Friday, December 7, 2018

You Didn’t Miss Anything

By Kyler Horn

“Remember, Booboo? Mom gets home today! All you have to do is make it through youth group.” I wipe my tears away as we pull up to the Community Church. “Youth group will be over before you know it.”  I had already had three full blown, screaming, kicking, asthma attack inducing meltdowns that day, but who can blame a six year old who hasn’t talked to, let alone seen, their mom for a week? He must have seen that his pep talk didn’t have much of an affect on me. “You know what? Maybe if Mom gets home early enough, she’ll come get you before youth group is over.” He winks at me and shakes his beard in my face, making me giggle uncontrollably.

Dad walks me into the lobby and kneels in front of me. “You’ll be fine, no more crying.” He reassures me one last time as he gives me a high-five, leaving me with the other saints in training. Preacher Smith and his family are outside the nave doors greeting everyone. Preacher is crouching down, looking in the aquarium with all of the boys while Jane, his wife, is talking to us girls. Her smile is enormous and the feeling of belonging and love radiates from her. Jack, the preacher’s son, comes over to round all of us up into the pews to start singing our hymns.

The energy in the room is ecstatic. Everyone in the church is singing, even the high schoolers get into the songs. With all the love and commotion going on, I almost forget about my mom, but my mother’s favorite psalm comes on and I start to cry. Jack walks over to my pew and squats in front of me. “Are you okay, Kyler? Let’s move to the back so we can talk.” I grab his hand and we walk to the last pew. “Is everything alright?” He asks again, trying to look me in the eyes, but I hide my face. When I don’t respond, he sits next to me and buries me in his arms. He leans in close and whispers “I really need you to stop crying.” I can tell by the way he’s moving that he’s looking at something. “Kyler, I really need you to stop crying.”

I unbury myself from his arms and try to find what Jack seems to be terrified of. All I see is Preacher Smith talking to his wife. He looks angry, an emotion I’ve never seen on his face. He’s throwing his hands around in rapid, distinct movements, while Jane just stares at Jack and me. As the hymns come to an end, I hear Preacher Smith sternly whisper “Take care of her, however you need to." He quickly heads to the podium, his white shirt now creased, and partially untucked, from all of the thrashing. He shoots one last look at Jane before he starts opening prayer.

Jane begins to approach us, and Jack tries to dry my face as he pulls me closer. “Hello Kyler, can you follow me?” Jane asks as she extends her hand, but I just stare at her.

“Mom, I got this.” Jack whispers, pushing her hand away.

“You obviously don’t.” Jane sneers as she grabs my hand and pulls me out of his arms. In a panic, Jack chases us. His face is distorted in fear and anger, but I can’t figure out why. The Smith family is the most caring, loving family around. They devoted their lives outside to teaching everyone the word of god through simple things such as piano. They even took jobs at the local market so they could “spread his love like Smucker’s jam… which by the way is buy 1 get 1 free.” So, why is Jack acting as if he just saw the holy ghost himself?

Jane throws the kitchen door open, scoops me up, and drops me onto the counter. The frigid, pear colored vinyl under my legs makes me shiver. “Mom,” Jack pleads. “Just let me try to talk to her for a few more minutes.”

“Get out.” Jane doesn’t even turn around when she demands this. She’s pulling all the kitchen drawers open and slamming them shut. Jack pleads a few more times but stops after he realizes that there is no hope. He grabs my hand, gives it a squeeze, and then slips out of the kitchen. With all the chaos and confusion, my silent tears turn back into whimpers, making Jane lose all that is left of her sanity. Jane slams her hands onto the counter. “Quit crying!” She shrieks, pounding her hands on the counter again. My cry elevates from a whimper to a sob.

“I want my mommy.” I barely manage to whisper.

“Your mom isn’t here. Now stop…” Jane bashes one fist onto the counter to my right “...CRYING!” the other fist comes down to the left of me. I don’t know if it’s from fear or despair, but all I can do is repeat over again.

“I want my mommy. I want my mommy. I want my mommy.” If Jane tried to utter a word, I’d just repeat louder and louder until she reached her breaking point. She went to reach for my mouth and I panicked. With my fear in full control, I kicked her as hard as possible in the stomach.

“No! You do not treat your neighbor like that!” Jane winds her arm back, but before she swings the world freezes. I can see the anger in her brown eyes. Disgustingly brown, they remind me of bitter, black coffee. Muffled through the kitchen walls I can hear Preacher Smith going over 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “Love is patient and kind... it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing…” The muscles in Jane’s face are taught, yet her frown seems almost a grin. She knew what she was about to do. She must have done it a hundred times with the way she played it off like a bible lesson. Her hand slices through the air and strikes me on the right side of my face.

