Rest in peace, Bryan Rodriguez.

I never met the man, and I arrived near the scene after he had already been transported to the hospital, but I want to acknowledge his service to the community.  Seeing a man’s blood in the street with your own eyes changes things from “some poor guy, how terrible” to “the man whose blood painted a picture that will stick with me for some time.”

Bryan Rodriguez worked for the City of Milwaukee Department of Public Works.  Friday morning he was doing that day’s job, repairing potholes, following behind a truck laden with asphalt pellets, presumably with shovel in hand. At 8:15 AM, a car slammed into him.

I got to one of my schools shortly before 10:00 Friday, in advance of an IEP meeting.  An IEP (individualized education plan) meeting is a special education event where students, parents, educators–regular and special ed, and administrators convene to discuss a student’s strengths, weaknesses, and develop a plan to address the student’s identified weaknesses.  I don’t have a figure, but I estimate that by now, I’ve been part of no fewer than 5,000 kids’ lives in such a way.

I noticed a cruiser along with police tape blocking the street just beyond the school’s, but didn’t think much more of it as my supervisor and I entered school and ascended the first set of stairs up toward our meeting.  Crime and the ensuing police presence are so familiar to me that I’m not proud to admit I didn’t give it much more thought.  I hadn’t yet met this student whose needs we were to discuss, so my mind was fixed on what I had read about the student and what I was going to say.

My supervisor and I stopped at the stair landing where another teacher began cataloging for us the events unfolding in the street below, unseen to us until we reached the bank of windows overlooking Seventeenth Street.  She relayed the circumstances of the accident as she knew them.  The driver and passenger bolted after Mr. Rodriguez was hit.  I could see the car partially wedged under the city truck, the man’s reflective vest on the ground.  The car had no plates.  Speed and/or inattentiveness was a factor.  The mayor had already been on-scene.  No more needed to be said.  It was understood that the DPW worker had been killed.  There had since been a steady stream of Public Works trucks passing by the scene of the crime.  I wondered if my husband had been behind the wheel of one of them.

Last Wednesday a Milwaukee Police Department officer was shot and killed by a man at whose house a search warrant was being executed.  Officer Matthew Rittner was killed in the line of duty, and the city mourned.  Twice in two days now, the city lost one of its employees.  Like Officer Rittner, whose body was escorted to the coroner’s office by a parade of law enforcement vehicles, Bryan Rodriguez’s now lifeless body was trailed by a procession of golden-yellow DPW trucks.  I found myself oddly comforted by that.

You bet this accident hit close to home.  Not only was I a late witness to this tragedy myself, but all I could think was it could just as easily have been my husband.  A reckless driver has already caused one of his buddy’s fingers to be severed.  Some idiot has shot at guys up in the bucket trucks.

I understand accidents happen, but I am willing to bet they happen less frequently when people actually give a damn about human life.  When I tell friends and family about events such as these, a typical response is, “Wow, don’t they care if they hurt someone?”  The desperate, terrifying, fundamental truth that needs to be understood before that question even gets asked is this: They don’t care enough about their own life to consider the lives of others.

No one goes into public service for its lavish salary, and the days of what used to be a promise of benefits some-day-in-the-future in lieu of premium wage-today have long since passed.  Internet trolls have had their field days with the loss of these two men this week, asserting “coulda-shoulda-wouldas” to somehow assign a sliver of blame to the victims.  Trolls, you’re despicable.  This guy set his alarm Friday morning, probably happy to have the weekend looming, maybe he’d grab a good old Milwaukee Friday night fish fry, have a couple of beers, I don’t know.  But I’m confident he thought he’d have that weekend.  His family couldn’t possibly have thought he’d never make it home.

I do not believe he will get a formal send-off similar to what the first responders do, but I feel at the very least he should receive a thank you for his service.  Thank you, Bryan Rodriguez, may you rest in peace.



Home Invasion

You probably think I live in a war zone.  Between the murder of my friend’s father last October and what I’m about to tell you, you might think, “Wow, she is really tough.”  Alternately, you might think, “Wow, she is really stupid.”  You get to pick.  Editor’s note:  she is both.

