stand in vigilant silence
since Black Lives Matter
stand in vigilant silence
since Black Lives Matter
So we don’t have a beach in Colorado, not a real one anyway. We do have immigrants from a hundred countries and out-of-state transplants from all fifty states who have come to live here for one main reason: to be outside.
So, after more than two months of being trapped indoors, of ski areas being shut down too soon, of gyms being closed, of mandates that tell us we shouldn’t drive more than ten miles to enjoy the outdoors, this happened: a crowd of just-out-of-school teenagers, more than two hundred of them, ignored all social distancing mandates and managed to get all of the state’s beaches closed indefinitely.
Now, I am a high school teacher, AND I have four teenagers in my house. Are they crazy? Yes. Are they self-absorbed? Yes. Are they reckless? Absolutely.
But must we all, all of us outdoor fanatics, suffer a summer without our “beach” because of a crowd of adolescents?
Because let me tell you who is affected by this new mandate. All the poor people everywhere who crowd into Cherry Creek State Park, conveniently located in the center of the city, on any given weekend because you can fill a car full of people to enjoy the water and sun for a measly $11. You can pack a picnic or a barbecue, relax under a cottonwood, dip your toes in the water, and pretend that the world outside of this sanctuary doesn’t exist. For a few hours, a day, you can have a sense of peace.
I have lived within fifteen minutes of this park for most of my life. On summer weekend days, you have to stake out a spot by 10am if you want the perfect combination of shade and sun. And you will see people from all walks of life enjoying its proximity to the city. Every language you can think of, every tone of skin, every belief system, all enjoying the splashes and sun.
And now we’re in a pandemic. And now we’re supposed to stay home. And now we’re social distancing.
Most of us are.
But guess who still gets to enjoy the water at the fourteen parks with closed swim beaches?
People with boats.
Guess who gets to enjoy the lakes and campgrounds owned by counties in northern Colorado? Lakes like Horsetooth Reservoir with its crystalline turquoise water, surrounded by mountains?
People with hard-sided campers that contain their own private bathrooms.
And guess who those people are?
People with money.
So, in the midst of a pandemic, when the privileged are allowed to storm the streets brandishing military-grade weapons because they want everything open, those same things ARE open. To them.
And to those who can just gather up the $11 entrance fee? They can social distance from home. They don’t need to play golf or take out their speedboat or enjoy a luxurious camper that costs more than they’ll ever make in a year. They can go back to their cramped apartments with no yard space while the rich can back their boats into their third garage and pay their gardeners to perfectly maintain the 10,000-square-foot lot that they COULD be enjoying instead.
And no matter what, don’t you ever forget it, this is the Land of the Free.
Free for everyone with a million bucks, and ever-so-costly for those who can just afford $11.
(I will miss those cottonwoods).
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.
The day begins with this chicken lining the bottom layer of an IKEA/Costco bag beneath the bagels I’d actually been searching for, beneath its canned chicken counterparts, beneath a giant double box of mini-wheats.
This $22 worth of chicken, sitting at the bottom of a bag for five days and not put away into the freezer. This double-grocery trip, gloves and mask on, this bucket of Pinesol and hot water ready on the porch, me carefully removing the packaging, carefully scrubbing down every last item with the cloth rag and my made-up formula, carefully trying not to bring this virus into my house.
This chicken that I asked my oldest daughter to put away.
In my mind is everything: her loss of prom. Of not being in the first and only musical of her life. Of her not lettering in dance (her only chance of a letter). Of her high school days abruptly ending on March 13 because she’s already signed up to take all her classes next year at the community college. Of her missing AP Physics with the same pain she’d miss a boyfriend.
In my mind is everything: her words to me last week, completely out of the blue: “I’m moving in with my friend and her parents the second I turn 18.” Her friend since kindergarten running off with a boy in the middle of the night, her mother’s frantic phone calls at 3:30am, and my daughter’s candid retort the next night over dinner, after the friend had been found: “I’ve thought about running away so many times. So many times.”
