Posts Tagged ‘January’

My husband’s student’s death

October 22, 2013

My husband teaches in a high poverty, high crime high school in Southern California.

He’s told me stories about the kids’ not having toilet paper, hunting dinner out of dumpsters, raising siblings.

There’s also a lot of gang activity. One afternoon he called me upset, because one of his students — a 14-year-old boy — had been shot in both knees. The counselor had sent an e-mail to excuse tardiness. The child’s walking was slow.

Another day he was calling me on his cell phone, telling me it was slow getting off campus. “Oh here’s the problem, a child has been stabbed.”

I pictured him stepping over the body with his Razr to his ear and briefcase in hand, but it probably wasn’t like that.

I don’t think a year has gone by when his roll sheet hasn’t decreased because of a shooting.

But this story isn’t about a gang killing. This is about a teacher killing a kid.

A few years ago the basketball coach took her team for a hazing exercise. She tried to drop the girls in a bad neighborhood in the middle of night and have them find their way back to her house during a sleepover.

This would help them bond.

One player didn’t want to get out of the back of the van. She was afraid.

The teacher drove forward and back, slamming the brakes, until the child fell out. She landed on the back of her head on the street.

Coach waited an untoward while before calling for help.

This was the second time in my husband’s then 15-year teaching career he planned to go to one of his best students’ funerals.

He took this one hard, and needed to tell me all about it.

This would lead to some trouble for us.

He told me that this teacher would have lost her job the year before for violent behavior in class (I think she broke a clipboard in a rage or something), but her aunt was a member of the school board, and vouched for her.

The staff had been told not to talk to the media. I pictured them looking at him when they said this. They knew he was married to media. The administration was trying to control the story.

I was in a bad spot.

This is exactly the kind of news the public has a right to know. People send their children to school trusting there is some core concern for providing safe supervision.

Tattling on people abusing power is our job. Protecting the community is why many of us are in the business. I couldn’t not report this. I couldn’t be an accomplice.

I called it in. He felt betrayed.

The parents pulled the plug on the girl Sunday. The injury happened on Friday.

By then, it was a big story without my help. Likely the girl’s family had a thing or two to shout, school reputation be damned.

My husband gave a eulogy at the service, and was on the TV news saying what a promising future the girl had.

Our marriage survived the conflict of loyalties, and the coach was fired.

If anything like this has happened since, I wouldn’t know.

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The sign from God story

June 11, 2013

For many years I was on the board of a local art show.

At one meeting we were trying to figure out what to do about a troublesome artist. Our ombudsman was getting complaints from other artists that she was harrassing them. They said her gossip was unwelcome, and that she wouldn’t stop calling them to organize a mob of discontent.

As we discussed this artist, it came up that she was imposingly religious.

It’s touchy talking about someone who’s always making with the ‘Praise the Lord’ and ‘God’s blessings on you.’ We were trying to show respect for one another’s varying piety. We each gave a disclaimer before commenting on her ways.

We were beginning to conclude we would have to kick her out of the art festival, which we had no precedent for. We were all founding members, and hadn’t foreseen the need to oust an artist when we wrote the bylaws.

We wanted to protect her dignity and the complainers’ privacy. It was a delicate and uncomfortable night as we tried to sort it all out in our treasurer’s living room. The whole matter was just a mess.

Finally Terrie, who had disclaimed earlier that she’s not religious but has no problem with people who are, shook her hands heavenward and said, “God, help us. What do we do?”

We started to chuckle at her joke, but the lights immediately began to dim. In about four seconds they were off. Two seconds later they snapped back on, at full brightness.

Five of us grabbed our purses as someone called, “Meeting adjourned.” We abandoned our treasurer without looking back.

Our treasurer discovered it was some wiring misfire. Nonetheless, we never discussed religion at a meeting again.

Saw my old lover in a grocery store…

June 2, 2013

I spent 10 years wondering what happened to my high school boyfriend after he went to jail.

I had loved him in that deep, drowning way 17-year-olds do.

His family was poor and fractured, and his talent and intelligence went to waste as he was forced to do whatever he could to help keep his mother’s electricity from being turned off.

