Creative Nonfiction

By Hildie Block

TAXONOPEDIA

The free taxonomy, dividing stuff into groups

Acorns

Contents [hide]

1. Brief

2. Entomology

3. Early History

4. The Story

5, The Aftermath

6. A Request

 

 

Brief [edit]

An acorn is the fruit of the oak tree (genera Quercus). 

Acorns plural can refer to a fairy tale set in 2002 about a pair of twins.  Which is exactly as true as I remember it.  Memory is a slippery thing.

And no, these twins weren’t separated at birth -- that would be too easy. 

They were separated some time before birth, maybe in the hall of souls, when they were both anointed with the same ancient name.

But upon birth, they landed on the opposite sides of an ancient battle.

Until they ended up in my classroom.

And that’s where this story begins.

 

Entomology [edit]

Oak trees are represented throughout mythology, even as a symbol of power for the Greek god Zeus.  In the Bible, they are mentioned in nearly every book from Genesis on.  Even when a Biblical Oak is felled it can put forth a “holy seed.” They are considered a cosmic storehouse of wisdom embodied in towering strength, representing all that is true, noble, and stable.

 

Early History [edit]

Alonit was a graduate of Columbine High School.  That Columbine High School in Colorado.  Class of 1999.  She came to my college after fulfilling her Israeli military obligation, making “Aliyah” – the return to the Israeli homeland, Zion.

She was also bubbly, friendly and a hard worker.  She lived in the dorms and was flirting with joining the Jewish sorority, AEPhi.

She was Jewish, a Zionist, and a first-year college student.

A first-year college student who had graduated months after that school shooting, the one on the covers of all the magazines.

In short, yeah, she had some history.

Alanoud, on the other hand, was quiet, so I knew less about her.  She was also hard working, organized, and a pretty powerful writer.

She lived at home with her family, Saudi Arabian diplomats, just a few blocks from campus.  (Though she had a driver who couriered her to and from class.)

She had attended the Islamic Saudi Academy in Fairfax County, Virginia (They did not have a notorious school shooting, but they were shut down years later amid controversy over possibly teaching racism according to Senator Chuck Schumer). 

She may have been the only first year student back then who wore a head scarf.

The spring of 2002, months after 9/11, was a hard time to wear a hijab in the US.

 

It’s not notable to have students from different backgrounds in one class. 

It’s not notable to have students who have different religions or political views.

But their names, Alanoud and Alonit, were transliterations of the same word.

They both told me, privately and without prompting, what it meant.

Their names meant “Mighty Oak Tree.” 

In Hebrew. In Arabic. 

They both said it the same way “Mighty” (and) “Oak” (and) “Tree.”

I was their teacher for college writing. 

I was their devious college writing professor who started plotting.

How would I get those two trees to cross pollinate?

The Story [edit]

They didn’t notice they had the same names.  I found that curious, because I couldn’t stop thinking about it. 

When they looked at each other they saw nothing in common.

When they looked at each other, they held nothing but disdain.

For the beautiful Jewish star necklace.

For the beautiful patterned head scarf.

So they sat at opposite ends of the table.  Alonit talking to her friends and planning parties.  Alanoud, quietly, sitting alone.

At first, I found the name thing curious.  I stumbled on the names (I’m not proud of this).  I found it curious the same way I found it curious when I had four students named Alex (3 male, 1 female) in a class of 20.  Or the same way I found it curious when my first semester teaching I had students named “Luv,” “Summer,” and “Star” all in the same class.  (That was back in 1996, for what it’s worth).

I mentioned it to friends: I have two students named Alonit and Alanoud.  It’s the same name.  Isn’t that weird?  And somehow wonderful?  My friends changed the subject. They thought it was less weird and wonderful than any of the other curiosities I would bring home from work-- Can you believe all the sophomore girls are wearing the same black Ray Ban prescription glasses this year?  Did you know I’m only allowed to give three As in a class of 20? 

 

It was 2002 and Alanoud said things in class like “Al Quaeda just means ‘base’ in Arabic, not what you think.”

 

I responded that Pentagon was just a shape in English, but the word Pentagon also carried the meaning of the military nerve center of the US.

 

Alonit said things like “Carrying guns keeps us safe.”

 

I responded that I wanted her to define “safe” and come back with statistics that back up her definition.

 

Other students said things that baffled me like “Pizza is bad for you” which I found confounding without context. 

I kept trying to figure out a way to get the two trees together.  Not unlike when I shoved the four Alex’s into one group and named them “Team Alex” or when I lived with a Mark-with-a-k and a Marc-with-a-c and I decided that Alan should be Marque-with-a-q-u-e for symmetry.  (For the record, Alan did not agree to this plan.)

I had only to scheme.

 

And I didn’t have long.  The semester was half over.

 

I needed to create Team Oak Tree, for symmetry.  Or something. 

The next assignment for the course was a personal essay based one of their journal entries.  The course topic was Youth Violence, and they had to reflect on acts of youth violence that had affected them.

