Getting in a Fight with Stephen, Somewhere in Kansas in Front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, While on a Cross-Country Road Trip

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me and stephen 64

I had been married to my X for almost twenty years and NEVER took him on a road trip.

Never.

The idea of bringing a man on a road trip seemed absolutely ridiculous to me.

My road trips were private matters.

I wanted to be completely alone.

If I wanted to listen to music… I did.

If I wanted it completely silent in the car for hours on end… it was.

This was my NO MAN’s land.

My best story ideas, song ideas, and big thoughts on life and spiritual matters came to me on my road trips.

Highway 10 from Long Beach to Santa Fe New Mexico… alone… silent… could solve a host of problems that couldn’t be solved by thinking about them at home.

And so… it was with great reluctance that I allowed Stephen to join me.

Stephen… summer of 2007… one year into our friendship.

And how… you must be wondering… did I allow myself to cave?

Well…he said, “I’ve never been on a road trip before.”

“Never?” I said. “Not even with your guy friends?”

“Nope,” and then his shoulders slumped and he made a little sad face. “Never.”

And since I cared for Stephen… and knew the value of a good road trip in a person’s life… my heart felt for him and so I invited  him to come along.

Of course, once I invited him… I immediately started saying things to get him to back out. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let someone in… be close… give up my private experience.

“You know…” I told him. “I do what I want on the road. I don’t set a destination. I don’t go to any specific location. I drive as long as I want… I sleep in small motels in off beat towns. And I’ve NEVER taken a man with me before,” I paused here for emphasis. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He nodded his head… excited to be invited on a road trip and I knew this would be a turning point in our friendship… we would either survive this road trip together and be bonded for life, or we would burn out somewhere close to Albuquerque with Stephen shouting at me to “STOP THE CAR” before kicking the door shut, flipping me off, and hitching a ride to the closest airport where he would fly home, never to be seen again… Maybe even silently “wishing me the best” (the ultimate fuck you really) before boarding a plane and drinking as many cocktails allowed on the two and a half hour flight home to Los Angeles while praying that I would die in a fiery car crash somewhere outside of Nashville.

I sighed.

Weeks went by and Stephen excitedly planned for his big adventure. I saw him programming a GPS and I actually started to sweat. I NEVER used a GPS… that was cheating… I felt anxious… but I sucked it up each time I saw him pore over a map… his reading glasses high on his face… his eyes looming large… magnified through the glass as he fantasized about all of his future destinations and scribbled furiously… little notes and words in his mini notebook.

“What’s that?” I asked one day.

“I’m preparing,” he said with pure glee.

I looked at him as if he were a bad student in my class. “Don’t,” I said sternly, my face stone. “Just stop.”

He looked at me as if I was speaking some foreign language it almost seemed he was ignoring me…. before he went back to poring over his maps and scribbling furiously.

This is a mistake I thought. We’re going to be in a fight before we even get out of L.A. county.

But I held my tongue, shocking I know, but I did and when the day arrived for us to leave, Stephen was prepared.

It looked like I had the ultimate Boy Scout ready to set off with me… wait, strike that, let’s make him an Eagle Scout.

I have never seen anyone so organized for a trip. He even had his passport in case we decided to cross a border.

Jesus.

We left Long Beach at 4 am, stopped at a drive-thru Starbucks for coffee and were on the road and on our way to Maine.

California to Maine…. one of the best drives ever…

There is nothing like watching the sun come up from the highway. It is one of my all time favorite moments in life.

Me.

The car.

The road.

Complete silence as the skyline goes from jet black to a purple opaque with a hint of orange, before the sun bursts into bright yellow streaks and illuminates the blue sky.

Only… that’s not what happened.

What happened was TOOL was blasting from the speakers as Stephen bobbed his head to the music, tapped his foot against the dash, drank his coffee with gusto and I sat in silence, big headed baby, pouting… as I drove the car.

I was miffed. Distraught. But Stephen was so pleased to be on a road trip… I kept quiet.

I headed for highway 70… it is a beautiful path… not stark beauty like the 10… which is actually quite a lonely road… the 70 is America in all of it’s patch work glory.

Coming over the pass into Colorado… the river running along side it… boxed in by mountains… until you rise again and see the Great Plains laid out before you… it is a drive that makes the traveler a hopeless romantic.

And Stephen said, “I thought you were taking the 10?”

I tried not to make a face.

“I’ve programmed my GPS for the 10,” he said in a pitiful whine of a voice.

“Well,” I said. “Unprogram.”

I could see that he was bent.

Perturbed.

Annoyed.

And I thought… don’t you dare… don’t you dare…. who are you to be any of those things on my road trip?

We drove all the way to Vegas without a word… Stephen heavy metal thumping while I looked out the window and prayed for the audio system to fail.

By the time we hit the plateau above Grand Valley, Colorado… I wasn’t sure if we would make it through the next two weeks but then the road opened up, the view down was amazing, and Stephen turned off the music which left Colorado ahead of us, and a quiet car to take in the beauty.

The rest of the day was really uneventful… as was the next…. we discovered a common love of SIRIUS’s stand up comedy channel and laughed all the way to Kansas where things then took a turn for the worse.

We were tired from driving… hours and hours of travel… when we finally started looking for a hotel room around 10 o’clock at night.

