I see your dreadlocks and raise you a cat…

“Why does he act so weird?” Ruby asks me. Ruby, Trey, Stan—my husband—and I went to brunch together that morning. I’d noticed her glaring at Trey throughout the meal.

“Who?” I ask stalling for time.

“Trey. Why does he act so weird?” she asks again.

“He isn’t acting.”

“He didn’t use to be like that.”

“When has that child ever been normal? You remembering some shit I don’t?” I ask trying to remember one normal day with Trey.

“He wasn’t that weird when he was little,” she declares.

“Oh, you mean when he was little and refused to wear Nikes to school? He had to have wingtips. Or when he wouldn’t wear t-shirts, only dress shirts? Or when he wouldn’t play with toys, but chose to copy the dictionary instead. Or do you mean when he wouldn’t play sports and was obsessed with chess? Yeah, I remember his normal period now.”

“Well, I want to have some kind of relationship with him and I can’t when he acts like a retard,” she says walking back into the bathroom to finish putting on her make-up. She posted a picture on facebook earlier today and got 362 likes in forty-eight minutes. Ruby is “normal”, but exceptionally so. She is the most beautiful normal thing this family has going for it.

“Then you don’t want a relationship with him, you want a relationship with the person you want him to be. When he isn’t that person you get mad at him for being who he is and not who you want. That is unfair.”

She doesn’t respond. I didn’t think she would. They are different. They have to love each other, but they don’t have to like one another. That is easy to say, but a difficult concept to actually practice. Especially when you are a beautiful princess and people pretty much do what you want most of the time.

He usually stays at our house on weekends. Then, on Sunday night, he will say, “Well, back to my real life,” and he will head out for another week. He will stay at his dad’s house, which is closer to his job, or at a friend’s house. When he arrived this Friday he said he paid rent to stay at a new place. His friend Simba lives with a couple who has a baby and they said he could crash there, too. Trey sells siding, roofs and windows door to door. He sold a lot this month, he is a great bullshitter, and thinks he will have enough money to rent a studio apartment soon.

So, on Fridays he comes to my house and I wash his clothes, he eats well and rests up for another week of survival. I am always worried when he leaves. I worry if he will have enough to eat and a safe place to sleep.

It’s 10:00pm on Sunday. Stan and I are watching TV. and relaxing. I hear a banging on the front door. It is loud and demanding, it almost sounds like a police knock. My husband gets up and opens the door. Trey comes bounding in the house. I am shocked, he usually doesn’t come back till Friday. He says hello and rushes past me. My husband and I both watch him as he walks to a closet where he stores his extra clothes and books.

“What are you doing?” I demand.

“I just need to grab a few things. Well, four things actually,” he says. He walks back into the living room carrying three pillows and heads to the front door.

“Wait, stop…WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“Basically, I am going to live in a car,” he says smiling.

I look at my husband. He folds his arms, sighs and leans back against the wall. He is getting comfortable. He knows this is going to get weird. Either I am going to cry or yell or try to talk him into letting Trey move back in.

“What? I thought you already paid rent to stay somewhere this week. What happened?”

“I did pay. It’s about freedom really,” he says. Janis Joplin’s song goes through my mind; freedom is having nothing left to lose.

“Freedom?”

“Yeah, Simba and I are going to live in the car until I can get a place. No rules. I only sleep for short periods of time anyway. We got the cat in the trunk. That’s the only problem. Simba doesn’t want to leave it. But, I hate it and don’t want it in the car, so we cleared out the trunk for him. He keeps meowing, but we’ll figure something out.”

“Where are you going to park?” I ask. I can’t believe he’s serious.

“In the country so we don’t get robbed,” he says, walking out the door with the pillows. I look at Stan, he looks at floor and doesn’t say anything. Trey walks back in and heads to the closet. He grabs a comforter and starts to head out the door again.

“Umm, no. That was grandma’s comforter. Hell no, you aren’t taking it,” I say.

