Summer School Chapter 30: One Frog Leads to Another

After finishing the semester discussed in the last chapter, Alex became very sick and was in the hospital here in Tallahassee for several weeks. He has since recovered and has moved into a home that is closer to his parents. We have talked briefly over the last few years, but I haven’t seen Alex and we haven’t turned the yoga frog book into a play.  Yet.  

 I have acquired new yoga frogs since then, none as large, none as inspiring, and I have not missed the laughing praying yoga frog for a single day because it is exactly where it should be.

At this point in my actual summer of 2017, I’m thankful to be writing this story for you so I have something to do besides staring at Twitter and recalculating how to weigh points in my next syllabi.   If I can help shine a light on the plight of Tallahassee Community College students facing homelessness and profound costs of living with complicated diseases, then this time will have been well spent. 

A few weeks ago, during the middle of this summer school story, a treasured student - Mallie - sent me a picture on Facebook of two cute yoga frogs that she found at TJMaxx.  

I think about adopting them, but I don’t.   I binge watch Netflix and take myself running and walking and spend quality time on my yoga ball and practice staying sane every time Zoe drives away.

Days later Mallie asks if I’ve gone to get the frogs YET and I say I'm going but I’m really not in any hurry and I don't go because I really hate that parking lot because it has all sorts of Starbucks traffic backed up in it combined with starving people racing to Chipotle and if you've been there you know what I'm talking about. 

I know what to do.  I just trust Mallie. She’s assigned me three awesome books in a row, better than most of my professors.  I give up resisting and go to TJMaxx to see if the new yoga frogs had waited for me.

Of course, they were there, of course.  A green one and a white, larger than most of my other frogs,  both sitting in lotus position, and a steal at only $6.99 each.

I scoop them up and then I get the very strong feeling there is treasure nearby.

My left hand reaches down towards something round and hard and as I lift it towards me I know it’s the reason that the yoga frogs brought me here today.

 It is a copper statue of a happy reclining frog holding a candle between its knees.  The candle appears to be telling the frog a story that only the frog can hear, a story that makes the frogs face shine with joy.  

If you look at it one way the frog appears to be gazing down into the imagined and expected warmth of the unit candle; if you hold it another way it is looking skyward, basking in the invisible warmth of the unlit candle.  

 Yes. Yes, it is perfect, it is amazing and it inspires me and I bring it home and promise to not let myself light the candle a single time until after I finish writing this entire summer school story for you.  

Summer School 29: Goodbye Frog

Before we go any farther, I need to revisit the origin of all these frogs you're reading about.  Please make sure that history doesn't write me down as  some sort of whacky frog lady.   I don't pick the frogs, they pick me. 
Here's how it started. 

In December 2007 my Abuela jumped into the sky, tearing our hearts apart. My mom had a bunch of little frog figurines that we had given her as part this holiday and that anniversary over more than a decade, and they each had a name -- the Tita Frog, the Zoe Frog, the Abuela Frog etc -- so I do not blame my mom for getting rid of her frogs as part of her early grief (the part everyone expects, as opposed to "later grief" which changes you and lasts the rest of your life).  I rescued the frogs and they all live in my office, but none were as big and proud and charismatic as the praying laughing yoga frog that the universe forced me to buy at Cracker Barrel. 
If you are enjoying this unfolding story about former students, I hope you will consider supporting a current student and recent transplant recipient, Marvin Cristopher Blanco 
(From Prayer of the Laughing Yoga Frog, 2012)
Alex spent the first week of Spring semester classes in the hospital.  But he got better (he always does) and made his way back to campus, ready to keep on track to graduating from Tallahassee Community College and transferring to Florida State to major in Theatre.  He has a specific plan, he's here for a reason, he has places to go and things to do, and day by day he gets them done. 

On one of his first days on campus, Alex comes to the professor's office to get a copy of Prayer of the Laughing Yoga Frog book and to discuss what he missed that first week. 

The conversation turns and twists and Alex shares that he had gone on a mission trip to Peru and found the people there didn't relax and laugh like Americans. 

Their talk turns to the subject of Reggie.

Alex knows that the professor knows what happened, so they talk freely and share their feelings of anger, betrayal and genuine shock. 

Time goes quickly and it's almost time for the professor to race off to a class, so she starts to tell Alex its time for him to go.

He stays put and announces, "I had a dream."

