If It Hasn't AlreadyJamey Genna
Reyna is outside somewhere crying. My student-aide Khala comes into the classroom and tells me this and I say, “Go get her.” Reyna is an up-and-down kind of girl whose parents don’t have a clue how to handle her. They only make matters worse after they take the knife away from her, saying she is stupid and that they are not going to give her a Filipino coming-out party for her eighteenth birthday. She was hiding under the kitchen table threatening to leave them, one way or the other. She tells me all this. I listen and give her a big strong hug, reminding her that she will one day move out and go away and her parents’ opinion won’t matter. I say, maybe she will get a job in the mall and just go to community college like my kid is going to do and that is okay; and my kid’s not getting any coming-out party either. Reyna laughs finally and quits crying. Reyna and my teenager are like twins that way. Not that I know how to handle my own, because if I did I could end her arguments with her boyfriend on the phone and solve her crying jags when she’s got PMS, and she would feel more comfortable getting a big strong hug from me, and I wouldn’t be tempted to laugh like the idiot I am when she is crying.
My friend Pam, after school, on our walks, picks up pennies from the asphalt. She doesn’t care if the tar gets under her fingernails. It’s a habit of hers that I find rather sad—that some part of her is tuned all the time to the pavement looking for the glint of dull copper. “The metal in a penny now is worth more than the penny itself.” This is a worthless fact my other friend Claudia’s boyfriend told me at a barbeque. Even though the fact has no value, I am always impressed that people find these things out. I never know stuff like this. I prefer to find out how and why the latest actor or singer died and exactly what drugs he took, or why that other man shot into a crowd of college students, or guiltily, I want to know what is going to happen to Britney next, even though I’m sick of her problems and wish they’d let her be a common citizen like the rest of us. I never listened to her music and neither did my daughter, who has some taste, and I know where she gets it. I try to listen to public radio in the morning to remember one fact of intellectual value that I can use in a conversation at a barbecue with doctors and writers and lab technicians, even though I don’t donate any money to the radio station when they have their fundraising marathons four times a year. Pam keeps trying to get me to go back to teaching aerobics, but I don’t want to now because I have too many sore bones and don’t want to stick to a schedule of exercise, and I hate yoga even though everyone is supposed to love it. On our walks, Pam talks about the man she has been in love with for twenty years who is not her husband. He’s a doctor that Pam went to see when her kids were little and she had a lump inside her nose, but he said it was just stress. I guess he was helping her with it. He is married, too, and has a new girlfriend now. Pam and he no longer see each other but remain friends, and Pam is allowed to leave notes in a post office box for him.
My sister told me the other day that her daughter’s—my niece’s husband is over in Iraq flying helicopters. He signed up to get his flight hours, but he has always been pro-military, all the way. My niece is lonely and finishing vet school. She’s only been a bride for a couple of months.
My friend Phil, the teacher’s aide to the blind kids, killed himself military style by hanging himself with a hood over his head and tying his feet together. He did it from the railroad bridge in sight of the Hernandez Park swing set, but I don’t think any children saw him hanging there because it was too early in the morning. I was one of three people in his will, but I had distanced myself from him some time before that because I could see I was of no help whatsoever to his mental condition. A while after the funeral, another teacher’s aide told me that he told her he was going to marry me after I divorced my husband, and that our daughter was mine by another marriage. Both were ideas that he had in his head and are not true. I love my husband, that’s a fact, and our daughter is our daughter, but that is weird Phil thought that, because people are always thinking my daughter is just mine and not my husband’s. That’s probably because I always say, “My daughter,” when I’m talking about her. Apparently, Phil had run out of the good medication a while ago and couldn’t get the military doctors to put him back on it because it was too expensive. I saw him kick the garbage can in the lunch room one day right before Christmas.
He liked my daughter who was thirteen back then, and at the funeral, where Phil was in an urn from his cremation and then buried in the ground, his father told me Phil had always had an eye for young girls, a fact which made me feel like I had done the right thing by avoiding him.
When my daughter said, “Why didn’t you do something?”
I said, “He was sick, honey.”
He used to go see her in plays at the middle school, so when he gave me a rose in a miniature whiskey bottle, a rose he got every Tuesday on a free voucher from the local florist, I stopped being in my room on Tuesdays after school, even if he did tell me interesting things about his first girlfriend. Phil said she was on the highway back in the seventies hitchhiking while he was in Vietnam, on some tour of duty where he didn’t see any action, and she had been murdered by someone who picked her up and that he wished he’d “fucked her” when he’d had the chance. He was twenty-two then and she was in high school, but his story was so garbled I began to believe things about him I didn’t want to—like maybe he was really the one who had picked up a sixteen-year-old girl hitchhiking, raped her, and stabbed her to death.
In his will, he gave me a statue of a man standing in something like poet’s garb, with a big hat, or it was something like a standing-Shakespeare, and he gave me several paintings that were scary homemade things, possibly by somebody else he knew or had been friends with. He gave them to me because he knew I liked paintings. They had the wings of hummingbirds stuck in them and pieces of bones. Phil gave all his military stuff to another teacher who had actually seen action in Vietnam and, also Phil had a thing for learning how to fence onstage. I had to wonder about the guys who collect war memorabilia.
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