Sleeping Beauty, Part 1

Jan Vallone

Today’s post is an excerpt from Pieces of Someday: One Woman’s Search for Meaning in Lawyering, Family, Italy, Church, and a Tiny Jewish High School.

The classroom door blew open as I packed my briefcase to go home. A cold gust of air rushed in, blowing the papers from my desk, chasing red and gold leaves across the threshold so they swirled and settled at my feet.

Kalindah whirled in with the weather. With black-sweatshirted arms, she gave me my daily hug—nubby, slightly dank and fusty—then plopped on the top of a desk, pulling legs akimbo beneath her skirt. “Ms. Vallone, life’s so unfair. All my friends have boyfriends but me.”

Braces, Janis Joplin hair, Kalindah was a freshman when I first began teaching high school English. Another teacher had warned me about her: “Make sure you watch out for that one—she’s a time bomb waiting to explode, bipolar without her medication. You’ll see, one day she’ll draw a knife.”

During my first few weeks, Kalindah sat huddled at the back of the classroom, silent, impassive, gray-eyed. Was she sedated? Not till I scheduled a quiz did I see any sign of life. After class she came up to my desk: “I stink at tests.” Then she walked out.

[Read more…]

Belief and Belonging

Last week I went and watched my son graduate from Virginia Boys State. After the ceremony, I waited through waves of boys in identical white shirts and blue shorts for him to emerge, and when he did, his shoulders were slouched and his eyes tired.

In the car I asked him, “How’d it go?”

He shrugged.

“Did you have a good time?”


“Did you learn anything?”


“Nothing at all?”

He said no, he hadn’t learned anything.

I kept pressing him, and eventually said, “If you had to give someone your takeaway from this past week in one sentence, what would it be?”

Without pause, he said, “[People of a certain philosophical/political stripe] are assholes.” [Read more…]

The Glass Coffin

For Hella Winston

“To be full of things is to be empty of God. To be empty of things is to be full of God.”
–Meister Eckhart

It seems rather ghastly now, given that he is serving a sentence of nineteen-years-to-life for murdering a cocktail waitress, but when I was in high school, I became obsessed with music producer Phil Spector—the eccentric and reclusive originator of the “Wall of Sound” that echoed from a dozen girl groups in the early 1960s.

I was a scholarship student at a fancy boarding school in Massachusetts where the workload was notoriously heavy and for me, particularly difficult. I failed a year of mathematics and made mediocre grades in everything else. Instead of studying, though, I sat around reading Tom Wolfe’s essay on Spector from The Kandy-Colored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, which I kept checking out from the school library. [Read more…]