Chickenshit: Crisis #8B Big City Blues

March 9, 2013

I’m going to love working with Chloe. We got to the airport, and everything went smoothly, for once.

When I got off the plane in Sacramento, the sky was a Byzantine blue. I expected to get a text from Mom saying she was running late, but, there she was at the gate, bouncing a small child on her hip. She almost knocked me over with her hug, and I think the kid drooled on my jacket, but it’s always nice to be wanted. Her phone rang, and she whispered, “work,” as she answered and foisted the baby on me. I jostled the kid around until she was in a position that did not feel like my arm was being twisted off. How do people carry them around all the time like this? Mom walked over to a wall for some quiet, and I stared into the little girl’s watery blue eyes for a moment. She looked like she was going to cry, and I found myself doing something I never thought I’d do.

“Hooshie, wooshie. Who’s the happy baby?”

Her fat little cheeks bubbled up with drool. Ugh. But she wasn’t crying.

“Whatsa gramma doing?” I pointed at Mom. So glad I’m not having one of these anytime soon.

Mom walked back over, phone still attached to her ear. “Uh-huh, uh-huh, have you tried calling her emergency contact number?” She pulled the baby blanket off her shoulder and wiped the kid’s mouth, then went back to her wall of protection.

“Weww, gwamma is bizzzzy, isn’t she?” Thank goddess, Liv wasn’t there. I found a bench and dragged my backpack behind me so we could sit down.

I struggled to remember the baby’s name … Harley? Hailey? “Hailey, hay-we, hay-wee.” I bounced her on my knee and sang to her like some Sesame Street reject. She seemed to dig it, though. Mom walked back to me, took a set of brightly colored plastic keys out of her jacket pocket, and held them out to me. “Well, Karen’s name is on the orders, so you’ll have to go to her … I know, I know.” Back to her fortress of solitude.

“So, kid, what do you think of the new iPhone?” Blank stare, more drool. “Yeah, what are you, Mac or PC?”

She reared back and jabbered, “Ay, yi, yi, yi, bababa – bah!”

“Okay, okay.” As a last resort, I jingled the keys in front of her. Hailey grabbed the bright blue one and stuck it in her mouth, drool running in a string from her chin, down my pant leg, and to the floor.

Mom ended her call and came to collect the miscreant. “Everybody okay over here?”

We drove through town, and things began to feel like normal. Mom caught me up on all the latest happenings around here, and I told her a bit about the farm, Elliot, Sheila, Jodie, and some of the locals. She remembered Sheila but wasn’t sure about Jodie’s dad. Elliot’s family kept to themselves during the time she was there, but she kind of remembered them. About two blocks from the house, she pulled the car over.

“Baby, I have to tell you something.”

“Okay.”

“Harvey and I are going to get married.”

I let the concept sink in for a second. “Well, that’s great, Mom. I mean, it’s great if you think it’s great. You do think it’s great, right? Or why else would you be doing it?”

“Well, yes, I am 100% on board. I love Harvey, and I want to spend the rest of my life with him. And that would be enough for me, but he wants to tie the knot. And there’s one other reason.” She put her hand on mine. “We’re going to formally adopt Hailey.”

She paused to wait for my reaction. I had no idea what to say. “Oh, well, okay. What about her mom, Hannah?”

“So, the thing about Hannah is she has not gotten her life figured out just yet. She doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up, so how can she raise a kid? She can be irresponsible on her own time, but when it effects that baby, Harvey and I have had to step in. Her mother wants nothing to do with her, so that leaves us. Hanna is signed on, too, as long as we tell Hailey the truth and she can still see her sometimes, when she’s straight and under supervision. Anyway, it would be much easier for everyone if Harvey and I were married, so we’re going to do it makes sense to go ahead and do that. I know that sounds romantic, right? I was hoping …” She smiled at me.

“What?”

“We, we were hoping you would go with us tomorrow to city hall and be a witness. We might do a ceremony in the summer, but right now, we want to take care of the legal side.”

So, Mom was giving up her single lady status for the sake of the bundle in the back seat. I looked at Hailey’s big, bald head. “Sure.”

Mom smiled, “Is that ‘sure, I’ll do this to get you off my back” or ‘sure, I’m glad you waited for me because I want to share the day when hell freezes over with you’?”

I smirked. “The latter.”

“Oh, baby, thank you!” Her skinny arms wrapped around me in an instant.

When we got home, Harvey was his usual jovial, couch potato self. There really was a lot to like about him, even if I didn’t get Mom’s physical attraction to him.

 

March 10, 2013

 

This morning, we dressed in our best outfits, and Mom and Harvey got hitched.  With Harvey’s sister, my mom’s best friend, and me and my new appendage, Hailey, witnessing, how could their new endeavor do anything but succeed? Afterwards, we all went to Biba’s (the best Italian place ever) for a huge lunch. Harvey and Mom were beaming. It was actually pretty cool.

