Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Breaking the Silence

Hi again - yes, I am promises about tomorrow, though!

I'm in school, working away at my BA in English. I think both my older kids will graduate before me, I am ALMOST a junior. But, I'm totally fine with that. The following is an exercise I did for my Creative Writing class. I have Kris's permission to share.

Back in the late ‘80s, I lived in the basement half of a house split into two apartments with my son, Kristopher. He was a baby then, and we were separated from his dad, my husband, for a bunch of reasons not important to this story. The apartment was the best I could afford. It was on Henderson Avenue South in Seattle, just off Rainier Avenue, one block east of Chubby and Tubby, home of the famous $5.98 Christmas tree. The house was built around World War II, and the sunshine yellow paint job appeared to be at least that old. It had moss-tinged white trim and a sloping gray roof that was missing shingles. The yellow was a selling point for me.
A scraggly string of dusty gardenia bushes limped along the west side of the house where our kitchen window and front door looked out onto a dirt alley which was all that separated us from the open carport space under the Asian market that faced Rainier. I remember feeding my son in his high chair and looking out at dope fiends shooting each other up under the shelter of that carport, and finding abandoned, bent needles lying in our front yard.

The apartment itself was in decent shape. At least the front door closed and locked, and the air gap under it wasn’t too bad. One towel shoved under it did the trick, except on the coldest nights. The windows facing south looked out on a lumpy, overgrown, tired yard that had one tree in it. I think it was an apple, but no fruit ever grew on it - at least not during our time living there. The yard was the other selling point for me. For some reason, I thought my infant son needed a yard, way before he could even walk.
The number seven Metro bus stopped right on the corner of Henderson and Rainier, which was convenient, because I worked downtown, and Kris’s daycare was there, too. I remember the two of us, all bundled up against the cold and dark of the Northwest mornings, baby gear packed into a diaper bag, work shoes jammed into a book bag, both hanging on the handle of the stroller by plastic baby Boomerang Links in cheerful primary colors. My son, tucked in securely under a layer of blankets and wearing a puffy jacket, would ride crammed up against the crossbar of the stroller and would kick his heels in joy against the foot rests as we bumped up the dirt alley – me praying we’d miss early shift of die-hard junkies - to catch the 5:00 am bus, Mondays through Fridays.

I would drop him off at his daycare at the First United Methodist Church on the corner of Marion and 5th Avenue, then walk the five blocks north and two blocks east to my office at the old One Union Square Building, where my work day at the brokerage firm began at 6:30am. At lunch time, I’d reverse the route to go play with him and feed him, then power walk back to the office. I never needed a gym membership, back then.

One time I remember best was his first birthday. He was born two days after New Year’s, and it fell on the first work day back from the Holiday weekend, this particular year. It was traditional to bring a birthday cake into the daycare center to share with the group. But we had no money for a bakery cake. Actually, we had no money for a cake mix. I decided to bake a cake from scratch. No, two cakes: one for home and one for the daycare.

I began with a search for my one and only cookbook, the Red Betty Crocker one. There weren’t too many places to search in that small apartment, and I finally found it in an unpacked box in the storage space under my bed. My son joined the search, crawling along on the floor behind me, and climbing up on my back and hitting me in the head with a toy truck while I rummaged through the box. After I found it, I around on my stomach and opened the book right there, on the musty smelling carpet in the middle of the bedroom floor, Kristopher banging away next to me. “What’s it going to take, little man? Do we have the stuff?” On to the kitchen we went to find out.

“Eggs, flour, butter (well, Crisco should be fine), vanilla (imitation), baking powder, salt, sugar, and milk. Check. We’re on baby! Oops, what about pans?” More rummaging around turned up some old aluminum lasagna pans. “This will work,” I told him. More banging of the truck, accompanied by giggles and drool bubbles. “I’m going to mix both in one bowl, to save time.” An hour later, after much measuring and mixing – by hand, no mixer back then – the first lopsided pan went into the oven. While we waited, we played, Kris blowing bubbles and laughing while I made car sounds, stopping every so often for a tickle break.

Outside, across the alley, a group of junkies huddled together against the January cold and shared needles.

In our little house, we shared warm Bisquick-tasting birthday cake, and celebrated our first year together.