The professor winces, she does not have time to hear about dreams and such now, she needs to get to this classroom where the computer takes 10 minutes to warm up and if she doesn't go in three minutes then she will only be 10 minutes early and class will start late.

If it had been another student she probably would have said, "Push pause!! Tell me after class or write it or come back tomorrow!”, but Alex couldn't just come back or write it. After all he had been through she owed him her undivided attention and stayed put, exhaling away her thoughts of racing around him out the door to get to class on time.

Very clearly and slowly he announced, "I dreamed the frog wanted to come live with me."

Somehow deep down she knew that since she loved this frog so much she would have to give it up and make room for more frogs in her life.

We lose every single thing in life - our things, the people we love, and ultimately we lose our bodies -- so it seemed like a good idea to her to play a part in making something a gift instead of a loss.

Despite her inner wisdom, the professor said a very mild yes at first, something like, "Yes, you can have him, but why don't you come get him on Thursday when I can pack him up for you?" and then kept rambling about something like, "And I need him back to take pictures for the week of classes, so take good care of him, promise?"

She looked for an excuse to not give him the frog.
He couldn't hold it safely in his arms or between his knees, she didn't have a bag to put it in for him. 

As the words came out of her mouth, the professor reached below her desk and pulled out a bag that had been waiting its entire life to be called into action on this particular moment.   

The professor continued her dribble about how she couldn't give Alex the frog today while loading the frog into the bag and testing to see if it would hang safely on the back of his wheelchair.   It fit perfectly. 

Her frog statue's frogilicious yogarific head peeked out over Alex's shoulder as they rolled down the hallway.

They looked happy together, the professor thought for a millisecond, then raced off to class.  Soon after that, the professor finds a tutor for Alex who also acts like a second set of eyes watching over Alex's new guide and keeping him engaged and safe on campus.  She pays the tutor with royalties from the first week of sales from Prayer of Laughing Yoga Frog.  Perfect. Wonderful.

The next week Alex comes back to the professor's office and tells her that he has thought about it and it's OK for her to write about what happened with Reggie.

The professor is delighted Alex is ready to move from victim to advocate. 
Can he be the co-author of the book?
Yes, I will list you as the first author, the professor proclaims. 

Alex seems almost satisfied.
He has more questions.

Can there be a book signing? On campus this semester?

The professor nods her head.

If she gets the book done in time, and enlists the help of that awesome lady at the TCC Bookstore, then yes, there could be a book signing, in late March or April.
I will have it done for Valentine's Day she tells him and her and the universe and any frog that happens to be listening.

Alex looks happy.

It's almost time for class and he starts to go off but he gets stuck against the wall on one of the tight turns he has to make navigating his way from the professor's office to the elevator.

Alex turns too far and goes the wrong way and turns again but his chair gets partially stuck against the wall.He has to reverse it but he is laughing so loud at being stuck he can hardly control his hand.  The professor laughs too but with her hand over her mouth. He is definitely stuck and they both know this is an I Love Lucy moment.

Alex hits another button and pushes a knob forward. 

His chair starts to rise and tilt back.  Oh NO!!!!! he proclaims and then laughs loud, deep, hard laughs while the professor slides down the wall laughing.

Two heads peek out of faculty offices to check out the ruckus and see if everything is OK.

They see a laughing student in a wheelchair stuck against a wall and a laughing Professor but no actual trouble so they disappear back into their offices, causing the professor and her student to laugh harder. 

The next night the professor gets ready to write, makes notes and then again she just  can't write.  This is strange for her, she has so much to write and nothing is coming.

Alex comes to her office before class the next day and asks how the writing is coming.
 The professor says it will be ready for Valentine's Day, not mentioning that she was stuck, stuck, stuck .

Then she blurts something out that had been hiding inside her head. "You know you're going to have to forgive him, don't you?"

Alex's body gets rigid with an angry non-verbal response.

"I didn't say you have to forgive Reggie today, but forgiveness has to be at the end of this journey, and the journey could take weeks, months or years."

Alex's face relaxes a little. 

"You don't have to forget what Reggie did to you. The justice system will hold him accountable for crimes. That is really going to happen."

The idea of justice brings Alex a little more peace.
He nods agreement and she keeps talking.

"What Reggie did to you can become the center of your life and your thoughts and your identity, and I would hate for that to happen because you are so much bigger than that.  I want us to write a book you can turn into a play and be in, one that represents who you really are, not just what happened to you.  I will notwrite a book about a victim. I will notwrite a book about an angry man. I WILL write a book about a very wise man."

