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Saturday, March 28, 2015

SLICE #26

It's 3:30 on Friday afternoon and spring break has officially begun. The mariachi band is practicing, but other than that, few students remain. Teachers are clearing out pretty quickly today too. I, however, am not leaving. The Personnel Committee is conducting interviews for next year, starting at 3:45 and we will be at school until almost 7:00.

I walk into the library, where we are interviewing and am surprised to see one of our eighth graders sitting at a computer. M turns around when she sees me.

"Dr. Wilcox, do you know how to spell Holocaust?"

I spell it for her.

"Yeah," she says, "that's how I spelled it. I found three definitions and I'm not sure which one is right." She reads the three definitions to me.
1. Great destruction resulting in the extensive loss of life, especially by fire.2.a. Holocaust The genocide of European Jews and other groups by the Nazis during World War II: b. A massive slaughter: 3. A sacrificial offering that is consumed entirely by flames.
"You're trying to find out about Hitler, and Germany, and the Jews, right?" I say, still not entirely sure where the conversation is going.

"Yeah" she says. "I never heard about that before," she says. "I never heard about the Holocaust.

"No?" I say, a little surprised that this smart, smart girl, one of our top eighth grade students, has somehow missed such an important event in history. "I think it's the second definition you want, then."

M continues. "And I don't think anyone else in my family did either. I think I'm the first person in my family to hear about the Holocaust."

I am surprised again. "You are?" I say.

"Yeah," she responds. "My dad and mom never finished high school. They don't know about stuff like this." Then she seems worried that I will think badly of her family. "But they are really smart," she says. "My dad is a really good mechanic. And my mom knows a lot about people. She's really good with people."

"There are all different kinds of smart," I say. "It sounds like your mom and dad really are smart people."

"There are a lot of websites for the Holocaust," M says, eyeing the really long list that has appeared on the screen. I look over her shoulder and see that the second or third one down is for the National Holocaust Museum.

"Try this one," I say. "I'm sure that will be a good resource."

"Did it really happen?" M asks. "Why do you think people would do that to each other?"

I tell her I don't know, that I am sometimes surprised by how people can be so incredibly cruel.

"But what did they do in those camp things? What were they? Did they just work?"

I try my best to explain, as simply as I can, in the two minutes I have, a little about concentration camps. That people were taken there against their will. Because of their religion. That sometimes others who helped the Jews were taken too. That all of their things were taken away. That the conditions were horrific- crowded, no beds, no food, no heat, families split up, etc. That many were killed. And that others died because of the conditions.

"And is it true that they killed people in the showers? Did they really do that?"

I think she is talking about gassing people. I try again to explain it.

My principal comes in on the end of the conversation, all ready to interview.  She stops long enough to give M a hug. "You doing ok?" she asks, completely unaware of the Holocaust discussion, and referring instead, to a difficult family situation that I have only heard rumors about.

I can tell that M is not quite done with her research. "Do you have a computer at home?" I ask.

"We don't have internet," she says.

I tell her she can go to the library and use the computers for free.

"I don't have a card," M says. "The computers were down when we went to get one. We have to go back again."

"Maybe you can do that over break," I say.

I head into the library to interview and M heads out the door.

And once again, the reality of life in an urban school completely breaks my heart. A smart kid. Bilingual. Good grades. Plenty smart enough to go to college. With a family who loves her.

And yet a kid who doesn't have an extensive pool of background knowledge. Or the resources to acquire it. That can't even get the system to work well enough to get a library card.

And I wonder, for about the millionth time, about this land of opportunity.

Friday, March 27, 2015

SLICE #25



Tonight
bird’s nest graces
branches
silhouetted
against
immense
bluepinkgolden
sky




and half a world away
lost soul slams plane
into mountain range
and robs world
of joy and love and gifts
one hundred fifty others
might have left


and yellow daffodils
purple crocus
pink hyacinths
green grass
dash color
against earth
that has been
brown and white
for months




and crazed killer
carves girl baby
out of pregnant mama’s womb
and senator-minister
defames name of God
with remarks
that surely
do not reflect
Abba Father’s
loving heart


and six-year-olds giggle
at toes and underwear
black dog knows boundless joy
when leash comes out
spinach white cheese pizza
leaves slightly garlicky taste
on my tongue


and empty rooms 
echo silence
and the ache
in my heart
is endless
and there are no tears
left to cry



And I wonder
how so much perfection
and imperfection

can co-exist

Thursday, March 26, 2015

SLICE #24

Court again.
I arrive around 10 
for the 10:30 docket time.
The boys do not arrive until 10:28. 
The walk across the courtroom with their sister.
I have not seen them for two weeks.
They do not make eye contact.
They look thin and I wonder
what they have been eating.
Both boys need haircuts.
The judge calls our case numbers.
There are three.
One for each of the boys.
One for their sister. 
I sit on one side of the podium.
The boys sit on the other.
The judge tells me that I can decide
whether they should come home.
Now. Or in 30 days. Or sixty. Or 90.
Or six months or a year.
I want them to come home right now. 
Today.

