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.