Good as New

by haydée souffrant

“You can only prepare someone for life, and hope they pick good choices. You cannot control their life, but you can control the way they look at life by what you tell them!”

  Sweetlana Padilla, Book Group Participant at Simpson Academy for Young Women, April 2021

Who is someone in your life who has tried to protect you? Or someone whom you’ve tried to protect?

When I asked this question during a virtual book group with my students at Simpson Academy for Young Women, the girls talked a lot about protecting their children and each other. Some shared stories of their grandparents and family protecting them in surprising ways, and also highlighted how even if some people don’t show up in your life the way you anticipate, that doesn’t mean you can’t show up and protect yourself.

At the start of each group, we provide an opening question, like above, or a quote from a writer, artist, musician, activist, or anonymous wisdom. These opening rituals help to structure our curricula for each book group. That week, we were reading Good As New by Shane Rhinewald, a flash fiction story about a father who could not protect his daughter from the wounds that adolescence, the world, and difficult moments that while invisible, can be deep.

After a year of programming during a global pandemic, many of my students at Simpson have shared how they’ve tried to take care of themselves—while parenting, going to classes, and still learning about themselves and their mental health. It’s not often that a program about literature like ours is able to acknowledge how writing about it is often a good way to write through it. Over the course of virtual programming and learning during quarantine and the pandemic, mental health quickly became the topic that so many of my students at Simpson craved. As a book group leader, it reminded me how mental health resources can often pass youth, especially young Black and Latinx girls and gender non-conforming folks understanding their identities—something that would often happen in the day-to-day bustle of schools rather than Zoom. They reminded me of ways I can also take care of myself. Often our groups would transition into sharing tips and affirmations about loving yourself past the disappointments, lifting each other up even when all of us are practically running on empty navigating Covid-19, and living, schooling and working.

What I still find funny was that my students at Simpson reminded me that protecting the self also means honoring the moments when you need to ask for help every now and then, and that how you tell the story can change how someone sees themselves.

Image: Untitled, Denise Krebs