This is when we heard two words that I never imagined could be so dreaded:

State Fair.

“What?” I asked.

Then there were three dreaded words:

Kansas State Fair.

Shit.

Every hotel within 100 miles of the Kansas State Fair was booked solid and Stephen and I were beyond exhausted.

It was the first time ever I felt myself falling asleep at the wheel. In fact, Stephen had already flopped over into the back seat and passed out. I was glad that he was quiet and resting but still totally annoyed that he was at that moment… no help.

I prayed that I would make it to a hotel before I nodded off and lost control of the car and thankfully, around mile 83, there was one room left available at a Best Western.

We pulled in, checked in, and passed out in a matter of minutes.

The next morning, I was “hungover” from such a long day of driving the day before, that I didn’t want to get up… but… Stephen wanted to get moving.

“Get up,” he said. “Come on get up.”

I was tired, angry that he was bossing me about, and pouting because I knew that if HE hadn’t been in the car with me… I would have found a hotel easily, I wouldn’t be getting up early right now, I would be following my OWN time frame and completely ALONE. I climbed out of the bed in a big baby fit threw on my clothes and shoes and reached to grab the keys and stomp to the car when Stephen reached out and grabbed them.

“I’m driving,” he said.

I gave him a look…. ready to kill him, but he just turned and walked out of the room and headed to the car… unwilling to give me my way.

I climbed into the passenger seat, slammed the door and sulked. We weren’t even out of the parking lot when I said, “Go through the KFC so at least we can get something to eat.”

Stephen rounded the corner for the drive-thru and thought for some reason that the lane he was in was not for the drive-up window.

“It is!” I shouted. “Trust me. Just go right there!” I pointed towards a loud speaker and watched as Stephen ignored me, passed the window and made a loop around the front of the KFC.

“No,” he said calmly. “I’m sure that was the wrong lane.”

I felt anger seething out of every pore… I set my jaw so firmly that it must have looked like it was wired shut and believe me… in just a matter of minutes… I was going to wish it had been wired shut…

Just as Stephen was making the turn to go back through the lane I originally told him to, a large white bus full of black Baptists rolled in front of us and I watched as the Minister ordered 15 buckets of chicken, obviously for his entire congregation, who I could see through the large rectangular glass bus windows… smiling and happy, seriously spiritually enlightened people, radiating  God’s joy as they waited patiently for their chicken and I actually went insane.

I don’t even remember what I said to Stephen, but it was every angry thing you say to someone when you “kick the cat”….

Why did I bring you?

What were you thinking?

Why couldn’t you listen to me?

Who the HELL do you think you are?

LOOK AT ALL OF THOSE GOD DAMN BAPTISTS EATING MY CHICKEN!

By the time we got to the window… I was spent… which often happens with us passionate HOT HEADS leaving our quiet introverted family, friends, and lovers, totally stunned by our outbursts and often feeling

MORTALLY wounded while we HOT HEADS just move on to the next big thing to be passionate and upset about…

Stephen however had, had enough.

He pulled up to the window to pay the KFC kid and wait for our chicken while I, now calm… said, “Could you please open the trunk so I can get something out of my bag?”

“Just wait,” he said… his tone one of intense loathing…

“Wait for what?” I snapped and popped out of the car and headed to the back of the trunk.

Stephen, by now, so TOTALLY pissed off at me took one look in the rear view mirror and floored the car. The wheels screeched as he took off and then laid a big skid and stopped about twenty feet from the window.

My mouth dropped open as I watched my door fly shut as he burned out… but the funniest moment was when I looked back at the drive-thru window and saw that the KFC kid had hung the food bag out for Stephen to grab right as he pulled away… so the teenager’s arm was just dangling out the window with a big bag of KFC floating in mid-air waiting for no one to take it.

I paused a moment… I really wanted to laugh but I was still just too angry.

I walked over and grabbed the bag from the kid, walked up to the car, opened the door and climbed inside where I threw the bag of chicken on the floor and shouted, “I’m not even hungry any more.”

Stephen could have given a shit. He burnt out and hit the Interstate at an alarming pace. Probably anxious to find the nearest airport and fulfill my earlier prophecy.

We both stewed in silent obstinance across the entire great state of Kansas before we finally just busted up laughing hysterically… barely able to breath… tears streaming down our faces, as we crossed the border into Ohio where I then picked up the bag, pulled a cold, hard biscuit from it, and handed it to Stephen as a peace offering.

It was the only fight we got in during the entire two weeks on the trip and I believe that it really was necessary for our bonding experience and that the event brought us closer together.

After that, we went on to see thousands of wild geese land on a secluded lake somewhere in Ohio, scare ourselves to death sleeping in Lizzie Borden’s house in Fall Rivers Massachusetts, nap on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s lawn in Salem, and drive through the Bad Lands of South Dakota on our return trip, a place Stephen had never been, and was so thankful to see… the desert at dusk, the look of the sand and the cliffs, so alien and mystical… really something everyone should experience in a lifetime.

I will never regret that fight at the KFC… or letting someone in, and sharing my road trip.

