Read Somebody Else's Kids Online

Authors: Torey Hayden

Somebody Else's Kids (6 page)

Chapter Five

O
nce long ago when I was a very little girl I told my mother that when I grew up I was going to be a witch and marry a dinosaur. At four that seemed a marvelous plan. I adored playing witch in the backyard with my friends and I was passionately interested in dinosaurs. There could be no better life than one in which I could do what I loved doing and live with one I found immensely fascinating.

I haven’t changed a lot in that respect. Somewhere deep inside there is still a small four-year-old looking for her dinosaur. And there was no denying that the single hardest task as my career progressed had become synchronizing life with the kids with the remainder of my life outside school.

The task did not seem to be getting any easier. I know I did not help things much. I loved my work profoundly. It stretched me to the very limits of my being. The time spent within the walls of my classroom had formed fully my views of life and death, of love and hate, of justice, reality and the unrestrained brutal beauty of the human spirit. It had given me my understanding of the meaning of existence. And in the end it had put me at ease with myself. I had become the sort of person who got home Fridays and waited anxiously for Mondays. The kids were my fix, the experience a spiritual orgasm.

That kind of intensity was hard to compete with. I tried to step back from it and appreciate the slower, less rabid hours I spent outside school but I knew my appetite for the extreme, both mentally and emotionally, made me a complicated companion.

Joe and I had been seeing each other for almost a year. The old adage had been true in our case: opposites attract. He was a research chemist at the hospital. He worked only with things. Indeed, he loved things: cars that handled well, old rifles, good wine and clothes. Joe was the only man I had ever dated who actually owned a tuxedo. And perhaps because things so seldom needed talking to, Joe was never a talker. He was not a quiet type; he just never wasted words beyond the concrete. He could not comprehend their practicality in some areas. Why talk about things if one could not change them? Why discuss things that have no answers?

Fun for Joe was getting dressed up and going out to eat, going to a party, going dancing. Just plain going out.

And there I was with my wardrobe of three pairs of Levi’s and a military jacket left over from student protest days. When I came home from work I wanted to stay home, to cook a good meal, to talk. I sorted my life out with words. I built my dreams with them.

We made an unlikely pair. But whatever our differences, we seemed to get around them. We fought incessantly. And we made up incessantly, too, which made most of the fighting worthwhile. I loved Joe. He was French, which I found exotic. He was handsome: tall, rugged-looking with wind-blown hair, like those men in perfume advertisements. I don’t think I had ever dated such a handsome man and I knew that fed my vanity some. Yet there were better reasons too. He had a good sense of humor. He was romantic, remembering all the little things I was just as likely to dispense with. And perhaps most of all he stretched me in a way different from my work; he kept me oriented toward normalcy and adulthood. He could usually keep my Peter Pan tendencies under control. It was a good, if not always easy, relationship.

As September rolled into October and an Indian summer stretched out warm and lazy across the farmlands, Joe and I were seeing more of each other, but increasingly he began to complain about my work. I was not leaving it at school, he said, which was true enough, I suppose. I had Boo and Lori to think about now and I wanted to share it. I wanted Joe to see Boo’s eerie otherworldliness and Lori’s tenderness because they were so beautiful to me. On more practical levels, I wanted to bounce ideas off someone. I needed to explore those regions of the children’s behavior that I could not comprehend. My best thinking was always done aloud.

All this talk of crazy people depressed him, Joe replied. I ought to put it away at night. Why did I always insist on bringing it home? I sat by quietly when he said that to me and I was filled with sadness. It was then I knew that Joe would never be my dinosaur.

I had meant to fix supper. Joe was coming over. We had not made plans because the night before when we had discussed it, Joe had wanted to see the newest Coppola movie and I had wanted to fix something on the barbecue. Like so many other times when we ended up unable to agree on anything, Joe just said he would be over.

