Summer House: Ch. 19

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Sonya had wanted to take Elise to the mainland to shop for school clothes, but she got called in for a workshop the school board was hosting, for the teachers at all the island schools, on trauma-informed care.

“What do these sheltered kids know about trauma?” Elise asked.

But I knew that wherever there are people, there is trauma.

“Farming accidents, storms, fishing accidents,” I said, “not to mention domestic violence, substance abuse, sexual harassment, and bullying. Trauma’s everywhere.”

“I’ll just wear these clothes,” Elise said. “I only need t-shirts and jeans.”

But her shoes had holes, so she agreed to let me take her instead.

We left our car at the island terminal and walked on board, to the accompaniment of wolf whistles from workers on the dock.

“Those are for you,” Elise said.

I laughed. “I hardly think so.” It had been decades since anyone whistled at me, not since I’d perfected the self-assured stride that says, “Not available, not interested,” and certainly not since my hair turned white.

“They’d better not be whistling at me,” Elise said.

“Does it bother you?”

“Hell, yes!”

There had been a time, when I was around Elise’s age, and I was first feeling what it was like to inhabit a young woman’s body, with hips, a thin waist, breasts, when my best friend and I collected wolf whistles. We held a friendly contest. I never garnered more than thirteen a day, while she often racked up fifteen. We called a halt to the contest suddenly, after a saunter through a park filled with Hell’s Angels drew more than whistles. We stopped sauntering, kept our gaze on the path, and walked as quickly as we could without running back to our bicycles. As we raced off, our hearts beating, I realized I didn’t want that kind of attention, not from a biker, not from anybody.

Elise and I ordered coffee on board and sat looking out over the straights.

“What are the boys like at school?” she asked. “Are there many?”

“There are four,” I said. “They’re good kids. One’s the son of a fisherman. Another’s the son of the librarian. And you met Devon and Shire selling their mom’s honey and organic herbs at the farmers’ market.”

“Do they have girlfriends?”

The fisherman’s son did. I’d heard that dating for island teens was a slow affair–there simply weren’t enough kids living year-round on the island. Some of them met teens from other islands. Some held online romances. Some hooked up with summerers for short romances. But mostly, from what I’d heard, the kids waited to date until leaving the island for college or work.

“I think I like that,” Elise said. “Less pressure, right? Is it a clicquish school?”

It couldn’t be, with only seven, now eight, students in the entire high school. Besides, the school had been practicing its particular blend of Steiner/Reggio Emilia since before these kids entered kindergarten.

“It’s pretty egalitarian,” I said. “I think you’ll like it. When you’ve only got enough kids for one group, everyone pretty much gets along.”

“That would be different,” Elise said. “My old school was awful. There was this hall you walked down, in the math wing–it was called ‘butt-grab’ hall, because that’s what happened there. When you walked down it, the guys grabbed your butt.”

“That’s awful!”

Elise nodded. “So we had a buddy system. We’d walk in a group, and the ones in front held their binders in front of their chests, and the ones in the back held them behind their… behinds. And we walked like that. Safety in numbers.”

“You shouldn’t have to do that. You should be able to be safe in school.”

“One would think. The system worked, though. Then, in April, my friends stopped being my friends, so I had to walk alone. I was always late for math, then.”

“Couldn’t you report that?”

“Yes. And the report asks for names, and when I put down the names, that’s when my friends stopped being my friends, but the behavior didn’t stop.”

I flashed on my student Sasha and her complaint against Denny, my friend and former colleague. I felt thoroughly relieved, grateful, even, that her claims had been acted on.

“I hope we can find some decent clothes,” Elise said as we approached the shoreline. “I hate girls’ clothes. They make me look like this.” She scrunched up her lips, cinched in the waist of her t-shirt, and stuck out her chest. “Like I’m a target.”

“We don’t have to buy off the girls’ rack,” I said.

We walked from the ferry terminal into town. The road was shaded, with mushrooms growing alongside it. We fell silent, after our long conversation on the crossing. My attention went to the birds singing in the forest, vireos, nuthatches, and chickadees. Elise seemed lost in her own thoughts.

We stopped at Starbucks and then hit up the discount retail stores. On the boys’ rack, we found skinny black jeans, relaxed-fit stonewashed jeans, and a pair of baggy brown cords. In a record store, Elise found GOT7 and BTS t-shirts.  We bought black sneakers and brown canvas ankle boots. By the time we needed to catch the evening ferry, we’d filled four big shopping bags of clothes.

“I’m exhausted,” Elise said, as we boarded the bus to take us back to the ferry terminal.

We didn’t talk much on the ride back. I bought us veggie wraps for supper and we ate facing the front windows. The water danced with sun gems.

“I’m gonna look so cool,” Elise said.