His father was living in the van he sold drugs out of in front of the laundromat.

I share this, because I will always argue that he was a good boy in a bad circumstance. He was just a sweet boy.

About a year after high school he was arrested for drug possession.

We wrote each other before he was moved to a drug rehab facility in Sacramento. He was not allowed contact with people from home. That’s when I lost him.

A couple of years later I did my semester in Mexico and found someone else. The next year I got a reporting assignment in Hawaii and met my husband. I fell into that deep, drowning love adults have.

Despite having moved on from my teen heartbreak, I wondered. I didn’t know where he ended up. I expected to hear he’d died.

About a year after we moved from Boulder back to my hometown, I saw him at the grocery store. I was on my way home from a workout, and looked sloppy in a baggy T-shirt and pony tail.

I squinted at him approaching in the aisle, thinking he looked familiar. Then I recognized his mother. If he had been alone, I might have walked by. He wasn’t a boy anymore, and I didn’t know him as a man.

I froze, right in front of the pasta. I whispered his name questioningly to myself — maybe it wasn’t even out loud. Then he passed by me and I was sure. I spun around and called it.

He turned around.

Then he crushed me. He said, “I thought that was you. I don’t have my glasses on –”

He wears glasses?

“– but when I heard your voice, I knew for sure. You were talking to that lady giving out cheese samples.”

That lady was in the entrance. He had known I was in the store the whole time, and wasn’t going to say anything.

His mom left us to finish shopping. I told him I was married with two kids and working in journalism. He told me he had recently spent six years in prison and had a child he wasn’t allowed to see. He said for a short time he had a nice truck. He might get a job at a furniture factory.

I was sad for his past, but excited for his job prospect. He seemed cautious. Did he think I would look down on him? This crushed me some more. I had always seen only the best in him.

I told him I had tried to find him. I tried for years. I told him I had thought of him often. I was genuinely thrilled to see him looking so strong and healthy. And alive, I thought but didn’t say.

He said he had to go, and he walked off. I never saw him again.

It was my very own Same Old Lang Syne.

The animal shelter story

February 28, 2013

I had thought moving to California would end my JonBenet-obsessed sleepless nights.

It didn’t work. I would fall asleep, but every noise sent me running into the kids’ rooms.

I decided we needed a dog. I decided a dog would have saved JonBenet.

My husband was skeptical. “You hate dogs,” he reminded me with that voice he uses on the children.

I explained that if we could get a dog that doesn’t beg, jump on people, sniff crotches, lick or smell like a dog I would be fine.

He explained that what I wanted was a cat.

I did some research on breeds, (and by ‘I,’ I mean ‘the newsroom’s research librarian.’) It turned out a husky was a good breed for me.

I found a litter in the classifieds and merged onto the freeway. I was getting excited about a little puppy I could hold in my hand, with fuzz on his ears and a fat belly.

About 10 minutes into my drive I had a thought. I should have peeked at the animal shelter first. Back to town I went.

The person behind the desk lit up. They got a husky puppy in yesterday. Let’s go see.

She led me past a row of little concrete cells with bad dogs in them, barking at me and jumping up on the bars. At the end I could see a darling little fuzzy dog sitting politely, looking longingly. I didn’t want it.

This dog, in sitting position, was almost to my thighs. I had already had the vision of my new dog squirming in my hand.

I was embarrassed to reject her recommendation out of hand, so I thought I would pat its head and say ‘good pup’ and go. She said, “I’ll take him out so you can spend some time with him in the playyard.”

I wanted to say, ‘You don’t need to open the kennel.’

She fumbled with the keys at the playyard gate. I stood behind her waiting for this to be over so I could go get my hand puppy. The big puppy was sitting calmly next to me.

He scooted closer to my leg subtly, like he was sneaking it. Then he leaned his body until his shoulder and head were against my knee. I was softening.

Then, without lifting his head, he looked up at me. The only things he moved were his eyebrows and my cold heart.

“You don’t need to open the gate,” I finally said, but not for the same reason I’d wanted to at the start.

