Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

"They never did nothin'," the man muttered over and over again, "the children, those poor children".
I looked up at him as he wheeled me on a gurney through the hospital to the operating room.
He stared off for a minute while he rolled me into the elevator.  I thought maybe he wouldn't talk anymore, or talk about something else.
"Those children, how?  How?" he began again.
"Yeah..." I said tepidly.  It was unspeakable, but I had no idea how to convey that and every attempt I made sounded inadequate, or almost fake.  It was like when you find out from your boss that another employee was caught stealing and you feel like everything you say is a lie, even though you know you didn't do anything.  

The I.V. in my hand was throbbing, swelling and bruised.  It had been there for hours and was more uncomfortable than the hand they were about to operate on.   My ass was sticking out of the back of the gown and nakedly sitting on the gurney sheets, not matter how many times I tried to arrange things.  I still don't know why hand surgery required underwear, off.

"You know, there are those 47%ers that live off the rest of us, on ENTITLEMENTS" the nurse stated, shortly after telling me that she had herpes.  I was guessing that she didn't even know what 'entitlement' meant.  I smiled weakly.  I wasn't getting into this with her.  I just wished she would realize that it was inappropriate.  Actually, more inappropriate than talking about downstairs herpes, as far as I was concerned.  She brought it up a few more times throughout my six hour wait for surgery.  I continued to smile weakly and think of all the 'entitlements' she was probably taking advantage of: Old Pell grants that she used to get her R.N., mortgage interest write offs, tuition deductions for kids, health care costs.  As well as the real freebies:  SOCIAL SECURITY and impending MEDICARE!  I actually liked her though.  She was a stone cold cracker that kept offering me Valium, just to 'take the edge off'.  I said "no thank you" politely, anticipating anesthesia and pain killers.

"Hey!" a number of jovial people asked me,  wearing colorful headgear.
"What's your name?  Your birthday?  What's getting operated on!?"
I impressed them with my fascinatingly correct answers until the doctor finally came and wrote 'yes' on the finger that he was going to operate on. 
"Bring her my cocktail!" chief crazy headgear wearing anesthesiologist announced.
"So, is this like a pain killer or the stuff that will put me under?" I asked, as one of the crew injected a syringe into one of the outlets on my I.V.
"You are going to laugh like crazy for a second and then you'll be out" he answered.
I felt fucked up for a minute. 'Mother's Milk' I thought, thinking of the term the cracker nurse used to describe the 'cocktail' that they would be using on me. 

I woke up in the same place that I had fallen asleep in.  An ill fitting oxygen mask hovered over my face.  A large cast and wrap covered my left hand.  My I.V. had been moved and was pierced into the outside of my forearm.  I realized I was sporting a very off the shoulder look with my gown, the neck had been spread out and wires were attached to sticky things.  Someone pulled them off and helped me not be so, er, naked, and rolled me back to the cracker nurse. 

My mom was waiting for me, having sat with me all day without biting her tongue off, trying not to go at Romney nurse.  I found out that an hour and a half had passed.  It was dark outside.  The nurse reminded us that we could leave when we wanted.  I could hardly stand and stumbled into my clothes.  I was actually relieved when they brought a wheel chair to take me outside. 

I sat in the bathtub the next morning, trying to get ready for work.  Hideous bruises lined my I.V. arm, dark, black and yellow ones.  My surgery arm was bathed in a strange orange substance that wouldn't wash off.  Skin was missing where some sort of tape had been removed.  I splashed water on myself. Under my surgery arm, some weird electroprobe thing remained.  I ripped it off and threw it on the floor.  Along with the tape and cotton that covered yet another black I.V. bruise. 

Then, I went to work. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Grady's

"When are you going to get your cast off?" one of my students asked.
"It seems like its been on forever".
You're telling me.  Large, clunky, difficult to maneuver.  Beautiful weather wasted by mandatory sitting on ass for seven weeks.  Watching my dog whimper and stare through the window.  I whimper too sometimes.  But just a little.

"She can tell mommy's off her game!" the dog trainer said enthusiastically, pointing at my cast.
"Why are her eyes turning so red?" I asked, trying to calm Lola.
"She's just wound up, she's choking herself!"
I looked at Lola, tethered by her leash in a corner while the other dogs went through their training.  I started crying. 
We slept close that night and many nights after, Lola's neck stretched across mine while I hugged her in my sleep.

"Can you explain the difference between preparing an ordinary, American new teacher as opposed to an international teacher to understand your school?"  I asked again.
"Well, we have New Teacher Orientation" the interviewee responded.
Click.  That was all I could think.  Click.  Your Fulbright adventure has now come to an end.

My doctor grabbed the outside of my purse, dramatically.  
"Is my phone vibrating?" I asked, alarmed.
"Where's your other shoe?" he asked, smiling.
"Are you kidding?" I asked, incredulous.
I was thrilled.

He wasn't kidding.  I went home and put on my other hiking boot, the mandated stiff bottom foot wear.  I was really excited.  Until I realized I can still barely walk and that my left knee is hurting from carrying my right leg along.  And my broken foot again turned purple and bruised.

I had a great, short walk with Lola and fun training and playing with her while she was tethered in the yard.  Her eyes were NOT turning red. After,  I took a couple of days off from walking because of the pain in my foot.

I decided today that I was being a lazy fuck and that I needed to quit making Alec walk my love dog.  The walk wasn't going as great as the other that I had bragged about.  She was pulling hard and not responding to any of the stuff we had been working on in our training.  I was juggling her treat bag and transferred her leash onto a few of my left hand fingers while I tried to rearrange the bag on my shoulder.  Suddenly, Lola jumped a couple of feet in the air and ran toward a rampaging squirrel.  I held tight and pulled, even though I had heard a snap.  I got her onto the sidewalk.  I knew something was wrong and I looked at my awkwardly positioned ring finger that wouldn't move and was hanging at about eleven o'clock to the left.

I got Lola home, actually trying to act natural when kids and parents commented on my cute dog.  I put her directly in the crate and drove to my sister's.  I had broken out in a cold sweat and was crying and trying not to vomit.  They took me to Grady.

Grady is a very large hospital about two miles from my house in downtown Atlanta.  It is the only place indigent people can go here.  I've visited only a few people there and have always been scared of it.   But, I was more afraid of my dangling finger.

We had to pass through a metal detector and an airport manual wand to get in. They handed me something to put on my shirt that I stuck on.  Only later did I realize the date was written on the sticky.  I guess if they found me in some corner a few days later they would know that I was ripe. 

I got X-rayed.  I was surprised everything was happening so fast.  Every time that I have ever been to the emergency room I sat there for hours.  All of the doctors looked younger than I am, which was weird.   They put me in a plush ass room with a TV and started telling me what they were going to do. It was broken, below the knuckle.  They were going to manually re-align the bones, basically grab my finger and push the broken bones back where they should be. I started sweating again.  They told me they wouldn't hurt me and started talking about an IV painkiller drip. 

Then, timed stalled.  I saw people wheeled into the trauma unit.  They had neck braces on.  I heard them screaming from the rooms.  I waited a while.  Hours.  I understood.  But I was getting more afraid.

A young intern put shots in my hand and joked about how sweaty it was.

And then, I turned my head away and squeezed my eyes shut as he moved and shoved the bones of my finger back into place.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fuck White People

It had been a rough couple of weeks.  Poor Lola looked butchered, violent looking staples running up her belly, the incision stained by iodine.  She couldn't run outside or play with other dogs.  My foot was broken anyway and I couldn't run outside or play with other dogs either.   Lola recovered quicker than I did, staring wistfully out the window before getting excited and pounding forcefully on the glass with her front paw-hands.  She would whimper.  It was horrible.

I took her to the vet right at the two week mark to get the staples removed.  Two 200 pound plus vet techs were assigned to my dog.  I was in there too.  At first, they tried to stand her up, holding her under her arms while the other came at her staples with some awful plier looking things.  Instead of barking and biting at the techs as any dog would do in that situation, especially a sixty-five pound, eight month old Pit Bull, Lola's ass started wagging back and forth, tail whipping as she stretched up and licked the tech's face that held her under her arms.  Eventually, she wrestled the other tech with the pliers to the ground as I tried to hold her still.  While the three of us laid sprawled on the floor, Lola pinning one of the techs to the ground and licking him, starting at the chin and over his bald scalp, butt and tail swinging wildly from side to side,  I suddenly imagined a bird's eye view of the situation and started laughing.   

