6-year old Forest had been staring at the window for an awfully long time now and we were all beginning to get a little embarrassed. What had seemed like a good idea was beginning to cause a spectacle, and Daniel had already begun to act like he didn’t know any of us.
I was just worried that what appeared to be an expression of flat curiosity would soon turn into fear, anger, or-worse-sadness, and then (ofcourse)tears. A small child crying out on the sidewalk in front of the mailman and everyone and three confused and guilty strangers standing as her witness.
Three days ago our next-door neighbor had come by in a near panic, asking us to watch Forest for "please, just a few moments" while she ran a load across town. She was moving, you see, and she felt she could get a lot more done if she could just leave Forest behind for a few moments.
She had left her with Daniel who was too stoned to notice when a few moments turned into a few hours, and soon I was asking him why a six-year-old was watching the infomercial channel in our living.
"That’s just Forest"
Daniel always had a way of answering questions with completely impertinent information. It took us three days to finally come to the conclusion that something must be done.
I felt we should go to the authorities, but after such a long incubation period Karissa was a little scared of how that would look.
"SO You say this little girl was left at your house and nobody has come to claim her
When was this?
Well, LATE Tuesday
And it hasn’t dawned you until now that something might be wrong
Well, you know, one day sort of bleeds into another with a nine to five job and…"
Oh no, not Karissa.
She was saving jail for something more important.
So Dan suggested we bring the little girl to her new home, as if the mother might be there, letting one day accidentally bleed into another as well, barely noticing the absence of her only child.
Which, of course, she wasn’t.
And Forest had been staring at that window for an hour now.
And people were staring.
People were staring at her staring
I knew it was just a short amount of time before people started whispering and pointing and wondering what sort of horrible people we were.
Clearly someone was going to have to take the initiative here and do something.
"Hey Forest, you want to go to the park and play on the swings?"
"Want an ice cream cone?"
"Want to (shudder) watch some TV?"
Forest wanted to sit and stare at her future home in confusion until someone gave her some answers.
"Hey Dan "
Dan was too busy not knowing any of us.
Help me here Dan….
I walked over and knelt down next to her.
"Hey Forest, guess what?
I don’t think your mom is going to be home any time soon, and I am getting really tired here, and I think all the staring in the world is just going to make your eyes sore…lets go home and have a…”
She seemed ok with this.
I had lost my ability to reasonably deal with the situation.
Forest took my hand and escorted me away from the window.
+ + +
Now, I don’t think we have cleaned our sink in the last week, and I am pretty sure we have never cleaned our oven.
My overwhelming show of weakness on the streets stunned me into a flurry of responsibility which was, now, manifesting itself in compulsive cleaning. It was bad enough that Forest was stuck with someone as incompetent as myself, but now she knew it and I was sure she was looking around the house, noting every shortcoming of our little abode.
Somehow this logic made innate sense to Dan as well, and he had been down on his knees scrubbing under the bathroom sink for upwards of an hour.
"We got all this …stuff, on the grout, you know?"
Yeah, I knew.
Forest, in some odd gesture that only a 6 year old could make without seeming rude, decided to clean as well. She started arranging a box of knick-knacks while watching TV.
I was really beginning to like her.
Dan and I took Forest to the park the next day. We hoped she would recognize some friends, and maybe one of their mothers…perhaps we could all…chat.
You know...about whether they had seen Ms. Pratt lately, or whether she has been known to disappear on a whim in the past. Playground chitchat. Forest recognized some friends, but all we could find were some cagey Nannies and one father who seemed more confused than us. He asked us to keep an eye on HIS kid for so long we began to think we has hit upon a trend. We’d have a litter by Fall.
Soon I lost Dan to one of the Nannies, and then, later, the BIG SLIDE.
So I sat and thought about motherhood.
And then tried not to.
Dan and Forest left in a much better mood than I.
Fortunately, I had Karissa to commiserate with when we got home. She had gone to every hospital, morgue, and police station in town. As we gradually ruled out accidental intervention, Forest began to look like an increasingly permanent fixture in our home.
You could blame it on summer.
I mean, if all this had happened during the school year, Forest would have been missed right away. We didn’t even know where she went to school. She would have been thrown into some group home, or someone official would have looked high and low for her mother. Things would have been different.
But as it was, it was summer, and Forest, all things considered, was having a lot of fun. Dan was having even more fun. They went swimming every day, and he had finally found someone to teach the piano to.
So blame it on Dan, too. Who knew he would get so attached?
