Sunday, April 29, 2012

Broken

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Today is Leo’s three-week birthday, the day he’s supposed to cross more milestones: using his litter box instead of me and my t-shirt and a warm Q-tip, eating gruel instead of sucking on a bottle. So many directions and anti-directions are on the Internet and to be found in animal hospitals and among friends; a thousand splendid options present themselves to me like garden gnomes. I don’t trust any of them.


I don’t even trust myself, especially after last night.


There I was, having put Leo through his routine on the eve of this significant birth date: bottle feeding, burp, more bottle, poop, pass out under the warm towel. I was going out for sushi with Manfriend as usual on a Saturday night, and was less worried this time than I was last week and the week before.


Then, upon a glance, I noticed that I’d been feeding Leo puppy food instead of kitten food for the last two days. The cans look exactly the same, except for the puppy on one, the kitten on the other. I’ve spent the last 24 hours reminding people of Dennis Quaid’s baby twins being overdosed on Heparin when they were newborns; I feel that much remorse and fright. Am I killing my kitten?


I wake him up. He responds. He’s been slow to wake these past few days; I wonder if it’s the puppy food. I put the dagger that I was about to thrust into my heart down, and pick Leo up. He seems fine. We bottle-feed, poop and pee, and he doesn’t complain when I put him back into his warm towel box.


But I am wracked with shame, and my sleep sees to it that I remember one of the most shameful episodes of my life.


***

I am sixteen, living in Pennsylvania with my parents, my pregnant sister, and her four year old boy. I have a sense about taking care of little ones, all based on demonstration. I saw my older sisters put diapers on their children; I learned to do the same. I saw my mother with her watchful eye on my nephew, and I tried to follow suit. I knew what needed to be done when it came to taking care of a baby.

But one day, probably a day I was wishing for my driver’s license instead of having to babysit my nephew, I climbed into my dad’s pick-up truck and took it out of gear, or released the brake—I don’t know. I can’t be sure. I just know the truck moved about four feet down the incline of the hill we lived on and came to rest again against our front curb. Throughout this motion, I hoped against hope that my nephew had not been playing under the tires when the truck moved down the hill.

I wasn’t supposed to be in the truck. I jumped out and looked for my nephew; he was playing safely near some neighbors’ trees. Thank God.

I was spared.

But several days later, a new crisis erupted: my nephew had mimicked my motions, gotten in the truck, and released the brake. He and the truck went careening down the slope of our street, crashing into some trees and our neighbors’ garage. When it all started happening, it was Sunday morning and we were making eggs and getting ready for church. I was doing my hair in my room.

Either my mom or my sister screamed first, then my dad went running outside in his boxer shorts, down our steps, down the street: my father. Miraculously, my four year old nephew was still sitting behind the steering wheel, the bed of the truck buttressed by pine trees. If it were not for the trees, my nephew would have kept going down that embankment, and neither of us could have lived with that.

***

I’m at the animal hospital at 7 a.m. I walk through the emergency door; no other doors are open. I have tried them all. I want to break into this place and get cures. Fuck them for selling me dog formula. Fuck me for not taking best care of Leo.

I drive home with cans of kitten formula, wondering how I’m going to turn this and kitten kibble into gruel. It’s not as easy as it sounds. I make a big batch and my older cat Sara tastes it: must be good. I scold her and go in for Leo.

***

My dad is 78 today. Leo is three weeks. I’ll be 44 in four days. I’m still not good with numbers. I put a few drops of mineral oil in Leo’s kitten formula so he might poop more. I put tiny plates of gruel and water in places where he can find them, but then I take them away so he won’t drown.

I continue on with my day: cleaning house, grading papers, checking on baby, but I’ve broken my own heart again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Beyond the Gruel

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My new kitten Leo is 17 days old today. My mom is 77 years old today. I’ll board a flight in three weeks for Minnesota to see my Mom, leaving Leo behind—Leo, who will then be five weeks and three days.