Lola was free and ship shape again.  I was two weeks in to the four weeks I had to wear a cast before getting my foot X-raid again. 

I had taken her out to pee, just days before robbed uteri and broken feet had attacked us.  An Atlanta Public Schools bus drove by, kids hanging from the windows.  Probably middle school, I guessed.  Two little girls pointed at Lola.
"Look at that dog...." one breathed.
"It's cute...."
I smiled at them.
"FUCK WHITE PEOPLE!" a boy interjected, shoving his head through the window of the admiring girls.

"I wanted to contact you because I am concerned with Paul's performance in Spanish." I began, typing my usual introduction to a parent whose kid acts like a shitbag.
"He consistently has his head down and I have to ask him repeatedly to take his headphones off.  He is only passing the class by a point." I continued.
The parent's emailed resonse came almost imediately.
"We need to meet" it stated forcefully.
Great, I thought.  I knew who was going to be in trouble, and it wasn't Paul.  

I had been given three more weeks in the cast.  I was disappointed.  I had been totally counting on four weeks and then moving to an ugly shoe.  But no.

"Should I be like, sitting down whenever I can?" I asked my doctor.
"Well, yeah...," he replied, thinking, "don't you at school?".
"No, I mean, I float between three classrooms.  I move with the kids, I have to go up and down stairs....".
"YES" he responded.
"After all of that, you need to sit down the rest of the day".
Fuck me.  And fuck my a-hole school.

I checked my email.  I had suggested a time to Paul's mom and again, received an immediate response:

Wednesday at 4 pm will be fine.
Paul knows that I am not
playing with his education.

I felt a smile spreading across my face. She might be a little different than I expected.

I walked through my neighbor's house, headed straight for the bird room.  The giant birds that had been friendly the night before were acting strangely.  Actually, they scared me.  As I replenished their water and gave them kibble and nuts, I felt them biting my clothes.  One attacked my hair.  Two of them shrunk down and ran toward me, big-ass beaks wide open.  I tried talking to them.  These fucking things normally can talk back.  They didn't.  I gave them their food and ran out.  

"Hi, I'm Hadley!" the chipper, cute girl on my porch stated in introduction.  I had already introduced myself in the same manner, shaking her hand.
She wore short jogging shorts, showing off her muscled, spray tanned legs, though it was chilly outside.  She had on a long-sleeved running jacket, her face completely made up and hair in a high ponytail.    She was petite, yet buff and strong.
"I just moved here from California!" she stated, hugging and kissing Lola.
"I work with the athletic dogs!".

Perfect.  She would look great next to Lola, tearing through the park until my foot heals. 

Lola's my princess.  She deserves only the best. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


"I'll be back in ONE minute." I said, clutching Lola's face in my hands and kissing her on the side of her mouth-snout.

I ran into the beer store.  The homeless Rasta man was there again, but this time, he had a friend.  Something was up.  The friend was screaming at my brown-friend guy that works the store, waving the daily shit-ass Atlanta newspaper in his face.

"You vote Romney, right?!" he yelled, waving the 'Obama Wins' cover story in his face.
I went and got my beer and cautiously returned to the line.  The original Rasta man clubbed me forecefully on the shoulder, moving me ahead of him.
"Mama, you can go ahead."
"Did you see what he did?" Rasta asked me.
"I didn't see anything." I said, averting my eyes.  
"You vote India!" his friend screamed, waving the Obama page in his face.
"I'm South African!" Rasta-junior continued.
"I'm gonna come back here and shoot you!  Keep callin' those police!".
"Um, you're up," I told Rasta, "you've been here longer than me."
"Shut yo' mouth" Rasta instructed Rasta-junior.  

I paid for my beer, widening my eyes at the other brown-man friend I know that works behind the plexiglass.

I pulled my phone out as soon as I got in the car.  Lola was crawling on me.  I hid the phone beneath her, worried that the Rastas would see that I helped my brown men by re-calling the police.  I felt like I should have spoken up to them, to the Rastas.  These poor Indian/Paki/Middle Eastern whatever ass brown dudes were not their enemy.  But I am a cowardly female.  I just bought my beer.

I saw the police pulling up as I hid my phone under Lola.  I watched.  I wanted to tell the cop that Rasta Jr. had mentioned shooting my brown bro.  The Rastas charged the cop, my brown bro following quickly behind.  The cop shooed the Rastas away, just go away silly homeless fucks.  My brown-bro was exasperated, pleading with the cop. 
'Ridiculous,' I could imagine him saying, 'you don't know what just happened here.  They were screaming at me.  They threatened to kill me.  It's not right....'.

I took a right out of the gas station and drove home.  Lola crawled all over me, licking my face, jumping on my lap.

Though I didn't deserve it.  

Saturday, November 3, 2012

All Saints

I looked at my increasingly hostile, first period class.  The pale, visibly shaking girl was actually at school that day.  Despite her heavy load of medication, her dark eyes continued to glare at me while her body palpitated.  Her friend had made it for her one day of attendance a week as well.  They were usually together. 

"We'll quit talking and pay attention," the friend implored, "just don't make me sit somewhere with people behind me.  It makes me very uncomfortable." 

The athlete that had been expelled last year for robbing half of the student body entered the room well after the bell had rung, calling to other students and cackling jovially with his friends.  He stood laughing and talking with no intention of sitting down.  When I told him to get a late pass, he got in my face, then threw the pass on the floor in front of me. 

My OCD brat balanced with his stomach on the seat of a chair, arms on the ground and legs extended into the air.

 A third pale girl that sat with the shakers turned her head.  I saw that she was crying again. 

"Don't LOOK at me!" she said abruptly and left the classroom. 

I asked the smart girl to change seats so that she would quit talking.  She stood up defiantly, hitting me in the shoulder with her shoulder as she walked past me... the way guys do when they want to fight. 

"Did you see that!!!!" the athlete screamed, laughing loudly.

My Ethiopian special ed. kid balanced on the back legs of his chair, sans pencil, paper or any other type of provision.  He hadn't put pen to paper in weeks.  I was getting a lot of pressure over his failing grade.  The parapro assigned to him sat off to the side, engrossed in his Kindle.  He glanced up at the board for a second.

"I think you spelled 'roto' wrong." he informed me.  I hadn't.  He went back to reading. 

No, I do not work in an insane asylum.  Just an ordinary high school.

"My dog Gus is dead."

The text startled me.  I was riding in Alec's car, on the way to a going away party.  It was from my ten year old dog whisperer, Warren.  I hadn't received a text from him in about six weeks.

I sat on my sister's front steps, handing out candy when I spotted Emily.  She was wearing a puffy muscled Batman suit without a mask, her head poking out curiously. 
"Emily, it's me, I used to be your Spanish teacher." I said, fearful that shouldn't recognize me in costume or worse, remember me at all.
"Welcome back!"  she loudly and clearly.

I grabbed her and hugged her, not ever wanting to let go.  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Decay and Attack

"Does a caged bird sing the same sad song?......... Always a captured thief....."

I drove my hooptie car next to the train tracks, headed to work.  It smelled funny and is still full of boxes - my teaching career - months after I was laid off. The sky was gray and wet.    

"It's something my body needs spell relief.  What we had before was beautiful, if not very brief.  You gotta call that love, I guess its something... to believe".

I was definitely listening to the wrong music, unless I planned on driving my car off of a cliff. 
It is so hard to go to work.

My poor dog looked terrible that morning.  She turned her back to me while she laid in her crate, sad, long, tired eyes looking over her shoulder, legs curled and guarding the staples that created a line straight up her belly.  She could hardly hold her head up.

"We wanted to share how impressed the Fulbright group of observers was with what we do.  We were very proud of our school."
The next line of the all school email said that we shouldn't get a half day substitute teacher.  I am the one that did that.  To bring the Fulbright group to them.  My bad.

“Everybody can be great...because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”

I've always thought service was easy, mainly because you really can be great and make a difference.  On your own terms.
But I feel really tired these days.

"I'm NOT getting a pass".
Terrell said loudly while stomping behind me to his seat, nearly brushing my back as he looked down at me.   I love how teenage boys in adult sized bodies always resort to physical intimidation, not against men, but against women, when they don't get what they want.  Something in me doesn't feel afraid, I just marvel at how pathetic and cowardly they are.
"You angry or something, you crazy.  I don't know what your problem is.  I'm not leaving".

