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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty One

**New chapters posted here on Wednesdays**

When my mother pulled up in her Camry, she found me in the center of an emergency circus. The bright red-and-blue flashing lights rotated on top of two police cruisers and an ambulance all jammed onto the narrow road running between the rows of mobile homes that now had people spilling out of them, craning their necks to get a better look at whoever it was getting hauled off by the cops.
The whoever was Porter’s dad, who looked nothing at all like what I had imagined. The picture I had created in my mind of a slobbish, piggish, fat-knuckled thug of a man who would obviously beat his kids with one hand while the other clutched a beer can was not the man the cops pulled out of the trailer in handcuffs.
Porter’s dad looked a lot like Porter.
Taller than both the cops leading him to the backseat of one of the police cruisers, he had the same broad shoulders and narrow waist. His hair was the same shade of brown as Porter’s but he kept his shaved closer to his head instead of the tousled mess that Porter was always pushing out of his eyes. With his arms pulled behind his back, the hard, lean lines of his muscled arms stood out and I could see that the one closest to me had an inky tattoo, but he was too far away for me to see what it was.
When she saw her dad in handcuffs, Paige started to cry all over again. “Daddy,” she sobbed, then wiggled out of my arms and ran to him.
“Paige!” I shouted and started to run after her, but before I had moved two steps, a curly-haired woman I hadn’t noticed before stepped into Paige’s path and intercepted her. She knelt in front of Paige and held her arms firmly until the cops had Mr. Creed in the backseat with the door closed.
Paige screamed.
Not knowing what I should do, I watched the woman, still holding Paige’s arms as she tried to say something to Paige.
Paige kicked her, screamed louder, started to pull and buck, thrash her head and cry, “Dad! I want my dad!”
The woman’s face never changed, as if she were required to hold screaming children every day while their parents were arrested. When it was clear that Paige was not going to calm down or listen to her, the woman simply stood, moved herself behind Paige so that she wouldn’t get kicked, and held Paige’s arms around her body, like a giant self hug—an invisible straightjacket.
Paige screamed again and started banging her head back against the woman’s stomach, “I want my dad!” she sobbed. “I want my dad!”
“Ruth?”
I turned and looked into my mother’s eyes.
Her face had its extreme-worry expression. She reached out with both her hands and grabbed my arms while her eyes scanned my face like a detective. “Are you okay?” Her tone was serious, almost like I was someone she didn’t know. She was assessing me, I realized—assessing me as a crisis worker, not as my mother.
Words weren’t coming, I just stared at her as a riot of emotions competed for release. I didn’t know what to do with myself—what had happened here?
My mother took a shaky breath. “Ruth.” Her voice commanded my attention while her eyes focused on mine like a laser. “I need you to answer me.” She let that message sink into my fuddled brain. “Are you okay?”
I nodded.
She exhaled and nodded back at me. “Okay, good. Now, did you get hurt? Physically?” Her eyes now scanned my arms, my body, my legs. When her eyes returned to mine, I shook my head to indicate that I was not hurt. No, I was not physically hurt. But . . .
“Porter,” I blurted.
Just then, the trailer door opened again. My mother and I both turned to watch what was happening. I had been so focused on the chaos of the cops arresting Porter’s dad, and Paige’s huge meltdown, I had almost forgotten that Porter was still inside the trailer with the EMTs.
They had rushed in with a rolling stretcher, the legs retracting up, like landing gear, when they carried it up the stairs. My first thought was that I didn’t think they would be able to get it up those narrow stairs and into the door of the trailer—but they had. My second thought—my God, is that for Porter?
They were all coming out now, one EMT helping Porter walk down the stairs. I allowed an ounce of relief to settle in my throat. It wasn’t so bad that he couldn’t walk out on his own—and then he turned his face toward my mother and me.
The smallest of sounds, like a strangled bird, escaped from my throat before my mouth snapped shut.
Blood ran down the side of his face. The front of his shirt was soaked in it.
My mother and I, as if with one mind, started to walk toward Porter in the same breath.