Math has never been my strong suit, but numbers are on my mind. I talked to Leo this afternoon, Leo curled up and purring under my chin:

Hey buddy. All things considered, things have been pretty easy for us so far. You’re still alive, which I’m eternally grateful for. I hope this makes up for the times I accidentally caused near-death experiences for that one nephew, and you, actually, and I’ve definitely done some unsafe driving. I want you to be safe in my care, and I think I can do it, but I’m going to have to leave you for nine days because I need to see my family. Of course you’re my family too, but I have to go to Minnesota; there’s no question.

So, about you…you, you, you. I was thinking we could work on our milestones at a slightly accelerated rate. I did some checking around and word has it that I’m babying you. That’s right: you’re not really a baby anymore. You’re twice as big as you were when you got here, and you make a nice arc when you piss—a sign, people say, of being ready for potty training. I’ve never potty trained a kitten, and everyone has different ideas on that, just like they have different ideas on when I should start you on gruel, if I should feed you gruel through your bottle, of if I should encourage you to lap the gruel. I stopped by the animal hospital today and they said we can start on gruel in four days, when you’ll be three weeks old. I know the connotation of “gruel” is not all that great, but my grandma used to make it for my dad when he was little, and he’s almost 78. See?

Beyond the gruel—and don’t worry, I have a good recipe—I wanted to talk a little about the shitfest we went through last night. It would be nice if you could stop being constipated because when you are, I suffer. I live to see you poop—honestly I do—because I know if you don’t, you’re uncomfortable, then I’m uncomfortable then your sisters are uncomfortable, then the whole world isn’t right. I was actually talking to the receptionist at your hospital earlier today and she said that I should envelop your backside in a hot compress: a warm washcloth heated in the microwave. Um…that kind of lies outside my areas of interest. It would be better if you could just suck on the bottle, get comfortable, and poop on the towel, instead of what you did last night which was waiting until you exploded shit on mommy’s shirt, then the towel, then everything that I could get my hands on, including yourself.

But that’s okay.

Some people have told me to stick dish detergent up your butt, but I would never do that. Sorry about the candle wax. We did try the hot compress, which you liked for ten seconds but then you started screaming. Sweetness, as much as mama doesn’t mind stimulating your butt and watching the results—toothpaste Wheaties, your distended tummy going back to normal size—we can’t do this forever.

Which brings us back to your milestones.

I know you’re just a baby, only 17 days old, but everyone is saying that you’re ready to grow up. Tomorrow we start litter box training, and on Sunday—when you’re three weeks old—we need to move into gruel.

I see you lapping, sweetpea. I know you can do it.

As much as I’d like to keep you a baby forever, and as much as I didn’t mind stripping my bed last night and throwing my yellow toothpaste sheets onto the patio and going back to sleep on my mattress pad under the afghan my grandmother gave me in 1978--it was the only clean blanket left in the house--things need to change.

So today while I smooch your big fuzzy head and you look at me like the alien I am, I just want you know that tomorrow, things will be different.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Not Yet a Cat

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I’m lying in bed at 6 a.m., still trying to get back to sleep after my new kitten’s 4 a.m. feeding. I hear one of my older cats call to me from across the hall, through the closed door of their bedroom: “Mom! Hey! We’ve been in here for eight hours! I know you’re awake! Let us out!” I know it’s Sara because Lucy is too genteel to conduct herself in such a manner. Sara is a clown. Lucy is Elizabeth Taylor.

I get up automatically. I’ve been on automatic since the new kitten arrived two weeks ago today on Easter Sunday. Jesus rose from the dead; Leo was born in my neighbor’s shed.

I peer into Leo’s box: still alive, still breathing. I cross the hall and let my older girls out. “Good morning!” I sing, trying to sound alert and playful. In truth, I’m exhausted, which I know because when I sit down at my computer to check on the day, I lean forward and rest my chin on my left hand, and my eyes cross. If you ever see me doing this in public, put me down for a nap.

