Miss California

 

Due to inclement weather and road conditions, all West Ada Schools in Idaho are closed today; which means, I am not teaching today.  They do not have snow days like this in California.  At least not in the Central Valley where I was born, raised and taught for four years. 

“Poor people in California!  They are missing out on all this fun!” says my daughter Analise over her homemade blueberry oatmeal at breakfast.

We are held captive by the snow’s steady fall and the accumulating inches growing into feet.  Growing up in the Central Valley, I never saw snow unless my family traveled to Yosemite and that was only a few times.  One year it snowed in Merced.  That was too long ago.

I miss California.  When I speak of California, I only have the Central Valley in view because it is to me what the rough South is for other writers; it is my world, for nothing can ever stand against born and raised.  However, when I do feel estranged from my home state, I say to myself, “Miss California?  Are you out of your mind?”  I start to list everything wrong with the valley: the water crisis, high unemployment, crime, poor air quality, and thanks to Forbes, a notoriety for being one of the most miserable places to live.    

In spite of these imperfections, I am loyal and my allegiance remains.  I have Stockholm syndrome.  I am fully aware of how bad the valley is and how its mismanagement and dysfunction is an abusive lash beating and wearing its resident-captives down.  I hoped the valley would get better the way a battered wife deludes herself into thinking the little goodness in her husband may one day overcome the cruelty causing him to smash her with his fists.  I stayed as long as I could.     

But nothing can be done about my affections for the valley because of the circumstance of place.  Buccal smear the inside of my cheek.  There are no DNA traces of my father and mother there unless you count the chicken processing plant they have worked in most of their lives and the marriage I hoped would have lasted; there are traces of school hallways I walked down, quinceañeras I waltzed in, handcuffs I wore, blood I spilled, a teaching career born and traces of a little brown boy leaping off the pier at Lake Yosemite, crashing into the water, intentionally submerging himself because it is enchanting to look upon a bright, blurry sky from below the water.

I doubt I will ever be able to speak from my heart about any other place not only because there I find my origins, family and friends but also because I feel I have left things undone.  I should have done more.  I should have been adventurous and scoured the state for money and gold hidden by Joaquin Murrieta.  I should have trekked the John Muir Trail.  I should have made the Point Reyes Lighthouse more than a day trip.  I would go back and break into the lighthouse lens room and watch the sunset and sunrise.  I would go back and walk more of the Pacific Coast.

I would go back a giant, visiting the San Andreas Fault and running my hand over the sutured earth, feeling it in a way nobody else could.  I would stare down into the fault and defy it.  I would mock it.  It would not make me feel my own insignificance.  I should have been like Huell Howser, traversing the state like a tramp with deep pockets, becoming intimate with all of California’s gold and not just the valley’s.    

For now, all the adventure I could have experienced in California, I could experience in Idaho.  There is so much I have not seen or done even after living here three years.  I will make a list of places we’ll go and things we’ll do.  I will fight against my recluse tendencies and seize adventure.  Only none of that is happening anytime soon.  Not with this snow.

 

Black Friday Random

I get away to do some work, hoping a bit of lesson planning will make things easier when I go back to school after the break.  This is always a lie and the friend who tells you this is not your friend.  My good intentions are short lived.  I have five short stories hoping to finish and the need – wrong word, crazed obsession to finish them weighs on my mind. There is a deadline only I don’t know what it is nor do I know who has set it.  Then I remember about this blog I have not touched in a while.  Here we are.      

My daughter finished a whole series of books a while ago and I’ve asked her to write the author a letter, explaining how much she enjoyed the books.  I say, “Sister, there are no great writers, only great rewriters.”  She gets it.  I write her an outline to preempt, “How do I start?”  This isn’t my first rodeo.

“Why do I have to write this?”

“Sister, writers like to know that others have liked their writing,” I say, as if having authority.

“How do you know?” she asks, destroying my authority.

I smile, not hurt.

“Just a hunch,” I say.

And I fully intend on writing without interruption only I have erred tremendously by believing I can accomplish much work at the local coffee shop.  Technically this is writing but not the “I-have-to-finish-this-story” writing.  Then I remember, or keep remembering like an interrupted, morse code on a loop, that today is Black Friday.  And if I forget, the people here won’t let me.     

The only person I connect (defined as holding my attention temporarily) with in the coffee shop is a tall white man in jeans and a blue flannel with a shaved head I gather is more a necessity than choice.  He’s got a book, I love books.  

“My brother!”

I see only the words “fallen brother” on the book cover.  So I do what anyone does these days to learn about another person without being social, I use the Internet.  I google fallen brother, analyze my choices, analyze the book cover now shoved into his armpit, clamped snug to pay for his Caffe Americano.  Actually, I don’t know what he ordered.  A find a match on Amazon.

