Tuesday, December 29, 2015
We arrived at the hospital to relieve my uncles that had spent the night at my Grandmother's bedside. It had been determined quickly and seamlessly that she would not be left alone at anytime. The nurses spoke of physical signs of looming death: mottled skin, a change in nail color, something about the feet. I had never heard of these things before.
A hospital administrator arrived and announced what everyone feared: Medicaid was bucking at the daily cost of the hospital and wanted my Grandmother moved to hospice.
"We are afraid of moving her," my mother said, "all of the jostling. It's not that we don't want her in hospice, we are afraid of transporting her in this condition.....".
"I understand," the administrator said, "but we can only push Medicaid so far....".
Shortly after, the paramedics arrived. I felt a seize of terror. I didn't think I could watch them lift her, watch them move her, but I felt like I had to. The bundled her carefully in blankets until only her head poked out like a little cotton ball. The moved her gently to the gurney and rolled her out as we followed. I still felt terrified, but was surprised by how smoothly they had moved her. My mother went in one direction with the paramedics to ride in the ambulance with my Grandmother and I went toward the parking lot. I passed the massive, larger than life manger scene by the parking lot and looped around a huge camel to my mother's compact rental car. I bumped my head on the ceiling, started the car and followed the ambulance to the hospice.
I drove through Saginaw. The sky was still very gray. I started getting worried about what the hospice would be like after taking a turn at a county juvenile lock up and driving past a large, impersonal hospital. I was surprised to see things suddenly become pastoral and after passing a large barn, a nice looking building with white columns came into view. I could see the ambulance pulling into a side garage. The garage seemed ominous to me, the place where everyone arrived and left, shielded from view because death is so uncomfortable. My uncle paced the parking lot until I parked the car and we went in the front door together.
The hospice administrator spoke about their services with my mom and uncle while my Grandmother was made comfortable in her room. I looked at my mom and uncle, seated next to each other on a couch, making decisions about my Grandmother's care. It seemed like an odd coming of age moment that had never occurred to me before, one of the important moments in life that you don't spend with your spouse, but with your sibling. I saw similarities in their faces and thought processes that I had never noticed before.
I was relieved that my Grandmother was at the hospice the minute we were permitted to enter her room. It was comfortable and lit with lamps. She was tucked in cozily; the oxygen thing that had irritated her nose was gone. A small dose of morphine, "the heroin" as one of my uncles would later call it, had relaxed her breathing and she seemed much more natural and comfortable than she had in the hospital.
Others arrived and my mother and I returned to my uncle's house. We viewed and made recommendations about the clothes my aunt had bought for my Grandmother to be buried in. I again had never really realized that people went shopping for that. The clothes were all red. My Grandmother had requested to be buried in red.
Later, my mother and I made preparations and returned to the hospice. We were going to be taking the night shift. It was Tuesday evening.
Monday, December 28, 2015
"Grandma has had a stroke." the text from my mother read.
I was obviously taken aback but really wasn't sure how to react. My grandmother is ninety-six years old. She has had various ailments, but somehow always comes out of them. A stroke obviously wasn't good, but I couldn't really digest what this might mean.
As I left school, another text came through.
"Grandma is having seizures. I am flying to Michigan tonight."
My breath seized in my chest. I found myself hoping that my mom would make it to Michigan before her mother died.
Gruesome images of my delicate Grandmother having seizures filled my mind. The horror. The pain. I cried. I didn't want her afraid, I didn't want her to hurt. The images would not go away.
My mother flew into Flint, Michigan that evening. It was a Friday. Flint is the sister city of my hometown, Saginaw. It was made famous by the Michael Moore film "Roger and Me" that detailed the economic collapse of the city after General Motors moved out. Most remember the scene where a Flint resident skins and eats a rabbit she caught, because there wasn't other food. It is one of the more memorable scenes.
"She is still unconscious." my mother texted.
"But does she seem comfortable?" I replied.
"Yes. She is not in pain."
"They are going to do CT scans to determine the amount of brain damage."
I spoke with my mom on Sunday.
"The test results are back. She has lost her ability to speak. Her left side is paralyzed....the stroke was massive, she has a lot of brain damage....".
My mother sounded awful.
"They are going to send her to hospice, we are hoping that she won't wake up, that she won't know the shape she is in.....".
"Alright, that's it." I responded, "I'm coming up there. I can arrive around four or around eight tomorrow, which do you prefer?".
I called my job. My boss sounded amused that I was trying to call in sick for a Monday, on a late Sunday afternoon. I didn't know how to explain.
"I need to accompany my mom while they move my Grandmother to hospice." I said, without giving other details.
"Oh, Ms. Wagner, I am so sorry. Start by putting in for three days, put bereavement as the reason."
Three days seemed like a long time. When I think about it now I can tell I wasn't really thinking clearly or at least that my boss was thinking more clearly than me. I just wanted to help my mom through this. I knew her extended family was up there, brothers and and step-brothers and sisters, all of the spouses. My mom wasn't there with her husband, and she seemed very alone to me. I felt like she needed her own wing man; everyone else had one.
I bought a one-way ticket to Flint. When I arrived at the airport the following morning, my plane had already been delayed five hours because of weather in my layover, Chicago. I would miss my connection to Flint. I was surprised when the gate agent switched me to a direct flight on another airline that would get me in only an hour later than my original flight. I looked through the windows at the gray December sky and ordered my first of many Bloody Marys as I waited the five hours until take off.
My mother was waiting for me at the airport. We got on the highway and drove to Saginaw. Christmas lights lined the small old houses and yards. It looked northern, different than Atlanta in every way. My mother seemed a little scattered but purposeful, and was attempting to put on a happy face for me. We drove straight to the hospital.
As we walked to my Grandmother's room, I saw a small crowd outside of her door. My cousin and her partner, my aunt and uncle... I am not sure who else.
