Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Crossing Over

The girls and I are sleeping at my parents' house tonight; the bridge to the mainland is closed. Four hours ago, a young man no older than 18 by eyewitness accounts skateboarded up the bridge and sat atop its westbound edge. We were sailing underneath in the Beer Can Races when it became clear traffic on the bridge was halted. Harbor Police boats began patrolling the waters below him; helicopters circled overhead.

I couldn't believe it at first, assuming it was an accident up there causing the delay. After over 20 years of living and/or working on the island-peninsula, it wasn't until this year that I knew someone who'd leapt from the bridge. And now, I know two.

I crossed the bridge last night right after a woman abandoned her car and jumped; that morning the bridge was closed for hours until a man was successfully talked down. This morning I cried in my car as I crossed over; the bridge is part of my daily commute and the view from its span can lift my spirits, but our relationship is strained.

Tonight I cringed, fearing what the boater's perspective would yield. I type and hope a conflicted young man surrenders.

On the way to work the day before yesterday I noticed a dead possum in the road on the hill, almost to the shoulder, as if the journey across from one hospitable habitat to the other were just a little too long, or maybe a long shot from the start. I knew I'd watch the evolution of that carcass each day thereafter, like Richard Eberhart's "Groundhog," wondering why the possum left the comfort of the canyon in the first place.

By 10:00 AM that day we learned about the surgery of Auntie R, my husband's sister, whose brain tumor was malignant and aggressive and whose doctors' prognoses were grim.  I visited Husband at work to break the news.  His sister had always taken care of him when he needed her, he shared.  Now he would help her.

In the afternoon I picked up the girls and we drove home up the hill past the possum, admiring hawks orbiting in sweeping ovals above. We parked beneath our giant Aleppo Pine tree, as a flurry of feathers floated down on our car. Big Sis was the first to notice.

"Mommy, look up! Feathers! Lots of them!"

At first the downy wisps looked like ashes we'd seen during wildfires. And then I noticed a hawk perched high in our tree with a smaller bird clutched in its talons. Our attention and exclamations sent the hawk flying off, victim in its beak.

"I don't like that bird," scowled Little Sis. I explained that the hawk was feeding itself, as we need to do (and remember, kiddo? We even eat the occasional cow and chicken?).

She wasn't having any of it, though, pointing out that she, in fact, wasn't directly responsible for her food's demise.  I bit my tongue, recognizing that my daughter was simply doing what I was attempting to:  categorize and rationalize and harvest distinctions between signs of mortality and death, all around us.

The running dialogue in my head reminds me of Pablo Neruda's Book of Questions:

What is the meaning of one possum's life?  

How do I reconcile someone taking her own life with my sister-in-law's valiant quest to save hers?

Are some depressions as terminal as some cancers?

Is the hawk a callous killer?  Are we, human carnivores?

If I were Syrian today, how would I talk about death?

How do we know which deaths are welcome?

What does it mean that we close a bridge for six hours to save a life?  

How many lives are we forgetting or choosing not to save?

Does the value of our lives diminish with age?  Are our lives more precious when we're young?

How do I talk honestly with my (already anxious) children about life and death?

For tonight, the inconvenience of a closed bridge necessitates a slumber party.  I tuck my daughters in bed together at their grandparents' house.  In turn, my mother bids me goodnight, with a sigh of satisfaction that her "eldest bird" is in her nest for the night.  

Husband has flown across the country to be with his sister and his dad and our courageous niece.

The possum is decomposing; the hawk is hunting; the cancer threatens; the bridge is still closed.

But, I feel hopeful.

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all"
--Emily Dickinson

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Wardrobe Malfunction

In my role as Vice Principal, I am the enforcer of the Dress Code.  We have a fairly standard policy:  no hats, no clothing advertising alcohol or drugs, no "gang attire," no undergarments showing, no shorts or skirts shorter than fingertip length, no straps less than 1" wide, no stirrup pants.

Kidding about the stirrup pants. But they were, along with elastic-waist pants of any sort, forbidden from the country club site of a wedding we attended recently (Haters! Why you gotta pick on the stirrup pants all the time?).

Regulating outfits isn't the part of my role I relish. It's uncomfortable and arguably arbitrary any way you slice it. Calling teenagers on their excessive cleavage? Bleerrrggggh. Negotiating what constitutes fingertip length with disproportionately long-armed teens? It's like debating the definition of "dessert" with my kindergartner. And Target, American Eagle Outfitters, and Abercrombie? Thanks a ton for selling shorts that are more appropriately categorized as denim bikinis. You are not helping.

But despite the cringe-worthy moments and occasional necessity of reminding students that they are more to us than what they wear, there are moments of levity related to the dress code and other policies, too.

Before they became freshmen on our campus four years ago, two eighth-grade girls scheduled an appointment with the principal and me to discuss our new closed-campus lunch policy for freshmen.  Despite their professional and respectful approach, valid arguments, and natural charm, we maintained our position. And became fans of these spunky young women. 

Over the course of the next year, they added a third ally and occasionally ate lunch with us outside, lightheartedly bemoaning their captivity and the lack of maturity among their male counterparts.  We bonded over cafeteria salads and social critique, watching the boys chase one another around the quad and cliques form, dissolve, and evolve. 

Alas, sophomore year came and so did their freedom and our conversations were more often quick hellos and goodbyes between classes and as they left campus to eat lunch at a local restaurant or friend's house. 

But on their last day of school as seniors, the trio of now-grown, still confident and hilarious young ladies made a lunch date with us.  So we reminisced.  I asked if the boys had matured by now.  They rolled their eyes.

We praised their gumption, and all they had accomplished.  They praised our approachability.  And our principal's use of slang, such as "swag."  And then, my fashion sense.


I was flattered, and also flustered.

"Thank you!" I exclaimed.  "Except..."  I looked at my administrative partner and back at the girls.  "There was this one day when I wore...well, clogs and socks.  Umm...with capri pants."

The girls looked at one another.  "Yeah, we remember that day."

A few days later, a card and gift bag appeared on my desk, with a pad of paper inside:

Oh, how I laughed.  So perfect for me, fashion "maven" and the Keeper of the Dress Code.

Note: stirrup pants warrant a citation. Clogs, socks, and capris do not.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

If You Can't Remember a Better Time

Last week began with the poignant story of Marina Keegan, a young writer with a promising career who died in a car accident only days after graduating from Yale.   And our high school is reeling from a week of broken hearts and limbs.  Arms and elbows will heal, but other recoveries take much longer, and true loss is irrevocable. I am thinking of the hurting parents, families, and friends in our community.  When a parent at her son's ICU bedside urges, "Hug your family today," listen

I consoled myself with The Weepies this weekend; despite their name, their songs lift spirits.  Here are the lyrics to Deb Talan's song, "Comfort" (listen here):

When everyone has gone to sleep
And you are wide awake
There's no one left to tell your troubles to

Just an hour ago you listened to their voices,
Lilting like a river over underground
And the light from downstairs
Came up soft like daybreak,
Dimly as the heartache of a lonely child.

If you can't remember a better time,
You can have mine, little one.

In days to come,
When your heart feels undone,
May you always find an open hand
And take comfort wherever you can, you can, you can...

...But just like you thought when you stopped here to linger,
We're only as separate as your little fingers.

So cry; why not? We all do.
Then turn to the one you love.
And smile a smile that lights up all the room.
And follow your dreams, in through every out door..
It seems that's what we're here for.

And when you can't remember
A better time,
You can have mine,
Little one.