Making Out: Reality in Cloudlike Fragments

Making Out is a series centered on how Jess Burnquist, mother, writer, and teacher is "making out' as she processes adolescent issues amid the glare of parenthood and the shadows of nostalgia.

They are sieg heiling in Washington D.C.

In the desert, there is a fast sky. Outside the classroom the Superstitions are obscured. Only the rising portion of the mountain range is visible.

*

For weeks now, I have said to friends and family, I feel like a stranger in a strange land. And where I teach, this might be true. Before the super moon, my daughter found out about the boy who in his art class made Holocaust jokes, called me Kike and mocked my affinity for human rights.

*

There have been over 200 incidents involving the graffiti of swastikas across America in the last 14 days.

*

After my daughter threatened a boy (in her grade and in my English class) during lunch because she was being a loyal daughter to me, her faith and her cultural history, he wrote to me about how threatened he felt.

*

A boy walking home from soccer practice in a neighboring school district was called “immigrant scum” by an adult male driving a truck. Across the country, a man punched a woman in the face because she voiced her political dissent to a friend in conversation. A grade school boy is still hospitalized after being beaten by older boys because he tried to defend his sister who was being bullied for being Black.

*

I write to the student who calls me Kike to let him know that I am glad he has written to me. I tell him that I will share his email with the administration because I want to remain impartial. I end my response by letting him know that I look forward to seeing him in class.

*

My daughter expresses how her anger solidified in that lunchroom. How she lost her temper over an influx of memories—being called Anne Frank in junior high, Jew Girl, hell-bound, etc. She says she just couldn’t let this one go. She admits to saying to the boy that if he made another Holocaust joke or Jewish joke that she would “fucking ruin him”. I drive with one hand on the wheel, the other stroking her hair. She falls asleep before the freeway ramp. I am aware that we are both very tired.

*

When I tell my Vice Principals the next morning, they note my daughter’s language. I have found them discussing something with a security guard in the courtyard. I am squinting but the clouds swell and cast shadows in all directions.

*

Friends of mine are being added as potential targets to white power hate lists for commenting publicly about their dissent. Others are placed on watch lists of professors with “liberal tendencies”.

*

To be clear, I tell the Vice Principals that I am proud of my daughter. To be clear, I say in my most neutral voice, speaking slowly, words sticking to my tongue as if from static cling, she did use foul language. Not hate speech. The boy used hate speech. To be clear, I say, a student in his art class filed a report about how offensive she found such speech two weeks prior. To be clear, I say, nothing was done. Their silence is heavy and the sun shines obnoxiously.

*

A woman online scolds me for expressing my concern about my country. She says I’m being hyper sensitive. Says I need to get out of my bubble.

*

Not to be rude, one Vice Principal says, but how many Jews attend this school? He asks me as if I have a direct line on such things. I fight the urge to respond with sarcasm, fight the swelling of a grief he clearly cannot see, fight tears, fight back the words, “Why? Is there a quota?” I tell him what is true. My daughter and I are it, as far as I know. He nods as if I have offered him some kind of explanation.

*

The boy is called to one of their offices. The next day he offers a heartfelt apology to my daughter which she accepts. She apologizes for cursing. I teach him with enthusiasm because he is 15 years old and this is learned behavior. I teach him without prejudice because I can’t unlearn every incident I have either personally experienced or have witnessed my children experience—perhaps, though, I can help prevent the next incident.

*

In my AP Literature class we are reading The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. His ambiguity was purposeful. One critic claims that Conrad didn’t want his novella to be taken as political. I scoff then explain that I suspect everything we do is informed by a political situation whether conscious or not. Chopin plays in the background. Students discuss how Conrad may have been railing against Imperialism and the conquest of people perceived as less than—or he may have just been voicing his misperceptions of cultural differences. It is hard to know for sure. We think about the horror, the horror. Outside, the sun slips in and out of wistful clouds.

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