I gasped when I saw my Grandmother through the open door. She lay still, but her mouth was open and pulling in air. She did not have her teeth in. I knew that she would hate to be seen that way and wished someone would close the door. As I walked through the doorway, my cousin's partner looked at me with his eyes full of tears. I can't remember what he said, but I knew that he was in pain.
I hugged my Grandmother. I kissed her face. I stroked her arm and I talked to her. I smoothed her hair. I was never that affectionate with her when she was alive, wait, I told myself, she is alive. I was never that affectionate with her when she was...conscious. But now she just seemed so small and delicate, almost childlike but not infantile.
I wanted her to know that I loved her, in all of the ways I never expressed when she was conscious.
Sunday, December 13, 2015
"Yeah totally! My dad knows a guy that was in the concert hall!"
"You're kidding, is he okay?"
"Yeah, yeah. You know, seventy years ago, there wasn't really terrorism like this....."
"Yeah, you're right. I guess people were persecuting Jewish people..."
"The Nazis weren't the first to do that," he answered. "It was just a fad."
Haven't really heard of antisemitism referred to that way before, but, I guess he is like, ten years old.
He looked up at the sky.
"There didn't used to be all these pissed off middle eastern people...." he added wistfully and trotted away.
Thanksgiving passed in a whirl. I had a couple of days off, made a shit-load of food, and then went to New Orleans for a few days. My Monday return to work felt oddly out of place.
"Yes ma'am," my new little morning duty friend added, whenever I asked him a question. He stands with me on my distant corner duty station every morning now, making the station a little less of the most pinche, Loneliest Duty Station in the World. I am not used to the southern-ness of constantly using "ma'am" or "sir" with adults. It is kind of cute but I kind of want to tell him that we're friends and that it isn't necessary.
"So I can't wait to put my little brother's hand in warm water while he sleeps...." he continued.
"Oh my gosh, so he pees?"
"Why are you going to do that to him?!" I asked, laughing.
"Because he sucks, ma'am. I kick him in the nuts sometimes too, ma'am".
His eyes were rolling and twinkling, unaware that half of what he had just said is not in "ma'am" territory.
By the end of my week back to work, disaster was striking again. I started arranging a sub, thinking of the last time I had had to use one. She showed up wearing an oxygen mask and sat with her head on the table in our office with the lights off. She also went AWOL in the middle of the day and no one could find her. The kids had wild stories about the classes she did show up for. One group said she kicked back in a chair, took her shoes off and started shaking some sort of debris from her shoes all over the rug. She spent the rest of the class texting people and rubbing her bare feet on the rug, only stopping to randomly call out "Be quiet!" without looking up from her phone.
I pulled the trigger on ordering a sub and rapidly found a flight to Michigan. I really did not know what was in store for me.
Monday, November 9, 2015
No Pants stared at his notebook. He had left it unattended. It read: "I love Ms. Wagner" in Spanish and in English and was adorned with hearts. He stared at me.
"I did not write this."
I laughed, knowing that I was the one who had obviously set him up.
"It is TRUE, I do love Ms. Wagner, but I did not write this!".
I have no idea what I will do without him when he moves on to 6th grade next year.
"I WILL NOT get on that big fat spooky, sloppy joe bus!" Jaquey howled, wagging his finger in the air, hand on hip and butt pushed out. I chased him down the bus line, ears shattering from the pitch of his voice.
"You told Ms. Warner about the bracelet."
"I had to."
"It's okay, she's not mad. She just wishes I'd made different choices."
I drove to the convenience store Thursday night, in need of a beer. I bought my six pack and greeted the guy who works there and proceeded to the parking lot. As I put the key in the door of Alec's car, a man on a bike called out:
"Don't do it! High speed chase!".
Within seconds a white-largish car tore by, tire flat and falling off, with a dozen police cars in hot pursuit. It hung a quick right by the gas station and vanished. I stood next to the car, shocked. A minute later, it whipped by the left side of the station, sparks flying off of the wheel and flocked by twice as many police cars and roared into the gas station. I dumped my six pack and ran with the other people in front of the gas station to the barber shop next door. We slammed the door and ducked. The pursued car roared in, nearly missing taking out the front of the gas station and Alec's car. Fifty-gazillion police roared in at the same time. I stayed down. All I could think was that the car would crash into us, or that the police would open fire.
"Why we all hunched down like this..." a low voice finally muttered.
We all stood up and peered out of the window.
"Oh shit, it totally smells like marijuana in here, what if they come in?" I asked, a little freaked.
"Ain't nobody coming in here, this is private property." someone replied.
"Let's watch!" I responded.
We stepped out of the barber shop, cell phones raised.
A crazy butch cop was punching the passenger window in of the offending vehicle, with his bare hand. They dragged a youngish, thin man out of the car who immediately raised his hands over his head. I kept watching, fearing they would shoot him or beat him.
Dozens more police arrived, Fulton County, Atlanta P.D., State Patrol. There was even a helicopter with a beam circling above. A fire truck and a Grady ambulance arrived to treat the cop's hand that punched the window out.
They were fist bumping and chest thumping. Some wore bullet proof vests. I walked out to my car and recovered my six-pack. It was nearly impossible to leave the parking lot because of every type of police vehicle known to man. I was instructed to make a "three point turn".
"I'm sorry," I responded.
"I don't speak cop-talk".
The officer smiled and guided me out.
"What took you so long?!" Alec exclaimed upon my return.
"Well, let me tell you, " I began....
Sunday, November 8, 2015
"It's the solar system, we made it in class." he explained, while proudly showing me which bead demonstrated the sun, Mercury, Earth and Mars. Even little Pluto had its place.
"Ms. Warner has extra beads. I'll make you one!".
I hopped into Alec's car, in the dark and rain and made my way down the road to work. Monday had been crazy with psycho-dad, Tuesday a little sleepy and now, Wednesday morning, I was on the road. I drove sleepy eyed toward an intersection, trying to grab my coffee cup without looking while the car in front of me passed through the intersection that I was about to enter. A speeding SUV tore through the red light without even putting on his breaks and plowed into the car in front of me, which in turn slammed into a telephone pole. The street lights slammed down and crashed on the street while the offending vehicle veered off and over the grass, into a library parking lot.
