It was in the bowling alley. Why the home school group’s leaders chose the meeting room at the bowling alley was beyond her comprehension, but it was.
Tattered moms arrived with their restless children to sculpt monsters out of clay. This month’s sculpture was an ancient one. A triceratops. Mindy always tried to keep the home lesson in line with what the sculpting would be, but today she’d given up after being unable to keep her kids focused for more than five minutes. They’d have to learn about monsters another day.
The kids sat in a circle on the linoleum, sheets of torn waxed paper with a giant glob of beige clay before each of them. They were almost finished with their blobs, but not one looked like a triceratops. Just blob after blob. Still, they were having a good time with their friends, covering their overalls in crusty earth and the grime that was left on the floor.
The Clay Lady was announcing something about paint when Mindy excused herself for a moment, leaving Jordan and Claire to sculpt away. She gave them both a little wave that went unnoticed and left the room.
She made her way back out of the sliding glass doors and rummaged through her purse, her hands touching chewing gum and wet wipes. Then she remembered she’d left them in the car, and rummaged for another moment until she felt the cool metal of the key.
She rummaged some more, this time through the glove compartment until she found what she was looking for – a banged up Altoids tin with red paint chipping off the edge. She popped it open and removed a cigarette.
She inhaled deeply, feeling the smoke enter her lungs and begin to calm her frazzled nerves. She closed the lid of the Altoids tin and squished it back into the glove compartment, underneath an assortment of fast food napkins and crumpled grocery lists. She made sure it was covered completely before rolling down the car windows a smidge, to make sure the smoke smell was eradicated. It would have no chance to settle. The frosty January air would have to do its job before they returned home so Dale wouldn’t notice. At least he didn’t drive the minivan often; it reduced the chances of him catching her back in the habit. She would never smoke near the kids, and he knew that, but she also knew that he wouldn’t care if he caught her in the act.
She slammed the door and locked the vehicle as she turned back towards the bowling alley. The grey clouds blended in with the gray stucco that covered the strip mall in which “Davie’s” was located. The place had stayed the same since Mindy was a kid and had come here on Wednesday nights with her youth group back when there actually was a Davie. By now he was long gone she was sure, but his bowling alley was one of the only things that had stayed the same.
She went up under the awning and sat on a holey bench next to the garbage bin. It had one of those hooded ash trays on top, which she would no doubt need before re-entering clay land. She took a long drag and crossed her legs, resting her elbow on her knee. Next door was a Mexican restaurant, and she could hear the faint chords of mariachi music coming out of the door every time it was opened and another group of smiling people went inside. She glanced down at her watch and saw that it was noon. The lunch rush.
How are these people so happy having lunch with their coworkers? She took another drag and watched a new car pull up and park. A collection of well-dressed office-folk emerged from it, laughing at something someone had said.
The last time the family had gone out to dinner it was to Mario’s. It had been for Mindy and Dale’s anniversary and they had decided to treat themselves. In Dale’s mind that meant going to the pizza parlor. It was a nice place, but the only kind of pizza Dale had ever liked was cheese, and Jordan wasn’t a fan of pizza that night. He wouldn’t have it, and she’d had to take him and Claire out of the restaurant to avoid a scene. Dale had remained on the phone with a client the entire time and didn’t even notice they were gone until he returned to the table fifteen minutes after the fact. She stood up and began to pace, preparing herself for re-joining the group indoors. She was tired of it. She took one last drag on her cigarette and paced away from the building when she heard the doors slide open.
“Mindy! There you are! Come quick, Jordy’s having an episode.”
Mindy turned to see one of the other mother’s, Janice? waving frantically from just outside the entrance. Another of Jordan’s meltdowns. She felt the icy air hit her for the first time and smashed the remainder of her cigarette into the ash tray above the garbage can. She ran past Janice into the bowling alley and rushed to the meeting room.
The clay lady was in the corner of the room with most of the children, showing them how to carve their name into the foot of their triceratops with a wooden skewer. She was eying the group of mom’s, and one crying child, every now and again while still attempting to keep the children focused. It wasn’t working.
“Jordy, baby. What’s going on?” Mindy crouched down next to Jordan. His hands were balled into fists, clay oozing out from the cracks between his fingers and splattered on the floor.
He didn’t respond and instead glared at the ground, shaking with the severity of his concentration.
“Derek borrowed one of Jordy’s paint colors to finish up his dinosaur, and it caused a bit of an argument...” Janice had come in right behind Mindy and was explaining. “It escalated when Jordy tore his sculpture in half and squished the two pieces in his hands.”
She looked from Jordan up to Janice and stood up. “I’m so sorry.” It came out as a whisper. “Jordy.” Mindy turned back to her child. “I need you to tell Derek you’re sorry.”
He seemed to come out of the haze for a minute, only to re-enter it with fury a moment later. Jordan began to stomp his feet wildly and wave his hands in the air. Derek began to wail loudly. Mindy wasn’t sure it was all Jordan’s fault, but it seemed there was nothing she could do.
“Mindy, this cannot keep happening.” Janice positioned herself between Jordy and Derek, her back facing the clay lady in the corner.
Mindy knelt down next to Jordan and enveloped him in her arms. “I need you to take deep breaths Jordy. Come on. Take a breath and count to five with me.”
One, two, three, four, five.
He calmed considerably and wiggled out of her arms, plopping himself on the floor with a thud. Janice motioned to Mindy to join her by the window.
“If you can’t get Jordy under control, we’re going to have to ask you to stop coming.” Janice was never one to shy away from reality, and Mindy could tell that she would not have any unruly children ruining the homeschool group’s activities. Jordy certainly couldn’t be the only unruly child to ever be a part of the group.
