What Followed Me Home Part 2

When I go through the things I didn’t like about Mary, you will see I am only good about 6 inches deep. The rest of me is shallow and mean. If you are not shallow and mean, you’ll appreciate the following as a dissertation on a how close a retarded person is to God. If you’re like me, you’ll be disgusted. Are you ready? Buckle up and don’t whine. I lived this. You’re just reading about it.

Mary wasn’t pretty. She was heavyset, immense breasts, held in check by one of those sears-catalog-wide-strapped-old-lady-seamed-cup-broad-backed atrocities of a bra. Her skin was very pale, but her hair was dark, almost black. It was hard to tell where the hairline stopped and the eyebrows began. She had facial hair, it seemed like a lot to me.

She drooled. And for me, this was a big thing. Especially when I made her laugh, she drooled. You might as well know right now, that no matter how much I love you, if you drool, I will love you a little less. It isn’t pretty. But it’s true. I have a lot of love to give, so if you have drooled in front of, or god forbid, on me, it’s possible that I’ll still love you quite a bit. But I never loved Mary.

So she drooled. And she had a lot of hair. All over. She was usually wearing shorts. Short shorts, with the contrasting piping around the trim and up the sides. Her pubic hair would peek out occasionally and flash me or my siblings. I was prepubescent and the sight of those daddylong-leggish curls filled me with a combination of fear and disgust. I will never recover from the day she sat, cross legged on my bed, pubic nest hanging out, and farted.

My brother, when reminiscing about our childhood, still covers his face and shakes his head when he remembers looking up to see why I was telling Mary to “Sit like a lady.”

If that wasn’t enough, to put me off, she also insisted on telling me way too many details about her relationship with her boyfriend. I don’t know how or why, but her boyfriend wasn’t the only guy interested in Mary. She sought my advice about whether to “do it” with her boyfriend, with a neighborhood teenager and with the resident pervert, Gary. My advice (as a 10 year old) was as follows:

With the teenager and her boyfriend, she should do it if she wanted to. The teenager wanted her to just go behind the school and do it right then and there. I can’t remember what she did. Same deal with the boyfriend. I know she and her boyfriend were eventually sexually active, whether I pushed her over the edge with my sage advice, I don’t know. But I do know that I told her not to do anything with Gary. I knew he was creepy, plus he was in his thirties. Between his age and the fact that he had already exposed himself to me multiple times, I figured he was not a good bet.

At least I was a teenager when she told me about her abortion. She had a way of saying, but not saying things. Leading people to conclude things without saying them outright. Which is a thing people do when you are not interested in what they have to tell you- and they don’t care. I didn’t care about Mary’s sex life. I didn’t want be lead down this path of clues. It went something like this:

“Well I had to go to the doctor’s office. At the clinic, you know? You know why, don’t you? My mom made me go. Because of my boyfriend? You know what happens, don’t you? If you don’t get your thing? You know what an abortion is don’t you?” Long pauses and knowing looks at the end of every question. I knew all of it. But I SO didn’t want to discuss it with her. Because the next part was the interview with me. Did I have a boyfriend? Were we doing it?

I still find myself in relationships like the one I had with Mary. No more retarded people, but people who are mental in one way or another. Where I make a move either towards someone or on their behalf and I end up tied to them in a way I never intended. Where do I go wrong? I have come to believe I won’t figure it out. Nothing goes wrong, really. It’s just that I’m not in charge, and life is ugly and messy as much as it’s beautiful and delightful. If it wasn’t, what would we write about?

I grew to dread the sound of her ten-speed ticking up the driveway. I literally ran and hid when I heard her coming, but she thought of me as one of her best friends. I hated spending time with her. I hated it. But I couldn’t avoid her all the time, and I couldn’t just tell her I didn’t like her. I felt totally stuck. In fact, I was stuck. Until I moved out of my mom’s house, she would stop by to hang out. It got less and less frequent as she got older and we both got jobs, but she kept coming by. And I kept hating it.

Even after I got pregnant, moved out and was just visiting my mom’s house she kept visiting. She must have been in her twenties, but she still came tic-tic-ticking up the driveway on her red ten-speed.

Someone mentioned to her that I was pregnant (I was rotund by this point). She came to me and said, “I don’t believe it. You’re not that kind of person.” She left not believing I was pregnant. I never got out of my chair, not wanting to cause her to have a stroke.