They must have pegged me as dog-ignorant right off the bat, because he’s not a husky. He’s an Akita mix.

But he doesn’t jump, lick, beg, sniff crotches or smell like a dog.

I like him better than my cat.

Link to photos

The weather

January 23, 2013

One day when I was subbing I asked a student to take the attendance to the office.

“Is it cold out?” she asked.

I told her, “Yes, but it’s a dry cold.”

This tickled me, particularly because it was raining.

A happening

January 20, 2013

In my lifetime, today happened.

My daughter asked to miss school to accompany me to a brunch this morning, where people were gathering to watch President-elect Obama be sworn in.

It was an emotionally charged morning. I sat at a table between my parents, across from my grandmother and my daughter, and watched a black man become my president. I tried to eat, but I couldn’t swallow. I guess there was too much proud in my throat.

When the oath was finished, and President Obama said, “So help me God,” we cried. People stood and clapped. And embraced. Celebration drove a need to hold one another.

I love what happens to us during historic moments. We have happenings. People came together to watch Neil Armstrong set the first footprint on the moon. We came together to grieve on Sept. 11 2001. We came together today. We gather to watch, to rejoice, to share awe or fear, to support and to touch.

On the way home, my daughter, who is 14, said, “It must be a bigger deal than I can understand that he’s black.” What a beautiful statement of how far we’ve come.

It was only a year away from being in my husband’s lifetime that Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act, outlawing racial discrimination in schools and employment — and in public. It wasn’t until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act enforced blacks’ suffrage. That was within my husband’s lifetime.

And now today happened. And my daughter doesn’t see a black man; she just sees a man.

Today, as always, I celebrate being an American. Today, as I do every four years, I celebrate the right to participate in my government. And today, for the first time, I celebrate that the people of my country chose to turn to a man for leadership, who in my parents’ lifetime would have been legally beaten in the doorway while watching his light-skinned brothers register to vote.

At dinner with my family tonight, I will raise a glass to the following people: every American soldier who has shed blood or was willing to shed blood protecting my right to vote, read a newspaper and choose my own church; Harriet Tubman; Dred Scott; Rosa Parks; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Sen. Lyndon Baines Johnson; and President Barack Obama.

I salute their courage — and as I was reminded this morning — their hope and virtue.

The dead boyfriend discovery story

January 15, 2013

I was 17, and it was just after New Year’s. My Best Friend, three friends and I were cruising around, up to no good. I was driving.

Near to My Best Friend’s house, we saw stationary police lights.

“Hey, this is one of those checkpoints they’re doing to catch drunk drivers,” one of us said. I don’t know if this was a new practice, or just new to us, but we were curious about it.

We approached, but, being teen-agers up to no good, chickened out and turned the corner a block early. We went to My Best Friend’s house.

After a period of restlessness, we piled back into my car and went to watch the police catch drunk people. 

It wasn’t a checkpoint.

There was a motorcycle on the ground, and a boy lying very still. We couldn’t get close enough to get a good view, but we parked and stared.

“Best Friend,” I started hestitantly. “Doesn’t that look like David’s bike?” David was My Best Friend’s boyfriend.

“I guess,” she said casually, “but he’s working tonight.”

I got out of the car and walked over to an officer. I found out that the motorcyclist wasn’t carrying identification. They didn’t know who it was. I didn’t look at the boy. I acted casual to My Best Friend, “Let’s go back to your place.”

When we got there, still trying to appear calm, I suggested we call the grocery deli where David worked and see when he gets off. His boss said he got off early; he should be home by now. I said, “Hey we have nothing better to do, let’s call him at home and see if he wants to join us.”

His sister said he wasn’t home. He was at work. Was he wearing the new helmet he got for Christmas? No. Does he have his wallet? No, he forgot it on the dresser. Uh oh.

I don’t know now how I got the nerve, but I mentioned there was an accident around the corner from his house. I remember saying, “It’s probably nothing, but there was a motorcycle there.”

It was him, and he was dead.

He was hit by a Greyhound bus, the driver of which hadn’t taken his insulin and was declared to be completely at fault. Apparently this approximates driving drunk.

