Meet Me in the Park

Day 5: You stumble upon a random letter on the path.You read it. It affects you deeply, and you wish it could be returned to the person to which it’s addressed. Write a story about this encounter. The twist is to make it brief. Sadly, brevity is not my strong point.  AND I barely had time to write this let alone edit it since my baby boy is super sick today. Please excuse my mistakes and inconsistencies.

I’ve no way of knowing how long it had been there. I walk this path every day to and from work, and I hadn’t seen it before. Of course that doesn’t say much at all. I’m not exactly the most observant of people. J often muses that if I’m ever witness to a crime, I will be utterly useless in a lineup or to a sketch artist. And that’s not too much of an exaggeration. I’m so wrapped up in my own head that I often get home without realizing I’m there or don’t hear the doorman saying hello as I walk right by him. Aloof, I suppose you could call me, and it wouldn’t be an insult since it’s the truth.

So why I managed to notice this letter as I happened upon it is beyond me. Perhaps it was its stark whiteness against the lime of the meadow. Perhaps if it was still winter, and not in the throes of spring with its budding colors all around, I might have missed it. It would be easy enough to ignore surrounded by like colors. Perhaps it was just happenstance that the letter slid into my peripheral and stayed there. Whatever the reason, I noticed it and picked it up, intrigued.

Upon picking it up, I noticed its dampness and its odor of earth mingling with something floral. Though it was brightly white at the center, the left hand side, where it peeked out from the bush, was a shade or two darker, drying, and starting to curl at the edges. The handwriting was the script of the past. Perfect loops and curves, carefully written so that the quality of the writing itself intended to communicate the seriousness of the writing’s content.

It was warm that day. Warm enough by now that my walk’s exertion had left a thin layer of perspiration upon my face and left me to remove my light jacket. It was the type of day one dreams about during the long, harsh winters to get through the darkness of spirit it brings.

I sat down on the nearest bench. Certainly I could have perused the letter where I stood, where I found it, but something told me to find a seat and give the letter my full attention.

Dearest K–,

It is done. I wasn’t sure I had the wherewithal to go through with what I had purposed, and the more I delayed the inevitable, the more I began to lose my resolve. I had almost given up the idea entirely until in he walked in, stark drunk and smelling of her again, and then I knew that no matter the consequences, I had to do this. I couldn’t keep up the ruse any longer. Though he was perfectly content in pretending, I could no longer tell my heart no.

And so, I looked him straight in the eye, told him I was leaving, and that he shouldn’t ever bother looking for me. He could keep the house and the money. It was all useless to me now that I have you. As you can imagine, that last bit of information did not go over well with him.

Of course he cursed and shouted and threatened to destroy me. To tell the papers all my secrets. To out me to all my friends and colleagues. He howled for what felt like hours while I stared impassively at him.

Whether from the drink or his surprise, his rage, I observed, slowly turned his face a deep blood red. At first I was frightened and thought he meant to hurt me. But then I noticed his face resembled a perfect match to the cherries we had eaten in bed that weekend up north. And then I smiled. I didn’t mean to! I didn’t want to enrage him more. But I couldn’t help smiling when I thought of you dangling those ripe fruits above my face, juice having stained your full lips a brazen color. And in that moment I knew with full certainty that I had done the right thing.  And nothing he could or would say to me would ever mean a thing. And that I was finally free.

So, my dearest love, I write to you to prove to you that I am no coward, and that I am a woman of my word. And to ask you to meet me at our spot in the park at the time we planned for.

I can imagine the look of your surprise, the careful, hesitant curl of your painted lips as you see me walking toward you with my small bag. I know you thought I wouldn’t go through with it. No matter, my dear, I will pick you up and twirl you around and kiss you full on the mouth no matter who is watching. Who cares what the rest of the world thinks if we have each other. They can all go to hell!

Meet me, my love. Let’s begin our lives.

Yours ever,

B–

I don’t know how, but I must find them.

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Catching Up

Twenty minutes each to respond to both day 3’s and day 4’s challenges. I think I might go off the beaten path on these.

Day 3’s challenge was to write about 3 songs that mean a lot to you. Because I like music as much as the average person, but don’t feel any particular kindred spirit within it, I felt this post would be ultimately meaningless to me.

So instead, I will write about 3 books that mean a lot to me, and that will have to suffice.

Number 1: To Kill a Mockingbird. Ah, how cliche, you might be thinking. And sure, it’s one of the most widely reported favorite books in America. But here’s the deal with me and this book: we go way back. Like back to 8th grade. I don’t quite remember how my hands got on this book at this time because my teacher didn’t have us read it in class.But read it I did. With little appreciation, I’m afraid.

So when I stumbled upon it again in college, I tried again. And this time I ate it up. What a story of injustice! But also what a story of hope!

Our relationship doesn’t end there, however. I have taught this book now four times and to four distinctly different groups of students. And every time I teach it, I see more and more into it. This last time, I really started to see myself in Scout–wanting so badly for everything to be fair and right, but going about things all the wrong ways. And I see Atticus as who I can work toward being. Though I’ll never really be cool under pressure, and I will always be a bit sharp-tongued, I really do need to choose my battles and tactics more wisely. I look forward to what my next reading might bring me.