Is it in not being a good enough person to enjoy the cling-ons for just exactly who they are? Not being able to swallow my disgust or distaste and accept them where they are? I have friends who can and do just that. But I don’t know, I guess I’m mean inside. Because, other than the initial feeling that I’ve done the right thing by defending or being kind to them, the only joy I get from them is in reveling in how much they perturb and drain me.

I don’t know where Mary is now. I pray that she is doing well and does not find my address.

What Followed Me Home Part 1

It’s an issue. A weakness of mine. I can’t ask you to forgive me for it, because I enjoy my annoyance way too much to let it go. I can’t ask forgiveness until I’m ready to try to change. But I can confess and admit my shortcomings. And you can read about it and be amused or disappointed in me or just grateful it wasn’t you. Better yet, you can sympathize, because I can’t be the only one who gets herself in these situations.

At the end of my block when I was a kid was a school, with the accompanying baseball field, soccer field and playground. This was the era where the parking lot did double duty as the playground. With the rainbow arch and climbing bars planted right into the asphalt. That didn’t stop us from doing our cherry-drops and hoping like hell we landed on our feet.

The day I met Mary, they were doing some sort of excavation, so that there was a huge pile of dirt on the grass near the parking lot. I was near the mountain of dirt, but not actually playing in or on it. The noises I heard from the kids over there were too mean sounding for me. I couldn’t tell what they were saying, but I could tell it was ugly. I was little for my age, and weird. I had no desire to hand myself over to them.

In my kid way, I started to figure out what was going on. There was one girl, heavy and sweaty, straddling her bike. She was the target. And she was crying. Not too much my business, you know? It wasn’t. But more things sorted themselves out pretty quick. Kids can be eloquent, and these were no exception, “Mentaaal Maaareey. Mentaaaal Maaareey”

I looked, and by god, she WAS mental. I guess we didn’t say mental, we said “retarded” or “mentally retarded”. So this was sort of an innovative epithet they had come up with, in a way. But my injustice meter (a consistent bane of my existence) went off. You can’t make a retarded girl cry for fun, it just isn’t right.

I got one of those righteous indignation adrenaline rushes. If you get them, you’ll know what I’m talking about. The wave carried me over to the bottom of the hill, between Mary and those nasty kids (one of whom would later give me the only real beating I ever got from a girl). I hollered up at them “You stop it! Leave her alone. Leave her ALONE” I had my tantrum voice out, and my whole body was shaking. My throat hurt for the rest of the day.

I put my hand on Mary’s bike and told her she could come with me, I’d take her home. To my home. (Big mistake, by the way. If you must be nice to people who need you, do it on neutral ground and go home alone.) The kids on the hill did what they do to losers who walk away, even the righteously indignant ones. They threw dirt and hurled insults at us.

I don’t remember what happened exactly at home, but her mom came and got her, and thanked me. Mary was grateful and asked if I’d be her friend. What can you say to a retarded girl who asks you to be her friend? Can you tell her that no, you have enough friends? Can you tell her that you’re not really decent enough to be friends with her? Can you tell her that, unfortunately for both of you, being her friend will make you the target of mean kids for years to come, and it’s best if you just act like this day didn’t happen? No you cannot. At least not in front of both of your mothers.

I guess as much as she had friends, I was one of them. But I wasn’t a good one. I didn’t like Mary. Not one bit. I just felt sorry for her and thought it was the right thing to do to help her out. It wasn’t even really about her, maybe. It was that what those kids were doing was wrong, and I wanted them to stop. I didn’t want to adopt her, I just wanted her to not be abused.

I wasn’t at all as good a person as she thought I was, or her mom thought I was. Although I could tell my parents were proud of me for sticking up for her, they knew what kind of person I really was. And that was, good hearted, but not saintly. I am not the kind of person who is drawn to the disabled because of their simple goodness, childlike personalities and closeness to God. Not at all. I know these people exist and, like vegetarians, they are morally superior to me. No question.

And if all she was was mentally retarded, developmentally delayed, slow, but otherwise clean-cut and decent? I think I would have been able to hang out with her and not felt traumatized. But maybe not. As it turns out, her intellect was not what gave me trouble.

