Cussing Colloquialisms

At the elevator, brace still on, crutch still under his arm, he tells me he thinks that a good return-to-work date would be June 4, five days before we leave for Spain. He seems optimistic as he hobbles down the tiled hallway, as we enter the carpeted office, as we check in and he holds the door open for a woman with a walker, pointing out, “It’s kind of strange they don’t have an automatic door in the orthopedic’s office,” to which she adamantly agrees.

On the plastic, paper-coated bed, he hands me the folder while the PA takes him for x-rays. After just a few minutes, the doctor enters with the films. He has photographs of the entire procedure. He intricately describes the meniscus (intact), the bones (drilled into), the ACL (torn and then repaired). Bruce and I lift our eyebrows at each other, barely able to distinguish the tiny details he points out in each picture.

In his cozy spinning chair, the doctor is also optimistic. “I think you can ditch the brace right now and ditch the crutches by Friday. Use the stationary bike on Sunday. By Monday, you should be walking around the block. Maybe driving.”

From the green paper folder, I begin to pull out the forms. First: short-term disability approval. A list of lines with dates, surgery and medication verification. Affably, he takes them in stride: “I’ll be sure to get these to the right people to fill them out.” Because he has people. Because he charged the insurance company $36,000, more than half of what I earn in a year, for an outpatient surgery that took less than 90 minutes. Because we live in the land of the free.

From the green paper folder, I continue to pull out forms. Bruce begins to tell him–without ever being able to finish because of the doctor’s rambling explanations, the doctor’s defense of his procedures, the doctor’s justification for not filling out anything–about wanting to return to work before Spain. I pull out The Form, the one that CenturyLink requires for him to be able to work: a release of liability for driving a company vehicle, an “if-something-happens-it’s-not-on-us, your-injury-better-not-affect-your-work” form.

From his throne, he glances at the wording. He throws in more anecdotes peppered with cussing colloquialisms. “In twenty-six years of doing this, I have never seen a company require a form like this. What if you’re a shitty driver? How can I, as your medical doctor, determine if you’re OK to drive? I won’t sign a form like that. If you get in an accident and hurt someone and I’ve signed this form, then it’s all on me.”

From my plastic chair, I listen to the tone of my twenty-years-spouse change from respectful to grainy. I can almost feel the lump at the back of his throat as he tries to go on. “Well, my supervisor is willing to let me come back on light duty…”

From his throne, the doctor interrupts: “What you’re going to be dealing with is HR, not your supervisor, and if HR says you can’t work, that’s where things get muddy when I start putting my name on these forms.”

From my plastic chair, I am counting down the hours in my mind until the moment I can let these tears actually fall. First I have to continue listening to this white-haired, privileged surgeon continue rambling on about lawsuits. Then, we have to make Bruce’s appointments for physical therapy. Next, we have to drive home and track Mythili’s progress on her bicycle, as I had no way to pick her up today. After that, I have to take her to her doctor’s appointment, where they will make commentary about how my thirteen-year-old hasn’t had her period yet.

From my plastic chair, I am frozen and without words. The doctor turns to me. “You look frustrated.”

Is that the word you would use? Do you think frustration sums up the past six weeks of my life?

“The thing is…” Bruce begins, “… I’m probably going to get laid off on July 30.”

The doctor has finished listening. “That’s why we have to be so careful when filling out these forms. This happens all the time, when companies decide you can’t work.”

“No, it’s unrelated…” he begins again, that painful lump sitting on top of his beautiful, sexy voice.

“Are you really not going to fill out the form?” is the only thing I can muster. The doctor hands it back to Bruce, asks if there’s anyone he can call, anyone he can talk to, any way he can go back to work without it.

From the tiny patient meeting room, he stands. He shuffles us out the door. He guides us to his people who will make the next appointment. I place The Form neatly back inside the green paper folder.

