Tuesday, Jan. 28, 1987
I was so tired all day.
My sleep was fitful, filled with bad dreams about Mom and Dad, the farm, and my report about Zadok. Stuff was all jumbled up, like Zadok and the cows from the farm being taken away by the government, but the government was these weird-looking guys in dark suits, flying a big spaceship. In another, Mom and Dad were arguing in the woods out by the Gin Cave, and Bigfoot came through and roared at Dad for yelling at Mom. And the worst dream, with me all alone in a big, bright room, and all the pages from the story of my life were falling from the ceiling, covered in red ink.
Waking up wasn’t much better.
Mom didn’t say a lot at breakfast, but neither did I. She was smiling, though, and she told me she was going to the store for her first shift from 9 to 11, and then back to the store after lunch from 1:30 to 3:30. She’d asked Walden and Wilson, and they told her I could call her at the store if I needed anything. I told Mom I hoped she had a good first day at work and gave her a big hug before leaving.
Walking to school, I went back and forth in my mind about Dad. I’d get really mad at him for the way he treated mom last night. Thinking about him dropping that dish in the sink so it would break made me so mad I thought about going to the barn just to yell at him. Then I remembered what was happening with the farm and the buyout, what all that meant. Dad losing his job. All the cows going away. Maybe me and Mom and Dad going away, too, moving somewhere new and scary to find work. But didn’t Mom take the job at the store so we’d have extra money and things would be a little easier if the farm was sold?
And I’d wind up mad at Dad all over again.
The mental cycle churned over and and over as the day wore on at school. And I got more and more anxious.
At lunch, Heather tried to pull me out of my mood, but I wasn’t having it. As far as she knew, I was in a funk about my report, and I didn’t want her to have a reason to think otherwise. She went to dump her leftovers in the trash, and when she came back, her dad was with her.
“Well, don’t you look like the gloomiest little storm cloud?” he said.
“Hi, kiddo. Heather said you’re in a heck of a mood today. Anything I can do?”
“No,” I said, staring at the floor and sipping my chocolate milk through a straw. “Thanks, though.”
Nashville leaned in. I could smell the cleaner he used on the hallway floors.
“Think I can steal you for a minute, Lauren?” he asked quietly. “Just go in the hall to talk for a sec?”
I shook my head.
“I’ll be fine, Nashville. It’s just stupid homework.”
“Oh, I know that,” he said. “I just wanna chat about something else.”
He nodded toward the hall, and I thought about all the help Nashville gave me and Heather with the Christmas concert and what good friends Heather and I had become over the past few weeks.
“I guess,” I said.
I stood and followed him just outside the cafeteria. Nashville leaned against a wall and slid down into a squat. He inspected and cleaned a thumbnail as he talked.
“I had a nice surprise about an hour ago, Lauren. You know what that was?”
“I’ll give you a hint then. I used up the last of my duct tape in that darn boys bathroom, and my supply order doesn’t get here til tomorrow. So I went over to the store to get a roll.”
“Do you know who I saw there?”
“Yeah! Your mom! She’s working for the twins. That’s awesome. She seemed pretty dang pleased about it, too. Walden said she’d already figured out the fancy new cash register they hadn’t had time to learn about yet. You must be pretty proud of her. You oughta think about that instead of some darned ol’ homework. It’s a special day for your mother.”
I stared down the hallway at the door that opened onto the playground. I wished I was out there instead of having this conversation.
“Sure,” I said.
“Doesn’t sound like you think it’s great. Don’t like the idea of her having a job? Not being home when you need her?”
“I like it fine.”
“Then what’s wrong?”
“Oh, Nashville … Dad got real mad last night when Mom told him about the job. He doesn’t want her working there or anywhere else. I’d never seen him mad like that. It was scary. And then he started talking about the farm maybe being sold, and I just don’t know what’s happening anymore.”
I felt my eyes well up with tears. Nashville puffed out his cheeks and exhaled, scratching his head.
“Well, shoot, kiddo. That’s worse than homework problems.”
“Yeah, well, there’s that, too.”
“Ok,” he said. “I think I stepped into more than I bargained for. I just wanted to say I’m happy for your mom, but this is … it’s pretty rough. I’m sorry, Lauren.”
“Probably sticking my nose where it don’t belong,” he said, “but I gotta say, being a dad and a former husband, having my share of disappointment, keep this in mind. Pride’s a hell of a thing for a man sometimes. Your dad’s a good guy. He’s got a whole lot of pressure on him right now. You try and let things settle down for a bit. He’s upset and angry because he loves you and your mother, and he wants to take care of you. It’s a heck of a change to have Melanie – your mom, I mean – bringin’ home some of the bacon.
“A person puts a lot of work into something, it’s pretty dang tough to have that not amount to nothin’. Or at least seem like it didn’t amount to nothin’. You follow?”
I thought of my Zadok report.
“I … yeah. I follow.”
“Cool,” Nashville said, standing back up. “And like I was sayin’, your mother seems pretty happy. She’s a strong lady, and she’s been with your dad a good, long while. They’ll weather this together. Actually, better than that. They’ve got you, right, kiddo?”
Nashville gave me a playful poke in the shoulder.
“Yeah,” I said, feeling a bit lighter. “Thanks, Nashville.”
“Sure. Now you get back to lunch and keep Heather in line for me, ok?”
I walked back into the cafeteria with a hint of a smile on my face for the first time that day.
To be continued …
THE COMFORT ROCK CHRONICLES IS AN ONGOING SERIES OF SHORT STORIES ABOUT A FICTITIOUS VERMONT TOWN, AN AMALGAM OF ALL NORTHWEST VERMONT HAS TO OFFER. COMFORT ROCK HAS BEEN GROWING IN MY HEAD FOR WELL OVER 20 YEARS. I REALLY LIKE THE FOLKS WHO CALL COMFORT ROCK HOME, AND I HOPE YOU DO TOO.