I talked him out of the room and closed the door.  

I broke a bone in my foot over the weekend.  It is horribly swelled and bruised.  I am in a "walking cast', more like a hobbled, wincing, dragging cast.  I start to sweat and grind my teeth when I walk, grimacing. It hurts.

Terrell came back with his pass and threw it on the ground.
"Pick that up," I commanded, "you don't think I'm going to, do you?"
He picked it up.
And then I privately got in his face, "walking cast" and all and let him know he didn't have two choices, he had one:  SHUT THE FUCK UP.  

"You have no right to judge me, its none of your business.....I thought I had my shit together, I know what time it is....."

*Lyrics and title, Smoke, "Decay and Attack"
*Quote, Martin Luther King Jr., you know, my man Martin. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Lost in Translation

"Ayyyyyy MACARENA!" the karaoke leader called as we jumped and twisted to our new direction for the next round of line dancing that coincided with the song.  I was laughing as I looked around the seedy dark bar. It smelled kind of funny.  The dark, street level windows were adorned with neon Coors Light signs as well as other glowing advertisements of a variety of beers that even I would never consider drinking.  It was late on a Thursday, a school night, and I kept asking myself how I had ended up in this strange bar in downtown Atlanta, dancing anonymously to the Macarena, while a hodge podge of people looked on.

I struggled to knock down some grading before "going under": before entering the cavernous hotel for days of Fulbright workshops.  I glanced at Ophelia's quiz.  She is an annoying girl that thinks she knows everything yet continuously displays the opposite on nearly every assessment.  In response to a multiple choice question she had written "N/A".  I laughed.  I really didn't think you could write "not applicable" on a quiz, but I guess I was wrong.

I remembered the day earlier in the week, when the email was sent out to a large number of teachers, me included.
"The Fulbright Teacher Exchange would like to observe us!" it said.  I was on the list just like everyone else, anonymous, unacknowledged.  I was also on the observation list.  I emailed the sender.
"I can't be observed by the teachers. I am working the conference as a resource that they are attending.  I will have a substitute.  It was approved at the end of August."
I sat down for lunch with my department.  A number of them had the email printed out.  They were worried.
"Fulbright is coming to observe us?!  Why didn't anyone tell us earlier?!"
I tried to explain what was going on, that they didn't have anything to worry about, that the international teachers just wanted to see how an ordinary, American school functions.  They wouldn't listen.  The turned to our Chair.
"I know they were coming." he said secretively, smiling, never mentioning that it was because of me, or that they should listen to me, that I could explain things.
"They are flying them from all over the United States just to see us!" a teacher exclaimed.
Yeah.  Yeah right. He didn't dispute it. 

"Similarities and differences?!" one of the workshop facilitators elicited the teachers.  "Well," a Scottish teacher began, "at home, the kids are small and irritating.  Here, they are big and annoying.  I mean really, the size of 'um......" he finished, eyes widening.

I walked through the parking lot at my beer store /  gas station.  A scruffy white homeless man approached me.  I cut him off at the pass.
"I have a dollar," I offered "you need money, right?"
"Those people in there, they hate me." Why, because you beg off their customers?
"Will you go in there and buy me a beer?'
"Have one of these" I offered, pulling one off of the six pack I had just bought.  
"They're strong.  But I don't have a bottle opener. I just don't, um, carry that around."
He handed me my dollar back and smacked the bottle open on my car door. 
"Take care" I called as he walked away. 

"Hilary, something weird is going on with your school." A program administrator informed me.  She is a person I greatly admire, more than greatly admire, emulate.
"I spoke with them yesterday and they said you were going to be at a conference when we visit your school.  They don't even know that you are working our conference!"
"I know," I responded,  "they're clueless.  They are acting like I had nothing to do with them being selected for international teacher observations at the school.  They are leaving me out of the loop, acting like I am just any other participant."
"Hilary, that's bullshit.  The only reason why we are observing them is because you recommended them".
"I know.  It pissed me off for a couple of days, but now I don't care.  I am used to it.  I just hope everyone has a great visit."
"HILARY.  Don't 'get used to' that kind of treatment." 

All of the teachers, mentors, alumni and program administrators walked around the King center.  Just like anytime anyone receives visitors, my boring city suddenly transformed itself into an interesting place as I pointed things out and gave a little history when I could.  One of the administrators approached me and introduced herself.  She was very friendly and immediately started telling me personal things which made her seem all the more casual and approachable.
"Hey," I said, "it's really hot and I know an awesome juice place close by.  Are you thirsty?"
"Yes!" she exclaimed.
She marveled as we walked through King's neighborhood about how lucky she was to have a local next to her, that neighborhood walks were her favorite things, just seeing, seeing what people do.  We arrived at my juice place and she was completely charmed.  I was surprised when she busted into native Spanish and charmed everyone that worked there.
We sat out front at a table, enjoying our juice, the weather and the neighborhood.
"Hilary," she stated, while sipping on her juice, "with your international experience, you really should be working with us."
I was stunned.
"That would be awesome..." I said, almost uncomfortable, afraid to look too eager if it was just a baseless compliment.
"I'm serious," she added, "think about it.  I can help you."

We got off of the bus in front of the school.  I was relieved to see the principal and her secretary waiting to greet the teachers.  As I descended the bus, the principal looked at me.
"So, that's why you're not at school today!"
I smiled tightly.  It was explained and approved at the end of August.
The teachers had an excellent visit.  I felt proud of the school, though I reiterated multiple times to the teachers that I had only been there a couple of months.  I was glad that the principal put on such a great reception for them.  I still don't know why she wouldn't speak to me all day, why she treated me like just another participant. 

A blast from the past approached me at the big dinner, the sit down dinner with the keynote speaker and everything.  She had worked at the school I left after going on exchange, the one that hosted my exchange partner.  The one that treated both of us like shit before I never returned to it.  She acted friendly at first.
"You caused a lot of problems." she stated.
"What, they didn't like my exchange partner?"
"No, not him.  That you didn't come back.  The stakeholders wanted to know why the paid a teacher to teach in a foreign country."
"You know as well as I do that it didn't cost them a penny.  They got a free, international teacher in exchange.  Why is this the first time I've heard this?  It has been over two years....."
"They almost didn't approve my application, because of you.  I practically had to sign in blood."
"My application nearly wasn't approved either.  I had to overnight it.  They didn't know what 'Fulbrite' was.  That is how that county works."
"Where do you work now?"
I told her.
"I want to work there.  How can I find out about jobs?  The county is falling apart".
"Yeah.  That's why I didn't come back."
"Did you ask to get invited to do these things?"
"No." I responded.
"Oh.  Maybe I just need to put myself more out there.  It's because I teach Music.  That's it.  It's an unusual field."
Yeah. Maybe that's it.  I glanced at my salad and looked back at her.  The rest of the table was already eating.
"We'll talk later!" she ended, cheerfully.  
"That looked like a nice reunion!" my friend sitting next to me commented, without a hint of sarcasm.  I was glad no one could tell what it really was. 

There were some older, white, businessmen-types wearing the remainders of suits - button downs and pants and shiny shoes without ties or jackets.  Convention folks?  A few bits of female white trash:  brash singers of new country hits with frizzy hair, tramp stamp tattoos and a bit of a meth look to their unattractively thin bodies.  More locals, tough looking black men with "A" caps on and dark, Ray-Ban style sunglasses, though it was the middle of the night.  The karaoke leader:  a long haired white man in his forties that I could tell still really liked White Snake.  A fun looking group of dressed up black women that came cha-chaing over to our originally nervous table, shaking their ample booties at the international teachers and getting them in the mood to have fun.  That's right, I forgot to describe our hodge podge group:  a few American white women in teacher clothes and group of elegant Mexican exchange teachers.

Watching one of the Mexican teachers belt out a Tom Jones song, preceded by the tough black men singing a Barry White number, The Lost in Translation feel never left me as I spun and laughed, pee beer in hand, in a place I normally wouldn't even go near. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Count the Ways

Lola and I had been sitting on the grass for at least twenty minutes when I saw the writing.  The air was finally getting cooler and the moon was lit by more than fifty percent.  We stared at the street.  We do it day and night.  I enjoy it.  She likes it too.