“Really? It’s cold.”

“Really.”

He walks back to the closet and returns the comforter. He grabs some sheets instead. I sit down in the chair and start laughing. I laugh from my gut. I snort laugh. He looks at me surprised.

“What are you laughing at?” he asks, smiling.

“You. Ok, good luck, son. I hope it works out.”

“Thanks, I love you,” he says, walking to the door again.

“And I love you,” I say. And I do, I love him. Every insane part of him.

I sit and I think. What was I doing when I was 18? I was living in a commune in Oklahoma. My parents had no idea where I was. I took off with a backpack and no plan. I had dreadlocks and crystals in my hair. I was high on acid and pretty much anything else. He has a hundred bucks, a cat, three pillows and sheet—he will do just fine.

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Strong Armed Confusion

“See? That’s what the fuck I’m talking about,” Pumpkin yells as he throws his cell phone onto my dashboard. His phone bounces and hits the windshield. He tries to get out of the car before I’ve completely stopped in his Dad’s driveway.

“Will you wait till I stop? What’s wrong?” He doesn’t answer me. He exhales loudly while I stop and put the car in park. Once it’s stopped, he springs out of the car and heads to the halfway house next door.

I watch him as he walks and then I see what’s gotten him so pissed. Jim, his ex roommate, is standing in front of the halfway house talking to about four guys who are sitting on the porch smoking. I think he has on Trey’s leather jacket. I sit in the car and wait for him to handle it. I am not too worried. Pumpkin can take care of himself. The residents of the house won’t get involved, they have enough problems. If they do decide to play hero, I have my miniature yellow bat tucked under my car seat.

My son met Jim while he was a resident at the house. Jim ended up there after he got out of rehab. He lost everything he had to heroin. Anyway, Trey and Jim became friends. Jim would complain to Trey about living in the halfway house. He said they had too many rules. Unlike some of the men there, he wasn’t court ordered. If he could find somewhere to live he could move out.

My son, the other hater of all rules, talked his dad into letting Jim move into their house. Trey thought they could share his room and split the rent he pays his dad. Like most things, it looked like a good idea on paper.

Their friendship immediately went to hell once Jim moved in. Pumpkin said Jim stopped taking his meds and that he was for real crazy. He further clarified the crazy as “not the fun crazy kind either.” Pumpkin said Jim turned out to be a slob, he wore his clothes without asking, he ruined his computer battery trying to cook meth and he played bongos all night. I can understand how a crazy meth head playing bongos all night could be irritating.

Pumpkin told him to move out a couple of days ago. And yet, here he was. I recognize the coat Jim has on. Pumpkin had it on a few weeks ago. I know my son is doubly pissed; Jim still hasn’t moved out and he has his coat on? Yep, it’s all bad.

I watch them exchange words for a few minutes. Jim is nodding and Pumpkin is yelling. Then, my son turns and starts to walk back to my car—without his coat. What the hell? My momma bear instincts come out and I’m not about to let Jim’s crazy ass keep my son’s coat. So, I get out of the car and start walking over to him. As soon as Pumpkin sees me get out of the car he stops and says, “Mom, no.” He has seen my bear instincts before. I ignore him and walk over to crazy.

“Is that my son’s coat, man?”

“Huh?”

“You heard me,” I say as I move closer. I repeat my question louder and slower. He looks at the coat and doesn’t say anything. Then he starts to remove it. Pumpkin is by my side.

“No mom, just come on. You don’t know what I got going on. I took care of it.”

“No, fuck that. Is that your coat?” I repeat, still looking at Jim who has suddenly frozen with the coat halfway down one arm. He is looking at us, waiting to see what he should do.

“Mom, just come on. Jim, get the fuck out of here and don’t come back,” Pumpkin says trying to turn me around toward the car. Jim takes his escape quickly and walks away.