Alex smiles at the idea.  Then, before she can say another word, Alex asks, "How much of the royalties will I get?"

The professor, so pleased by his audacious optimism put her hands in front of her heart in paryer, gratitude and delight  and tilted her head laughing to the sky, just like the Laughing Yoga Frog.  The world is a perfect place, created by a perfect creator whose imagination is still unfolding.  Each bit of creation from the perfect creator is also perfect, both a piece in itself and also part of a whole.

Summer School 28: Awful Sad Wonderful Way

 As much as I didn't expect to read about the yoga frog in Marvin's Book, I also didn't expect to read about Aaron's death in Prayer of the Laughing Yoga Frog.   I knew that I started taking pictures with students around 2011 but I forgot when and why, and now it all connects together.  I can understand how much easier it was to write this as a fable, but I still cringe pretty when I read it.  Let us continue the tale, the one that is taking us from Alex and the frog to Veterans Village, homeless college students and  three Marvins. 

(From Prayer of the Laughing Yoga Frog)
Later that same week the professor returned to her office to give the last set of exams for the semester. Again she collected her exams and again she readied the lucky rocks.  But it was too early to go to class on this particular day so she stood still for a minute and looked out the window.

There he was, arriving in his special limousine.

The professor decided to go down just for once and meet him as the elevator lowered him to the ground.  Hey Alex, ready for your exam?

He nodded as best as he could but actually last week his old chair broke and now he was in this sports car of a chair that he was still figuring out and that was taking ALL of his concentration so she didn’t ask him any more questions until he hit the green button once, then once again, then pushed the circle forward and his chair moved him away from his limousine and through the glass doors into the building.

I like this one better than your other chair, she babbles at him. Before you were leaned back more, now you’re right up and down like you’re in a tight sports car. 

He pushed the red button twice, stopped his car and smiled his agreement.

The professor meant to walk Alex to their classroom to make sure that he was there to take pictures but he shrugged her off.

 I have to wait here, he said slowly, carefully chosen words forming themselves in him and then bursting out of his otherwise rigid silence. She asked if he was warm enough, if he needed anything. He turned his eyebrows down and said no. I want you to be part of this, she told him and then left him in the warm hallway surrounded by hushed packs of whispering students quizzing each other and cursing under their breath.
She went back upstairs to her office and fetched exams, the rocks and the frog.

Again the professor paraded with frog down the hall past exhausted looking exam-worn students strewn here and there like remnants of a party that died hours ago. 

A waif like girl with a cuddly animal face knit hat looked up and smiled from her spot surrounded by piles of notecards, pink green blue white.

Other students looked down and away staring at graphs and highlighted passages and printed out power point slides.

At five minutes before the time the Final Exam was supposed to begin the professor walked into the room. Several students were sitting on top of their desks in an informal circle quizzing each other.  The professor hid her pleasure at their intensity and walked silently to the front where she dropped the box of empty final exams and the Laughing Yoga Frog on a small table. 

At exactly the time the final exam was supposed to begin the professor held up the frog statue and launched into an impromptu graduation speech.
Congratulations you’ve made it to the end! Look at the empty chairs. That guy stopped coming. That girl, the one who never had a pen, she disappeared, but you guys made it to the end in one piece, and that’s something to celebrate.

The class broke up into cheers as though someone were tossing candy and free
t-shirts at them. I’m giving you a speech, I’m not cancelling your final, I need to talk to you about my frog, the professor announced and several fallen faces dropped their gazes back down into notebooks and notecards.
A few faces looked interested.
One girl with particularly tight headband winced a little.

I like frogs because they start out completely different from what they are intended to become. They have tails, right? Then they lose them and grow up. That must be traumatic. When my mom tells me “Sana, sana, culita de rana, si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana” (heal heal little frog’s tail, if you don’t heal today you’ll heal tomorrow) I imagine this poor baby froggy looking for its tail, what it’s lost, and not at all noticing that it has arms and legs and now it can leap.   But once the frog realized it’s a new creature, strong and whole, it can do so much more and leap into a bigger world. And that’s what I wish your education will help you do.

I fell in love with this particular praying Laughing Yoga Frog the moment I saw it.
 Just look at it, doesn’t it look like something I would love?  And a week later I went back to Cracker Barrel again and I can’t believe I’m publicly admitting I went to Cracker Barrel three times in two weeks and I thought the frog was gone but it was THERE and it was 80% off.  I love it and it was meant for me and I bought it and what I want to tell you all is that the universe is always growing and ever expanding and it is full of joyful things – big and small - like this frog and I’m sure that what is meant to bring joy to you will find you.

