Context: Hillbilly Haven (Part 1)
The next few weeks went by so fast. I don’t remember exactly how long I was there. It felt like forever, but it couldn’t have been more than maybe a month or two. In the beginning, my mornings consisted of going out getting eggs or doing some other farm related task with Jake and Jesse. Then they’d go read or play chess while Caroline and I split our time playing phone tag with a half dozen different government offices in Indiana and Georgia trying to get access to my vital records and bombarding DeKalb County DFACS with calls trying to contact my caseworker (or get anyone from the state to actually return her calls).
Our goals were to locate my birth certificate and social security card so that I could get an ID; and trying to devise a plan to find somewhere for me to stay ‘til my case got reopened and the state got me a foster care placement so that I didn’t have to go back on the streets. Every day we just hit dead end after dead end. To get a social security card, I needed a birth certificate, to get a birth certificate, I needed an ID. To get an ID I needed a birth certificate AND a social security card. And since my case worker nor any of her supervisors would answer her calls, every day we ran through the same circles of bureaucracy. Sometimes Caroline would get so frustrated being sent in circles her face would get beat red and she looked like she wanted to knock the hell out of whoever she was talking to, but she always maintained her composure.
The afternoons were spent with various family activities: Jake’s baseball games, playing board games, John Wayne movies, etc. Basically I was living with The Walton’s…only with just one redhead. I liked it. After Nana left and Chuck and Caroline reclaimed their bedroom I was allowed a bit more freedom then their kids had. I could stay up later and (after their kids went to sleep and only through headphones) and listen to “my” music (i.e. my small collection of stolen CDs from Warehouse music that I didn’t end up selling for motel money). I also got to chat with my high school friends on AOL instant messenger (AIM). Nighttime was the only time where I got to be myself, hold on to the small things that connected me to my “real life” as I slowly transformed into a rural country kid.
Chuck and Caroline had a pretty strict rule about only allowing their kids to listen to Christian music, so them allowing me that bit of freedom, to me, had to have been a big compromise on their part. One that I truly appreciated, even though I needed that connection to the “real world” less and less as I stayed with them. That didn’t mean that they did not try to get me into the Christian stuff. Chuck would make points to tell me about Christian rap and later after the whole “I don’t listen to rap” conversation, Christian rock. He was wasting his energy, I didn’t need some special segment of music to get me caught up. Their radio dial in the car was always on The Fish and every now and then there were songs that I didn’t completely drown out when we were all in the car. They didn’t know it and I would have never admitted it, but Chuck and Caroline were winning me over every road trip, song by song. There was this version of Shout to the Lord, by this guy Lincoln Brewster. I loved that song. Sang it in the shower.
Chuck crossed the line once on the whole Christian music thing. It was night time and I was sitting at the desk listening to Hanging by a Moment by Lifehouse. It was my favorite song at the time and I was really feeling it sitting at the desk mouthing the words to myself. I guess he noticed me being all spastic rocking out and asked for a listen so I handed him the headphones. He recognized the song and the band and chimed in that he knew I’d like “Christian rock” and went on to tell me how they were a Christian band. I laughed him off. .
“Come on, you can’t tell me you don’t hear it ‘I’m standing here until you make me new’ ‘I’ll take your invitation, you take all of me.”
He was right, I could hear it. I wasn’t going to admit to it cause…well, beyond the whole completely ruining my favorite love song by making it about Jesus… I was starting to see Chuck and Caroline as more than just the nice people letting me stay with them; they were becoming parental figures. And in typical teenage fashion, parents are dumb and everything they say is dumb cause they just don’t understand super deep teenager stuff.
It wasn’t too long after this conversation that I first slipped up and called Chuck, “Dad.” To my surprise, he said it was cool, and that if it was easier, I could just call him dad. So I did. I never slipped up and called Caroline mom though. I could never equate her with the visceral reaction that I felt when I uttered that word.
When Jake and Lucy went on break from school, we spent our days just playing. It had been so long since I actually played anything so we made up for lost time. Tag, Basketball, Catch, Hide and seek. You name it we played it. Sometimes we would go exploring through the old barn on the side of the house. They must have explored 5000 times and were clearly just doing it for my benefit, but it didn’t stop the fun of crawling through the old spookie place.