I think of a few cussing colloquialisms I could shout. I think of hindsight, all of it. Of next year’s ski passes we wasted $2300 on. Of the thousands we’ve already spent in this office. Of the four weeks at seventy-percent-pay he’ll get for short-term disability. Of the thousands we’ve spent on Spain that is gone and tarnished before boarding the plane.

But I have no words in these moments when I have bowed down to our litigate society, our corporations’ fear of liability, our doctors’ refusal to help the little man other than spurting cussing colloquialisms while trying to relate to us.

At the elevator, his brace in my hand, crutch still under his arm, I don’t speak. Picking up Mythili, exhausted from her bike ride, I don’t speak. At the following doctor’s appointment, where, as usual, we only get to see the PA, I cross my arms and don’t speak, forcing Mythili to respond to questions about who she lives with, how she likes her sisters, what kinds of food she eats.

From my recliner at home, I do have a few cussing colloquialisms for the orthopedic surgeon. I could spout them all day, all night, every waking moment of the past twenty years of marriage, every waking moment of my life as a not-quite-middle-class American who just needs A GODDAMN FORM SIGNED SO WE HAVE A FEW PENNIES TO OUR NAME…

From my recliner at home, the words are useless. All the words, all the work, all the life we have put into living, everything feels useless.

And there is no cussing colloquialism that will bring me that doctor’s signature, bring my husband his job, bring me some peace. So why bother spouting them at all?

 

A Few English Words

We took three Afghani students to the foothills today. They have been here for less than a year, so they learned a few English words today: Hike. Trail. Juniper. Ponderosa. Colorado=red rocks. View. 

I tried to ask what it was like for them back home, but they only knew a few English words to describe it: Danger. No school. Grandparents. Parents here in Colorado. All kids–brother, sister, other brother–in Afghanistan. 

Each time I asked if they wanted to continue down the trail or turn around, the most confident girl, the hijab girl, kept insisting we go on. She had no desire to go back to whatever life she had outside of that blue-sky hike, her knee-high boots and sweaty face no hindrance to her joy. She just wanted to walk. To escape. To be on that mountain.

When we were at the top, she leaned in to take a selfie with me, and then one with my youngest daughter whose experiential-learning school had just visited the same location, whose quiet voice shared with us the details of the sedimentary rock layers, the lichen, the igneous and metamorphic. This was a perfect match–the low-English Afghani and my quiet youngest–smiling shyly for a photo, a perfect frame of world peace.

With a walk like this, we step towards empathy. Understanding. Gratitude. We know that things could be worse, that they are worse, for so many people in the world.

But it doesn’t stop me from feeling the pain, the loss that I feel now. For feeling gypped, for feeling like nothing I do, nothing my husband and I ever do, will be good enough to make our lives easier.

Perhaps it’s the curse of Spain. Six years ago, after welcoming two Spaniards into our home, after asking practically nothing for rent, after offering them my car for months when theirs broke down (I rode my bike to work 25 miles a day for three months), after hosting parties for their friends, babysitting their friends’ kids, driving them to South Dakota, after everything, we went to Spain and never heard from either of them again. In addition to the nightmare that that year in Spain was for us, with its broken promises, broken paychecks, and lost jobs, they had to twist the knife right into our backs by acting like they never knew us.

And now we’ve planned a redo. Twentieth wedding anniversary. Fortieth birthdays. Three years into living like kings for the first time in our marriage, with two steady, well-paying jobs, great benefits, and our dream house that we opened up to friends of ours, six of them, rent free for two months because they were down on their luck, and Spain has cursed us again. Our six-week vacation that is 90% bought and paid for, that I have spent over forty hours meticulously planning every last expenditure and activity, will be marred by a pending layoff, loss of benefits, and a mortgage we simply cannot afford on a teacher’s salary.

Let me tell you about that teacher’s salary. Let me tell you about the master’s degree plus thirty credits I have. Let me tell you about all the school events I attend, the lunch meetings, the hours before and after school I work, the summer workshops, the home visits, the dance chaperoning, the sporting events, the class coverage, the every last everything I do to work, to earn an extra buck, to make it. Let me tell you about the eight years we lived on a $48,000 frozen salary.