"911, can you hold please?"
"Do you need the police or paramedics?"
"Both...I think both....."
I explained the situation.
"I don't know how this guy could be alive...."
"Let me connect you to the Atlanta P.D."
"Now, let me connect you to the paramedics."
"Is the victim alive?"
"I don't know, he hasn't gotten out of the car."
"The paramedics are on the way. Please wait with the victim. Do not attempt to lift him or allow him to take any medications. Do not attempt a tourniquet...."
As I walked toward the car, a man approached me.
"What was that?!" he asked. "I was sleeping and it woke me up!". I pointed at the car and walked toward it.
A disoriented man wandered in the street. The front of his car was crushed, windshield shattered and air bag deployed.
"Are you the guy from the car?!" I asked, incredulous.
"Yes... yes, I was in the car...." he answered calmly.
"This is a county car...a county car.... I was starting to like this one....I need to call my boss....um, can you stay here?"
"Yes, um, are you sure you should be walking around?"
"I'm fine...this is a county car..." he responded.
Another man ran up.
"Holy shit, the other guy is making no sense!"
"I thought he was trying to get away, is he parked by the library?"
"He lost control of the car, the drive train is fucked, he nearly hit me down the street, he was driving without lights on...".
The police and paramedics arrived. The asked for our statements and the victim asked for my phone number.
"My boss is going to want to know what happened to the car...it's a county car...." he reiterated.
An ambulance from Grady had pulled up.
"Let me check you out" the paramedic said carefully.
"Okay...." the victim responded.
I was relieved.
I told the officials that I was taking off and went to work. I was nearly forty-five minutes late, but made it to my first class.
I stood in the bus line after school, telling kids not to run who systematically ignored me. They run like their asses are on fire out of the school.
Jaquey ran up with his hand behind his back.
"I have a surprise for you!"
I screamed and ran.
He chased me and pushed his closed hand out.
Inside was a solar system bracelet.
"Ohhh, thank you! Ms. Warner let you use the extra beads?"
"She had a SUBSTITUTE today and what she don't know won't hurt her....".
I sat in the Conservatory, exhausted from the day. I called back the officer that wanted to ask me questions about the accident that I had witnessed that morning. It was seven o'clock at night.
"Hi, I'm Hilary Wagner, returning your call about the wreck I saw this morning. Can I ask you a quick question? The accident was in Fulton County, but you are from Dekalb County. I don't get it."
"He is one of my undercover officers and thank you Ms. Wagner, thank you for calling me back. May I record our conversation?".
I explained what I saw. How the SUV didn't even hit the breaks while tearing through a red light at a four way stop. That the undercover cop was just going through the same green light I was about to go through.
"What can you tell me about the car that hit him, what more about that car?"
"It shot out of nowhere is all that I can say, didn't even hit the breaks".
"Ms. Wagner, you have my direct line. I would like you to call me anytime, especially if you can tell me any more details about the car that hit my undercover officer."
"Okay, sure, I will....".
Saturday, November 7, 2015
Everyone was predicting an eventful week. A full moon, inside recess because of rain, all capped by Halloween. Mondays aren't really my thing. Nor are early mornings. I stood in the dark morning drizzle across the street and down the block from the school, trying not to get a migraine from the bright headlights shining straight into my eyes. A car pulled off and parked on the street to the side of my questionable crosswalk. A man and child exited. I walked up tentatively and delivered my apologetic request that they advance to the next crosswalk for reasons of safety. The man breathed deep and then loudly started telling me off in front of his kid.
I have noticed that any sentence that starts with "Look" is usually bad. No one says "Look! You are an amazing educator that handles an uncomfortable duty station at 7:20 am with such grace, and my, you are good looking! What are YOU doing in a place like THIS!?".
"Look, this is a public space and I am going to walk my kid up to that school just like I do everyday....." he said loudly, staring down at me. Oddly, I have never seen his everyday walk across the street, but, whatever. I've only been standing on that shit-ass corner for three months, at a horrible morning hour, getting pegged in the head by some type of fucking acorn that falls from the trees at a bullet-like speed. He continued telling me off for several minutes while parents stared at us. He even accused me of singling him out for my crosswalk intervention. Bro, no one has time for all of that, least of all me. I assumed that at some point he would just cross in the goddamned crosswalk, as I obviously don't throw my body in the street to block people. He finally came up for air and I responded lowly, "Look man, I'm just doing my job" and walked away. I was surprised when he turned around and walked with his kid to the other crosswalk, leaving his car running and headlights shining on me and the controversial crosswalk.
I tried not to look flustered as people passed by me. I thought of an in-class conversation that had occurred recently. The kids wanted to know how the teacher of the year selections are made. I told them, and one kid asked me if I was eligible to be teacher of the year even though I am a Spanish teacher and not general ed.
"Yeah," I responded, laughing, "but everyone forgets about us!".
"Except for your students." Emily said quickly.
"Emily, that is one of the nicer things anyone has said to me lately." I responded, seriously touched.
I realized that psycho-dad was taking forever to get back to his car, whose lights were still shining on me and my offending crosswalk. As I glanced over, I paused and looked more carefully at the car. He was sitting in the driver's seat, high beams on me, staring at me. I nearly screamed. He remained there, lights on me, staring from the driver's seat for the remaining ten minutes of my duty. I finally trotted down the sidewalk, jaywalked and cut through the grass to avoid walking in front of his idling car.
As I re-told the story to my fellow outside duty friends, I was suddenly yanked into my new principal's office.
"You can't tell people not to use the crosswalk!" she stated, voice raised.
I lost my shit. Now I was in fucking trouble?
"LOOK!" I started, "Do you think that this was my idea? Do you think I want that duty? I am doing what the other administrator told me to do. Believe me, I'd be more that happy not to".
