Ferocity (Revised and Reposted, as a Reminder)

What I want is to be able to write with the same ferocity I had at sixteen, when I would curl up and scribble twenty-five pages in my journal detailing every portion of my day, when I spun my bicycle tires through stop signs at the bottoms of hills, hands in the air, fearless as youth for the ferocious words I wasn’t afraid to spout out.

What I want is to come home and feel that young blood rushing through me, knowing I would have something amazing and important to say, even if my eyes would be the only ones to ever read it. To not have to hover in front of the fridge and feel the hollowness of hunger that comes from too many months of pittance, too many abrupt cancellations, too many days in a row of rain.

What I want is for people to see me. Not for who they think I should be but for the person I actually am. Professional? Yes. Hardworking? Yes. American? Of course. But so much more than that. There’s a reason, I want to shout, that I am your first American teacher who has never called in sick, that I will never be late, that I will ride my bike across town in a rainstorm and teach a lesson in clearly rain-soaked pants and shoes, the dark markings of humility as plain as the nose on my face, in front of a group of seventeen-year-olds whose names I’ll never know!

What I want is to shout, Because I’m not like you! Like the rest of them! Because when I say I’m going to do something, I do it. I don’t promise my children that we will move to Spain and then tell them, despite all signs saying otherwise, that we won’t go. I don’t shirk my duties at any job, no matter how small, because I know the value of work, of supporting a family and being the most responsible person imaginable–at a young age, my mother embedded these ideals into my daily life. And most of all, I DON’T LIE. What you see is what you get.

What I want is for them to really see this person who stands before them, who sits at this fluorescent-lit kitchen table in Cartagena writing these words. Even my husband who tells me, “Don’t do that again, just send them a text like they always do you. Cancel; call in sick.” I could do that. But it would be as bad as choosing not to write these words. It would be a lie. Irresponsible. Disrespectful. All the qualities I despise.

What I want is a job back home. Not the bitter, thankless job they hand me daily in Spain, where I’m as valuable as an appointment at the dentist, where my pay is put to the wayside and my hours are tossed away as flippantly as throwing out garbage. I want to work regular hours for a decent salary and know that if there’s a holiday coming up, I’m not out a day’s pay. I want to know that I am making a difference for young people, that they respect me, and I respect them, care about them, and know each. and. every. one. of. them. Even their names. ESPECIALLY their names.

What I want is to be human again. To accept that Spain is a true paradise if you’d like a relaxing, affordable vacation or retirement. And to know the difference between that paradise and the country I have lived in for this past year.

What I want is freedom. To find myself in a place where people have come to the same realization as me—the realization that we can be better. We just need to rattle our lives a little bit and find the ferocity of our sixteen-year-old selves, arms wide, tires spinning, ready to take on the world.

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An Educational Cocktail

You can enter any cafe in Spain and you will probably find the same two drinks: cheap Pilsner beer and local wine (OK, you can at least choose between red and white!). The Spanish palette for mixed drinks is limited to adding liqueur to coffee, it seems, and their availability of decent beer choices is abominable. But when it comes to education, Spaniards love a good cocktail.

Here are some instructions for making an educational cocktail, shaken, not stirred.

Ingredients:

1. Homogeneous groups of students segregated by ability who remain together all day long for years at a time, and are allowed to choose their own seats.
2. Heterogeneous teachers who range in age, management, and educational methodology.
3. A school building that does not provide resources such as technology, textbooks, government-funded lunch, or air conditioning.

Instructions:

1. Place all students in one classroom. Wait for intermittently ringing bells that will shake them up out of their seats while teachers dance through hallways crowded with other teachers and random students who have PE that period, to arrive and wrap the students up in a somewhat-chilled glass with a pinch of salt along the rim.
2. Spend three hours each week trying to settle the above shaking, using the cold stirrer of the teacher’s little authority to embed knowledge enough of one subject area to make a decent mixed drink, full of flavor and memorable enough to spill out onto the streets with jubilation.
3. Subdue them on four occasions per trimester with exams that make up the stark majority of their grades, consisting of arduous essay questions, but only about ten per exam. Their flavors will bleed through classes so that they will begin to taste more like eraser remnants than a decently mixed drink.
4. Shake up the cocktail a little just when the school year is getting cold by surprising only select groups of students in one grade of primary and one of secondary with the annual government test, whose topics, flavors, and question amounts you will never know or begin to be able to prepare for, similar to visiting the cafes in every city in Spain who may or may not have a menu, use local vocabulary non-translatable in any software to identify food items, and whose waiters never return after bringing you your order. (Surprise, surprise, we all like to guess what it is we’re bringing to our lips!)
5. If the cocktail spills, you may clean it up and refill it once, for free, but only once. After that, you will be run dry and stuck in the same situation as the rest of the third world: working shit jobs for little pay.