When I came home from school in the evening there was a letter in the mailbox from an old friend who was teaching disturbed children in another state. She related how her kids had made ice-cream one day in class. Instead of using the big, cumbersome ice-cream maker with all its messy rock salt and ice and impossible turning, she had used empty frozen-juice cans inside coffee cans. The children each had their own individual ice-cream makers. The ice-cream set up in less than ten minutes.

My mind ignited as I read the letter, ideas were coming so fast I could not catch them in order. This was just the thing for Boo and Lori and me to do. The class had been disjointed while I tried vainly to juggle them into some sort of academic program. This would make us as class. Lori would be thrilled about doing something of this nature, and what a good experience for Boo. I could make it into a reading experience, a math lesson.

When Joe found me I had my head in the deep-freeze trying to locate a second can of frozen orange juice. I already had the first can thawing on the counter.

“What are you doing?” he asked as he came into the kitchen.

“Hey, listen, would you do me a great big favor, please? Would you run over to the store and buy me another can of orange juice?” I said from the freezer.

“You have one here.”

I straightened up and shut the lid. “I need three and I only have two. Be an angel, would you please? There’s money on top of the dresser. And I’ll get dinner started.”

Joe looked at me and his brow furrowed in a way I could not interpret. He stroked the lapel of his sports coat. “I thought we might go out. I made reservations for us at Adam’s Rib for supper.”

I let out a long, slow breath while I considered things. Glancing sideways, I saw Candy’s letter lying open on the kitchen table. Back to Joe. He looked so handsome in his tweed coat. I noticed he was carrying an eight-track tape in one hand, undoubtedly a new one he had bought for his car stereo and brought in to show me.

Candy’s letter called to me like a Siren. I knew there was no way I could explain that to Joe. The scant six feet between us was measurable in light-years. Joe was not going to understand.

“Not tonight, okay?” My voice was more tentative-sounding than I had meant it to be. “I’ll fix something for us. Okay?”

His brow furrowed further giving him an inscrutable look.

I glanced at the letter again. It sang to me so loudly. “I wanted to make ice-cream. My girlfriend just sent me a new way …”

“We can
buy
ice-cream, Torey.”

A pause. A pause that grew to be a silence. I was watching him.

“This is different, Joe. It’s for … Well, it’s to do tomorrow with … You see, my girlfriend Candy in New York, she teaches kids like I do.”

Briefly he put a hand up to his eyes as if he were very, very tired. Pressing his fingers tightly against his eyes, he gave a slight shake of his head before dropping his hand. “Not this again.”

“Candy was telling me about doing this with her kids.” There were still big pauses between my sentences as I spoke. Mostly because I had to stop to judge his reaction after each one. Yet I kept hoping that if I explained enough he would understand why I just could not go to Adam’s Rib tonight. Some other night perhaps, but not tonight. Please. Please?

I kept watching his eyes. He had green eyes, but not like Boo’s eyes at all; kaleidoscopic eyes were what Joe had, like looking at the pebbles on the bottom of a stream. His eyes always said a great deal. But I kept trying anyway. “I was thinking maybe we could try out the ice-cream tonight. I need to try it out before I can use it with my kids, and I thought … well, I was hoping … well …” Cripes, not saying a word, and he was still cutting me short. I felt like a little girl. “Well, I was thinking that if it worked and … I could try it at school tomorrow, if it worked for us.” Another pause. “My kids would like that.”

“Your kids would like that?” His voice was painfully soft.

“It wouldn’t take much time.”

“And what about me?”

I looked down at my hands.

“Where the hell do I come in, Torey?”

“Come on, Joe, let’s not fight.”

“We’re not fighting. We’re having an adult discussion, if you can understand that. And I just want to know what it is those children have that no one else in the world seems to have for you. Why can’t you put them away? Just once? Why can’t something else matter to you besides a bunch of fucked-up kids?”

“Lots else matters.”

Another pause. Why, I wonder, are all the important things so easily strangled by small silences?

