You stand in front of the mirror and take a peek at yourself. Then
you desperately flee from your image, charging up the stairs, your snow boots still on your feet.
You scream, “I hate looking at myself!”
You wail and huff, “I hate the way I look!”
You want to be heard! This time in words. At the top of the stairs.
You want Mommy and Daddy to REALLY know how uncomfortable you feel
in your little boy body,
to feel the unnamed pain this causes you,
to know the persistent fear that haunts you,
to see the hiding you do under hats and hoods,
to accept that you dislike your name
to help you understand who YOU are
because you feel big
and not so little anymore.
I remember Brad’s cologne and other things he smelled like, Marlbolo Reds and beer. But please don’t judge him because he reeked of his vices. At least I never did, and maybe that’s because I was a child.
I have to admit I came to love those smells and wish for them. It was rare for my brother to visit us, if we were lucky, once a year. Whenever I learned he was coming, I knew our house would soon feel different. It would fill up with wild delight and the thrill of unexpected happenings.
Brad’s whimsical nature required that he reinvent most ordinary situations. For instance, something as simple as wrapping a Christmas gift soon became an adventure in seeking out the most ridiculous thing in the basement he could wrap it in.
One year he found an old step stool in the basement. I giggled as he wrestled with the wrapping paper trying to cover the stool legs. The legs kept popping holes through the paper. By the time he was finished, he had used an entire roll of tape. The wrapped present looked like a crumpled up, mangled origami bird, but Brad sat grinning at his masterpiece. The finished product was everything he had hoped for.
I remember one Christmas sitting by the fire with Brad. My dad’s Frank Sinatra record played in the background. Luck be a Lady started playing. It was my favorite song on the record. I started snapping my fingers, swaying my body, and singing along. Brad started singing, and I remembered that he had a wonderful voice. I recalled when he had once proudly shown me pictures from a community play he had been in. It was from a time in his life when things were going well for him.
Soon my brother was up from the couch holding out his hand to me. I never stopped smiling as we danced, and he sang and twirled me in and out. I knew right there I would never forget the love and adoration I had for him. I would keep the feeling close, so one day I could remember him.
I was born in Neenah, Wisconsin five minutes after my sister Jenny. When I was five, my family moved into what would become our beloved home for decades. Our house sat on the edge of a cul de sac where we’d spend our summer days playing kickball and riding bikes with the neighbors. My dad built a sturdy deck in the backyard and laid the brick in the driveway. Jenny and I took tap dancing lessons with Ms. Delorit who was energetic and young at heart. I let an older girl in my youth group pierce my ear with a safety pin. In high school, Jenny managed to acquire many adorable coordinating outfits in her closet, which were strictly off limits to me. For years I grew my hair long until it reached the tail end of my back. Everybody, including me, had a crush on the new, brainy physics teacher. My dad taught me how to drive a manual Honda Civic. I filled the glove compartment with Beatles cassette tapes. One day walking to English class, I saw Josh for the first time. I never saw a face I liked so much and as instantly as his. I had my first depressive episode when I was a college freshman. I fell in love with jazz music and writing poetry while sipping lattes in coffee shops. When a close friend took his life, my heart temporarily lived in my stomach. I remember driving around all night with Andy until he finally found the courage to say he liked me. I love outdoor music festivals and dancing in a crowd of people. I gave birth to a 7lb, 7oz baby boy on a Sunday afternoon in spring. Last night, I discovered something intimate about trimming Josh’s hair.
I remember your smile and laugh the most. How you did that a lot and you were my middle school teacher. My partner, Josh, who is a child and adult therapist would say you knew how to play well with children. That’s a compliment coming from Josh. He doesn’t say that very often about adults. You were a natural, and I loved engaging with you even in my awkward adolescence. There was never a doubt in my mind that on most days, you loved being our teacher and that you enjoyed being with us. That meant everything. We reciprocated. I adored you.
I ended up being your student after Jennifer failed her spelling test in second grade at our neighborhood elementary school. I remember my mom saying she couldn’t stand the sight of a big red F on Jennifer’s paper. Also, second graders shouldn’t be saying they’re stupid! And besides, the school building was truly hideous. My mom has an eye for things.
Then we started at Aldo Leopold and that’s where I’d meet you and Renee, Terry, and Peg — each of you truly special and influential educators. I’d have this wonderful feeling of wanting to be at school because I loved being there so much with my friends and teachers.
I want to write all of the reasons that was my experience, but I need to go. I have to get to school now and be with my students.
Just so you know, I bring you into my classroom every day, all the things you taught me about really listening, being present for kids, being kind, generous, and forgiving. When I learned you had died in September a few days ago, my first wish was to have told you all this years ago. But a feeling inside reassures me that you always knew what a gift you were to me and so many children.
I drop out realizing we’re a pair
of mother/child misfits. You, intent on
observation, sitting in place, floppy
and drooly smiled. Me, with my own troubles
keeping my head up, imagine my limited
words sinking against a crowd of high-pitched
verses. And, everywhere the babies strive, pulling their bodies
to the unknown. If only these breasts wouldn’t
refuse us our share of sustenance. Contemplating you,
now slouched and angry, I devise an exit strategy,
which I name–a first time for saving each other.
One of my students, a 9-year-old only child, told me through tears how lonely he has been during an afternoon check-in video chat. I wanted to hug him and tried with comforting words. Ultimately, I wanted him to know that I see and hear him.
Your tears are stories
of a loneliness you keep
in a book I hold open
I work more now than I did at school, specifically trying to salvage time for my 5-year-old son. To compensate, I wake up early. Often I hear the same songbird. She is awake with me at the early hour and good company.
Our songbird sings be-
fore the dawn when a hazy
mist fades to first light
My partner does the laundry more than me. I was surprised and excited when I saw the laundry basket at the end of our bed with my favorite pajamas folded on top. I wear a lot of pajamas these days.
When you find your best
pajamas clean and folded
like a gift for you
I’m a teacher in isolation with my spouse and 5-year-old son. I’ve been writing a haiku for every day we’re in isolation. I try to pick a poignant moment from the day and capture it in a few words. Here are four poems. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re doing well.
Lost track of days we’ve
skipped stones from the water’s
edge into the deep.
A bitter feat tying
your small mask, my burden
buried in my smile.
Your heavy words take
root between us, “If our marriage
What’s the world without
a stranger’s smile, a passing
fist pump just because
I’ve been writing haikus every day for most of our days in isolation (my spouse, my 5-year-old son, and me. Here are three of them.
At dusk, raking the
yard, he calls his dad’s attention
to the birds.
Even after we
say sorry, and time happens,
the injury stings.
When I stop treading
these harsh waters, it wasn’t
that I was drowning.