"You are enough, just how you are." was written on the sidewalk, directly in front of my house.  I wasn't sure if it was in spray paint or heavy white chalk.  I stared at it for a while.  I am not sure if I agree with the sentiment.

1. I am getting shit at school.  Students, parents and administrators are coming after me.  I don't know why I can't play the game. 
2.  I am really fat right now.
3.  My dog always seems discontented. 
4.  I am broke and adding debt to accounts that I fought long and hard to pay off.
5.  I drink too much.
6.  I am not taking good care of my princess house.
7.  The students say I wear the same clothes all of the time.  They're right.
8.  My dog isn't trained.
9.  I haven't been taking care of my skin.
10. I don't like getting out of bed. 

There's an eleven, too. 

I don't know why those words are out there.  But I guess I like it that they are.

I hope they stay.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Simon (e)

"ON FIRE!!" the kids shrieked. "WE ARE YOUNG!!!".  Two of my sweeties jumped up and down, delirious, singing their favorite song after school in Teresa's classroom.
So many months ago.  My little elementary babies.  Screaming their hearts out to every top forty business they heard.  They were young.  And on fire.  I think of them every time I hear that song. 

And when I see their hands stretched out of open windows while their parents tear by my house after picking them up from school.

"Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don't you know...
Butterflies all havin' fun you know what I mean...
Sleep in peace when day is done
That's what I mean....."

Lola and I were shaking it to our woman Nina.  She was playing our song.  I was making a peach pie, Lola was eating some peanut butter, and Nina sang OUR song.  We were dancing.  It was a street party in that kitchen.

Alec looked surprised when he walked in.  

I picked Lola up from the vet after her observation.  She busted out of the door and I fell to my knees and hugged her.  The vet tech sunk to his knees as well.  I was holding her, kissing her.  He earnestly explained her after-care while we both remained on our knees near the waiting room.  I suddenly felt embarrassed and rose, then thanked him profusely as Lola dragged me to the door.  All I could say was thank you.  I had asked him in desperation that morning to save my dog, and he had done it.  He was calling something to me as I left.  I said 'thank you' over and over as I bolted through the door. 
 'Thank you' didn't seem like enough.  That's why I got out of there. 

Lola stood on the passenger seat of my car, tail curled in the air.  Her friend with the pick waived at us, smiling. 

I sat next to her crate while she fell asleep.  She had gone in there voluntarily and passed out. At first, her cheeks puffed out every time she took a breath, as if she was blowing a bubble.  Then, she slept more soundly.  I sat there for three hours, listening, watching if the breathing stopped, not knowing what I would do if it did.  

Lola and I relaxed in the Conservatory, the most beautiful room in our house and the one that she prefers.  There isn't a television in there.  Only records, a stereo and a big Victorian bay window with stained glass at the top.  We listened to the new Shins record.  At first, she assumed her position, standing over the back of one of the two chairs in the room, staring out of the window at the street.  Then she settled in and laid in the chair.  Slowly, she fell asleep.  I did some school work, and glanced over at her.  She looked like a bag of bones.  I watched her carefully, again, to make sure she was breathing, feeling the panic again, the memory.

She's breathing. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The One

As Lola and I relaxed in the front yard, a grey sedan pulled up.  Two men jumped quickly from the car, darted up the steps and grabbed Lola.  They threw her in the trunk and slammed it.
"Bait dog" I heard them mutter as they jumped back in the car and sped away.  I started running after the car, feeling terror, knowing I was about to scream...

When I woke up.

Lola and I relaxed in the side yard.  When we get up, she does her business and then likes to lay in the grass.  I just sit next to her and drink coffee.  I took her to finish her booty business before going inside.  She scrambled down the weedy slope of the abandoned lot next to our house.  She hopped around, trying to get in the perfect shitting position, then suddenly darted through the weeds mid-act.  She was tangled, her leash was tangled too, until she burst through the vines that contained her.  Lola ran wildly to the cement path that leads to our porch, one leg pulled close to her body, rigidly, with even her toes in a spasm.  She sprawled on the cement.   

I called for Alec.

"Maybe it's a sprain," he guessed as I tried to figure out what was wrong with Lola.  I gently lifted the hurt limb.  Two red puncture wounds were on the inside of her leg.  I picked my fifty pound dog up and ran for the car, screaming at Alec to get the keys. 

Lola laid limp in my arms as Alec weaved around cars and sped down the road.  Her eyes were closing.
"Wake up, Lola, wake up!" Alec yelled, clapping his hands and driving at the same time.  Her eyes fluttered open, only to begin closing again.  Her body sagged like a bag of beans, head and arms on my lap, butt and lower legs sliding to the floor.  I smelled urine.
"Wake up, baby, wake up!" I said furtively, clapping my free hand against my leg.
"Run the light!" I screamed.
It was the longest ride of my life.  I knew she wouldn't make it to the vet.  I couldn't believe that I was holding her in my arms while she died. 
"Eyes open, Lola, eyes open!" I implored, manually opening her eyes for her.

I darted from the car, carrying my dog.
"Please!" I called as I burst through the door.  "My dog has been bitten by a snake!".
A doctor came out and hustled Lola to a waiting room.  Lola's friend, the one that calls her mamí, came out.  The man with the pick with the blue pitts just like her.  She was active now.  They took her in the back.

I stood alone in the room with the door shut, shaking and hyperventilating.  I was praying.  The longer I waited, the more I knew that she was dying.

The doctor emerged.
"We think it is some sort of bee sting" he said.
"She may be allergic," he continued, "I gave her a Benadryl shot and an anti-inflammatory shot for the swelling in her leg.  I want her to stay here a few hours so that I can observe her".
The man with the pick watched me.
"She is going to go upstairs with his dog and we are going to check on her every few minutes" the doctor stated, motioning to the man with the pick.
"Your dog is up there?" I asked him, feeling as though my eyes were bulging from my head.  The blue pitts.  The ones just like her.
He patted me on the shoulder.

"She's okay". 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Everything Is

I remember the transit of Venus.   I sat in the park while the nasty elderly father of one of my first graders petted Lola lovingly.
"Such a beautiful dog...." he kept saying.
"What kind of dog is she?"
"She's a Pit Bull".
His hand retracted quickly.
"I don't know about those kinds of dogs.." he muttered, gathering up his kids.
"You always read about them in the papers".
An older, African American woman sitting nearby looked at me over her sunglasses.
"Staffordshire Terrier" she said with a smile.
"No, I really think she's an American Pit Bull, but I can't tell the difference between American Pits and Staffordshires" I responded.
"There isn't a difference," she said laughing,  "You just need to learn to say 'Staffordshire' in a snooty way".
I started laughing.  She did too. 

As I threw the laundry into the dryer, I noticed these old shorts that I sleep in all of the time.  The crotch was torn out.  I love my dog.  But it disturbs me out that she is so attracted to my underwear, or anything that has come in any sort of contact to my, well, crotch.  She's my little girl.   It freaks me out that I care for her like a mother, that she is my little miss, I help her into the car, down the stairs, clean her ears, take her to doggie day care and kiss her and tell her to have a great day....yet there is something completely feral inside her that is wildly attracted to my crotch.

THAT is not my sweet baby.  

I heard a noise and looked out onto my porch.  Sixth graders that were fifth graders a year ago were on it.  Three of them.  I hugged them.  And felt sad.  I don't get a lot of student visitors anymore.  I would taser the kids I teach now if they came anywhere near the porch.

Lola was pulling.  Pulling really hard.  It was Thursday, my late day.  I don't have to teach until two.  We always sleep late.  I don't even set my alarm. She could hear the kids on the playground and wanted to go up there.  I begged her in English to let me get out of my pajamas and have my coffee and that I would walk her up that way.  She complied.

We walked up the hill.
"It's Maestra Hilary!" I heard a kid yell as the entire third grade ran to the fence.
My evil 'Staffordshire' stood up and licked hands and faces through the chain link fence.  My babies.  A little boy that I had never seen before literally seemed to scale the fence.
"I'm new!" He announced.
"Hi!" I responded as my dog licked his hand.  "I used to work here!".
I waved to the teachers across the field, worried that they didn't know what was going on.  Teresa ran across the field, Lola's real mother. 
Lola sat solemnly, without direction.  She stared at her intently.  Teresa knelt and let Lola lick her through the fence.  Lola knew who she was.