“Your just gonna let him take your shit?” I ask as he propels me by my arm to the car. Pumpkin’s Dad must have heard the commotion and came outside. He is standing in the driveway watching us.

“What are you two doing?” he asks as we approach. He asks us that often.

“He let that goofy mother fucker take his coat,” I announce squirming out from Pumpkin’s grip on my arm.

“It’s not my coat, Ma!”

“I saw you in it last week.”

“I borrowed it from him. You always do that, get involved in shit when you don’t know what’s going on. I just wanted him to leave. I told him before; if he comes around here I will beat his ass. He almost blew up the fucking house trying to cook meth. I don’t want him here.”

“Wait, that’s not your coat? Jesus Christ. Then why did he start to take it off?” Pumpkin doesn’t answer me. We just stare at each other thinking what a moron the other one is.

“I told him to come over,” Pumpkin’s dad says breaking our staring contest. We both turn and look at him.

“Huh?” we ask in unison.

“Yes, I called him. I told him he still had a few things here he needed to move and if he ever gets hungry to stop by and I will feed him.”

“Fucking Buddhists,” Pumpkin says walking into the house and slamming the door.

“So, you told him to come over and when he does Pumpkin threatens to kick his ass. Then I demand he gives me his coat. He probably thinks we were setting him up in order to beat his ass and take his coat.”

“Yes.”

“If you aren’t crazy when you get here, you are when you leave,” I say getting in my car.

If your family counseling takes place in a jail, it’s an automatic fail, right?

“What do you and your mom do for fun, Trey?” the counselor asks.

We are in her office. My son has already been incarcerated for about six months and not making progress. They thought family therapy might help him become engaged in his rehabilitation. So, we are all here: me, my son Trey and his father Andy. His father isn’t his biological father. He’s Trey’s say so father; he’s his father ‘cause we say so. But, mostly he is because he has been there day in and day out since Trey was three. Doctor appointments, open house at school, school plays, chess lessons and temper tantrums at McDonald’s play land. Andy has voluntarily stuck around through times I would have really thought about bailing if I could. I have the whole “he’s a minor, you are his biological mom and it’s against the law to bail” thing going.

“We go to the abortion clinic.”

“That’s what you do for fun with your mom, go to an abortion clinic?”

“I go on Saturdays to help escort clients into the clinic. The anti-choice demonstrators are very aggressive. Sometimes Trey comes with me,” I say, giving Trey a look.

“Those Christian’s are nuts. I’ve seen them,” Trey adds.

“We also watch movies, talk about books and go for coffee. Tell her that part, too.”

“Yeah, we do. You ever watch Barfly?” Trey asks the counselor.

“Barfly?” she asks looking at me. Trey answers before I can.

“It’s about my mom’s favorite author, Charles Bukowski. He was a drunk, never kept a job and is really ugly. He had a column in a paper too, Notes of a Dirty Old Man. You hear of it?”

“No,” she says faintly. “Ok. Now who lives with who? You are divorced?” she asks, trying to get to a safe subject. It doesn’t work.

“My Dad’s gay. They were never married.”

“Jesus. Will you stop already?” I ask Trey. He’s making us seem so fucked up. I mean we are, but not like he’s making it seem.

“What? He’s gay, right? What’s the big deal?” Turning to the counselor Trey continues, “I don’t care that he’s gay. Do you care that he’s gay? I mean if you do, that might be a conflict of interest. That’s all I’m saying.”

“Trey, shut up,” Andy, Trey’s dad says.

“No, I don’t have a problem with it. So, you and mom live together. Anyone else in the house?”

“My sister. Her dad’s straight.”

“Ok, and Dad lives by himself?”

“No, Uncle Jim lives with him. He’s a crack head. Oh, and my co-mom. She’s a heroin addict, but she’s clean now.”

“Co-mom?” she asks turning to Andy.

“She’s my domestic partner,” Andy answers.

“But, you’re gay?”

“Yes.”

“And she’s a she and your partner?”