It was a writing class and while writing might be a solitary endeavor, the writing classroom is not a spectator sport.

I figured Alonit would grab the low hanging fruit and write about Columbine.   She had plenty of stories at the ready.  But she chose to write about swastikas getting spray painted on a friend’s car in the high school parking lot, and the subsequent knife fight at a party that resulted in people being hospitalized. 

Alanoud chose an entry she’d written about a friend of hers from school, a Palestinian who was living in the Settlements.  The friend was with her younger siblings when an Israeli soldier pointed a gun at her face, in her home, while she sat at the table working on homework. 

 

I put Alonit and Alanound in the same peer review group and waited.

I got an email from Alonit – “Can I call you?”

My phone rang right away.

“Why did you do this to me?  I can’t work with her!”

“Did you read her essay?”

“Yes, that’s why—“

“How is it?”

“It’s – I mean – I can’t work with her.”

“Is the essay well written?”

“Yes, I guess, but –“

“Then that’s all you need to worry about.  Write your comments and be prepared for class.”

“But she’s –“

“Yes?”

“She’s –“

“I’m listening. . . “

“I can’t –“

“I need you to do the comments and come to class, and then we’ll see.  If it’s not working, then I’ll move you.”

I was starting to sweat.  This could get really ugly.  I went to my department chair to give him heads up.  “I might have an issue.”

He said, “Give it a couple days.”

Alanoud came to my office hours.  She held Alonit’s essay, and it was curled from her holding it tightly.

I sat patiently and waited.

“Professor Block, respectfully, I need to change groups.”

“I understand what you are saying.”

“I cannot work with –“

“Is the essay okay?  Do you have comments?  Is it well written?”

“Pardon?  I guess there’s some typos and I think the she should – that is not why I cannot work with her.”

“Oh?”

“I just do not think it is a good idea.”

I wanted to say, This is exactly why it’s a good idea.

But instead I said, “I think you can learn a lot from each other.”  I don’t know why I said that.  What I was really thinking was, Damn, girl, when you make a mess because you want – what? – names to be together? You really make a mess.

Alanoud exhaled loudly and left.

I kept an eye on them during class.  No voices were raised, body language leaned in, not out, no arms were crossed, no eyes were rolling – yet when I sat with their group, they were discussing another paper. 

And when they turned in the final drafts, I had them attach the written peer comments.  Both Alanoud and Alonit’s comments were professional.  Terse, curt, but appropriate, and focused on the writing mechanics not the content.

My turn to exhale.

I left the groups the same for the film reviews and neither Mighty Oak Tree asked to switch out.

I figured that was the end of it.

The Aftermath [edit]

The next semester, Alonit stopped by my office hours.  I saw her and figured I was about to get hit up for a letter of recommendation for something. After she sat down, I just waited.

“You know what you did?”

I really didn’t.

“What did I do?”

“You forced us to work together.”

“Well, yes, I knew that.”

“I wanted to thank you.”

“Oh?”

“I was so angry with you.  I set up a meeting with her to talk about how we could change your mind and get out of the group.”

“Oh?”

“And we both ended up crying.”

“Oh?”

“I can’t believe what happened to her friend.  I didn’t believe it.  I didn’t want to believe it.  I couldn’t – “

Alonit stopped to sniffle.

“She gave me her friend’s email and I heard the whole story. I was so ashamed.  They were just kids.”

I nodded.

“Alanoud was so upset about my friend, too, and the way the police and the school treated everything and then he ends up in the hospital stabbed – and –“

I held out the tissue box.

“Anyway.  She came with me to a Hillel thing and I had her tell the story.  Everyone was quiet – then they had her go talk to the AIPAC group.”  AIPAC was a group of student hawks who put Israeli military strength before everything else.  It was like Alonit led Alanoud into the lion’s den.

I held my hand to my mouth.

“We are going to have joint rally for peace with the Muslim Student Association.” And then without pausing a beat, “And then she had me over to house for dinner.  (You should see her house! Servants!  Did you know?)”

I felt dizzy.  A Jew at the Saudi ambassador’s home.  Holy.

“Anyway, thank you.”

I was too stunned to respond.

I shouldn’t have been.  I mean they were Mighty Oak Trees after all.  What did I expect?

A Request [edit]

Consider becoming an acorn.

 

 

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Hildie S. Block is a writer living in Arlington, Virginia with her family, cat, dog and axolotl named Xipe (Zippy!). She's taught writing at American and GW Universities. She has published over 50 short stories in a bunch of literary magazines like Gargoyle, 0-Dark-Thirty, Cortland Review, San Francisco Review, Literary Mama and elsewhere. In the last year, her work was included in 3 anthologies (Literary Taxidermy, Queer Sci Fi, and Redux). Her award-winning short story (DelMarVa Review) "People" is available as a Kindle Single (and other platforms). Her essays have also been seen in places like the Washington Post and Slate.

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