I want to feed them.
I want to send them for hair cuts.
I want to hold them 
in my arms and comfort away
all the hurt of the past few weeks.

Instead I draw a deep breath.
Wipe away a tear.
I still have not heard apologies.
I know, despite what they say
that they are still smoking.
Pretty much every day.
Neither has a full time job.
I feel like I need to say something.
"When I adopted you in 2003
I say, "It was forever.
And it is still forever.
But I am not willing to live with addicts."
And so I say, "90 days."
Kadeem protests.
"I was living with her before.
And now we are basically homeless."
I wonder what is happening with his father.
Later I hear rumors that Isaiah 
is living with an older brother.
The judge does not blink. 
"Ninety days," she says firmly.
Isaiah says nothing.
Accepts his fate.
The boys' sister does not want to see me again. Ever.
She just wants to stay in touch with her brothers.
And that is fine with me.
I sit alone as the clerk finishes copying the paperwork.
The boys are across the courtroom.
Then I head to the car.
Crying.

When I get back to school
I call the boys.
I am not supposed
to have any contact
but I cannot stand it.
I need to tell them 
I love them.
Sometimes love is way too hard.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

SLICE #23

Does a hyphen really matter?

When I adopted the boys in 2006
Son #1 wanted to keep his last name.
Son #2 wanted to take my last name.
I wanted them to have the same last name.
They are brothers.
People should know that.
And so we compromised. 
Rather than take their last name, Hendrix
Or my last name, Wilcox
We hyphenated the two.
Hendrix-Wilcox.

Since that day,
nine years ago
I've often wondered
if we did the right thing.
First, it's a huge logistical hassle.
Careless clerks omit the hyphen.
Bank tellers ignore it. 
Computer systems hate it. 
I can't begin to count 
the number of hours
I've spent waiting on hold
as people hunt for my boys--
can you give me a date of birth?
SSN? Middle name?

More than inconvenience 
I wonder about matters of the heart
Did the boys think
that Hendrix-Wilcox
means I wasn't willing
to jump in with both feet?
Did they think
I would bail
if being a family
became less than palatable?
Did they think I wasn't serious 
about being a forever mom?

I wonder about that hyphen. 





Tuesday, March 24, 2015

SLICE #22

So tonight I'm thinking about the kids that are easily overlooked.
Take E, for example.
An eighth grader
One of the shortest kids in the class for a long time.
In the last year he has shot up
Now he's average or maybe even a little above
his weight hasn't caught up with his height yet
and I wonder how his mom ever finds jeans that fit
that long skinny body
Not one of the top students in his class
but definitely a kid who shows up every single day.
A kid who works hard in class
and does his homework.
A kid who you can always count on.

I make a point to talk with kids like E.
Try to connect with them.
Try to let them know
I see them.

Yesterday I saw E in the cafeteria.
And realized it had been a few days
since we had touched base.
I said hello.
Asked him where he was going to high school.
(My district has a choice policy
and our eighth graders head off
to any number of places).
"I don't know,"  he says.
"No one has sent me a letter yet."
I am surprised.
This is a good kid.
Solid academics.
Absolutely clean behavior record.
"It will come soon," I assure him.
But I wonder how he feels at lunch
when his best buddies all discuss
their high school admittance letters
and he has nothing
to contribute
to the conversation.

This morning
I see him again.
"Any word?"
He shakes his head no and
I tell him I will talk to our high school selection person.
And see if she has heard anything.
I see her a few minutes later
on my way out to recess duty.
She tells me she is sure
he has been accepted
at his first choice.
She will check after lunch.

E makes a point of finding me on the playground
probably twenty minutes since I have last seen him.
"Did you see her?" he asks
and I know how this issue
is eating at his heart.
I tell him that I will check again
after lunch. Which I do.
I think the counselor is getting tired of me
but she consults her list
and there he is listed
on the school that is his first choice.
I ask if I can bring him to talk to her.
She looks at me a little strangely.
"I was going to go up there in a little bit."

