Thursday, December 15, 2016

All My Friends are Heathens

I walked into the Housing Authority prepared with a week's worth of tutoring materials, eager to finish off the week before our break.  I was surprised.....and pleased, when one of the coordinators, really she is the caretaker of the Center, announced to the kids that we would be competing in a gingerbread house contest and that she had bought all of the supplies.

She spread out colorful, plastic tablecloths and each teacher took their group of students to a table.  We had to select a gingerbread kit.
I looked at the options and asked, "Which...", and the students yelled "TRAIN!" in unison before I could even finish the question.
I was relieved that the students picked the train kit instead of the nativity scene.  I liked the animals in the nativity scene but felt weird about the religious angle, especially because I felt I would be inflicting something on my Muslim students, which is basically all of them.

I have never made a gingerbread house before.  I thought we might have an edge because of my years working in bakeries, but quickly realized my skills would not be necessary.  I felt tense as I commanded the kids to allow me to sort the pieces of the train while they broke the pieces that were supposed to be separated and took turns reading the directions.  The directions sucked.  This thing was hard.

Working together, we actually built the fucking thing.  I started telling the students to take turns decorating, but they quickly took over and I backed off, watching our train become a glistening, bedazzled tribute to sugar.
"Miss Gibson is doing it for them!"  Macoow called to me, pointing.
I watched the other teacher with her group.  Cheating asshole, she was definitely doing it for them.  For the fucking kindergartners of all people.
I gazed at my group proudly.  They were scaring the shit out of me when I would see seven hands simultaneously decorating a very fragile ginger-train, but the thing was looking great and they were doing it, not me.  I was surprised that Abshir, one of two males in my group, actually knew his way around a pastry bag and seemed to have an eye for decorating.

Paris sat off to the side.  She was pouting, but I knew why.  She had been shut out.  Early in the activity, our caretaker had really gotten in her face about trying to take over the activity from the teacher.  I am the teacher and it embarrassed me to have another adult feel like they had to advocate for me with my own students.  I have had problems with Paris in the past and yes, it was a power struggle.  She has been there five years and I had entered her turf.  But, we have turned a corner and I felt bad that she was getting in trouble by someone she loves based on old crimes. I appreciated that our caretaker wanted to help me and would never question her in front of students.  But it was off-base.  And I feel stupid being viewed as the helpless white woman.

Paris had participated in the early rounds of building the ginger-train, but as the kids got handsy-er and handsy-er during the decorating, she had gone against her normal instincts and stepped away, deflated by the take-down from our caretaker.

Some middle school age kids were roaming the Center, eyeballing the ginger-creations. They normally aren't around, we offer a K-5 program.  I have taught some of them, but they were too far in their adolescence to acknowledge me.  They lurked like vultures, but I have to admit that I felt proud when the kept pointing at ours whenever anyone asked whose was the best.

It was time for the judging.  A count down commenced and ended with "HANDS UP!"  My students stood around our creation, eyes wide and hands up.  It was cute and then uncomfortable to watch my children of color, which is all of them, with their hands up, though I was one of the people that had yelled the command.

I knew we were going to win.
"And the winner is......."
THE KINDERGARTNERS.
"We were robbed" I said and we all laughed, because it really didn't matter anyway.

"Okay kids, you can eat your houses!"  Mr. Kevin announced.
It was shocking how quickly it was gone, chunks of it in each of my students' hands, but the majority in the middle schoolers' hands that attacked our train.  Paris jumped up, eyes filling with tears, hands empty and ran to the other side of the room.

"Paris!!!!"  Macoow screamed, his voice shrill and horrified, his hands extended with pieces of ginger train that he wanted to save for her.  I had never heard his voice sound like that before.  They aren't even friends.  Ladaan cluthed her ginger pieces to her chest.
"Give this to Paris." she commanded.

I took the pieces to Paris as she dug in her book bag, trying to hide that she was crying.
"I'm fine."  she said, whenever I tried to talk to her.
"Look Paris, I am leaving these cookies here on the table for you.  I know you are disappointed and I understand why.  I just want you to know that Macoow and Ladaan really wanted you to have some and they saved these for you."

I returned to my group as they happily ate their pieces.  I watched Paris walk slowly over and pick up the cookies off of the table and eat them.