Two Thursdays back, I sat at my computer reading up on the latest neighborhood shenanigans on the Next Door app.  This headline stopped me in my tracks:

It’s about ten blocks from where we live, so yeah,  “Armed Robbery In My House” grabs you by the front of your shirt with both hands and slams you into the wall.  It’s the kind of header meant to grab your attention, and it did just that.  I read the victim’s story, and felt for myself, my neighborhood, not scared but sad.  He further described in vivid detail the attack, his injuries, and resolution; at that time, any resolution was in its infancy.  I got to thinking, “Wow, that was really close to Matt’s house,” before I connected the dots:  It WAS Matt’s house.  It was Matt.  We are not brother-and-sister close, but he’s the kind of guy everyone knows and likes.  His record album collection makes me googly-eyed, and he knows a little bit of something about everything. He’s one of the good guys.

I sent him a Facebook message telling him how sorry I was, and asked if I could bring him something (soft) to eat or maybe help clean up his house.  I’ll never win awards for housekeeping, but when your friend’s house is covered with his own blood, you figure you could probably step up to the plate for him.  He responded by asking me to bring him lunch, and I was happy to be able to do something.

Wendy’s Meals on Wheels pulled up, and I was expecting an eggplant-colored face to greet me.  He looked better than I was expecting to be perfectly honest, but you are never prepared to see a stitched-up perfect circle embedded into your friend’s cheekbone.  That circle?  Just happened to be the size of the shotgun barrel used to shove him to the ground.  It’s not my story to tell, so I won’t go into greater depth, but a few weeks later it’s still very much weighing on me.  It is not my story to tell, but it is my concern.  It’s my sadness at this violent, brazen attack on my friend in our neighborhood.  What the hell, world?  When did things get so far off-track?  Why?

Responses to his posting ranged from expressions of friendship, admiration of his bravery, concern, and sympathy to “you need to get a big dog” to “I teach a concealed carry class, won’t you join us?”  A person shouldn’t need to have a big dog to protect himself!  A person shouldn’t have to feel she or he needs a concealed handgun to hang out in her living room!  None of us should have to fear the nighttime, hell, we shouldn’t have to fear the daytime for that matter.

Writing the previous sentence, I understand that I sound a little white middle class-ish, blind-eye-ish.  I skim the daily paper’s headlines, but don’t watch the news anymore (because I like to be mostly sane), so I’m not unaware of the plight of citizens residing in warn-ravaged nations.  I have a roof over my head; I have electricity and running water, clothing and enough food, so I’m luckier than millions of others across the globe.  But every single day, every single day, I drive through and work in the toughest, most impoverished and violent neighborhoods in my city.  I don’t live it myself, but I get it via a guest’s immersion of sorts.  For twenty-six years I have worked in neighborhoods that would likely make most of you tinkle in your pants from fear even to dip a toe in.  I’ve met children and families living in extreme poverty, and they’ve welcomed me into their lives and homes, shown me hospitality and kindness.

I’ve also been harassed by city denizens.  I’ve been called a white bitch, a cracker, a wide array of clever/horrible/amusing/demeaning epithets simply for being there.  I’ve been told that since I am white, I have no business teaching children who are not.  But this is not a treatise on race relations, because poverty and violence don’t discriminate based on skin color.  The group of men who invaded my friend’s home consisted of African-American, Hispanic and white males, and I hate to perpetuate stereotypes. My lifetime of experiences has taught me that stereotypes can be far from accurate. And divisive. I’m done with divisiveness, and man I can’t wait for the politicians to catch up to me here. Anyway. 

My husband works for the city; one of his co-workers was shot while making a lift in a bucket truck.  He was shot by paint balls, thank the stars, but still, some joyriding cretin thought it’d be funny to shoot at a guy, scaring the crap out of him, just for kicks.  This is fun?  I must have a sophisticated sense of humor then, man.

I know enough to know I know nothing about how to fix this.  But, Little Mary Sunshine here wants this to be the last attack on someone I know.  I want this never to happen to my kids, my husband, a friend.  OK, I want this crap never to happen.  There.  I said it.  Pollyanna is screaming at you, criminals!  It’s not OK that it’s happening in the ‘hood, and that now that’s it’s closer to home, I’m suddenly queen of the block watch.  No.  It’s not OK that it’s happening anywhere.  That is the main idea here.

My friend’s physical injuries will heal. The hole in his floor can be patched or covered. But what about the loss of feeling safe in your very home? The loss of faith in basic human decency?



See, It’s MY Car

Few things feel as much as a violation as strangers rummaging through your private property.  Yesterday as we watched the Green Bay Packers stick it to the Giants at the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field (you know the voice, right?), some dick invited himself into our car.  Sure, I could’ve used “interloper” or “budding felon” or “low-life,” but I feel like “dick” captures his essence.  Her essence?  Statistically it’s probably a male, so I’m playing the odds here.