Jon and Nancy Part 3

This is the first time I am going to write directly to the blog. I need to just quickly document the more I saw today as we walked through Jon and Nancy’s house (again) tonight. There was just so much to see the last time I walked through, and so many other people distracting me. This time the house was empty except for Andy and Bob (other neighbor interested in old houses) and the realtor and I. And the ghosts of Jon and Nancy.

I can only tell you what the house told us. I don’t know these people, I really don’t.

But someone was a model train afficionado. In the basement room with the wood floors and the stained glass window, there was a track (or part of the original track) suspended from the cieling. There was a little platform that ran most of the way around the room. A person could sit on the leather couch with the wood floors and the stained glass windows. When that person tired of looking at the astronomical chart (front and center in the room), after he or she or they had had their cognac or brandy from the little liquor cabinet in the high or low ball glasses, they could turn on the train set and watch it go around the room above their heads.

And the fish tanks? I counted this time. Keeping in mind that I watched one of them walk out the door during the estate sale, I counted 5 aquariums in the house. The hanging bird cages? They didn’t have live birds, but many of them had live plants at one time. I know because the crunchy leaves are still there hanging in cages.

Lest we think that these people were holed up in their house all the time, The back deck had been built with a tile floor in one corner so the grill would be safely operated. Some handy homeowner had installed a running sink off the back of the house, too. This is something exceptionally unusual in this part of the country.

The realtor (who waxed altogether too sympathetically about having to be selling this house) told us that Jon and Nancy had gone on a cruise every year. They had photos taken on the cruises. He said that in 2001, the pictures looked like a normal happy couple, but by 2003 or 04 Jon was in a wheelchair. Bob says he remembers the last cruise as the one where he and his brother and the cabbie had to help carry Jon into the cab to go to the airport.

If you can climb the stairs on your own today, count it among your blessings. At the top of the stairs to the 3rd floor is a grab-bar. The kind you put in the shower when you’re worried about your balance. Think about that. You will climb up two flights of stairs to get to your little love-nest. You will do it when you know you won’t be able to make the last two steps without help from a grab-bar. You will have it installed for you after whatever catastrophic event takes away your ability to visit the haven you built for you and your lover. But you have the bar installed, and you use it. That’s how much you want to get back up there.

I wish I knew these people. It never ceases to amaze me how interesting people can be. Not all of them, to be sure. Some really are just as uninteresting as they seem to be. But some of them…Wow.

Nancy and Jon Part 2

Here’s what their house said after they were gone:

It said, “Jon was an educated medical man.” The letter in the second floor library (they had a library) said he was an “open heart technician”. The medical equipment attested to that as well, including the doctor’s bag, medical textbooks and the various clamps and scopes.

This equipment isn’t to be confused with the medical stuff that said, “Life here got harder, complicated by Jon and Nancy’s failing health. They tried to hang on to the lives they built, but sickness has a way of peeling away who you wanted to be, and leaving you just to try to be.” That was spoken by things like the TTY machine for Nancy, the motorized chair in the garage, various washes, blood sugar testing kits, adult diapers and the two sided banister leading all the way from the sidewalk to the house.

The double railing from the house down to the sidewalk said they didn’t want to leave. The flower pots that appeared on those railings every year said “Nancy tried to make the best of a situation she didn’t ask for.” I seem to recall a neighborhood collection to replace those flowers the spring after Nancy died.

It said, “They loved their house. They loved their home. It gave them joy.” The most poignant thing to me was that at the bottom of the basement stairs was a fully plumbed fountain with blue tile and brass birds. Built into the basement floor. Right before you came to the Sauna and hot tub room. Unless you were going to the room with the bar and the stained glass windows (stained glass in the basement windows?). There were wood floors in the basement.

The homemade bar in the basement den, the spot and accent lighting in every corner and under every piece of artwork and along the ceilings, around the hot tub; the well loved workshop and homemade camping trailer said, “He took joy in feathering their nest.”

The first floor was pretty normal, with a beautiful fireplace with columns and a dark tiled hearth. A decidedly Asian feel to the kitchenware and art gave the impression that they had traveled. The kimonos and Jade statues of Hindu gods, the Japanese style place settings and soup spoons all said, “They traveled the world and loved it enough to want to bring some of it home with them.”