"He's okay!" I heard Mr. Kevin call out across the Center.  A white man stood there, the kids had let him in through the locked front door but stared at Mr. Kevin for clarification.  My mind went to Dylan Roof and I scanned his body for firearms.  I pictured the long tables on their sides to serve as buffers against gunshots and knew that plastic would never protect the kids.  I don't know why that occurred to me, but I kept watching him until he left the room.

I stood in Paris' Spanish class at eight o'clock the next morning, ready to start my lesson at my full time gig.  She marched up to me, merry.
"Remember building those ginger bread houses?!"  she said excitedly, as if it had happened years ago instead of fifteen hours ago.
"That was so much fun!"
"Did you see when Miss Ethel tried to take our cookie?"
"I did, Paris, that was hilarious, but we put Ersheti on her and she couldn't get through...."
"Yeah, it was great....."




Thursday, November 17, 2016

Miles to Go Before I Sleep

Before the election, people kept saying that they would be "relieved" when it was over.  I wasn't sure I would feel that way, but I know now that relief is the last thing I feel.  Post-election has been even more stressful than the eighteen month lead up to the big day.

My school let us sign up for various Professional Learning opportunities.  I had originally wanted to do one on Autism, but it was full so I signed up for one about teaching children living in poverty.  I hoped to pick up some strategies that would help me at school but mainly, something to help me be a better tutor at the Housing Authority.

I drove south down the early morning highway.  My fellow participants from school had asked me to car pool with them, but I declined because they live close to our school and I would save a lot of time if I drove by myself from my house without meeting them.  The workshop was in a city about an hour south of Atlanta.  I felt pretty relaxed, drinking coffee and listening to NPR, expecting a tranquil day of being taught instead of actually teaching.

When I arrived, my three co-workers sat at a table, waving me over to the remaining seat.  I walked over and saw that the handouts weren't at the seat and went back to pick them up from a stack by the door.  I was apprehended by the teacher.
"Aren't there any handouts at your seat?"  she inquired, an edge to her voice.
"No"
"Where are you sitting?"
I pointed across the room.
"You should sit at another table."
"Can't I sit with my co-workers?"
"Well, you can sit there if you want to but don't get too comfortable, because YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO MOVE."  she said loudly.

I sat alone at a table.  Our assistant principal strolled in and sat at the remaining seat at my previous table, oblivious to the teacher.  She glanced at him and glanced away, unwilling to challenge his male-ness or administrative dress.

I felt stupid, secluded at my table. I worried my administrator thought that I had chosen that seat on my own, out of some sort of argument or weirdness.   I could hear my co-workers talking and laughing with him.  They were all grade level teachers.   I am a "Specials" teacher.  We are often treated as secondary, which I have gotten used to as part of the job.  By no fault of theirs, I felt increasingly isolated, alone at an empty table, while the rest of my co-workers sat together.  More people trickled in and a teacher from Monroe County finally sat at my table.  We opened our laptops to view the materials and the coordinator walked by, guiltily complimenting me in a high pitched voice on a picture of Lola on my desktop.  I smiled weakly.

"Let's go outside for our first activity!"  she announced merrily.
I wanted to go outside.  The town itself was attractive, one of those small Georgia towns with a Main Street and town square and antebellum houses with mysterious "garages" in the back of them.  Red and gold leaves laid on the ground.
"Line up on the white line!"  she instructed.
"Take one step forward if you grew up in a two parent household!"
The majority stepped forward.  I glanced furtively at the African-Americans, imploring them with my mind not to leave me behind.  They stepped forward, too.
"Step forward if your parents went to college."
"Step forward if your grandparents went to college."
"Step forward if you usually went on vacations out of state or out of country."
"Did you have after school activities, music lessons, go to camps?"

A massive gap was forming between me and the rest of the group.  My co-workers were nowhere to be seen.  I willed her to say something that would make me step forward, but I knew I would never catch up.  She hadn't even mentioned welfare checks, food stamps or free and reduced lunch.

"Step forward if fresh fruit and vegetables were served with most of your meals."

By the end, the majority of the group stood near the front and the rest spread through the middle.   After a large gap, an African-American man and I stood near the back of the parking lot, barely off of the white line.  He was far on the other side and wouldn't look at me.

"Look around!"  the instructor called.

I could only look forward,  squinting into the sun while the rest looked back at us.  One of my co-workers noticed me and a look of shock and pity crossed his face.

I immediately stared down, not raising my eyes from the pavement, knowing they were filling with tears.

