Travelers Welcome

Travelers Welcome

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Maribel’s Yearbook

by David Meuel

As Daniel Kessler opened the door to room B-9—his room—at McKinley High in San Jose that June morning, he remembered standing in the same spot the summer before with Bev, the English Department chair. He had punned with her about B-9 and “benign,” saying that he hoped the room number would be a good omen for his first year of teaching. She smiled and opened the door, and he saw the room for the first time. His eyes moved from the peeling paint on the walls to the torn curtains over the windows, to the desks with “Fuck you,” “Fuck,” or simply “Fuk” carved into them. This’ll be a challenge, he thought.

Now, ten months later, Daniel was starting the last day of instruction before final exams. Both the school year and his short teaching career were finally coming to an end.

As he sat down at his desk, Maribel walked in.

Maribel was one of the students from the terrible senior English language learner class he had been assigned that year, the class that, probably more than anything else, had convinced him that he just wasn’t up to the challenge at McKinley High.

She had had a sad history. Three years before, her parents had given all their money to a coyote, or illegal guide, to help their family cross from Mexico to the United States. She and her mother made it. But the border patrol caught her father and two brothers and sent them back to Mexico. She and her mother hadn’t seen them since, and now the two of them shared a small one-bedroom apartment with four cousins.

Her story touched Daniel, and he wanted to be sympathetic. But, along with the nine or ten other students in that class who cut regularly, talked incessantly when they were there, and even got into in-class shouting matches and fights, she was—he hated to admit—hard to like.

Needless to say, she and the others had learned next to nothing from him that year, had repeatedly failed the state high school exit examination, had failed his class, and would not be graduating.

Now, she just stood there looking at Daniel. He wondered what she wanted.

“Yes?” he said impatiently.

“Mr. Kessler—will you sign, please?”

From her frayed backpack, she pulled out a McKinley High yearbook. It had cost her—as it had cost all the students who bought one—$90.00. And, as Daniel paged through it to find a suitable space, he saw that it was filled with dozens and dozens of warm wishes and signatures. She had been working hard on this.

“This is very impressive,” Daniel said. “So many people have signed it. I hope I can find a space.”

She laughed. “Oh, you will, Mr. Kessler.”

Finally, he found a good spot, wrote that he wished her the best, signed his name, and gave the yearbook back.

“Thank you, Mr. Kessler. Now, I need to find more people to sign. I want to remember all people I meet here. This very, very happy time for me.”

“I’m glad,” he said, a bit startled by her last remark. “Say, Maribel?”

“Yes, Mr. Kessler?”

“I’ll always remember the story you told, the one about coming from Mexico. Do you talk to your father and brothers often?”

“Yes,” she said. “We talk every week to them. We hope they can cross in few months. We do not know, but we hope.”

“I hope so, too.”

She smiled, nodded, put the yearbook back into her pack, and waved goodbye.

He smiled and waved too, thinking how pitiful and grand she seemed at that moment, how hard her life was and would probably always be, and how privileged and easy his life was by comparison.

Maribel didn’t come back later that day for the last class meeting or two days after that for the final exam. But Daniel saw her at the graduation. She was sitting in the stands, and, when the name of each of her friends was announced, she stood, waved school-colored pom-poms, and cheered. Each time she stood, he smiled.

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