Tag Archives: hard times

Adding Insult to Injury

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Adding Insult to Injury

He waited there

in all black

With a copy of Burrough’s Naked Lunch.

He didn’t read it.

It was a prop.

I, in my best work dress, came in

With every pay stub for the past six months

In chronological order,

Proof of insurance, day care bills,

Government assistance,

My lease, birth certificates, social security cards,

And a host of other documents

That I was threatened to have.

When we were brought in

to see the magistrate

She complimented him

For showing up.

She asked him about his unemployment issues

Then likened him to her own son

Who had to move back home with her.

She opened our case folder

With the big red “Domestic Violence”

Stamp across it.

“I really sympathize with your situation.”

She said to him.

“I hope it gets better for you soon.”

She didn’t look at my folders

Painstakingly gathered and formed

By my O/CD and fear

That I didn’t have every required document.

Finally she looked at me.

And awarded me

$50 a month for our two baby girls.

.

Fortune Telling

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Each card was slowly turned over.

The first revealed change.

the second was fortune,

and the third showed reward.

So I said to him that there was

This great opportunity in China…

“It’s dangerous.”

The money is four  times what I’m making now…

“People disappear.”

I’m being actively recruited…

“The state department has travel warnings.”

I will have a prestigious position in a huge company

With amazing benefits…

“You’re not thinking about your daughters.”

OK.  GLOVES OFF.

What?

Explain anything you just said

That doesn’t apply to America

–or anywhere.

I have been sexually assaulted –twice,

Robbed in my sleep,

And beaten right in my hometown.

I have had my wallet, 2 bikes, a TV, camera, 2 phones, and lots of money stolen.

I know 2 college boys who have mysteriously disappeared,

Different years, different states, different circumstances.

There have been three mass school shootings in the metro area.

Hell!  Ariel Castro lived just blocks away!

And it’s the state department’s job to issue warnings

For EVERY country:

Pick-pockets, internet scams, faulty contracts…Cookie cutter

Every country says the same

Except the UK

–check that one out.

Three times the warnings…

(Note to self

–don’t go to the UK

—oops, too late!)

“I thought you said Thailand was going to be

all ‘wine and roses.’” He said.

This position, this possibility, this opportunity wasn’t even

In my realm of understanding.

And it’s being handed to me.

And then, my closest,

oldest friend of about 35 years

unfriended me.

What I really wanted to say was “take the plank out of your own eye

Before you try to fix the speck in mine.”

But instead, I say this:

“Hold out your hand.

One day, you will be given a gift,

A complete surprise, that will bring you joy.

Be prepared to accept it.”

I don’t want to be the one

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I am at this place in my career

My life,

My motherhood,

Where I am at a loss.

I’ve been a teacher for 22 years

And a student my whole life.

I love research.

I love history, anthropology, religions, literature….

I love digging deep into people’s lives

And how they live or lived.

What was it like?

I don’t read —

I DEVOUR books!

Especially history.

I wrote a paper once about how awful it was

That Bloody Queen Mary beheaded Lady Jane.

I mean, everyone knew she was just a teen-aged puppet

And had no interest in the throne.

I sited 10 sources on the injustice.

And my professor wrote,

“You’re too sentimental”

across the top of my paper.

I hated him.

To me, history wasn’t dead and removed.

They were living, breathing people with experiences

I could share,

understand,

empathize…

And I’m home-schooling my girls now

–which I love.

–which I’ve dreamed of

–which I’ve planned for

–in my head –

for years.

But I am at this point

After 22 years, that…

I don’t want to be the one

Who tells them they are different.

That they have a different history than I do.

I find that I avoid certain movies and TV shows

Because I don’t want them

to question why

people don’t like them because

God colored them with a tan crayon.

(That’s what my little one says).

You see, to them,

It’s not black and white,

it’s shades of tan and peach.

I don’t want to explain

Slavery

The underground railroad

The Trail of Tears

Reservations

Jim Crow

segregation

Freedom Riders

Trayvon Martin

Oppression

Suppression

How arbitrary it is that our last name is Womack

Just because it is the last name

of the last white man

Who owned their great-great grandfather

Before the Emancipation Proclamation

And he didn’t bother to change it.

