Unbeautiful things and beautiful things

The other night, two of my girls showed up at my door with a puppy. The puppy was whimpering inside C’s sweatshirt, and it took a minute for me to process the situation. My knees nearly buckled and I emitted an involuntary “eeeeee!” when she pulled the fluffy little butterball out of her jacket. He’s about four weeks old, so he was a little shaky on his feet, and just starting to think about playing. The stubby little tail wagged drunkenly and he wobbled across the floor, taking it all in.

We brought the little critter over to Jake and Shannon’s place to visit, and sat on the floor playing with him for close to an hour. When it was time to go, I came home, and immediately after I closed the door, there was a knock.

“Can I use your bathroom?” A asked.

“Sure. You could’ve asked Jake and Shannon, they would’ve let you.” I told her.

“No. That’d be weird.”

It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it kind of is. The girls trust me enough to use my bathroom. They trust me enough to take off their socks and let me look at the weird oozy bumps on their feet, or to listen when I say “I think you’d be an awesome engineer”, or to bring me neighbor toddlers and toddling puppies when they visit, or to knock on the door just to tell me “the moon is outstanding! can I borrow your camera to take a picture?”

Beautiful things.

I went for a walk in the village this morning and a student stopped me. He was there, and two other boys, along with the two girls who brought the puppy, when someone was brought to the clinic last night. “Seven cuts,” said the boy. The man died.

PFDs came in this week, the big annual dividend check that all Alaskans receive. Predictably, things have been a little wild.

I try not to dwell on it, but there is ugliness here, in good measure: alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, neglect, hunger. Most of the time, the community keeps these things quiet. It would be easy to hear very little about these realities: these are the things everyone (else) knows and no one ever talks about. The teachers live a little apart from the rest of the village, and we aren’t intimately connected the way the other members of this community are. We don’t share blood and history and secrets. It’s rare for these things to come knocking at our doors, so a lot of the time, we don’t know.

When things like this do come knocking (a message from a little girl on my answering machine telling me that a man I knew has died, someone coming to my door to make a wildly inappropriate suggestion, a high schooler pointing out his blood in the snow from when a drunk man hit him the night before, a middle schooler casually mentioning that he’s witnessed a violent death) they are the more shocking for their incongruousness. Most of the time, life in the village is quiet as snowfall. It drifts down and covers the broken bikes and beer cans and candy wrappers caught in the willows.

Unbeautiful things.

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