Alas, you can always look back at your educational experiences and say that you had the best mixed drink of all time: moving through the school system in Spain!

Castellano

I’m thinking about Spain tonight. Not just because I’m already planning our summer road trip across the Iberian Peninsula. Not because Castellano is on the tip of my tongue–because it’s not.

I’m thinking about the garage full of trash bags that I gave to the Goodwill before we went to Spain. Old toys, books, clothes, unwanted small appliances, furniture, shoes, pillows… JUNK. About fitting our lives in five giant suitcases, five backpacks, and an airplane across the sea. About coming back to all of our items left in our house… that was no longer ours.

The piano. The maple nightstands that stood on either side of my parents’ bedroom in that custom-built two-story in upstate New York. The dining set we picked out soon after our wedding, its oak pedestal and matching chairs a testament to the solidity of our marriage. The most comfortable recliners a body could rest in.

Our beds. Our patio set. Our entertainment center. Every last comfort, joy… empty from our rental house upon our return.

How we begged and borrowed items to make a home once we returned from Spain. How we spent the “advance” of my first salary to buy double-over-double bunk beds so that our girls might share a room.

How, when we went there, with everything packed in luggage, we had to adapt to uncomfortable furniture, to a mattress on the floor for a bed, to no closets, no bath, no extra bathroom, no dryer, no dishwasher, no place to fit our lives into.

And how our girls… adapted. How they made friends, made paper cutouts to decorate the walls, painted ceramic eggs from the “Chino” to hang on the tiny plastic Christmas tree we found in the wardrobe, sat next to one of the space heaters during rainy winter months when the wind whipped through the frail windows, learned how to wash dishes and wait hours for clothes to dry and speak Castellano more fluently than me by year’s end.

And the aftereffects of Spain, of moving out… and moving back. Of trying to pick up the pieces of the life we’d left, trying to reposition ourselves amongst our friends, our family, our view of the world, trying new careers and new colleagues and a new house that was ours… and wasn’t ours.

That is why. Spain is why, five years later, we can make space in our two-bathroom, five-bedroom home for six other people. Why when I drove a couple miles today to pay a neighbor $80 for an extra refrigerator, her jaw dropped when I said what it was for, her “For Sale” sign in the yard of a house just like mine because she, her husband and two boys “just need more space.” Why, after sharing one bedroom for a year and one bathroom and one suitcase full of clothes, my girls could move things over, purge, split their beds, their time, their Americanness, to make room for a whole other family in our home.

I may not have learned Castellano. I may not have r’s rolling off of my tongue. My girls may not remember more than what a croqueta is.

But they know what it means to make a sacrifice. To give up a piece of themselves. To move. To transition. To lose and gain friends. To try new foods and new schools and new sleeping arrangements.

That is why this revised chore chart, designed by Mythili and with input from six other voices, is my picture for today.

There is beauty in those three Expo colors. Compromise. Adjustment. Initiative.

Adaptability. With a little bit of gumption and Castellano on the side, just for good measure.

Coming Home to Hope

On a rainy October day when I was a child, my parents stopped in a small Massachusetts town on our way home from my uncle’s ski lodge in Vermont so that we could visit a Norman Rockwell exhibit. My mother had always loved growing up and looking at his realistic paintings on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post, and he had spent some time in the town where they were hosting the exhibit.

That weekend was one of the few where we were invited to pretend, via a fancy ski lodge in Vermont that boasted a sauna and private pond, that we were rich. We’d met our extended family there: aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents. The kids all slept on mattresses in the loft, the adults took one of the four bedrooms, and my uncle took the owner’s apartment with a separate entrance at the bottom of the house. We’d play in the woods, race around the pond, braid our hair on the deck, and enjoy an array of delicious food that each family contributed to.

And then we’d drive home to our house in upstate New York, away from it all–the pond, the food, the family… the wealth.