I inadvertently shuffled my feet and dug my hands further into my pockets, while the rest of the group stared at us in the bright morning sun. 


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Make America Great Again

"My dad said Congress will stop Trump from sending us back to Somalia."  Fatima announced, breathless, after bounding up the steps Monday morning.
"How could people ever own black people?  How did they think that was okay?"  she was bouncing from subject to subject, continuing conversations that may have occurred months ago, randomly, at 7:30 in the morning.
"We are not going to let that happen, Fatima, we are simply not going to let Trump send anyone, anywhere."

I kept waking up in the middle of night.  Thinking of the election almost gave me Christmas like excitement, two more days, twenty-four more hours, twelve hours and we would know.  It would be settled.  I feared, like many, that Tuesday wouldn't settle anything and that Trump supporters would contest the election or do violent things at poll stations, or randomly attack minorities with their well known "anger".   I told everyone I knew that I wouldn't be convinced that Clinton was president until she was the president, it was just too important and scary to take anything for granted.  But I guess I believed she would win.  I realize now that I really thought a livable minimum wage was going to be a reality.  I didn't want to jinx it, but was counting on improvement of Obamacare and a Democrat leaning Congress that would actually allow her to govern, unlike the Republican Congress that made it a drinking game to obstruct anything Obama tried to do, whether they actually opposed it or not.   

I went to bed around two o'clock, Wednesday morning.  A few rust-belt states were undecided, yet I felt the obvious sense of doom that I had felt standing in a bar in Madrid in the middle of the night twelve years ago watching Ohio go to George W. Bush instead of John Kerry.  I slammed my eyes shut and hoped like hell for a hail Mary.  Early Wednesday morning, I heard Alec up and around, getting ready for work.  I squeezed my eyes shut, faking sleep, because I was afraid to ask who won.  Finally, I did.  I walked outside with Lola and the smell of wildfires filled the air to the point that I thought my own house was on fire. 

My initial feeling was a tremendous amount of sorrow.  Obamacare would be killed.  No increases to the minimum wage.  The executive actions would be reversed:  The Dream Act, Marriage Equality.  He would pick a Supreme Court judge that would tilt the balance on the Court and challenge Roe v. Wade.  Syria.  The refugees.  And, I felt humiliated.  Humiliated that Hillary Clinton had had to stand on a stage with him, over and over again while he demonstrated his idiocy.  That she had to put up with it, more than likely the most qualified person to ever run for president, stand there with a straight face while he was rude, lying, unqualified, performing a side show that would make some carny snake-oil salesman proud.  And she had to put up with it, pretend like they were in some ways equals, that he was a legitimate candidate instead of telling him like it really was.  And, he won.  There was no reward for her, for us, he won.  Not just any man beat what could have been the first American female president, but a pussy-grabbing misogynist.  All of his positions were validated, his behavior approved by millions of Americans.

I sat at my kitchen table, grading papers.  Report cards were due the ninth, but I could barely focus.  More sorrow.  The Obama family.  Eight years ago, I actually thought the United States was turning a corner, that electing a black president was a sign of progress.  Of course I didn't think racism was gone, but I thought we were progressing.  I quickly realized how wrong I was when I read about my Representative, John Lewis, being called a "nigger" on the steps on the Capitol while I was sitting in my cold apartment in Tijuana.  Fine, I was naive, but believe me, I recovered.  I saw full and well that the election of a black president did not indicate racial progress in the U.S. but instead inflamed every bigot up in this bitch to get really fucking crazy.  I knew that part of Trump's "victory" was indicative of the whitelash.  But for me, Obama had felt like hope.  Not only because of his policies, but for his presence.  And I felt something that sorrow doesn't even describe accurately when thinking of the Obama family leaving the White House, while Trump's repugnant crew moved in, sent by the will of millions of Americans. 