Paige’s scream split the night—we all looked to see what had happened.
The police car with their dad in the backseat was pulling away. Paige’s hysterical sobs crescendoed, as if she could undo the entire night’s events by wailing loud enough against them.
The woman with the soft brown curls was losing her grip on Paige; for every thrash that Paige made, the woman lost more footing and the ability to keep them both upright. Seconds later, they were both sprawled in the dirt and Paige, being seven, was much faster at getting up and getting loose.
She ran after the flashing lights carrying her dad away to jail.
“Paige!” Porter yelled as he shook free of the EMT still trying to help him and rushed down the stairs.
The police cruiser was disappearing quickly into the night. “Daddy!” Paige screamed.
Porter ran after her, his steps clumsy and labored. After only a few steps, his eyes blinked hard and his head rolled like he might pass out at any second. He stopped running and propped himself up with his hands on his knees.
My mother ran after Paige.
I ran for Porter.
“Paige!” He managed to shout again even though the effort of it looked like it might knock him over. “Stop! . . . Right now!”
When I reached Porter, I placed one hand on his back and the other on his forehead, as if that could possibly keep him from crashing into the dirt if he passed out. His gaze was locked on his sister, and when I looked, I could see that she had heard her brother and stopped.
“Come here!” he barked.
Paige turned right as my mother reached her. She took one look at my mom and dodged in case my mother was going to pounce on her like the woman with the soft brown curls, and started running for Porter. When she was closer, I could see by the porch lights of the surrounding trailers that her eye was getting blacker and blacker by the minute and the cut on her lip was swelling like a small balloon.
When she was only a few steps away, Porter managed to stand up and meet her halfway. He grabbed her arm and pulled her to him, lifted her off the ground, and clutched her to his chest like a precious doll.
“Don’t you ever do that,” his voice caught on the words until the last one came out as a sob. He placed her on the ground in front of him. “Do you hear me? Don’t you ever run from me.”
Paige nodded while her mouth contorted into the saddest of frowns—she rushed forward and wrapped herself around Porter’s legs. He bent and picked her back up, her tiny, dirty legs clinging to his waist as she buried her face in his neck.
“Are you okay?” he asked her.
Paige shook her head and didn’t lift her face.
Porter pressed her back with both of his hands and tilted his head to the sky, as if some solution to this horrible night could be found in the soft clouds drifting without a care above our heads. Tears ran from the corner of his eyes. “It’s going to be okay, Paige. I promise.”
“Dad’s gone,” she cried, and started sobbing all over again.
I watched Porter, his face a bloodied and bruised mess from their dad, the same dad who had given Paige a black eye and a bloody lip. Porter squeezed his eyes tight and swallowed hard. “I know. But it’s going to be okay.”
“I didn’t mean to,” she whispered into his shoulder.
“It’s not your fault.” He shook his head and, for the first time, his eyes met mine.
I felt the lump in my throat rise up and choke my words. “Are you okay?” My mother reached us and stood by my side.
“What are you doing here, Ruth?” he asked me.
“I wanted . . . I needed to talk to you.”
“How did you—”
“Porter?” The woman with the soft curls joined us along with the remaining police officer.
Porter froze. He didn’t look at the woman; he only stared at me. He had that look on his face, the one that made my heart bleed for him.
He was desperate.
“It’s time, Porter,” the woman announced. “I’m sorry.”
His eyes never left mine, but he shook his head as his face broke into agony and fat tears rolled down his face. “No.” His voice was only a whisper, but everyone was so silent, we could hear his every breath. “Please don’t do this.”
I looked around at everyone else. It felt like they all knew something I didn’t, even Porter and Paige.
Porter turned to the woman and the officer, a stout man who looked like he was sympathetic to the situation, but wished he could just go home. “She’s only seven,” Porter said.
The woman took a deep breath and sighed, “I know how old she is.” Her eyes swung to my mother. “Carrie Ann? Any words of wisdom?”
I turned to my mother. Obviously she knew this woman—what was going on?
