The first day

by Pamela Kallimanis[1]


On the first day of lockdown, I got a message from both of my adjunct teaching jobs and from my grad program: “No classes in person.  We’ll use Blackboard Collaborate and we’ll Zoom, and you’ll have to meet virtually with students and use Blackboard.”  I was pretty pleased with myself that I’d already  been hybridizing my courses. Nobody expected us to do it, but it seemed the way of the future, and it’s great for paper comments and easy grading.  First day teaching on Zoom, I was all set. The students were present with cameras on. They were unsure of things.  I felt I had a plan, an agenda, a lesson, a way to use the chat, and then, out of the corner of my eye, my seventeen-year-old-child reached for the cat and went head first into the couch.

The day before, my child had complained that their hand was numb.  I asked all of the mom questions, “Did you lean on your phone? Do you think it’s a pinched nerve?  Did you fall down? Did you smoke something? Did you take something? Did you get into a fight? Did you possibly hit your head?”  I had called the pediatrician, even though the kid was almost eighteen and about to graduate from high school.  The pediatrician—a seasoned doctor, older, very reassuring—said, “We’re closed because of the COVID thing, but if it gets worse, just call me and we’ll open up.  Or go to the E.R.”  Out of the corner of my eye, I’d seen my kid fall into the couch.  This is worse. I thought.  Okay. I said to myself.  Let’s go to the emergency room.  I called my wife.  We need to go to the E.R.  Let’s go to the Children’s Hospital.  We got into the car.  I dropped off my kid.  They said that only one person can stay with them.  The doctors wanted to do an MRI to see what was going on.  Okay, I thought.  I’ll go back home, teach my second class, and come back.

So, I went back home.  About halfway through, my wife called and said, “You have to come here.”  So, I drove back to the hospital, and as I stepped into the E.R., there were five doctors waiting for me.  They took me into a room. One of them said, “Your kid has a brain tumor. We’re going to take them up to the I.C.U.  They can only have one parent with them.”  So, the next thing was telling my child that they had brain cancer.  And after that, they were on a gurney and put into the I.C.U. Then, we said goodbye to my wife, because the kid chose for me to stay, possibly because my mom had cancer, and I have cancer, and possibly because I gave birth to the kid. But the hospital wouldn’t let me go outside.  If you leave, we can’t let you back in.  COVID is a fever.  If you have a fever, you can’t come back in.  After that, there was a series of conversations – they could bleed out. they could die. We have to get a sample.  After that, they’ll go home.  Home?  Because COVID.  They’ll be better at home. I want to be able to say that the cancer is gone.

One year later… We think after 33 rounds of radiation and two types of chemo and one clinical trial – we think the cancer may be going away.  But now my kid is in a wheelchair and can’t walk.  My kid graduated from high school on Zoom, but since then had to take a gap year.  I am finishing up my Masters at CUNY, teaching still at two different schools, and the precarity of this world is so clear to me.  People say that I’m brave and amazing, but really … I’m just a mom.


[1] Pamela Kallimanis is a poet and researcher at CUNY Graduate Center in International Migration Studies. She holds an M.F.A. in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and teaches at Hunter College and two community colleges in the English Departments. She lives in New York City and has mastered Zoom teaching.


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