Number 2: Gossie–a Children’s book. This is a simple tale of a “small, yellow gosling who likes to wear bright red boots every day.” It’s a sweet story about a little gosling who loses her favorite boots, but then finds them on the feet of another gosling; and, ultimately becomes her best friend after they decide to share the boots.

Easy story. Easy moral. Super cute. But what makes this book so special to me is the fact that both of my children just adore(d) it. My daughter memorized the story long before she could read, and it truly was one of the first books she read independently. My son loves it so much that we’ve bought every other gosling book this author has penned in this series. And even though he doesn’t read yet, he’s following his sister’s footsteps and memorizing it too.

I know this will be one of those books that I will dust off many years from now, perhaps when I have grandchildren, and it will always put a knot in my throat and a nostalgic smile on my face.

Number 3: Any R.L. Stine Fear Street book of the early 90’s. These books I read voraciously from about 4th to 9th grade. Just ate these things up. I was a strange kid reading these scary, sometimes gory books. But they made me the reader I am. And they opened my soul up to Edgar Allan Poe’s works later in my childhood. I loved the psychology of the characters–what was going on in their minds (though I didn’t call it psychology as a child). And I loved the feeling of always wanting more. What’s going to happen? How will they react?

These books even inspired my own early writings. I remember, when I was about 9ish, writing a story that ended: “And her cold, dark eyes stared off into the starry night.” What a fucking weirdo I was. But I was so proud of myself, and whenever I need reminding that I can write and that I should write, I think about that story that started it all off.

Day 4’s Challenge is to write about a loss of any kind.

I hope this post won’t come back to haunt me, but in the true spirit of my blog’s name, I must unburden myself of something. I’ve lost the love to teach.

Growing up, I had a few favorite games to play: house and school. And for as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. There were other ideas I thought about, but nothing with any seriousness as being a teacher. And so, into the education field I went after high school.

I graduated with my bachelor’s degree  in December 2004 and began per diem subbing in January 2005, eventually pulling in a long-term position in April 2005. I’ve been teaching, all but one year, since then. It’s been the life I’ve know for ten professional, adult years, and truly all my life. It was my dream job. And I spent six years and two degrees making it happen.

But now that dream is dead. And I’ll tell you why it’s dead: Murder. Schooling and education as I once knew it no longer exists. Standardized testing has killed any joy, any creativity in the learning process. The joy of discovery, the pride in growing, the excitement of creating is as rare as finding dinosaur bones in your backyard. Good luck finding any of those.

And most of the general public think education is failing because of the teachers. Somehow it’s all our faults. It’s not the policymakers who have no educational background or advanced degrees in pedagogy. It’s not school administrators after their own self interests or without the guts to stand up for what’s right. It’s not the ignoring of social issues that run deep in society and create environments and difficulties that can’t easily be solved. No, it’s definitely the teachers.

It’s the people who have: dedicated years of schooling; spent more hours planning, grading, shopping,researching, writing, thinking, worrying than most give credit for; eschewed higher incomes than their education and experience truly dictates; spent their own money buying supplies, clothing, food for students in need; ask for what’s fair and nothing more in return; who just want to inspire and guide, and marvel at young minds transforming. Yeah, it’s us who are the problem.

I say fuck that shit. I’ve got no nice way to say it. Fuck anyone who thinks the system can be fixed with one more test, one more scripted curriculum, one more hour of intensive math or reading, with one more cut to the arts. Fuck you, and fuck your bullshit, deeply flawed and harmful plans. YOU are the problem. You, who put restriction after restriction on learning. You who rule with dollar signs in your eyes and blinders to the developmental needs of children. Who who has chosen to forego degrees in child development and psychology as well as teaching practices and decided you’re still qualified to make decisions that will irrevocably change people’s lives–most of whom are fucking CHILDREN.

The healthcare system in American is an atrocity. It needs serious change to repair the damage that it has done over the course of many years. But last time I checked, politicians hadn’t waged a war on doctors because of it. I don’t see doctors being told what kinds of treatments they’re limited to in correcting ALL illness. I don’t see only one test by which the doctors can make their diagnoses. And I sure as shit don’t see anyone cutting their salaries,benefit packages, or demanding they work more hours. Doctors make, on average, six figures. And they work their asses off for it. I don’t disagree with that at all. No one questions why they make what they do. Or why nurses make what they do. Or why lawyers make what they do. But someone is going to question whether I’ve earned my $40,000 annual salary? Someone is going to question whether or not I’m good at what I do because of the results of ONE FUCKING TEST?! If you do, you clearly don’t know shit about what I do. And you need to back the fuck up and step off. Leave the teachers alone.

Oh, but not all teachers ARE good, you say? Well, you’re right. But neither are all doctors, plumbers, engineers, cashiers, fast food workers. I don’t see a public outcry to oust them from their positions. No, I see the vilification of teachers because it’s easier to blame them than address what’s really wrong with our system.

And until that does happen, until real change, meaningful change happens, I’m done. I love my students. I love teaching. But not like this. Never like this.