She was right. In her new clothes, she looked confident and hip.

“This was fun, Elise,” I said. “I’m glad I got to take you shopping. Thanks.”

She nodded. “Yup,” she said. “I think it’s gonna be my best year yet.”

As the sun set, the ferry moved into the golden path. In June, when I rode the ferry out to the summer house, I knew that this time of year, at summer’s end, I’d be riding the ferry again. Only then, I thought I’d riding it the other way, away from the sunset path, back to my busy life of conflict and demand.

But here I was, riding it home, and not alone, but with a new friend who shared that home. So many changes, such a short time.

Change isn’t always bad. And sometimes, good things happen after bad. The college would get along without me. Bernard’s dad would get along without his family. And in our new lives, in our new home, we’d all get on just fine.

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HFH: Houseful of Kids

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I used to live in a houseful of hippies. Now I live in a houseful of kids. And it isn’t even the same house!

I’d have guessed that three kids and three adults was enough. And it was for a while. We were all happy: Me and Elder, Tani, Emelia, Free-Jon, and Roxie.

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I loved watching Free and Roxie play.

“I’m living in a cupcake!” Free-Jon said, goofy smile and all.

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Elder, often, was as much a kid as Free, Em, and Roxie.

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Emelia, in her own time-bendy way, has always been kid, teen, and grown-up, all braided into one.

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We were so happy, and I thought our life could go on that way forever. I said as much to Elder one morning, after the kids left for school and Tani left for work.

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“We should have another kid,” Elder said.

“Um, what?”

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He was serious. “Face it! You’re a great mom! I’m a pretty good dad! Free and Em and Roxie will be great big brother and sisters! And you know Tani wants to be auntie to a baby again. You can’t deny Tani!”

“You’re crazy,” I replied.

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But half an hour later, I stopped him in the kitchen.

“OK,” I said. “Least we could do is try.”

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He closed his eyes.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m dreaming of our baby. We’ll have a little girl, OK? With your eyes!”

“You’re a nut.”

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It took a few tries, and we had fun trying, and then one morning at breakfast, I said, “Oops. Eggs don’t taste so good.”

“Do you think?” he asked. I did. And I was.

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I felt nervous, though. I didn’t remember having such strong morning sickness with Free. I wanted to wait to tell them as long as we could, just in case it didn’t work out.

Elder had a hard time keeping the secret.

“Did you put cupcakes in that salad?” Free asked his dad.

“Um. Nope. Why?”

“Cause you’re grinning like you ate Joel’s happycakes.”

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Elder bear-hugged Free.

“You know you’ll always be my favorite Jon-Jon, right, son?”

Free was being squeezed too hard to let out more than a muffled yep.

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Then, in the second trimester, I couldn’t hide it any longer.

“I know you’re not that fat,” Emelia said. “When were you planning on telling us?”

“Um. Now?”

“Congratulations!”

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“Congratulations on what?” Free asked.

“You’re gonna be a big brother!”

“Oh. Cool!”

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But Roxie wasn’t so happy.

“But he’s already a brother,” she said. “He’s my brother.”

“Yeah, he is. And he still will be. And you’ll soon be a big sister!”

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She wasn’t happy one bit.

“I know what that means,” she said. “You’ll have a baby and the baby will be the center of your world, and I’ll be left to eat out of the cooler again, just like I always am. Forgotten.”

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We all spent a lot of extra time with her in the following weeks. She said it was temporary, and we’d forget her once the baby came, but she said she’d be a good sport and make the most of it, while she could.

And then came an even bigger change–at least, it felt bigger to me. Tani came home from work one day, excited, nervous, and a little sad.

“I got a promotion!” she said. “That’s the exciting part. But it’s a new job, in a new department. That’s the nervous part. And it’s in another city. In Brindleton Bay. That’s the sad part.”

Of course she’d take the job. She couldn’t pass up the opportunity. At first, she thought she’d rent an apartment and come home on weekends and vacations. It would be hard on Em, who’d developed a close relationship with Aunt Tani.

Then, Tani said she’d found the perfect house for all of us, up on a hill looking over the bay, with four bedrooms, room for the piano in the parlor, a fancy new kitchen, and plenty of room outside for the kids to play and for the garden. Maybe we’d even get a cat or a dog!

“But is it the right time to move?” I asked. I was in the third trimester, and I was huge and tired and already starting to nest.

“You can nest in the new home!” said Elder.

So, we packed lots of our stuff, and some we left in the old home, for Emma was going to move back in.

The last morning there, I looked around the kitchen. So many memories! So many dreams.

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Was it what I wanted?

Of course it was! The new kitchen was glorious! Bright, roomy, with top-of-the-line appliances and a windows that looked out over the bay.

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Roxie loved the house most of all.

“Thank you for my new house, Elder!” she said.

