Tag Archives: high school

Dear Diary: Connie Rodriguez and What I’ve Realized About My Blog

Student Biking

Student Biking (Photo credit: University of Denver)

I stopped keeping a journal when I graduated from high school.  My journal was a daily escape from ages eight to seventeen.  Upon graduation, I stopped keeping a journal because its contents would then become volatile.

Before that, I journaled compulsively, usually to Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing cd, which spun at such high volumes in my stereo, I could hear the hum of my parents’ hardwood floors.  I didn’t do it because I wanted to.  It became something I couldn’t forgo if I wanted to, like the trail of my parents’ cigarette smoke.

Today, I sit here with a paper plate full of Triscuit crumbs and smears of cream cheese, wondering why I cannot continue writing a series of flash fictions for Goddard without first writing a blog post.  I’ve wondered why I had to do this after the Boston Bombings, the Newtown tragedy, the loss of Alexandra Kogut last semester, and other experiences I’ve had like wishing I could call my grandmother on her birthday.

The blog has become, in some fancier way, my diary, which is why, for weeks, I am able to not write a thing, and then some days, I can’t not write.  My blog entries typically come out in an hour or less of writing.  And now I understand why.  It’s the same muse in action that has you jotting down story ideas on a fast food napkin.  I blog because I cannot continue my daily routine without writing about whatever it is I’m obsessing about.

For the past few days, it’s been Connie Rodriguez, one of my students from this past fall, who died over the weekend.

My husband scolds me after tragedy, as though he expects me to react any differently:  I am as guilty as anyone who grips the controller to watch the terror unfold before them.

I found her old submissions from my creative writing course.  I needed proof.  I couldn’t believe she was my student just last semester, it wasn’t so long ago, and I hadn’t seen her since.  I read a Facebook friend’s page religiously, but not for posts about her daughter like I usually do, but for photos of Connie, who was her friend.  I Googled her name to see if her obituary had been posted yet or if anyone had written about her.  Just before writing this, I found a university news article about her.  I had to write.

As her instructor, I knew these limited things about Constance Rodriguez:

She wrote one hell of a short fiction piece for her portfolio–a story about twin sisters who would not stop battling each other, who would wake each other in the middle of the night to physically and brutally terrorize one another.  The story ended with a blaze, the house catching fire, the girls running away.

She was the first to share her writing on the first day of class.

She lost her mother.

She had seen things and lived a life that I could not ever fathom– a life she wrote in her poetry and essays that I will not post here.  She was a survivor.

From reading the article, from looking at pictures, Connie was a bubbly girl, a forgiving friend.  What I can’t stop thinking about is this: the pain beneath her pretty smile.

We like to think we are heroes, that we can save the world, that the future is ours for preserving.  I wonder if I could have done or said one thing to make her life, then, easier.  I couldn’t have healed a thing for her, a tough girl enduring a tough time who’d lost her mother just before she started my class.  Had I known her deep state of grief, would I have been able to be fair?  Should I have been able to be fair?

I haven’t stopped thinking about her since Sunday, when I learned of her passing.  I printed her poems that had been archived away in my college email, the first creative essay she wrote for class.  I read them at 10 o’clock on Sunday night.  I re-read them at 4 pm on Monday, and not more carefully than I did when I graded them, but differently–with the urgency to pull her back, to prevent the loss of her after it happened.

I grieve in a different way from her friends, from her family, who grieve the loss from their guts.  I am sad about the small part of her I knew, the small part of her that pulled back into herself towards the end of the semester, who veered away from school into sadness.  But I remember her as something bigger, as part of a future unknown, as part of a difference we are afraid to make.


textbook covers, in memoriam

Doodle-a-Day sheet

Doodle-a-Day sheet (Photo credit: CaZaTo Ma)

When I have my students complete a writing exercise, almost half of them have a caricature of themselves, or flowers, or deep pen scratches in the margins.  They’re telling stories in their own ways, unprompted by me.

I don’t doodle anymore.  This is sad.  I should doodle.  One class, everyone should tell a story in doodles.

The word is nostalgic for me, and fun to say.  Say it: “Doodle.”  You’re smiling, aren’t you?

For me, doodling passed with high school lunches, notes slid in the slots of lockers, or mix cds for birthdays.

It was considered a homework assignment during the first week of class to have your class textbook covered, as though the paper would protect the book from the threat of real damage.  I did it, though, because I followed institutional rules.

The smell of the paper bag itself was wonderful– a soft smell like crayons, a kindergarten classroom, the musk of a tree.

It only took a week or two for the wearing at the corners to begin, the fibers unraveling like the math problems inside or the pop quiz scores that made my mouth dry up and my teeth clench.

I doodled the initials of my crushes on the paper that folded over the textbook’s cover and tucked around the front.  Often, if someone was being nosy, I’d slam the book shut after I finished the second initial.  I still won’t tell it.

Then, I got a boyfriend.  I drew hearts around his name on the brown cover and wrote 4-ever just like everyone else, though I hated numbers.  The hearts never had arrows on my books.  Sometimes, when I would break up with my boyfriend for a few days, I would put a heavy X over the heart, or write a large N in front of the “ever” in “4-ever.”  By then, the cover was slit near the spine,  softening around the edges like a soggy cracker.

The annoying person next to me wrote obscene words on my book cover so I scribbled over it with cross-hatching.   I should really change the cover, I thought.

I folded the new paper bag over the book and taped around the corners this time and wrote my boyfriend’s initials in pencil.  When I erased it a week later, the eraser left permanent gray feathers on the cover.  Next time, I decided, I would turn his initials into pretty flowers or trees.  I would doodle them into oblivion.