"You are not going to believe this" Teresa stated, eyes half full of tears from seeing her baby.
"We are almost a million dollars in the hole.  We have to add two kids to every classroom NOW or people are losing their jobs, like next week. LIKE YOU DID".

She stared at me.

"I can't believe this". 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Every Day is Like Sunday

I stood at the edge of the lake.  The sand, or should I say dirt, around it was kind of muddy and orange.  Logs and branches were strewn everywhere.

I was smiling.  Actually, I was laughing.

Lola rampaged along the shore, running wickedly fast and literally hopping in and out of the water like a giant bunny.  She dove in the minute we got there.  Cautiously, we removed her leash.  I took my watch off and emptied my pockets, ready to jump into the muddy lake with my clothes on if Lola got in trouble.  I noticed Alec wordlessly doing the same thing.  Lola went immediately to the deep water and swam stealthily, all four legs churning without a splash beneath the water, head outstretched above it as she mowed across the lake like a little submarine.

I love my sweet baby.  This particular lake is not a place that I would ordinarily frequent.  But now, all I can think of is packing a lunch and taking Lola back there to spend the day.  I would even swim with her in that muddy water.

A text message came through.  "This is my new puppy!" it read, followed by a picture of the Pug.  It was Elena, my fifth grade friend.  Another came through shortly afterwards from Warren, explaining that he wanted to visit Lola when she looks cute, not scary.  I responded to my ten year old friends. My peers.  It was seven in the morning.  

As I drove down the steep roller coaster-like hill toward the water, I realized the platform that held the highway up had fallen into the ocean and that my car was going to as well.  Somehow I managed to stop the car before it plunged into the water.  Alec and I opened the hood and carefully lifted the engine and set it as far out of the water as we could.  I looked up.  Our house was sitting on a dangerous incline in a few feet of water.
"The floors," I thought "the floors.  The hardwoods will be ruined....".
I opened my eyes and petted Lola, asleep next to me in the bed.  Another nighttime at the movies.

All of the students are doppelgangers.  The fourteen year old blond that looks like she's thirty is a ringer of a girl I taught four years ago.  My head whips around in the hallway, thinking I just spotted goofy Clark that I taught four times or that pot head Gabriel who liked the same music that I do.  I stare at them, looking for recognition and have to remind myself that these kids are not the same kids, those kids are not in high school anymore, some of them might be almost done with college by now.  They didn't even go to this school.  All the souls that I have ever taught are not existing forever between high school walls.  There are not haunting these buildings like I am.  They've gone on.

The brunette Raquel I teach now is not the same one I taught five years ago.

*title:  The Smiths or Morrissey, can't remember which.

Thursday, August 30, 2012


I stood at the corner of the park as Lola sniffed around in the grass.  A large SUV stopped at the light and I was face to face with ex-Kinder, now first grade George.  He rode in the backseat.  I immediately smiled at the white haired boy, then looked down.

"Do you remember me?" the six year old asked through the open window, as if he and I had run into each other walking down the street.   The driver of the car didn't seem to notice. 
"Yes!" I responded "I was afraid you didn't remember me!"
"Lola is really big now..." he responded as the vehicle began to drive.
I saw his little face hanging out of the window, speaking, arm outstretched, saying something unintelligible as the car whisked away.

I heard whimpering.   I woke up and realized I was on the floor, saying Lola's name as my hands searched for her in the dark.  I couldn't find her.  Slowly things came to focus and I saw her sleeping on our bed as she always does, sprawled, her neck stretched out, facing the foot of the bed.  She wasn't whimpering.  She was sleeping soundly.

I walked past my niece in the hallway at school.  My eyes were still puffy, swollen.
"Are you okay?" I whispered, picturing the yard, the carnage in the yard.
She nodded.  And kept walking.
I went to my class.  The bell rang.  I started yelling greetings to them over the noise, over their loud conversations that weren't interrupted by the beginning of class.  It didn't matter.  They just kept talking.

I slept hard, pulling Lola up from the foot of the bed and clutching her now fifty pound body in my arms, her head resting on my face.  She would try to resume her normal position but I would only wake up again and drag her closer, her face resting on my neck, my head, my pillow.  Or my head resting on her chest while her chin laid higher,  on top of my head. 

I woke up for work in the morning with Lola laying next to me, her neck and head resting on my stomach.  I had to get up, take a shower, get dressed.  But Lola's eyes stayed closed and her chin seemed to press on my stomach, her belly glued to my hip and side.  I laid there as long as I could and arrived for another day at school with wet hair, glasses on and my only make up being bright red lipstick, as if that could make up for the rest of my disheveled look.

And I taught. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

As Days Go By

Lola and I sat on the steps in front of the house, watching cars go by.  There was a weird silence between us.  I wasn't singing to her or calling her my 'good girl'.  But she sat beside me, solemnly.  We sat about a foot apart and stared at the road.

Her eyes didn't look as guilty and downcast as the night before when she awkwardly took a piss right on her bed, something she has never done before, then walked cautiously in circles around me while I sat on the laundry room floor crying, before putting herself in her crate and leaving her back facing the open door. 

I only remember screaming.  Screaming and grabbing her, picking her up.  And crying.  The baby chick was still in her mouth.  The rest of them were strewn around my sister's yard.  The baby chickens my sister had been carefully raising.  Gone.  All of them gone.

Lola and I walked around the block.  Suddenly, I saw a hand shoot out of a window.
"Maestra Hilary!" a child called.
I knew who he was.  And I felt such a pure longing in my heart that I couldn't believe it.  Something on my side hurt.  I did it myself. 

"Why didn't you take his phone up?" one of the students asked, after some kid's phone rang loudly in class.
"I don't know," I answered, "I don't feel like it".
I gave them some shit to do.  A lot of them didn't do it. And I could really give a shit.

I stood in the copy room, um, copying shit.  Some lady busted in, some other teacher that I don't know.
"So, are you part-time by choice or because you couldn't get anything else?" she asked abruptly, even though I smile a lot, an awful lot.
 I try to put on a nice veneer.  I've learned to pretend to be happy.
"By necessity," I responded "I got laid off in May, they cancelled my program.  There weren't any jobs left". 
Any more questions, you stupid cunt?

"Hilary!  We would like to invite you to help us with our October conference of international teachers on Fulbright exchange to the United States" the email said.  "We are so glad that you landed on your feet after being laid off.  Do they know that they are lucky to have you?  The Atlanta schools NEED you".

I'm not as good as I used to be.  I am just so tired.

Fulbright always pops up when I am low.  And I am really low these days.

I hope they can help me.  

Saturday, August 18, 2012

I Feel the Train a Comin'

I walked around my house, randomly, not knowing what to do.  Alec had taken Lola for a walk.  I put the onions and celery in the oil and sauteed them, then went in to de-frag and de-whatever to his shitty PC computer, uh, my old computer.  And paced the floor.

It's not that I have nothing to do.  Today was mad.  I woke up sleepy, like always, though I got up at eight-ish.  Took Lola out to do her business.  Drank my coffee and watched Lola eat.  Jumped in the shower and dressed casually for "Spirit Friday".

Have I mentioned Spirit Friday?  Every school I've worked at, which is adding up to be a lot, lets teachers where jeans on Fridays, as long as they wear a school T-shirt.  I don't really care so much about the jeans, as much as the T-shirt.  No ironing, not that I do that anymore.  I have spirit shirts from everywhere; I've thrown some of them away and the rest I use for jogging.  I have a new one now that I wear each and every Friday.  Yes, all of them. All those Fridays.   I will wear that pinche shirt for thirty-eight weeks.  Don't question me.  I've done it before.

I saw my first paycheck.  I nearly fell out.  I made more waiting tables in college.  I am half-time.  But I am still at the school all the time, all most full-time.  There is just a lot to be done.  But I have to curb it.  Lola is going to doggie daycare or staying in her crate for hours, which I can't handle.  I work half time.  Twenty hours a week.  Or so they say.  

So, my day, today.  I didn't take Lola for her two mile walk.  She wanted to, but I didn't feel like it.  I watched her while I got ready for work.  I felt bad.  "Doggie day care" I thought, "I will take you there today".  A consolation prize for not getting her long walk.