“No, not really. You never give your heart to anything else. The rest of you is here but you left your heart back at the school. And you’re perfectly glad you did.”

I did not know what to say. I did not even fully understand how I felt about it myself much less how I could explain it to Joe. We were still standing there in the dimly lit kitchen. Joe kept shifting the tape back and forth in his hands. I could hear his breathing.

Finally Joe shook his head. He looked down at the linoleum floor and shook his head again. Slowly. Wearily. Bad as I felt about him, there was an almost painful longing to try out Candy’s ice-cream recipe. He was right. My heart was there and it never would be at Adam’s Rib, no matter where my body went. Like so many times before, I ached to please both him and myself.

“Joe?”

His eyes came to me again.

“I’m sorry.”

“Just get your jacket and let’s go.”

I never did try Candy’s recipe that night. After Joe brought me home, I went to an all-night grocery store and bought another can of orange juice. With 144 ounces of juice mixed up in six jars in my refrigerator, I set out at 1:30 in the morning to make ice-cream. Then I discovered I had no ice cubes. It did not matter too much. I was far too tired to care. So I went to bed.

The next day, armed with Candy’s letter, half-a-dozen cans and the makings for vanilla ice-cream, I headed for school.

“What’s this?” Lori asked as I began setting out the materials toward the end of the afternoon.

“We’re going to do something fun,” I replied.

“Something fun,” echoed Boo behind me.

“Like what?” Lori asked. Skepticism tinged her voice. Too many people had tried to pass off work on her under the guise of fun. Lori was not falling for that ruse anymore.

“We’re going to make ice-cream.”

“Ice cream? I never seen ice-cream like this before.” She was standing very, very close, leaning against my arm, breathing on the little hairs and making them itch. She wanted a good look at what I was doing as I shook up the mix. Boo had commenced twirling on the far side of the table.

“Have you ever seen ice-cream made?” I asked Lori.

“Well … no. Not exactly. But I didn’t think it was like this.”

“Boo! Take that off!” He had the big mixing bowl on top of his head like a helmet.

“Hee-hee-hee-hee! Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo!”

“Oh no,” Lori wailed and smacked her forehead with one hand. “He’s gonna take his clothes off now. You shouldn’t oughta have said that, Torey. Now he’s going to take everything off.”

“Lor, get that bowl from him. He’s going to break it. Boo, come back here. And for crying out loud, leave that shirt on. Boo? Boo!”

Both of us took off after him and oh, what fun Boo thought that was! Never before had we chased him during one of his deliriums. “Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo. HOO-HOO-HOO-HOO-HOO-HOO!” The bowl on his head went sailing to the floor. It did not break but rather went careening off into a corner with Lori after it.

The bowl recovered, I let Boo run. There was no point in chasing him; it appeared only to make him wilder. I called Lori back to the table and we resumed preparations for the ice-cream. Together we washed the bowl. Boo, meantime, stripped down to total nakedness. Gleefully he rubbed his round little belly and hopped up and down. For the life of me, I could not help but think how much like a little monkey he looked – and sounded. We could have been spending a day at the zoo.

I chipped ice into a pan over the sink while Lori put the ice-cream mix into the bowl. Boo danced around us, laughing. Near me on the counter I lined up the three coffee cans and set the orange juice cans inside them. Carefully I layered salt and ice.

“Here, Tor, I’ll bring over the ice-cream stuff,” Lori called.

“No, Lori, please wait. I think that’s too heavy for you. Wait. I’ll bring the cans over to the table.”

“No sir, it ain’t too heavy. I’m strong. See?”

“Lori, wait, would you?”

She would not. Hefting the wide mixing bowl in both arms, she struggled around the table. I could not make it from the sink in time. I saw the entire disaster coming but I could not prevent it. Halfway around the table Lori dropped the bowl. It did not survive this time. The bowl nicked the table corner as it fell and glass and cream went everywhere, pouring down the front of Lori’s clothes, across the tabletop, out in a huge white puddle on the floor.

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