Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You Are the One

"You are the one, the one in my heart...you're my darling, my life's greatest thrill...."
I couldn't stop humming it.  Or singing it.  It finally replaced "Dynamite".

I planted some things today.  A week ago, I was in full on garden-mode.  I remember loading up the top of my cart with pretty things, the bottom, scorched earth napalm death.  Spray for fruit killing, tree eating mites.  Spray for ants that are massive and try to get in the house.  Agent Orange for the hideous ivy from the vacant lots beside us that desperately want in.  Round Up. 

I was sick of the Galapagos next door.  The vacant lot.  I have seen every type of species running wild and crazy over there.  Squirrels ten times their normal size.  Predatory birds.  Snakes.  A beaver dam. 

I was excited when I rolled my backseat garden wagon toward the house.  And the poison I had put in the trunk. 

And then darkness hit in a way that I couldn't imagine or apparently deal with.  I have been in a fog.   I can't really teach right now, as much as I try.  I want to give my lovelies a good send off.  But I am scorched earth.  Hours of testing every morning and then, the wildness and worry.   I am barely there. 

"Got some room in your Herbie?"  my across the street neighbor asked.
"Yeah, sure, they just picked up today" I answered.  I was on my attempted renewal, arms full of marigolds and desert-like flowers.  That guy has always been nice to us.  He walked over the minute we started moving in, one of the few people in this area that has lived in his house for thirty years.  Even brought us cookies.  It baffled me.  I have lived a lot of places, but have never received the welcome mat like that. 

"Mary Ellen died on Monday" he called.
"Mary Ellen, my wife.  She died on Monday". 
I put everything down. 
I was stunned.
"I am so sorry," I stammered "I am speechless".
"She had cancer for seven years.  She went into hospice two weeks ago...but still...."
"Are you holding up okay?"
"No" he responded, with a sideways look.
"I'm sorry, of course not".

I walked back up to the front of the house, carrying my renewal, my flowers of the dead.  As shitty as it is, I felt like a self appreciating asshole for being so absorbed in what has been happening to me and the fact that I kept planting.   I didn't know what else to do.  But I couldn't stop thinking about it.

I am funny about death.  I remember the night a girl that lived upstairs in an apartment building that Alec and I had lived in for nearly ten years committed suicide.  We pulled up in our car and cops and ambulances were everywhere.  She had hung herself, which seemed even worse than any other way to die.  And I was horrified, that this person that I didn't even know was so miserable, living right beside us. 

And I didn't know our neighbor was dying.  Or that she had died.

"...for you are the one in my heart and I know that I love you and I always will....". 

*Carl Smith, You Are the One

Saturday, April 21, 2012


I stood in my wet yard, wavering in the twilight and staring at the huge pile of shingles piled in front of me, awaiting their role in my $8000 roof job.  And I started to cry.

What a time to eliminate Spanish in the elementary school.  And, my job. 

I was afraid I would fall asleep as I gazed at the kids.  One child rolled aimlessly on an exercise ball, sometimes rolling all the way under the table on his back, then up-righting himself to bubble in another question.  Another child laid stomach down on a music bench, arms, legs and head dangling.  An Aspie whipped his pencil back and forth like a conductor, his chin lifted high.  Certain kids read their test through colored viewers.  One student would only walk on specific carpet squares whenever she exited or entered the room.  My darling Aggie stared out of the window, eyelids heavy and wrapped my sweater tightly around her body.  She had been on the same question for ten minutes.  It was silent in the room.  It had been for hours, while another teacher and I proctored the CRCT to eight kids that had accommodations for small group testing and extended time on standardized tests.  The kids looked completely unfazed by the odd behavior their peers exhibited.
It was only the first day of testing. 

I came in bleary eyed, with little sleep and settled myself in the same chair from the day before.  Each day my affection for the kids taking that test grew. I don't know how they can take it.  It is just such an awful thing to do to a kid - hours of silence, days on end, staring at this test, surrounded by upright file folders to block their view of anything distracting.  On the first day, they had started wiggling seven minutes into the test.  By the third day, I watched a child slowly pull pieces of her hair out.