“Matthew 22 Verse 39. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Jane recites as she runs her hand under cold water. She then walks to the fridge and digs around. After a few minutes, Jane emerges from the fridge with a bag of frozen peas and carrots. “Holds these on your face for a few minutes.” She coos as she gently lays it on the bright red mark she left on my face. “Take some time to collect yourself. I’ll be outside the door waiting for you so I can walk you back to the sermon. “ With that being said, Jane opens the kitchen door, draws a deep breath, puts on her smile, and walks out.

I’m unable to tell if I am shivering from the icy, vinyl plastic under me; my anger at God for letting that happen to me; or pure fear knowing I’d have to see her twice a week for the next seven years. I feel betrayed. My religion had come crashing down at the hands of those who taught me all I know. Has it all been a cover up? As 1 Thessalonians 4:11 states “make it your goal to live quietly.” If I were to tell anyone, my life would no longer be quiet. With the way Townville is, my name would be plastered all over the town. Would God be angry if I told anyone? I’d be throwing one of his children right into the loud, fiery pits of hell. How would my parents even react to this? I don’t want to be punished by them and I don’t want the Smiths to get in trouble... let alone get me in trouble with God… if there even is one.

I sit on the counter like a patient awaiting surgery. I am anxious of leaving the safety of the room I’m in, but I know staying in here will only cause more harm. I slip off of the counter and head towards the door. Once I leave this room, I will never be able to tell anyone about what has just happened. I reach for the doorknob, the chilled metal stings, but I don’t pull away. The moment I open this door, everything will be put between God and I. I close my eyes as tight as possible as I wrench the door open.

Light comes pouring in around a silhouette in the doorway. “Surprise, Boobear! Are you ready to go?” My mom swoops me up into a hug. “Oh, how I’m ready to hear about all the things I’ve missed!” she gushes as she sets me back down. I take a deep breathe, look back into the kitchen, and force a smile.

“You didn’t miss anything, Mommy.”

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Those First Steps

By Kirsten Milam

Streams of what felt like cool water ran down the sides of my face, in reality it was sweat. As much as it grossed me out, it was a reprieve from the glaring sun above that was scorching my cheeks. I took a deep breath, trying to even out my heart rate and short breathing. We hadn’t started our workout more than 20 minutes ago, and I already felt like my legs had turned into gelatin. Who made me do this? My subconscious peeped right in with, you chose this and you’ve got to at least try. But that wasn’t completely true; my mother had thought that this would be “good for me”. My mother and I didn’t agree on a few things, and this was definitely one of them. Who ran three miles for fun? My mother did. She ran in high school and wanted me to try it out. I refused to go initially. I couldn’t understand how running would help me. I would miss school at least once a week, and after school practices take away from homework time. Plus, I wasn’t sure that the girls on the team even liked me. In the end though, my mother dropped me off without another word on the subject.

Checking to make sure I was heading the right direction, I took note of the sprinkler that was dousing a thirsty looking yard. I remembered passing by it at the beginning of my suffering. A dog on a chain leash bolted out of the shadows, curious as to what was out on the road. I did not remember seeing him earlier. Maybe he just happened to be a sign from fate to run faster. As I picked up the pace away from the dog, I wondered if he was as hot as I was. The sound of my fellow runner’s footsteps brought my attention back to the task at hand, which in all honesty, was just to survive the last ten minutes.

I had already been astray once while running today from not keeping up behind Clancy. She ran about the same pace as me and had been assigned to not completely lose me. Again, I tried to focus on my breathing, each inhale of the humid air reminded me of something I had tried when I was little. My mother would put a damp warm washcloth over her face when unwinding from the day. When I tried doing it, all I could sense was a smothering wet heat that was blocking my breathing. I never understood the relaxing aspect of it. I checked my watch to see if I could just head straight to the football field ahead of me. I was close enough to thirty minutes of running. My legs protested as I pushed ahead from the harsh concrete to rocky gravel, finally onto lush green grass. Slowly, the rest of the runners showed up, red-faced and drenched in sweat.

“All right, now that you’ve finished the first part of our workout . . .” Mrs. Haake’s voice trailed off as my body took into consideration what could possibly be next. “Load up in the van and we’ll go,” Mrs. Haake’s voice brought me back into motion, and I drug my useless gelatin legs to the van. I internally pleaded for someone to shove me into the van. Mrs. Haake seemed like a coach that would drive you to do your best and push you to your limits, yet she was there in support also. Clambering onto the bus, I pulled the back of my t-shirt off my skin. I didn’t want to think about the large sweat stain there probably was. We rumbled out of the school parking lot and towards Highway 2. My breathing had finally evened out and with each breath; I drew in the stench of sweaty shoes. I didn’t know why my new teammates were smiling. It smelled rancid in here. I thought that we weren’t actually having a second part to practice until we pulled the boxy cargo van up alongside the Middle Loup River.