Doggie day care is expensive and I am making pretty frightening money these days.  I watched Lola.  Finally, I decided that if she went voluntarily into her crate, with the incentive of a giant cow ear chew thing, I would leave her there.  If not, I would take her to doggie day care.

She went in.

The big train that crosses the road that I drive on to work was passing by.  I remember that train.  I used to ride my bike down the same road to work thirteen years ago and it used to make me late.  I sat.  Then I drove all the way around the pinche thing until I got to work.  Running, copies not made, sign-in not done, to my class.   My crappy fucking apathetic class.

I had planning after that and all that I did was run around making copies and connecting with folks about asshole students that think it's too much to ask to sit in a fucking desk and to shut up when I try to teach.  Then I taught another class.

Some kids came at me a bit.  I don't know why.  Maybe because its the third week of school and they're testing the situation.  Great.  I spent an hour after school chasing down counselors and calling parents.

My dog was in her crate for six and a half hours.  For peanuts.  For the peanuts that I make.  As I opened the crate and ran with Lola toward the door I watched the wagging, whipping tail of my dog.  We bolted outside and as I hugged her and kissed her I realized again that it was Friday. 

Definitely the best day of the week. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ríe y Llora

I saw the little recorder killer in CVS.  I always liked that kid.  He was playing intently with his mother in the toy aisle.  A few months ago, I would have stopped and said hello.  I didn't this time, just went straight to the pharmacy and paid $85.00 for a prescription that cost $15.00 when I had health insurance and made more than twice as much as I am making now.

"Pretty good, Ms. Hilary, pretty good" the administrator commented after my first evaluation.  I was glad.  I am teaching in a way that I have never taught before, using a strict methodology that I am not used to.  I am not doing any of my normal things.  I should be bothered, but I'm not.  I should be screaming that I am a professional and I KNOW how to teach!  But I don't.  What they say goes.  It oddly doesn't matter to me.

It's hot.  All I do is sweat.  It makes me lazy.  It makes me not want to go outside.  I randomly weed the garden I worked so hard on as I take Lola out for a walk before my part-time job.  It is an accomplishment if I walk the whole two miles around the park.  Not run, walk.  

I worry about Lola.  My job could easily keep me in the building forty hours a week, but I am not willing.  Not for part-time pay.  And, I have my dog to worry about.  I stagger her days between her crate and doggy day care for the long days.  I even bring work home, something I stopped doing years ago, in favor of doing it at school and leaving it there.  I say openly to me colleagues, "I have to go.  I have to pick up my dog".  I say it in the same way they talk about their children.

We have one hundred, sixty-eight instructional days left in the school year.  I have to admit, the school has done nothing wrong.  It's me.  I have never started counting the days this early in the year before.

I see my old kids everywhere.  They rarely see me anymore, not the way they used to.  A few do, but most don't.  They have forgotten.  

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Let Me Sing You a Song

"You look beautiful, Ms. Wagner" a tall, adult looking kid called out, "you have a date?  No glasses and you let your hair down" he continued.
"You never have to raise your hand to say something like that," I responded, "just yell it out".

I flew back from France almost two weeks ago, jet lagged and tired.  I showed up for work a couple of days later and a week late, with only two days to plan.  I had missed the rest.  I am back in high school.  Again. 

Lazy days, drinking Rosé and eating olives, cheese and bread.  Everywhere I looked there was something beautiful.  It was like a dream. Staying up late in the night, eating, drinking and laughing.  Laying on a chair reading my book with the smell of lavender everywhere and the Mediterranean in the distance.   A dream that ended too fast, a dream that still seems like a fantasy.

Lola was dragging me on her leash.  I was running behind her in flip flops and a skirt.  Families started waving at me, a lot of them, calling out from the elementary school.  My old job.  I had no idea what was going on.
"Are you going to be teaching the afternoon Spanish class?" my brand new, Kindergarten owning neighbors asked me.
I shook my head.  Who the fuck was teaching Spanish up there?

I laid awake, Lola's neck stretched across mine.  Alec was already gone, on his way to his shitty job.  I can sleep late now; I only work part-time.  Lola didn't want me to leave, to get up.  I laid there as long as I could, then took her outside to do her business.  I could hear my kids screaming from the playground.

I have new kids to love now, big ones again.

But, I'm tired.  Very tired.  


Monday, June 25, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

My mom and I walked through my yard.  I was giving her my gardening tour.  She always indulges me in a way that most won't.
"So I planted dahlias..." I blathered on.
"I read that they can be planted in the Spring and they might work out in my yard" I continued, showing her where I had planted the bulbs.
"Dahlias are beautiful" my mom responded.  "I remember the first date I went on with your dad.  He was standing on my porch with a dinner plate dahlia.  He looked just like a little kid".
I felt my heart sting.  My dad left when I was three.  We don't usually talk about him.
"There was a reason why I married him," she said quietly, "it wasn't always bad". 

Long hot days alone with Lola.  I was ambitious at first, jogging in the morning, gardening, cleaning, looking for jobs.   But it just kept getting hotter.  Now, Lola and I take long naps in the afternoon, long delirious naps that I wake from wondering what time it is and staring into the peaceful, half asleep blue eyes of my dog.   I have never had a summer like this.

I emailed Warren's dad.  I had been meaning to for a while.  He hadn't been over to visit Lola since school got out, yeah, since school got out, I guess that was like six weeks ago.  The days blur together and become weeks and months.
"Hey, this is Warren's old Spanish teacher," I wrote, "he hasn't come to visit Lola dog in a while and if he's busy or doesn't want to don't bother him about it, I just wanted to be sure that he understands that he is always welcome....".

I was standing on my mom's porch.  We had been talking for quite a few minutes.  She was showing me her gardening.  A few failed hanging baskets hung from the porch ceiling.  It didn't work out, mine didn't either, and she was planing what to do next.  Suddenly, a bird shot out of one of the baskets.  I jumped away, then stared down into the seemingly dead earth.  A round nest tunneled under the soil, perfectly formed by pine needles. 

"Mom!  You have a nest in there!  You are so lucky!".

I sat on my sister's porch, talking about dahlias.
"Marge grew dahlias" Holly stated, referring to my paternal grandmother who shot herself when I was a kid.  It's funny, Grandma Marge used the same name as my best friend that killed herself.  Marge.  We called them both Marge. 

I invited a couple to dinner at our house.  She and I have been good friends since starting at the school.  I remember standing in the middle of the street as we walked home from work one day, both in pajamas for "pajama day", talking for almost an hour as if it was natural to be in your bathrobe at four in the afternoon.  She left this year too.  She is leaving Atlanta.

I ran around the yard to the front of the house with Lola, afraid that they might be at the front door.  I noticed something odd and walked up on the porch.  A perfect bone balanced on the old fashioned doorbell ringer imbedded in my front door.  I started to cry.  I knew that Warren had been here.

My mom didn't sound good.  I was in the twilight of my sister's kitchen.
"The eggs hatched.  But they have pushed one of the chicks out to the edge of the nest.  It's dying, I think it's dying.  But I am afraid to try to help it, because they might reject it even worse".

I told my mom about our Mourning Doves.  I always told her about them.  The amazing birds that mate for life and return annually to the same nest.  I walk past my old apartment and stare up to the nest on the top of the pillar to see if it is still there.  I watched them for months last year.  How they took shifts sitting on the eggs and bringing the chicks food, swooping in and sailing away systematically.  During storms they didn't take shifts, both would arrive and  lay their bodies over the nest, practically smothering the little birds.   And over and over again the little chicks would become birds and they would have more. 

"But these aren't Mourning Doves, Hilary...." my mom stated.
"They will never come back".

Monday, June 18, 2012

Poison Ivy

I drove fast and west.  It felt like a road trip.  Atlanta, sliding behind me and signs of actual Georgia popping up.  This is the first summer in five years that I have not driven completely across the country and into the smoldering western borderlands.

But, I wasn't on a road trip. 

I was stunned when I saw the sprawling school.  The lack of landscaping made it look like it should be in Texas, just a big building sticking straight up out of the ground.  My car was freaking out, I was afraid that the transmission might fail again.  I found my way in.  I couldn't believe that it had come to this.

I sat at a table in a county that is nearly in Alabama.  Two very country white men sat across from me.  I have never driven that far for a job interview.  Not even before my first year of teaching when I had absolutely no experience, no certificate, no Fulbright, no anything.  And this was a middle school of all things, something I have always categorically ruled out.