Let me tell you about my childhood. Parents with bachelors’ degrees in journalism working for a small town newspaper and barely making it. Powdered milk. Ten-year-old, rusted-out Datsun. Ancient house with windows so thin that ice collected on the glass. My mother scraping together a $20 bill for my eleventh birthday and me looking at it holding back silent tears because I already knew that it was equivalent to two and a half hours of her work, and my father was failing his master’s program, and we were moving to Denver for a better life, and everything was crashing down at once.

Let me tell you about contract work, the only kind of work Bruce was able to find when he left the Air Force. No guarantee. No health insurance. No paid time off. No holidays. No sick leave. And when it ends? No unemployment checks.

Let me tell you about health insurance. Let me tell you about the two children I have given birth to without having health insurance because it was a pre-existing condition, and the near $10,000 we paid for those births.

Let me find a few English words to explain to these students from Afghanistan: American Dream. Housing. Insurance. Education. SCAM.

Let me tell you about what we have done to avoid bankruptcy: No car payments. No student loans. No credit card debt. Two properties. Saving and spending. Buying a house only when we were ready, when we could afford it. Saving up for a cursed redo of Spain. Road trips staying with family and camping to save money while traveling. One computer for the whole family. Still driving my 1998 Hyundai Accent.

Let me tell you how I know what poverty is. I know what sacrifices are. I have made them.

Let me find a few English words to say: Fuck this country. Fuck this Trumpian tax cut that cuts workers while CEOs live like kings. Fuck this blue-sky day. Fuck my husband’s military sacrifice, his months in the desert, his sold-his-soul-to-boot-camp commitment, his veteran status that has given us NOTHING.

Let me be twenty years into my youthful marriage and not have to feel like I’m just twenty minutes in. Let me keep my dream house. Let him keep his union (that screwed him) dream job. Let my kids feel like there’s a future here for them and that with two degrees they won’t be buying powdered milk.

Just. Let me be. I’ve had enough.

My Fortieth April

My fortieth April comes to an end with pink flowers and red shirts. Both images are equally beautiful and painful–fuchsia tinted with the blood, sweat, and tears we put on the line every day for a society that vilifies us and threatens us with jail time for shutting down schools for a singular day–when that same society has worked to shut down schools for decades.

My fortieth April is these nachos–too damn big to consume, too impossible to say no to–because sometimes life just feels like a challenge we must at least attempt to make a mockery of.

My fortieth April means my parents are in Paris, on their way to only four months in Europe because I begged them not to totally leave me, sell the house, and disappear from our lives when I’ve just lost my father-in-law and every remnant of parenthood on my husband’s side of the family.

My fortieth April brings the beginning of the end of my children’s childhoods–no more towing them in the bike trailer, no more feeding them from rubber spoons, no more shuttling them to elementary school–instead, the hard reality that they will ride their own paths, make their own decisions, and quite often, leave me behind.

My fortieth April means half of my life has been in the warmth of this man’s arms, this man who flew alone to Tennessee to bury his father while I made a mockery of life with nachos, this man who has never done a thing but work to please the people in his life, who speaks so little but whose actions speak volumes… volumes of loving and giving.

My fortieth April has been hell. Our school district has desks twenty years old and teacher salaries to match. My husband is in a union job that will likely screw him out of one because of seniority. My oldest daughter’s first words to me on my fortieth birthday were, “Can I have my phone back?” My beloved father-in-law died. My parents boarded a plane. My school district’s open enrollment healthcare plan is $1000 a month with a $3500 deductible and $12,700 out-of-pocket maximum. We have bought and paid for six weeks in Iberia and are beginning to wonder why.

My fortieth April is these blue skies. These smiling faces. This willingness to stand up to the truth behind teachers’ vilification. These parents eating French fries in France. This beautiful set of girls we have somehow managed to raise, healthy and unscathed. This fuchsia bleeding into red shirts at Casa Bonita, making a mockery of all that is pain, all that is life.

