Scarves and Markers
In those days Pasadena was a kind and gentle place. With it's freshly manicured lawns, swaying willow trees, house sized coastal live oaks making tunnels of neighborhood streets and filtering the early evening light, a cool evening ocean breeze carrying the scent of eucalyptus trees, summer was already here.
The school was empty. Teachers left. Janitors cleaned. Two more weeks of school left. Paula's airline tickets were in the top drawer of her desk, mixed in with paper clips, red markers, take out receipts, and a toothbrush. An over-sized calendar with phone numbers, bank balances, and coffee stain graffiti covered most of the desk along with an electric pencil sharpener, a wood ruler, an old pair of sunglasses, an old coffee mug stuffed with pens and markers, a wood framed picture of her and her college friends, an empty flower vase, a metal basket organizer stuffed with papers of various sizes and colors, several scented candles, and an old computer.
In the classroom the halogen lights rested leaving a cool blue light. On the walls were posters reminding you to read, another telling you to reach for the stars, Martin Luther King daring you to dream, Michelle Obama challenging you to eat right, and a large calendar using flowers for the days in May. A walled sized dry-erase board covered the entire front wall, a recycling bin for white paper only, and a waste basket waiting by the door for the maintenance guy.
An old overhead projector sat on shelves filled with books of various sizes and every single rug in the room formed the pattern of enormous multi-colored butterfly covering the entire floor with the extra pieces filling the void spaces. Under the child sized circular activity desk where Paula would sit in the middle for group activities was an uncapped blue marker that Ivan had thrown at Dulce. The marker had dried. The room still smelled of sweat and children.
Paula, 25, a German immigrant, wrapped up her first year teaching kindergarten in Southern California. She would chuckle to herself once in a while, delighted by the absurdity of her job, 16 children willingly given to her for 6 hours, 5 days a week. She loved them. I'll never forget this group of kids, she'd say to herself, while she'd have hundreds of children over dozens of years to fill her life, those first few months would be marked by two children, Ivan and Dulce. Dulce liked Ivan.
It was mid February, Valentines Day. Daily shower's had been cleaning the air and streets of the Los Angeles basin, leaving crisp cool orange evenings. Postcard weather they called it, a perfect time to photograph the enormous pine covered mountains that walled in the cities, buildings, and freeways of Los Angeles County.
Dulce had saved the best Valentines card for Ivan, a card with a cartoon golden retriever holding a heart with the words "puppy love". He'd received other's just like hers. Everyone saved their best cards for Ivan, but Dulce wanted her's to stand out so she attached it to a lollipop. There wasn't anything she wouldn't do for him.
For Christmas Dulce asked her mom if she could buy him a gift. Her mom told her it would mean more if she made him something.
But what can I make him?
Use your imagination.
That's boring. Can I just give him something I have?
I'm not sure that counts, besides what could you give him that he could actually play with?
Your mean mom. She pouted
Mom put her hands on her 6 year old's tiny frame, knelt next to her. I didn't mean it that way honey.
She gave him a beautiful scarf her mom had bought in Santa Fe a few years ago. Ivan wore it every day that January and into March. She smiled every time he and his father entered the front doors of the school in the morning. She knew she'd made the right choice, the scarf made them both smile. Dulce was sure of this. She knew she'd made a difference.
Ivan lived down the street from the school. Last fall, Dulce, her older sister, and her mom ran into Ivan and his father outside their house while trick-or-treating. Dulce wore a bumblee outfit. Her mom was dressed as honey-comb, a home-made costume made from cardboard boxes interconnected to form the honey-comb around the trunk of her slender frame. Sister was too old for this noise.
Her mom and Ivan's dad hugged. The embrace lasted long. Ivan's dad was crying without noise. Their conversation was quiet. Super heroes, monsters, witches, and a man sized hot dog walked through and around them. Sunset shadows had left, pumpkins glowed brighter and more children crowded the sidewalks.
Dulce had never met Ivan before. She knew he was supposed to be in Ms. Paula's class. He had a his own desk. His name was colorfully decorated on the desk but it had been empty since school started. The kids had stopped asking where he was, or if he was ever coming, and the focus became a big welcome party for him when he arrived. He's gonna need all our love, Paula would tell the children.
Dulce's sister eventually put her phone away and walked over to Ivan and kissed him on the forehead. He smiled at her. You look so big and strong, she told him. She went back to Dulce, led her by her little 5 year old hand to the little boy in the wheel-chair.
Dulce, this is Ivan.
Why is he in that?
People come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors. That's the best part of life. That's what makes all of us special and that's what makes Ivan extra special. Isn't that right, buddy? Dulce's sister's eyes watered while gently running her hands through Ivan's thin brown hair.
Can he talk?
Yes, but why don't you give him a hug and tell him he's awesome.
Dulce walked up to Ivan and whispered the lines into his right ear. He smiled and put his arms around her, pulling her closer. I love you, he said.
Dulce grinned. I love you too.