After you each finish exam I’m going to give a lucky rock and you’re going to take a picture with me and the frog. I’d give you your lucky rocks now but some of them are so strong that they bring an unfair advantage so you’ll have to wait.
Ready for your exam?

The professor hands out empty exams full of spaces for students to explain things like The Treaty of Versailles, The Manhattan Project and The Powell Doctrine. 

After finishing her walk up and down and between the rows she turns her attention to Alex who will leave her and take his test in a lab.
Ready for your lucky rock?
He nods.
She holds up the rock-laden tray that obscured the word “Believe” etched across it right under Alex’s hand.

His rock picks him quickly but he can’t hold it in his hand.
She asks if she can put it in his slipper and he laughs YES.

The professor turned her laptop camera  and held her frog up to take a picture with the three of them. It came out well. 

They took another, then another and because Alex was just hanging out in the room until Reggie met him.

Put me on your head the frog whispered silently to the professor.

She put the frog on her head so that its lilypad looked like a 1920s hat.

Alex threw his head back and laughed the happiest laugh anyone had ever heard.  

Before the moment could pass, the professor took a picture of the three of them, Alex laughing, the frog praying, her just peeking in from the side of frame.

A minute later Reggie entered the room apologizing for being late.  That’s fine Reggie, the professor said, eliciting giggles from test takers who remembered the day she stopped lecture and asked him his name.

He told her. It was something like Eric.

She shook her head and told him she was going to call him Reggie and after that she just did and every time she did everyone giggled.  

Hold the frog and take a picture Reggie, don’t ask any questions, act like this is normal the professor commanded as she thrust the frog at Reggie.
 Reggie did exactly what she asked, which only made Alex laugh harder

After that Reggie and Alex headed out to  the testing lab, leaving the professor and her frog to finish the exam and take pictures with the rest of that class.
One by one students went off into their worlds, relieved of an exam, hopefully a little bit wiser and happier.


In the after-exam quiet the professor took her time stacking exams up and clearing off odds and ends from her desk before retreating to a long weekend of grading.

She wiped down her desk, watered her plants and placed the Laughing Yoga Frog on the windowsill right under the crystal that spun rainbows of joy across the office walls and floor for a few minutes at just the right time each day.

Looking around one last time the professor went back to reposition the frog.

Something had changed, just a little.
Your silent prayer was answered today, wasn’t it? the professor asked the praying Laughing Yoga Frog.

Was that what you’ve been waiting for? she asked again into the silence, answered only by a tiny rainbow that shot through the prism and onto the floor. 

And so, while the professor was indeed intended to be grading answers regarding the Potsdam Declaration and the Platt Amendment, instead she thought about what a wonderful universe this was that she could play even a little part in answering the prayers of the Laughing Yoga Frog.

The world is a perfect place, created by a perfect creator whose imagination is still unfolding. 

From how Alex's mom told the professor this is how they found out that huge thing that shook and angered pretty much everyone except the Laughing Yoga Frog.

When Alex came home for Christmas vacation, he sent his mother out shopping to buy a present for Reggie.

 She bought the NFL cap Alex picked and had it shipped right to Reggie so he would have it for Christmas.

Then she checked Alex's account balance and it looked strangely low.  She went online to his bank and saw something wrong.

A series of withdrawals had been made from Alex's account, many on Tuesdays and Thursdays when he was on campus for the professor's class and under Reggie's protection and supervision.

Questions lead to more questions which lead Alex's mom to call the professor with a very specific question.

 Do you have the picture you mention in the book, the one with you, the frog, Alex, and the guy you called "Reggie?"

The professor says yes, yes of course, which is how the professor found out what had happened and why the picture was needed by the police to help identify Reggie. 

Because of the Laughing Yoga Frog, a silent statue that moved through the universe effortlessly, the professor *indeed* had that picture that Alex's mom and the police needed.  

Everything made sense in an awful sad wonderful way.  
Here is the cover of the very short book Alex and  published and which I desperately need to revise and help him sell, because all the money from this book goes to him. This is not the picture with Reggie in it*
If you are enjoying this story about former students, I hope you will consider supporting a current student, Marvin Cristopher Blanco 

Each bit of creation from the perfect creator is also perfect, both a piece in itself and also part of a whole.