But on that particular Columbus Day, after meandering through the Rockwell exhibit and google-eyeing all the paintings, my mother and father hemmed and hawed over one of their favorite prints: Homecoming. It sat in the gift shop at the end of the exhibit, covered in glass, matted, and lined with a simple silver frame. I don’t remember how much it cost; it may have been $20 or $100, but no matter the amount, it was too much. We didn’t have extra money for luxuries like this–art for the wall??–when we were driving a 10-year-old rusted out Datsun across three states for a weekend getaway provided by my rich uncle.

“What do you think?” my mother asked.

“It’s up to you,” my father responded.

And so the print was rung up, wrapped in brown paper, and carried across the shiny black parking lot through streaks of rain. My mother carefully stacked it atop our possessions at the back of the Datsun and we weaved our way through northeastern storms back home.

As soon as the painting appeared on the wall in our living room, I became obsessed with it. The details. So many faces!! How could he fit so many faces into such a small painting? The redheaded family with open arms, welcoming their WWII soldier home. The old brick tenement and naked trees filled with dirty children. The multi-sized shirts and shorts hanging from the line. The girl pressed against the corner wall, ready to surprise him. The gratitude in everyone’s eyes after the weary war years.

I used to try to count the people. 19? 22? 20? There were silhouettes hidden in the shadows of the apartment’s windows, and it was difficult to determine exactly how many there could be. Homecoming became an ongoing mystery: How did he paint this? How many people did he mean for there to be? How long was the boy at war?

My grandfather, a mostly silent and grumpy man, had survived that war. Was his reception like this one–so filled with emphatic joy that all would be forgotten?

I doubted it.

I saw everything in that painting. The desire. The poverty. The hope.

It hangs in my house now because my mother tired of it, earned more money, moved on to different art, and because she knew how much I loved it as a child.

I pass by it on my way out the door in the morning. Sometimes I play the game with my girls–how many people are in the painting? It witnesses all our guests, all our arguments, all the laughter and joy and chaos that are our lives.

And in these ominous days since the election, it bears witness to my hopelessness. I fold laundry and cook dinner while listening to The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, one of the many books I have read about WWII. This one has yet another perspective–that of the takeover of France and the secret groups that defied the Nazis to try to stop the war. It focuses on women–women who had to host German soldiers in their family homes while their husbands were prisoners of war. Women who took risks to save the lives of fallen RAF British pilots. Women who had to wait in line for hours for food rations. Women who had to turn in their radios–their only communication with the outside world–and be prisoners in their own homes.

I think about, walk by, and examine Rockwell’s painting as I listen to Hannah’s words. As I remember that dreary day when we bought the print, knowing my parents’ meager salaries couldn’t really afford it. I imagine what it must have been like for my grandparents, living through the daily sacrifices that encompass a war.

I imagine what it might be like for us. As news floods in daily with human rights stripped away piece by piece, with constant comparisons to Nazi Germany, how can I avoid it?

How can I not put myself in that painting, arms open, ready to welcome home my long lost soldier?

Will there be a day in my lifetime that I am there, really there? Maybe one of the silhouettes in the back corner of the window, ready to finally come out?

Will there be an end to this madness that is only just beginning?

Will our country, our people, our democracy, ever have a homecoming?

I cannot answer these questions, just as I cannot accurately count the number of heads Rockwell painted. I can only guess. I can only imagine.

I can only hope that our homecoming is just around the corner, just like that redheaded girl, waiting for her savior to wrap his arms around her.

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Ground Transportation Parent

In eight months, my youngest daughter will start middle school. What should be an easy transition for our family, being the youngest of three girls, has instead led to the same levels of anxiety brought on when we made this decision three years ago with our oldest.

Why should we have anxiety about choosing a middle school, you might ask?

It’s everything and nothing all in one. The ratings, of course. Should there be any other choice outside of the number-one rated school (three years running) that both of her sisters attend? The middle child didn’t even blink, but set her heart and mind to go there, following in her sister’s footsteps. Even though she’s nothing like her sister. She’s introverted. Imaginative. Responsible. Impossibly sassy. Gets things done, quickly, in order to have more time to enter her otherworldly land of play which has no end in sight.

And yet the decision was easy for her. She didn’t want a surprise. She wanted to go with the option of familiarity after hearing two years of tales from sis.

But the youngest? She’s cut from a different bouquet. She hates reading. Doing homework. Being anything remotely likened to a responsible fifth grader. She won’t brush her hair. She won’t speak up in class. She remains fiercely loyal to her friends, even one who moved away over a year ago to Thailand. She wants to be the baby forever, to delve herself into art and play and being a kid.

