Lighthouse: Entrust

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I’ve always wondered if it was because I was the one sent to fetch Santi that she became so important to me. Or maybe it’s because, true to her name, she offers the healing properties of music.

Of course, I was primed to step into a mother’s role. Shortly before I left to pick up Santi, Momo and her family came, delivering one of their pups, now fully grown, to Octy. Being near Momo and her daughters was bound to get me dreaming of a daughter of our own.

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And then there was Sebastion’s surprise.

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There’s nothing like the scent of a newborn to get maternal instincts flowing. And that Septemus’s new baby sister had pale skin and iridescent scales only intensified my desire for our own extra-terrestrial daughter to cuddle.

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Septemus’s Truth #42 holds that when things happen is when they are meant to happen. Sept has told me since then that he wants to revise it to “when things happen is when they happen.” I say it’s the same difference, but he asserts that no, the distinction is subtle but essential.

Nevertheless, at that time, I firmly believed that things happened when they were meant to happen. I could apply this to everything in my life, and it held up, so it became truth for me.

My hormones combined with my belief in the providential timing of a beneficent universe, and I was primed to respond when Xirra told us of the refugee stranded in Granite Falls.

“We should both go,” Sept said. “I’ve always wanted to visit the mountains. We can bring Mojo, or he can stay here with Elui. Let’s do it!”

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Sept couldn’t go–of that I was convinced. This was the time when the Anti-Alien Coalition, the AAC, first began holding protests (more like riots) against extraterrestrial refugees, diplomats, immigrants, and citizens.

“It’s not safe!” I said. “You know the towns the bus travels through. I don’t care how good you look as Max. If they find out who you really are, you could be attacked!”

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Sept had to admit I had a point.

He was quiet for a minute. “I like doing things together best,” he said. “You’ve been great helping out with Ritu. At the same time, I guess I always thought this was my project, and that you were pitching in for me. Isn’t it selfish of me to ask you to go to such trouble as this trip would be?”

“I kind of see it as our project,” I said. “It’s important to me, too. Of course it’s important to me because it’s important to you. But it’s also important to me for my own reasons. You know, social justice and all that.”

Sept laughed. “My beautiful activist wife!”

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I winked.

“Would it be sexist of me if I said you couldn’t go because you needed to stay to keep your old moon-man company?” he clowned.

“Yes,” I flirted back, “but in a very cute and endearing way.”

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We got serious then, because there was so much to plan.

Xirra hadn’t told us much, only that the refugee, who was too young to travel on her own, stayed with Ritu’s contact up in the back country. I said I’d get a topographical map from the ranger when I got there.

“Do you know how to read a topographical map?” Sept asked.

I did. I’d studied natural history at college, and that was a required skills in the field.

“That’s impressive,” said Sept. “I guess you’re much more equipped to go than me.”

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It didn’t hit me until I was on the bus, heading through the desert below the foothills, how much I would miss Sept. This was my first time to be apart from him for any length of time since our first date.

I knew this region well. We’d spent a few weeks here and up in the mountains during field quarter when I was in college.

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It was easy to fall into the rhythms of its shifting light.

The land was sparsely populated. A few ranches nestled into the valley, and the ranching town lay a few miles back.

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I sat in the rear of the bus, gazing out the window at the light on the rocks.

It was easy to fool myself into the illusion of harmony.

The passengers near me talked of shopping at Target for new tennis shoes for their daughters, entering their one-year-old heifers in the 4-H fair, and the return of Roseanne to TV.

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Lulled by the mundane, domestic conversations, I began to suspect we’d been paranoid in thinking Sept had anything to fear.

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“Johnson said another one of those blue people stopped by the store the other week,” said the grandma in the seat in front of me.

“Naw. Really? At the General Store?” said the woman next to her.

“That’s the one. Even with the sign. Of course he didn’t sell him anything. Just pointed to the exit.”

“Well, I hope they cleaned up the shop well afterwards,” the woman said. “No telling what kind of alien bugs those types carry!”

They switched the conversation back to the grandchild’s prospects for college.

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So, we weren’t paranoid. The sentiment against extra-terrestrials, especially in rural areas like this, ran strong.

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It wasn’t simply the unknown. It was a cauldron of fears brought on by a shifting world. Global climate change, even back then, exerted economic and environmental pressures. Those who relied on the land for their livelihood felt it most keenly. In parts of the world, these pressures led to political unrest and extreme poverty. Entire populations were being displaced, ending up in the countries that hadn’t yet felt it so strongly.

People said things like, “We’ve not even got enough for the people of our own planet. We shouldn’t expect to have to take in aliens who’ve got the whole universe. Let them shove off and move on!”

That became the cry at the demonstrations: “Shove off and move on!”

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All summer, demonstrations had been held across the country and oversees. “Shove off and move on!” None of them had been peaceful. Many cities and towns, like ours, designated themselves, officially or on a grass-roots level, as sanctuaries, and we remained free of protests, welcoming all who came. But we were the pockets of haven in a hostile world.