This name,

handed down through years and generations

Means nothing!

We live in Thailand and China

And they are different

Because they have curly hair.

They are different

Because they are foreign.

They get their pictures taken by strangers

20 times a day.

They are like movie stars.

When we buy groceries,

When we eat out,

When we walk around,

“Stop a minute, this lady wants a picture.”

“Stand next to his daughter there, he wants a picture.”

“The waiters want a picture before we go, girls.”

Mostly, the Asians just want an excuse to touch their hair.

So “different” to my girls, means “Special.”

It means beauty.

It means people love you for how you look.

–Shallow, I know.

But I don’t want to be the one to tell them otherwise.

I don’t even want to put the idea into their head

That there IS an otherwise.

I don’t want to be the one to tell them

That once, they could have been killed for how they looked.

Once, they could have been taken away from me.

That before 1967,

their father and I couldn’t even get married.

That even now,

Especially now,

In this second Civil-War-divided country,

people might think

Or say bad things about them

Even though they don’t know who they are.

That not everyone thinks they are beautiful.

I don’t want them to be naive.

And I have ALWAYS been honest with them.

But, I don’t want

To be the one

To teach them this.

Perspective

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I have been “accused”

Of living in a Utopia

–as if that is a bad thing.

Here’s the thing,

I wake up with dry mouth so severe

That it takes about an hour

of brushing, rinsing, and drinking

Just to begin regulating it for the day.

I can’t eat a snack on the run.

I can’t eat a sandwich, French fries, chocolate…

It takes me about 2 hours to eat a simple meal –even soup

Coughing and choking all the way through it

And drinking an average of three cups of iced milk

–Yes, iced milk to wash it all down.  Because

It hasn’t been a year yet since I was declared “cancer-free.”

It hasn’t been a year yet since I got my feeding tube out.

It hasn’t been a year yet since I got my voice back.

It hasn’t been a year yet since I felt like a holocaust victim

From the intensive chemo and radiation treatments

For tonsil cancer

Yes, tonsil cancer –who knew, right?

It was stage four by the time I got my neck slit in surgery.

I still have nerve damage from my right ear to my shoulder

PLEASE, don’t touch me there!

And then there was the day I did get my feeding tube out

And I thought, this is the moment

The moment true recovery begins

Not a remnant of this hell left

I don’t have to look back, just move on…

“Are you sitting down?”

“Yeah,” I lied.

“That man you were married to,

the one who beat you,

left your children,

stole your credit cards,

Who had the high education and the vocabulary

That put your English Major ass to shame,

Who couldn’t, or wouldn’t, or didn’t find a job for over two years,

Yeah, he’s been arrested for two violent felony charges.

He’ll be gone until your girls are grown.

You’ll have sole-custody,

but you won’t get a penny of support.

Happy Mother’s Day!”

And then, “Wait a minute, what?”

Yes, I have taught university students for six years.

Yes, I have created and copyrighted curriculum.

Yes, I have published research.

And yes, I qualify for food stamps and daycare vouchers.

But, wait a minute, what?

You canceled my assistance because

I was on a feeding tube, and couldn’t actually eat.

And since my parents had to take care of me and my girls

And my mom was too honest to use my card for them

You just boot me out of the system, without asking me why?

Because you DO understand that I am bringing in only 50%

Of my previous below-poverty level income?

So let’s do some math.

Now I need to pay $800 a month for daycare

And $750 a month for rent

On my $732 every two week paycheck.

The “check engine” light has been on my car for over a month now

And I still have to feed my children?

Thank you WIC,

because at least we have milk, eggs and cereal.

And so, my angel of a friend lends me the money

To go to the third-world country where I served

In the Peace Corps 12 years ago.

For two painful days, my girls watched

All of their things leave the house.

We left our family and friends,

And our way of life,

Because I was pretty sure I could get a better life for my girls there.

I make half the money I did in the states,

(the same as the oncologist I tutor)

But I can afford a cute little house

And a nanny/housekeeper –which helps A LOT

Because being a single, working, mother of two pre-schoolers

AND recovering

Is crazy hard!