“Porter . . .” my mother started, and then shook her head. “It’s a horrible situation; I know that.” She was trying to reason with him, but about what I had no idea. “It’s what’s best for her right now.”
Porter whirled and turned on my mom. “You can’t know that! You have no idea what might happen to her! I’m what’s best for her!”
Porter was starting to lose his temper, but my mother didn’t seem fazed by his shouting. She lowered her voice. “Sara has good people set up for Paige. She’ll be well cared for.”
Porter’s expression was incredulous. “Good people? Like the ‘good people’ who took care of me when I was eight? The good people who—” his eyes locked with mine and the rest of his sentence died on his lips.
“I know you have no reason to trust us, Porter.” My mother shot a glance at me, like a secret code to Porter that promised she wouldn’t say too much. “But I can swear to you, these are good people. I know them personally—both teachers with two older girls. They could be a stable place for Paige, a loving place until all this mess gets cleared up.”
“Look,” the cop suddenly decided to chime in. “She’s leaving either way. You can make it easier or harder for her, but sooner or later, and I’d prefer much sooner, the two of you are heading out.”
Sara and my mother exchanged exasperated glances and watched to see what Porter’s reaction was going to be.
“What’s going on?” I finally asked.
Porter, who had been staring daggers at the cop ever since he had started talking turned on me, “What do you think is going on? Think, Ruth. Because you called the cops, Social Services is now going to take my sister away.”
My complete shock must have been plastered across my face because Porter nodded and said, “Yes. So thanks for that. Because of you, Paige—”
“Because of your father,” my mother interrupted him. “Not Ruth. Because of your father, Paige is going to a foster family.”
“I had everything under control!” Porter shouted.
My mother’s shoulders slumped. “Porter, keeping your father from beating on your sister by making sure he beat you instead is not ‘under control.’ You deserve better than that.”
“And she deserves to not feel afraid in a house full of strangers. She needs me.”
“You’re right,” my mother said. “She does need you, Porter. She’s going to always need you. But right now, she needs you to make the hardest decision you’ve ever had to for her own good—she needs to know it’s going to be all right, and she won’t know that if Sara has rip her from your arms while Officer Reed restrains you.”
“I can take care of her,” he argued.
“Not until you’re eighteen,” Sara pointed out.
“This isn’t forever, Porter,” my mother added. “But right now, it’s the only legal option there is.”
I watched Porter give up. Slowly—at first it was only his shoulders, then his forehead, his eyes, and finally his mouth as the truth of what they were telling him sank in. Paige was leaving for her foster family tonight, one way or the hard way. He buried his face against her ear and whispered something only she could hear.
Paige shook her head, “No, Porter,” she cried. “I want to come with you.”
“You can’t come with me,” he choked. “No little bugs allowed.” He tried hard to smile for her, but his tears made it difficult for him to lie.
Their foreheads touched and she held his face between her two small hands. “Please, Porter.”
He closed his eyes and sobbed. “I’m sorry, bug. But for now, we have to. Remember that I love you, and I’m going to come and get you as soon as I can.”
It happened fast. Before any of us knew what was happening, Porter turned to Sara, pulled Paige off of him, and placed her in Sara’s arms. Porter was three strides away before Paige figured out what was going on.
“NO!” she screamed. “Porter!”
But Porter didn’t turn around; he never once looked back. He headed straight for the still-flashing police cruiser and waited for Officer Reed to catch up and open the back door for him.
“Porter! No! No! No!” Paige screamed and screamed and screamed until her voice seemed to break from the effort.
Sara and my mother carried her, kicking and thrashing, to Sara’s car. They managed to get the door open and Paige into the backseat once my mother pried her tiny finger from the doorframe.
My mother slid into the backseat next to Paige and Sara closed the door. The back window rolled down and I could hear Paige continue to cry and yell from inside.
“Are you okay to drive yourself home?” my mother called out to me.
I nodded.
“I’m going to be a while—” she turned her head away from the window and I could see she was struggling to calm Paige down and keep her from bolting out the other door.