My fortieth April comes to an end with pink flowers and red shirts. Because we’re all a little bruised after forty years on this Earth. Because the blood, sweat, and tears that go into living this life are as beautiful as the laughter, mockery, and joy.

My fortieth April is the middle of spring. And just like all the other springs that have made up my life, it is time to spring forward, time to smile, time to move on.

Because it’s April–it snows and burns a crisp on our necks within the same week–and we must learn that even the red scars of sunburn will eventually fade into the soft petals of fuchsia.

Eulogy to My Father-In-Law

I was nineteen when I first visited Tennessee, and I felt simultaneously as if I were stepping back into my childhood small-town upbringing and into another world, fifty years past due. Bruce and I drove the twenty-four hours in one stretch under gray Kansas skies, down interstates with gas stations still boasting 99-cent gallons of gas, and through the winding hills of the Smokies east of Nashville.

We went the back way into town, and I remember how excited he was to show me, though it was a dark December night, the Four Corners mart where he’d ridden his bike to on every day of his childhood, the small elementary school, the tiny post office, the grandiose Baptist church, and the cotton rope mill where his father and his grandfather had spent their entire adult lives tirelessly working.

His parents lived in a modest home with the most spectacular view of a golf course and the Smokies, and just like everyone who had worked for the mill for nearly a century, they paid nearly nothing for rent and were allowed to stay there until the day they died.

That little house has rested upon its hill unoccupied for the past two years, its only residents the quilts, pie safes, furniture, photo albums, mementos, and memories of a marriage that lasted fifty-six years and produced four children and seven grandchildren. For the past two years, Don’s eldest, his beloved Donna, has tirelessly committed her life to his care as his mind slipped and his heart broke after losing his wife and the mother of his children.

When I first met Don, or Pappy as everyone was already calling him, he gave me a big hug and welcomed me to the family even though Bruce and I had only been dating for four months. The morning after we arrived, we drove to another town to have breakfast in a small diner. Nanny, Pappy, Aunt June, Bruce and I all piled into Nanny’s van and drove through rounds of curvy roads before settling ourselves into an oval table at the back of the restaurant. When the waitress came, people began ordering the typical southern delights: biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs, grits salted and buttered, pancakes stacked high.

I ordered one of my favorites, French toast, and Pappy lifted his gray, bushy eyebrows over his metal-framed glasses, his blue eyes twinkling. “I was hoping somebody was gonna order that,” he grinned.

As Bruce suppressed a chuckle, I wondered if there was something special about the French toast at that place. When the food came and Pappy began to dig into his grits, he held up his fork and said, “Gimme one of them pieces of French toast,” in a jovial, but adamant, tone.

“Well I guess you’re part of the family now for sure,” Aunt June joked. “Once Pappy wants something off your plate, he considers you one of his own.”

The next morning, on Christmas Eve, Bruce proposed to me to make it official. We spent that evening in Pappy’s childhood church for the candlelight Christmas Eve ceremony, where everyone from the small town of Rockford seemed to know Pappy, who proudly introduced his airmen youngest, “here all the way from Colorado,” and his new fiancee. I think it must have been half an hour before we even sat down because Pappy knew and loved everyone, and he was so damn proud of his baby joining the military and coming home for Christmas. The congregation flocked around the deacon and his family, cooing over his young granddaughters, praising Pappy for raising such a beautiful family, and he beamed, offering hugs and handshakes and goodwill.

Over the twenty years of our marriage, in every interaction I had with my father-in-law, I never heard a cruel word come out of his mouth. He had a quiet humor, a loving heart, and an unmatched generosity. He and Nanny helped the people in their town, the people at their church, and their children and grandchildren, any time any of us ever needed anything.

“You were going to have a baby at home and you had to go to the hospital and are suddenly faced with a bill you can’t afford?” The check was in the mail before we even brought our youngest home. Whether they had the means or not, with their simple existence and Pappy’s tireless work, they found a way to help others.