I still feel sick or tired sometimes from the effect of the treatments.

I’m told that can last up to two years.

Yes, I still lose my hair,

and what I have now is not growing as fast as I would like,

When I go to a store or work,

I cross a 10 lane highway and pay about thirty cents

to ride on a bench on the back of a pick-up truck.

Then I walk about a half mile in 100 degree heat

With my umbrella

Because if the sun touches my radiated neck

It will turn black and burnt and itch

And it takes a lot of Noxema for about a week

To get it back to normal.

And, I get these migraines that incapacitate me

For about 8 days out of every month,

Either from carrying my heavy backpack,

Or sleeping on a rock hard bed.

I can’t find a good school for the girls,

At least one I can afford,

So I home-school them,

Because I am a teacher, right?

And I tutor and edit on the side

For extra money, so we can

Visit family and friends.

We don’t have English TV programs,

Or a car.

Cream of Wheat,

bras in my size,

and gyros

Not available for thousands of miles!

Oh, but wait!

You’ve never heard any of this before,

Because I don’t whine, complain,

Blame others, or

Air my problems in public.

What you hear is:

“Had a great dinner! –Ate every bite!”

because that is such a big accomplishment.

“The girls had a wonderful time swimming with their friends,

while I got to take a nap.”

“I just got a massage, and I feel so much better!”

“We have such generous and helpful

friends and neighbors here.  I am so thankful!”
So yes, I guess I do live in a Utopia

Because I chose to.

I created it.

 

Identity Crisis

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–Not one of those

when you look in the mirror

and see your mother looking back,

No.

It’s when you look in the mirror

and don’t recognize that person

at all.

This is not the person I grew up with

When My four year-old says,

“Mommy, I don’t like your hair.

I miss your Rapunzel hair.

When will it grow back?

My wedding dress,

My claddagh ring,

my favorite shirt,

my underwear

are all way to big

to even be passable as baggy.

My cheeks aren’t full like a 20 year-old’s

but sunk-in like a 60 year-old with botox.

“Mommy when are your scars going to go away?”

“These don’t go away.

They were made by a doctor’s knife.”

I’m healthy.

I’m tired.

I’m recovering.

I’m cancer-free.

But who the hell is that in the mirror?

Some thoughts about immigration

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I have taught about the Immigration Period in America for several years now. I know what the push and pull factors are as to why people immigrate, and I know the various stages that they and their later generations experience after immigration. In fact, I have not only taught this, I have researched this. Last month, however, was the beginning of my first-hand experience. I mean I lived in Thailand before, but it was temporary, and I was only responsible for myself. This is a HUGE jump from that.

Exactly one hundred years ago, from the same month I immigrated, my then seventeen year-old Great-grandmother and her mother boarded the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse with a hundreds of other Bohemians fleeing ethnic cleansing, and took the14 day trip from Bremen, Germany to Ellis Island. She moved to Cleveland because her step-father was here, as was a very large Slovak-Catholic community. She knew eight languages, but English wasn’t one of them. One-hundred years later, I boarded a plane with my two very young daughters, and flew 26 hours to Bangkok and then moved on to Khon Kaen, because I had a teaching position at a university waiting, and friends all around –even in the same city.

I find it so interesting what Americans think of immigration, and how they truly don’t understand it. I find it interesting that they get mad that immigrants are there, that they don’t speak English, that they “take our jobs” (that one always makes me laugh), that they aren’t Christian, and that they wear their clothes and eat their food. I think so many forget that they are products of immigrants.

I had always read that immigrants are the brave risk-takers. That is who almost all of us are descendants of –brave risk-takers. What happened to that? When did we not become accepting of that, and why? It’s not easy to learn another language. Most second generation and third generations Americans don’t know more than one language. Studying 2 years in high school doesn’t count, because you don’t use it daily; you don’t dream in it; it’s not the same.