I walked closer to the car so she wouldn’t have to shout. My mother managed to get Paige buckled into what looked like an extra-large carseat and then turned back to me with a deep sigh. “I don’t know how long I’ll be. At least until Sara can get someone else to come out and help her. Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”
I nodded again.
“You look like you’re in shock,” she said bluntly.
I looked all around us—was that what this was? Shock?
My mother shook her head. “You’re not driving anywhere.” She pulled her phone from her purse, scrolled through her contacts, found who she wanted and placed her phone to her ear. “It’s Carrie Ann . . . yes, I’m sorry. I know it’s late but we have a little bit of an emergency situation here . . . No, she’s fine, but I need you to come and get her.”
Who was she calling? The only people I could imagine would be Eli’s parents. I listened to my mother give the brief version of what had happened while Sara spoke to Officer Reed through his open window.
Sara nodded. “Yes, they’re expecting him at Tennyson.”
Porter was sitting in the back of the police cruiser with his head tilted all the way back against the headrest. Officer Reed’s window rolled up and they drove away.
Was Porter being arrested too? “Where are they going? Where’s Tennyson?” I asked Sara.
She watched them a second longer and then turned to me. “Honey, I’m sorry, I can’t tell you that,” she said, and slipped into the front seat of her car.
I shook my head, not understanding where Tennyson was or what it meant that Porter was going there.
My mother hung up her phone. “Ruth,” she said, and I forced myself to focus on what she was saying. “I need you to listen, okay?”
I nodded.
“Go to your car, sit in the backseat and lock the doors.”
I stared at her.
“Do you understand what I just said?”
I nodded, but my mother shook her head.
“No, I need to hear you say that you understand. What are you supposed to do?”
I looked at Vader parked twenty feet away. “Sit in the backseat and lock the door.”
“Good. Your father will be here in about fifteen minutes to drive you home.”
What?
“Ruth! Do you understand me?”
I couldn’t possibly have heard that right. “Dad?”
“Yes, he’ll be here in fifteen minutes.”
I shook my head because that didn’t really make sense but I said okay anyway.
“Go now.”
Sara started her car and began to pull away.
“Now, Ruth, so I know you’re safe.”
I walked to Vader, opened the back door, and slid onto the split black leather. My mother watched me the entire time while Sara pulled her car around to face the right way. When I closed the door, my mother moved her hand up and down—Lock the door—through her now closed window.
I locked the door.
My mother circled her finger: Lock all the doors.
I got up from where I was sitting and reached into the front seat so I could lock all the doors.
My mother smiled, gave me a thumbs-up like I was seven, then disappeared into the night to help take Paige to her new foster home.

Alone in the backseat, I sat stunned and silent for several minutes, then burst into tears.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Vegetarian--Han Kang

The VegetarianThe Vegetarian by Han Kang
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I had very high hopes for this one, but ultimately this collection of three linked short stories (this is not a novel) left me rather meh. Normally I love off the wall literature that perks up my brain cells, but sometimes I'm left wondering if books like this are like rooting around in the author's head without rhyme, reason, or even good cause. This collection does explore some interesting characters, but due to the brief length of each story, none are explored too deeply. My interest was piqued with regards to thoughts about one's personal ownership of their physical body, and ultimately how we essentially are not really given free reign to neglect our bodies to the point of eventual death without family and medical attempted interventions--so we have limited ownership I suppose. Ownership within reason maybe? And of course this would be a prime opportunity for an argumentative book club discussion. But for me, always in search of that poignant tale that grabs me not only intellectually but also emotionally, The Vegetarian fell short of delivering the whole experience.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 23, 2017

Writers Who Struggle with Underachievement: Perfectionism by Dan Peters

This clip is specifically about some gifted children who end up paralyzed by perfectionism and the anxiety it can elicit.

This is also very applicable to many, many, many writers I've met over the years; both children and adults.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Affective Needs--Chapter Twenty

**New chapters posted on Wednesdays**

“Your destination is ahead on the right,” my phone informed me.