The three of us big girls go through our morning routine while Leo sleeps in his box. After two weeks of what I’m sure Lucy and Sara consider nonsense, they put aside their resentments for the love of being brushed. They take turns lying on my desk, letting me run my nubby grooming glove over their bodies until I have enough fur to make another cat. I stuff wads of fur into an empty Kleenex box on my desk. Somebody should put out a new box of Kleenex; I wonder who it will be.

After the brushing, I quickly get dressed to go out. My cats look at me like this is sacrilege: we usually spend Sunday mornings together. We usually spend every morning together. But today I have to drive over to Manfriend’s house to feed his dogs. Manfriend is enjoying an overnight getaway with his friends at a cabin up north where it’s cool; I’m suddenly taking care of five animals instead of two, and Phoenix has hit triple digits.

I am not bothered by any of this. I’m on automatic.

I drive three quarters of a mile over to Manfriend’s house; it’s a short jaunt through our neighborhood. I let myself in with Manfriend’s spare keys and immediately call out to his boys: “Edge! Hendrix! It’s time for breakfast!” Edge and Hendrix, Cocker Spaniel brothers, look at me over the safety gate that Manfriend uses to keep them sequestered in the kitchen and living room area. I sense the same rumbling mood from them as I did last night when I fed them dinner: This is not our dad, but her intentions seem good. Oh, she’s going to feed us! Wag wag wag. I climb over the safety gate, and after our enthusiastic hellos and good mornings, I put exactly ¾ of a cup of Edge’s food in Edge’s bowl, and ¾ of a cup of Hendrix’s food in Hendrix’s bowl. The two plastic containers that contain their food are clearly marked: Edge, Hendrix. This matches their personalized food bowls, emblazoned with small gold letters spelling Edge on one, Hendrix on the other. This is Manfriend’s way; he didn’t do it for me, the virgin dog-sitter.

We conduct our households similarly.

I wait while Hendrix wolfs down his food and Edge picks at his. Will Hendrix eat Edge’s leftovers? Will Edge be starving by the time his dad gets home? I give them more doggie treats than I should to compensate for Edge’s potential caloric loss, then say my goodbyes. “Your dad will be home soon,” I say, cupping their sad but expectant faces. “Be good boys.”

I swing by the drugstore to pick up some allergy meds before going home. I’m allergic to cats and dogs, but my addiction to them takes precedent.

I’ve done all of this and more before 8 a.m. My own mom would be proud of me: such a good use of time. She would not be so impressed if she could see my floors, which need scrubbing and vacuuming; my surfaces, which need dusting; my bed, which has become a nest. This is where I feed Leo, where Leo exercises in the circle of my legs, where my stack of folded towels gets lower as days go by and Leo eats and poops and pees. My mom would look curiously at the stack of Q-tips on my dresser, the uniform of pee-stained T-shirt and poop-smeared sweatpants I keep folded on the floor, at the ready for Leo feedings. I start each day with a fresh uniform, but at the end of the day, I’m a litter box.

It’s time to feed Leo again, so I go to the bathroom to wash up—the bathroom, one of two that I’ve been trying to keep presentable for invisible company. I run my soapy hands all over the vanity and faucet, then wipe water over everything, all with my hands. Now at least the vanity looks neat, and I did scrub the toilets several days ago. I hope this counts as a clean bathroom, outside of the shower and bathtub and mirror, the dull floor and full garbage can. My mom taught me to wipe down the sink and the bathtub too, after every use: “That way it’ll be clean for the next person.”

I realize I do this for myself because I am the next person.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

American Kitten

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Exhausted after getting up twice every night for ten nights in a row to feed my tiny, starving, penniless and constipated kitten Leo, I call one of my sisters in Minnesota for comic relief.

“Dick Clark died today,” I say, after our usual hellos.

“Oh! That’s too bad. I love Dick Clark. Remember American Bandstand?”

This sister is five years older than I am, but I remember most everything she remembers because I watched whatever the older kids put on TV when they were around. “Yup, I loved that show,” I say.