In my mind is everything: soon to be without a second income, soon to be without decent health insurance, I’ve been stocking up on every last thing so that my storage room looks more like a second Costco and my freezer is (should be) filled with this goddamned chicken, and why can’t my ever-so-smart daughter do the simplest thing, show me some semblance of respect?
Everything spills out over tears that I can’t control before it’s even 7:30. Everything, everything: the wish to run away, the wish to move out, the haven’t-I-tried-to-be-good-to-you, the you-know-I-love-you-so-why-do-you-hate-me?
She is a lump in the bed, unresponsive to my words. All I can do is return to my room, flush out the tears, and record my daily video lesson for my Newcomers, which takes an hour longer because I have learned how to add subtitles for a deaf girl in my class, a refugee who cannot hear a word in any language but can draw Anime art like no one you’ve ever met.
Then Bernie drops out, the stock market immediately takes a leap of faith because this country will always be profits over people, and it seems there is no hope in the world on day twenty-six of this cursed Coronatine.
I pound my frustration into chopping vegetables for the pot roast, its scent soon spreading through the house like a virus worth scintillating.
I decide to finally make the summer trip cancellations, hoping for some semblance of refunds, but the travel industry is one of the most unforgiving on the planet, and I am left with a few small rewards and thirty hours of research and hopeful anticipation lost to sickness, layoffs, and disappointment that brings on wave after wave of new tears.
She doesn’t come downstairs for hours, and when she does, she is all made up, beautiful and young and representing the promise that everyone would want for our future. She avoids me further for another forty-five minutes, then offers to help me with the second sourdough I’ve attempted within a week, setting the timer to fold and re-fold the dough. She agrees, later, to watch Dirty Dancing with me because it’s the only thing I can think of that will cheer me up, and laughs at my pathetic attempt to chainsaw the juniper.
She makes her special sweet coffee drink for everyone, including Fabian who never in his life had heard of iced coffee, but gulps it down happily within seconds.
And I know that she is more than this stupid $22 worth of chicken. That seventeen-year-old girls say mean things to their moms just fucking because. That every problem I have listed here is a first-world problem.
And I know that small things are beginning to blossom in my yard. And I have to stop thinking about “What if” and “Why can’t we?” and start thinking about these small shoots and sprouts and flowers that pop up when I need them the most.
And my girls are still in spring even as I approach winter. They need sunlight, soil, refreshment.
And I have made it through another day of this. Just. Like. That.
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?
here are my children
throwing frisbees in the park
(they’ve never done this)
quarantine, day nine:
orders to stay home
just look at my son:
showing pup what he can do
with our family
card and board games win
(break news cycle doom and gloom)
We WILL get through this.
Building the garden and cleaning up the yard. Such simple goals for three weeks off, no travel, no Starbucks, no restaurants.
Staying home with four teenagers who want to do nothing other than mope and defy. “Why can’t we see our friends? Why can’t we get a Frappucino? Why can’t there be school? Why was my musical canceled? Why do I have to spend time with my family?”
And so the doors shut. The chores get left unattended. The no-phone-for-twenty-four-hours rule gets enforced for three out of four children, spiraling me further into the “I HATE you” zone.
Building the garden and cleaning up the yard, I tell myself.
It is a sunny day, as always, and I begin to rake out last year’s overtaking of sunflower plants, the dried grasses, the remnants of onions, to load them into the compost bin.
I rake the soil to see how soft it remains after seven months of resting under snowfall and sun, freezing temps, whispers of fog, violent gusts of wind. It is supple, loose enough to filter through the tongs of the metal rake, to easily sift through with seeds.
I listen to my audiobook as I rake, listen until it’s done. Each child comes to the door to see what I’m doing, but none of them will agree to help (gardening is not on their chore list).
I begin to lay out the soaker hose, a necessity in this dry state, and realize it’s broken in too many places to fully function.