This couldn’t be as miserable as the first part of our workout. I can swim a lot better than I can run. The river would be much cooler than being out under direct sun too. As the others untied their laces and peeled off sweat soaked socks, I followed suit, clumsily yanking them off. “I want you guys to go down to where the sand bar ends and wait for my count. Then you’ll sprint up to me and float back down.” Mrs. Haake finished her instructions and walked up stream about 100 meters. All six of us girls, and our one male teammate, Isaac, wandered down to the end of the sand bar. The water that ran over our feet was cool, and no more than two inches deep. The sand was rippled from the water carrying and depositing it.

“If you fall, don’t grab for someone else, just get right back up and go,” Tristan, Mrs. Haake’s daughter, advised us. Tristan was kind in school, and always smiling. She held a position of leadership on the team, and was, without a doubt, the best runner here. The rest of the team lined up beside me, all of them had done this before at least once and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect to happen.

“Ready?” You could barely hear our coach’s strong voice over the rushing water. Tristan gave her two thumbs up after looking at us all for confirmation. “Go!” Everybody bolted off the imaginary line we had set. My face was wet within seconds and this time, it was from cool water and not sweat. Focusing on where my feet landed was quite the challenge. The glare of sunlight on the water stung my eyes and a few pesky water droplets assisted in temporarily blinding me. All of a sudden, there was a splash and Clancy was face down in the water, yet laughing. Attempting to remain on my feet, I burst into my own fit of giggles with Tristan and Morgan. Reaching the spot that held Mrs. Haake, we all took a second to catch our breath. Our herd jogged over, plunging into the deeper water to float back to the beginning. Water ran all along my face, and I swiped my tongue over my chapped top lip. It tasted like river water and salt from my former sweatiness.

One by one, we started striding over to the sand bank and slowly pulling ourselves out of the water. Each of us now had a second skin, our t-shirts and shorts clinging to our bodies. Lined up once again, Tristan threw her thumbs up before a “ready” could be called out. “Go!” Mrs. Haake’s voiced strained again over the water beneath us. Shot into action, we ran more fluidly this time, dodging dips in the sand and weaving between each other to get ahead. Clancy was with us, until she wasn’t. She must have hit the same spot as last time! With a loud chuckle, I tripped on my own soft spot, not falling to my own luck. Mrs. Haake was howling with laughter when we finished, which caused the rest of us to crack up.

“Kirsten, I really thought you were going to fall down after me,” Clancy remarked with a cheesy grin. She had recovered fast and finished right after me. Being the only one who had fallen, I was surprised she was still so upbeat when she had been the entertainment. Clancy was a team player, I had identified that right away.

“I almost did! I caught my balance though,” I replied with my own lopsided smile. We all sat in the flowing water to stretch. My heart was light, even though my calves burned and abdominal muscles hadn’t released. Finishing the last of our stretching, we loaded back into the smelly, hot van for the trip home. I sat there wondering what tomorrow’s dreadful practice might bring. A hill workout? A whole three miles? Surprised that I even thought about tomorrow’s practice, I kept telling myself that I did NOT want to go. A smaller sliver of me wanted to, but another part didn’t want my mother to be right.

“Kirsten, do ya think that you’ll be joining us again tomorrow?” Mrs. Haake’s eyes met mine in the rearview mirror as she asked. I gave a cheesy smile before I replied, knowing I was going to make the right choice.

“I guess we’ll see tomorrow,” I told her.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Creepy Crawly Things

by Cortney Scott

“Hurry, grab that box I think he went underneath the pallets!” I yelled as we tried to catch the escaped rat.  My brother and I had now been chasing this pesky rodent for about an hour.  When being a pet store owner you deal with many sneaky animals.  Not to mention sometimes it’s under some not so fun circumstances.  One may think it’s an everyday, ordinary job, but many people don’t realize what can happen behind the scenes.

The rodents were probably the animals we dealt with most frequently.  From mice and rats to guinea pigs and ferrets.  When dealing with rodents there are many things that can happen.  One time I was bit by a rat that latched on to my finger and bit down as hard as he could, while I’m whaling my arm around trying to set my poor finger free.  After this incident occurred I was extremely cautious when dealing with any of the rodents.