A lot of the kids have accommodations that call for a scribe - basically they mark the answer in the test book and we transfer their answers to a scan tron.  As I sat at a table near the front door of the school scribing a test, I saw a delivery man walk by.  He was staring at me and at the roomful of teachers that were doing the same thing I was doing.  I smiled.  In a district known nationally for cheating on this test, I could only imagine what he was thinking:  "BLATANT!  I mean, BLATANT!  The teachers were just sitting there, loads of them, in plain view, doing the test for those kids!".

"Oh my God..." a teacher muttered.  "Balls!  Motherfucker!".
"What happened?"
"Freddy free-styled the test.  He didn't even just mark more than one answer or skip questions, he created an 'E' option and wrote next to it what he thought should be an option".
Damn.  That's thinking outside the box.

"Hey babe" my main roofer, Merle, greeted me.
"Leave her alone, she's having a bad day" he instructed the other roofers.
"You look just like your mama!" one of them commented.
"She pretty, ain't she?" Merle finished.  I knew right then that my mom had told them I lost my job.

I was stunned by how country their accents were.  And how friendly.  I stood around talking to them while they ate lunch, unable to extricate myself and really wanting to be alone.

I noticed a broken marigold.  No big deal.  And then I saw my babies.  My succulents.  I had carefully weighed transferring them to the yard.  I did it, determined to watch them and make sure they were okay.  They were pulverized and stepped on.  Ground down.  I don't think they even knew that they were flowers.  My babies. 

"My great grand baby got born" Merle stated wryly.
"I told her not to drink the water" another commented, "My wife's pregnant too.  She's a teacher like you.  Man, those kids are assholes.  Sometimes I have to go down there, just to make my presence known."
"I kept my wife away from the water" Merle commented, referring to what I assume is a woman completely beyond child-bearing age.  "I been fixed but God can do anything".
"It's that water at Party City.  Genie over there's pregnant too".  
"Mary got pregnant without even having sex.  God does what he wants" another roofer added.  
They were making their God sound like some kind of honey badger. 
"Jimbo there is single and he likes yer coffee shop" Merle continued, referring to a guy up high on the roof, huge mustache almost covering the cigarette dangling from his mouth while both hands carried shingles. 
"Lot a purty women up there" he called, "Got me a scone".
As much as I hated to think it, I believe the majority of women in this neighborhood would scream and run if they knew that guy was eyeballing them.
"I get gift certificates all the time from the school for that place," I called, "I'll give them to you".

I rubbed my eyes that were still swollen and red from crying all night and watched a the roofer spread mayonnaise and mustard over white bread, top it with a layer of Fritos and add the second piece of bread, then eat it. 

"Why don't you get you a Mountain Dew out of our cooler?" Merle asked.
"Thanks, but I have to get back to work".
"Babe" Merle said insistently, "get you a Mountain Dew".

I did.  And walked slowly back up the hill to finish the day. 

Monday, April 16, 2012


"I'm glad I wasn't in Spanish today!" cutey pie Jarred announced cheerfully.
"Why would you say that?" I howled back.

"Are you trying to break my heart?"
"I went to my Group!" he announced, smiling broadly and doing the little dancing wiggle break dance thing that he can't seem to control.
Ahh.  The Group.  Group therapy for kids.  I smiled back at him.  I'm glad he likes it.

"¿Cómo estás?" I asked for the millionth time.  "¿Qué tal el descanso?".
"Estoy mal" pale, eccentric Aaron answered.
I was surprised.  Most talked of beaches and pools and wonderful Spring Breaks.
"¿Por qué?".
"My dad grew a goatee over the break.  It gives me the creeps". 
That will probably make two of us.

"Hi, Hilary." the email began.  "Can you meet with me and the Executive Director today at 1:30?".
"I'm teaching during that time" I responded, and added a few alternative time slots.
"Am I in trouble?" I wrote at the end of the email.

I don't like it.  'See me' emails from the principal are never good, and I have never been invited to an audience of two of them.  I just signed my contract and have been getting a lot of compliments lately.  For some reason, my already sad Monday mood got bleaker. 

"Parents have commented on the vast number of beer bottles in your recycling...you do live right behind the school.  Do I smell alcohol right now?  From last night?!".

"You need to get back earlier from your trips.  We know the last few have ended mere hours before school began and you come in jet-lagged".

"Can you really speak Spanish?  Because, you know, you are American?".