We both start singing the old familiar ditty: “American Band-staaand!” We laugh.

“Hey,” I say. “Do you remember that night when Mom and Dad were out and you had your boyfriend Gene over and we were watching TV and I accidentally farted?”

Uproarious laughter—I love that this sister is easily amused. I love this sister.

“Oh my God, Katie!” she chokes out. “How could I forget that? You were sitting in a chair behind us and you just let one fly, man!”

We can hardly talk because we’re laughing so hard. This is one of the most mortifying moments of my life, and I was only ten at the time. My mom didn’t allow us to fart in front of each other—she called farts “boops”: “If you have to boop, go to the bathroom.” I had taken a liberty in my parents’ absence, but had forgotten that Gene was there. I remember sitting in a large wingback chair that trumpeted my fart forward, both its sound and its flavor. My sister and Gene were lying next to one another, faces towards the TV, and they both turned their heads to look at me.

“What did you say to me?” I ask. “I know I said ‘Sorry’.”

My sister catches her breath enough to say, “I said, ‘Katie! How ruuuuuude! We have a gueeeeest!

We can hardly talk for laughing. We remember that we called her boyfriend “Gene Gene The Dancing Machine” because he loved to dance, like the guy on The Gong Show.

“Weren’t we watching American Bandstand that night?” I ask.

“No,” my sister says. “That was on on Saturday mornings. We were watching Love Boat.” My sister starts singing the Love Boat ditty, segueing into Fantasy Island and “Da Plane! Da Plane!” We’re giggling. “Smiles everyone,” I say.

“That’s right,” my sister says. “Hey, how’s Leo?”

“Leo is awesome,” I say, wandering into my bedroom to peek into his box while I give my report. “He eats really well, he pees, he likes to sleep in my hair—sometimes he pees in my hair, but that’s okay—and I think he’s finally over his constipation problem.”

“Wow, that’s great,” my sister says. “You’re doing a really good job with him.”

These words of praise are especially sweet because they come from my older sister; she does not throw compliments around. I bend over to get a closer look at Leo. He likes to sleep under the covers with his big noggin resting on a towel. He’s ten days old but still hasn’t opened his eyes.

“Well, I should go,” I say. “It’s time to feed Leo again.”

“Okay,” my sister says. “Thanks for the laugh.”

“You bet,” I say. “Call me up anytime. I have a lot of fart stories.”

I smile and we exchange I-love-you’s, then goodbyes. I go to heat up a bottle for Leo, the new guy in my life who has stolen my heart despite peeing in my hair and pooping on my t-shirts. I could’ve told my sister that Leo boops too; she would’ve gotten a kick out of that.

I hope he’s not too surprised when he does open his eyes and sees me, the strangest-looking cat on the planet. He doesn’t know yet what a great family he’s joined.

I hope he likes us.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Walk the Walk

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It’s 2 a.m. and my alarm goes off: time to feed the kitten. I get up and zombie-walk to the kitchen, where the light has been on since Easter Sunday, Kitten’s birthday. I need to see what I’m doing every two hours when I fill the kitten’s bottle with formula, heat up a cup of water, and grab a paper towel.

Back I go to my bedroom, dressed only in my Bruce Springsteen t-shirt—my favorite, which I wouldn’t be wearing if all my regular ones weren’t covered in poop. I put the cup on my night stand and place the bottle in the water, letting it float, nipple up, while I go to wake the kitten. He’s a heavy sleeper for weighing three ounces.

“Hey,” I say, kneeling by his box. “It’s time.”

He’s sleeping on his tummy, legs tucked under, his head resting between the folds of a towel. I run a finger down the inch of his back and he comes alive, not bothering to stretch or yawn. No eyes and all nose, he screams and keeps screaming as I scoop him up, hold him against my chest and head back to the bed.

“Hold on there, cowboy,” I say as I lean against the pillows, repositioning all my supplies: stack of towels at my elbow, bottle out of the water and at my hip, paper towel on the night stand, student papers piled next to me…all of this with Kitten still warm against my chest, screaming.