She acquiesced. And I went on to start my real job, already late for my first class.
Little did I know that bizarro-week was just beginning.
Saturday, September 26, 2015
Mikayla leaned out of the school bus window.
"Ms. Wagner, is this your only job?" she asked, matter of factly.
"Do you go to another one after here?"
"No, Mikayla....I'm lucky...I only have to work at one job at a time...."
She nodded her head as if she was mulling over the concept of an adult that doesn't have to work day and night to survive.
"Mr. Roberts!!!!" another girl screamed, jutting her head through the window.
"Bye! Bye!" she yelled.
He smiled and waved.
Another head popped out of a window.
"BYE...daddy" the third said with a sneaky smile.
Mr. Robert's eyes widened as the bus pulled away and off to the Housing Authority apartments.
I read the email with a mix of sadness, frustration and extreme pissed-offness. It was from someone I've been antiquated with through activist stuff. It referred to your garden variety American Jew as a "Zionist" and was filled with vitriolic nonsense, knee-jerk anti-Semitic nonsense that was intended to school me in some way about the evils of those darn Jews and that my involvement with any of THEM made me one oppressive motherfucker. I needed a break. I stood in the shower when again, the metal ring that holds our shower curtain and surrounds our claw foot tub came crashing down around me. I climbed out, soaking wet while water sprayed everywhere, disguised my nudity and walked into the kitchen. I smelled electrical burning and noticed smoke, not steam, smoke billowing from the dishwasher. My phone was beeping with texts saying that both of my co-workers would not be at work tomorrow. I flipped the breaker and left the room, determined not to enter the back of the house for as long as possible.
I watched the video of a group of our students rapping and dancing around a community pool. I clicked it again, and again and again and again. It was infectious, cool, and a song about the joy and ease of making friends. It is quickly becoming an internet sensation.
I stood on the corner of the autobahn in front of the school at seven-something in the morning, trying to help kids survive the morning Frogger game of dodging cars in the crosswalk. The mysterious station wagon that is definitely up to something nefarious came wheeling through again, its incredibly wide bulk filling the street, tinted windows raised, red accented rims spinning and both spoilers on the hood raging. Everyone cleared the street.
My niece turned eighteen on Thursday. At the stroke of midnight, she met up with a photographer at an abandoned building and took a series of creative photos to commemorate her birth. Hours later, she got one of the coolest tattoos I have ever seen. I have decided whatever I did on my eighteenth birthday was completely lame.
As I ran into my second favorite beer man while buying some um, beer, I had to comment on how well his sweet, inky-eyed son is doing in Spanish class.
"Awww, thank you!" he responded.
"It will be great to know who his teacher is going to be!"
Uh yeah, the random, six weeks into the year fucked up quitting by his principal teacher. Awkward.
Something was definitely up with the toilet. As I struggled over and over again to make it flush, I thought of the other video I saw this week from another extremely talented kid from our school who is already an internet sensation. It extols the virtues of valuing creativity in a wildly cool way. It's inspiring, really makes you think that the only thing that is really important in the world is tapping your inner imaginative being and nurturing that instinct in others.
Hands occupied by plunger, my mind's eye pictured the boy's face commanding me to "Dream, motherfucker, dream".
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
"Now you need a million dollars!" my favorite beer man commented as I bought a 12 pack and a Mega Millions ticket to rein in the beginning of my week long fall break.
"You get two days off A WEEK! And you are always on vacation!"
"Yeah, I get benefits, too. And a pension".
"Don't worry, I'll settle for fifty thousand, doesn't have to be a million" I added, picking up my 12 pack AND my lottery ticket.
"I take you to India when you win. But be sure to save me some of those beers. I will be by later".
"It's on. Don't worry, I've got your back".
I stood in the new snake house at the zoo, staring at the Black Mamba. I hate snakes, but always go to look at them at zoos where they are safely enclosed behind glass. Or I hope they are enclosed....whenever I see an empty habitat half of me wonders if the thing just escaped and is slithering around me on the floor.
I've broken up with my family, well at least everyone except my mom. Or maybe they broke up with me. I am sure it is the kind of thing that could be argued, like most break ups. Sometimes it is a relief. Sometimes I think of the years of traveling together and dinners together and wonder how everything has come to this. I have a terrible feeling that things have gone beyond fixable.
Alec and I celebrated nineteen years together on the thirteenth. People find our relationship unconventional because we are not married and we do not own nice furniture. We have never shown an interest in kids, which I think adds to some belief that we have circumvented adulthood. Fine by me. I actually think you cannot get more conservative - a nineteen year relationship that started when I was twenty-four. What do people want, high school sweethearts? I bet Alec was pretty hot in high school.
The weather has started to turn remotely fall like, the sky looking like it did on September 11th, 2001. It was if Al Queda waited until one of the prettiest early fall days to do their business. It is my favorite season. On a whim I set a tent up in the backyard, thinking it would be fun for Lola and I to sleep outside in the cool weather. I was surprised when Alec wanted to join us. The three of us climbed in and zipped the door shut, laying outside in the middle of the city. Just a block away, I imagined the lions and tigers of the zoo sleeping under the same sky.
Saturday, August 29, 2015
"Ya, me voy"
"Ciao, darling!!" one of my new fourth graders exclaimed, pushing his shoulder forward dramatically and raising his chin.
I might have a keeper.
I stood on the corner of the busy street in front of the school, watching school buses arrive and walkers and bicycle riders navigate the intricate network of crosswalks, attempting not to get killed by speeding motorists. It is my new duty assignment; no more easy-ass coffee clutch hang out with the kids in the mornings and afternoons, seated on a stairwell landing.
This new shit is war.
"The wood guy thinks we have termites. The inspector can come Friday afternoon. Can you meet him?".
"Of course," I answered, picturing our house falling into the ground.