And once he picked up on how quick a study Forest was on that Piano, he fell hard. Dan had the focus he had been looking for. A muse and dedicated groupie all rolled up into one. Forest was half in love with Dan and Dan was suddenly happy, and there was no way he was going to go to cops and allow his happiness to be relegated to some foster home, or become the subject of some harrowing nationwide search.
Or blame it on Karissa, who refused to get involved after her fruitless search. Who seemed to believe that denial would absolve her of responsibility.
But mostly: I’ll take the blame.
Because I am good at it and I always KNOW better. And I didn't have the guts or willpower to put a stop to it when all it had obviously gone too far.
Then, suddenly, one day, Karissa disappeared.
When I returned from work Dan was very agitated and pacing around the living room. He had taken to wearing an elf-costume for Forest, to distract her from her problems.
At well over 6 feet, Dan resembled the Jolly Green Giant, pacing a cage in some pre-hysteric captivity craze, and even after he handed me her note it took a good half an hour to stop giggling at the sight.
"What are we going to do?"
"I don’t understand"
"You KNOW she is not coming back as long as Forest is still here"
Karissa had bought a plane ticket to “visit” her mother.
I honestly DIDN’T understand what difference it was going to make, but trying to communicate this to Dan wasn’t working out well. He just kept pacing and muttering something about rats from a sinking ship.
"Listen Dan, she would have been the first to freak out …she WAS the first to freak out. She ran home to mommy. Now Forest has a room of her own until her mom returns. We’re better off"
This seemed to relax Dan a bit. He sank down to a squat and removed his pointy hat.
He looked up at me, suddenly excited: "Want to hear what I taught Forest and Jamie today?"
"Jamie is Forest’s friend"
do we know where her mom is?
He ran out of the room and returned with Forest and two other kids. "Who’s that?"
"Oh yeah, Andrea …she’ll just be singing, I didn’t have time to figure it out for the clarinet "
He propped Forest on his lap in front of the piano and Jamie mysteriously produced a tiny guitar.
Three high chirpy voices burst into an off-key rendition of Tom waits “I don’t wanna grow up.”
Now, let me explain something, incase it hasn't already become glaringly evident: Dan is a very irresponsible individual.
I really mean it.
When I first moved in he didn't even KNOW where the dumpster was, and he had probably cleaned his fish tank about twice in 5 years. He once accidentally informed me during one of his "amusing" anecdotes that he had never filed his taxes. We are talking about irresponsibility that easily transcends charming forgetfullness, and borders-frequently-on criminal negligence.
So you can imagine my reaction when Dan burst into my room later that week and declared:
"I have found my calling!"
"My calling…my purpose…my whale "
"I think you mean fish, and he was actually the ruin, not the inspiration of…
He didn't let me finish.
" I am going to teach"
" Music, to Children. It's my calling. They love me"
What does one say in such a situation? I wondered if Dan could teach (legally, that is) even if he wanted to…I mean surely he must have criminal record? Or, at least, feloniously bad credit. Some damning record must exist after all these years. Surely our current situation was going to eventually prevent both of us from ever working with children, or even large sums of cash…
"Do you really think that is a good idea?'
"Yes, Ofcourse. It is my calling"
"You'd have to go back to school for that"
I shook my head. He was right. The Children did like him. But, I wasn't entirely convinced that this wasn't the recognition of peer, rather than appreciation of a mentor. And while he had shown a shocking rise in character since saddled with the burden of instant fatherhood, I questioned the permanence of it.
"You'd have to get fingerprinted"
He seemed to pause a moment at this one.
"You'd have to (and I got up close for emphasis on this one) really do your best to effect each child in a postive manner whether or not you though they were worthy, or talented"
"All children are worthy of an education"
"You'd have to know that responsibility is a necessity in such a profession, frequently without corresponding credit"
"I KNOW that, lord, what do you think I am, an idiot? What do you think I plan to do? Keep the slow ones in a cage while a refine the skills of the superstars? "
"I don't think you're an idiot, just a bit of an elitist. I don’t know if you realize the responsibility of such a profession"
I had never seen Dan mad before, and it was more than a little fascinating.
So I kept pushing: "Forest is really smart, not all kids are like that"
"What is WRONG with you? Are you being horrible on purpose?"
He was right, of course. Why WAS I being such a bitch? If Dan was willing to go through another 3 years of schooling to become a teacher who was I to stop him?
Dan had begun his horrible pacing again.
I was just about to apologize when the phone rang.
On the phone was Forest's mom.
(Stay tuned for PART TWO)