What I find as I grow older, is that staying and building relationships, even when at times you want to run away… desert all… find security and safety in yourself… believing that it will be easier… somehow protect you from hurt… or build a wall so that people can’t get in…

Only makes you the person who is UNWILLING to take the road trip… to see what lays before you… what discoveries are out there to find… what common interests, ideas, spiritual moments you can share, even if it is only a ridiculously stupid fight behind a bus load of black Baptists somewhere in Kansas….

The beauty.. is in the shared story… our shared story…

Saving the Crack Baby

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crackbaby

I was 36 and back in school working on my Master’s degree. It had been a hard week. I was in the middle of a difficult divorce, teaching middle school during the day, taking classes at night, and resentful that Dylan my youngest, was left at home while I had to make a new life for my family due to my X’s departure.

I was in my classroom at school finishing up my final thesis essay, for my FINAL Master’s class, when I realized my printer was not working.  Frustrated… I typed the last few sentences in a rush, slapped my thesis onto a floppy disk (which makes me laugh now to think of it) and raced out of the building in hopes that I would make it to the class on time, which was next door to a teacher resource center, where I would be able to print out copies of my thesis, present it to my class, and argue my educational philosophy and hopefully, receive a stellar grade , an advanced degree, and finally, be back home again with my kids.

I arrived in a frantic state. My teacher, Dr. Isabel was an amazing teacher, a fantastic woman, but quite the stickler regarding class minutes. I rushed to the TRC with just moments to spare, flashed my district I.D. and ran towards an open computer and printer. I put my disk in the disk drive and watched in horror as the computer screen flashed, “DISK ERROR. DISK UNREADABLE”

I felt like I was going to vomit.

Dr. Isabel would never go for a Master’s candidate showing up to the final class, ill prepared.

This was disaster.

I had heard stories of students having to repeat entire classes after this type of incident.

I was terrified to walk into the classroom… but I steeled myself for the moment and marched in: the last one to arrive and the first one scheduled to present.

“You ready?” Dr. Isabel said with barely a glance up from her notepad, where I could only imagine she was planning to write, Deidre Wood: FAIL. Obviously some type of idiot who wandered into my class believing that “Master’s” means, show up to class unprepared with your head up your own ass.

I could barely breathe.

I told her what had happened with my disk.

“So, you didn’t have time to print out your papers for your classmates this week prior to our class time?”she asked.

What could I tell her?

My husband just left me?

I’m a total wreck?

I’m only doing this so that I can make more money and take care of my children?

“No, I didn’t have time,” I mumbled.

“Sit down Deidre,” she said as she scribbled fiercely on her tablet before asking another one of my classmates to begin the presentations.

I don’t remember much from that class other than that I felt full of despair, and that I just couldn’t catch a break. Despite what had happened between myself and my husband, I missed him. I missed my life with him, no matter how flawed, and at that moment… I just prayed that he would come back and we could start again.

Dr. Isabel asked me to give a brief presentation sans notes and print-outs at the end of class and then asked me to stay after.

This is it. I thought. This is where she tells me I’m going to have to repeat the class. My heart was pounding, I was ready to pass out.

“I’m sorry Deidre,” she said. “I understand that you are going through a hard time.”

Her kind words almost sent me over the edge and I fought not to cry in front of my college professor.

“I’ll give you one hour to go home and send this to me through email and then I will decide where we go from there.”

I nodded my head, afraid to even try to speak.

“I’m sorry,” she said again and then turned and walked out of the classroom.

I headed back to my car and tried not to freak out.

I could get home and get this emailed to her within the hour. It was do-able. She had always admired my writing and so, I started to become a bit hopeful that my thesis, and the fact that I had never missed a class, always received straight A’s on her assignments, and never acted like a jack ass, would be enough to carry me through.

In fact, by the time I reached the stop light on Spring and Cherry, I was feeling almost happy again until I turned and looked at the driver in the car sitting next to me: my ex-husband.

He was in his old ’59” Ford. He looked cleaned up in a hot greaser way: fresh Tres Flores on his hair, black short sleeve shirt, tattoos, dark glasses, and blues blasting from his stereo. It was a horrible moment. One of those moments when you know that your X has moved on and you are still the broken idiot trying to remove the pain from your forever wounded heart.

He turned and looked at me and nodded and waved as if we were both just out on separate errands and would plan to meet up at home for a nice dinner later. His cavalier attitude towards me and his obvious lack of remorse, related to our almost twenty years together, infuriated me. I acted “as if” waved back and then waited for him to turn the corner before bursting into tears and sobbing in a way that I haven’t since I was a very small child.

Just then my cell phone rang. It was my good friend, Christy. I pulled over and answered the phone still blubbering. She offered to come meet me but I said I really just needed to be on my own for a bit and process everything.

“What about your paper?” she asked.

What about it, I thought but said, “I’m just going to go to the park for a bit and catch my breath and then I’ll head home and work on it.”

“You sure you don’t want me to meet you?” she asked.

I said I was sure and then hung up the cell and called my mom to let her know that I would be home a bit late.

I went to El Dorado Park and pulled my car up to the duck pond. It was a pretty day, but not a weekend, and so only a small group of people were taking advantage of the lovely weather. I climbed out of the car and sat up on the top of a picnic table, with my feet up on the bench.

I looked out over the pond and watched as a young couple walked the lake with their toddler and a stroller with what appeared to be a baby in it.