So why is this so hard? Because at school the other teachers, all union like me, get their feathers ruffled when they find out my kids go to a charter school (how dare I?), and pester me with questions. Do they have special ed? Do they have ELLs? Do they hand-pick their kids? Aren’t your kids geniuses anyway? What are their attrition rates? What happens when they don’t want a kid–can they say no? Where does the money come from? Why did you put them there?

There are no easy answers to any of these questions. All but one of them are not parents, of course, yet experts on parenting.

I wish I was an expert on parenting. I wish I could figure out the formula for raising three daughters in the twenty-first century that is plagued with sexting and social media and ambiguous court approvals of date rape, no suspect ever really sentenced fairly.

These are the things I think about late at night, when I know my daughters will be in a school where a kid would never, ever think about having a cell phone out in class. Where the militaristic, cult-like chants that carry them from class to class grow on them to the extent that they sing their praises in the hallways of our home. Where they will be sheltered, engaged in academics, protected from bullying, for at least the next three years.

Not many people can remember the details of their middle school years, but I remember mine. New to a city with forced-integration busing, I was small for my age and constantly tormented. Once they took the loose sleeves of my sweatshirt as we stood outside the building on a cold morning (we weren’t allowed inside the school until five minutes before the first class) and tied me to the flagpole. When I couldn’t find a place in the schoolyard after lunch, not being into sports or raucous gossip, I sat up on a small slope next to the building reading out of the literature book from English class every day, only to have small groups of girls meander by taunting, “Loner, loner,” in singsong voices. On a semi-daily basis, vicious fights broke out in the hallways–girls, usually–screaming and ripping each other’s hair out. When all the other girls were spraying their bangs into masterpieces of early-nineties art, I sometimes didn’t take a shower for a week or more, not having the energy or the desire to try to fit in.

Perhaps I am jaded and worried about what my youngest will face in a non-charter middle school. Because at the end of the day, after dealing with a hundred needy teenagers and meeting with teachers over data instead of planning lessons, after driving in circles with a carpool, after trying to come up with a meal plan that is healthy, cost-efficient, and acceptable to all, after running up and down stairs with loads of washed and unwashed laundry, after pestering the girls about chores and homework and reading and piano practice, I… I just can’t keep up. I can’t log in to Class Dojo to monitor Riona’s behavior in fifth grade. I can’t log in to Parent Portal to make sure everyone has perfect attendance, no tardies, all As and Bs. I can’t check Zearn to make sure Rio has been keeping up with her math.

I can barely come up with a menu, fold two loads, have everything ready before Bruce comes home at seven o’clock. I can barely grade the stack of papers on the dining room table, carve out an hour for my semi-second job (more grading), and read with Rio, who rarely will read on her own.

I am not an expert on parenting. In fact, most of the time, I feel like I’m a failure at it. I give them what they want (phones) and spend the rest of my waking hours arguing with them about them. I spend MOST of my time arguing with them. What will they wear to The Nutcracker? Why won’t they brush their teeth? Why can’t they practice piano before Daddy comes home? Why are candy wrappers all over the floor? When was the last time they cleaned out their closets? WHERE ARE THE SCISSORS?

I don’t have the energy to monitor every moment of every day. I am no good at being a Helicopter Parent. I can barely keep up with being a Ground Transportation Parent. (Shuffle you to school? Shuffle you to piano? Shuffle you to Tae Kwon Do? I’ve managed to cut all of these tasks to almost no driving with a carpool, an in-home piano teacher, a Tae Kwon Do center within walking distance).

When I made this choice of charters for my oldest, I wanted to protect her. After a year in Spain and a year in a horrific, gossipy fifth-grade class, I wanted her to be in a place that would ensure her mental and emotional stability, not a middle school plagued with social awkwardness and bullying. And so we dealt with the militarism and the constancy of calls to stay after school for one absurd detention after another, for forgetting a heading, a belt, a pencil.

And while my middle child (the responsible one) has had few encounters with after school “retentions,” I know this will not be the case for the youngest. She will forget her pencil, her homework, her charger. She will miss assignments and lose points for not having enough curiosity or courage. She will be intimidated by the chants and irritated by the homework load. And she knows all of these things about herself, and has begged me to consider another option for her.

And just like when I broke the news to my oldest that she “got in” to this great school, she cried. She cried because she loves art and she hates homework and she doesn’t want anyone to push her too much because she’s the baby.