Pappy worked at that cotton mill for over forty years. He came home every night and had to “use the bathroom” with his magazines and chewing tobacco. He then settled in to watch whatever sport was playing that season, running the television on mute while he listened to the small wireless radio that he claimed had “much more accurate sportscasters.” He read the whole set of newspapers from all the localities through and through. He played bluegrass music, George Strait, and Alan Jackson when he tired of the sports. And just as he always had, he went to work for all but the weeks of Christmas and Fourth of July, the two weeks out of the year that the mill would shut down to give their employees a break.

That is, until Isabella was born. His fourth granddaughter, all the way in Colorado, inspired him to take a week off of work in May so he and Nanny could fly out and cover the gap between the end of my maternity leave and the end of the school year.

“You know this grandbaby is awful special if she got Pappy to take off work,” Nanny cooed as she held her. “I don’t believe there’s ever been a time he’s done that.”

Pappy LOVED babies. He loved coddling them, feeding them, gurgling over their tiny fat faces. He and Nanny spent a week traveling around Colorado with Bruce and Isabella, just three months old at the time, visiting Rocky Mountain National Park, the Garden of the Gods, the city of Denver. Pappy sat in the back comforting Isabella if she ever got fussy, only commenting with, “She lost her fooler, where’s her fooler?” teaching me another southern colloquialism I’d never heard before that first trip to Tennessee.

“It takes an awful good baby to do all this driving without so much as a fuss,” Pappy pointed out. “You got you a good little girl in this one.”

The years went by, and we continued to make our twenty-four-hour treks to Tennessee, where Pappy and Nanny would spoil us with dinners out, endless toys and clothes for our children, hugs and love.

One Christmas, we discovered surprising news just before we made our trip. I couldn’t quite think of how to share the news with Bruce’s family who gathered at the Vittetoe home for their annual Christmas Eve celebration, where we played dirty bingo and then opened all the family gifts before Santa would come and leave unwrapped presents under the tree for the next morning.

Finally, when all the gifts had been opened and we were running out of time before Bruce’s siblings, nieces and nephew were to leave, I told Bruce to find a bun and put it inside the oven. Bruce searched the whole kitchen snack area that was filled with all kinds of cookies, chips, and breads that Pappy loved to munch on, but he could only find a roll. He put it in the oven and told everyone to go into the kitchen.

“OK, I have one last gift to give you all this Christmas,” I announced as they curiously gawked at me, wondering why on earth we were standing in the kitchen. “Pappy, will you open the oven?”

Pappy bent over and stared at the small roll in the center of the rack. “Is this a preview of the dinner you’re fixing tomorrow?” Nanny wondered as he pulled it out, perplexed.

“Well, it was supposed to be a bun,” Bruce chimed in.

Pappy didn’t waste one second. His blue eyes lit up with joy as he walked across the kitchen and wrapped me in a bear hug. “Another baby! Well, what wonderful news… Now that you’re having three, you know how babies are made, right? So this is the last one, right?” He joked.

He always knew just what to say. He always knew just how far he could go with a joke, with a comment, with a piece of advice. He never thought of himself; he always thought of everyone else in his life first.

Even with his name. After fathering two boys, each of which Ann had wanted to name after him, he insisted that his name wouldn’t be carried on because he didn’t want anyone to ever have to go by Junior or Donny.

It wasn’t until many years later, when the baby, the last baby, made his entrance into the world, that Pappy lost his name battle. Ann went to the hospital and pushed out a nine-pound, blue-eyed, perfect little boy who looked just like his father, just before his father could arrive at the hospital.

When Don entered the room to meet his newest son, Ann looked up at him and said, “His name is Donald Bruce Vittetoe the II, not junior, and we’re calling him Bruce.”

And so my husband, the eighteen-years-after-the-firstborn baby, became his father’s namesake. My husband, the kindest, most caring, quietest human I have ever met, was named after the father who shared those same traits. Named after the hardworking man whose joy was found in the simple pleasures of spoiling his pets and grandchildren, of giving himself to others, of living to please.

