you.
So this is our hill. It is filled with sorrow and a too-early thunderstorm, and we can’t quite make it to the top. Just like this pic, twenty years back, when they shut down the hike as we stood, helmets on, boots laced, ready to climb.
Sometimes there is no going forward. There is only looking back.
One of my students just called me and in his very broken English told me I upset him in class today because I wasn’t on screen the whole time. He was in tears and his father yelled at him. Why wasn’t I on screen the whole time?
Because I was walking around my classroom trying to check in on the twelve kids who showed up today. Because I was trying to get two kids who have done zero work because of their utter terror of technology finally logged into our textbook.
Because I was making a tiny bit of progress with two kids, and breaking another.
Because it’s 2020 and I don’t know how to teach anymore. 💔
But I wore this mask and put up the new background fireworks to celebrate a candidate who literally has the power to change or save their lives and their families’ lives, and I smiled.
So why am I crying now?
here we are. winning.
by a margin way too slim.
at least we win her.