A few days later My Best Friend and I were alone in the mortuary viewing David. He looked different, rubbery. My Best Friend was sobbing.

It was one of my first experiences with death. It was profound. He was just there the other day, and now he doesn’t exist. Where is he? And wow, David knows what happens when you die.

But I learned something, too. If blood isn’t circulating, hickeys are forever.

The Rose Parade story

January 2, 2013

Around when my grama rounded 80 years, I started thinking that she was getting old.

She gave the illusion otherwise.

I also started taking the comments she made about what she’s always wanted to do as some manner of bucket list.

Among those comments was the annual “I’ve always wanted to go watch the Rose Parade.”

I learned there was a trip planned through her church, wherein people spent the night in a church on the route, got a pancake breakfast and were sent into the morning for float watching. That sounded nice.

We knew all the families going. It was perfect. The kids were excited. I signed us up.

This was the year the parade was on Jan. 2.

We played Chronology, which was new to us, and Taboo, of which my daughter is the master. Woo hooo, great fun all around, and our octogenarian was a sport about sleeping on the floor while teens watched DVDs of Curb Your Enthusiasm a few feet away.

In the morning everything went to pot. It was cold, windy and raining. Nana was undaunted. She piled blankets in her arms and said Let’s go.

We were not in a church on the route. We started walking and it never ended. It was more than a mile. The rain was making our blankets heavy, and Nana can’t walk far, so it was slow traveling. Our hats, scarves and sweatshirts were useless in the wet. I wanted to throw the blankets down and leave them.

Finally we found our group on cold metal folding chairs in front of a bar, which was closed. Nana and I had to pee.

Someone pointed down the route. “Go about five blocks. There are port-a-potties.” Forget it. My pants were already wet, what harm a little more? At least it would be warm.

We sat to wait. There was no way to get warmth. The rain was coming down on us hard. Time dragged. Across Colorado Boulevard I saw RVs parked at a gas station. I fantasized about going over there and offering them a million dollars to share their accommodations.

After a while, my son said, “Is it going to be like this the whole time?”

I turned to Nana. “I’m not going to make it. Shall I go get the car and pick you up?”

Hell no. She wanted to see the parade. It’s shameful to be out-hardied by an 80-something.

My 13-year-old son and I left her and my 11-year-old daughter. On the walk back my son looked over his arms and feet and said, “I could not be wetter.”

“I could not be colder,” I said back.

At the church I called Nana’s cell to see if she’d reconsidered. The parade hadn’t started yet, but others had left, including my daughter.

When The Baby walked in she said, “I feel so sorry for the kids marching in bands today.” She and my son are both marchers. They started talking about how heavy and itchy the uniforms get when they’re wet, and what the water does to the instruments.

I tried Nana again. She was finally ready to cry Uncle. She had started walking.

I jumped in my car and headed routeward. When I got to the underpass, there were pylons blocking my way, and an officer pacing in the dry.

I got out and started moving the pylons. I was frenzied knowing Nana was walking — sopping, cold and carrying that leaden blanket. She is simply not as strong as she is stubborn.

The officer made to stop me. I shook my head. “My grama needs to be picked up. You wanna stop me, you’re gonna have to shoot me.”

In hindsight, that was more dramatic than was warranted.

He squinted against the rain and made out a white-haired figure struggling our way. I got a by-your-leave and went to her.

The next year, on Jan. 2, I went over for breakfast. She was there in her chair watching the Rose Parade on TV.

She didn’t complain, just like she never complained once on that rainy day.

I could not be regrettier.

click here for photo

Jaws

November 23, 2012

Beatle George has an 8-year-old son. They were over for Monday Night Football tonight.

My son discovered with an outburst that the child has never seen Jaws.

How does this happen? I’ve insisted George bring the boy to me Wednesday so I can fix him.

To my mind, 4 is the right age for Jaws watchin’.

This decision came by happenstance. Uncle Jer and I were upstairs in the Boulder house, flipping through the channels on a Saturday afternoon, when we saw that the movie was about to start.

We looked at each other with excitement. “Pop some corn!”

Then my son wandered in.