I test the bottle by sprinkling my wrist with droplets of formula. Too hot. We get back up and go to the bathroom sink, where I run cold water over the bottle, bringing the temperature down a notch. We return to the bed, where I spread a hand towel over my t-shirt and tiny-wrestle Kitten into sucking position with my left hand...my right hand holding the bottle, poised.

My neighbor, who gave me this kitten with umbilical cord still attached, thinks I am too rough on Kitten during feedings. I tell him that Kitten is blind and would never find the nipple without my help. Even at three ounces, Kitten is strong and always resists my efforts to serve him the bottle. That’s why I have to gently shove the nipple into his mouth by way of his chin. This show of force is too much for Nabe; he can't watch.

Once Kitten has latched onto the amber tip of his bottle, he sucks like this formula is not only the tastiest formula in the world, but salvation and a liquid set of encyclopedias all at once. Soon Kitten will have all the answers. I learn from watching that Kitten likes to flatten out and fly like Superman when he eats. I hold his belly and the bottle, one finger under his chin. He stretches his front legs to the sun that has set long ago, his backs legs to the moon he was born under.

When Kitten is finished—maybe for good, maybe for a minute, his bottle always at the ready in a warm cup of water—I rub him with one finger. I tap his back so he burps; I rub his tummy so things move along. Things move along quickly with Kitten.

Kitten is suddenly full of energy and crawls everywhere he can: over my sheets, down the crook of my bare leg, skittering across my students’ papers. I keep bringing him back, even though he screams every time. Kitten wants his way.

But mama knows best, and by the time Kitten is back on my chest, he succumbs to a wet and warm paper towel, dipped in the cup of water, rubbed gently like a tongue over his backside and underside. Kitten lies still, loving this moment, but soon Kitten is off again and I’m fumbling with him and a real towel. “Please poop in the towel,” I say to Kitten. “You can poop anywhere you want, but it would be nice if you could hit the towel.”

It is now 2:30 a.m. Kitten appears to be shivering, so I roll him up in my Springsteen t-shirt and hold him close to my chin. “You need to poop,” I whisper encouragingly, as I might to any three year old child in my care. “All the experts say that I can’t put you to bed if you don’t poop, so you should think about….”

Squirt.

His soupy warmth soaking through my t-shirt, Kitten is off and scrambling again, anywhere he can get that’s away from his poop. Tonight, his shelter is my head: I loosen my tiny-grip on him and he cries as he climbs up my chest, grabs onto my long hair and burrows to the island of my earlobe, suckling between my earrings until his cries turn to whimpers.

This is how I know he’s ready for bed again. I grade three papers with one hand because I know Kitten will stay still for that long, and I want us to bond. When I put my pen down, cradling the sleeping baby, I wish I had more hours in me.

I tuck him back into his box until 4:15. I take off Bruce and throw him onto my to-do list, along with meal-making, more grading, and keeping Kitten alive. I go to bed naked, everything I want within reach.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Easter Connection

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Does anyone remember the Super Bowl of 1996? I do. I was working at Arizona State University, making peanuts teaching our future leaders. I could afford my apartment, gas for my car, and food. If one majorly bad thing had happened during that time—if my car had died or my rent had spiked—I would have been broke. I wasn’t just low man on the totem pole at ASU; I was the dirt underneath the pole’s base.

So when the Super Bowl descended upon us in Tempe—taking up the stadium of course, but all large areas around the university too—people like me lost their parking spaces. Entire parking lots were closed off for months, and those of us who were displaced were told to either park farther away, like in Tucson, and ride a shuttle bus to arrive at work on time; carpool to arrive at work on time; or take the city bus to arrive at work on time.