I came home from Madrid almost ten years ago to the day. There wasn't gas in any of the stations and when I turned on the television, American citizens were trapped on roof tops while a horse trainer appointed by George W. Bush failed to coordinate any type of federal rescue effort after Army maintained levees allowed the seas to wash away one of the best cities on earth.
I stood, holding the front door of the school open on Open House night. I sensed someone coming up to me quickly and felt a hug happening and ending.
"Oh hi!" I said, greeting the wife and daughter of the man that just hugged me. The man that I made out with once like, twenty odd years ago.
"You are in my class again!".
If I could braid the weeds growing around my house and the dust forming on the inside, I think it might make a neat, apocalyptic landscape. But if I am too lazy to clean, I am definitely to lazy to braid.
"In, two weeks, I will assume my new position in the Central Office" my principal at school announced. Great. One of the only bosses I've had that actually gets me is going on to bigger horizons.
"You won't believe the crazy letter we got from your stepfather's brother!" my mom exclaimed.
"The end is near, the rapture is coming, he has done his own algorithmic shit and he says its next month....or on Christmas" she spat out, bursting into laughter.
"We have to accept Jesus in our hearts or else, mark of fucking Satan, it's over!".
A mental picture of dead people in blue track suits wearing brand new Nike high tops flashed through my mind.
"Do you think we should, I don't know, call some type of authorities about this?".
Saturday, July 25, 2015
I have been on the wrong side of men in authority quite a few times, whether it was the police or the Border Patrol or just some guy that assumed authority that he shouldn't have. It is scary. I don't think Sandra Bland did anything wrong. I don't think we should have to bend over and take a foot up the ass because we fear what the police will do, whether it is getting a ticket, sitting on the side of the road for half a day, having charges added, detention, violence or worse. We should not have to behave slavishly in front of some little Napoleon in order to avoid maltreatment. But we do it. I've done it, especially when you see that hair trigger moment and you discover that you're dealing with a maniac. I saw it in the video of the attack on Sandra Bland. She answered his questions. Yeah, she didn't sound like the hostess on the Love Boat, but again....why should she? She was about to get a ticket for something ridiculous and she's got this needling weasel trying to pick a fight with her. Damn, she even had the nerve to ask what he was charging her with. Yeah, she really had it coming. Here she was thinking that she had rights even though she was a black, female civilian.
I've read the comment "cops dodge bullets for a living" etc., etc., etc. My question, when Sandra Bland refused to put out a cigarette, did that pig fear for his life? Did he think 'Man, I am about to get shot! This woman is a danger to public safety!'? Fuck no he didn't. He knew that he was in no danger. He was pissed off because SHE DID NOT DO WHAT HE SAID. Why, she was supposed to be licking his balls and thanking him for writing her a ticket! 'No' is not allowed!
I think the thing that makes me the maddest happens at the beginning of the video, believe it or not. The condescending, provocative little remarks and questions, designed to annoy. He wanted a fight and he wouldn't stop until he got one. My favorite part is when she asks him if he feels good about himself and calls him a pussy. I would have to say that Sandra Bland hit the nail on the head there. How did he feel about himself in those moments? Did it feel good to toss this woman around? Did he feel powerful? Was it gratifying to 'give her the punishment she deserved'?
There is a book by an artist I like called "How to Commit Suicide in South Africa". It is a reflection on the large number of prison "suicides" during the apartheid era. Variations of those words keep running through my mind inadvertently. How to commit suicide in police custody. How to kill yourself in a Texas jail.
I actually don't think what happened to Sandra Bland was completely about race. I think the police have made it normal to play by their own rules and subjugate the populace. I think this specific case had a lot to do with misogyny as well.
I fear the police and do not trust them. If I feel this way, I can only imagine the feelings and experiences of people of color.
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
"I'm just going to ask her 'dónde está las galletas', I want to see those chickens!" my sister announced. I tried to imagine our neighbor's reaction when some gringo woman pops her head over the wall that runs between our houses and asks her where the cookies are.
I went to Wal Mart to get my mom and my sister some things that they had forgotten before arriving in Mexico. As I checked out the booze aisle, a man offered me a free shot of Dewars. I rarely, if ever, go to Wal Mart in the U.S., but I just might change my toon if they adopted some of Mexican Wal Mart's policies.
Most homes in Mexico use propane tanks instead of, you know, gas that mysteriously shoots out of the wall through some kind of pipe like Americans have. Roaming trucks with catchy songs cruise the neighborhoods constantly, in case anyone's tank ran out. Strangely, the trucks in our town do not have a catchy song. They belch out an airhorn like noise and a deep, pre-recorded voice perpetually asks, "Do you have gas?" as if the whole town is on the verge of a collective fart.
My sister and I decided to check out a hole in the wall bar that Alec had spotted before heading back to Atlanta. It featured some interesting local color and a few horses parked out front that had carried a couple of the patrons to their afternoon watering hole. We sat at the bar and had some beers and observed. I was surprised when a Mexican woman with a star tattooed on her face suddenly slid between us, simultaneously putting one hand on my sister's thigh and grabbing my left butt cheek with the other. Without even registering what she was saying to us, I exclaimed "That's my sister!", in way of declining her offer for a three way.
"Wow," Holly stated when she finally walked away, "that's breaking all kinds of laws".
Sunday, June 28, 2015
The second day, we drove south toward Nuevo Laredo. We had our car permit, our Mexican car insurance and Lola's paperwork, as well as our passports. In true Mexican border fashion, we were waved through without even being asked to slow down, even with Lola barking like a vicious beast. We actually wanted to get our tourist cards; Alec would be flying home and they ask for it sometimes at the airport. We circled the town with its bumpy narrow roads for at least an hour and could not find a customs area. We drove by the river where Mexicans hung out on oneside and Border Patrol sat staring at them from the other. We finally gave up and headed south. About ten miles out of town, we were stopped at a customs checkpoint. Good, I thought, maybe they can give us tourist cards. The man at the gate asked for our passports, examined them, then asked us where the customs stamps were. I explained to them that we hunted all over and couldn't find the office. He looked at us, and told us to drive back to Nuevo Laredo and get stamped.