She cried because she’s so much like her oldest sister. She’s afraid to see the potential that she has, the ability to blossom under the Helicopter School.

So now I have my answer for the belligerent teachers. Why, why, why?

Because I’m no expert. I’m no Helicopter Parent. I choose this school because I’m not very good at micro-managing their success, and this school does it for me. I choose this school because it will protect my fragile daughters from a harsh world, if only for a few more years. I choose this school because I’m a Ground Transportation Parent, and at the very least, I can drive them there and pick them up an hour late. I can’t keep up with the homework load, the grade checks, the Class Dojo, but I can hope that after a year my shy eleven-year-old will emerge from its doors with more confidence, more responsibility, more courage and curiosity.

I can at least recognize, as their driver, the similarities between my soul sisters. Whether they wanted it or not, they need this school, just like they need each other to balance out their somewhat-tumultuous relationship with the middle child. They are the two who love ice skating, skiing, Tae Kwon Do. Who forget belts and homework and live in an artistic resemblance of life. Whose fragility connects them.

I am a Ground Transportation parent. All I can hope is that my wheels, my turns, my steering, guide them in the right direction, because there sure as hell isn’t a map anywhere in sight.

And we’re just starting middle school!
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Pity Party

Another year is over, and it ends with a tinge of the same sinking feeling that every year begins with. The constant question all teachers ask themselves as they tackle this challenging career: Is this worth it?

Sometimes it is just a small thing that can make you sad or frustrated or feeling burned out. A student who didn’t come back to make up the final he blew off. An administrator who wouldn’t renew a colleague’s contract. A message from admin that our keys, checkout form, rooms, and us, are all being carefully micro-managed. (We can be trusted to instill knowledge and take charge over 150 students in a year, but god forbid we leave without being checked to ensure we followed through and cleaned out our damn desks).

But for me this year, after three years of teaching at the same school, it is the hollow disappointment of not having any real friends where I work.

While the thought crosses my mind off and on throughout the year as colleagues gather together for happy hours that I cannot attend because of childcare needs, or weekend parties or outings where a group of all the people I work most closely with have all attended and I only see the event posted on Facebook (not invited myself), today, on the last day of the year, the smallest event brought me to tears.

I had just heated up my lunch and was sitting alone in the office. A colleague came in and asked me to watch a student who was taking a test in the next room because she was going out to lunch. And while she offered to get me something while she was out, since I’d already brought my lunch, I said I’d be fine to eat in the classroom with the student.

But when I walked into the hall, it hit me: There they all were, in their too-cool-for-high-school clique, purses in hand, chatting and giggling their way to their outing together.

They had already made plans.

I sat alone with the student and then graded her final, texting her teacher that she was done (a text–one of several in the past few months, including accolades toward him and gratitude for one thing or another–he did not respond to).

I brought the test up to the assessment coordinator and went back down to my lonely, empty classroom, and cried.

Because this job is hard enough. Because I fight every day for these kids just like they do. Because I try to reach out to them, invite them to things, and get outright blacklisted. Because I don’t know why I’ve been blacklisted–is it because I have an opinion? Because I’m a “cynic”? Because I don’t fit into their mold of single and alcoholic?

Because it would be nice to have a friend, even a singular friend, who could support me in this constant battle that is teacherhood.

Because it’s the end of the year, and I won’t see or hear from any of them all summer, and … I guess it doesn’t matter.

At my former school, I had so many great colleagues. We ate lunch together every day and laughed so hard that someone literally started choking once and another teacher had to perform the Heimlich to save him. We’d go to happy hour, occasionally, or children’s events, occasionally, or parties. A couple of them I would get together with during the summer, just for kicks, because we were FRIENDS.

And on days like this, when there were no students? There wasn’t a soul in the building who stayed inside eating lunch alone. We’d gather in groups, ride together to a local restaurant to have lunch, and see the rest of the crew there anyway, and we’d make a giant table and laugh until we cried.

And I knew that going to Spain was going to change all that and that I wouldn’t be going back there.

But, three years in, on the last day of school, it just. Fucking. Hurts.

So this is how my year ends. With a pity party.

Looking forward to a summer with my family, a real party with my actual friends this weekend, and a break from this place. God knows I need one.

Tracks

I remember the first time I encountered poverty. I thought I’d encountered it when I was eight, in my grandmoather’s kitchen. We’d just opened our Christmas gifts, and my cousins had their usual wealth of new skis, Patagonia sweaters, and trips to the ski slopes, when I heard my mother say to my father, “I wish we weren’t poor.”