They were both reed thin and after all of my years of spending time around recovering drug addicts, I pegged them right away as a Crack couple. They were arguing with each other over everything, twitchy and a bit erratic. He was light-skinned black and she was a tow-headed white and even from my distance, I could see that her face had been picked and scratched a thousand times.

I watched as he held the stroller, shaking it back and forth, in a motion that would suggest he was trying to calm the baby but actually reflected his agitation with his wife. She made a face and rolled her eyes before grabbing their toddler’s hand and walking away from the pond towards the playground in the park.

And that was all it took.

One dirty look.

One harsh word.

One moment and everything changed.

He let go of the stroller and rushed after her to grab her arm and I watched as the stroller rolled into the duck pond, flipped, and the baby disappeared under the surface of the water.

His wife screamed.

He rushed forward and jumped in trying desperately to find the baby in the murky pond.

I felt like I was locked into a moment of time and unable to move.

It was a moment I would never want to repeat.

Then, he pulled the small, soaked, blue bundle from the pond and looked directly at me, locked his eyes directly on me… and screamed, “HELP!”

Suddenly, I  jumped forward, dialing 911 on my cell phone as I ran, rushing around the path of the pond, trying to get to the father and the little lump in his hands that still hadn’t moved in those few seconds.

I watched as he ran towards me from the other side of the pond,  then panicked… stopped for a moment… and sat the baby on a low tree branch limb and began to shake it as if the vigorous amount of energy… his extreme passion for his child… could magically revive him.

“Don’t shake the baby! ” I screamed praying that I would get to the father before he did something totally irrational. “Stop! Stop now!”

He looked at me and I saw that his face was now blank… already gone… already in the “bad place” the place that ever parent fears.

I heard, “911?” answer on my cell and as I reached him, he thrust the baby towards me as I forced him to take my phone, speak to 911, and hopefully distract him from what I was now holding in my hands: a drowned baby.

I registered so much in that moment, my motherly instincts, my animal rage at their carelessness, everything seemed to escalate inside of me.

He was so small, with beautiful black curly hair, his eyes closed… his perfect little lips, a cupid’s bow of a mouth, already turning a light shade of blue. I cradled him in the crook of my arm and rested his tiny head in the palm of my hand before I reached my finger into his mouth and cleared it before starting CPR. I put my mouth over his mouth engulfing his tiny little nose as well and released my warm breath twice into his tiny lungs.

He didn’t respond and so, I pressed my mouth to his once more. I felt fear wash over me… that moment when you know that someone’s life is in your hands and you hope that everything will work out as you planned that all of your competence, that everything you have ever believed you are, lays open in that moment.

I pressed my mouth to him again and prayed that he would come to and suddenly… he was there.

He spit up milk and dirty water and his awakening was both relieving and comical.

His tiny fists balled up tightly, his arms shook in what seemed to be anger, his eyes widened with astonishment and I swear I heard him say, “Holy Shit!!! Did you see what just happened to me? That guy tried to KILL me!”

There was a moment, when it seemed like I would forever know him, that somehow… he would forever be mine… and then his father snatched to grab him from me as I pushed him back, unwilling to give the baby up so soon. I cradled the baby gently to my chest, my ear pressed against his back, listening to his breathing become regular with a small rattle somewhere deep inside of his lungs. I held him so tightly, as if to wrap him in my heart and prayed that somehow my strength would find a way to guard him… or protect him… as he grew older in this world.

I told the father to find me a dry shirt or blanket for him as I gently removed the baby’s wet clothes and then swaddled him in an old worn out sweatshirt and gave him one last long look, before I handed him back to his father.

He held him as his wife and toddler cried next to the empty stroller now sitting on the grass.

The paramedics arrived and rushed towards them and I watched as the father presented the baby to them as if they had won a gift for showing up first to the party.

I didn’t stay… there wasn’t anything for me to say.

I took my cell phone, walked away, happy to be forgotten in the shuffle, and the first person I thought to call and tell this story to was my husband before realizing… that in the horrific excitement of the moment… I had forgotten that he wasn’t my husband anymore.

I looked at my phone, paused, and called anyways.

We talked for a few moments, my earlier anger now completely dissipated by the thought of how fast life can change, that making amends to the father of my children was more important than holding my resentment and destroying everyone with it.

“God put you there,” he said. And I thought, yes… he did.

I went home and emailed Dr. Isabel my paper. It was late, definitely past the extra hour she was kind enough to give me, and I had no idea if it would be accepted but I didn’t care. I told her about running into my husband, I told her about saving the baby, I told her if I hadn’t been distraught over what had happened in class that the baby might have never survived and I accepted my fate.

Three weeks later, when my grades arrived in the mail. I had a solid “A” and a Master’s degree. I was proud of that degree… and I still am… though it will always seem a consolation prize compared to saving a human life.

And now, I often think about where that baby is and if he might one day end up in my classroom as my student, or cross paths with me somewhere again…  and I wonder why God put him in my way… and what God has planned for me further down the road.

Saturday July 13th through Saturday July 27th: Ms Wood will be on SUMMER VACATION!

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no swimming

Enjoy one of your favorite posts from the past until I return to entertain you!

And thank you for your loyal following.

