I SEE RED: Chapter Nine


Fatherless Day

[I see red.]
   Jacob and the baby got home after the clock picture on the schedule said he would—halfway to the next number, actually. Zoe and I spended extra time making Ramsay behave gooder than him usually acts. She said it will take lots of days to get him to be green instead of red—we have to be patient and not give up. Patient is a new word I have, and before today I didn’t know what means ‘patient.’ Today I learned it means waiting calmly, especially when it feels like no things are happening. When Jacob got home, him looked angry with Zoe. They are fighting now, and I am pretending not to listen, but really I am hearing all the words.
   “Fix him yet?” he laughed, but not in a way that was funny.
   “He’s not broken,” Zoe said in a serious, serious way. (Trust me, I have seen her be serious.)

[I see you.]
   Jacob is perhaps the least likable human I’ve ever met. Keep in mind: this statement is coming from someone who has spent the last three years with people who have tried to kill me more than once. Jacob… he’s a thoroughly different animal. It would be validating to say he was a fat creep who had dried pieces of flaming hot cheese snacks all over his chest, and his hairy gut hanging down out of his shirt—but that’s not Jacob at all. He’s a remarkably well-kept man in his early 30s who took five months off work to be a stay-at-home dad to his first and only child. He treats Aurora the way any child deserves to be treated.
   Dallas isn’t his biological son; I get it. Dallas is a handful; I get it. Dallas probably has a personality disorder; I get it. Dallas can sometimes rival Jacob for the Worst Human Ever Award; I get that more than most. But the way Jacob treats Dallas, compared to his own flesh-and-blood child, is astounding. He looks at Dallas with hatred in his eyes, and each word exchanged is sharp-tongued and fear mongering. Whatever Jacob is hoping to achieve out of this relationship with Sarah, he didn’t plan to achieve it with Dallas at home. It’s not as if he thought the boy would disappear; I guess he just hoped the dad would take him someday, to give them a break from the constant mess that is Dallas. That day never came.

[I see red.]
   Jacob walks away from Zoe, and I hear the garage door come up. I look out the front door, and Mommy is here in the black car with the four rings. Zoe gets all her things together, and then Mom walks in the house.
   “Oh hey Zoe, I thought you’d have left by now. How did everything go?” Mom asks.
   “We had a fantastic day, thanks for asking,” Zoe tells her, then she looks at Jacob meanly.
   “Thank you, Zoe,” Mommy says, looking a little scared to say anything that might make Jacob mad. When Jacob is mad, things get real, real bad around here.  Believe me.

[I see you.]
   Sarah is a slight thing: small, skinny and almost rodent-like. She moves rapidly through space and time, with an inability to focus all of her attention on anything at once. She’s pretty, in her own sort of way, but there’s something about her inconsistency that weirds me out. One minute she’s present, she’s on board, she’s supportive. Next minute, she’s back to her old ways of ignoring, vacillating and retreating. She sides with Jacob more than she wants to, I know that for sure. I see where Dallas inherited his small stature, his attention deficit and hyperfocus, his blue eyes, and manipulation strategies. I guess he’s an equal mix of his mother’s physical features and her prenatal wine habit. I had often wondered if psychosocial dwarfism was partly to blame for the fact that Dallas wears size 3-4 clothes at the age of six. To grow, a child must be loved.
   Jacob works in Wealth Management, with the ironic caveat that he, himself, isn’t wealthy. He tries to act rich—I guess it’s his way of keeping up with the Joneses. He wears insufferably expensive clothes, and must approve of Sarah’s every outfit before she can leave the house. They met a little over a year ago in a douchey nightclub, while Sarah was completely unraveled by the loss of her son and her husband’s subsequent rejection. Dallas’s mother’s savior was, and I suspect still is, the bottle. A one night stand gave them bouncing baby Aurora, and while she was pregnant Jacob moved in and out of the house at least three times. Because Jacob has shown himself to be so intelligent and considerate, he bought Ramsay, a $2,000 Purebred Irish Wolfhound, as a ‘practice baby’ and then proceeded not to train him. That’s a 130lb dog, in a 300sq ft backyard with a 16sq ft trampoline. Real smart, Jacob. Now everyone resents Ramsay for being ‘stupid,’ simply because he was never trained to be ‘smart.’ Jacob could use a lesson in cause and effect, but he’s too entitled for things like that.
Here’s what gets me: they drive an $80,000 car, yet their fridge and pantry are a barren wasteland. Dallas’s shoes are falling apart, the knees of his pants are threadbare—but Jacob has every new gadget on the market. Aurora is even well-dressed, at half a year old; because that’s what you get when your dad is biologically your dad. Sorry Dallas, your fate lies in holey pants, frozen food, and worn out gym boots.
   I’m repulsed by the vibe in this house. When everybody is home at once it’s enough to make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. I get the sense we are wading through toxic levels of unprocessed grief—knee deep in things that will somehow replace Grey. The dog and baby being the most prominent of replacements. I wonder how Dallas can possibly grow and change in this environment, and I’m concerned Sarah doesn’t realize the level of damage that continues to take place.
Any fool could see Sarah and Jacob are contributing to Dallas’s condition, yet Sarah can’t (or won’t) assume responsibility. Giving her the benefit of the doubt, I’m not sure she has the ability to step up and give him what he needs. She can’t see the forest for the trees.

