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Swimming Upstream

January 10, 2012
New Orleans education

In literacy block we're studying the states and capitals. Yesterday I asked my kids where they'd like to move. My favorite answer: "I'd go to heaven. They ain't got no pain up there."

A student came to my class today carrying a box of tissues. Once I got the rest of the class started writing their essays, I asked her if she wanted to talk. She shook her head yes, and started quietly relating her story to me, all the while doodling RIP on her portfolio.

In short, she and her family members were beefing with some neighbors. The women were arguing, some men got involved, someone got hit on the head with a board, some woman got kicked, a guy went outside. Night fell. Guys came back with guns, the men with guns shot her cousin and uncle, a father and son, multiple times in the head the neck, the back, the face. My student was there, watched her uncle take his last breath in her house, saw her cousin die instantly on the street. They laid  dead in the foyer of the home until their bodies were taken away.

I give her my condolences, I ask how she’s doing, how her family is taking it, if there’s anything I can do. And then I hear myself say this: “It’s not normal, you know, to watch someone die over a simple argument. It’s not normal to see your family members shot multiple times. You know that’s not normal, right?”

She stared blankly, not quite believing me. Coming from the girl who earlier this year watched another cousin lay shot dead under a car for 6 hours waiting for the police to arrive, I can understand her bewilderment. It is normal here, somehow, at least for her.

These are my kids. This is my daily battle. But I’m just the white lady from Kansas who can’t quite wrap my mind around it. The real battle is theirs, swimming upstream, watching others drown.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Deirdre permalink
    January 10, 2012 5:45 pm

    That just made me cry.

  2. Kate Brennan permalink
    January 11, 2012 10:51 am

    Ugh. So heartbreaking.
    Their lives are better with you in them, Sunny.
    Keep up the wonderful work, lady.
    Makes me think of Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”

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