Harvey went home, I’m assuming to nap, and Mom and I went to a huge chain baby store to her gift card, a shower present from her work friends. She bought a car seat/jog stroller combo that cost more than probably everything she ever bought me before I turned twelve, combined. Still, Hailey did look like a cute little dictator, ruling from her baby Pope-mobile.

When we got home, Mom fed Hailey and put her to bed, then disappeared into her bedroom with Harvey. About 11:30, she came out and joined me on the downstairs couch, watching reruns of Friends.

“You used to watch this show, waiting for me to get home from work, huh?”

“Yeah, sometimes. I never really got into it.”

“Me, either.”

“So, how are you dealing?”

“With what in specific?”

“Adulting.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I seriously don’t know how I’m going to sell the place, displace Elliot, get rid of all the animals, let everything Dad built disappear. And I don’t know how I would not sell it, since my whole life is back in Seattle. Maybe I could get someone to run it with Elliot, someone I could trust, while I finish school, but I don’t have a clue how I would find someone. What do you think?”

“I don’t know, babe. I know you’ve always wanted a Masters degree. You love Seattle. Has anything changed?”

“No, I don’t think so. Maybe I appreciate it more, now that everything I own is covered in bird poop. If I’m really honest, this last trip is making me wonder. I mean, work is still great, but the bar scene is just boring now. I ran into Ton-ton.”

“How did that go?”

“About like you’d expect. She’s so fake, I don’t know why I didn’t see it before. I did stand up for myself this time, though. Anyway, I think she has moved on.”

“Well, good. She didn’t really sound like your type.” Mom didn’t know all the gory details, but she knew enough. “Tell me more about this Jodie girl.”

I tried to mute the grin now spreading across my face. “Well, she is beautiful. Kind of a Kelly Clarkson meets Selena. She’s about my age. She’s a librarian, so she’s smart. I went riding, horseback riding, with her a couple of weeks ago, and it was probably one of the best days of my life. It’s not just those things, though. She’s got this way of being, you know, a Zen, but she’d probably make a joke about me using the word to describe her.”

“Sounds like you got it bad.”

“Mom, no. I’m sure she’s straight, and besides, if I leave, then I’d probably never see her again. I mean, I’ll go back to Boise to see Liv sometimes, but I barely know her. She probably thinks I’m an idiot.”

“Have you asked her how she feels.”

“Well, no. I’m sure she’s straight. She’s a daddy’s girl. And if you knew the right-wing assholes she has to deal with every day…” Mom gave me a look that said she wasn’t buying what I had to sell.

“Ask her how she feels.”

“Okay, okay. But it’s moot if I sell the place and move away.”

“You’re seriously considering staying?”

“Yeah, well. I don’t know what Elliot will do without the place, and there’s no guarantee the next owner would work with him.”

“Any way he could buy the place or just lease it from you? You told me his mom was the reason Dan didn’t leave it to him?”

“Nope. I asked him again, and he said he had too much to deal with, already.”

“But, honey, you’re losing focus. It’s great that you’re thinking about all these people, but how do you feel? Do you want to be up to your elbows in mud and poop all the time? Do you want the responsibility of all those animals? Do you want to put your studies on hold for a while? That’s what you need to be asking.”

“You hated living on the farm, right? You always said the farm life was not for you.”

“I’m not saying for you to do one thing or another, but you can’t live your life worrying just about other people. I tried, and it didn’t work for me. I loved so much about the farm. Seeing the baby chicks following their momma chicken around. I loved having the kids scamper around me in the field. I loved watching the sun come up over the hay field. We had this barn cat, a skinny, orange tabby, and she was so sweet. She would bring me dead gophers and curl up at my feet when I would sit out on the deck. There were a lot of peaceful moments there, but I got tired of the constant worry over everything. It just never stops, and with a kid, it was overwhelming. The first year or two was great, almost idyllic, but then we stopped going anywhere, even to Boise. Maybe if things had been different, I don’t know. I think your dad became agoraphobic.”

“So … what happened with Bill?”

“Um. Did he say something to you?”

“Not much. But you named me after him, right?”

“Yes. I love Bill. He was such a great kid. He stayed with us before you were born, and it was almost like he was my first child. His parents kicked him out because they thought he was gay.”

“So, was he the reason you left?”

“Oh, good heavens, no. Look, your dad was bi. It was not a big deal to me, since we were committed to each other. Dan had feelings for Bill, but, as far as I know, he never followed through on them, at least before Bill went off to college. But I think his way of coping with his feelings for men was to try to shut down that side of himself. And I think fixating on the farm may have been another coping mechanism, too. You now have my dime-store analysis, for what it’s worth. When he started shutting down and isolating, I changed jobs. I needed the world outside, too, and I was hoping it might wake him up, but instead he just got worse. By the time you and I moved out, he and I were long past done. I waited for years for him to reach out, but it never happened. Anyway, he seemed happy enough on the farm, with his books and animals. Have you looked through all his little notebooks?”