The book is Fallen Brother in Blue: The Tragic Death of Police Officer Mark Stall.  I know nothing about the book other than what the brief summary gives me.  The man is now at a table, engaged in an act I rarely find myself in, sitting with a friend at a table and talking.  My friends are pens , notebooks and time.  I didn’t know coffee was this important, a necessary pitstop from Black Friday shopping.  But it’s not that, I know.  Coffee is a quiet mediator, forgotten and doomed to lukewarmness between folks as they talk about deals, as they talk about yesterday, as they talk about books left to lie on a table.  A woman walks by and her shirt is a depiction of Santa’s suit.  A man walks by and I swear he is one of my old drill instructors but I say nothing.  A guy walks in looking like Conor McGregor as if he’s just raided Wyatt Earp’s wardrobe.  Three teachers sit next to me at a long table.  They open up their planners and right away I gather they are more organized than I am, the first of many negative assumptions.  One is African-American.  I remember what a friend told me once, “I’m tired of hyphens.  Just call me American.”  I have the irrational desire of whipping out my planner from my bag just to let them know that I’m a teacher too and that I’m good and that and that and that rather than the guy at the end of the table with the beenie on, shaking his head in disbelief at overpriced coffee mugs.

I see bags of coffee labeled with loaded words like

Ethiopia

Kenya

Guatemala

Sumatra

Rwanda

Columbia,

failing to lure buyers, failing to tap into their “Let’s-make-the-world-better-by-buying coffee-instinct”; failing to lure buyers away from the Black Friday alerts on their phones. For a split second, I see the faces of my students but then I remember lyrics from a System of a Down song I haven’t heard in years:

“Advertising causes need

therapy, therapy

Advertising’s got you on the run

Every minute, every second,

buy, buy, buy, buy, buy.” 

I should have worked at home, amidst the chaos of my lovely family and a hot cup of cowboy coffee in my hand.  Next time.

 

 

 

 

 

Scared

We were supposed to go to the park after lunch but that never happened.  The clouds came and grey colored everything.  Later the rain came as a cold guard, thunder, its nightstick.  We cleaned the kids bedrooms, bagged a surplus of toys to throw away and rearranged furniture.  I took apart the baby’s crib.  She’ll sleep in the toddler bed now.  I thought nothing of it as I took it apart.  I thought nothing of it when I walked it to the garage with Andres.

But then I put her to sleep and realized we will no longer need the crib.  I told Saraphina

You’re a big girl now.

You’re almost three.

Stay in your bed.  

Night, night.

Jesus loves you.

Then I kissed Lucia to sleep and thought if it storms again like it did earlier, no doubt she’ll be asking for admittance into our bed, frightened by the thunder and wind, protected by mommy and daddy.

*

We lived on Seville Drive in the duplexes in front of Alicia Reyes before the days of Alicia Reyes.  I don’t remember how old I was.  All I knew was that I would feel better sleeping on the ground next to my parents.  I did this for months and they never seemed to ask me why.  My dad watched the news a lot: KTVU, KMPH, a Spanish channel out of Fresno or Modesto.  I knew English and Spanish so the news in English I would later hear in Spanish, vice versa.  And during those days, everyone was watching the news. 

I wasn’t stupid.  I was well aware that Merced was in between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  I reasoned

What if this guy stops in Merced?

What if he breaks into my room?

What if?

I had a friend in school who would always talk about him.

“Did you hear?  He got another one.  That’s 13.”

Like I wanted to hear that.

“He’s killing everyone, moms and dads too.”

I had a mom and dad.  

Thinking of their mortality made my little lips quiver.  I forced the thought away and tried to sleep on the hard ground with blankets I wished I still had today.  Was I there protecting them or did I need protecting?

When the police released sketches of him, it made things worse.  Without a face, he was a myth like El Cucuy.  When I closed my eyes to sleep, there he was: wide eyed, thin, curly hair.  A killer.

They caught The Night Stalker in August of 1985.  Residents of an East Los Angeles neighborhood beat him up as he tried to car jack two vehicles.  I slept better that night I’m sure as did the entire state of California.  Whether I slept in my parents room that night, I don’t remember.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swearing

I had the privilege of attending a swearing in ceremony of new United States citizens yesterday.  People of all cultures and shades were represented:  Canada, Italy, Congo, Mexico, Iraq, Iran, China, Guatemala, El Salvador, Russia.  I am rarely in situations where I am amongst people who are completely happy to be where they are.  Not these people.

You’d think they were peasants in some sort of fairy tale where a King were granting their every wish.  Or perhaps they thought they had just won the lottery.  But not them only, also the family members standing on the edges of the room, smiling, snapping photos everywhere.  For about an hour, it seemed these were the most important people on the planet.

How did I find myself at the head of this ceremony unexpectedly?  It’s ironic really.

The gentleman conducting the ceremony at the start said

Is there any brave soul out there who will lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance?

After some quiet and awkward moments of people scanning the room for someone to step up, I finally did.  I lifted my hand and was told to come forward.

“I’m a high school teacher,” I said, “I do this everyday.”

Did I forget to mention that I had Saraphina, my lovely one year baby girl in my arms?  It might have been the first time in history that someone has led the Pledge of Allegiance for new citizens while holding a not so happy one-year old.  She wasn’t that bad really.  And unlike many students in my high school classes, absolutely none of these new citizens sighed out of frustration that they were being bothered to recite the pledge.  They did it gladly.

As these forty-nine new citizens finished the ceremony, the smiles of their faces spoke volumes: joy, legitimacy, finality.  For others, not so much.  As I walked around, hearing snippets of conversation, it was obviously for some, just another day.

For one

I have to go back to work now.  I took my lunch early.

For another

Bye, I have to get to class now.

And lastly

Do you have paper and a pen on you?  We need to make a grocery list.

God bless America.