Another thing to remember when dealing with rodents is that they are escape artists.  No matter how many latches you have on the cage or how many bricks you pile on top of the lid there will always be some rodents that find a way out.  One day I came into work on what I thought was a completely normal day and started in with my morning routine.  I was going around feeding and watering everyone when I noticed there was a lid propped up on one of the hamster cages and it was empty.  I took about two hours trying to find any trace that this chubby little creature could have left.  After giving up on the hunt I decide to take a little bathroom break.  As I open the bathroom door something catches my eye in the toilet.  I turn to look inside the toilet and there’s my chubby little hamster floating belly up.  Poor little guy must have wanted a midnight drink and leaned over the side too far, fell in and then couldn’t get back out.  This is just one of the MANY escaped rodent stories.

Another category of animals we dealt with daily were the reptiles, which normally included some green anoles, geckos, chameleons, snakes, tadpoles, and some tree frogs.  First off I’ll start by letting you know that those little green anoles are the fastest little boogers you will ever chase, especially if they escape when trying to catch one.  One time a green anole snuck out of the lid and jumped between and behind all of the lizard merchandise, causing me to have to remove everything to find the sneaky little bastard.  This little incident was very embarrassing because a customer had asked to purchase the Green Anole that I was now searching frantically for and was standing behind me the whole time watching what must have been a great show (And yes I finally ended up catching the lizard).

There have also been a few times when we have special ordered some different types of lizards not really knowing much about them.  Once we ordered this stunning bright tokey gecko because of its astonishing colors.  Totally unaware that they are one of the meanest kinds of geckos.  Well when we received this “beautiful creature” it was in a mesh bag and my job was to transfer the little fella from the mesh bag into his new home.  Couldn’t be too hard right? WRONG! 

So I open up this bag to find this lizard giving me a death stare with his mouth wide open while hissing at me.  Well this should be interesting I’m thinking to myself.  Not to mention I was the only one working that day so even if I needed help there was no one there to assist me with this aggravated lizard.  Well you’re still probably thinking that it couldn’t have been that hard just to turn the bag upside down and dump him into the glass aquarium.  Well I attempted this but when I turned the bag upside down the gecko then dug his nails into the mesh bag so I couldn’t set him free.  He did this the whole time I tried to get him out.  Me, now completely fed up with this ugly, nasty little creature decided he could just stay in the bag inside of the aquarium until he decided to crawl out, which was about 3 hours later.
The hardest animals to deal with would have probably been the birds. I mean, I love birds, and they’re very intelligent and pretty, but man are they messy! Every day at the beginning and end of our shift we would have to vacuum up the floor by the birds and the shelving unit that the bird cages were sitting one.  They also liked to poop on the merchandise we were trying to sell which was not cool.

The silliest thing about the birds is that when we received them from the breeding company they were shipped in brown cardboard boxes.  Which if you think about it, it’s hard to transfer four birds (all in the same box) to a bird cage without one (or a couple) escaping the box. These birds mainly consisted of parakeets, pinches, and cockatiels.  I would have to carefully cut a small square in the box just a little bit bigger then my hand so I could reach inside and grab bird by bird.  Also the birds are pretty scared when they first arrive so I make sure to find an extra thick glove to put in in case one decides to latch down on my finger.

For instance there was this one time we received a shipment of four Zebra Finches and if you are at all familiar with finches you’ll know that they’re small and fast little suckers.  Well I started out by cutting a square in the box very carefully and grad grab onto on of the birds.  As I’m slowly pulling one of the Finches out of the box two of the other finches manage to escape through the small gab between my hand and the box.  I hollered at my brother to go grab the 6-foot net out of the backroom.  After about an hour we finally capture the feisty finch and paced her safely in her temporary home.

We also special ordered animals that we didn’t carry on hand for people that wanted them.  One animal that stuck in my mind the most was this disgusting tarantula.  To start off I can deal with just about any animal from snakes to scorpions, but I am terrified of spiders.  Well one day a gentleman came in and wanted some information on ordering a tarantula so my brother helped him find the one he wanted and the order sent out.  After the man leaves I go over to my brother and ask him what they were talking about and he gets a smirk on his face and says “Well I just ordered that guy a freakin' tarantula!” I just stare at him for a second and I glance over at the calendar to make sure I don’t open that day, and sure as shit I did! So I beg my brother to open for me that day because there is no way I can handle that nasty spider.  Thankfully he agreed so I didn’t have to try and fight the spider out of the box and then him attack me!

There are many different jobs out there but I guarantee no other job would have you hunting after escaped animals more than this one did.  You deal with so many sneaky animals—it’s crazy.  At least I have a bunch of entertaining stories to tell my kids when they get a little older about how mommy ran a pet store.