D.D. Wood

Thanks to Everyone for Reading: New Stories Post EVERY Wednesday and Saturday…

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Evangelic-ed

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I heard them.
Outside my house.
Preparing to come up my walk.
Jehovahs.
Six women, different shapes and sizes, all dressed in thin polyester pastel summer blouses and floral calf length skirts.
Much like the Mormons that had been stalking our house for several years obviously, there was news that the devil was rumored to be living somewhere in our home. There must have been an all points religious bulletin sent out that said we would need several different brands of religious zealots to eradicate him from the house.
I was in the back writing when I heard Lola begin to bark, annoyed, I went to the bedroom and told her to be quiet and then I saw them out the window. I ducked, hoping that the thin bamboo blinds camouflaged my Spongebob pajama bottoms and my braless breasts bouncing past the screen.
They paused.
They had heard me scold Lola and now they were wondering why I had never answered the door. My mom still answers. She shuffles over, listens to them quietly with the door pressed tightly across her chest. Head nodding gently as she waits to pass them her $1.50 in change so that she can buy their newest edition of ‘The Watchtower’ before she can return to Regis and Kelly and highlights from Dancing with the Stars and American Idol.
I do not open the door. Today, I didn’t even hear them until Lola barked. Caught up in a new story idea related to Harvey Keitel’s penis, I was enthralled with pictures of H.K. in ‘The Piano’ and the ‘Bad Leuitant’, really, enough to make anyone deaf for a matter of minutes, not even realizing they had been at the front door.
Then, the herd of women moved away and all was quiet again. Lola stopped barking, mom went back to the blue chair, and I went back to Harvey’s penis.
5 minutes passed when Lola was at it again, this time, her bark was different, immediate, vicious, she was off the bed, out the dog door and tearing at the fence before I could even get to the window to see what was wrong.
Outside, I saw a police officer creeping passed my fence, tip toeing up to my neighbor’s back gate. Three cop cars were parked in strategic locations about the corner of my house. What the fuck had the Jehovah’s done now?
I snapped at Lola to come back in the house, she popped through the dog door, eyes up, ears back, as if protecting our house was a bad thing. I grabbed her collar and closed her in the bathroom.
I crept outside and now saw four different police officers tip toeing up to my neighbor Linda’s house. I ran back in the house, grabbed my cell phone and called her.
“Hello?” she said.
“Linda,” I said, “Are you in your house right now?”
“Why?” she asked, “What has Sophie done now?”
Linda is a big dog lover and I mean big as in BIG dogs. She has two Irish wolfhounds, Maggie and Sophie, and a greyhound named Joe, who are all taller than me when they stand with their paws on my shoulders. So I tell her what is going on.
“Can I talk with them?” she sounds concerned.
I run outside, “No, their guns are drawn.”
“What?”
“I’ll call you back.” I say as I snap the phone shut and run outside to check on the police.
The cops are ready to make their raid to the backyard. They are signaling me to be quiet but I ignore the signal.
“She has big dogs,” I shout, “Really big dogs. Don’t go in there!”
They stop.
I can see them peek through the front window to the backyard before they call off the raid and back up and over to my fence.
“Sorry,” I said, “but I knew it was just the dogs.”
Now there were four cop cars and I wondered how these cops ended up at Linda’s house. Did she have an alarm? I don’t remember one. I had been taking care of her house for the last few years while she was away on trips and she had never said anything about the alarm. So I asked.
“What made you guys come here? Did an alarm go off?”
The oldest cop said, “No the Jehovahs called us.”
Fucking Jehovahs. I should have known it had something to do with them.
I looked down the street and I could see them three houses away. Huddled up in a tight knit little group, hands securely tightened around their leather purses, ‘Watchtowers’ held tightly under each arm. They were looking at the commotion they had caused and I swear I wanted to step past the cops flip them the fucking bird and yell “I’m the DEVIL and I LIKE IT!”
The oldest cop continued, “They told us that they knocked on the door but no one answered. Then they heard a disturbance and knocked again but no one came to the door. So they called us.”
He ended this informative narrative with his hands on his leather gun belt, adjusting it in a manly manner and then shifting his weight from one hip to the other to add emphasis.
I thanked them for their time and then returned to the house. By this time the two younger cops were already ogling Lex. It isn’t often that you end up at a crime scene and find a six foot blonde with a body that can be seen in Playboy, wearing a t-shirt that reads “I’m six feet of heat”. I felt bad for them. I wished I could think of a reason for them to come in and search our house, get a closer look at Lex. Maybe they could look for the devil and report back to the Jehovah’s that all is well in the Grisham-Wood household.
By this time, Linda had called back on my cell and asked me to stop the cops and have them go into her house with me and just do a double check that there really isn’t anyone inside.
I pause for a moment, wondering if I should just have Lex take the two younger cops on an inside search of Linda’s home but then a bad porn movie comes to mind and I tell my daughter to go back inside as I approach the older officer in my Sponge bob’s and my braless t-shirted chest, with my arms crossed firmly over my cleavage and ask him if he will please come back with me and just do a quick check of the residence.
I can see after looking at me, no make-up, short boyish chopped black hair, chubby lump in my k-mart pajama combo that he is thinking of a bad porn movie as well but something more along the lines of “Big dykes bang cops” and is weighing the odds about going with me back into Linda’s home in case I have any ideas of taking him. I raise my eyebrow and cock my head and he sees that I am all business and not of the sexual kind.
We walk up the front steps and he gives me a demonstration of how an intruder could easily slit the screen and climb in the open front window. I nod slowly and seriously, trying to give off the effect that I understand the seriousness of this matter.
I open the door and step to the side. The two younger cops have followed behind us and when they see that Maggie, Sophie and Joe, look more like a herd of camels than a pack of dogs, the younger cop says, “Holy cow! Those are dogs?”
The dogs, wag lovingly hoping that the new group of people will stay and play until “mom” gets home but the cops start their search and I must leave the dogs to answer the cops questions.
“Has this window sill always been chipped up like this?
“No,” I reply, “Maggie ate that sill during the Winter of 07”
Maggie seems to smile from the back porch window.
“Has this mirror been broken like this?”
“No,” I reply again, “Maggie broke that when she rolled off the bed in Spring of 08.”
Sophie and Joe both seem to be looking at Maggie now, as if to say, “We would never do anything as bad as you do Maggie.”
I am not fooled.
The cops finish the search, I lock Linda’s house, and thank the officers once again for their time.
“Tell the Jehovah’s thanks for calling,” I say as I walk back to my gate.
In my mind I really want to tell the Jehovah’s that when they hear rustling going on inside of a house but no one comes to the door, to mind their own fucking business. It’s probably just people trying to hide from them and their stupid fucked up religion.
I mean, who would want to be a Jehovah? The chosen ones have already been giving a spot in heaven, the rest of the followers are fucked, and you can’t celebrate Christmas or your birthday any more.
If they think the draw of poorly made floral clothing, and copies of the ‘Watchtower’ are going to pull us in they are sadly mistaken.
I will write. I will live with the Devil. I will wear my Sponge bob pajamas and I will celebrate whatever heathen holiday comes to mind.
I will not however, ever stop Lola from barking at the Jehovah’s again. I will open the front door, let her run wildly to the fence, fierce pitbull teeth bared and blasting, and watch them all run, run down the street and off to a new location far from my world where Linda and my “hell hounds” are on their trail.

