Shelter

“Do you have any socks with holes?” Grandma asked, and he almost said no, because he was afraid she would offer to don them, and is there anything more uncomfortable than someone donning your socks? Well, your underwear. Not to mention his discomfort with the very word don; it was both casual and formal; it was used in the mafia and the home.

In actuality, the reason she asked was that the local animal shelter accepted donations of holey socks, and threadbare blankets, and fraying towels, which they would use in the cages of the animals; it reminded him of The Velveteen Rabbit for reasons both obvious and not. He had always felt guilty just throwing those things away, but even more guilty donating them to a homeless shelter, like a child being congratulated for pooping.

So he began collecting them for Grandma, who, in her in old age, had developed an appetite for errands. It became a regular occurrence, him giving bags of worn undershirts, disintegrating mittens, etc. to Grandma. It was on one such Saturday that she asked if he would like to accompany her to the animal shelter. Perhaps it was because his Grandma’s voice might be able to cancel the noise in his head – perhaps it was because his only plans were hours away and there was way too much room for trouble – perhaps both of those perhapses were a prelapse – or perhaps they were all because he had just finished his taxes and marked that once again there was no spouse, there were no dependents. Grandma’s husband, Grandpa, had been gone for two years. And her house was getting bigger by the day.

They went to the animal shelter.

There were dogs and cats and children and the adults overwhelmed with caring for them. It seemed to both him and Grandma that unless a parent was enthusiastic about supporting another life, visiting the animal shelter with children was the stupidest decision they could make. But it was an easy to understand stupid decision; everywhere children were smiling.

Observation rooms were designed to look like playrooms. One room had a wall of kennels with animals of varying degrees of scruffiness. He noticed a dog in particular; black and moppy and immobile, just the sort of disposition he understood. He momentarily considered rescuing it, though it clearly didn’t need rescuing, and perhaps that was the reason why he wanted to. A challenge always energized him, unless it was in an area where he lacked talent or there was a high chance of failure. So most of the time a challenge did not energize him. But when it did: look out, look sharp and don’t look down.

Grandma suggested a stop at the local coffee shop and he agreed as caffeine was the kind of personality supplement he needed. She had a full hand of gift cards and was ready to play all of them on him, but he just ordered a double espresso and she just ordered a peppermint tea and they split a chocolate peanut butter buckwheat cookie and he wondered how many people were aware that buckwheat doesn’t have gluten in it.

They sat by the window, then, to the right of the front door where you could stare at the people who entered without detection. Nearly every time someone came in, Grandma would whisper, “I don’t know them,” as if that were concerning.

“Do you think they’ll move?” Grandma asked, after awhile, referring to his parents.

“Perhaps,” he replied. “Babies have that affect on people,” referring to his sister’s new – and first – dependent.

“You can’t live for your children,” Grandma declared, which he found amusing, since she always lived within four minutes of hers.

“I can’t imagine moving at this point in my life,” he said to the ceiling. Grandma nodded.

They sat there for quite some time.

The Bachelor and the Baby Fox

12/19/14

So my sister had a baby – or, judging from the damage, a grenade. “There was more blood than Carrie,” she said over the phone just hours after the birth. “Why are you calling me?” I asked. “You just pushed an entire bowling alley through your vagina.” She laughed, more in agreement than amusement. “I wanted to call you,” she said, “because he has red hair like you.” “Are you sure?” I said. “Maybe that’s blood.”

12/25/14

“Are you looking forward to holding him?” My cousin asked. “I’m not going to hold him,” I replied. “Oh come on, of course you will,” she persisted. “You’re projecting a lot of humanity onto me right now,” I said. “This is not some cynical exoskeleton protecting a bleeding heart. That thing did some serious shit on the way out. It’s a Small Assassin. I am concerned for my sister.”

12/26/14

“I got the TDAP or CPAP or pap smear or whatever,” I said to a friend. “I was like, ‘but I’m not going to hold the baby,’ and they’re like, ‘but you still have to get the shot.’ So I got it. And a book: Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue: How To Raise Your Kids Free of Gender Stereotypes. That is as involved in their parenting as I’m ever going to be.”

12/27/14

“I wanted to tell you,” I started to tell my sister as my mother started to tell me about the baby room. “Come see it. You have to see it.” I smiled with a few too many teeth. “I was about to embark on a topic beyond the baby,” I raised an eyebrow, “which is a little scary, I know.” The joke sounded angrier than I’d intended.  Fleeing the scene I’d just created, I said, “let’s see it.” It was a four-walled forest with painted trees and little foxes, getting into trouble and looking cute doing it – a strategy which, I felt compelled to explain to them, will only work so long. My sister asked what I was going to tell her before. “Oh, just that I’m reading A Series of Unfortunate Events,” I said, “which really should be retitled A Series of Stupid Adults. They are so stupid. They keep doing the same stupid things.”

12/28/14

The iPhone illuminated my face like the light from an open refrigerator. “A Wisconsinite in Missouri: the sign says Deer Run. I thought it said Beer Run,” I texted to him, since he is from here. “How long will you be there,” he texted back. Our here and there would be the same place for a few days. We set a time to meet. Just for a drink, I thought, and it seemed to echo in my head, a mockingbird in a small cage. I strolled down the middle of the road, guided by Christmas lights. The front of one house was flooded with undulating rainbow flecks of light, broken candy floating in water. I stared into the houses and watched people live. It seemed like voyeurism but felt like intimacy; as a girl cares for her dolls and dollhouse, I cared for them. Instead of ear muffs I wore Bose noise canceling headphones and listened to Book of Love: “I want to be where the boys are / But I’m not allowed / I’m not a boy / I’m not a boy.”

12/30/14

Tossing the baby to our parents, we went Into The Woods. The lyrics and music carried us even as they made us walk. “Mother cannot guide you / Now you’re on your own / Only me beside you / Still you’re not alone / No one is alone, truly / No one is alone / Sometimes people leave you / Halfway through the wood / Others may deceive you / You decide what’s good / You decide alone / But no one is alone” On the ride home, my brother-in-law said, “this musical means a lot more now.”

12/31/14

“The baby looks like you,” a mutual friend of my sister and I said. “Hopefully the resemblance is only physical,” I said. It was New Year’s Eve at Missy B’s, a place just as trashy as it sounds. The friend bound her breasts like Hilary Swank in Boys Don’t Cry and shaved her head like Sinead O’Connor in everything and people thought we were a couple and we did not correct them. An adorable doofus found me on the dance floor around midnight and tried to kiss me. Our beards brushed as I shouted in his ear, “I’m not that kind of boy.” I should have added “anymore.”

1/1/15

“Apologies, but I must cancel. A good friend of the family has died so we are leaving early,” I texted the boy from here. Not a good friend of the family, really, only of my father, but it sounded better, and I felt better, like an animal caught in a trap and released into the wild again. I was even ready for the Anne Geddes photo shoot. The baby was naked and someone was aiming a hair dryer at his ass. It was a whole situation. My family had held steady for a week in their requests for me to hold him, so I did. Long enough to snap a few pictures, then I passed him back to the professionals. The red shirt I had been given for the occasion – World’s Greatest Uncle – could be taken off. I left it on.