We visit the Alhambra today and the ancient Plaza Nuevo. I’ll show you what I mean later, but Christmas ‘getting’ is everywhere. How about some Chrismas ‘giving’ to start your day? Thanks so much for the positive notes. It makes me happy to think fellow Visitors get a little joy out of these things, Much love,
Chapter 6: Joseph and the New Shoes
Night had come, and another shift at the college was about to start. The kids were in bed. Mark and Mary were three and five, and Taylor was probably still up, working on something from the office.
I backed the ATV out of it’s shed and steered it around the grounds. This part of the college was often called the “Mushroom” because of it’s funny looking dome that overarched the entryways. Still, I found the grounds to be beautiful.
I gathered my things, and strapped on my belt. Gloves, pliers, hammer, screwdriver, plastic bags, other assorted tools to keep this place looking good.
It never occurred to me to be embarrassed about my job, it gave me a chance to think. But things weren’t going well between Taylor and me. She was a research physician, and what she saw in the likes of me, was still a mystery, even after seven years of marriage.
I ran a small music shop for my ‘real job’, my partner and I gave guitar and keyboard lessons to all comers. In this economy though, music lessons were a discretionary item, to be sure. The flow of students had dropped by nearly eighty percent since the recession began. Who could blame them, really? I mean, if you can’t put food on the table, how can you pay for your kid to learn to play Dad’s old Stratocaster?
It was only because Taylor’s job was steady that we stayed afloat at all. I fought off guilt about that, men are supposed to be the provider and all that. I had taken this custodial job at the college to contribute more to my self esteem than the family budget.
But Mark and Mary? I wouldn’t trade the time I have with them for the world. Taylor’s first pregnancy had caught us both off guard. We should have known better. Both of us were in our twenties, and had just been careless. Surprise!
So the Catholic in me did the right thing, and proposed. I had never had a regular girlfriend, just a string of meaningless partners. I guess that makes me bad or something. I don’t know, I just hoped God was nice enough to let me off the hook. I didn’t mean to be a user, but it’s exhausting to please everyone, and proposing to Taylor seemed to be a relief.
Too bad it didn’t work out that way. At five foot eight and barely a hundred forty, I never felt like much, and being married didn’t change that.
“Joseph? He’s the little one. Don’t pick him, he’s weak.”
“Girly-boy Joseph? Look at his curly hair! He’s so little! He’s a girl!”
Taunts from schoolmates got so repetitive as to be trite.
“Joey? He just hasn’t gotten his growth spurt. I’m sure he’ll be big and strong some day.” My mother still said that, and at thirty five, I had gotten tired of correcting her.
Years of jokes about my size had gotten under my skin. Secretly, I started to work out, to ride my bike to the shop, and lift the weights I stored in my closet. I was stronger than most people thought.
Had to be, for this job. I filled a five gallon drum with water and hefted it through a wrought iron gate to the children’s garden.
The college had a child care center for it’s students and staff, and a lovely garden that I got to maintain.
“Joseph? Mr. Joseph? Is that you? A hissing through the children’s garden caught my ear.
I couldn’t quite make it out. After ten steady years in this business, I was a little afraid I was losing my hearing.
A small dark figure darted out from behind the flower wagon.
“Tommy! What are you doing here? It must be near midnight! “
Tommy ‘hung out’ quite often at the college.The food was subsidized and no one bother him.
“Please don’t send me home, Mr. Joseph. Dad got drunk and threw me out again. He says I bin dealin’, and that’s just not true! He found some glass in my brother’s room, and Jeremy said it was mine! It just ain’t so! “
The teenager’s teeth gleamed in the starless night. I could barely make him out. His coffee colored face radiated anxiety.
“Well , shit ,Tommy. Sorry. Shoot. Now how would meth get into you brother’s room unless you put it there? You’re the one in high school. What’s Jeremy? Fourteen?”
“How the hell should I know where he got it? “ Tommy’s voice rose to a whine.
“But I know that stuff. We have meth monkeys all over school, with their rotten teeth and twitchy attitudes. Skinny as poles, too. I ain’ t no meth monkey.”
I believed him. Something about his demeanor seemed to ordinary, too sixteen and squirrelly to be drug induced. I walked with him over to the sodium lights in the parking lot.
“You can’t stay here, Tommy. Where are you gonna go in the morning?” Tommy shifted on the pavement, as if it were burning his feet.
I looked down, aghast.
“Tommy! Your feet! What the hell happened to your feet? “
Tommy was small for his age, too. He had the feet of a twelve year old boy, and they were cut and bleeding.
“Have your shoes gone missing?”
“Naw. Dad got the baseball bat. I know when he gets the baseball bat I better get the hell outta there right quick. “
I sat down, frustrated. What a thing to do to a kid. All the rotten decisions, all the missed opportunities in my life, one thing I was proud of. Two actually, and they were both at home tucked in their beds.
“Get in the car, Tommy.”
Taylor and I would have words, I’m sure. Money was always tight. But there are some things you just can’t let go.
“Anyone you can stay with tonight, Tommy? “ We pulled into the nearby Target.
“Yaw, my cousin lives down the street. She told me any time my dad gets going to come and stay with her an’ her kids. I can go there.”
“Ok, let’s go shopping.”
The Target was still open. Tommy and I trotted to the boys aisle, and slid down the polished tile floors. I used to love to do that when I was a kid, and had on slippery shoes.
One hour and seventy dollars later, Tommy and I walked out of the store, with two brand new pairs of shoes, size seven. Athletic shoes, because what sixteen year old can be on the b-ball courts without good shoes, and ‘fancy shoes’ for school. Just a pair of Dockers, but he promised he would wear them, especially on band days. Tommy loved the trumpet as much as I loved the guitar.
We got back into the car, chattering like children.
“Gotta girlfriend, Tommy?”
“Phht. Not me, Mr. Joseph. Look at me, I’m ugly. It’s easier for me to look mean. That way no one messes with me. What’re your babies doing? “
The boy directed me to a scarier part of town. The houses were run down, and closer together.
“Mark and Mary? Oh, They’re awesome. Growing so fast.”
“Just a little further, Mr. Joseph. Can I use your phone? “ He called a number, said “yeah” a bunch of times, and gave it back to me.
“She says it’s fine. She says you’re the best, and a real angel.”
“Look! There she is now!” A middle aged black woman with wirey grey hair came down the steps, pulling a terrycloth wrapper behind her. She tied the wrap around her, and opened her arms to Tommy before he even got out of the car.
Tommy opened the door and leapt out of the car, before I could bring it to a full stop.
He looked over his shoulder as he ran to the welcoming figure.
“Thank you Mr. Joseph! You’re the best! A real Angel from Heaven!”
- Weekly Image of Life: Happy Holidays (Jesus is the Reason!!) (lifeofaministermom.com)