"Parents are complaining.  Your clothes and your hair are weird".

"You are consistently five minutes late, everyday".

"Why do you wear the same clothes to school so often?  I mean, they seem clean, but so much repetition?".

"Students are complaining.  They say your class is too hard and that you get in their faces.  Parents are upset too".

"We want to pay you half of your salary, because, you know, you only teach Spanish, which isn't real teaching".

"You've really put on a lot of weight.  Are you unhappy?  Maybe you shouldn't be here".

"We found your blog.  Our lawyer will be contacting you".  

"You smell bad".

Even though I felt awful and fearful, I found myself humming the Dynamite song my hard working, Bruce Springsteen-style first grader had sung in the meeting we have in the mornings.

I throw my hands up in the air sometimes.  Saying ayo....

"We are amazed by how much the Spanish the students know and it is all due to you.  You ought to know that.  You are the most amazing Spanish teacher ever!".

Monday, April 9, 2012

I'm Smiling at You

I watched the people running through the terminal.  And through the tubes.  Yes, the tubes.  The multitude of tubes that make up Heathrow.  Out of every window, I could see tubes.  And people running through them.  We had tried to run through the tubes, but didn't make it.
We had already missed our plane.

England looked like England should from the plane.  Green.  Little stone houses.  Farm lands with distinct borders.  Heathrow looked like England too.  Orwell's England. 

We had to wait five more hours to get to Ireland.  We all laid on the expansive couches that lined the tube, an obvious sign that no one made their flight there.  I slept quite well.  I had left my house an hour after leaving school on Friday to board a plane to Boston.  I spent the morning eating lobster and looking at old things, then flew overnight to London, sure that the connection would be flawless, even though we only had an hour layover after our plane sat on the runway for an hour in Boston. 

I was becoming complacent at Heathrow, feeling way too at home.  I woke up on the couch, desperate to piss.  As I walked bleary eyed to the bathroom, the bathroom that I knew how to find as if it was in my own home, I realized I was unzipping my pants as I walked, though I was in public.  Then I went back to sleep. 

It was still daylight when we got there.  We drove out in to the country and stayed at a lovely place with dogs and horses.  Time was blurring.

It's pretty there.  Really green.  Normally, many countries look just like the U.S. from the air.  It's disappointing.  There are exceptions.  The minarets in Istanbul pierce the sky as you land.  And Ireland is very green and pretty.

"The cavers had to tunnel turdy or farty meters before they found the stalagmite" the cave guide informed us.  I felt about five when I found myself giggling.  I don't want to be in some turdy or farty ass tunnel.

It was coming to an end too fast.  Left hand driving, exploring, Guinness drinking.  We stayed in castle our last night in Dublin, just for fun.  I was polite and refined as I signed the paperwork and carefully fielded the big question.

"So, as it is Good Friday, will the bars be open at six, or not at all?" I asked kindly. 
"Madame" the concierge answered, "the rules apply for the public, residents can...."
"Do whatever they want?" I finished.
"This is your castle" he answered.
Damn.  I need to hear that more often.

After enjoying our castle, we geared up for another connection in Heathrow.  We barely made our plane, but skillfully handled the connection, buses, trains and tube running inside the airport, even having time to spare for drinks.  And then the plane was delayed.

And then, it was cancelled.

Two hours later, after re-claiming our bags, multiple retinal checks and suffering through offiicial UK entry, the place we really had no intention of going to, we made it to the re-booking desk.

"I can get you on the 11:00AM tomorrow" the agent informed me.
"What time does that arrive in Boston, Eastern?"
"We'll miss our connection"
"Well... you'll have to call Delta and hash that out with them when you arrive".
"Listen.  I pre-paid a hotel in Boston that I won't be in and am going to get jacked by Delta.  I am losing a lot of money.  BA needs to step up".
I was surprised when the hamster wheels of Heathrow started turning.
"I can put you straight through to Atlanta at three, arriving at seven turdy Eastern and put you up in our best hotel, meals included".

Emma and I ran through London the next morning.  Fuck the meals.  As we played around, looking at the Thames and houses of parliament and ran through the official Tube, checking out Queenie's place and that big eye Ferris wheel, it seemed odd that I was actually supposed to be at work the next day at seven turdy, Eastern.  

And I was there this morning.