Monday, February 28, 2011

The Fever















"So my dad was in Wal-Mart and he heard these guys talking real loud" the five year old extrapolated. "'Whadya want to eat?' the one guy asked the other one," he continued "'Chicken in the box!' The guy said 'chicken in the box'!" and the kid erupted in laughter, then roared "CHICKEN IN THE BOX!!" over and over. For some reason I couldn't stop laughing either.

I ran into one of my old art school professors a couple of months ago. It was strange to see him, like visiting a moment from your forgotten past. He was awesome, just like he always was and still working and creating great stuff, just like he always was. "What are you up to?" he asked me. "I am an elementary school Spanish teacher" I answered. His eyes widened in surprise. He encouraged me, just like he always did and I left him feeling sad and wondering who I really am and which of the many identities I have encompassed in my life is the real one.

And then I was struck down. I started the week with a swollen, painful injury to my foot that completely derailed my advancing jogs around the park. I visited my doctor, who told me that I have a bone problem that I really do not want to discuss but am in no way pleased by. I limped through the week. A dry, itchy cough entered my repertoire last Thursday. It continued on Friday, interrupting my lessons with hacking coughing fits. By the time school let out, I was having trouble standing up and colliding with walls and doors when I did. I went home and collapsed. I felt confused and wasn't sure if I was awake or asleep as my brain obsessed and cycled over and over again through my many problems at work. At one point I made myself wake when my head hurt; I realized I was shoving it into the arm of a chair. I was praying for the night to end and for the daylight to return. Alec got me up and took my temperature. "101.5, Hilary, that's kind of high" he told me.

I remember, after three weeks of hiking high in the mountains of Nepal, climbing downhill on our return to Kathmandu. It was the easy part. Suddenly, I realized I really couldn't do it anymore and told Alec that we needed to check in to a hostel, though it was the middle of the day, and I collapsed on the bed without even taking my hiking boots off. This was the beginning of multiple feverish days of 104 degree temperatures and confused hallucinations, before I was finally able to rise and finish the remaining four day walk to the capital.

On Saturday, I got out of bed for ten minute stretches, only to be exhausted and lie back down. My temperature continued to rise to 102. "Take this" Alec told me, giving me aspirin to reduce the fever. I fell firmly asleep and woke up that evening lying in a pool of sweat. I was able to get up. I am horrified that elementary age children can give me a flu so retching that it can only be compared to the dysentery I picked up in a third world country.

The fever had broken and though I didn't feel good, I was not hallucinating. It was a huge relief. I went to bed that night, and the visions started again. I got up Sunday morning and again was drenched in sweat. I took a lot of over the counter medicines and prepared for work on Monday. I went to bed early, my stomach sore from coughing and chest feeling like it was full of cement. And then the visions began again, the tossing and turning, the work obsessions, I couldn't tell if I was sleeping or waking. I woke up, exhausted. And called my boss and told her I wasn't coming to work. "Okay" she snapped "they'll have to cancel Spanish today!".

I laid back on my bed and broke out in a heavy, freakish sweat. And then I slept.

Friday, February 18, 2011

San Valentín

As I walked down the stairwell and toward the exit, I heard a whisper behind me. "You're going to walk around that park, aren't you?" I turned to see kinder George alone in the hallway. "I see you going there from my house" he said, smiling coyly. He looks like my brother did when he was little, when we were little. "You're right, I am going to the park" I admitted, glancing out of the window at the lowering sun. "Do you think I'll make it before it gets dark?". "It's going to rain" he responded . "The spider is back in the bathroom. Not the first one, a new, brown one".

The city of Atlanta inexplicably decided to throw gravel all over the ice covered roads during our January snow storm, instead of putting something down that might dissolve and vanish when the ice went away, as other states do. Over a month later, cars continue skidding on the gravel covered roads throughout the neighborhood. Funny that rocks don't just go away when the ice vanishes. Parts of the roads began disintegrating as soon as the ice started to melt, just like Tijuana after the rains.

I watched the two second news report of the attack on the female journalist. I'm not sure why in a moment of extreme jubilation and unprecedented liberation it would enter anyone's head to celebrate by beating the living shit out of a random person and forcibly shoving their dick in her while she more than likely screamed, cried, bled, kicked and fought. I really don't celebrate that way. It actually doesn't even enter my mind.

"Okay so make the valentine for whoever you want, your mom, your dad...." I instructed. "I don't have a dad!" Greg exclaimed, "I have two moms!". The other twenty children did not react in any way, just looked at me blankly and awaited my response. I looked into his concerned face and for the first time in a long while my heart opened up with love and admiration for the tortuous place I work in. "Make it for your moms, Greg. They'll love it" I answered.