I picked Thailand because I used to be fluent in Thai. Notice, I said “used to be.” I used to have entire 3-day workshops, in Thai. But after ten years, I find myself asking students, “What the word for ‘see’ again?” No one here gets mad or frustrated with me when I can’t speak Thai. No one says, “Wait, you live and work here, why don’t you speak Thai?” In fact, if I say “hello” or some other phrase, I get praised for what I know. When I taught in America, a lot of my students, who were studying English full-time, would get bothered and harassed for not knowing English.

As far as taking jobs, I can guarantee that no Mexican fruit picker, no Chinese scientist and no Indian doctor is taking any jobs from any Americans. In fact, in the professional world, they have to jump through hoops to have the privilege of working in the U.S. On the other hand, in Asia, being a native-speaker, almost assures you of a teaching position. I don’t know any Americans who come to Asia to be doctors, scientist, or manual laborers. If they did, they would probably get that position easily too. Accountants –maybe not.

Which leads me to an even bigger point. So many Americans want to put these big walls up. Place military and police around our borders to stop people from coming in, and yet, they have become blind to people who are leaving. Foreigners know about the “brain drain.” I had never heard of it. I thought I had this brilliant idea on how to take care of my family. Turns out, 16 of my friends had this idea first. They are all teachers.

So why are so many teachers fleeing to Asia and the Middle-East for jobs? Well, you can live on what you make. As a single mother, and as a highly-evaluated teacher with 20 years experience, I still qualified for government assistance. It’s understood that teachers certainly don’t get into to the field for the money. They don’t expect to drive BMWs, or eat steak everyday. They do expect, and should expect to be able to feed their families and own a car. They shouldn’t have to make a choice between paying for that used car or buying groceries. I’ve had friends with higher qualifications than me, working part time so they could stay in the system, because if they got out of the system, they would have to make those choices. When you need daycare until a child is 12, and 50% of your income goes to that, how do you survive? By the way, contrary to popular belief, it is most often not the single mother’s fault she is a single mother. She is the responsible one trying to take care of her kids and doing what she has to do. Just a reminder there.

But also, in the rest of the world, teachers are highly-respected. I don’t know how or when teachers became the bad guys in America in the past few decades, and specifically in the past year, but that alone is not worth the very little pay you receive. Yes, there are bad teachers. There are bad EVERYTHING. People often forget that. There are bad doctors, engineers, mothers, politicians. There are amazing teachers too. If you close your eyes right now, you can think of that one teacher who just really changed your life. Maybe they showed you something you didn’t think was possible, maybe they explained things in a way you could finally understand, maybe they prompted an epiphany, maybe they inspired you to do something you hadn’t even thought of. You know right now who that teacher is. In fact, you might have more than one. What other profession has that effect on people –that is why the rest of the world respects them so much, as they would their own parents. Oh, wait, we have a problem with that too. Ahh, now I see the connection.

But as for immigrants not “Becoming American,” eating our food, dressing the same, and all of that, many first-generations do. And to a much greater extent than an American would. If I want to find an American here, all I have to do is go to the nearest KFC. They are the ones who ordered mashed potatoes with their chicken. I won’t find them at the corner noodle stand. If I go to their house, I might find soy sauce, but probably not fish sauce. Their eggs will be in the refrigerator with the bread, and the rice cooker will be put away in a cupboard to be used once in a while. (I say this because in Asia, people leave their eggs out, they don’t often eat bread, and the rice cooker is always out and on). And yet the host country residents are usually very interested in what we are eating, how we made it, and can they try.

Nor will I find foreigners wearing silk on Tuesday, denim on Friday, or padded bras on any day. Children will wear uniforms, but foreign children are not expected to have uniform hair cuts like the nationals. In fact, there are a lot of “rules” we just don’t have to follow. There are other “rules” we have to be constantly aware of, so I guess it balances out.

And then Christmas comes around, and you think, “What do you mean I have to work on Christmas?” Christmas is not a holiday in a Buddhist country, just like Eid and Chinese New Years are not holidays in our country. It was a process for our forefathers to create our holidays, and an even bigger process for our mass media outlets to blow them completely out of proportion. America is made up of Eastern Europeans, who, as a culture, think 3 Kings Day is just as important as Christmas, and people from the UK who like Boxing day even more than Christmas. How did those two days get left out? And then when you think that there are more Irish in America than in Ireland, why do they not know that Saint Patrick’s day is quiet saints day that involves going to church and having dinner with your family, not drinking green beer at 5am?