The landing between the first and second floor had a green-house window built into it with plants dying and dead. I took two home with me, I think they can be saved. There were fish tanks everywhere, I think I counted 4 of them. And not little fishbowls. These were Tanks the size of a park bench. Someone loved these living things, cared for them. It seems like a shared love, just based on the built in window and the enormous tanks. Either this was purely Jon’s hobby, or he cared enough to help Nancy with it.

Everywhere in the house there were pictures and sculptures of birds. Hummingbirds, doves, parrots. Hummingbird pictures on the stairs, stuffed parrot soft sculptures hanging in their bedroom, brass doves over the guest bed and in the dining room. Decorative bird cages hung all over the third floor.

Birds and plants and fishes, they said to me, “They loved us, they loved beauty and life. But you can’t maintain any of those things forever. Our tanks got dirty and smelly, our pots went dry. This wasn’t part of the plan.”

The library was filled with classics. It said, “They were smart, talented and educated. Both of them.” It was filled with magazines for an audiophile and anthropology books from the 50s through the 70s or 80s. Medical textbooks, physics books and two small bibles. One had clippings in it from the 1800s. It seemed like the kind of thing the family might want, if there is a family. Or maybe Jon will want to have it with him. We have one family who has taken it upon themselves to go and visit Jon. If I can’t make myself go with them, I can send things along.

On the third floor there was a small whirlpool bath right next to the bed. A little alcove had a coffee maker and microwave for late mornings when the kitchen seemed just too far away. There were skylights and wind chimes, plants and bird cages (with and without soft sculpted parrots) hanging from the ceiling. The third floor said, “The were lovers once upon a time.”

All of Nancy’s things were still there. Bubble baths, candles, clothes, hats… Some of Jon’s things, pipe tobacco, sunglasses, records, stereo equipment, books. Once, they were lovers.

Nancy and Jon Part 1

The truth is I’ve been having writer’s block. And I’ve been writing, but it’s been a block of crap. So I kept writing, just pushing through. Sigh. My life seems to waiver between way too interesting and way too mundane to share. But I’ll try to give you just a little bite of what’s been interesting to me in the last couple of weeks. Is it better to write and have the quality be lower, or to not write and just wait until I feel like it’s good enough? What do you think?

In my neighborhood there are the most terribly interesting people. You can’t even begin to imagine the depth and complexity of these people. The reason I know you can’t imagine it, is because I live here and I still can’t fully understand these people’s lives. I know some people better than others, but most of them I know in a very cursory way. It’s not unpleasant to have neighbors who we pass and make chit-chat with. It’s even nice to know a little and wonder about the rest. To fill in the blanks with your imagination. Which is what I’ve been doing with Jon and Nancy.

Up until this week, I knew Jon and Nancy very little. Here are my impressions of them. I’m a newcomer to the neighborhood (only been here 9 years), and I live a street away, so I didn’t know as much as other people.

Theirs is a gray two and a half story Victorian like most of the houses in the area. Almost identical to the house next door, with a covered porch, sitting up on a hill with shades usually drawn. An imposing house. It always seemed dark and sad to me. Very private and sad.

I knew Jon looked like an angry Mark Twain. A mop of gray hair and a mustache on top of a lanky frame that was folded into a chair on the front porch more often than not. He didn’t attend neighborhood functions, but he waved when I walked by. He had a reputation for hollering at his wife, who seemed to wait on him hand and foot. He always seemed to be angry at her. To cut him some slack, he was in a wheel chair, so he couldn’t wait on himself.

Nancy was a tiny woman with a dark pixie haircut, large glasses and an overbite. But her most distinguishing feature was her voice. My understanding was that it was damaged by a botched anesthetic during surgery. She could only speak in the hoarsest whisper. She had a very purposeful stride when I would see her headed up the street towards Grand Avenue (the main drag around here) with her pants pulled up to just below her bosom.

When she came to neighborhood functions, she seemed so excited and friendly. I wasn’t the only one to feel protective of her. She was so tiny. Because of her vocal cord injury, we had to lean in to hear her when she talked. Leaning in like that, it starts to affect a person unconsciously. I think made us feel like we knew her better than we did. It was like she was whispering to us all the time, telling secrets. But not.

