There was a screeching of brakes, the skidding of tires as loose gravel flew high, low and all around, then came the collision of cars, with metal bending, twisting, as the glass shattered and splintered on impact. The realization of what just had occurred began to sink to the bottom of my ex-student’s stomach when he decided to do the next worst thing, leave the scene of the crash. This was followed by police pounding on his mother’s door, demanding for her son. She refused, believing that her son could not have done what she had been told, only to have her son embrace her, ask her for forgiveness, and then be handcuffed away. Now, confined he made his one call to his sister, asking that she speak to his ex-teacher, Mr. G. for a letter of reference. Not understanding the strange request, she followed his instruction, asked for the letter, and wondered why a teacher would do this for an ex-student who was in jail.
During his senior year, he had spoken to me about his problematic relationship, constant breakups with his girlfriend. After graduation, he followed his lady friend to Las Vegas. Once there they continued with their troubled association and decided to return to San Bernardino. They reunited but this toxic connection turned again, and he found himself behind bars facing an attempted vehicular manslaughter accusation due to the rear end car hit. When his sister entered and asked, I gladly completed my favor. Her only question being why, and I replied because I believed in all my students no matter what they had academically accomplished in my class. Little did I realize that a student who hardly paid attention would remember these words. He was released on probation and this inspired the creation, “Road Rage”.
From the corner of my eye I watched and wondered why she sunk in her chair, hidden in the rear of my classroom, hooded for no one to see the scars she wore within. The hour had passed, and I watched as she waited for all to rise, exit row by row and then she followed. This act repeated itself for the next two weeks before I suggested she see me. That afternoon she wandered in looking lost, however, hesitantly wanting to speak. As she unraveled her story, I became in awe of her inner strength that she had yet uncovered. She started by saying she was of a mixed marriage, African-American and Hispanic while being raised by a married, a remarried and finally boyfriend/girlfriend father figure lifestyle.
During her early years, she lived in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood that considered her African American. While drinking from an elementary school’s water fountain some of her classmates did not believe her to be Hispanic so they slammed her jaw into the faucet breaking her jaw as well as loosening a few teeth. She moved out and into an African-American community only to be stomped, kicked and beaten to unconsciousness while reading under a shaded tree in a community park because these teenagers believed her not to be African American. So, she sat covered and scarred not allowing anyone to see her for the fear of not belonging. However, with a few words, a few pictures and believing in herself as well as a sense of worth and belonging she was able to converse in class, remove her hoodie and walk the suburban streets unafraid of the shadow she now calls Friend. Her story gave way to the poem “Hug Me”
I turned to look up to see one of my long-term students enter the quiet class looking for shelter or for comfort. She had been a student of mine for the past three years and was now entering her senior year in high school. I saw a river of tears flowing from her eyes as I questioned what was behind her visit. She began to tell me of her journey into the states from Mexico as a young teenager, 13 years of age. Her mother had died, and her last words were of a promise that she would reunite with her sister in America. As she crossed the international border alone, scared and unsure of what lay ahead she continued her 90-mile quest to find the sister she had not seen in years.
Years later she had come to a point where she was recalling her mother more and more as well as maintain her emotional balance less and less. It was one of those times now at school where she had remembered a moment of happiness prior to her mother’s departure. As she unfolded her early years it revealed a caring mother who asked and attempted to do everything, she possibly could for her daughter knowing that she did not have that many days left in her life. Now tears began to flow for she had accomplished things that she could not believe. She had transitioned from a Spanish learner into a fluent English learner in less than 2 years. In addition, she was taking advanced placement classes, performing on the dance team, in the school’s choir, and was in the top 5% of her graduating class. What an assortment of accomplishments but no one to truly share or enjoy them. This is the origin of “When I Go”, a tribute to a friend and more importantly a mother loved very deeply.
Finally, my interpretation of my experience came when I visited the White House years ago, 1979 to be exact. Having insomnia made it hard to sleep so I walked the streets of Washington, D.C. I began to have flashbacks of my Viet Nam enlistment where I heard and saw soldiers being spat on, cursed at and verbally and physically abused by protesters of the “conflict”. I wondered, “I let “Uncle Same” use me to protect this country and gave these people their right to express themselves. Now, years later I saw another protester sleeping next to the White House wall covered by his anti-nuclear weapons sign. I thought to myself, “Where in this world can you protest this close to the leader of a country?” How great is this country? You can criticize, you can curse at it, you can spit on it, you can even destroy it, but one thing is true our basic rights to express ourselves will not be taken away. This resulted years later in my poem, America’s Flag.
Surprisingly, it began with one then it became two, three, and four individuals looking for me.
They’d asked why, a “You tell it like it is, where others just say what you want to hear”.
“Mr. G. may I ask a question or advice?” they would ask.
In return, would be my routine reply, “You know what my response is: If you’re going to hurt someone or yourself, I have to tell someone. However, if you want me to tell the world I’ll do that but if you want it to be a secret, it’ll be between you and me.”
Shortly after, they’d tell me their concerns, woes, drama, conflicts, feelings, struggles that confronted them right then or over a period-of-time. To ensure, that I understood what they were saying I’d write a word or a phrase to later recall what I thought was important in our conversation. Later, I would run these notes together and create a poetic response for them. These connected thoughts would surprisingly make the student’s day and move them towards a more positive path. That’s how it came back after a few years of absence that my poems would be reborn as advice to the high school students of Mr. G.
What initially started as a creative adventure in the seventh grade has grown into an inspirational memory, moment and opportunity. A chance to help through a different set of eyes and experience confused if not troubled teenagers.
Here are some of my compositions:
I Am No One
When I Go