I think the biggest difference is communication. Yes, the world is becoming more globalized and therefore much smaller. But also, with the internet, skype, and cell phones, we can talk to our loved ones anytime. There are no letters that take weeks anymore, there are no final good-byes. My great-grandmother got to go back and visit her home village 62 years after she immigrated. Who was even left? The whole world is becoming Western. Maybe it’s not so bad to try to hold on to your culture a bit before the KFCs take over the world. And maybe it’s not so bad if I try to have the most American house in Khon Kaen.

My Life Sentence…

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About a week ago, I was handed a life sentence.  Not a death sentence, I’m not going to die.  But I do have a prison, my body, that will forever change me.  I got diagnosed with cancer.  I’m 41, and my health has been my primary focus for most of my life.  I was a vegetarian for 14 years, a vegan for most of that.  I read labels religiously, nothing processed, no chemicals, no fast food –for 11 years, no soda for as long, I’m a yoga/qi gong instructor, I take my vitamins, and all I keep thinking is why was I so obsessive about all this?  It didn’t matter.  The doctors kept telling me it wasn’t my fault, but really, it doesn’t make you feel any better about it.

 

I was sick for like the whole month of August. –sick enough to ask Osa to come help me take care of the girls, and he did.  And then I got better.  I thought I was fine.  Then I found a lump on my neck below my right ear.  At first, it was like a little marble that rolled around, but in a week it quickly grew to the size of a teaspoon.  I went to the doctor and he sent me for a CATscan.  He thought it might be an infected lymph node and sent me an ENT specialist who did a biopsy right in his office.  All of these tests seemed inconclusive enough, that he wanted to do what’s called an open biopsy.  By this time another little marble lump had appeared more to the back of my neck.

 

The morning of the out-patient, 30 minute, open biopsy, I couldn’t find the little one again.  My surgeon didn’t want to leave a big scar on my neck, but he said he just didn’t have a good feeling about it all, and wanted to do the big lump.  Well, it turned into a four-hour surgery removing four tumors and a tonsil.  Yes, I’m probably the only person in the world with one tonsil.  They were all cancerous.  I have about a 3-inch scar on my neck with no stitches, it was all cauterized.

 

It took me a while to recover from that surgery.  My throat and mouth hurt a lot, but I could talk mostly.  It hurt to eat or swallow anything for about 8 days.  Then I could at least eat soft things, baby food, popsicles, ice cream.  My mom made me really good baby food –especially the mashed spaghetti!

 

It’s been 12 days since the surgery and 10 days since the sentence.  Today I ate soft vegetables and tofu, and pancakes for breakfast, so swallowing is almost restored, though I’m still on pain-killers.  But food feels good.

 

Friday, I went for a PETscan and another CTscan to see if there is anymore cancer or tumors in me.  There could possibly be another surgery if they find more tumors, but my surgeon is pretty confident that he removed everything that “looked suspicious,” as he said.  I had to lay still and not move for about 2 hours, and the technicians told me to think about my “happy place.”  All I could think of was cuddling on the couch with Rumi and Raine.  That really told me a lot.

 

Monday is the big day.  I have my set-up for my radiation and chemo therapies and I find out about the results of the PETscan.  They will make a mask for my face to protect it from the radiation, and I will be told everything to expect.  I will have to go everyday for 7 weeks, but other than that, I don’t really know the process yet.  If all goes well, it should start the week before or the week of Thanksgiving.

 

Before any of this can start, I have to go to the dentist because if I have any cavities or bad teeth they have to be taken care of before the radiation starts.  But I couldn’t go to the dentist until I could open my mouth, so that appointment is Monday also.

 

The things I do know about the future, the real sentence so to speak is, I will lose my hair—probably right in time for Christmas.  I will have dry mouth for the rest of my life because radiation will affect my salivary glands.  BUT, by doing all this, this type of cancer should never return, and I can see my little girls grow up.