We drove back angrily. It was hot. We drove all over town again. Suddenly, Alec hit a massive tope that smacked the bottom of the car loudly. The smell of gas filled the car. Liquid was dripping from underneath. We made it to the customs area and spent nearly an hour getting stamped, then slowly drove around the town, late on a Sunday afternoon, looking for a mechanic. We actually found one who waived us into his yard. Alec walked Lola while I stayed behind with five men in a junkyard while they checked the car. They jacked it up, climbed under it, combed over it and revved the engine. Finally, the oldest man told me there was not a leak. We paid him twenty dollars and hit the road again. When we hit the customs checkpoint, we were waived through emphatically, though we finally had the toursist cards to show them. When we finally made it to our destination outside of Monterrey, all I could think of was beer, which was not being sold because of an election.
Monday afteroon, we arrived at our destination near Lake Chapala. The house we rented was even better than we had thought, with multiple terraces and a pool. Lola snaked along the stairwalls and terraces as if she had lived there her whole life.
We had arrived.
Tuesday, June 9, 2015
To the contrary, Monday was a grueling, full day of work. We spent the day with state DOE and district folks, re-writing our new, obligatory, standardized test and the bevy of accompanying paperwork. By the end, I was stressed out and bitchy.
Tuesday was a second day of fun times with standardized test writing, as well as finishing grading a four part test for 150-ish kids and a two part test for around 100 kids. And, entering all of those grades in the system.
Wednesday brought a new type of hell, with posting additional end of year grades for all 250 plus kids as well as determining the amount of growth each child accomplished, via heavy data entry on Excel spread sheet and additional entries in the system to report this growth. And cleaning up the desk and doing the check-list.
Thursday was supposed to be the first day of summer! Yet, the district requested another day from us. That morning, I took Lola to the vet for her Health Certificate for international travel. She nearly trashed the place and by the end, she was panting, I was sweating and shaking and the vets were looking at both of us like we were nuts. We left with the certificate. Later in the day I reported to the district offices to finish our work.
Friday, I prepared for vacation. Late in the day I received a message that the district required still more alterations to our rubrics for our standardized test. It could be completed via email, but some forms needed to be signed, at the office, within the hour.
Saturday, at seven a.m., Alec, Lola and I pulled out of the driveway and drove to Mexico.
Friday, May 29, 2015
There is a tradition at the school where I work. On the last day, the faculty lines up outside of the buses and waves goodbye. I couldn't wait. Kids ran up and hugged me and said their final goodbyes. When our principal gave the buses the okay to go, all of the project kids ran through the crosswalk in front of the buses, wild. They go on foot. The bus drivers started rolling and honking, arms in the air as they rolled forward, our students hanging out of the windows, yelling and waving to us. I could not wave hard enough. My Mexican student locked eyes with me and waved furiously, the one that made me give him self addressed envelopes so that he could write me letters over the summer.
I was worried that I hadn't seen Bailey in the bus line. His teacher sighted him and I walked over to say goodbye.
"I'll be back" he told me.
"My little brother is still here, I'll come to Open House".
I made him hug me. I know that he will be okay. It doesn't matter that he is biologically female. He is sound and firm in his mind and he will be what he wants.
I was surprised when glass-eyed Fulton approached me. He had presented the Spanish poem in an assembly, which shocked everyone. I liked him, liked him alot, but couldn't always click with him like I did with Oliver. I wanted to, but I couldn't make it happen.
"When will I see you again?" he asked.
"I don't know, Fulton....I don't know..."
"Will you be here a while?" he asked.
"Yes. Yes, I will be here for a while.....for a long time".
"I will see you in two years. That is when my brother comes here".
I saw Oliver and I chased him. I had to.
"Oliver, I will miss you".
"Yes" he responded, without eye contact. He didn't know who I was.
"Can I hug you?"
I grabbed him and hugged him hard, pressing my cheek to his.
He let me, and then walked away, eyes to the ground, as if he had never known me at all.
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
How did the music button get activated and begin playing "Holiday in Cambodia" loudly at seven o'clock in the morning?
I walked the students through the test prep for their latest standardized test.
"Ass click" the automated voice said loudly.
Ass click? What the fuck? I stared back at the screen. It was trying to say 'haz click', in Spanish.
"Why is it swearing at us?" one of the students asked.
The fifth graders were beginning their big, year end presentations. One of them started an interactive game. I pulled out my phone, thinking it would be cute to play as I monitored the presentation. As I clicked on the Safari button, my latest internet search came up. 'Goatse' appeared boldly, as I tried to shield my phone from the parents that surrounded me.
"Hey, you know my dad!" one of my students exclaimed.
"He saw your picture in the yearbook and said you used to work together at....."
"Really?" I responded, still unsure who whe was talking about.
"Kyle Davis" she announced proudly.
Aw shit, the guy I made out with that time after getting completely wasted?
"Oh....neat...." I responded, at a loss for words.
"That was, uh, a really long time ago....".
She stared at me, naive and smiling.
"Do you know my dad?!" a bunch of other girls started asking me.
Um, I sure hope not.
I stood in the copy room, making, uh, copies. I saw some of my students in line outside of the door, stuck in a hallway traffic jam. We started making faces at each other through the window and I shoved my nose up like a pig on the glass.
Another teacher's face suddenly appeared.
I jumped back and opened the door.
"Are you trapped in there?" she asked, concerned.
"Um, no, I'm good".
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
"You were in my dream last night" a newcomer to my morning duty, coffee clutch corner announced. I have been teaching her all year, but this was this first time that she had hung out to talk.
"Really? That's funny. You guys wind up in my dreams all the time." I responded.
"You lived in this hut in my backyard and you would call me on your cell phone when it was time for Spanish," she responded.
"you remember the fortune tellers hut in the Harry Potter movies?" she asked all of us.
