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Upside the head

“Just because you don’t believe that I want to dance…” The Gap Band
Nothing makes you more “woke” than a projectile launched at your head. It was a helluva year at work and no amount of running, samba dancing, concerts, books, film, and hugs from M can change that fact. With a few days left in my beloved vacation, I am reflecting on the year that was and the year to come. It will be my 21st year in high school education; despite the patronizing attitudes and perceptions of certain colleagues, I’m a grown ass educator.  There are times when I feel like not much has changed since I stepped straight off my college campus into the classroom. Thankfully, I have so much more experience, knowledge, and patience (one of these days, y’all gonna wear me out!) to stay committed. 
The projectile story illustrates some of the issues I consistently ponder.  See, what had happened was (you know it’s going to be a good story when I open with that phrase), we were having an ongoing issue with lunchroom fruit being launched against the walls.  Our school, like many public schools, does not always receive the care we would appreciate; it can sometimes look a mess.  So, we encourage our students to pick up after themselves to help maintain a clean campus.  
One overcast morning, I had said something along those lines to one of my students, A, as he exited the cafeteria with two apples, “I swear to God your auntie is going to get a call from me if either of those gets thrown today.”
“You won’t need to call her because you know I wouldn’t do that with you standing here watching me.” 
We laughed and he took his usual seat at one of the long tables in the quad.  Another student, B, approached A immediately and they engaged in a whispered conversation.  A shook his head and waved B away; he made sure I saw him do so. In the meantime, a group of students asked that I open our multi-purpose room so they could get out of the rain.  I opened the door and stood there so I could watch both groups simultaneously.  To my left, I noticed B grab one of the apples. I figured he would launch it at the wall in defiance of my earlier directive.  As the apple flew towards my face, I stepped away quickly. It struck the door with force. Pieces of fruit splashed onto my eyeglasses and face. The apple tumbled to the ground in chunks. Both the quad and multi-purpose rooms went silent.  I immediately called for B to approach me. Students began to use profanity as they expressed their disbelief at what they had witnessed.  I directed the apple-thrower to head to the office and used my phone to call his parent. I took photos of the ruined fruit and then continued with lunchtime supervision.  
This incident isn’t unusual on a high school campus.  Every day, a teacher or administrator faces incidents of defiance and disruptive behavior. Every day, students make choices that result in consequences that affect their academic progress.  Every day, parents are faced with the challenges of navigating adolescence with their children. Every day, I am called to treat each individual with respect and to remain calm in the face of volatile situations. Every day, I need to be ready to step aside for my own safety. 
There are two main reasons the apple-dodging incident strikes me as unusual.  One is that it was a first. I’ve been defied, ignored, cussed out. Once a student kicked my office trash can over. But I’ve never been physically threatened in two decades of physically breaking up fights and talking down angry students.  I can admit it shook me up for a day or two.  But that temporary anxiety does not compare to the trepidation I feel in working with certain persons.  I would rather field more flying fruit. That actually WASN’T the worst day in the work year; that is the unusual and somewhat sad reality.   After twenty years, the kids still aren’t the problem.  
Pretty much a daily task 
All this talk of rattlesnakes in pockets, el chamuco sitting up in that room for the exorcists to show up(Advice from The Exorcist) and finding my #innermongoose( #innermongoose) are extended metaphors, mi gente.  If you don’t know, now you know.  Y ahora que?  It’s time to woman up, get back in my heels and do what I do best: Lead.   

Still slaying in New 52 costume

Dearest Brett

Eight years ago, I was thirty-four.  I was depressed, overwhelmed, and doing little to get better.  I also lost one of my dearest friends to cancer.
Today is the anniversary of Brett’s death.  I honor the day annually. I also still celebrate his birthday.  While he lived, we began a tradition of gag gifts for his birthday including a bulk pack of Irish Spring soap to commemorate the time an aging barfly walked up, took a deep sniff, and wondered aloud why he smelled so good and a box of Lucky Charms because of the goofy leprechaun voice he would use on the phone at work.  It didn’t matter what we gave him. He loved it and made a big show of his appreciation. He was a man of great joy and gratitude.
Some people may wonder why I continue to honor Brett in the way I do. Brett had been my confidant and the voice of reason during a time when I wasn’t the best version of myself. A coach by vocation, he would encourage me as he might have one of his players: he was direct, results-driven, and often tough.  So he continues to be my coach.  For every training run and half-marathon I complete, it is Brett to whom I dedicate the final mile. Every time I face a challenge, I remember Brett during his final months.  While these thoughts may be saddening, they are also empowering.  My friend transitioned in strength, power, and joy.
This is a letter I never completed last May:
Dearest Brett,
When I was in the hospital nearly two weeks ago, I realized I was on your floor.  I don’t know which room you were in but I remember the elevator ride w T. I don’t remember the walk down the hall but I remember how you held my hand as I struggled not to cry. You told me not to worry.  That moment illustrated the man and friend you were. 

What you taught me was to persevere. And so I have. At work.  On training runs and at half-marathons.  Through illness. When I fight, I do so in the knowledge that you are in my corner.