Oranges

Luckily it had rained heavily this past week. The scent of earth hung in the air like angels. Steam could be faintly seen emanating from the ground in the fields showing how hot it had been here lately. Birds flew about, rejoicing in the renewed source of hydration.Even the crickets and cicadas came out for a midday romp instead of hiding from the oppressive sun as they’d been had to do as of late.

We had been experiencing a record-breaking dry spell this month which was especially disconcerting to the farmers who were hoping for a really spectacular rainy season. They could really use it after last year’s drought and subsequent economic downturn that forced most of these men–even the older ones who hadn’t really worked in decades–to pull in any and all odd jobs they could find.

You see, oranges are the biggest cash crop where I’m from and normally by this time in the season the oranges are swollen globes as big as a grown man’s fist. The burden of their weight causes the branches of the trees to droop so low they do toe touches. The pungent sweet scent of them wafts through the air and can be noticed miles away from the plantations. And the rich, loamy soil cakes and crumbles in my fists as easily as my grandmother’s tea cakes.

I know all of this because my family has owned orange plantations for more generations than even my granddaddy, the town’s unofficial historian, can remember. And even though I’m only 15 years old, I am expected to do my fair share of work around here.

I’m in charge of picking up the overripe fruit that were overlooked during picking and now lay rotting on the ground covered in tiny black ants traveling in and out of the makeshift city they’ve created in the oranges’ flesh. I’m told I must clear one hundred yards a day and not touch any of the fresh oranges still swaying tauntingly on their branches; but, I may enjoy as many pieces that have fallen to the ground and are still edible.

On most days I will clear the rows for long enough time to bore my little sister who, against my wishes, tags along each and every morning. And once she wanders off to taunt the stray black tomcat who lives under our back porch, I will pluck off of one of the branches the most perfect orange I can find and then curl up against my favorite tree and lose myself in a book.

Backyard Songs

As a part of the Writing 101 challenge, I’ve decided to write and publish today’s challenge: free-write for 20 minutes.  5:15 pm. And go…

It was finally warm enough to open the windows here today for a few hours. Fresh air hasn’t been in our house for some time now. And even though the breeze was a bit chilly, I left the window open as Ollie and I snuggled up for our afternoon nap.

Even at just days shy of four years old, Ollie is still an amazing napper. And since I enjoy a good nap myself, whenever I am not working, I always nap with him in my bed. Some days I will read while he drifts off. Some days I’m practically asleep even before he closes his eyes.

Today, even though I wanted to move forward in the book I’m currently enthralled with, I thought for a second how he’s getting older and older and one day will not at all be interested in napping with his mama. So I closed the book and turned to face him and watch his adorable, chubby-cheeked face while he fell asleep.

It was while I was doing this that I started paying more attention to the sounds coming in through my bedroom window.

We live in the middle of the city, but I’ve worked really hard to turn our quarter acre yard into a welcome place for all sorts of animal life. We get rabbits pretty regularly–destroying my sweet peas, green beans, and worst of all , my lilies. Two of our three cats came wandering toward us from our backyard. Incidentally, as I type this, another–a tortoise shell beauty–is sitting one yard over.

But most of all, we get tons of birds. The flowers I plant are planned purposefully based on butterfly and bird interest. I never chop down my plants in the fall because I know the birds use it for last minute food before the winter sets in, as well as the occasional shelter.

I’ve always loved animals. and I’ve always been interested in our natural world. But just recently I’ve really gotten into birding.

And it was this sound that came through my bedroom window–the sounds of calling birds. One in particular, though, caught my attention. If you listen carefully, you can distinguish one sound from another, even when calls are out there in a group. This sound I’d heard many times in the past, but was never able to place what bird was issuing it. And in the past I did little to explore it further. Not this time.

Just this week I bought a bird identification book, as well as two nesting boxes. I’ve been sitting at my dining room picture window with my binoculars checking out the different feathered friends that find their way into my newly growing yard. And this visual identification has spawned my identifying their calls and songs.

I was surprised to find that this call I was hearing during naptime was actually a Northern cardinal. Very common in the area. But I thought I knew the cardinal’s song, and this wasn’t it. To my surprise and delight I found out that these birds have over 16 distinct sounds, all specific to mood and purpose. A language all to their own. As a lover of language, I was thrilled to learn this.

Despite what many might believe, these bird calls aren’t just one-sided or static. The cacophony that is heard at dawn, if you’re lucky enough to be awake to hear this chorus, is an entire neighborhood abuzz with the new day and all calling out expressing their individual moments. It’s beautiful.

Birding, beautiful? Isn’t birding for old people? Even my kids and husband don’t get it. “Why are you so into birds all of a sudden?” “Am I going to have to hear all about birds all summer?”

I can’t really explain my newfound obsession with avians. I just find them so mesmerizing. They’re so elusive, fluttering here and there so quickly. You’re lucky if they pause and you get a good look at them. You must have patience to observe them for any length of time or for any number of encounters. And even though they are mostly prey animals, they are so cunning, and free. They want to go somewhere, they do. Up up and away.

Who can’t relate to that and be jealous?

5:35. Stop.