I went to the Housing Authority to tutor, feeling that sense of enemies among us, that every person I saw might be either a supporter of Trump or willing to give him a pass for being a bigot, which is just as bad in my opinion.  I thought of applying for jobs in Mexico, that I needed to get out of this society of which I shared no common values.  I found myself thinking over and over again of the rust belt, of the white people that had lost manufacturing jobs and had switched over from Democrats to vote for Trump.  And I felt angry, really angry.  Some call them working class, some call them uneducated, I don't really care which is more applicable.  Clearly, I am aware that something must be done to help them, and I believe they voted against the people that could have helped them, whether it was by not noticing Bernie Sanders or not voting for Hillary Clinton.  But what they did is the epitome of white entitlement.  A multitude of ethnicities and races have been marginalized for generations.  But, Jesus Christ, white people experience a few bad years and watch out, they will make everyone pay.  They will burn this bitch down.  Because THEIR problems are the priority.  Who cares that Trump proposes brute force action on Muslims, on Mexicans, on African-Americans, on women.  Fuck that, their needs are more important than anything else.  And I will laugh, yes I will laugh, when they are still sitting next to an empty coalmine, jobless, four years from now when the bigot they gave a pass to does nothing for them.  Let them stew in their famous "anger". 

I basically was called an education elitist for making angry comments about the uneducated, white men that helped swing the election for Trump.  Yeah, I got some shit.  Call it uneducated, but yes, you are under educated if you expect to get decent pay without any other training except a high school diploma.  It's not great, but it is reality.  Yeah, I am actually against free trade and don't agree with sending factories somewhere else, mainly because they exploit the people and environments where they re-locate, all while pocketing the savings on manpower and environmental regulations, making the 1% richer and richer.   But other jobs don't need to come back.  I don't want your filthy coal and think it is time to take advantage of some re-training instead of voting for Trump and pointing at minorities as the source of your problems while hoping the mine re-opens.  And....you're going to vote Republican because you want the government to save you?  I thought Republicans liked small government, the pick yourself up by the bootstrap kind of stuff and no "handouts".  Vote for Clinton or Sanders, they may have actually done something for you, but please mark the coalmine off your list. 

I awoke Thursday, having that brief sense of not remembering, then feeling the wet blanket fall over me again.  The air stilled smelled of fire and now there was visible smoke clouding my view.  I taught four classes, my anger and impatience barely in-check.  I was surprised I still felt horrible and preoccupied Friday morning.
"It's like a hangover, like an ongoing nightmare...."  I told a friend at work.
"It's mourning." she responded and she was right.  It feels like mourning.
I regretted saying anything on line about the "uneducated", mainly because I abhor being misconstrued and I thought anyone who knows me would know that I am not an education elitist, let alone unknowledgeable about the struggles of the Rust Belt.  I was especially angry at a "friend" that told me that she blamed "all white people" for what happened, unless they had been actively working against white supremacy their whole lives and that it was unfortunate that we blamed "poor white people".  That she found it laughable that "liberal white people" were ringing their hands and "shocked" because they didn't know "racism exists". Obviously I am not "shocked" that racism exists, I am completely dismayed at this show of force.  Would it be better if I wasn't?  I am saddened because yes, the numbers ARE bigger than I thought of people that either support Trump's ideas or are willing to give it a pass.  But, I did think we were friends and this person used to call me by my name, not "white people" with some assigned textbook definition from the junior activist collection of flyers.  I was mad by the push back and wondered why were fighting each other instead of the giant Cheeto in the room that I felt we should be directing our energy toward.

I started seeing things return to semi-normalcy.  Newspaper articles started appearing that had nothing to do with American politics.  Friends started putting up pictures of their kids' soccer games instead of large reflections on Tuesday's election.  People talking about Football.  And I felt pissed off all over again.
"What are you doing?????"  I thought.
"Did none of this mean anything to you????  THIS SHIT IS NOT OVER!!!!"
It reminded me of September 11th.   The days of doom, the heavy horrible feel, the fear and mourning and the profaneness of a return to normal life.

By Saturday, the fog began to clear in my mind.  I slept almost eleven hours Friday night and found myself mentally preparing an action plan against Trump's proposals.  Make America Great Again.  Like when, the fifties?  You know, when black people "knew their place", women wore aprons and Japanese were barely out of internment camps?  When white American was the definition of "America"?

Fuck that. Really, fuck that. 


Saturday, November 5, 2016

This is Halloween

"Whoa!  Step back a minute!  Don't get in people face!"  I read the reflection on bad behavior from a fourth grader.  He was deciding how to make better decisions.  I think he was totally on to something and wanted to make a copy, but all of the copiers are always all jacked up at school.  I could elaborate on that but need to keep making a semi-living. 

Halloween sucked.  It is my favorite holiday of the year and I didn't even put on a costume.  I spent the evening with the back gate bungee cord-shut and lights out on the front porch.  Alec, Lola and I quarantined ourselves near the back of the house with all of the doors shut so no one could see that we were home.  Much of this has to do with family strife and I would just like to raise one giant middle finger to that and for getting the blame for it. 