When I first visited Tennessee, I entered a bygone era–one of chivalry, simplicity, and a lifetime commitment to a home, a job, a church, a family. This was the world of my father-in-law, Donald Bruce Vittetoe. A world I came to love as we moved from flatlands to green hills, as we barbecued in Cades Cove and on the back patio, as the twangy steel guitars and banjos peppered his southern drawl, as he shared his love with me from the moment we first met.

This was Pappy’s world. The Smoky Mountains, the cotton mill, the steadfastness of working, loving, giving.

When I first visited Tennessee, Pappy shared a piece of French toast from my breakfast plate and gave me one of many small, sweet memories of a man who knew how to take just a tiny bite out of this beautiful life that he spent eighty-four years sharing with everyone he loved.

And I am so lucky to be one of the people he loved. As everyone who was ever blessed to know him can attest to.

Goodbye, Don. May you rest in peace with the angels you surrounded yourself with in life.

Pappy with his granddaughters, Sarah and Rachel, 1996.

Pappy, Nanny, Bruce, Karen, Donna, David, Rachel, and Sarah. 8 August 1998.

Danny, Ann, Bruce, Don, Teddy, and Lisa. May 1999.

Nanny and Pappy with baby Isabella. Rocky Mountain National Park, May 2003.

Pappy with his youngest granddaughter, Riona. October 2006.

Ann and Don’s 50th Wedding Anniversary, 2008.

The Vittetoe Clan in Ann and Don’s yard in Rockford, July 4, 2010.

2014.

Pappy with his grandchildren Bailey, Isabella, Sarah, Rachel, Riona, and Mythili. 2015.

Pappy with his grandchildren, 2016.

Donna, Mythili, Isabella, Don, and Riona. January 2018.

Drifters for a Day

from desert to sea
 in a day’s drive through one state
 (miracles exist)
 
 rainforests between
 to prove heaven lives on earth
 (nature is my god)
 
 we found our daddy
 after cherry shopping; lake;
 beyond evergreens
 
 a driftwood dinner
 no one could have predicted
 in another life
 
 yet here we’ll find sleep
 all together in one room
 at earth’s clouded edge
 
 

Where Is My Grandparents’ America?

In the middle class houses all being scraped
to build mansions no one can afford?
In the stagnant salaries that ask us to
work harder for less money?
In the moms working two jobs,
the dads unable to keep up?

Where is my Italian grandmother’s dream
of a better tomorrow, a house she and her
Irish husband built and paid for
before they retired?

It is not my dream.
It is not our dream.

I am the working mother,
the disappearing middle class,
I am the two-incomes-barely-making it generation,
the strapped-with-student-loans
cause-we-thought-it-mattered generation,
the trapped in social media comparison
of who has the best selfie, the best vacation,
the best life?

Where is my grandparents’ America,
who came back from the war and
built from the ground up those tiny homes
that we can’t wait to tear down?

Where are the housewives who can sew clothes
and cook duck a’l’orange for a Wednesday evening?
Who are there when their children come home?
Whose husbands could buy pay for this house
on just one salary?

I am Generation X, torn between Baby Boomers
who raised us to be independent
and Millennials who can’t do anything for themselves.
I am the white woman who can never decide
between what is fair for her and fair for everyone.

Where is my grandparents’ America?
In the broken corporate ladder,
in the endless need for greed,
in the generations lost between yesterday and tomorrow.

In the hope lost between King’s improvised speech
and Trump’s rampant ignorance,
in a land I barely recognize,
in the rubble of torn-down houses,
torn-down American dreams.

(NOTE: Inspired by “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes)

Are You Hungry?

My day begins before it begins. With a late-night text, a non-response, and a warning. With cats scratching me awake as the sun just enters the sky. With the complexities of parenthood that bring joy and turmoil to each and every day.

Me: “Hope you’re having fun! Please be home by 8:45 so that we can deliver the cookies to the food bank.”

