I was woken up by the normal chorus of morning sounds. Normal for my family, which, when complete, is made up of two parents, five school-age children, one toddler, two foster babies and myself. The dog was on the sofa bed with me, snoring (probably taking a break from being manhandled). Children were running in and out of the kitchen, stopping for cereal, fruit snacks and juice...spilling, needing a band-aid or hair brushed...I curled up in my blankets, and squeezed my eyes shut knowing that there was no way I would fall back asleep. Someone had forgotten their knapsack at Aunt Betsy's and Tiger brought her kittens into the garage again, requiring one of us to bring them back to the porch. As I was stumbling into the kitchen for coffee, the dog threw up on the rug.
In my house, it's best to stay out of the way of the human throng while everyone gets ready for school. By the time I was out of bed, everyone but Kayla had gone (I drive her to her school, which starts later). Before we left, we watched flag ceremonies, clips of memorials being held and montages of video taken on September 11th of last year. I tried to observe a moment of silence but was interrupted when the dog tried to eat one of Tiger's kittens and was attacked, causing it to run yelping into the family room where it cowered behind the recliner. On the road, the man on the radio told us to put on the headlights in remembrance of the victims of 9-11. Looking at the other cars, I noticed that most had their brights shining and I turned mine on.
"Christa, do you know why we're supposed to drive with the headlights on?" Kayla asked, her emphasis on the y-o-u, the standard puberty challenge: What do you know and how much attitude can I give you?
"It's like when you drive in a funeral train with your headlights on. It lets other people know that you are mourning or remembering someone who died. Today, I have the headlights on to let people know that I'm thinking about the thousands of people who died last year."
There is little rest for the biggest sister, even one as seldom-seen as I tend to be. Something always needs doing in a house with eleven people in it, and so another person will soon be put to work answering questions or changing a baby or heeding the call of "look at me look you're not looking look!" The only quiet time comes at night, when my siblings are sleeping upstairs, my father has dozed off in his recliner in front of the ten-o'clock news and the day's last pot of coffee is being brewed. And sometimes there is no quiet at all: Joshua's ear hurts or Alyssa is hungry or Kayla won't leave Patricia and Hannah alone. I am the only one with real free time. While everyone else is at school or work, I am free to drive my father's little red pickup all over. Daytona Beach, Florida is only eighteen miles away and it's an hours drive to Orlando, but I am a sucker for company and I get lonely and then I leave and when I see them they are older and we know each other less.
That afternoon, the kids trickled home from school, dumped their things by the hall-tree and generally went haywire while my father started looking into dinner. Michael and Hannah both asked me why I couldn't play video games with them, and Hannah started to cry when dad said that he wanted to talk to me and that they should go play in the family room. I took her aside and told her very, very secretly that I suck at Nintendo games and that I would go outside with her later to look at the kittens. Thus satisfied, she ran off and my father began Standard Fun Lecture #1:
"He-llo! Christa, you nimrod, I keep telling you, if you moved down here you could live at your grandmother's rent free. And see her more, and your brothers and sisters more, and me more, but do you listen? No. I just don't know about kids today and I'm not getting any younger, I'd like to see grandkids before I DIE, he-llo. Look at the dog. Rascal wants you to come live down here, dontcha boy, good boy. Flo-ri-da. You could go swimming every day."
Dad opened a box of rice, poured it into a pan and grabbed the Windex off of the shelf...my cue to duck and cover.
"If I wanted any shit from you, I'd squeeze your head...SQUIRT...if you lived here, we could find you a nice family-minded boy...SQUIRT SQUIRT... at the church who would provide for you in the way in which I would see fit...SQUIRT...PATRICIA, GO OUTSIDE! I'm serious, you know. I don't want to put a crimple in your wimple, Peanut, but I'm your father, I know what's best for you. New York won't make you happy."
He went back to making dinner and I was shiny and streak free, as well as at a loss for words. How am I supposed to choose that option? I was saved by my brother Dean, home from the skate-park, who came into the kitchen to harass me. I slapped him upside the head and kicked him in the shin, he yelled 'GIT SAI!', Judo chopped me and I was free to push the question of where I will end up out of my brain for a while. We sparred and my father shook his head, asking himself "What foul brood hath sprung from my loins!"
My stepmother came home from the daycare center she owns, bringing Alyssa and Baby-Josh, the fosterlings, and my littlest brother, Joshua. Michael remembered that he had a present for me: a bag of the gemstones he finds at his school (the ones I like so much). Kayla whispered that his gems are just pieces of broken beer bottles, so I punched her in the arm and told her to shut her big stupid face. It's the way things work in a family that size: I don't tell Dean how heart wrenching getting older can be, he doesn't tell Kayla that everything that seems important in middle school is just crap, she doesn't tell Michael that his gems are nothing but glass and so on, though I suppose it's all about growing up, sex and Santa and death.
After dinner and cleanup, I fed Alyssa (who has known no other family but mine), my stepmother readied the little kids for bedtime and, after something resembling quiet settled over the house, my father fell asleep in his recliner. I sat in the other recliner with Alyssa while she let out a series of loud belches which culminated with her throwing up on my bare shoulder. I Windexed myself and forgave her - it's impossible to hold a grudge against eyes that pretty. She fell asleep and I shared her warmth, patting her back when she wriggled then repeating as necessary, until I also slept.
Ah, if only my father knew what's best for me...I suppose I would first need to know the answer to that question. Family versus freedom and excitement versus whatever the other thing I feel is called. I want both, which will never be possible. Until the time when I'm forced to make a decision, I'll jump back and forth between my life and another desirable life that I've only experienced the fringes of. Can't have it all, I know, and nothing is perfect...oh, how well I know that, but let me dream of a halfway point where distances don't matter and I can eat my cake and have it, too. While I imagine, I'll exist in happy confusion and depressed satisfaction. Because Limbo ain't all that bad.