we had glass camp at the arboretum last month. he had been fine until we got into the door and then the tears began. but, after a couple of minutes, one of the teachers got him interested in building a tower and i was quickly forgotten.
today is oliver's first day as a first grader. DISD. public school. stonewall jackson elementary. cream of the crop.
we spent a lot of energy preparing, thanks to getting three supply lists, the first two being incorrect, and having a platoon of paperwork problems. but, hey. i got it all sorted out. the new backpack was stuffed. the paper bag caught the overflow. his tiger's head lunch box carried shiny new containers stuffed with a requested pb&j, pear, wheat crackers, water bottle and a lunchtime note of encouragement. he put on his new navy polo shirt. brown shorts. blue sneakers. we brushed his luxurious, uncut (his request) hair.
i wanted to leave five minutes earlier, but what can you do. the side streets around the school were stuffed. i took the first spot i found on delmar. we walked. and walked. i thought my arm might come apart at the shoulder from the weight of the backpack. oliver helped violet cross streets and step off curbs by holding her hand.
we made it across school grounds and down increasingly crowded halls and finally arrived at the room farthest away. i could feel the shift in energy. there were a lot of children already in seats and i scanned quickly for a clock, wondering if class had already started. we came in. ms. pool was there to greet us and point us to his seat. the one farthest away from the door, my escape hatch.
as soon as we struggled with our bags over there, the tears and clinging began. i hoped they were just like the arboretum tears, but they weren't. he didn't care about the orange playdough on his desk. he didn't care about paige at the desk facing him. he didn't care about linda coming in the room to sit at the desk next to him, the one with the pink playdough.
minutes were ticking away and the tears were getting worse instead of better. i looked up to see kathryn and kate and i thought for the briefest of moments, WHAT LUCK... KATE IS IN HIS CLASS, as my eyes kept trying to make sense of her st. james embroidered dress. kathryn said, "hey, oliver! there are some friends here to see you!" and i looked closer to the door and saw chris, her husband, and landon, his buddy from st james. and i could feel my eyes wanting to cry, it was so sweet. their oldest was starting her third year at stonewall upstairs and they had brought the twins down to try and help.
my eyes started watering. oliver refused to turn around, so they began snaking their way back out.
ms. pool asked oliver if he would rather have a different color playdough. he wailed. i tried being understanding. i tried being supportive. i tried being empowering. i tried being firm. i tried telling him he was going to freak out other children and he needed to get it under control because everyone was looking at him. i felt less and less proud of my parenting skills and more and more frantic. i was wanting to cry at this point.
let me tell you. i get it. i know this anxiety. i remember that feeling. i know what's going on. and, frankly, i agree with him. i would be freaking way the fuck out to be in his shoes. he doesn't know one atom of that building or those people from adam. atom-adam, oh.
a mother (i won't speak for fathers here), a mother is designed to shield her child from these things. from these terrible, terrible feelings. you don't just drop them in this petri dish of unfamiliarity and abject terror, pry them from your leg, and waltz out of the room. it tears your fucking heart out that you're the one who's supposed to be saving him, but you're the one who is walking out the door and just driving the fuck away.
i said to ms. pool, "i think this is going to have to be physical." she said she understood, but she didn't quite understand. so i tried again. "are you allowed to hold on to him? because i'm not going to be able to walk out of here." she said she can't, but she thought the nurse probably could.
i turned to oliver and said, "you have a decision to make. you are not going home with me. you can either stay here while i leave or we will have to go to the nurse's office and she will hold on to you while i leave. i will count to five and if you haven't decided, we will go to the nurse's office."
i began counting. i think he shout-wailed, "NO!" in desperation, but kind of started letting go.
i began to leave and he tried to hold on again. all along, ms. pool was in the background, serenely saying, "oliver, we don't want to have to go to the nurse's office."
he tried to latch back on and i said, "okay, let's go see the nurse then." he let go and i had to quickly leave, pushing out an "i love you" back over my shoulder.
i was crying. it was leaking out everywhere. i had to snake back through all the halls, which were thankfully mostly empty at this point. back across the white top and through the playground, filled with parents pushing school-less children. back down a couple of blocks. oh, god. i had violet with me all this time. i was dragging her along by the hand at warp speed. she re-entered my consciousness by shouting, "THERE'S A DOG!" when one passed by in the passenger seat of a car.
i tried calling brian to let him have it for choosing a meeting over this and leaving me alone again for another first day. no answer.
i got us in the car and started crying more. i called brian. no answer. i tossed the phone down in the passenger seat and thanked him a lot.
i took the mockingbird route in order to deliver violet to st james. it was already past 8:30. i cried in fits and starts. i saw chris getting back into his car after dropping off the twins and was thankful to just miss him, you know, so i wouldn't start crying in his face. i handed violet off to mrs. bailey, who was wearing a hopeful look, knowing previously of my first day impending doom possibilities.
on my way back home, i noticed a plume of thick, black smoke. i began fearing it was either my house or oliver's school. i decided to follow it. on the way to the source, the radio said:
A former Texas state representative has been found dead in Harlingen three days after he was reported missing from an assisted-living facility in the city.
Harlingen police spokesman Sgt. John Lee Parrish said Sunday that the body of 78-year-old Don Lee was found by one of his sons in a brushy area just under a mile from the facility that reported him missing on Thursday.
Parrish said an autopsy has been ordered to determine the cause of death. He said police also will investigate how Lee, who suffered from Alzheimer's and other medical conditions, was able to leave the facility.
Lee, a Democrat, served three terms in the Texas House representing Cameron and Hidalgo counties in the 1980s.
found dead in the brush by one of his sons!
the smoke seemed way too close to both the condo and the school. there was a helicopter hovering up there. i finally got to an angle where i could tell it wasn't going to directly affect my life. it started looking like it was on the other side of 75. i passed university place condos, temporarily losing sight of the smoke, and went the couple of blocks to whatever that road is you turn on to get to central market. as soon as i rounded the corner, i could see a fleet of firetrucks and police cars lining the second half of the long block. it was the apartments. three blocks from us. someone's life was going up, up, up in smoke.
i was directed to take a detour by some weary looking firemen and made the block. i waited to turn right on lovers lane and the radio said:
The Taliban, meanwhile, cut the throats of 17 civilians — including two women — in a rural, Taliban-controlled district of Helmand on Sunday, Afghan officials said.
i felt like i was being woven into a case shaped like a basket.
i came home, walked down the corridor to the courtyard, and stopped to look at the helicopter hovering just over the roofline. up the stairs. i opened the windows. the chopping of that giant sky fan filled in the nooks and crannies left behind by the sound of the cicadas.
i went into the kitchen to pour my coffee and feel little wounds tearing, then out of them popped, with a complete lack of expectation, the ghost of ttyki. i had some racking sobs, while i realized that she had died within weeks of the end of school. her ghost had followed me heavily then, but the constant presence of children during the intertwining months had crowded her out.
and then, there she was. following me into the kitchen. safe from little people. wanting me to feed her wet food and treats. following me into the bathroom, her arthritic legs pumping stiffly as fast as they could go, one foot falling heavier than the others behind me. expectant eyes. hopeful mewing.
brian called back. i told my story. the one up there in those first paragraphs. i got to some part of it and began sobbing again. he switched to his cell phone and called back. i told more of my story. he said i couldn't blame oliver, which was the farthest thing from my mind. i was living in the place where mother abandons child. and then sobbed again.
oh, well. there aren't any classroom photos, like everyone else on the planet seems to have. that would have been too cruel.