The grandmother and the woman got off at a small town at the base of the mountains. The only passengers on the bus were a man with fly-fishing gear and a few backpackers who’d stitched onto their packs the symbol of xenophilia: the infinity sign and the numeral one.

I let myself find the current of peace in the evening mist that settled over the forest, and I wondered about this world in which the young refugee I was coming to fetch had found herself.

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Septemus 20

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Dear Sept,

I’ve decided I’ll wait until you’re a young man to share these letters with you. You’re already reading, so, technically, I could share them with you now.

But I want to be able to write some of the difficult things that it could be useful for you to know later. Right now is not the time for you to be aware of certain challenges.

You have this idea that the world is safe. Maybe I’m wrong for wanting to nurture and protect that view. Maybe it would be better if you knew now about all the threats and dangers.

But you believe that everyone is as kind and loving as Miko and that the world is as safe as your playground.

I grew up in a different world. My dad was in a war. He came home, but he died from the wounds. They weren’t wounds you could see. They were inside, in the mind. My mom died from an overdose. As safe as Nonny and Poppy tried to keep me, I knew in my bones this was not a safe world.

It’s different for you, and I want to keep it that way as long as we can.  For you, peace is as common as cherry-blossom petals on the river walk.

You told me about meeting Salim.

“He’s got a good name,” you said, after he introduced himself. “You know what I told him my name was?”

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“Seventy-seven?” I guessed.

You laughed. “Nope! Sintuliyu!”

“Peace?” I asked.

“Sure! Because Salim, peace! So my name should be the same!”

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Right now, I’m working to protect you from being tested.

I found out about the testing program through a grad student. She was watching you playing in the park next door, and then she approached me.

She asked about your scores.

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When I asked what she meant, she explained that her professor had been telling her class about off-the-charts IQ scores of alien kids. “He asked for volunteers to help out with the testing project. They’re studying the DNA of the xeno-kids’ brain cells to see what accounts for the rapid learning. If you want, I could set up an appointment for your kid to be tested!”

I told her thanks, but no thanks.

I recalled a conversation I had with Geoffrey back when you were a little tyke. I don’t know if you know it, but Geoffrey’s the director of the department that oversees the agency.

He had stopped by to check on you.

“How’s the little guy getting on?” he asked.

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I wasn’t to keen on divulging any details. Up to this point, the agency had been anything but helpful. When I’d been searching for your siblings, they kept strict silence.

It didn’t build trust.

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Geoffrey chatted. He told me about his family, a wife, two sons, one of whom was estranged, and the other was trouble. But I could see how much he loved them.

He talked a lot about family.

“We respect kin,” he said. “Well, at least I do. And as long as I’m head of Family and Children Services, I aim to protect the rights of parents, guardians, and kids. That’s why we never give out the info about those in the program,” he said.

I felt better. I guess that’s when I started to trust him.

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“Your boy is your boy,” he said. “He’s your son, just as much as if he were born from you. And you’re the one with the parental rights. He belongs to you, not the agency. You’ve got my word on that. You remember that, if anybody tries to tell you any different.”

I felt a weight lift off. I know I’d signed all the papers of guardianship, and I kept my copies where I could access them any time. But it felt good to hear it from the man who was in charge of the department that oversaw the agency.

I remember Geoffrey’s chuckle and feeling a rush of warmth and gratitude.

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So when that grad student told me about the testing program, I took another look at those papers, reading the fine print to see how far my rights extended.

It was a good thing, for a few days later, the professor himself showed up.

“I’m looking for Number 77,” he said.

“Um, this is 542 E. Magnolia Park Boulevard,” I answered.

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“I’m referring to the young xeno-child playing in your front yard,” he said. “Isn’t that Number 77?”

I asked him to leave.

“I think I’ll talk to the child first,” he said.

“That’s my son,” I replied.

I followed him out to where you were playing at the dollhouse.

“How would you like to come and play some games in a big room full of them?” he asked. “Do you like puzzles?”

You looked at him without saying a word, but I could clearly see a big, empty room, with all the lights out, and Professor Goth sitting alone in a dark corner.

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“My son is staying here,” I said, walking Professor Goth to the corner. “He won’t be participating in any testing projects. You don’t have parental consent.”

“That’s not in his best interest,” Dr. Goth said.

“He and I will decide what his best interests are,” I answered.

“I’ll keep in touch,” he said, “in case you reconsider.” He pulled out a pamphlet from his jacket pocket and attempted to hand it to me. I took a glance at the lettering on the cover: WISC-V Rankings of Xeno-children: Discovering a Different Intelligence.

I called Geoffrey’s office the next day. He affirmed it was within my rights to refuse any testing, treatments, or research projects.

“Don’t worry about Mortimer,” he laughed. “We’re old buds! He wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

And he won’t. He won’t hurt even a fly, as long as I’m around. I’m keeping this world safe for you, as long as I can, Sept.

–Your pops.

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