And here is where coronavirus has followed me, on a day when I, too, decided to put down the phone, the endless scrolling, research, reading every article ever written about this disease, the daily cases, the daily death tolls, reading the ever-present news that details how our country is nowhere near able to handle this pandemic.
I cannot continue my garden, my laying out of black snake-like coils, without going to the store. How dare I go to the store for such a non-essential thing as a soaker hose, exposing myself and everyone there (because who knows which of us has it)?
But I have three weeks, at the very minimum, in this house, in this empty, bitter house, and if I don’t plant this spinach today, it will be too late.
And so I risk it. I pack dishwashing gloves and put them on in the parking lot. I am careful about what I touch. About staying six feet away from everyone. I overhear dark conversations. “Why are you here today?” “Well I sure as hell ain’t workin’. The government shut down everything, all the restaurants.” “Did you see my application?” “Yes, but we just can’t be hiring people right now. This coronavirus is taking everything down. Normally I’d be hiring ten people.” “Do you have any bleach?” “We haven’t had bleach for days.”
I take the gloves off before touching my car door and soak them in bleach when I get home. And I take my new hoses and configure them four times before they’re perfect, before I feel confident that they are coiled in a way to keep my garden going all summer.
I look at my two spinach and one radish seed packets. They are so light in my hands, so inadequate, and remorse floods my mouth like vomit. “Plant your spinach every ten days throughout early spring in order to have a continuous crop,” the packet instructions inform me.
Any other year, this wouldn’t matter. But now all the shelves of every frozen vegetable in every grocery store are completely empty, and I am. SCARED. Soon it will be fresh vegetables gone. Soon it will be milk. Soon it will be us.
And I only have two packets, and spinach can’t sustain us.
I decide to use just one, setting an alarm on my phone for ten days later so that at least we’ll have two weeks of “a continuous crop.”
Building the garden and cleaning up the yard. Every year I do this, bit by bit, in between working and skiing, throughout the spring. Now I have three weeks, three glorious weeks, to distribute this massive undertaking each day. I even made a list this morning of which tasks to do each day: mowing the lawn, cutting back old plants, spreading mulch, trimming trees, picking up dog shit.
Now I have three weeks, three sleepless weeks, to discover what will prevent me from continuing. To argue with my teens and husband about stranger danger (friend danger just doesn’t sound as good). To sift through social media and see all the creative suggestions people have for what they can do with their kids, everything from learning about new topics through books and documentaries to vast art and Lego projects, and I can’t even build my garden, get through day three, without having a panic attack about visiting a store, without feeling like every moment of every day for however long this lasts, I will fail them.
My fifteen-year-old refused to play Monopoly last night, refuses to go to the dog park today. The dog park! The chillest, friendliest hike known to legs. “I don’t want to spend any time with any of you!”
“Even if it means losing your phone for another day?”
“I am NOT going. I don’t want to be near anyone.”
“Spend time enjoying your families,” my principal writes in an email. “Get to know each other on a deeper level.”
And I wanted this post to be about the beauty of my garden. About how it represents renewal, rebirth, about how, in six weeks, I’ll fill my bowl with spinach, and maybe this will all be over?
But it won’t be over because my husband had already been laid off before this even happened, and what now? What are we supposed to do now?
We are supposed to make a list of what yardwork we can accomplish while trapped at home.
To be proud that said-fifteen-year-old finally finished the leaf pile of this forsaken puzzle three months and three quarantined days after we started.
To snap pictures of this my-kids-are-all-teens-now-so-i’m-getting-a-puppy face as he happily bolts through the dog park.
To start again, to try again, tomorrow.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll build a garden. Maybe I’ll clean up the yard. Maybe I’ll get my kids to come out of their rooms.
And maybe I’ll get through another day.
as the line suggests
we’ve all rushed imminent death
trying to buy food
i share Bernie’s view
of providing for the poor
so simple, so hard
all the hope i have
rests in this fateful ballot
(can hope win the vote?)