Playing Quasimodo with Dylan Resulting in a Trip to the Emergency Room and an Awkward Moment with the Police and Child Protective Services

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Dylan believes that Joe and I bordered on the edge of abusive while raising him.

Not physically… but mentally.

He seems to think games like “Goat Man” and “Sanctuary” and “Mean Mommy” and “I’m Blind” were meant to torment him, but we try to explain that they were just good fun or in some cases… meant to protect and educate.

Dylan was prone to taking off his clothes and running away when he was a baby so Joe, my X, invented “Goat Man” basically, “The Boogie Man” so that whenever Dylan ran away he could shout, “Goat Man! Goat Man!” and Dylan would scurry to the safety of the house. You don’t want your child running around the neighborhood naked. It may have been good fun back in the day, but now…. that’s a big no.

We didn’t think about the lasting effects of “Goat Man” … a monster that would now live forever in our child’s imagination. We just thought “Goat Man” would live until Dylan was old enough to understand that we created G.M. just to protect him. No… we were wrong. Dylan is now 22 years old and if I stood outside in the dark and yelled “Goat Man! Goat Man! Goat Man!” Dylan would still scream and scurry for the safety of the house afraid that a little hoof footed evil man was about to nab him in a matter of seconds.

“Mean Mommy” was one of my games and it was my way of letting Dylan know what was in store for him if he should so happen to cross the line and break Mommy’s rules. Any time he would do something terribly naughty, I would make crazy eyes at him, switch my voice into a high pitched tone and say, “Mean mommy” and Dylan would freak out and beg me to stop afraid that I had gone crazy and might kill him.

I was 26 when I invented this game, not much more of a baby myself… but I would still invent it again right now if it meant Dylan would turn into the great person that I believe him to be today.

So…. the day I invented “Sanctuary” I never thought anything would go terribly wrong…. I just thought it would be fun to beat Dylan with a yellow plastic stick ball bat while shouting “Sanctuary!” dragging my right leg behind me as I pretended to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame while Dylan scurried along the floor screaming “No Quasimodo! NO!”

We were half way through the living room, then rounding the corner of the hallway with Dylan crawling on his hands and knees, while I smacked his butt with the yellow plastic bat as he squealed  and giggled with delight and tried to escape me.

At that time, we still had carpet in our home but it was old and worn and in some of the door frames, sharp carpet nails had become exposed due to the many years of heavy foot traffic.

Dylan rounded a corner to hide in a bedroom when the top of his fat, soft, pink baby Fred Flintstone foot, caught on one of the large sharp rusty nails which ripped his foot wide open.

He flipped over, covered his foot in shock and terror, little arms shaking in pain and anger before he looked up at me and screamed, “LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME!”

His face was that of ultimate betrayal.

I thought he was being overly dramatic until he removed his hand and I saw the damage: exposed meat and a fat gaping mouth of a wound.

Joe had come running when he heard the commotion and after seeing the injury, and then giving me a look that could have frozen hell, placed a clean towel over Dylan’s foot, carried him to the car and we rushed him to the emergency room.

They took us straight in and in a matter of minutes, Dylan was sitting on a hospital bed as they took our information and a nurse went to get the doctor.