"It was like that... you had all kinds of cool nick knacks in there and pet birds were flying around in the hut....".
Oliver presented himself before me, almost touching his belly to mine.
"You're back!" I exclaimed.
"YES!" he responded and smiled and spun around.
"Last night, you were flying a kite, you were at the park across from my house...."
"I love kites"
"You kept smiling at me and waving and asking me if I wanted to fly the kite....."
I folded the red piece of paper with the rudimentary drawing of a penis on it and put it in my bag. "Act right, Jerry, act right...." I warned.
"or else I will laminate this, cut it in the shape of a heart and give it to your mother."
Oliver walked past me again, giddy.
I high fived him.
He grabbed my hand and wouldn't let go.
I drove in the broad daylight to school, in a bit of a haze. I grabbed my stuff and got out of the car, walking around the front.
Clouds of smoke rose from under the hood. It looked like it might catch on fire.
I glanced at it and walked toward the school doorway.
I would just deal with that later.
Thursday, April 30, 2015
"Thank you, ladies." the desk clerk said offhandedly as she stared at the computer monitor. Alec and I looked at each other, eyes widening, but remained silent.
I finally bought this perfume that I have wanted for forever. The Spanish teacher that I worked with last year always wore it, and I loved it. I am not really into perfume, but it smelled like rosemary and tea tree oil, fresh and clean, every morning.
I walked to the car, laughing my head off, after our waitress referred to us as 'ladies' as well.
"Jesus Christ, twice in one morning! What the fuck is wrong with these people!?"
"If people are going to mistake me for a WOMAN, I want to look like Sofia Vergara, not Maude." Alec responded.
When the perfume arrived, it smelled nothing like she did. I was perplexed. But I realized I had been smelling that smell in the Spanish office long after she had left. It was the stuff the custodians use to clean the floor. My one hundred dollar perfume.
The fourth grader looked at me with piercing eyes.
"The Rebellion in Baltimore" he stated.
"I can't stop watching it" the little girl next to him stated, staring at me with burning eyes.
"I can't either stop either. It is a rebellion".
Monday, April 6, 2015
I sat in my corner in the early morning darkness watching kids ascend the stairs. Abe kept me company by chasing a small, annoying insect that flew around us.
“Come here, you little asshole….” Abe instructed, trapping it on the side of my chair and killing it.
“I am TRAUMATIZED!” Abigail announced with exaggerated zeal.
“YES. Okay, why is it okay to say ‘vagina’ but not ‘butt’? She kept calling it ‘your bottom’, but didn’t use some weird word for ‘vagina’! I’d much rather here ‘butt’ than ‘vagina’. Oh my God, and then she gave us free pads and COUPONS to buy more. TRAUMATIZED!!”.
“Cassius, you have to show your video. We worked on it for two days in class, it is just unacceptable to refuse to show your work after all of that time”.
He tried to snatch his iPad from my hands. It pissed me off. Then I noticed that his nose holes were flaring and his eyes were tearing up. He’s not a crier and I could tell that he was pissed off, too.
“Come over here, let’s talk privately”.
“WHAT is going ON??”.
“I was having trouble recording my voice in Explain Everything. I said ‘goddamn it’ two times and slapped my iPad. It recorded THAT”.
“Class, Cassius actually does have a legitimate reason for not playing his recording. My bad”.
“So, did you learn anything you didn’t already know in Puberty Class?” I asked one of my newer friends while smiling sarcastically.
“Man, I knew I had three holes” the fifth grade girl responded.
Well, apparently there was some detail to the class.
“By the end of the day, we just didn’t care anymore and someone left those free pads laying around. Ricky asked us what they were and we told him, you know, that they were pads. He had no idea what we were talking about and asked if he could smell them. I almost threw up”.
That makes two of us.
“I am not feeling getting up at 5:30 for the Tybee trip. People need to realize that this,” she said, waving her hand around her face, “takes more than two minutes”.
I started laughing.
“The worst part is that it does only take two minutes!” I responded, looking at her pretty, effortless eleven-year-old face.
“I have been getting up at five all week just to practice.” she whispered, smiling.
“You are going to have a great time”.
The boys in her classroom were sword fighting with their free deodorants.
I woke up and went to work, feeling a lot more bright eyed than I normally do. I ate my quickie breakfast of choice, a hard boiled egg, before starting my first class. A wave of nausea hit me and I vomited in the trashcan. Woohoo, I thought and figured it would pass. I went to my first class. During my second class, I broke out into a cold sweat. I sat at the table with some kids, helping them with a writing assignment, when waves of nausea hit me. I ended up getting a sub for the rest of the day, a first for me. I went back the next day and finished the week without problems. Yet over the weekend, I had an amazing vomit fest. Multiple people asked me if I was pregnant. I am surprised at the zeal people feel for a forty-three year old having an unexpected pregnancy. Anyone up for a three-headed baby? I am not pregnant.
On the eve of April Fool’s Day, I decided to start the festivities early. I chased Lola through the house and thought it would be funny to pick her up. All ninety-plus pounds of her threw off my balance and I crashed into a folding door that goes to the laundry room. Lola ran off and I went to the bathroom mirror. I was shocked to see broken glasses, big red bruises on my forehead and cheek and bloody scratch marks. Great.
As a joke, all of us at work had asked for last minute personal days on April Fool’s Day. My excuse was that I needed to get a tan on my legs. What if I really couldn’t go to work the next day?
Just claiming domestic abuse was an easier explanation than what really happened while at work the following day. After work, I drove across town to the cheap glasses place to order a new pair. It went fine, but when I returned to the car, it wouldn’t start. I called a wrecker.
“I’m really sorry but there is a four hour wait,” he instructed me, “you are in the middle of the epicenter”.
I got the car started and drove toward my mechanic. I was on fumes but feared stopping the car because it probably wouldn’t start again.
After an hour in traffic, I made it.