“Janice, please. He’d never hurt anyone.” Mindy looked at her son. He had now rejoined the rest of the group and was talking animatedly with Claire.
“I’m not sure about that Mindy, and that’s where the problem lies. I’m the one responsible for this group, and sometimes that means making the hard decisions. I’m sorry Mindy.” Janice looked genuinely sorry. Three strikes and you’re out.
“But what about Claire? She loves it; she’s made so many friends.” The pair glanced over at the children as they finished the paint jobs on their sculptures.
“We would be happy to have Claire. Perhaps she can come with Katie’s family –they seem to have become fast friends.”
The comment began to make Mindy fume. Jordy had stood up and was pretending to fly around the room, his anger from moments before now dissipated.
Lots of kids pretend that they can fly.
“I’ll figure something out Janice.” She left the woman and went to get Claire. After depositing her triceratops in the bin to be taken to the kiln, Mindy grabbed Jordan and left the group without so much as a goodbye.
“Where’d your dinosaur go Jordy?” Claire asked the question of her older brother, eyeing him suspiciously.
He ignored her, still intent on flying despite Mindy’s tight grip on his clay-covered hand. They made it to the van with little trouble and Mindy lifted up Claire into her booster seat, fastening the seatbelt in the correct location to prevent any harm from coming to her daughter. When she turned around to tell Jordan to get in, he was back next to the bowling alley, climbing up the five-foot high brick wall that kept the shrubbery in place.
“Jordan! What are you doing?” She made sure Claire was fastened in snuggly before running the short distance back to where Jordan was now standing atop the wall.
“I can fly!” He positioned his hands out in front of him like a superhero ready to take flight. “Get down from there right now, Jordan!”
Mindy ran over to him just in time for his small body to go catapulting through the air, straight into her arms. She stumbled back under his six-year-old weight and held onto him tightly. “You cannot fly, Jordan. That was dangerous! Come on, we are leaving.” She stood him up and pushed him in the direction of the minivan.
“I wasn’t up high enough,” Jordan mumbled under his breath.
“You cannot fly Jordy. No amount of height can fix that. Please do not do that again.”
The whole way home he could not stop talking about flying. How if he just had the chance he would climb a mountain and the wind would pick him up off of the summit and carry him away, then he would be able to fly forever. He’d fly to Grandma and Grandpa’s in Minneapolis. Then he’d go to the North Pole to see the polar bears. He was very hung up on the idea of flight.
Mindy thought of her brother as a child. He had done many of the same things Jordan did. He’d thought that he had super strength. He had moved the large rocks their mother had placed around the backyard for decoration onto the deck. It had irked her to no end. For the longest time their mother hadn’t known who was doing it, and it was Mindy and her brother’s joke. But that wasn’t anything dangerous. Rolling a forty-pound rock around the backyard couldn’t do much to Steven except maybe break a toe if it was dropped in the wrong direction. The super strength wasn’t funny anymore when he was jumping in front of cars attempting to halt them with his bare hands.
When they arrived home, Mindy ushered the kids inside to get a snack. She needed something to occupy Jordan’s mouth.
It didn’t work.
“Jordy, honey, I’m gonna need you to be quiet for a little while, okay?” He looked at her as if the idea was bizarre and grotesque. An impossible feat.
When it was finally nap time, a time that Jordan seemed to be cruelly outgrowing Mindy sat down with him on his bed to talk to him about his actions earlier at the bowling alley.
“Jordy, do you remember what you did today to Derek’s dinosaur?” She ran his fingers through his soft brown hair as he fought to keep his eyes alert.
“I had to destroy it!” His voice grew louder and scruffier at the end, as if he was an alien sent from outer space with the sole purpose of destroying triceratops sculptures.
“No you didn’t, honey. That was not your dinosaur to destroy. It made Derek very upset when you did that.” He seemed to not be hearing a word she was saying. “Why did you do that, Jordy? Why did you smash all of Derek’s hard work?”
Jordan looked at his mother for a moment and then turned away from her onto his side, suddenly intent on taking his nap.
“Jordan, I need you to talk to me honey. Why did you do that?”
He rolled back over and looked up at her, reaching up to her face with his little hands. It was something he’d done since he was a baby, reaching out to touch her hair.
“Someone told me to do it.”
Mindy frowned, thinking of all the possible people who could have pressured him into being so cruel. Janice’s son, Robby, was it? His mother had rubbed off on him a little too much.
“Who told you to Jordy?” He didn’t seem to want to respond. “It’s okay, you can tell me. You won’t get in trouble.”
“I don’t know who, they just told me.” He kept twirling her hair.
“Well, let’s try not to listen to them, okay? Can you do that for me?” Jordan nodded his head before dropping his hand back onto the comforter. “Now I need you to go to sleep honey.” Mindy got up and moved towards the door. “I’ll come wake you up soon.” She shut the door behind her.
As she moved down the hallway, she contemplated what Jordy had said. The voices were simply imaginary friends. It was typical for young children to have imaginary friends. She was sure of it.
Except for one thing. It was the same rebuttal Steven had told her to defend his reasons for ending up in the hospital.
Her brother had lived a difficult life. She didn’t want that for Jordan. Hearing voices telling him to take harmful action. How harmful would the action need to be before she did something about it?
She went into the garage and found the Altoids tin. She was going to break her record since quitting nine years ago. She hadn’t had two in one day in ages. She made her way through the house and out onto the back porch where she lit up. Her little piece of heaven, one that could kill her. She knew it, but that never seemed to stop her. She knew it then and she knew it now, but she refused to get him help.