I SEE RED: Chapter Seven


A Brand New Day

[I see red.]
            The doorbell ringed, so I am hiding under my bed. I know who will be at the door, and because of The Evil She my stomach hurts so bad. I hear Mom let her in, and I hear them talking about the day.
            “He’s nervous about all the change,” Mom says. (Shut up, Mom)
            “Yeah, I’m sure he is,” She says in a stupid way. “How do you feel about everything?”
            “Well… it is what it is,” Mom tells her. “Anyway, he has chicken nuggets in the freezer if he gets hungry—he can just throw them in the microwave for a few minutes. If he doesn’t eat that, there’s also some corn dogs. Ketchup is in the pantry.”
(I want chicken nuggets right now, but I’m too busy hiding.)
            “No problem, I’ll take him from here,” She says, then wonders, “What time will you be home?”
            “Jacob will bring the baby home about 3 pm,” says Mom all rushing around. “I’ve gotta run—good luck!”
            The Evil She says goodbye to Mom and then I hear the garage door go up. I hear the black car with four rings symbol start up and then drrrrrr, the garage door goes down, down, down again until the noise ends. Now I can only hear my breaths and my heart. She walks closer and closer without saying any words, then into my room. Don’t tell anyone, but I am so freaked out.
            “I love books,” She says. Why she’s telling herself that? Her’s an adult. She doesn’t have to read anymore—only kids are ‘posed to read 20 minutes every night. Now She is sitting on the bed—MY bed—and I am very, very angry. Then She starts reading one of my books out loud.
            “They suck blood by shearing away feathers on their prey and biting down. With ghoulish faces that would frighten the living daylights out of the bravest person, Vampire Bats have actually been completely misunderstood. This breed of bats are the only ones who will adopt their neighbor's babies if the mom doesn’t survive. Vampire Bats teach us not to judge a book by its cover, but instead, they encourage us to discover more information for ourselves,” She reads.
Why did she choose my other favorite book? How does she always know what books I like?

[I see you.]
            “Another common misconception about Vampire Bats is that they are dangerous to humans. In fact, there has never been a report of a human death caused by Vampire Bats,” I read.
            “That’s not real,” a muffled voice corrects me from under the bed.
            “Why is the bed talking? How weird,” I joke, and keep on reading.
            He slides out from under the bed, “The fact wasn’t real. A Vampire Bat bited a man and him died because of rabies. But it only happened one time.”
            “So, I’m confused—are Vampire Bats good or bad?” I inquire.
            Dallas stands close enough to lean on the bed. “Them are bad, because them look bad.”
            “What if they’re good, but they just did a bad thing?” I suggest.
            Dallas just stares at me, without saying a word.
            I propose, “Why don’t you grab some of your favorite books and we’ll read them together?”
            He shakes his head and stares at me a little longer, up close—but not too close.
            “What’s your name?” he requests. I’m 99.9% sure he knows this one. He might have trouble with memory recall, so I give him the benefit of the doubt. (Just kidding—I’m tired of all the excuses adults make for kids being shitty people sometimes.)
            “My name is Donut—I thought you knew that?” I casually reply.
            The left side of his mouth curls into a cute half-smile, and he tries really hard to keep his lips closed in a neutral expression.
            “That’s not your name,” he confidently informs me.
            I pretend to be surprised and say, “You’re right! That’s not my name at all. I can’t believe I forgot my own name. My real name is actually Armpit McGee—nice to meet you!”
            I extend my arm towards Dallas to shake his hand. He folds his arms, and this time, his mouth opens slightly, and he giggles. I can see him relax a bit, and he leans a little closer to me.
            “You’s name is Zoe,” he grins, pointing his six-year-old finger in my face while speaking with his three-year-old words.
            “That’s right! You’re the winner!” I announce, “And I don’t know about you, but I’m hungry.”
            “Me too. I’m hungry,” he agrees.
            “Hi Hungry, I’m Zoe,” I say in the most Dad-joking way.
            Dallas hits his forehead with the palm of his hand, “No I’m real hungry.”
            “Let’s go grab a snack,” I suggest, as he leads me out of the room.
We walk into the kitchen, and Dallas opens a cupboard door, stands on it, and climbs onto the counter. He walks across its surface (right over the stove, mind you) to open the freezer and pull out some chicken nuggets. I stand back and watch it all unfold—I want to help him, but I resist. Dallas walks back with the bag of nuggets and gets a paper plate from a higher cupboard. He plops five nuggets on the plate, then opens the bag to get one more. He walks the bag of nuggets back to the freezer and returns to his paper plate. Opening up the microwave, he puts the plate in and presses a button three times. He sits on the counter and waits.
            “Do you usually eat chicken nuggets for breakfast?” I wonder aloud.
            “If I hungry I can eat them whenever I want,” he shrugs, and I start to get the sense that he fends for himself a little more than I’d realized.

