Monday, March 09, 2009

God's Gift

(A riff off of Sherman Alexie’s story “Indian Education.” The juniors and I riffed together. Here's mine.)

Third Grade: Circle School

School started in circles, this strange place of carpets and veggies and no candy and stories on the floor. Jumping Mouse, I hear my first day, through the blur of sleepy eyes and the blob of a bean and cheese taco in my belly. Jumping what? Jumping why? Jumping who cares? Then as the bean and cheese begin to melt inside, I’m pulled to my feet, arms up, arms down, arms all around, something about Indians praying. Am I Indian? Do I care?

Teaching peace, I keep hearing, but someone hasn’t told Isabella, goddess of war, hoarder of green paint and crayons, thief of scissors and lunches and anything else not nailed down. Peace, Isabella, peace, sweetheart, coo the waffle-teachers in the wake of her Shock and Awe.

Someone needs to take chica out, but fast.

Fifth Grade: Praying Mantis

I pray every day that I’ll meet my birth father. Every day. Every day, every day, every day, every day. Dear God, please please please please please, let me meet him.

They say my name means God’s gift. I don’t know about that, though I suppose I am Lena’s gift, me, the only one of her four—now five—children she gave away. You don’t need to tell me how much my adopted parents love me, what a great life they can give me, how much Lena must love me to have given me a better life, blah blah blah. Just tell me this: Did you draw straws? Was I too rough on you in your belly? Too much morning sickness? Did you not like my mug in the ultrasound?

This is what I think. This is your revenge on him. I’ve got nothing to do with it.

You know where he is—and I hate you for it.

Seventh Grade: Just About Midnight

Three of us crammed into a storage closet, spray painting posters for the dance, glitter in our hair, headaches throbbing from fumes and lust.

Norma Torres is all dressed in white. I am all dressed in terror, but I must. I walk over to her and ask if she wants to dance; she keeps looking up at the stage at the idiot in orange buckskin hopping around to “Gloria.” I swear he can’t even spell it, it sounds like he’s leaving out the “i.” G-L-O-R-A…Who the hell is “Glora?”

I can’t tell if it’s amusement or interest that has her attention; she still hasn’t looked my way. I turn to go, but Elena Trapani catches my eye, nods her head back towards Norma, mouths the words Ask her again. Now.

I shout this time, over the din of Orange Julius. She turns and looks at me, the sweetest praline walking the halls of Artemis Junior High. My knees have wobbled since the first day I saw her.

She nods. We inch our way through the crowd. Wayo is diving for fish with Sandra; I’ve no clue what dance Weston is doing. Thomas? Thomas speaks for himself.

Orange Julius turns deadly on me as we reach a cleared space—plops a slow song right down on us, surprisingly good choice, surprisingly good voice.

I’m not sure who takes Norma by the hand. I’m sure it’s me, but it doesn’t feel like me. That hand in mine is soft warm candy and my body is pure grape jelly. Norma is not shy; she wants to cuddle. Warm face against my shirt, hand on the back of my neck.

I died that night and still haven’t come back.

Eleventh Grade, Sort Of

Castillo came by and banged on the doors and then the windows and then climbed up on top of the roof and yelled down the chimney like some crazed Santa. Get your ass back to school, you idiot. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to know he was drunk out of his skull, physics teacher gone wild. He dropped his fifth of scotch down the flue and it shattered in the living room, stinking up the place.

Role models. Can’t live without ‘em, right?

When he sobered up the next morning on Miguel’s couch, I brought him three tacos from the Haven and poured tomato juice down his gullet. He whined for vodka in the V-8, but he was grinning. Said that the Harvard rep had come by again, wanted to know why I hadn’t shown for the interview, those SAT scores were going to kick the roof off the admissions committee, I could write my ticket.

“Said with those scores, they’d probably throw in Shakira and Beyonce both.”

Cayete,” I said.

“You’re a fool, you know that, right?” he said, trying to catch my eye. I wouldn’t give it to him.

“Take the damn scholarship, fool. Get your degree, make your millions, and then throw your life away. You can leave the money to me.”

“I said, shut up, Castillo.” I didn’t need Stand and Deliver all up in my face. I sure didn’t need to smell it.


I told the Ivies they could kiss it. Said the same to Stanford with all their hip shake and bake let’s get jiggy with it nonsense. When it came right down to it, I really didn’t care where I went. I knew all the work was gonna be mine anyway. When I dig in, I dig in. I could dig in at Northwest Vista, but the chicks weren’t worth it. Tulane in New Orleans ponied up enough to keep me solid, Katrina cleared the way for only the most righteous of partiers, and I’d gotten a tip from Lena in one of her drunken rages that the asshole was probably still driving cabs up and down Canal Street, instead of taking care of his kids.

Castillo wanted to give me his six-month chip as a graduation present—I told him he needed it way more than me, but that I would take his third row Stones tickets, what the hell was he going to a rock concert on six months sobriety, anyway?

He gave me his three month chip. I taped it to my mirror.

I take it day by day.



Blogger anno said...

Once again, you sent me off to Google -- this time before I'd even started your post -- where I learned that Sherman Alexie wrote Smoke Signals, one of my favorite movies. Look like an interesting writer.

He sure inspired an interesting series of vignettes: each one goes down so smooth, you hardly feel the burn at all until you get to the end, remember to breathe, then start the next.

8:55 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Anno: Smoke Signals is a big favorite down here, too. I've shown it to several of my classes. For the prompt, it was nice to incorporate some personal tidbits, as well as those of a few other folks.

Isabella was a real life nemesis when Walden was at the Circle School.

9:33 AM  
Blogger present said...

I especially enjoy the writing you do with your students. Your voice and content is unaffected - so honest and true. Your words punctuate the experiences and make them so vivid.

7:06 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Thank you, present: I'd have to thank Alexie and the kids, too, for the inspiration. And a young boy who once, out of nowhere, told me how much he longed to meet his birth father: his wish, unlike that of this protagonist, came true...

9:57 AM  

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