“Yeah, there’s tons of records. Did you know how much money the farm makes? I could get my Masters paid for in one year, alone.”

“Yes, but would you have the time and energy to go if you stayed there? I mean, you might, if you’re motivated enough, but a farm’s a huge responsibility.”

“I’m starting to get it.”

“Whatever you choose, I will support you any way I can. Harvey, too. I hope you get a chance to know him better. Anyway, I’m tired and I need to get back to bed. They’re not going to let me take another day off, I’m pretty sure.” Mom had been on her phone several times during the day, having to manage a crisis at the office. “Night, baby.” She patted my leg and headed off to bed.

 

March 11, 2013

 

At 8:13 a.m. My phone buzzed, and I rolled over and checked it. It was a text from Jodie.

 

Can you come home early?

I rubbed my eyes and sat up to reply.

Possibly. What’s wrong?

The goats have started kidding, and Elliot’s been up with them all night.

Oh, I didn’t know they’d started. He doesn’t text and won’t call unless it’s an emergency.

Well, not an emergency, but he’s panicked one will need help if he goes home. So he’s been out in the barn for most of the last two days.

I have mostly been dealing with chickens, Elliot has handled all of the goat stuff.

Sheila’s due back, too. I know a little, but she’s an expert.

I will get there as soon as I can. Thank you for letting me know.

Of course! I hope you’re having a good time. Jealous.

I couldn’t imagine Jodie being jealous of anyone or anything.

I went upstairs and found Harvey in the kitchen feeding Hailey. She was doing some sort of Jackson Pollock painting on her high chair tray, only with Cheerios and applesauce.

“Is there some sort of compulsory law that children under five must have Cheerios? I’m just saying there must be some other food they can eat.”

“They get your name and address from the hospital, and they come break your little toes if you don’t buy two giant boxes every month. I was secretly mixing it in with the mulch in the back yard, but I started finding dead birds.”

I laughed in spite of myself.

“You want some people food?” He was grilling a breakfast sandwich in a pan.

“Is that allowed?” He smoothly slid the sandwich onto a plate, the plate onto breakfast bar in front of me, and he went back to the stove to make another.

“Thank you.” I took a bite. It wasn’t bad. “So, do you think Mom would mind if I left early?”

“She already thought you would. Why do you think she took the whole day off yesterday? She would have gone straight back to work after the ceremony if you weren’t here. Thank you, by the way.”

“For what?”

“You know, for not busting my chops over everything. You know, Hannah. For not hating Hailey.” I looked over at the slobbery mess. “I wish you were around more, actually. I think Hannah could learn a lot from you.”

“Well, I don’t know … Maybe she just needs more time? She’s only …?”

“Nineteen. Well, she’s been in and out of rehab since she was seventeen. She was only straight during, unh-unh,” he pointed his head towards Hailey, “because her mother basically locked her in her room for nine months. Her last stunt almost landed her in jail. I may not like her mom, but Hannah has been pure frustration since she hit puberty. She was finishing her GED and gearing up for community college, and she blew it.”

“That sucks.”

“Anyway.” He sat down with his sandwich and started eating. Still chewing, he said, “A non-stop flight leaves around midnight and gets there around 3:30 in the morning, but if we get you to the gates by twelve or so today, you can get a connecting flight in Salt Lake and be there around six tonight.” I gaped at him. “What? Your mother had me check all the options as soon as she found out you were coming.” He finished the last bite of his sandwich and dusted his hands over the plate.

It was overcast when my plane touched down at the Boise airport. All I could see upon approach in the dusk blue sky were the lights from the state prison, twinkling golden in the frost night. I remembered seeing them from Bogus Basin when I went skiing with Liv and Nate, and it seemed like ages ago. From the lobby, I texted Liv I was back early. She said I was welcome for dinner, but I told her I was in a hurry to get home. She offered to bring Frodo back over the weekend, and I was grateful for one last thing to worry about. I texted Jodie I had made it to Boise and would see her in the morning, or the next time she made it out to the place, but I didn’t get a reply.

As I paid for parking, another plane took off on the runway and soared in a straight line, heading west before disappearing into the clouds. The radio sounded harsh on my ears, even when I turned it down low, so I drove back to Milepost listening to the slush and ice under whoosh under the tires. The last bit of orange stretched to the edge of the skyline and melted into a pale gray, then gravel, then slate. It was pitch dark at the farm, but a light was on in the goat barn. I went in the house and made two hot chocolates for Elliot and me, before I changed into my work clothes and coat and headed out to the barn.

 

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