While I never tried the shuttle, I did try the other options. In fact, my first and last foray into riding the city bus occurred during this time. One bus ran straight up and down the five-mile stretch between my apartment and ASU; that’s the one I took. The only salient memory I have of these few bus trips is sitting next to a young mother and her tiny baby on the way home, once. The seats up front were more like couches facing one another, not like on a school bus, and there weren’t any seatbelts. That’s where the three of us were when the bus driver slammed on the brakes and the baby jettisoned forward, almost into my arms, kind of like a football.

I flapped my hands and made worried looks, but the baby managed to crawl back onto the seat, and the young mother said nothing. This is how we traveled the five miles to my stop: my watching the baby teeter back and forth on the bus seat, the mother not paying attention, the driver braking and the baby toppling onto the floor, over and over.

I was a nervous wreck by the time I got home. I couldn’t ride the city bus again, so I sucked it up and asked people for favors: please drive me to school. I had two takers.

One was a much-older woman I worked with, the one with a tarantula mole on her neck that she always tried to cover by letting her shirt tag stick up. She was nice enough and treated me kindly, but a year later I would get promoted over her and she would say: “Hate is not too strong of a word for the way I feel about you.” I don’t think we were ever really friends.

The other was Maya, my officemate. Maya was 46 to my 28, an example-setter from the day I met her. Maya had long blond hair, very thick, and she was short with a perfect figure. She was dating a man my age; I was dating a man my father’s age. Together, we covered nearly a century of prospects. Maya would eventually teach me how to serve a proper Thanksgiving meal and to love with abandon, to display freshly cut flowers and start trusting people; I would teach Maya how to climb over the cement wall that separated my apartment complex from our favorite bar. Even trade.

Maya picked me up one morning after I’d given myself a haircut, shearing eight inches off what normally reached the small of my back. I’d tried to get it even. Maya’s was always very long and shiny, and blond. She scowled at me when I got into her car.

“You cut your hair,” she said. She didn’t have to say anything else, and nothing I had to say would have mattered.

I started growing it back that day.

Would the Super Bowl ever be over?

***

Maya, now my best friend for almost twenty years and a colleague at a different and better school, sits next to me at a department meeting. I turn to gaze upon her loveliness: her long blond hair, her flawless skin, her cute little nose. She set the standard for living up to one’s beauty potential back in 1995 when we first met. She still has long blond hair, but there’s gray in it. I have long dark hair, but there’s gray in there too. I’ve been trying to cover it up with a black Sharpie, but that always washes out. I’m not dying my hair because I hear it becomes brittle. I don’t want to be brittle.

“Is my hair as long as yours now?” I ask Maya.

“I think so, honey,” Maya says, pulling the ends of my hair to the small of my back to make sure. We pass notes during the meeting like kids.

***

Maya and I sometimes wonder what we’ll be doing for the holidays. People like us—loving but flawed, often alone—check in with one another as if holidays are storms. “What are you doing for Christmas?” might as well mean “in which cellar will you be seeking shelter?”

I ask Maya on the phone last night, when I realize that another holiday is rolling by with no notice, “What are you doing for Easter?”

“Nothing,” she says. “We should spend it together.”

I think of green-bean casserole and super-tall Christmas trees and the rotten robin’s egg I once bit into when I was five, thinking it was a leftover malted from Easter, in June. I think of all the times I’ve taken care of Maya, and all the times she has steadied my own course.

“Okay,” I say, and our spirits rise, the competition of Easter over.

We win again.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Night Eaters

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I have some people over on Saturday night, just by chance. I have gone out with Manfriend for sushi, and when he drops me back at my house with a walk to the door and a hug, I could go inside. But as the taillights on Manfriend’s Jeep disappear down the road, my desire for more fellowship rises. I see that my neighbor’s garage door is up, and people are over there. I walk towards that light and those people instinctively.

Nabe—my neighbor—beckons me in and gets up, giving me his warm faux leather chair to sit in. His best friend sits on a folding chair, drinking Pepsi, gorgeous as ever. A girl we know lies on a couch, chatting and gathering her wits so maybe she can drive in a couple hours. Nabe pulls up a high-backed stool and there we all are, listening to music from a car stereo, surrounded by tossed-off furniture that Nabe collects. We take turns craning our necks to see each other around the punching bag that hangs in the middle.