I did carve two pumpkins.  They are marvelous, but are now covered in black mold due to the eighty degree, late October temperatures that climate change HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH.

I spent Saturday morning looking at plane tickets to Chernobyl, to Kathmandu, to Lesvos, to Hanoi, to basically anywhere, whether I have been there before or not.

I am in my eleventh year of public teaching.  I have taught through several elections and the students always ask who I am going to vote for.  I demure, imploring them to make their own decisions.  I am an unabashed Liberal, though I endured growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta.  I remember a mock election when I was the only vote for Dukakis in my whole homeroom.  I already hated them, but felt even more like the odd one out when the results came out and I was openly ridiculed, they knew it was me.  I don't want to do that to some kid.  They should believe what they want, or I guess what their parents parrot to them. 

This election has been different.  My Somali kids have asked me if I think Donald Trump will win and they will be deported, though the were born in the United States.  My African-American kids tell me that he will re-segregate the United States and make them slaves.  They ask me what I think of him.  I can't have them think I support those ideas.  I just can't. 

I feel angry at the little white girl that asks me why we can't just say "all lives matter" instead of "black lives matter".   I want to smack the girl that said that her dad said that "either candidate would be impeached within 100 days".  Why, I wanted to ask her, why?  Who would want that?  Hasn't this election been enough?  Can't people pull their heads out of their asses and follow the rule of law, the standards that have been established?  Why does this rich ass grumpy fucking dad want more instability?

I actually am not mad at the kids. Mantra:  not mad at the kids.  But it does disgust me to watch them parrot their parents and eventually, I will probably be living under the influence of the rich white kids I teach. 

My phone buzzed.  It was Emma. 
"Hey... what's up?"  I asked.
"I'm on your porch, are you guys home?"

I went to the front and opened the door.  Emma was dressed as Bobby Hill and her friend Caleb, who I taught when he was in 5th grade, was dressed as Hank.

"I just wanted to say hi, I mean, IT IS Halloween!" 




Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Princess and the Glass Hill

School started in early August.  Duh.  Each day I do my obligatory morning duty and make a pit stop in our office to pack up, before visiting multiple classrooms to teach Spanish.  Additional hours of instructional time have been added to my schedule meaning more students, more grading and less planning time.  I hear the guttural screams from some of our newer students and wonder if this is what I should be doing.

I don't have a car anymore.  Instead of paying another seven hundred dollars to fix the last round of problems, I sold it for three hundred and fifty and now use Alec's car.  The battery in it died early in the school year.  A hybrid battery, unlike a normal battery, costs about three thousand to replace.  In the interim of the crazy expensive repair, I had to Uber a bit to school and to the repair shop in Middle Earth Gwinnett.

"How old are you?" one driver asked.
"44"
"Do you want to go to the movies?"  he responded.
I looked out on the bleak, low-light landscape of super highway Gwinnett.  
"No, I'm partnered."
I was disturbed that my age was a factor in whether or not I went to the movies with him.   I also challenged myself to get out of the car as quickly as possible. 

Another Uber pulled up in front of the house around seven in the morning to take me to work.  Unlike the other cars from Uber, this guy's car had a smashed up windshield and we roared up to school taking the long way, rap blaring from the windows.  I stepped out, thanked and tipped him, while one of my favorite students ran up and introduced me to her Colombian dad.  I bet he liked my ride.

"Is 'dammit' a swear word?"  one of my students whispered.
"I guess technically, yes, it is....you know, one of the milder ones....."
"It's not so much different than 'screw you'" another student added, matter of factually.

I went to Target because I needed a new head for my toothbrush and a bra that didn't hurt.  I scoped out the bras and picked one and walked carefully to the dental care section.  As I walked through the store with a bra in my hand, I knew what would happen.  And it did.
"Maestra Wagner!"
"Hi!  Are  you shopping for Halloween?"
My student ran up to me, for a hug.  I gave her a left, side hug, hiding the bra in my right hand.  Her mother quickly approached, extending her right hand.  I quickly shifted the bra to my left hand, in order to shake her hand with my right.
"We love the school." the mom stated.
"I am so happy to hear that." I responded, and meant it. 