I scanned the dark road ahead and saw a small spotlight illuminating a wide sign sitting in the center of a weedy median separating two roads, one that led in and one that led out of the Shady Vil age M bile Home Par .
I pulled Vader over on the side of the road. I reached up and turned on the interior light then checked the address I had scribbled on the blue sticky note with the one underneath the dilapidated Shady Village sign. Maybe I had entered the wrong address into my phone?
My eyes flicked back and forth between the sign and the note several times. No, this was the place. For some reason, probably because I had seen Porter walking Paige from her elementary school, I had imagined that they lived inside one of those small but quaint brick homes in the same neighborhood as the school.
I wasn’t sure exactly what I had expected when I opened his file, but I hadn’t guessed that I would need to turn page after page of other stuff before finding his address.
I had tried to not read what those pages had written on them. But some of the phrases had practically leaped out at me.
Emotional trauma due to . . .
Porter had bruises on . . .
Removed from the home due to physical abuse . . .
All of these clues, hints into what had happened to Porter, why Porter was the way he was—I forced myself to not read too closely. When I had eventually found his demographic info in the file, I saw that there was a #43 following the address and figured it was an apartment.
I turned off Vader’s interior light, shifted into first gear, and slow rolled into the Shady Village Mobile Home Park. #43 was not an apartment number—so what? It was a trailer number. It’s not like it mattered. Lots of people lived in trailers—and some of them were really nice. Gran had even lived in one, I reminded myself. After Pops died, and she didn’t want to stay in their house in Jacksonville all by herself, so she had moved to that cute retirement community on the beach—those were mobile homes. With their tiny lawns, and bright colored awnings, and all the tanned, well-groomed retirees driving around in golf carts and waving to each other as they shouted reminders about the clubhouse events, like swing dancing and dominos.
Inside Shady Village, the first trailer on my left, #01, had a crumbling driveway and a set of broken stairs that led up to a screen door desperate to hang on by the one hinge still connecting it to the frame. I drove slow, my eyes swinging from left to right scanning the numbers on the wooden stakes hammered into the ground in front of every angled trailer. Some were lit up inside; their windows illuminated the night with shades of orange and yellow, the flashing white light of televisions. Others looked like abandoned black blocks.
#18 had two men slumped in low slung lawn chairs. They talked and sipped from cans, the red tips of their cigarettes easy to spot in the dark.
#32 had a bright security light that pierced the night as soon as I drove past. The harsh light was so white it almost looked blue. With it on, I could clearly see the American Flag mounted next to it and the perfectly manicured patch of grass waiting to turn green as soon as the weather stayed warm and the owner could start watering.
#43 was ahead on my left.
I stopped Vader across from Porter’s trailer, right in front of #44. I was careful to not park in front of their driveway even though the truck that was parked there was propped up on four stacks of cinder blocks and looked like it hadn’t moved anywhere in the last five years.
I turned off Vader’s engine and waited for the nervous clatter that radiated from my bones to stop. I stared at Porter’s trailer. Deep breath. I can do this, I told myself, hoping that some unexpected rush of courage would propel me from the safety of my car.
I didn’t move.
How mad was Porter going to be to see me at the front door of his shitty trailer? And why exactly was he going to be mad? My God, there were so many possible reasons. The real question was, which one of them was going to be that wrong step in Porter’s emotional minefield that triggered one of the rages that filled his psych file?
Which brought me to my worst offense: the fact that I had rifled through that confidential file in order to get his address. What was I going to say when he asked me—and he would—how I had found him?
The truth? A tight knot pulled at my stomach. I’m sorry Porter, I needed to talk to you and your phone wasn’t working and yes I looked through your file but I promise I didn’t read anything. Totally believable.
My hand reached for the keys still hanging from the ignition. I considered starting Vader back up and driving quietly back to my house—Porter would never even have to know that I had been here.
My feet pushed in the clutch and brake while my hand shook the gearshift to make sure it was in neutral before turning the key—I should absolutely go home.