[I see red.]
            Making food is easy, and only babies let other people get things for them. I know how to make two things, in case I get bored with one of them. I became like a chef when I was about four because Mommy stopped getting out of bed when I was hungry and I also didn’t have a Dad anymore. She sleeped all day and was awake all night drinking wine that is red, and Dad moved to someone else’s house. Her never talked to me and even forgotted to take me to preschool sometimes, but when I went, I was late, late, late. I teached myself to make nuggets and corn dogs, but here’s the thing: there has to be these things in the freezer, or the recipes don’t work. Sometimes I use them all up, and I have to wait for Mommy to go to the store and get more things.
            If that happens, I just be hungry, and that’s OK because my body can live on no things at all. When there are no pools, our bodies stay alive—like magic.

[I see you.]
            “Can I have some?” I ask, retrieving the pack of nuggets from the freezer.
            “On your own plate,” he instructs. I open the cupboard and pull out three more plates.
Dallas looks confused and says, “You only need one!”
            I put each plate on the counter, one at a time.
            “I forgot how to count! Help me!” I pretend.
            Dallas rolls his eyes, walking over to me. He points to each plate as he says, “One, two, three! You just need one!”
            “How many do we need to put away?” I test.
            “Two,” he responds. I mentally revisit his report card and make some revisions.
            “Silly me!” I respond, and put away the extra two plates. We hear three beeps and Dallas collects his nuked, processed chicken from the microwave. He sits on a stool by the counter and squeezes a giant blob of ketchup beside his nuggets.
            “I used to have five when I was five, now I always have six,” he explains. This is the first time in a long time that he’s voluntarily shared information with me, and I have to decide not to look excited. I grab the bag of frozen nuggets.
            “How many are you?” he inquires.
            “What do you mean?” I question, confused.
            “How many candles were on your last cake?” he explains, like I should have known what he was talking about already.
            “Twenty-six,” I reveal.
            “You can’t have twenty-six chicken nuggets because that’s too many chicken nuggets. Maybe there isn’t even that many in the bag,” Dallas explains.
            “Well, there’s only one way to find out,” I remark, before tipping the entire bulk-sized bag of frozen chicken nuggets on the counter. Dallas’s eyes grow wide—apparently he was not expecting this. Pieces of loose breading fly everywhere.
            “Um, you better clean that up. Jacob gets real mad when the house is messy,” he admits. I lay the nuggets across the counter in four equal rows of five nuggets, then there’s one left over.
            “I bet you can’t count all these. I mean really count them by pointing to each one as you go,” I tease. Dallas is motivated by challenges, and I have to be smart about where to put them. He climbs up on the counter again and sits among the breading and bagless nuggets made from unidentified chicken product. His dirty feet are up close and personal with his food, and there’s a bedraggled band-aid falling off his knee. He extends his index finger and points to a nugget.
            “One,” he says, moving to the next. His last report card states he can only count to twelve, and is unable to assign 1:1 correspondence to objects (e.g. one nugget is counted as one, the second nugget is counted as two etc.—each item has its own value assigned).  
            “Five,” he declares, pointing to the fifth nugget. He keeps counting, and as we approach twelve I begin to expect some difficulty. I mentally note the following three things:
1.     Dallas can assign 1:1 correspondence, at least to ten.
2.     We have to remember that his brain is a three-year-old, so his academic abilities are unlikely to be higher than a preschooler.
3.     It’s common for preschooler’s counting to go awry after twelve, considering teen numbers don’t follow the same naming conventions as the rest of the numbers.

            “Twelve,” he counts and pauses. I see him thinking about this one, “Threeteen? No, fourteen?”
            “Thirteen,” I say, “Keep going. Thirteen, four-”
            “-teen, fiveteen,” he continues.
            “Fifteen,” I add. “What’s next? S-”
            “-ixteen, sebenteen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one,” he finishes at the last nugget. “We got twenty-one nuggets, and you is twenty-six old.”
            “Is that enough nuggets for me?” I poke.
            “No way! You’re more many than the nuggets,” he reminds me.
            “What’s the difference between twenty-one and twenty-six?” I challenge him.
            “They’re two different numbers because one says twenty-one and one says a six in it,” he quite literally explains. This question was a stretch—the language is way outside his ability.
            “Is twenty-one more or less than twenty-six?” I ask differently.
            “It’s not more,” Dallas replies and goes back to his stool.
            “I am going to have the same amount of nuggets as you,” I say, piling six onto my plate. I put it in the microwave and press the button three times. As they rotate in electromagnetic waves, I open the giant bag and use my forearm to slide the sixteen remaining nuggets back into their home. I press the zip lock at the top, and hope that no adults will ever know or care that we played with our food. I wipe up the breaded bits, destroying the evidence.
            I make more mental notes:
1.     Dallas can count to at least 21 using 1:1 correspondence.
2.     With the exception of “thirteen” and “fifteen,” he can count fluently—possibly indefinitely.
3.     He quickly completed (3-2 = 1) verbally, compared more/less between 21 and 26.
4.     In this environment, at this moment, Dallas was able to demonstrate 10/18 social skills as per his report card. Granted, there were only two people present—none of which were children. Still—baby steps.

            The microwave beeps, and I take out my steaming morsels. Dallas has already finished his nuggets, and jumps off his stool. He puts the paper plate in the trash can and goes back to his room. In fifteen minutes over “brunch,” we’ve completed more academic work than he’s done at school in a week.