I'm a little nervous about this. Other than my Clarity of Night entry, I haven't done much writing in the past...oh, several years. I am not only getting back into the writing-thing, but also am experimenting with ways of telling stories. So. Here goes!
The way the story is told, my godparents were emergency medical response workers who were arguing as to whether they should get a divorce. My godmother, Zara, went into some strange sort of seizure (they said it was the alcohol), and began driving the vehicle as if possessed. The two of them ended up in front of my grandmother’s house, in which my 19-year-old mother was giving birth, to me. No one would have known something was wrong until too late. Zara and Zeke saved my life, and my mother’s. Purely by divine intervention.
At least, that’s the way the story was always told, until last night.
In my earliest memory, I am a little over 2 years old. I’m sitting on the back porch, which is really just a huge slab of grey concrete heated by the summer sun. The backyard is a large rectangle, with a grey wire fence marking its borders. I’m not allowed to climb the fence, and don’t want to, anyway – it hurts my feet. But the yard is mine. I wander, naked, toward the back fence. The grass is smooth under my feet, so dark green it’s almost indigo in certain places. I am allowed in the garden, because I have been taught what special and important places gardens are. I reverently check the green tomatoes, and pick a nice ripe red one because it is ready to eat. The metal playset has recently appeared in the yard. It is my castle, which I have saved from dragons, who have chipped and peeled the bright green and orange paint.
My mother is inside. I can see her peer out at me from the kitchen window. She says it is too hot for her to be outside when the baby is so big inside of her. She reminds me of my tomato plants. She is tall, and bendy, and sort of fuzzy, with a baby tomato starting to grow in her middle.
Time passes. I don’t know how much. It doesn’t matter. I’m lying in the grass, looking up at the sky and watching my fingers fold together, apart, together. Suddenly, I’m swooped up and tossed high in the air. I land in Zeke’s big arms, safe. Zara is standing on the porch with my mother.
“Zeke, no scare Audrey!” I remember saying this quite clearly.
“Sorry, sunflower.” Zeke falls to the ground, sits, cuddles me on his lap. He’s still wearing his uniform, with patches on his dark blue short sleeves. Zara walks over and sits down with us. I squirm off of Zeke’s lap and into hers. She’s also in uniform, the baggy fabric bunches up all around her. She is tall and bendy like my mother, but with no tomato bulge. Zara kisses my cheek, my other cheek, and my palms, which is our special greeting.
“Audrey, little girl, you get taller every day,” she says. I smile and stand up, reaching way up on my tiptoes.
“Tall, tall, tall,” I say. “Like Daddy.”
“Yes, like Daddy,” Zara says, looking at my mother.
“Audrey, come on,” my mother calls. “Time to go bye-bye.”
I jump up. “Bye-bye! Bye-bye in the car?” I run to my mother, wrap myself around her legs and under her baby tomato belly. I pat the bulge. “Baby. Hi baby.”
“Yes, you and me and baby are going to go bye-bye in the car. But you can’t go naked!”
“Come on, sunny,” says Zeke. It’s the first time he’s ever called me that. “Let’s get some clothes on.”
“Say bye-bye to the garden,” my mother says. We always say bye-bye when it’s time to put the toys away. I run to the playset and hug one of the rusted poles.
“Bye-bye, apartment!” Audrey said softly. Tears pooled in her eyes as she put the blue Volkswagon bug into drive and pulling away from the tall brick building.
“Oh, for god’s sake,” her sister exhaled from the passenger’s seat. “Do you want me to drive?”
“No, I’m just going to miss it.” Audrey took a deep breath and tried to focus on the road. Her legs were already starting to sweat. She flipped the air-conditioning to high.
“You hated that apartment. It was too small. The upstairs guys were always thudding above you. You could hear Suzanne having sex two doors down.”
“I know. But it was the first place that was really mine. I hope someone moves in who will love it.”
Kate sniffed. “You and your weird anthropomorphization of houses.”
Audrey smiled to herself. Kate was a sociology major, and tended toward psychological observations. Audrey herself had just graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English and a Master’s of Education. It was a five-year-program that got her ready to teach as soon as she was finished. She’d accepted a job as a high school English teacher at a magnet school in her hometown. Kate had come help her pack up, and they were driving home together for the summer. But in the fall, Audrey would stay, while Kate came back to school, classes, her roommate, Friday nights on the Quad, and everything else Audrey was giving up. Packing up her apartment not only meant she was leaving her first place, but also leaving her sister and her first sense of being herself.
Kate fiddled with the CDs. “We have to get you an MP3 player for the car. And update your music.” She thumbed through the small collection. “Well, I guess, the Fray…again?”
“Sounds good. Want to take bets on how quickly I can get us home?”
“Audrey, if you kill me in a car crash, I will haunt you forever. And not cute, Casper-y kind of haunting.”
Even driving at Kate’s speed, it only took about two and half hours to get from Bloomington to Louisville. Just outside the Clarksville exit, Audrey’s phone went off.
“Haven’t you changed that damn ringtone yet?” Kate asked scornfully.
“Hey Da,” Audrey answered, sticking her tongue out at her sister. “Yes, I’m driving. No, it’s fine. Yeah, we’re about to cross the river. Hey, I’m just going to run by the school real quick. Just take a peek. We’ll still be home within the hour. Sure, grilling out sounds good. Okay. Love you. Bye.”
Sometimes, I still drive to the school in the mid-afternoon as the children are pouring out to go home. The building is made of pale beige bricks, with huge windows that look into – and out of - the classrooms. I wish she hadn’t gone here. The playground isn’t fenced; in fact, it belongs to the Park District rather than to the school, so that senior groups and classes of retarded kids have activities there while she’s out at recess. Her mother disagreed with me, falling back too often on the argument that it was not my decision to make. And that Audrey deserved the best education possible. But doesn’t every kid?
This is the last week of school. The kids will be free until August, free to swim and eat ice cream and discover that doing nothing is sometimes really, really boring.
I unclench my hands from the steering wheel. I have to be careful, these days. A lone man, sitting in a truck, watching kids. A neighbor once mistook me for the kind of person I’m trying to protect Audrey from. Now, I drive by slowly, carefully, trying to appear like I’m just a normal citizen watching out for school children. Instead of what I am.