When the doctor arrived, he asked that Joe and I take a seat in the chairs against the wall and wait while he spoke to Dylan privately. I did not know that this was normal practice, that doctors often speak to children alone to check for child abuse. A police officer from child protective services was also called in to listen. I’m not sure if they just hang out at the hospital waiting for these types of cases or if they called him in specially.

I could see Dylan’s little rounded back… he was still sniffling as children do after a hard cry and his shoulders would pulse up and down every few moments as he tried to catch his breath.

The doctor pulled up a chair and sat down facing Dylan. Because of our location, we could view the doctor’s face, the officer’s face… but nothing of Dylan’s expression.

The doctor said very calmly, “Dylan. Tell us exactly what happened.”

And Dylan replied in broken sobs, “My mom… was BEATING ME… with a Baaaaaattttt.”

You can’t even imagine the look on the doctor’s face… I don’t know if I can even describe it… he looked at me like I was the biggest moron in the world. I swear… it wasn’t a “You are obviously a child abuser” look it was a “How the hell did you come up with such a stupid game like Sanctuary Quasimodo you idiot?”

The child protective officer looked at Joe like he was the devil and I could feel shame radiate from Joe’s entire being before he looked at me and whispered, “We’re so going to jail.”

But we didn’t go to jail. We never went to jail for raising Dylan. They stitched up his foot and sent him home with the crazy woman and the devil after Dylan through broken sobs explained while having his foot stitched up that it was just a game… and that he loved his mom and dad very much.

Thank God.

I’m sure if Dylan is reading this now… he wishes he could go back in time and give us a taste of our own medicine. Maybe a game called, “Send Mommy and Daddy to Jail”

Sound good Dylan?

Breaking Into the Nature Center with Amy on a Whim and Meeting Up with Jason from Friday the 13th Resulting in a Broken Ankle

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It wasn’t like I planned to break the law.

I’m a Nationally Certified public educator for Christ’s sake but… sometimes, my inner “I Love Lucy” mixes with my former “Punk Rock Persona” and creates some type of alter-ego that I imagine has a name like, Frankie Smith, who sports wild red hair, drives a 1969 Fastback Chevelle, and has a tattoo of a large sacred heart branded across her chest with the slogan, “Jesus loves you but he’s still working on loving me.”

It was a school night, probably what is referred to as Indian Summer on the East Coast and “Santa Ana Wind” weather on the West. Amy and I were walking in the park after hours. This is something that people are allowed to do but, the Nature Center, a sort of wild life preserve within the park, home to coyotes, opossums, bunnies, snakes, and a slew of water turtles, is gated and locked and off limits after five pm every evening.

We were on the road that meanders next to it… the wind blowing warm… the street lights every hundred yards or so punctuating the silhouettes of the big beautiful trees as they swayed wildly in the wind.

Amy and I were prattling on about something when one of us… I’m not sure who but I would bet money Amy would say, “It was you dork.” Thought it would be a good idea to climb the six-foot chain link fence, break into the Nature Center, and walk the trails through the forested area at night, alone, believing that it would be lovely to have the paths all to ourselves.

Actually, now that I’m writing this… I can say with 100 percent surety that I was the one that came up with this idiotic plan.

Sorry Amy.

But we have been friends for many years and Amy knows how persuasive I can actually be…. and our antics do always end up as really great stories later, so… there’s my justification.

We wandered off the road and walked into the brush by the fence that borders the flood canal. We started to climb the chain link several times but stopped each time we heard a small group of bicyclists passing by us.

Maybe we were paranoid.

Maybe we were having second thoughts.

But by the fourth time of jumping down and squatting in a bush I finally shouted, “Fuck it,” and hustled my ass over the fence and landed cleanly on the other side.

Amy’s face registered a mix of admiration at my clean climb and complete despair when she realized we were actually really going through with this. I stood and waited for her to climb up and over all the while feeling a childlike sense of glee. I had ALWAYS wanted to break into the Nature Center since I was about thirteen-years-old. So many of my friends had already done it in junior high or high school. Some… to make out… some to get high… and some to actually fish the ponds. I felt as Stephen Chbosky once wrote “Infinite” not taking into consideration that I was NOT 13 and “Infinite” but 40 and “finite.”

As soon as Amy jumped safely to my side of the fence, we ran through the brush to the trail and giggled like idiots at our stealth sneakiness. We were criminals. We were law breakers. We were suburban commandos. Seriously? We were idiots. Who the hell does shit like this in their 40’s?

We walked the back path, the one that takes you by what we call “the lake” but actually is about the size of a large pond and watched as the sun began to set right before we came up to the area we called: the pine forest.

Now, the pine forest area is actually quite creepy even during the day time. There is something about it that is reminiscent of the 70’s slasher movies where young “stupids” are often ambushed while walking, or skipping, or chattering lamely through the brush.

Amy and I were no different than these characters. Actually, I think we even commented on how we “felt” like characters in Friday the 13th as we passed the lake and headed to the forest.

We were just turning the bend in the path, that would lead us right next to the woods, when we saw something that will forever stick in my memory as the moment when I thought I would actually die of a heart attack just from viewing something. A large man, dressed entirely in black with a ski mask on, stepped out of the woods, stood firmly on the path, and stared us down before… without a word… he took one step back into the treeline and disappeared.