In the last two summers, though, I started to notice that she was not heading to Grand Avenue alone anymore. She was going with Jon. Pushing his wheelchair. And when I say pushing his wheelchair, I mean she was Leaning Into the back of that chair as if it weighed more than she did. It almost certainly did. Even seated in the chair, he was taller than she was. She leaned into that thing, arms fully extended, bent at the middle, pushing it the 3 or 4 blocks to Grand, on almost a daily basis. It was uncomfortable to watch. Bordering on comical, if it weren’t so terribly sad.

I struggled with watching her every day. I wanted to offer to help, but Jon’s reputation for a bad temper made me afraid to stir things up. I wish I’d have offered. I wish I’d have risked his wrath (which I’d only heard tell of, never seen). But I never did. What stops us from doing these things?

Their house is on a hill. With probably a dozen or more stairs to get to the porch. The back yard led to a sloped alley which would have been the easier way for them to exit, but they always went down the front stairs. Why did they do it that way? We all wondered about it. Jon sometimes scooted on his butt down the stairs. Nancy struggled to heave him into the wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs. There was a motorized chair in the garage, but she pushed the old fashioned one instead.

These things made me think there was something going on I didn’t understand and probably shouldn’t meddle with. I still don’t understand, but I wish I’d have meddled. My image of her as an old fashioned wife who lived in fear of her husband even after he couldn’t get out of his chair stopped me from going any further than wincing when I saw them. It was painful to watch, so I didn’t.

Nancy died this winter. Jon has been sent to a nursing home. His house and life are slipping away from him against his wishes. The grass is up to my knees and there is a For Sale sign in the yard. Neighborhood gossip (which I am a firm believer in, we can talk about that another time) says he doesn’t want to sell, he wants to come home. Why can’t he die in his house if that’s what he wants? This is his question, and I can’t think of a good answer.

And now that the Estate Sale sign has come and gone, I am even more sad about it all. I went to the sale. I went into that house 4 times in two days. I want to go back. But what business do I have there? None, but being there made me hungry to know more.

They weren’t always sad and angry people. Maybe they hardly ever were. Their house wasn’t the kind of house that fit with a heavy-handed control freak and his cowering wife. They weren’t bitter deprived people who had no better options or examples to follow. Or if they were, that wasn’t all they were. They were three-dimensional people with lives and loves and dreams.


I only looked over my shoulder because of the strange series of sounds I kept hearing and the fact that Annie’s eyes kept wandering that way. The noises were a series of whinings and hissings and snipping threats followed by a loud Mmmmrrrrrmmf… and then a gasp for breath. More than once. More than twice. It sounded all wrong in a little restaurant overlooking the Mississippi, you know? Not at all a Stillwater kind of sound.

Diane and Annie are pretty good company. Diane is Señora sunshine and Annie is like a little tag-along cloud. They create a nice, partly cloudy day between the two of them. Annie was about 15 at the time. She is such a little treasure. Painfully shy, but so full of pent-up idealism that it sparks out her fingers and toes, paralyzing her or causing explosions of utopian rage that cause injury and mayhem. She’s incredible.

Diane is amazed by the world. Everything is fabulous, and if you go along with it, she’s a really fun ride. Go anywhere with her, talk about anything, talk about nothing. She is fascinated. Although if you choose to not talk, she may start asking bald-faced personal questions and leaning forward to hear the answers. She’s also an idealist, but she leans towards joy more than rage.

We had wandered around town looking at things, laughing too loud and not really paying our fair share as far as tourists were concerned. It’s a beautiful town, Stillwater. Old and quaint, but not in the country bumpkin way. It seems like kind of a wise old town, humoring the tourists, not disdainful of them, but not sucking up either. Checking you out. Stillwater was frowning at the family behind me. It was grumbling

It was baby, Mom and Gramma. Three generations at one table and it wasn’t a big enough table. The child wasn’t quite talking age, but she was old enough to be naughty, defiant and embarrassing. All three of them were puffy and crabby looking when I looked over my shoulder. Lunch was there, but no one was able to eat because they were all focused on this child.

She wanted something, maybe to dip her Jell-O in her ketchup, maybe to put salt in her mom’s coffee, maybe to dump grandma’s purse onto the floor. But whatever it was, it was out of the question. She needed a nap. They all needed a nap, and maybe it was my imagination, but at least two of them looked like they needed a little bit of the hair of the dog that had mauled them the night before. It wasn’t going good at table 13.