Badda bing badda boom. Four was the right age.

We initiated him carefully. We told him what to expect. “Hear the music? That means you’ll see some red spots in the water. Here’s a scary part.”

Then I couldn’t wait for The Baby to turn 4. I stood by the set with the unpopped corn counting down the days from her third birthday.

We had left Uncle Jer behind in Colorado, but acquired the flick on VHS. My son and I popped corn and brought her into the club.

Now it’s Bennett’s turn. 

My kids know the routine by now. We’ll pop the corn, give the warnings, and as one, we’ll shout, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”

I’m thinkin’ since the kid’s 8, we’ll have to watch it twice.

Headlines

October 19, 2012

My friend Kevin from Boulder sent me this e-mail after my post about Peter Bonerz. It appears to be the cover of a sports section from June of 2001 in the Orange County Register.

It’s about Angels player Bartolo Colon.

The headline reads “Colon takes another pounding.”

I rooted around and learned they did it again in 2004, using the word ‘absorbs’ instead of ‘takes,’ and WSOC TV ran this 2007 teaser: Royals to get a taste of Angels’ Colon.

As a headline writer, I know how hard it is to put the gist of a story into a short sentence with landmines like double-entendre names.

We used to have a local politician in Boulder name of Hyman. He was busted one night in the back seat with a prostitute.

I tried not to write a funny headline. We all tried.

My husband cracks me up

July 30, 2012

Every night at dinner we go around the table, taking turns sharing something about our day.

Last night Nana had come over. Her dinner news was that a couple of her youngest brother’s daughters and their kids were at MaryAnn’s visiting.

Nana’s brother, the baby of the nine siblings, died unexpectedly of a stroke two New Year’s back. The span of the siblings’ ages was more than 25 years. No one expected Marguerite, the eldest, to outlive the baby, but she did.

When Uncle Donny died, I had that ambivilant feeling of sorrow and anticipation, because a death always means out-of-town family will come, and we will have a big get-together. It means there will be a funeral, and I will get to hear stories about the loved one I’m grieving. I’ll get to sit with cousins and aunts and uncles, with my husband, and clasp hands in comfort.

But there was no service.

This is where the conversation went last night. I started complaining.

“Why do people do that?” Usually, when there’s no service, it’s because there isn’t really any family left. Donny had seven kids and a whole grip of grandkids. “Why would anyone with such a big family say ‘No service’?”

My husband said, “Maybe he had no shirt and no shoes.”

The diner story

July 15, 2012

My high school best friend is in town for a visit. She’s leaving tomorrow, but really wants to eat at Kay’s, a breakfast diner that was downtown and legendary when we were growing up.

It has since moved to a nearby town. It’s around the corner from the medical center.

One afternoon I had taken my son to the medical center for hearing tests — he has to have his hearing monitored; there are issues because of the tumors. The tests were taking a long time and we were starving.

Finally, someone came into the waiting room and told us he failed the hearing test in one ear, and we had an appointment with a different doctor in 90 minutes.

We were out the door and Kay’s-bound before you could say blueberry pie.

Then we were so hungry we couldn’t decide what to order.

It went like this: I’ll have the chicken-fried steak and eggs, no wait, the cinnamon roll, except, oooh, maybe I want a waffle….

The waitress kept glancing toward the door, but we were intent on our menus.

Then she leaned in and whispered, “I need you order quickly, because the health department is shutting us down right now.”

We looked over to see a guy in a uniform putting a huge chain and padlock on the front door — dramatic, but unnecessary, I thought — and a sign saying the restaurant was indefinitely out of business by order of the government.

My son and I were so hungry, all we could think of was that we ought to order as much as possible before they closed the kitchen.

We took one of everything.

More dinner talk

April 18, 2012

My son let his hair grow when he started high school.

One night my son was able to pull it back. He showed up to dinner in a ponytail.

I couldn’t get over how much he looked like my husband did when we married, and told him so.

“Daddy had long hair?”

“Longer than yours is now,” I told him.

“How long was it?”

I gave a glance to my man, who was nodding. I was going for it.

“All the way down to his bra strap.”