I’m surprised Amy and I didn’t just simultaneously shit our pants and then pass out.

My mind instantly calculated how fast we could get to the front gate and the security phone and would we be fast enough to defeat our attacker.

I mean come on…. no one survives in the slasher movies. They believe all the way up until the bitter end, even gloat about it, which we all know is the kiss of death, that they got away and then next thing you know Kevin Bacon’s throat has an arrow sticking through it.

It took me barely a split second to look at Amy and scream, “RUN!”

We booked it down the service path, cut across by the bramble bush tunnel, ran past the meadow, over the two bridges to the front gate in what seemed like a moment. Our breathing was rough and raspy, our hearts pounding, unable to keep up with our bodies. Even when we arrived at the well lit, neatly trimmed area by the front office, we still couldn’t stop from turning around and watching our backs sure that we would look across the front pond and see… well… the iconic photo of Jason emerging out of the woods of course.

Now, we knew once we picked up the security phone, the rangers would be there in a matter of seconds, their office we could view across the street but… I didn’t want to call. I could just see the local newspaper headline the next day, “Popular high school teacher arrested for breaking into the Nature Center. Is this the type of Public Servant we want shaping the minds of our children?”

Shit.

I knocked a large metal trash can over and up-ended it. I shoved it next to the fence and told Amy to hold it while I climbed. Now, to this day, I’m not sure if Amy just didn’t “hear” me say, “Hold the trash can while I climb” or if Amy was feeling a bit passive-aggressive after I convinced her to break into the Nature Center, and then forced her to run from Jason, and now, I was making her wait to be the last person out, expecting her to hold the trash can for me when really… the heroic thing to do on my part was to let Amy climb first, but either way… as I threw my right leg over the fence, Amy did not hold the trash can and the weight of my body pushing up and over, knocked the large green can sideways and sent me tumbling down with it. I was fine until my right ankle, bashed against the rounded rim of the can and then rolled the rest of the way across it as my weight bared down upon it.

I knew immediately that it was broken. It wasn’t broken in the “your ankle is hanging off your foot,” or even “your bone is sticking out of your skin” type of way… but it was definitely inoperable.

I don’t remember if I yelled at Amy… but I probably did…. I was pissed. Mainly at myself but ready to take it out on anyone for that matter… In fact… if I could have walked then… I’m sure I would of picked up a LARGE stick and hobbled back to beat the holy hell out of that guy who scared the shit out of us in the first place.

I had a feeling it was most likely, one of my own high school students anyway, playing paint ball or smoking pot… or forest tag with his friends… and I imagine when he stepped out of the forest, trying to terrify what he assumed to be one of his own cronies and came face-to-face with MY GOD… Ms. Wood my Period Three English teacher… actually shit himself, passed out, and upon awakening ran to the back fence where due to his young age, was able to leap it clean without the help of a trashcan and was probably sitting in the 24-hour Jack in the Box, eating 99 cent tacos and bragging to all of his friends how he got away from “The Man.”

My imagination running wild was actually causing me to become infuriated.

I got up, no help from Amy, (who I shall note one time ALSO let me fall off one of the exercise apparatus at the park stating, “It was too funny not to. You looked just like one of the guys in the Matrix… falling all slow motion and shit”) and rolled the trash can to another gate which had a wide gap at the top and was used as a service truck entrance.

I knew if we could climb up the trash can to the gap, all we would have to do would be to slide through and then use the chain that connected the lock as a foothold on the other side to get down. It worked beautifully and soon we were back in the warmth of the mini-van.

I drove directly to Stephen’s house, my new man at that time, who looked at the state of our clothing, our worn faces, and my ankle which was now twice it’s normal size, completely black and blue and said, “What the hell were you thinking?”

How do you respond to a question like that?

Hey Stephen, well… I was thinking with my 13-year-old brain that breaking into the Nature Center was a GREAT idea!

Or… I was thinking I’m 40 if I don’t do it now… when will I ever do it?

Or maybe.. I was thinking, what a great way to fuck up my friend and my ankle all at once. Hooray for me!

Everything I thought about saying sounded absolutely stupid as I sat on the couch with even his dog looking at me like I was a complete moron before I finally mumbled, “I don’t know.”

Stephen went off to the kitchen to get me an ice bag and Amy started laughing uncontrollably, in that way you do when you know you aren’t supposed to laugh and so you try to hold it in but it just keeps coming out in silent bursts of nervous energy.

I had to go to the doctor the next day of course and yes… I did have a hairline fracture in my ankle which took over two months to heal and about a year and half before it even stopped hurting.

I’m now 46 and yes I still walk in the Nature Center almost daily… and once in awhile as I pass the forest I think of that night where I let myself be deviant and failed.

I can’t lie, it has become a good story… and I feel sorta “outlaw” when I think about it. And I’m glad that Amy was not injured due to my stupidity. But there is something in me that still wishes I hadn’t run… think if I had just convinced Amy to start acting completely insane, and we ran wildly through the forest, middle-aged “Ophelias” gone insane and Mr. Ski-mask could have been the one screaming and running… the idiot falling off the green trash can, in the bright light of the front gate.

Man…

It could have been brilliant.