Movement at Porter’s trailer caught my attention, and when I looked I saw the front door cracked open. A wedge of light from inside the trailer lit up the narrow front steps, and Paige slipped through the door and into the night. With her head down, she held the handrail and watched every step until both her small feet were on the ground. She circled back behind the stairs and then disappeared beneath them.
I took my foot off the clutch and pulled the handbrake before grabbing my phone—it was 9:17. What was she doing? I watched Porter’s front door again, he’d probably come looking for her any second. Lights were on inside but the curtains they had hanging over the short windows were closed.
But I could see shadows moving.
It was cold outside, and I was pretty sure Paige was wearing pajamas and had bare feet. I watched the dark space beneath the stairs she had slipped into and waited for Porter to come looking for her. One minute, two—I checked my phone: 9:20. What was she doing under there?
Shadows were still moving behind the thin curtains, and then, for a moment, the fabric shifted suddenly before settling back into place. The shapes inside seemed to be all over the place.
Dread settled over me and I clutched my phone. Something wasn’t right. As my eyes flicked between the trailer door and the small hole Paige had crawled into, my limbs felt heavy and useless. I wished desperately for Porter to appear on that rickety metal porch outside that door, call for his sister, then haul her back inside while scolding her for messing around.
But with every second that passed, I realized this probably wasn’t as simple as a seven-year-old hiding before bedtime.
My body was loose and shaky but I took a deep breath and opened the door. The temperature had dropped since I left my house. The cold air washed over me and made goose bumps rise up all over my arms and legs. I forced myself to walk toward the trailer and could feel the gravel crunch beneath my shoes. My spine rigid as a steel rod, I clutched my phone for support.
When I heard it, I froze.
Inside my car, Vader’s interior had kept the sounds from reaching me. But out here, standing in the middle of the Shady Village, I could hear that the shadows moving behind the trailer curtains had sounds to go with them.
A man’s voice, deep and aggressive, yelled. Porter shouted back. I heard a loud thud, like a body landing against a hard surface, then more yelling from them both.
My heart thumped hard and a sweep of panic rushed through my body like poison. I looked around at the other trailers sitting silent. Should I run to one for help? I thought of the two men I drove past on my way in, relaxed in their chairs drinking beers and smoking cigarettes—would they come?
I didn’t know what to do.
When I looked back, Paige’s head was peeking out from beneath the steps. It was too dark for me to see the exact features of her face, but I could feel her eyes watching me.
Waiting for me.
Without thinking, my legs moved. One step, then another, running toward her. I half expected her to duck back inside her hole, but she didn’t. By the time I was on their driveway she had crawled all the way out and was running toward me, arms out, tears streaming down her face.
I opened my arms to her and when her tiny body slammed into mine, the force of her knocked me back a step. She buried her face against my stomach and I felt her little hands grasping tight fistfuls of fabric at the back of my shirt.
“Paige.” My voice was shaky and desperate.
She clung tighter, her small arms a vise around my waist.
“Paige.” I reached for her head with both hands and dropped my phone on the ground. I tried to tilt her face so I could see it. “What’s happening?”
The shouts and slams from inside the trailer grew louder, harder than even a minute ago. “Please, Paige,” I begged, but I didn’t know why. I knew exactly what was happening inside that trailer even if I didn’t understand why.
Why it ever happened.
Desperate, I looked all around us. The silent trailers filled with people who either didn’t know or didn’t care about Porter and Paige. Just like Paige, I was waiting for someone to come and help.
Paige tilted her head back and looked at me. In the glow of the trailer’s porch light, I could see the red knot rising near her eye, her split and bloodied lip. “I didn’t . . . mean to,” she sobbed.
I held her tighter and looked up at the trailer. Cold fear washed through me. No one else was coming, and I suddenly realized that I was it: the help Paige had been hoping for.
My eyes found my phone lying in the dirt.
With Paige still clutching me, I bent and picked it up.
Please don’t be broken.
The screen lit up.
My hand shook.
I pulled up the keypad, and dialed.

It rang once, twice; I heard a click. “Nine-one-one, what’s your emergency?”