Mowing the lawn was a game in and of itself because their lawn was about 3 or 4 dozen acres of land, and that’s not counting the part where we couldn’t cut cause they grew it out for hay…or something like that. I never really understood that part. Anyway with that much land, I got the thrill of my life mowing it… on Chuck and Caroline’s brand-new John Deer Mower! I swore to myself the first time I rode it that I needed to own my own John Deer one day… even if my lawn only extended to a sidewalk somewhere in the burbs, I needed one.
I spent much more time hanging out with Jake than I did Lucy. It was a bond kind of forged by Chuck’s love of physical fitness. He was already on a mission to bulk up Jake and slimming me down was added to it so he’d take me with him and Jake to go work out at the gym in his dad’s basement. Jake and I would also always either be on the same team or checking each other when playing basketball with the Samoan boys that sometimes came over to visit with Chuck. Thanks to my abysmal playing skills and near constant accidently fouling Jake, I thought killed any chance of us actually being friends early on; But, it turns out that the almost 15 year old Jake, like Drew, fascinated by the street kid his parents brought in their house.
While invariably beating my ass at chess, checkers, and badgamon he would ask me about my life. There was the typical questions about my crazy mother and living in shelters and group homes, but he was more mesmerized by the freedom I had. The ability to go and do as I please. I knew not to answer some of his questions, like about whether or not I’d ever had sex or done drugs… at least not answer them honestly. For the most part, I think it just felt good for him to have some teenage energy to do teenage things with like bitch about his parents to.
Sometimes, like his mom, he would try to relate to me by giving up some juicy family dysfunction, like the fact that his grandfather left his grandmother to “go be gay”(A fact that I already knew) or that his dad knocked his mom up with him and that’s why they got married which was a total shocker. I mean, it’s not like it was an unfathomable scenario. They got married when she was 18, Chuck was like 10 years older than Caroline or something and he made some comment before about having to “raise his wife.” It’s just… I never thought that would be something they’d let their kids know. And as it turns out, they didn’t. Jake responded to my puzzled look telling me with a chuckle that he “did the math.”
“The funny part is, my parents, they don’t believe in dating. I’m like what the hell.”
“So what, do you have arranged marriages or something?”
“Nah, nah nah, nothing like that. We got to do this thing called courting.”
“Okay so say I like a girl. I can’t just ask her out to the movies. I have to ask my parents to meet with her parents and then they would all get together for a family date. And then they would take us on dates while we decide if we’re going to get married”
“That’s still dating. Just with chaperones. Keeps you from being stupid and ending up like my parents.”
“Or mine” we both laughed…though in the back of my head, I just thought to myself, that if Jake knew how lucky he was he wouldn’t even think of comparing the two situations.
Yea, but what if the girl I like doesn’t have a family. What if she’s an orphan?”
“Well then I guess you’d be shit outta luck”
I knew what he was hinting at. If I were a good person, I would have shut it down right there. You’d figure I would have gotten enough of 14 year olds with Stefanie’s whole virginity prank with Chris, but I didn’t. But I’m not a good person and… I mean, Jake gave off a serious prince Harry vibe. He was a redhead, but he didn’t have freckles, his eyes were a really pretty brown, and I don’t know. I didn’t jump the kid’s bones or anything.
When we were around each other, even if we were alone, which was rare, the most we ever did was catch each other’s eyes and look away and maybe “accidently” bump against the other’s hand/leg/foot under the table and just kind of let the touch linger before pulling away. We mostly just talked and played chess and lingered. Innocent flirtation. Jake was innocent. He reminded me of when I was innocent. I missed being innocent. Hell, I missed being a kid. I didn’t realize it till I got a chance to be one again with the Pines.
Even if Jake would have been a normal hornball teenaged boy, I wouldn’t have disrespected Caroline and Chuck like that. They actually took care of me. Caroline studied me like she studied her kids, noticing small things about me that my mom or any of the staff at the group homes had never paid attention to. It started off with my left foot, they noticed it was like 2x the size of my right one. I told them “it’s always been like that” and about having had surgery on the leg before. Caroline let it go but you could tell the gears were cranking in her head.