The following day, I was called into an impromptu meeting because of angry parents. I was really sick of their shit. As I walked to the meeting that occurred when I was supposed to be having lunch, I implored the administrator not to throw me under the bus.
“I got you, Ms. Wagner. I will be there.” he responded, staring at the bruises and scratches on my face.
I haven’t had a meeting like that in years. Parents so determined to find someone to blame instead of recognizing a problem in their kid and trying to help him with it. References to me in the third person while I sat two seats down from them. Refusal to shake my hand or look at me when I introduced myself.
“I have been contacting you since October because I am concerned and want Lawrence to be successful.”
“I find that hard to believe” the mother responded.
“If SHE cared at all she would have tried harder”.
“So, where are we going with all of this?” I responded. “The data collection, the meetings, the emails. What is our plan?”.
“SHE should have told us about this sooner” the mother responded, turning her face away.
I bought a six-pack on the way home from work, though I have been avoiding drinking during the week. The mechanic called.
“Hey! It’s really not that bad!”
“Really?!” I responded.
“Yeah, just $475!”. My heart sank. Nearly five hundred dollars in addition to the two thousand I have put into that car in the last couple of months.
“Actually, that really sucks. When can I pick it up?”.
Friday. And not just any Friday but the one before Spring Break. Finally. I went out for drinks with friends from work and headed home. I kissed and hugged Lola and went inside to talk to Alec. A few minutes later, I saw the gate to our fence wide open and Lola’s little booty and curled tail exiting our yard. We ran. I could hear her but not see her in the vacant lot by our house. Alec and I ran in opposite directions. I couldn’t hear her anymore. I ran to the other side of our house and saw Alec with his hand on Lola’s collar.
“She’s been hit!” he yelled, picking her up and carrying her up the hill.
I grabbed the keys to his car, locked the house and told him how to get to the emergency vet.
We were there three hours. Lola didn’t break anything and the ultrasound showed no internal bleeding. We were presented with a four hundred dollar bill.
I laid with her on the cold tile floor, questioning what I would do if anything ever happened to her.
That is honestly the one thing that I really can’t take.
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
I lay on the massage table in the dimly lit room.
"Okay, clear your mind and focus on your breathing." the massage-lady instructed.
I immediately imagined Lola delicately arching her back in the original downward facing dog, then settling on the table for her massage. My mind flashed to her sitting in a comfortable chair, her feet soaking in hot sudsy water.
"That's it! You found your happy place!" the massage-lady stated.
"Trayvon's mother is here, she wants to see you." another teacher informed me. Shit. I had emailed her earlier in the day about her ass-slapping son's latest antics. I had a feeling I was the one in trouble.
I walked into the office. The administrator raised his eyebrows at me and left the room, leaving us alone.
"Hi, I'm Hilary. I know we have spoken on the phone, but it is nice to meet you in person." I shook her hand.
"I read your email and came down here right away. I was already on the bus line on my way to school, but I decided not to go to class. This is more important. He is my son. He has enough time to play and he plays enough. I watched him when I got here and he didn't know it. School is not playtime. He will be in middle school next year. This has to end. He has to understand how to be in school."
"I have spoken to him about responsibility. I am changing careers and I go to school all day. When I get home, I take care of him and his brothers and sisters. When they go to bed, I stay awake and do school work. He has to learn to do this."
My mind flashed to the late seventies. My mother was in school all day and raising the three of us on her own. We were also on public assistance. But I never really related to Trayvon or felt a like-mindedness or parallel experience. Was it racial? Did I think my white mother with her three white kids on welfare while she went to college was somehow better? Did I think that what Trayvon's family was doing was some kind of far fetched day dream while what my family did was realistic and practical in some way?
"I am studying to be a chef and Spanish food is my specialty. I've told him that learning Spanish is important, that there are jobs that I could have gotten if I was bilingual. I've told him that I might move them to Spain to learn more about cooking. I want him to realize this is important."
I thought about what she said. My immediate reaction was that it was a far-fetched goal. A second later, I realized that she was not a daydreamer, but a guardian of dreams. She had not looked at her situation and become bitter and angry. She was still approaching life in the way a prosperous young college student with the world at their fingertips might.
I think it is a gift.
Normally when I have to speak to parents, I really have no idea what I am doing and just throw stuff out there. I admit it. But she wasn't blaming me and I wasn't blaming her. I wasn't a bad teacher and she wasn't a bad parent. We had to work together in order to help Trayvon. We came up with a plan.
"So, we are going to try this. If it doesn't work, we'll come up with something else. But we are going to get him on board."
I actually really meant it. I am committed. I will continue to work with this child and his mother because it is important. And I will work hard. We have a partnership. I will not view Trayvon as an annoyance in my day. He is a human being that is very much at risk and I will work to help him get the basic skills that he needs to make it through school.
I looked at "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" book that I had bought Oliver. It was a Spanish translation. I bought it for him because I heard that it was his favorite. I told myself not to get to excited about giving it to him. He is different minute to minute, sometimes giggling and hugging, only to stare past you a second later and not even notice your presence. There is a reason why they call kids with his condition 'the child that won't love you back'.
"Come here, Oliver, I have something for you."
He got up dutifully and walked with me to where my bag of tricks was. He had his 'no giggle' face on. As I bent over to retrieve the book, he caught a glimpse of the cover before I reached in.
"THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR!" he called, grabbing the book from my bag and clutching it to his chest. He immediately began flipping through it.
"Say 'thank you', Oliver, say 'thank you'" Marsha instructed him.
"Thank you!" he said staring at the book.
"No, say it to her! Who gave you this?"
"Wagner, Spanish teacher, thank you!" he said, staring at the book.
If you have never read "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", it is a story about a little egg lying on a leaf under the moon that later hatches a small caterpillar when the sun gazes upon it. The caterpillar eats and eats throughout the book and submerges into a dark cocoon, only to dig himself out after a couple of weeks.
When you open the last two pages, a huge and colorful butterfly covers both of them.