where the writers are
My Rite of Passage
"Always Come Home to Me" by Belle Yang, published by Candlewickpress 2007

I need to sleep but images of the children I met this morning haunt me. I cannot stop the rills of tears. I've driven home from a Central Valley town after four days of giving a total of ten, forty-five minute presentations to children K through 12 (one gang-infiltrated high school and the other, a technical high school with the best and the brightest of Stockton). I have been speaking before adult audiences since 1986 and feel pretty cocky about my abilities to move, teach, inform, entertain. I no longer need a shot of gin before talking. But I am a coward before the small ones.

The schools here are old, built in the 40's. Trailers accommodate the expanding population. Apartments and mobile homes surround the schoolyard. Rain falls steadily on the asphalt of treeless playground, and the sound on the roof is like applause of tiny hands. The teachers I met this morning are harried, wearing Friday frowns of full time police.

After my talk to a second assembly of four hundred 4th to 7th graders, a boy I thought was Latino stops me and tells me his grandfather is half Chinese and half Cambodian and then his words abruptly turn to Medicaid. Medicaid? "Yeah, Medicaid won't pay for my glasses. My head hurts because I need glasses." This, coming from a child of eight or nine. I am stunned. I remember when we arrived in the United States, my father had eighty dollars after paying tuition at SF State and there was no money for my tennis shoes. Hardly money for a dentist when my toothache grew unbearable.

As I lie in bed, I regret I did not get his last name. After three assemblies, I felt as if I had run a marathon followed by an hour in the sauna. I was too limp to remember I should seek the principal. Come Monday, I will contact the school. The boy told me his name was Micky. Desperately seeking Micky. I won't put money in a presidential campaign, but I've got money enough for Micky's glasses.

**************************************************************************************

from Belle Yang's "Always Come Home to Me," published by Candlewick 2007

This, too, I remember from the morning:

Yolanda and John are in the first grade. John helped me shine the too-big-for-his-hands flashlight on my picture book as I tried to negotiate an unwieldy microphone in the dark during a slide show. Sweat pours down my face as I try to control my seething frustration at the awkward setup of projector, mic, lights. I manage to keep the children engaged: there is minimal wiggling and giggling in the auditorium of three hundred midgets.

John's little hands shake and I have trouble seeing. His best friend, Yolanda of the soulful eyes that tilt down, reaches out with a pink hand to hold one end of my book cover. She intuits I am in a bit of a bind. It is such a tender gesture, my heart swells to twice its size. Then John sneezes into my book and microphone.

Later, I asked them to promise me that when they are grown and move away, they will find one another. Their eyes meet in great earnestness, then they turn to nod at me knowingly as if they can already see the future.

 

 

Comments
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It's exhausting.  the

It's exhausting.  the sadness and need is terrible at times.  My former spouse works in a major urban school district and would come home day after day with stories like this.  The girl with the arm that "didn't work" until he and a colleague were able to contact the Shriner's and have her seen and then "fixed" by doctors who donated time.  The kids with such dirty clothes that he opened a "wash house" with our cast off washing machine and dryer.  The garden for kids who had no idea how things grew.  The coat drive.  The shoe drive.  And all of this in the Bay Area, where things are "good."

He never thought I respected him for this work--but I did.  And I always respect when people give, and you did in your four days.

J

 

Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com

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Honorable

Your former husband sound like an honorable man.  Lovable too.

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He was and is both honorable

He was and is both honorable and lovable, even though at times I've wanted to do him in with a spoon.

J

Jessica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com

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A future for our kids!!!

I hope you can tell him he is loveable and honorable one day sans spoon.

From my trip I learned for myself why we need to stop the war and put money back into the schools.  Raise taxes!  Pay the wonderful teachers.  Give our children a future!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

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I am with you

I wrote a blog about taxes, and my theory is that we should be able to determine where we want our money to go--for one, I want mine to go to schools.  think of what we could do to our schools with the war money.  It's so sad. 

J

essica Barksdale Inclan www.jessicabarksdaleinclan.com

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Belle,

Belle,

This post brought back a lot of memories. Right after college I taught in an afterschool art program for a midwestern school district. The disparity between the quality of lunches, supplies and facillities between the "rich kids" and "poor kids" school was disheartning. I couldn't understand how the same taxes we were all paying were not being applied evenly. Also, how wonderful of you to take the time to work with these children. Who knows you may have inspired a future artist/writer or two!

 

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Belle, So that's what you

Belle, So that's what you were doing in Stockton. Very touching. And infuriating. No child left behind indeed. Count me in for a pair of specs. Paypal or whatever. Let me know. BTW, I just LOVE your illustration with the flowering plum tree. It's my favorite time of year: The plum tree outside my window, just at my desk, is in full blossom. The organic anti-depressant. First thing I do is pull up my blinds and start guzzling the pink. Dawn, morning, noon, afternoon, dusk, night. Plum blossoms! Of course when they fall, I am reminded of the ways of the world and Afghanistan and Iraq and the whole damned mess. We really are living in the Middle Ages of the 21 century. We need to tear the whole thing down and start again. I just saw "Empire of Africa" about the civil war in Sierra Leone and am further radicalized, if that's possible. Africa always seemed like too much of a mess to grasp, but this French docu did it for me. "Blood Diamonds" got it all wrong, of course. It's shocking that the United Nations was so complicit with Kebbah the presidential dictator (I've lost all respect for Koffi Ahnan), and ECOWOG, and Nigeria, and the filthy UK and French governments parading their lies and special interests in propping up pure evil. All thinking people should see "Empire of Africa." Understand this metaphor of Africa's ills and you will understand all of it--Uganda, Congo, Darfur, you name it. Just one big Abu Ghraib over there, minus the outrage.

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Elder Brother, Alexander,

You have a beautiful and complex mind :) And I think you are nuts.

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Mickey will get glasses!

Hi Belle,

I have forwarded both of your messages to the principal. I have spoken with Micky as well and we are looking into it. Thank you so much for your concern. I hope that all is well with you.

Take care,
Teresa