even when we lose
he has won his only chance
to be part of this
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
no beach silhouette
could compare to mountain snow
with my boys up front
as the words come flooding in
(yet i can’t stop them)
no. i had no plan.
no plan for any of this.
(nor a solution).
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?
hours of phone calls
texts pleading in languages
i don’t even speak
setting up my room
with a yardstick and some hope
ready for today
comments on our lack of space
after this, i just give up.
no one came to school.
to walk empty halls
without the student voices
cold. slow. loveless. death.
my kids who text me daily
my kids, yes, my kids
did she read my words?
did she see what i just wrote?
alas, i’m tired
i want to see them
just as he does, biking there
in the midst of lunch
seeing their faces,
having a conversation
without this damn screen
a clear Colorado lake
an afternoon storm
camping is simple
with tents, paddle boards, tables
and yet so complex
these summer rainstorms
bring breezy joy to hot days
(save us from the drought)
my former student
once a refugee herself
now teaches me hope
making me these masks
so i can mouth English words
as when i taught her