We were sitting in our living room, which faces the street, at which were weren’t focused because hello? Packers game??, when someone stole part of our portable DVD player and rifled through the rest of the center console and glove box.  Because I work in the ‘hood and practice vigilance and really, more because we have nothing of value to steal, nothing of value resides in the car.  There was nothing to snatch quickly but the second video screen for our portable DVD player, so he absconded with an essentially useless piece of technology.  I fully expected to find the screen laying in a nearby alley or gutter when I got home this evening because it’s worthless without the control unit, which remained.  There may have been $.13 in pennies in the center console, and that’s not a typo–the decimal is in the correct place–we maybe had thirteen whole shiny pennies, probably really only like eleven though to steal.  They didn’t even bother with the pennies!  Suckas.

Tom came in from having put the car in the garage, STILL broad daylight y’all, asking if I had brought in the DVD screen for any reason.  He had that uneasy feeling, inexplicable until the puzzle pieces click in place, that something about the car was amiss.  I’m no Felix Unger, but neither am I one to rifle through shit and leave it tossed all over the car’s interior.  Yesterday was sunny and clear for the first in a long time, and we were left to conclude that we’d been robbed.  Basically had we turned our necks window-side, we couldn’t have helped but see it, but the guys in green and gold were so distracting!  Not gonna lie, you feel kinda duped when your car is robbed while parked in front of your house.  In broad daylight.

My stomach churned for most of the second quarter of the game.  This could’ve been attributed to the Packers’ sickly first half offense, sure, but no.  The intrusion hit me physically; my reaction at a visceral level, and I felt sick.  Fortunately, Aaron Rodgers connected with Randall Cobb to end the first half with a holla! and I was over it.  Well, not entirely over it because here I am twenty-four hours later writing about it, duh, Wendy.


So instead of staying annoyed with humanity, I’m choosing good over stupid.  What a peculiar segue into my, “HEY YOU GUYS!” plea to support Team Greater Than Gravity for the 2017 MDA Muscle Walk, huh?

I began blogging almost exactly two years ago, after #1 was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy.  I was paralyzed.  A neurologist told me my baby, my firstborn, my sure-he’s-clumsy-but-eventually-his muscles-will-catch-up-with-his-height was going to live his life never catching up.  I’ve written about that day before, and won’t revisit it today.  The anniversary is right around the corner, so it’s sure to be an up and coming post.  Where was I?  I was paralyzed.  I knew not what to do or say, and felt a helplessness and despair I’d not wish on my worst enemy.  Only as I wrote, I began to understand my feelings.  It’s hard to explain if you’re not the writer type, but writing told me how I felt.  Often I didn’t know what I felt until I read my first months’ of posts, and I’d go, “Oh, I’m frustrated that the Y closed,” or “I’m terrified to meet other MDA moms and dads,” or “Sometimes I’m pretty funny, and sometimes I’m a ridiculously easy crowd!”  Anyway. . .

After a time, my paralysis ebbed a bit that spring, and I found determination to raise funds for the Southern Wisconsin MDA Chapter’s Muscle Walk.  In year one, our team raised about $1900.  I was mystified at my good fortune to have people in my life, so concerned and generous, that they donated to our effort.  I DID something.  Well not me, it was YOU, you freaking amazing people, but I asked.  I did something.  WE did something.  Last year you more than doubled that, and I swear to the stars that if I ever find out who anonymously donated $1000 to our team, I will kiss you on the mouth.  And you know I am NOT much for hyperbole (insert winky-winky emoticon here).  But even if you didn’t donate $1000, ’cause really?, I love you for being here with me.  Thank you.

Today, to show the world that I’m picking goodness over misdemeanor theft, I open my 2017 MDA Muscle Walk page.  Join us, won’t you?   Click here to donate to or walk with our team on April 30.   MDA Summer Camp is a life-changing experience for kids with muscle disease.  That is certainly NOT hyperbole, folks.  It’s also not that last time you’ll hear me beat the drum for our effort.  #sorrynotsorry  Last year we helped fund camp for 5 kids and more.  But of course you can’t mathematically divide a child.  Obviously.

Life changing, for reals.

My kind of paralysis ebbs and flows.  Today, I moved forward.  Purpose.  Momentum.  I’ll even kick in the first thirteen pennies to start.  Shine on.