“You’re welcome!”

“This is my house,” she insisted, “but I’ll let all of you stay!”

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Em and Tani loved the house, too. Em’s favorite room was Tani’s room upstairs in the back corner. She called it the girls’ room, and it’s where she, Roxie, and Tani spent hours sharing secrets and making plans.

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But Free was not so happy. He missed our old house.

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“The wind smells like seaweed!” he whined. “I can’t breathe.”

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But a few days later, he raced home from school.

“I’ve got a very important job,” he said. “Teacher told me I was the one who gets to lead fractures class, because I know them best, since we had them at the old school.”

“That’s fantastic, Free!”

“Yeah,” he said. “So. I guess it’s a good thing we’re here. Else how else would the kids learn about halves and quarters?”

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My favorite part, of course, was the garden. Not that I did much gardening during the few weeks after we moved in! I was so pregnant, so huge, so tired all the time.

But the garden provided a great spot for napping.

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And then we had Caroline, who had my hazel eyes, and Elder’s blond hair. She was a lovely baby–happy, smiley, laughing. And Roxie was the happiest of all, since being the big sister was the most important job.

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And now, here we are–in a houseful of kids, and even though it’s a new house, it’s become our home.

Now, we’re preparing for the next change, for Caroline is insisting on a kitty, and she’s not willing to settle for a plastic one!

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Shift 19: YOTO

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So I showed up at YOTO after school. Deon said he’d take a few hours personal time and drive me. But I said nope. I gotta do this myself. I did accept the fare for the rapid transit, though.

Man, the place is colorful. I wondered if they made every kid that stayed here paint a mandala. I thought about the one I’d paint–something with the colors of the mountains.

Thinking about the mountains helped me relax. I put on a smile and walked in. Deon had called ahead, so they were expecting me.

I saw the coordinator, Aadhya Mahajan, first thing. She didn’t say much, just “Hello, darling. Come in and make yourself at home. We’ll do the intake later.”

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That was OK by me. I wanted to look around before I had to sit down and fill out papers and stuff.

Nadja Aguirre and Danny Denvers were sitting in the kitchen. They both said hello, but not much more than that. I got the distinct impression that people value privacy here. That’s OK by me, too, seeing as we’re all living here together.

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Marquise Mitchel was in the kitchen stirring cake batter. I took one look at his Mohawk and decided he was OK.

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I stood back and watched. Everybody gave me my space. When Marquise put the cake in the oven, I made some veggie BLTs. The fridge was stocked with everything awesome, even this cool tempeh bacon that tastes so good. I’m going to see if I can find some way to get avocados. They’d go great with this tempeh bacon.

Vivaan Gupta, the co-director, walked through the kitchen. “Nice to see you making yourself at home, Jazz,” he said, just like we’d already been introduced and everything.

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It was kind of cool how everybody there made me feel welcome but not conspicuous at the same time. I was so worried about a ton of questions or being put on the spot. But that didn’t happen. I just belonged.

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It turns out they’ve got an unwritten “No Questions” rule. You don’t ask anybody about themselves or their past. I mean, you can ask, “What are you reading?” or “How was your day at school?” or “How’s it going?” or “Do you wanna play basketball?” Little everyday stuff. What they call “transactional questions.” But you just stay away from the prying questions.

They say, “You can talk about yourself, but you don’t ask about others. You wait until they talk to you.”

I’m waiting until Nadja talks to me. She’s beautiful. Her eyes look like mystery. Come to think of it, everybody here, their eyes show so much. If their stories are like mine, and I know they are, then I can say that their eyes show loss, bravery, resolve, betrayal, hurt, and hope.

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Nadja doesn’t go to my school. None of the kids do. Mostly, they go to the neighborhood school here in Magnolia Promenade, and one or two ride the bus into Willow Creek. I’m the only one to take the RT to the city. I’m glad. This way, my being here is something that I can keep to myself. I wish all the world had the “No Questions-Wait Til They Talk” rule.

Nadja did talk a little bit my first night there.

“Do you like algebra?” she asked.

“Uh huh,” I replied.

“I love it,” she said. “I want to be a doctor one day. I love to feel my brain grow, and algebra forms new dendrites.”

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It was still light when I went to bed. I felt tired. I felt so tired.

The bed is beautiful. It has clean sheets and no one else has slept in it since the sheets were changed. It has a mattress and four legs and a quilted headboard.

It was so early when I went to bed, and I thought I might sleep forever. It’s quiet. I’m inside. Nobody’s asking questions. And I can sleep.

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Author’s Notes: With the exception of Marquise Mitchel (who’s a game-generated Townie), all these beautiful teens came from the Gallery. I’ll be writing a “YOTO Teens” post at some point so that I can introduce them and give credit to Simmers who created them.