After a few songs, the girl sits up, having collected a couple wits. Because she is sweet and beautiful and fun, and appreciative of nice things, I invite her over to see the potted plants on my patio. The last time I invited her over, I had hung a new picture, and she thought it was so wonderful she almost couldn’t stop hugging me.

“Hey, where are you guys going?” asks Nabe.

“Over to my house to see the plants on the patio,” I say.

“What about us?” he says. “You’re not inviting all of us?”

I smile. I hadn’t even thought of it. “Of course,” I say.

The four of us walk from Nabe’s well-lit garage through the darkness that separates our homes, then into my house, then back to my patio and my newly potted plants. The girl immediately hooks her arm through my arm and bends us over to get a better look. “Aren’t they beautiful!” she says. “Isn’t everything back here gorgeous? Walk with me,” she says, pulling me along into my backyard. “Look at these trees! Look at this space! You could put tables and benches here and there, you could make a walkway to the corner, you could hang some lights!”

She is always more excited than I am about what I have.

We see the boys inside getting drinks. They laugh and kid. None of us belongs to each other or anyone else. We are free for the night.

“Can I move this table?” the girl asks. “We could pull it to the side and make a dance floor! And look, if we move your plants just a little, you’ll have pathways. Watch this, okay?” I’m the world’s worst decorator, so any help is appreciated. I have enclosed the patio with potted plants so there is no natural way out or in. I have done this to discourage the pigeons.

I watch the girl, small-boned and lovely, pull my heavy pots into a new and better arrangement. It’s like having one of my older sisters around to help. We’re still admiring her work when the boys come out. I sit cross-legged on the cement to find a station that comes in on my radio out there. Despite four years of dust, dirt, and wind, this radio still gets almost everything. I dial through the crackling until I find what I want: the 80’s station.

“I love this song!” says the girl, more wits falling into place. She turns to Nabe: “Dance with me!” I’ve never seen Nabe dance, so I sit next to his best friend to watch, his best friend from high school, class of ’95. Between all of us, we cover two decades.

Nabe stands in place and puts his arms up, swaying. This is him, dancing. The girl circles her arms around his slim waist and throws her head back, laughing. She has short hair that bounces. I have long hair that blankets.

Songs change, dance partners switch up: I am dancing with Nabe, I am dancing with the girl, I am dancing with Nabe’s best friend. Some of us are drinking, some of us are not; some of us are smoking. Some of us are living with our parents; some of us are living with our parents’ decisions.

A bell softly rings. The pizzas inside are done.

“Hey, come and help me,” I say to Nabe. He knows my house so well that when we go in, he walks to my pantry and pulls out four paper plates, then takes the pizzas out and slices them up. He turns off the oven. I watch with relief; thank God for Nabe. It’s nice to divide tasks in two, just for once. We carry plates of pizza out to the patio and we all sit and eat. It’s 3 a.m.

“This is SO good!” says the girl, all wits having returned. She is lively by nature, a hard fish to catch.

“I’m a night eater,” I say. “I like to eat at night, not so much during the day.”

“Me too,” says Nabe’s best friend. I stare at him under my eyelashes. I’m sure many women do.

The girl chimes in: “Me too!” She’s enjoying her pizza as much as she did her nap earlier, my lot full of trees, and dancing.

Nabe sits next to me in the dirtiest of my patio chairs because he always takes the worst for himself. He looks up from his plate into the ambience we’ve created by hanging a cowboy hat over the patio lamp. “I like to eat at night,” he says. “It’s just the way I am.”

We pass around seconds of everything we have, the four of us. When people are ready, I walk them out with hugs and kisses, then shut and lock the door. I go to my bed and take off my clothes, pale skin doing the usual stretches before bedtime, pale skin and dark hair curling up in a ball under white sheets.