And it Will Feel Like Truth — Day Seventeen

We move in May. It’s anything but smooth. Russ is getting back from a last minute trip to Chicago, and I’m recovering from a week of state testing at school. We barely make it out of our apartment in time and when we do, Gatsby is so nervous he gets sick all over our backseat. Silver lining: our movers we hired are amazing and within 30 minutes, everything is unpacked and taken up three flights of stairs. Compared to the stress leading up to the move, unpacking feels like a breeze.

Russ starts classes and my nights are suddenly wide open. We don’t have cable anymore, and Netflix doesn’t exist yet, so I’m not tempted with show-binging. I fill my time two ways: Reading or writing. The more I blog, the more I know what I want to write. A funny thing happens where I’m beginning to understand more about how words form within me and how they develop on the screen. I think it’s something close to finding my voice.

I stumble across multiple blogs during this season, and one in particular has a link named Adoption Story. I click on the tab, and I’m greeted with about five videos documenting when they picked up their son from Korea. I’m sucked into the story, and before I know it, I’m searching for other adoption stories. I’m searching for gotcha day videos. I watch strangers meet their children for the first time. I’m trying to ignore the way my heart has shifted beats and an ache centers itself in my throat. I clear the history, not wanting to explain to Russ while I’m searching for adoption stories, and shut the computer. It’s not long though before I’m opening it back up and reading another blog walking me through the process.

We’re about to celebrate four years of marriage. We still have one more year to go before we start talking about kids. I keep reminding myself of that with each new story. Watching these videos, though, I can’t ignore the growing realization that I’ve caught a glimpse of our future.

Posted on October 14, 2017 and filed under The Memoirs.

And it Will Feel Like Truth — Day Fifteen

The change comes a month and a half later. I’m in the middle of class and I get a text from Russ.

I think I just lost my job.

I stare at my screen for a good minute or so, trying to make sense of the words.

What do you mean, I type back. I know Russ, and I know there’s no way he could actually lose his job. His boss loves him. He’s constantly given more and more responsibility. He’s happy(ish) there.

A kid fell asleep on the bus. A small one — four years old. He didn’t get off at his stop and it was the one day I didn’t check the bus when I got back to the office. He came walking off the bus at 10am.

I’m still confused. Russ not checking his bus is definitely out of character, but a fireable offense? I’ve heard of bus drivers leaving for the day and kids being left on a bus until 8pm or 9pm when their parents are frantically calling around trying to find out where they’ve run off to when they don’t ever come home.

I’m sure it’s fine, love, I reply. And I am. Russ is a die-hard perfectionist when it comes to doing his work well. He probably feels as if he should lose his job after one minor mistake. But I know his boss, and I know his performance will speak for itself. I’m not concerned at all and I turn my attention back to the class. My phone vibrates one more time and I glance down.

I have a meeting. I’ll let you know.

I shift my shoulders to release the misgiving and continue to talk about paragraph structure and narrative. Fifteen minutes later I get the text.

My last day is today. Ever since they hired the district lawyer they’ve instituted a no-mercy decision about leaving a kid on the bus.

I can’t think. The unfairness feels blinding. I start shaking and struggle making it through the rest of the class period. I text him a few more times, but I’m not getting a response and I imagine it’s because he’s already home. My lunch happens to be next period, and even though I have less than 30 minutes, we live across the street and so I don’t even think twice — I run to my car and drive back to the apartment.

When I walk through the door he’s on the floor in the living room, tears running down his cheeks. I drop my purse and get down on the floor next to him. I turn and place my hands on his face. He’s not looking at me.

“Babe,” I whisper.

He grimaces and shakes his head, “I’m so sorry.” He’s crying now. “I can’t believe I didn’t check the bus. I just…the kids were so quiet today and it was so early…I had no idea.”

I wipe the tears from his cheeks, because I know that’s what he would do with me in the same situation, and just sit there with him. We’re there for a few moments before I consider calling in for the rest of the day. I don’t know about leaving him here by himself. It’s one thing to see your spouse disappointed, but it’s another to see them broken.

“It’s my fault. It’s my fault.” He whispers this over and over and over until finally I wrap my arms around him and rest my head against his chest.

“We’re going to make it, Russ.” I kiss his neck. “I don’t know why this happened, but we’re going to make it. We’re going to be okay.”

I honestly have no idea how we’re going to make it. We’re not hurting, we’re definitely comfortable between both of our paychecks, but take away his and there’s absolutely a question mark surrounding bills and rent. I don’t focus on this though — these will be conversations we have in the future — when we’re both thinking clearly and the emotion isn’t so suffocating.