[I see red.]
   Zoe comes over to me and crouches down, so her eyes are near mine, and her tells me that her is leaving. Her doesn’t say goodbye, I don’t say goodbye, but I high five she’s hand. Her leaves through the normal door.
   Mom picks up the baby and says questions to her that she can’t answer. She can’t talk yet, at least I haven’t seen her talk. Maybe her can, but she doesn’t want to. Mom comes into the living room and sits with me.
“Sounds like you had a good day with Zoe,” she says.
I shrug my shoulders, “We’re making Ramsay green.”
“What do you mean?” she asks.
“There’s no such thing as good and bad. Just normal dogs what do good and bad stuff,” I tell her.
“What? How is he green, though?” Mom says, all confused.
“If white is the color of all the things. Red is bad, green is good. Imagine Ramsay is white and sometimes he’s red if he’s a bad boy, and sometimes green when him’s a good boy,” I explain, and I’m pretty excited. “So Zoe and me are gonna make him green most of the time. We are going to teach him manners.”
“I can’t believe we’re paying a glorified babysitter to train our dumbass dog,” Jacob yells to Mom from the kitchen.
“I’m sure you’re doing writing and math, too?” Mom says, like a question.
“Yeah, but mostly training Ramsay. Him can’t do manners today. It doesn’t happen that quick—you have to be patient,” I let her know, because her might not know how long to wait. Her smiles, and takes the baby to the other room with Jacob. I go outside and see if Ramsay wants to go on the trampoline.
I jump up and down for fifty hundred times, and Ramsay doesn’t know how him can get in. From outside I hear Mom telling Jacob something;
“She probably has a bigger picture plan with the dog training. I’m sure they’re doing the regular reading-writing-arithmetic business, too. ”
“The whole thing is bullshit,” Jacob swears. “Expensive-ass bullshit.”
“We have to be patient,” Mom says, and I smile because that’s our word for today.
“I’ll give her a week,” he growls.

Ramsay is still having trouble getting onto the trampoline. I open the net a teeny tiny bit, but not too much, and I call his name while tapping my knees. Him isn’t sure about how to jump up here, but I remember what Zoe said today: We have to be patient. I keep jumping, I keep calling and calling his name. I wonder why he forgotted something he already knows how to do? I wonder when he might remember.
 I lay on the trampoline again, and watch fog rolling in the sky. In San Francisco we don’t get normal summer, we get the foggy kind. Zoe teached me a thousand things about the weather today—she said the season when school goes back is called fall but it feels like winter because of where we are on the map. I think it’s cold enough for a snow man, but it doesn’t snow in our land. Zoe also said that in a few weeks it will be Indian Summer, near Halloween time, which isn’t for a while. Its month is October, and our month is called August—all the months have names, but none are called Dallas. When I look at the gray fog racing, racing, racing over the sky, I start to think about Grey. I wonder how loud I would need to yell for him to hear me? I just want to tell him I’m sorry for making him dead.
I’ve tried this so many times before, and he just doesn’t listen. I whisper his name at first, and wait and see if his ghost is around. I don’t know if ghosts are real, or if I want them to be real. I say his name a little louder, just to try again. I wait for a hundred minutes, and nobody says anything to me.
“GREY!” I say, loudly this time. Mom comes out of the house.
“Dallas, it’s freezing out here. Come inside.”
“I’m talking to Grey,” I say, trying not to cry.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she tells me. “Go inside before you catch a cold.”
I cross my arms and stay where I am. I stare into her eyes and yell, “No!”
Mom reaches into the trampoline and grabs me by the arm. “Go inside!”
I jump off the trampoline and run straight to my room. I hide under the desk in my special tent, and I take out a picture of Grey that I keep in my hiding place. The picture is kind of fuzzy, but it’s still Grey. Crying is for babies, but I can’t stop water coming out of my eyes. I hold the picture, and Grey’s favorite toy close to my chest. I wonder when I will stop missing him?
I hear Jacob ask Mom, “What’s up with him? He was fine a minute ago.”
“Nothing,” she lies. “He’s just playing a silly game. Make believe stuff—you know how kids are.” Mom’s voice sounds a bit shaky. I can hear her walking around a bit, then she says, “I’m just going to take a shower.”
The water sound runs for a long time, and I get out of my tent. I walk by the bathroom, and I hear Mommy crying. The door is shut, but I know what crying sounds like because the baby does it all day long. Mom used to cry in her’s shower after Grey died, so Daddy didn’t know her was crying. When Dad saw, him would leave the house and one day he just never came home. He made a new family, and so did my Mom. I am the only one who didn’t make a new family. I never choosed Jacob—and Jacob never choosed me.
I peek around the corner to the living room, and I see Jacob on him’s computer. Aurora is in her’s baby swing, going side to side while she falls a bit asleep. Jacob kicks his shoes off and does a big fart.
Him doesn’t look like he’s going to leave here anytime soon.