But that wasn’t poverty. That was Christmas in Connecticut where my grandparents flooded us with what they could afford. Where we spent a day in New York standing under the giant tree that took up Rockefeller Center. Where the snow fell and the white, white Christmas shined crystal clear.

I did’t see poverty until three and a half years later, on a bus ride home from my middle school in Denver. And I know (now) it wasn’t the poverty of the third world, that it could have been so, so much worse. But it was as real for me then as it was today, twenty-six years later, walking across those same railroad tracks that I saw that day on that infamous ride home.

I was new to everything: the city, the diversity, the concept of extracurricular activites and late busses. After missing the correct bus home on the first day, I was anxious not to make the mistake again. But I didn’t think to ask anyone in my MathCounts group about the details of the after school activity bus, and three weeks into the school year, I hopped on to one of two busses thinking it didn’t matter.

As the yellow bus made its way across town, nowhere near a neighborhood that looked like mine, I began to hold in my heart a silent panic. I had followed my crush onto this bus, a boy named Schuyler whose name I wrote in my notebook for most of sixth grade. He chatted with friends as we moved from block to block, across rivers and bridges and a trainyard so large it could only have come from a downtrodden version of “The Little Engine That Could”, my favorite childhood book.

But this was no picture book. The houses became more decrepit, the neighborhoods transformed from treelined mansions into ramshackle shacks with dirt yards… And I was nowhere near home.

My “home” at the time being a two-bedroom apartment furnished with secondhand furniture and borrowed dishes while my parents spent their days searching for an opportunity in this city that had promised them the world.

I sat ten rows back from the driver, and as the time ticked by, my frightful silence pounded into my ears with a heart-throbbing vengeance. When the moment arrived for the tall, thin, dark-skinned driver to let out his last passenger, I knew I’d have to speak up. But my small-town New York voice didn’t want to. I wanted to go back to my small town, where my father had failed student teaching and wasted four years on a master’s degree that wouldn’t come to fruition; where my mother had supported us all on $6.25 an hour from the daily newspaper; where I could walk along the singular street that led from my elementary school to my home, and never feel like the village (city) idiot.

“Now, did you miss your stop?”

“I… ”

“Where do you live, honey?”

“I know my stop is Ogden and Ellsworth.”

“Well that was a whole other bus.”

He got on the radio. He made a plan. And I thought about him pulling up to my block of apartment buildings. About the little girl, Valerie Martinez, who had invited me over once and once only. “My mama gets paid on Fridays. Every Friday I get a treat. Last week it was a push pop. This week I might get a set of stickers.” She told me this from the tiny room she shared with her two brothers at the back of the apartment complex. She had a small desk where we played travel Sorry! and I scanned the walls that were filled with pictures torn from magazines and religious idols.

She had lived there her whole life.

I knew my placement in the apartment would be temporary. That my parents would find jobs (they did), that I would live walking distance from the school (I did), in a house we would own after selling our house in New York (we did). That my whole life would never be as dark, as frightening, as the bus ride home across the other side of the tracks. That I wouldn’t have to wait till Friday’s paycheck to get a silly little treat. Or share a room with two brothers for the rest of my life.

“You can tell me where you actually live, honey. You’re the only one left, and I plan on taking you all the way to your doorstep at this point.”

But I didn’t want him to know. That my parents had borrowed money from both sets of grandparents to make the trek across country. That we were living in that tiny, crappy place. That I’d seen the other side of the tracks, with gutted out cars and broken-in windows, and that I was scared. Scared shitless of what my life was at that moment, of what it could become.

I didn’t want him to know that I’d remember that day. How kind he’d been to me. How frightened I’d been. That I would keep track of those disturbing images of poverty like a prized collection at the back of my brain, unsure of what to do with it. That I would understand, years later, just how deep white privilege lies.

Underneath the snow. Between the tracks. Where my city has fallen not into the arms of an unforgiving God, but into the arms of a greedy monster of wealth. Where they have torn down every last remnant of what was real to build cookie-cutter apartments for hipsters overlooking those same tracks. Where the middle class has all but disappeared and I walk with my three girls through a world I couldn’t begin to describe to them because I don’t understand it myself.

Where I am just eleven years old, trapped on a bus, hoping the driver will take me to my stop.

Because without that hope, there is nothing. Just a blue-sky day in the middle of December, a long walk home across tracks I will continue to cross, and a world I am just now beginning to understand.