I started tutoring at a public housing authority, the projects, in late September.  It was a complex and competitive process to get the job and I am surprised they took me.   It is not altruistic, it pays pretty well.  I don't dread the eleven hour days like I thought I would, even though the kids totally buck me and no matter how I try, I feel like I am totally failing them.

My main 5th grade BFF, who was my former 4th grade BFF, spotted me in the complex, at "The Center" as they call it, and asked me what I was doing there.  She visits while I sit around during my morning and afternoon duty at school, which encompasses more than four hours of my work week. 
"I'm tutoring.  Some of my kids are a handful."  I answered.
"Do the bad ones wear one of these?" Fatima asked, tugging her hijab.
"No....."  I responded, feeling uncomfortable.  Most of my kids wore one of 'those', but they were not giving me trouble.  The American ones were. 
"Eh" she answered, jutting her chin upward.
"Are you the only white teacher there?"
It sounds stupid, but I didn't realize that she registered my race so much.
"Um, no, there is one other white lady there."  I had noticed the demographics of the teaching force, but hadn't realized that all of the kids were either Somali or African American, save for like one Iraqi and a Latino, until Fatima asked.
"I think they should mix it up.  It should be balanced.  Bye, I have to go!" she said with a smile and a side hug, and ran up the stairs to class.

So it goes.

Monday, September 12, 2016

September 11th
















"Where are you?"  I asked my sister, emphatically.
"We are running late, I'm stuck in traffic....almost there."
"Do you know what is happening?"  I asked slowly.
"What do you mean?" she responded.
"We.... we are being attacked.  Terrorists are attacking the United States.  They have already hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon....".
"Get here.  Get here fast.  I am afraid they are going to impose martial law.  They don't know if the attacks are finished....".
Images of blocked roads and military police filled my head.  My three year old niece was in the car with my sister. 

Alec and I spent the majority of the year 2000 traveling.  We started in Nepal, spent time in India, flew to Thailand, checked out the majority of Southeast Asia and ended our trip on an archipelago east of Flores in Indonesia, after passing through Malaysia and Singapore.  I was often asked "How was your trip?" and could never really muster an adequate answer.  I do remember mentioning once that I had been unaware that the whole world hated us.  Though it didn't define the trip, I noticed it and felt it, especially in Malaysia and in Java.  Sure, I knew that Americans aren't the most loved nationality around, but it was different experiencing it face to face when you are going out of your way to be as nice and polite as possible.

We stayed in New York a little while so that Alec could visit his family.  Shortly after our return to Atlanta, my mom offered me a secretarial job in early 2001.  I spent a lot of time reading the New York Times on the internet when I wasn't busy, which was a lot of the time.  On that pretty, clear-blue sky morning, I recall seeing a little sentence in the rolling news portion at the bottom of the Times' internet page.
"Plane hits World Trade Center"
I didn't even click the link.  I assumed it was some small plane that had basically bounced off of one of the formidable towers. Strange, a curiosity, but I had read that little planes had been known to hit the Empire State Building, too.

I kept working.  I don't remember how I heard about the second plane, but I do remember clustering with my mom in her office, hovering around the radio dialed to an AM station.  At the time, that seemed more up to date than the internet.  People were calling in, some from the actual towers.  There wasn't really a lot of reporting, but more a crowd-sourced telling of events from people on the ground or in contact with someone on the ground in New York.  Or better said, in the towers, high above New York City.

A women called, talking of her son that was trapped in one of the towers.  Somehow, his voice came on and he spoke of smoke and fire.  Caller after caller spoke through the radio.  As alarming as it was, I still somehow pictured a long day for those people and an eventual rescue.  Suddenly, things got very quiet.  The tower collapsed.

I looked at my mom and sputtered.
"But...but..they have to, they have to have evacuated those people....they have to have rescued them....., right?  They were always ugly buildings anyway...."
"Are those people we just heard dead?"
I thought of that woman, calling about her son.
"They need to get in those fighter planes and head the fuck to Afghanistan, NOW, because everyone knows who did this and they need to fucking pay."
I wanted it.  Right then and there, even while the smoke still filled the air.

My step-dad brought in a television and we hovered around it the rest of the day.  The phones didn't even ring.  Everyone had stopped everything.