Annie’s eyes got huge, she leaned in. “She’s covering that baby’s mouth!” That explained the mmmmrrrf sound. So I slid my eyes over as I checked the window behind me. Here is the sequence of events that repeated itself at table 13. Mom and Gramma take a bite, hand baby a French fry. Baby whines, rubs her ketchuppy hands in her eyes and smears her snotty nose all over her greasy face.

She starts the wind-up to cry. You know the series of noisy intakes of breath working up to the pitch that will be the Wail that Rocks the Dock. Either mom or grandma would snap at her through their teeth, “You don’t start that. Not in here. Don’t even…” and she would start her holler. At which point one of them, usually mom, would clap their big, hammy, ring studded hands over the child’s mouth and nose. Completely closing it off. She couldn’t cry out, and couldn’t wind up for more. With their other hand, they’d continue to eat. It was about 7 seconds of struggle, her eyes getting big, and she would stop. They’d back off while she whined a little and gasped for breath. They they’d take another bite… and the whole thing started again.

I guess there is no good way to describe what I was seeing and hearing to make it seem as disturbing as it was. It ruined our lunch. Annie may be the idealist, and Diane may always think positive, but Stillwater needed a woman of action. When the mom left grandma and baby to make a bathroom trip, I saw my chance.

What was the worst that could happen, right? I went over to grandma, I told her I had left my own kids at home. That I knew it was hard to have them in a restaurant, and that I happened to be, at that moment completely refreshed. Would she like me to take the baby out for a little fresh air while they finished their lunch? My friends were just finishing their lunch, so I couldn’t go far… “She’s just such… You know, yeah. Take her.” She did the hand-off and I headed for the door before mom came back out of the bathroom.

Baby and I walked around a little. We looked at flowers, we bounced, we wiped snot off our noses and we puzzled about how we ended up alone together outside this restaurant. We looked at each other, me with my righteous indignation calming and her with her greasy fat little hand in her mouth, staring disbelieving into my face. She didn’t make a sound.

Eventually mom came out, with grandma- it was pretty quick. I imagine there were words about handing off this child to a perfect stranger. I think Annie and Diane paid for my lunch that day while I was out walking baby around. But Stillwater wants us to come back. It liked us.

In the Snow

Once I found a little girl in the snow. She was little, maybe three years old. It was back when we had winter here. We had just had a snowstorm. A really snowy snowstorm. The streets weren’t even plowed yet. Some of the drifts were two feet. My little car was struggling down Aurora Street, a residential side street. The snow was soft, but the ruts were deep and the going was tough. I was on my way to work. In my nice long wool coat and my good heavy boots, I was prepared for almost any eventuality.

My niece had been living with my family for about 6 months. She was three and a half. Her mom was going through some hard times and she just couldn’t cope. We were able to take Bailey and sort of work her into our lives as if she were our own. I loved her, I still love her. But after about 6 months, the strain of trying to parent someone else’s kid got to be too much.

My sister was feeling like she had a better grip on things and we decided to try to work on gradually having her live with her mom again. I didn’t feel great about it. She was a wild girl, a tom-boy in a lot of ways. She and my son Jasper were like two peas in a pod. Both loved climbing, running and screaming and dressing up. They fought over the sequined leotard, so we had to eventually get two of them. She was a good fit in our family.

I loved doing her hair, buying her clothes. I didn’t like potty training her or trying to get her to eat fruits of vegetables. Meat. The child loved meat. And she was stubborn. Once Andy tried to get her to eat oatmeal. She held a bite of it in her mouth for 30 minutes. Andy gave up. She doesn’t eat oatmeal.

I used to bring Bailey with me to work. She went to daycare in the school where I worked. My co-workers always wanted to see her before I dropped her off. They had to check out the hairdo and the outfit and slip her a treat. She was a little star, shiny brown hair, round apple-pie face, huge wide-set green eyes and rosy cheeks with fabulous dimples.

When I found the little girl in the snow, I had a car seat in my car, but no Bailey. I was a little sad. I was only a block and a half from work when I saw a beautiful little caramel colored girl standing in the snow in the street. She was in her pajamas and slippers. Standing in the snow. I couldn’t quite grasp the situation and so I drove just past her before I stopped.