Two hours later:

Two hours and thirty seconds later: “If you are not home by 8:45, you are grounded for a month. We have been planning this for three months. Please do not ignore my texts.”

Two hours and forty-five seconds after first text: “OK.”

Even as I type the words, I know they are too harsh. And when she cycles around the corner at 8:42 in the bright morning sun, her eyes puffy from lack of sleep, I just want to scream. She goes straight upstairs to change clothes. I bring her her Girl Scout vest, and she silently glares at me. She comes downstairs without wearing it, and I just about lose it.

The last words I heard her speak, after the flurried series of texts and phone calls the moment we arrived home yesterday, after my felt-like-a-migraine headache and hurried “yes” response to her sleepover, after I remembered, already under the down comforter, “You have to be home by 8:45 because we have to deliver the cookies,” were: “Why can’t the rest of the troop do it?” followed by a door slam.

The other three girls pile into the backseat of the Pilot, and I pile it into her. “You cannot have a phone if you refuse to respond to my texts. I’m taking it for at least a week.”

Her tears begin to fall.

“And I just can’t believe how selfish you are being right now. We are going to give cookies to people who DON’T HAVE FOOD. And you’re mad at me for making you come home from an unplanned sleepover at the time we agreed to go?”

“I thought—”

“You didn’t think. Why didn’t you respond to my text?”

“I thought it was just for information.”

“It was. But do you remember the last words you said to me as you left?” (I’m thinking of the pounding headache, the echo of the wooden door slamming). I remind her.

“If you can’t respond to texts, you can’t have a phone.”

Her tears swallow her words now. She swallows them in the brief moments between my harshness and our arrival. The others are already there, waiting for us.

We carry and roll the 43 boxes of leftover Girl Scout cookies into the school. Jacklyn is waiting for us, her heart so big that she practically offers a hug to each and every one of these girls she doesn’t know.

“We’re so happy to have you here! Let me give you a tour.” She points to a girl who is filling bags with loaves of bread. To the tables stacked with clothes. To the halal chicken she found especially for our Muslim students. To the shelves and shelves of canned goods. To the two hundred pounds of rice, the stacks of towels, the cabinets filled to the brim with more for next week.

A man enters, having seen the temporary “Food Bank” sign on the door. He is as small as my twelve-year-old, wearing glasses and a hopeful grin. She immediately welcomes him in her cheery voice, explaining that the food bank is for the students’ families, but he can surely have some Girl Scout cookies and a snack.

“Are you hungry?” She asks him. It is a question that all of us say every day, never even thinking about its weight. Its weight presses against me now as my oldest wipes away the last of her tears and smiles at him.

“Yes.”

Jacklyn hands him apples, the last box of Thin Mints, and before he leaves, he has an entire box of food in his hands because her heart is too big to say no.

Families trickle in, and it turns out I know almost all of them. The mother and younger siblings of Isra, who’s graduating this year after four years of being a shining star in my classroom. Her tiny sister, her purple niqab as bright as her eyes when she picks out cookies for each of her siblings. The father of Ana Maria, whose mother took time out of her busy life to help me improve my Spanish, who spent the day with my girls and I last spring break, who recently left for Mexico and risked everything, even walking, to get back here.

Jacklyn greets them each with a hug, a reference to their last visit, a cooing comment about their beauty, their students, the exciting availability of Girl Scout cookies. Her warmth bubbles up all around her, and I feel my harsh comments and my daughter’s shaky responses melt away into the reality that fills these bags with food and hope.

The girls busy themselves filling quart-size bags with rice, and Izzy perks up enough by the end of the hour to speak to me in a normal, and kind, voice.

Just before leaving, one of the newcomers arrives with a small black backpack on. Jacklyn knows just how to speak to a student learning English. Slowly. Looking at his eyes. Using gestures. She learns that he arrived by bicycle, that he lives near Monaco, and that his bag is too small.

“You just fill up two boxes for your family. I’ll get a pen. You can write your address and we’ll bring you the food.”