"I'll bring him to you. Save you a trip."
I hurry up the stairs. Locate him in science class.
Tell him the counselor wants to talk to him.
He looks nervous and I assure him that it is good news.
We make our way back down to the office
and the counselor shows E
his name on the list.
His smile could light the whole school.
A really good kid
who will be going to his first choice high school
with his two best friends.

I see you, E, I see you.


Monday, March 23, 2015

SLICE #21

Tonight
my head hurts
my throat hurts
my chest hurts
every bone in my body hurts

i went to work today
and wished and wished and wished
all day that i had not
i staggered home afterwards
stopping only long enough
to pick up some ibuprofen
that i gulped down in the car
in the parking lot at walgreen's

when  got home
i emailed my Bible study leader
to tell her i wasn't going tonight
and now i am laying on the couch
with the family room spinning
endlessly

while my black lab
gazes mournfully
into my eyes
begging begging begging
for her evening walk

she has clearly never heard
the expression
sick as a dog

Sunday, March 22, 2015

SLICE #20

A sunny spring Saturday in Denver. I teach, run by home to change clothes, then head downtown to  for Book Club. Other members have come and gone, but six of us have been meeting for almost twenty years. Today's book is, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Tony Doerr. I loved it and can't wait to talk about it.

Union Station has been open six or eight months, but I have not been down there yet. I wander through a huge lobby, looking for a what seems to be a non-existent piano that Val has designated as the meeting area, and wondering how I will ever connect with anyone. My ADD self, which doesn't usually do enclosed shopping malls, kicks in, and I struggle to find the piano, because there is so much else to look at- people, little shops (Hey, there's a sign for Tattered Cover Books, did they move over here?), gorgeous antique architecture and fixtures.  

Just when I am about to ask someone if there is another lobby with a piano, I hear someone calling my name. It is Brenna, who has staked a claim on a quieter corner. Soon Brenna spots Val across the lobby and calls on her cell phone.

"Turn left! No, left again. Turn around. We can see you." 

Brenna and I laugh as Val follows the somewhat convoluted directions, finally spots us and makes her way across the lobby. Brenna and Karen head off to find a beer, while I hold down our encampment in the lobby. 

We know Karen is not coming- she is at a funeral in Saint Louis, but Terri is supposed to be arriving by light rail. No one has heard from her, but after fifteen minutes, we decide not to wait any longer. It is time to bring our final member into the conversation.

Laura is not in Denver right now. She is eight or ten thousand, or maybe a million miles away in Hong Kong, doing a two year stint as director of professional development at an international school corporation. In December, we chose our books for the next six months, so she could buy/download them. And every month, she joins us via Skype or FaceTime or telephone, from her apartment in China. Brenna is our technology guru, who makes it all come together.

Today it takes several attempts. No connection via Skype. Nothing via FaceTime. "I'm going to try calling," says Brenna. But then Laura's face pops up on the iPad. It is early in Hong Kong, only four on Sunday morning and she is still in bed. We wonder for a minute why we decided to meet at two, and promise that next month we will meet a little later. 

Laura assures us she doesn't care that we have called so early and reaches for her glasses and her book, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, by Tony Doerr. Let the book talk begin! Terri arrives and somehow manages to find us in that huge lobby. She makes her way to where the iPad can see her. 

Some months, depending on what has gone on in people's lives, and on people's interest in the book, we just talk, and the book kind of takes a backseat, but today we are ready to talk book. This meeting has been rescheduled several times and Brenna, Laura, and I finished the book over a month ago. Val, an avid reader, has read several other books, including THE GOLDFINCH, but has not finished ALL THE LIGHT. 

A spirited conversation ensues as we make our way through the book.

"What page are you on?"

"Wasn't that the grandfather, it was her grandfather on the radio, wasn't it?"

"What actually happened to the climax?"

"Could you believe how it all came together, right here?"

"What page is that?

"Do you think that's really where the whole thing came together?"

And so we sit, four fifty-plus women, in the middle of Union Station, surrounded by young and beautiful people, talking about our books, for almost an hour. Finally, Brenna's phone is almost out of juice, Val has to head off to Fort Collins for an evening with a new friend, and Laura is ready to go back to bed. We make plans for next month, BOSTON GIRL, April 11, place to be determined, I think. We say goodbye to Laura, "Love you sweetie! Miss you! Only a couple of more months until June!" and the screen goes blank.

Brenna, Terri and I head across the street for a burger and continue the conversation- books, life, Laura's dog, my boys.

We have been reading talking books and loving each other for almost twenty years. 

Book club. 

Book Club, twenty years, Union Station, Denver