“You need to go back,” he tells me. I look at my phone and realize I’ll be late for study hall. I wipe my own cheeks and kiss him one more time and slowly walk out the door. When I get to school, I’m crying all over again. A few of my students come up to my desk to see if I’m alright. I shrug.

“My husband just lost his job, so….I will be okay. But right now it kind of sucks.”

Their eyes go wide. “Ram-rez. Holy shit. I’m so sorry.”

Even now, even in a moment of distress, they’re using my nickname given to me by my first years who are now seniors. My lips curl up for a brief second and I whisper language — a reminder for them to watch what comes out of their mouth. They’re not deterred. One of my brightest students gives me a smile.

“I feel like this moment is definitely a moment where language is best expressed with honesty and vulnerability.”

I laugh then, and wave them off back to their desk.

Of course my lectures explaining an author’s choice of language within literature would come back to bite me in the end.

At least I know they’re listening, I think to myself.

Posted on October 14, 2017 and filed under The Memoirs.

And it Will Feel Like Truth — Day Fourteen

We’ve been helping with the youth group at our local church for a few months, and one in particular has caught our attention. She’s the one with the lip ring, the pink hair, the tattoos drawn with Sharpie on her wrist and arm and ankle. She begins to open up to us. Starts telling us about the times her dad drinks, about how he once took her mom by the hair and pulled her outside into the front yard to beat her. We start spending more time with her. We call the cops when she messages me and says, “he’s drunk again and yelling. I’m scared. Please do something.”

We start talking about what it would look like if she moved in with us.

We move into a two bedroom apartment in the fall so she can have a space to make her own. We take her to Kohl’s and get her clothes so she’s not wearing sweatshirts with holes and shoes with no soles.

“I’m not okay with her staying there,” I say one night when Russ and I are talking about it. I’m leaning against his chest shaking after a run in with her father. We’d gone to pick her up for Christmas dinner and she wasn’t coming to the door.

“I’ll go get her,” I said. I opened the car door and started walking up the sidewalk only to have her kick open her front door and run outside, grabbing me as she passed.

“GO GO GO,” she wheezed. “Hurry!”

We dove into the car and I turned around to face her, eyes wide.

“What in the world?”

She was crying openly, something we never see. “He was drunk again….he was….he was threatening mom.” She wipes her cheeks. “I don’t know what he was going to do but I had to get out of there…” She points at Russ. “We need to leave. Hurry. He can’t see y’all.”

We called the cops again and find out later that a nearby neighbor lady vouched for him. “He’s a great dad!” she said. And just like that the police believed her and left her brother in his possession. He was still punch drunk, still whispering threats to her mom.

After we drop her off that night, she texts me.

“You probably shouldn’t come around here for a while. My dad saw y’all tonight and he’s pissed. I don’t know what he’d do if you came around here again…”

We feel stuck. We know if she’s ever going to live with us, we have to do it right, which means legal guardianship. We have no idea where to start, so we start talking with her mom about it. M is with us every time, talking about how she wants to go to another school and wants away from her father.

“He scares me, mom.” Her feet tap a rhythm against the floor. “He should scare you, too.” Her mom mentions she would be willing to sign over rights.

“That doesn’t mean she’s your daughter, though.” 

I lift my hands in understanding. “There’s no way I can take the spot. I consider this an agreement more than anything else.”

M starts staying the night with us, starts being around more than she’s not. I start talking with counselors at school to see what it would take to get her enrolled.

And then her mom changes her mind. I tell M on a February night that feels like spring, and she leans against the cinderblock behind her.

“I’m never getting away, am I?” She asks, her voice just above a breath.

I get close. I look at her until she’s looking back at me, her eyes welling up with frustration and fear.

“You’re getting out.” I say. I believe it too. I know it because I see the determination underneath the disappointment. “You’re one of the strongest people I know — you will survive because you are not meant to go to waste.”

She wraps her arms around me then, startling me with her display of affection.

“Thank you,” she whispers. “Thank you for loving me. Thank you for accepting me. You and Russ mean so much to me and I seriously wouldn’t have made it if y’all weren’t in my life…”

We stay like that for a while, my eyes blinking away tears and her mascara leaving marks on my shoulder.

Driving her home is excruciating, and on my way back to the apartment I think about how close we’d come to having someone else live with us. It isn’t like she’d be our daughter — not really. I meant what I said to her mom. But we would have taken full responsibility for her. We would have fed her, kept her safe, made sure she got to and from school.

A feeling blossoms at the bottom of my chest and I press my hand against it to keep it from spreading. By the time I got home, I’m a wreck. Something is shifting inside, something I can’t articulate. Whatever it is, it feels like change and it scares the shit out of me. I wipe my cheeks and breath once-twice-three times to calm the desperate shakiness in my voice and pull in front of our apartment.

Posted on October 16, 2017 and filed under The Memoirs.