Details trickled out that day and the following days and months, some that would hold a principal role in the memory of the events and some that would disappear.  How many more cities would be hit?  Every plane in the air could be a weapon.  Fighter jets threatened to shoot down commercial airliners that did not respond to radio contact.  Hospitals braced for the injured that would never come.  They all died.  People lined up to give blood that wasn't needed.  A plane crashed in Pennsylvania, what was its destination?  Where would the next plane hit?  Was it over, were the attacks over?  Crude box cutters became the worst weapon anyone could think of.  Tales of men that went to flying classes but never wanted to learn how to land the plane.  The horror of the jumpers, people faced with the decision to be burned alive or crushed, or to jump from one of the tallest buildings in the world.  The images of them and the apocalyptic sounds they made when they landed.  Our president was circling the country in the air, because it was not safe for him to land on U.S. soil.   There was talk of whether or not to rebuild, if they did rebuild would anyone rent office space on the tallest floors?  Should office workers in skyscrapers be equipped with parachutes?  American airspace was closed, indefinitely.  I looked at my passport and felt trapped, I couldn't leave even if I tried.  Much of the government was in an "undisclosed location".  The subsequent demands that everyone be vigilant and go back to work; Osama bin Laden wanted to destroy our economy and it wouldn't happen if we got back to work.  A fire like the core of the earth raged where the towers once were.  It would take months to put out. 

I finally went home and waited for Alec.  The restaurant he worked at had stayed open all day.  Neither of us used cell phones at the time and when he came in, I wanted to know what he knew.
"We listened on the radio.  They attacked the World Trade Center."
"Alec, the towers are gone....they collapsed."
A look of shock crossed his face.
"Have you considered calling your family?"

Two days later, we "celebrated" our fifth anniversary.  As we sat outside at a normally busy restaurant, the silence induced by the lack of planes in the sky seemed deafening.  My back hurt from sitting without moving in front of the television for days.

One afternoon in the days following the attacks, I stood in the street with several other people, staring at the sky.  Low flying Blackhawk helicopters flew lowly over the neighborhood.
"I think it's a presence, a show of force to make us feel protected...." one guy said skeptically.
"Those bombs hanging off of the bottom of the thing don't make me feel so protected."  another responded.

In a matter on months we would be back in New York for another heartbreaking event.  As our plane banked Lower Manhattan, the area where the towers once stood was vacant, save for flood lights and a massive cloud of smoke.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

In the Shadow of a Steeple

Lola and I made it to Atlanta before nightfall on the third day, effectively driving from the Pacific coast of Mexico to Georgia in seventy-eight hours, including sleep time.  She was never sedated during the ride home. 

I wanted to see Alec.  I wanted to see my plants under at least a shred of light.  I didn't want to come in at three in the morning, blurry-eyed, and sneak into bed.  We dodged floods coming and going, and social unrest that we didn't have any inkling was coming.  We made it.

I sat at the kitchen table, high-alcohol American beer in hand, chatting with Alec and marveling at my big, air-conditioned home while Lola galloped through our fenced-in yard.

Within days of returning, two unarmed black men would be killed by the police.  Days later, another man would open fire on the Dallas police force.  A summer filled with news of unpunished college rapes, massacres at nightclubs and violence within my own family would spill wide open.  Cities would ignite in flames while floods drowned the citizens.  One of the candidates for president would fuel and fan the flames at a convention that threatened to tear another city to shreds and instigate the worst tendencies of many Americans. 

I watched my Facebook feed. 
"I can't be calm, I have a black son." a friend posted.
"Stop putting up beach pictures," another implored, "they are killing our kids."
I could feel the stress, the tension, the fear.  And I felt powerless. 

As the days grew nearer to my school's summer retreat, our official start of the new school year, I feared the stress that a lot of our students would carry into the school after the long, hot, violent summer.  The legitimate fears of their families that they would carry, the things that they had heard, the relatives they knew, the things they had experienced.

"The community is under stress."  one teacher said.
"This has been hard on us." another added.

"Iris, I'm sorry.  I am off topic and I am asking you this question because you are black.  Yes, congratulations, you get to be my window into the black world.  Iris, what are we going to do?  How can we effectively deal with the trauma these kids are bringing with them through the doors of the school house in a matter of weeks?  I know they feel it, what can we do?"

I stared at her, in the conference room at Agnes Scott.  My friend, Iris.  We were supposed to be talking about what we liked about the teaching profession.

"Hilary," she said slowly, and with a smile.  "This summer hasn't been any different than any other summer for us.  We're used to it.  It's more of the same."