“They have a Costco membership that says domestic partner. It’s legit,” Trey volunteers.

“You’re doing this shit on purpose aren’t you? Just stop for Christ’s sake,” I say hitting Trey in the arm.

“She is my partner, but we don’t have a sexual relationship,” Andy replies.

“See, I really didn’t stand a chance. You’re getting that right? I mean really, out of all of them, I am the most sane one. I think this will help me get out quicker, don’t you? I’ve done pretty well considering,” Trey says gesturing toward his father and me.

“Sanest,” I say.

“Huh?”

“You would be the sanest, not the most sane. That’s incorrect.”

“I do have really good grammar. I can communicate, express myself well. You can put that down. I’ll give ‘em that,” Trey says motioning towards her pad, encouraging her to give us credit for one thing.

“I think our time is up for today. This has been a great first session, such honesty. I will sort through… this, come up with some ideas. Next time we meet maybe we can list goals you feel are important for your family.”

She looks frightened.

I’m sure Cindy is a very popular name in Vietnam

I’m sitting in the massage chair at the nail shop getting a pedicure by Cindy—why do they always pick American names? I know, I know, to make it easier for us. But, that isn’t her name: I know it, she knows it. The charade makes me uncomfortable.

Anyway, Cindy is talking away. I have no idea what she’s saying. I can pick up a word here and there, but mostly I just smile and nod. I really don’t want to smile because I sat in the chair for about twenty minutes waiting for her to start my pedicure. It’s the same every time.

“How long is the wait?”

“You sit in chair now. You no wait.”

Liar! I sit here for a half hour before you start every time. It’s waiting whether my feet are in water or not. Now, my water is cold, I have a headache from trying to figure out what the hell she is talking about and there is no Wi-Fi. I am in first world hell and starting to get pissy about it. Then, an even bigger bitch than me walks into the shop.

“I would like a pedicure.”

“Ok. You pick out polish, sit in chair,” Marie (yeah, right) tells new level bitchy.

“This is supposed to be relaxing. I don’t want to look at all that polish. Can’t I just tell you what I have in mind?” she asks. Her shoulders droop from—I don’t know, exhaustion of impending decision making?—her Coach purse comes dangerously close to touching the floor as a result.

You have got to be kidding me. I fucking love her.

“I want something not too bright, absolutely no pinks. It’s almost fall. Something a little earthy, but not too dark. Certainly not coral.”

I laugh out loud despite myself. It wasn’t a problem because Cindy was laughing, too. Evidently, whatever she was saying at that moment was funny.

“Ok, I carry purse. Sit station 7,” Cindy says, helping me from the pedicure chair.

I sit down as instructed. She comes to the table and starts my manicure. She has the polish off the thumb and pointer finger of my right hand. She notices  yellow discoloration on the acrylic.

“I know what you do,” she says loudly. I look around to see if anyone heard her. Are you now, or have you ever been, affiliated with any drug enforcement agency? I ask silently out of habit. If only that shit worked. Geez, how you just gonna throw me out of the cannabis closet like that?

“What color do you want?”

“I want the same as it was. Turquoise on every nail, but one. I want one red.”

“You want turquoise on each nail with one red nail on each hand?” she asks me.

“No, I want all the nails turquoise except for one. I don’t care which one.”

“That no balance.”

“I know, that’s the point.”

She looks at me puzzled, so I explain.

“Indians used to weave beautiful rugs. They were perfect, except for one red thread that would run through the middle of the design. The Indians didn’t want the rug to be perfect. They thought it would anger the Gods. Like the rugs, we aren’t perfect but we are beautiful. I paint one nail red to remind me that even with my faults, I am beautiful.”

She looks at me for 15 seconds and says, “You weird.”

“No, more happy, happy Earth,” bitchy says as she rejects her third not bright absolutely not pink it’s almost fall little earthy not dark certainly not coral polish.

Yeah, I’m weird, Cindy.