The Kid Stays in the Picture (Part Three)

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I want to be clear on one point as I hammer home this ode to a short hair domestic: I do not consider myself a cat person.  I have, however, accepted one fundamental truth that should help you understand the relative ease of my primary relationship.  People suck…myself included.

Right now, for instance, all the kid wants from me is the lap and I fiercely shoo her away so I can work.  I often stay out all hours neglecting her feeding schedule.  I don’t change her litter box nearly as often as I should.  And while she might be excessively snappy about these things at first blush, it never lasts.  All she really wants is to be close to me.  Whether I’m sick or pretty, grumpy or brilliant, just stepping out of the shower or fresh from a fart, she is at my side.  And she’ll bust out of my roommate’s bedroom when she hears me come home at night.  It turns out she is particular in her affection.  I may not be able to account for her taste, but she chose me and she loves me best.

Which brings us back to the other big love.  Thanksgiving came and I packed her up and put her on a plane and took her to my father’s house in Minnesota.  It wasn’t easy for me to leave my dearest one in the custody of one of my own parents.  Having so miraculously survived their supervision myself, I’m quite sure I lectured on the serious responsibilities of caring for another.  But Gert was Gert.  She was so little and suddenly she had an entire house to spelunk, carpeted no less.  She was deliriously happy to play king of the jungle while I tried to gauge what was going on with Michael.

There was already a layer of snow on the streets that would last the rest of the winter when we met at Bryant Lake Bowl.  Everything is so flat already that when it turns pale you lose all landmarks.  He was there when I walked in and I knew him right away.  I was only wearing jeans and a leather jacket, but he was seeing the difference of nearly a decade in New York when he said, “You look like a hipster.”  We talked a little and then we headed over to the ten or twelve lanes that have been back behind the oak bar since the 20s and we bowled.

The distraction of rolling the ball toward the pins helped propel the conversation through the tension both of us felt.  I wouldn’t let myself see it until much later, but we were angry with each other.  We still loved each other and still felt abandoned by each other and we hadn’t seen each other in so long it felt impossible to say anything true.  So we groped around polite conversation, hoping to stumble onto something substantial.  In the middle of this, a homeless person came over to the lanes to ask us for change.  The New Yorker in me ignored him, but it’s cold in Minneapolis and people can die of exposure and Michael wanted to help him out.  He gave him a couple of bucks and, spotting his mark, the man didn’t want to short his take.  I looked him in the eye and said, “This is the love of my young life and I’m trying…here…as an adult I’m trying for some closure at least.  I’m going to need you to leave us alone.”  He shut up and left; I suppose no one had ever taken the Hillery tack with him before.

After that we bowled less and talked more.  I listened to him, about his life with the girl, and as constructively as I could I told him how horribly things can go wrong when you marry someone you don’t really love.  I’d seen that.  I knew about that.  But I never said what I felt.  He was involved with someone else and so above wishing him well, my feelings didn’t count.  I wasn’t going to be the kind of selfish and manipulative person who talks you out of your four-year relationship because dating in New York is hard.

As we got ready to leave, boots and hats and gloves, he offered to walk me to my car.  I was in the parking lot just behind the building, but he insisted.  And when we got to my dad’s red CRV I hugged him goodbye and I did wish him well.  He stood there silently, looking into my eyes.  I should have been a deer in headlights, what with the look on his face, but I’d been putting so much energy into focusing on the moral high ground I missed the moment.  Just when he wanted to kiss me, to love me and forgive me, I said, “Do you want a ride to your car?”  No, he did not.

I had to go to a tea party, of all things, that my mother was hosting for her lady friends for the express purpose of showing me off.  I was to look beautiful while pouring tea and speak intelligently of my important work at a leading Manhattan publishing house while offering shortbread and jam.  It’s the sort of thing Blanche lives for and it used to be my duty to comply.  But half way through the felicitations the whole afternoon hit me like bricks.  He’d stood in the parking lot and watched me drive away and I’d never told him that I still loved him and I always would.

These days, with far more experience in such matters, I would’ve simply started to cry.  But back then I thought I’d be able to fix it.  I thought if I could just tell him it might change things.  And so I bolted.  I handed Blanche the teapot and told her that I’d just that moment realized I was still in love with Michael and I had to go find him and tell him.  And one of the sweet and wonderful things about my mother is that this made perfect sense to her.

I made it to the car before I figured out that I didn’t have his telephone number with me and it started to snow again on my way back to suburbia to retrieve the number from my father’s house.  I was set to fly back to New York early the next morning, but if I could just tell him it would open a door.  He’d know that he had a real choice to make.

As soon as I walked in the house I saw the blood.  It was leading up the stairs and I followed it.  It was so stark against the white carpeting that covered the house.  It led me to the master bedroom, but no one was there.  I found her in my bed, quietly mewing and bleeding all over my bedspread.  I yelled so loud my father actually heard me three stories down in his basement Surround Sound media center and came upstairs.  I was barking orders like a general, because I couldn’t really do anything else, and in a few minutes he’d gotten directions from my most recent stepmother, who knew about animal hospitals in the area.

The snow that had begun that afternoon was officially a blizzard by the time we hit the road.  People who don’t know better think of them as windy, violent storms, but they’re not.  The snow just piles up quietly and before you know it you’re trapped.  You can’t push the front door open against the drift much less dig out your car.  So driving in one wasn’t such a big deal except for the knowing that you might not be able to get back or if you do get into an accident maybe no one is coming, not for a while.

I was silent, which is the one thing that truly worries my father.  Like most men he’s a fixer and he’s got a terrible guilt complex.  Before I put him on the phone with the ex, he was trying to figure out how it happened.  Because it was his watch and I’d lectured him.  Later he concluded that the kid had taken a running jump up onto a bureau positioned diagonally in a corner and landed behind it on top of a glass vase that’d smashed against the wall on the way down.  Every time she tried to jump out she landed on the shards of glass lacerating the tendons in her back legs.  She’d tried hard to get out before she finally made it, my little jungle king.

I am used to a crisis and I remain calm, sometimes almost glad to return to the form I know best]
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Hillery

Hillery eventually learned not to say everything that came to mind. Some were too good not to write down.

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