"It's not supposed to be like this" I thought. 

We got talking.  They were very cordial and polite. I wasn't smiling.  I put on my song and dance but knew I lacked enthusiasm.  Before I could ask the questions I always ask at the end, you know, the ones about diversity and not just racial diversity but everything, socioeconomic, the whole nine yards, the main country principal began speaking.

"So, let me tell you about us.  We have a 38% transient population.  A lot of turn over every year.  We are 99% percent Black and have a couple Latinos.  Our kids come from a neighborhood that has 600,000 dollar houses and from a project that is in our feeder.  We have 60% free lunch".

I stared back at them.  Things were looking up.
"I'm intrigued," I said, "intrigued".  I was starting to wish I had tried harder.  The poison ivy rash that covered the side of my face and parts of my neck was starting to itch.  I am sure they viewed that as one of the only positive things about this city-teacher.

I drove back.   I admit I was relieved when I saw the Atlanta skyline.  And I wanted to see my dog.

"It will only make more people come!" the Republican radio commentators howled.  I smiled.  Actually, I wanted to cheer.  He did it, he really did it.  I know so many people that will benefit from Obama's decision.  We have waited a long time for this.  And it has been painful.  Painful for many.

As I pulled up the hill to my house, I saw a former fellow teacher, a friend from school, walking with eight of my former students.  They all started waving and yelling to me.
"Let me park my car!" I called, "I want to see you!".
As soon as I emerged from the car, all of them pulled cameras out and started photographing me.
"Whaaaa...?" I asked.
"We are in Art Camp!" they cried and started hugging me.
"Do you want to see Lola?"
"Yes!" they screamed.
As I unlocked the house, one of my kids followed directly behind me, all the way in, snapping pictures of our bird Momo and following me into my bedroom to let Lola out of her cage.  I love that kids have no sense of limits sometimes, or that this kid knew I wouldn't care if he came right in.

They stayed a while.
"Say goodbye to Maestra" their teacher called as they snapped photos of my plants, my dog and my poison ivy.
"We don't want to take up her whole afternoon!"

"No, really it's okay.  Anytime.  And I mean it.  Thank you for coming and please come back."  I said, gathering my dog in my arms and walking slowly into my house, watching the kids walk up the street to the school, my former school...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Staring into the Sun

I walked past the school, empty from summer break.  Well, not all together empty.  I saw Aria and Cally, stretched out on the recess field, staring at the sky.  It brought up a stinging memory, one of many.

"It'll be fun Emma.  Lola will be there all day.  It's Field Day".
I wanted her to volunteer to help out.  We asked permission.  We got the okay.  And, we were looking forward to it.

Emma was at my house by 7:30, an hour that she hates.  We carried Lola to school, dropped her off in my classroom and went to the morning meeting.  As we walked down the hall, I saw Aria hiding out in her mom's classroom.

"What is going on?" her mom asked me.
"What do you mean?"
"The Principal said we couldn't be here.  I asked the Executive Director and Coach, they said yes...." Aria exclaimed.
"Just stay here.  Emma's here too.  We will just go help Coach and everyone will realize it's fine".

Emma and I went to the meeting.  There were songs, videos and performances.
"So, middle schoolers, thanks for your help but we don't need it and if you need a ride, there is Mary to take you...." the Principal called out in front of four hundred people.
Emma and I looked at each other.  She walked out as I followed her.  She was upset.  It was embarrassing, almost like a call-out and, completely unnecessary. 

I felt the salt, rubbing in my wounds.  My niece has been at that school for nine years.  This was her last year, before she goes to high school.  She has been there before everyone that works there, Principal, Executive Director, everyone.  She knew I was being shoved out.  And now she was too.

"I'm calling my mom" she said, averting her eyes.
I wanted to pull my finger nails  out.  No one upsets my niece.  I was powerless.  And frustrated.  What else could they do to me?  How else could they make a bad situation worse? Couldn't they grant me this one thing?

Aria came outside, with Cally.
"I don't get it" Aria stated, "The Executive Director said it was okay..."
"What is going on?" Cally asked.  
My sister pulled up and I walked Emma to the car.  Everything was ending.  My stomach churned.  How much I wanted to kill anyone that hurt my niece.  The car pulled off.

"Aria, you are going to have to go back home and put pants on, your shorts are too short and go back to school, I'll get you a ride..." her mom said, "we have to call Cally's dad too".
"Look, I know this is weird, but they don't want to go to school now.  It's awful.  I live behind the school, I can walk them there.  I have an XBox.  They will be two minutes away...."
"Are you serious?  You really don't mind?"
"No" I said, signaling to the girls.

We walked the two minute walk from my school to the house.
"Take whatever you want from the fridge, here is a key, there is the phone, and here is the XBox.  Call if you need anything!"
"Thank you so much...."

I went to Field Day.  I held my dog and worried about my niece.  Worried about everything.  I felt like an open wound.  Finally, I went back home to make something to eat.  Everything was so out of whack that I could barely bathe and get up in the morning, let alone make lunch before going to work. 

"Hey, it's just me!" I called.
I saw them moving their shoulders and legs to Dance Central, Wii style.  The minimal furniture that we have was pushed out to the edges of the room.
I made my sandwich and ran back.

"Where did all that Scottish cheese go?"  Alec asked, hours later.
"I only had a little..." I answered.
"There was like, six ounces and now there is a cube left..."

I told the girls they could have anything.  I loved it that the one thing they picked out of the cheese drawer was the nicest one.  They have taste.  And, they had fun.

But my niece, my lovely, did not.  And it will always bother me.  It bothered me that I could make it right for those two girls, but not for her.  

I didn't call out to Aria and Cally.  I wanted to, they looked bored.  I worried about their eyes as they stared at the sun.

I kept walking.  

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Clouds in My Coffee

I sat in my yard, reading a book in the late afternoon light.  Lola was beside me.  We had gone for a walk, I went for a jog, we planted some stuff and we relaxed.  I always leave town the minute school gets out and stay gone until the school year begins again.  I decided, even before the shit-canning, to only go out of town during July this year.   It was a big decision.  I can't believe how much I am enjoying it.

Lola perked up.  I saw a couple of my former students riding bikes up the street.  Lola started toward them.  I picked her up and met the second group that was following the first two bike riders.

"She's so cute!" Ida exclaimed.  She is the gentler of the pair of identical twins.  They are both nice, but Ida's face is softer and her joy still evident, even though she is in middle school.
"I got burned!" Cody said with a smile, lifting his shirt to show me a bright red belly button.
"Wha....?" It looked awful.
"Popcorn kernel.  We were camping.  It flew right in my belly button!"
"You have always gotten the weirdest injuries" I laughed, thinking of the times he invited me to his house, you know, the white one on the corner with the big tree, as if I would know where that was.  He wanted me to see his dirt bike course.  He's wild.
They played with Lola, then I took her back out of fear that she would run into the street.
"She lost her job" I heard Cody tell the group.
It is weird to hear a rising fourth grader say that.  And I felt weird.  Am I the strange lady on the block now?

I had a brief reprieve.  Lola was sleeping so I ran out to Target to get some shit.  I ran into one of my favorite parents while checking out.  I had Lola on my mind, she could not wake up with her crate door shut.  We quickly exchanged pleasantries, sincere ones on my part.  

"What are you going to do?" she finally asked me.
"I don't know.  Look for a job.  I'm looking" I answered.
"What about you?  How is your job hunt going?"  I knew that she was a teacher, had taken a little time off and was ready to get back in the game and had been looking around the neighborhood.
"Well....I am the new lead English teacher at the other campus.  Look at all this stuff in my cart, I am already getting ready..."
"I am so happy you got that job.  Save your receipts, you'll have a classroom budget next year and they will reimburse you..."
"Really?  Thanks for telling me!"

I walked away.  I really was glad that she got the job.  But I felt weird.  And a little sick. 

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Life's Greatest Thrill

Lola and I walked to school.  It was the final day of post planning.  We had a lot to do. 

We passed the Boo Radley house's half a million dollar replacement.  It had an "under contract" sign in front of it.  