I think about the hand print stained windows in the visitor's area at the detention center a lot now that we don't have to go there anymore. Do people still claw at the glass, desperately trying to touch a loved one? Does the little boy still sit alone in the chair on Sundays saying "Papí, te quiero, te quiero" through the telephone while his mom looks on and cries?

Greg smiled happily and started cutting out two small red hearts.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Walking and Talking

"I woke up this morning with my mind, set on freeeedom" the kids sang during our morning meeting. "Woke up this morning with my mind, set, set on freeeedom...".

It was such a great class. I really couldn't believe it. I walked home, physically patting myself on the back, mentioning to myself: "Man, you are such a good teacher...". I couldn't believe it when I saw the observation document my boss gave me after viewing the same class. It hurt. I was shocked. Were we in the same room? It was obvious that she hates me and was willing to hunt for a negative. She free styled the form and had to go into the "comments" section to tear me down, as the criteria didn't exist on the check list. I guess I need to think about why someone would want to do that to me. And then I cried. And called a lawyer.

"Okay, you guys have to do two rows, there isn't enough room" I told my class during the tornado drill. "Oh God, we're going to have to put our faces in people's....". "I know. I'm sorry". I really was. I don't want to put my face in someone's ass either. I looked at the kid I had ACCIDENTALLY elbowed in the forehead a few minutes earlier. A cherry red goose egg was forming. "Here, throw that ice pack on the ground and kind of, you know, rest on it" I instructed him. "Oh God, someone farted!" one of the kids muttered. It really did smell like shit. "Hey guys, come up for air real quick, I know it smells bad down there. Okay, go back down, fast, they're looking" I responded.

I didn't realize my new home and situation would be so temporary. It makes me kind of sad. The pretty green Southern neighborhood. My long skinny house. The barely getting used to something that is going away again. Something new! Again.

"And what is the theme of this basket?" the parent volunteer asked the second grader as the kids promoted their items for the next fund raiser. "New Year's revolutions" the child said proudly.

"I'm walking and talking with my mind, set, set on freeeedom..." I found myself singing as I walked through the school. "Walking and talking with my mind SET, SET on freeeeedom...".

After five straight hours, I finally finished all 370 report cards. It was grueling, especially because I took a TJ approach and decided not to pass everyone and honestly assess the situation. I walked to the front of my house and checked the newspaper on my computer. "MUBARAK STEPS DOWN" the headline read.

New Year's revolutions. I couldn't agree more.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ciao ciao

"Maestra, someone shot my dog" little Kinder Jay told me solemnly. He was out of his chair. "Shot your dog? Who told you that?". "My dad. My dog ran away. Then someone shot him". "I'm so sorry, Jay. I'm so sorry". "My mom got her arm cut off". "What? Got her arm cut off, what happened?" I asked. "She doesn't want to have any more babies. So she got her arm cut off". "Come here, honey, let's help Billy" I said, shifting toward my cognitively wrecked student that had been staring at us with his knees drawn to his chest. I put Jay between Billy's table and myself and wrapped my arms around him while we did Billy's search and find puzzle for him.

"Who's got a February birthday?!" the parent called out into our morning meeting. Several kids rose. I noticed they were some of the stranger kids. Gilbert, who deliberately cut the legs of her paper man. Adam, who stares at me with a spacey look in his eyes and then starts jumping up and down rapidly. My birthday is in February too. They are my peers.

So he's out. Released. Alejandro has been released. It happened on my birthday, though I didn't really find out explicitly for a couple of days. It would have been a nice gift. I had a good day anyway, even though I found out that my boss is really trying to fire me and destroy my ability to work as a teacher in the future the evening before. I shook it off. He's free, probably on a glitch in the system. I am watching him fade away, like Leo and Rogelio and Pedro and Julio and all of the men like him that I have intensely come to know in a short period of time and through extreme circumstances that leave you to wonder the whole rest of your life what ever happened to them. I'll remember him. I remember all of them.

"The spider is not in the boy's bathroom anymore" Kinder George mentioned randomly in the hallway. "Really?" I asked, as if I had been abreast of the situation for some time. "Nope. It's gone. Coach Halloran killed it. Smashed it dead". Good to know. GOOD TO KNOW.

"I'm moving to Shanghai," Anna announced "my last day is Friday". What? No, really. What? She was the first kid that liked me at my new school. During dismissal, she asked me to walk her outside, EVERY DAY, even though she knew the way. She would hold my hand. There's always a first one. I remember the child named Sir. Standing in the hallway on the Friday of my first week as a teacher, I watched the 2000 student strong sea of humanity file out of the school, a frazzled smile pasted to my face. I felt a pat on my shoulder, a genuine, encouraging shoulder hug. Sir smiled at me happily and walked out the door. He was the first one to like me there and Anna, here.

I don't want her to leave. But I will remember her.