Before I can surmise the legality, I mention that we live by Monaco and will bring it ourselves. Moments later, it becomes clear that he is unable to write his address. I hold up my hand in a cross. “You live on Monaco, do you know the cross street, the street that crosses Monaco?”

His eyes brighten. “Iliff.”

We gather our things. Four girls and the food pile into my co-leader’s car. He helps me remove the wheel from his bicycle so two girls, the bicycle, and he can fit into the Pilot. As we make our way eastward, I ask his name.

“Donald.” (only when he says it, it sounds like, Doh-nol-d).

“Hello, Donald. That is my husband’s name!” (Riona snickers, knowing he hasn’t used that name since the moment he was born). “And that is our president’s name.” At this, even Donald snickers, because even he, newly arrived from Malawi, knows that it’s a joke.

Ten minutes later, we drive past our house. I point it out to him. Not because he’ll ever go there. Because I want him to know that, if he needs to, he can. We continue to Monaco and Iliff, and he is able to tell me where to turn, when to stay straight, until we arrive at the apartment complex and gather the food, the girls, and the bicycle out of the two vehicles.

We carry the boxes to the door, and Donald enters with one of the boxes. We set another on a chair on the makeshift patio, and three small children emerge. A girl not older than three tries to lift the box, which is easily as tall as her torso, and then a mother and perhaps a father, emerge from the apartment to shake our hands and send us on our way.

“Every Friday, Donald, every Friday you can have food.” It is all I can think of to say.

It is just past 10 a.m., and I feel as if I have lived a year in these few hours. We return home, and Izzy is her cheerful old self. No dirty looks. No retaliation. She runs to jump on the trampoline at the neighbors’ house. She plays on the hammock. She makes a smoothie concoction and even washes the blender.

We continue with the exciting Saturday of double income, three kids: a dishwasher selection, grocery shopping, fixing lunch, returning library books, visiting the local coffee shop, soaking cedar planks for grilling salmon, sitting on the patio to soak up the mid-spring sun. The girls spend the entire day outside and between their troop members’ homes.

I tell the girls we’re going skiing tomorrow, and the younger two plead their case to stay home.

“Only if you call Grandma on your own and stay with her.”

I haven’t taken Izzy’s phone away yet, and I go upstairs just before dinner with a proposition and a promise: while the younger two are at Grandma’s, she can keep her phone if she goes skiing with me. But when I enter her room, she is dead asleep, light on, with the kitten, and I can do no more than take a picture of the beauty of that moment.

I want to tell her it is dinner time. I want to ask her, “Are you hungry?”

But I don’t. She already informed me, mid-afternoon, that she was up till 4:30 because she wanted to spend as much time as possible with her friends since she had to be home by 8:45.

I don’t wake her. I don’t need to ask my child, “Are you hungry?” because I know she isn’t.

I am quiet for once. I am thinking about Donald, who told me he’d never ridden a bike in Malawi, and now he even knows how to remove and replace a tire, to navigate across town on a Saturday morning even though he can’t write his address, to ask for food for a family of six living in a two-bedroom apartment less than a mile from my $400,000 home.

Instead, I sit on the patio with Donald Bruce and my two youngest, underneath the blooming crabapple tree. We eat cedar-grilled salmon, rice, tomatoes, and beans. We fill ourselves with stories and the evening breeze. I do the dishes for the fiftieth time in the six weeks since the dishwasher has been broken. I don’t complain, because I hate to admit that there is some satisfaction in completing the task by hand, in seeing your work, in soaping your hands.

And my day ends before it ends. With a full belly, a full plate, and this family.

With Jacklyn’s kind voice so much louder than my own, asking, “Are you hungry?” and knowing that all of us are hungry for something.

A text. A bicycle ride. A ski trip. A bright moment in a dark day.

My day begins before it ends. With a late-night silence. A sleeping child. A dish rack full of freshly washed dishes.

And a hunger for a better tomorrow.