I had almost packed everything when the vultures arrived, bringing their boxes, their random shit. 
"Where is all this Spanish stuff supposed to go?' their leader asked.
"I don't know.  No one knows.  I am just trying to get my stuff out of here, the stuff I bought".
There was obviously going to be a problem.  They wanted to move in before I could even move out.  My bones were being picked clean. 
Where the Spanish stuff was going to go was not my concern. 

I could barely walk out of the room when I was ready to hand in my keys.  File cabinets, unboxed piles of "teaching materials", chairs, debris blocked my path.  The new occupants.

"So, here are my keys, my checkout sheet, my insurance cancellation, my Teacher's Retirement cash-in form, I think this is everything" I told the bookkeeper.  I looked at her assistant, the part-time assistant that was making almost as much as the whole, full-time Spanish program cost, the person who took my job.  I was handing her my purple folder of death, the special folder with the special checkout list for those that were pursuing "new adventures". 

"Okay, looks good.." her evil leader responded.
"Listen, the school still owes me almost five hundred dollars in reimbursements, are you writing that check today?" I asked.
"I write checks every other Friday, so next Friday I'll write your check and mail it to you."  she responded.
"You understand that I have been let go, that I'm not coming back, I am not comfortable with this".
She didn't care.
"Have you signed the form that I need to renew my teaching certificate?  The one that says that you have done criminal background checks?  They've put a hold on my certificate until they receive your signature.  I am job hunting.  It looks bad..."
The assistant pulled out a foot high pile of papers that were not organized in any way.  I stared at them while they dug through it.  Finally, it was located.  All I needed was a signature.
"Well, I need time..." she finally responded.

Lola and I went home.
A moving truck was in front of Boo's house.
"What a cute dog!" the mom called to me.
I let them pet her.
"What kind of dog is she?"
"She's a Pit.  Welcome to the neighborhood, I live next door" I said, extending my hand.
"So nice to meet you, this is my daughter Eliza, she'll be in Kindergarten next year..."
"And that is my school!" the child shouted, pointing at my now former workplace.

I pushed the blinking button of the answering machine.
"Maestra Wagner, this is Elena.  I'm just checking in.  Give me a call, I'm worried that you are okay".
I felt charmed and a little embarrassed.  She is ten.  But with such a kind heart. 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

All Tomorrow's Parties

The air raid sirens were echoing through the night, followed by a loud, Native American warrior chant.  I found it exciting at first.  But little by little, it was becoming a barrage, a kind of disturbing barrage.  It made me want to crawl under my seat like Lola does when too much shit is happening around her. 

I haven't been to a baseball game in years.  It was actually kind of pleasant, nice weather, good company and these guys running around doing Dios sabe qué on some really nice grass.  If only the sirens would stop...

I finished the school year.  Now, I am numb.  And confused.  It is difficult for me to articulate what has gone on the last weeks.  All I know is that I will miss my students terribly, miss knowing every kid in this neighborhood, miss jogging around the park and hearing kids scream my name and reach their hands out of car windows to wave...I was almost to the point where I thought I would do anything to stay with them, take on a job that was ill suited for me, work for free, fight for a job that would barely cover my bills, anything to stay in my little community at that school.  On the last morning meeting of the school year, they called me in front of the crowd with the other teachers that were "taking on new adventures".  When I saw Miss Jane and Mr. Jerry dressed up like Sunday church and in the line of those that would be exploring vast new horizons, I burst into tears.  They have been the custodians at that school for nine years.  They loved my little mohawked Emma.  And they were let go for a cheaper company.  That was when I cried, I mean really cried.   But now, I am numb.  

I threw a party at my house, invited everyone from the school that I really love.  It was fun, too much fun.  My sister surprised me by decorating my yard and buying me these awesome beer chillers.  I was thrilled and raging, trying to be sure to talk to every single one of those people at length.  And then I opened my big drunk mouth and let out one of my beloved's responsibly guarded secret, not out of spite or gossip, but love, out of love that she had been screwed and couldn't tell anyone about it.

I woke up at five in the morning and pulled Lola out of her crate and made her lie in my bed with me.  I spent the day feeling guilty and stupid, guilty that I betrayed my friend, guilty that I don't think my sister knows how much I appreciate her.  Guilty.  I sat in the classroom, tired, boxing up my stuff.

And felt bad.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

De Rodillas

Warren had always been difficult.  Actually, not just difficult, horrible.  Two years of awful.  I have wondered a million times why he hadn't been put out of our "school of choice".  We never bonded.  We never saw a moment of decency in each other. 

Wouldn't pick up a pencil.  Disruptive. Obnoxious.  Laying face down in the middle of the classroom.  Mocking.  Screaming. 

So, I am out.  The school board cancelled elementary Spanish.  I wasn't fired, the program is gone.  No notice, no warning.  No position.  I have been trying to be professional about it, do the right thing by the kids and have a good time, show them a nice send off.  I have been amazing.  But tired.  And sick.  And worried.  And stunned.  It is a dumb decision.  It is.  Adding a bunch of non-instructional positions, yet cutting a whole academic program.  Part-time bookkeepers that make as much as my whole program costs, weird coordinators, stipends for unnecessary things.  Top heavy.  Secretarial heavy.  Cutting of instructional staff.  And a whole program.  THE language program.  My program. 

Warren and I sat on the floor by the bookcase, flipping through National Geographics. I love that magazine.  I had brought in a pile that the wonderful former owners of our house had given me.  Given me for school.  The kids were supposed to be making culture collages, but no one could stop reading them.

"I have never owned a dog" I told Warren, while looking at the volcanoes of Indonesia.  I love volcanoes.
Lola was in his lap.
"I'm nervous," I told him "I want to do the right thing.  She is going to be a strong dog".
"I think maybe you should get a Lab as your first dog" he informed me, stroking Lola's head.
"Yeah," I answered "I know a Pit bull isn't a starter dog.  But I love her.  I don't want any dog.  I want Lola".
I quizzed him about the dogs at his house.  Does he have a fenced yard?  Do both of his parents work?  Do the dogs stay outside, or in crates?
He answered the questions carefully, and gave me sound advise.

I became the default caretaker of Lola.  I wanted to do it.  She stayed in my classroom and slept at my house.  I knew I wanted her.

Warren started showing up, unexpectedly.   His teachers had signed up to host Lola but had to send her away, because Warren couldn't function with her in the room.

He carried her back to me.  I began asking him to be my second in command.  He is gentle with Lola, knows exactly what to do.  He followed every direction I gave him.  Get her bed.  Grab the leash.  She has to pee, don't let her run into the street.

He hovered.  I don't know how he got out of his classroom all the time.  But he did. 

"Listen," I told him, "Lola is mine but I have joint custody right now.  I am taking her to the faculty meeting.  If she goes home with me instead of her real mom, I'll find you in aftercare so that you can kiss her goodbye". 

"Hilary, I am ready for you to fully adopt Lola." Teresa informed me at the end of the faculty meeting.   I was so relieved.  I was afraid she would change her mind. 

I took her down to see Warren.  He insisted on knowing where I lived.
"I can't take you out of aftercare, I'll get in trouble" I told him.
"But, I am not sure what else they can do to me..."
We walked outside of the fence and down the street.  Warren carried Lola.
"Right there," I told him "that's my house.  I am always in the back and Lola will be too.  Let's go, I am walking you back".

My phone was buzzing.  So happily, my sister was coming over to hang out.  She hugged Lola and we opened some beers and went out front.  Lola laid on the porch.  We talked like crazy, my cute dog, loss of job, all the everything.

I was surprised when I saw Warren walking his mother up my front steps. 
"We don't want to bother you...." she began.
"Warren, get up here!"  I called.

"Lola is under the porch swing".

Saturday, May 12, 2012


I laid flat on my back, looking up at the leaves of the oak trees.  They looked so defined, like technicolor.  Only homeless people lay down in Grant Park, you know, on the ground.  I've always been attracted to it, and, I finally did it. An eight week old puppy laid on my chest, sleeping, like a new born child.  Her name is Lola.  She is not mine.

"Just five more minutes..." I thought to myself over and over, like I do when I hit snooze on my alarm clock in the morning.  I gazed at the myriad of green while Lola burrowed her nose into my neck, breathing heavily.  

"Is that a Pit?" a young group of African -American  kids asked as they walked by.  "Yes" I answered, "she's a Pit Bull".  "Can we hold her, pet her?" they asked.  "Yes.." I answered "but only for a second...".

My life is spiraling out of control.