But I stopped. It was about 8:30 in the morning. I was so puzzled. Wasn’t there a car nearby that was running? A front door standing open? A gramma trudging along nearby? There was nothing. No running cars, no open doors, no humans at all. Just a little brown girl in pink pajamas. I got out and tromped over to her in my righteous boots. I bent down, “Honey, are you OK?” she shrugged. “Honey what are you doing out here in the snow?”
“I was waiting for you.” She answered without blinking, looking me dead in the eye. She was eerily calm. Not the least bit upset. I scooped her up and tucked her into my coat. She snuggled in. Then I closed my car door and looked around some more. “Where do you live, baby? Where’s your mom? Where’s your dad?”

She lived “At home”, and they were there. They’d be coming around the corner any minute, right? I held her for a while, my car stopped in the middle of the street. We thought for a little while. Her pajamas matched her slippers. Her hair was done beautifully, her diaper was dry. Somebody loved her and she was out in the snow.

Can you pick up a little girl off the street and put her in your car and take her somewhere? You can’t, can you? Isn’t that kidnapping? But you can’t leave little girls standing in the street in their pj’s either, can you? No, you cannot.

I put her in the car, brushed off her feet and asked her name while I strapped her in.

“Hailey”she said seriously, looking me in the eye again.

I brought her to work, called the police and dropped her off at the daycare. I went off to work. Daycare dressed her and fed her breakfast. As it turns out, She had come two blocks in the snow. Somebody did love her. She had awakened at least an hour before the rest of her family and let herself out for an adventure. When her mom and dad woke up, she was gone


Once there was a little girl. She adored her dad, and he was pretty fond of her right back. They watched science fiction and Kung-Fu onTV. The girl loved David Carradine, loved the blue-eyed blind priest, the walking on rice paper, the whole bit. The dad loved the fight scenes, the quiet small guy kicking ass and the 60 minutes of the girl not talking.

The dad and the mom thought it was pretty great that this girl’s favorite show was Kung Fu. So for her birthday, they got her a Kung-Fu lunch box. Red plastic handle, action scenes and bas relief characters on the front. Everyone was happy. The girl loved her lunch box, the mom and dad felt clever for having raised such an independent minded little woman.

When she got to school she showed her little friend in the cloak room. “Oh, Kung-Fu, like karate, that’s cool. You watch that show?”. She was excited for lunch and she wiggled and daydreamed more than usual until lunch. Until lunch.

Something went wrong at lunch. Kids started to point and stare and laugh. They asked her why she would carry a boy’s lunch box. The hall seemed really long, and the other kids seemed to get taller the more they picked on her. The lights on the ceiling buzzed louder and the floor seemed shiner.

She ate her lunch with the box open so only the inside showed. The rest of the day was OK, but lunch made her tired. When she got home she said something about the lunchbox not working. She fumbled with the latch and tried to make it not close. It closed fine. She mentioned maybe not using the lunchbox tomorrow to her mom and dad. They smelled a rat.

She got a pep-talk about there being no girl shows or girl lunch boxes. “Whatever you like, that’s a girl lunch box, because you’re a girl. They’re just jealous.”

Back to school again with the Kung-Fu box. Back to the long hall, the tall jeers and the shiny floors. Back to the “You’ve got a boy lunch box” and the teasing. The mean faces and voices were ugly to her. They made her throat hurt like she wanted to cry. But she didn’t.

Until she got home.

She was going to have to be brave. She was going to have to stand up and tell her parents that she could not take that lunch box back to school. They’d be mad, but they didn’t know. She realized that her parents were wrong. It wasn’t OK to have a boy’s lunch box, no matter what they said. It made people be mean to you and laugh at you and made you want to cry. Maybe their family was weird, and weird was OK, but only at home.

When she told her mom and dad, they were mad. Didn’t she know that she didn’t have to let those kids tease her? Couldn’t she be proud of her new Kung-Fu lunch box and ignore those dumb kids? She couldn’t.

Her dad was quiet. His brow was down and his lips were together. He said he would paint over it so she didn’t have the Kung-Fu on it anymore. Yes, yes, yes, that would be just right. He took the lunch box down the basement and said it should be dry in the morning, It was.

The next day she brought her lunch in her new shiny lunch box. It was painted completely black.