It was well after midnight and although my sister tried her best to convince April and I to travel home in the morning, I was anxious to get back to our small home. If you measured the distance between my sister's house and mine, it wasn't impressive. A mere 22.4 miles. But with a barrier of soft hills and a city on my side, travel conditions was dependant on everything from weather to large escaped domesticated animals taking advantage of their freedom. These creatures would often mosey down to safer flat ground, unimpressed by man's efforts to humanly move their stubborn selves from roads.
April was sobbing, heartbroken. Her chubby little legs were drawn up towards her chest and her feet were planted on the edge of the car seat. Although she was securely harnessed in, she was bent over, straining at the belt. With a worried glance to the mirror, I watched her curls bob with each ragged inhaled breath. She wailed, "I want him back! I need him Mommy!"
One of my struggles to improve as a parent is to swallow back those moments when I dearly want to let loose with a sigh. Although it's a great release valve for me, it's not exactly a positive influence on a nearly three-year-old child. Especially when they're smart enough to readjust by reading Mom's nonverbal before pushing her control buttons. In this case, I was concerned more that this sigh might be misread. She was experiencing true loss. She didn't care that I had turned around at the first lookout I came to, and was now headed back to her Aunt's house.
"We'll be there pretty quick Sweetheart. Then you'll get Jim back." (This said almost as a chant). She wailed in reply.
"I don't care! I just need him right now!"
Jim was a soft faux neon green bunny her Uncle Gary gave her on her one month birthday. For the first year of April's life, once a month a package would show up with her name on it. Postage stamps from Madrid, China, France, Rwanda and Sweden decorated the outside of the boxes. The inside always held bizarre goofy gifts with letters of explanation and a prayer that somehow merged to make sense of the purchase. Gary named the bunny after his first pet, a hamster. In the letter, he teased me with the story of how he bathed the hamster in water mixed with green food coloring. Did I remember?
It's hard to forget. He was in second grade. I was in third. We were excited because both of our classes were preparing for a St Patrick's Day party. For a full week before, we'd compare notes walking to and from school of what we cut, colored and put together to decorate our classrooms.
Gary's hamster was born in his classroom. I was envious. His class had all the cool stuff. Baby hamsters, baby bunnies, a tarantula, lizards, skinks and turtles. Sometimes his teacher even brought in a boa.
My class was studying plant life. Boring.
As the baby animals matured, letters were sent out to parents on a first-come basis to pick and choose. Gary chose Jim, and often Jim would accompany Gary for the day as a visitor. He was always welcomed.
Since Jim's green turned out so well, I convinced Gary that he should do the same for his hair too. I lowered the stopper of the bathroom sink and filled it with water. Squeezed out every drop of the food coloring from the little plastic bottle. Swirled it into the water and had him dunk his short blond headed hair into it. He had to stand on the stool and talked into the porcelain. "Can I come up yet?"
I told him to raise his head just a bit, and checked on the color. It was a pale green, nothing like the hamster. He dripped green back into the sink. "Am I done?"
"No, it's too pale. Stay here, I'm gonna go get the other bottle for food coloring."
One of Mama's hobbies was making cakes, and sometimes she'd sell them. She had a wonderful collection of colors to choose from. I flipped open the small box containing them, and poked around, grabbing all the ones that looked green.
I don't recall where Mom was at the time, but suspect she was out hanging clothes on the line.
Gary wrapped a towel around his head as we experimented with the water. We ended up using all the bottles since we liked the colorful effect it had on our hands as we stirred.
Gary leaned forward and wiggled his head around, churning up the dark green water. As he lifted his head, I quickly wiped the dribbles that tried to escape down his face and neck. Got them all, except the tips of his ears.
Rubbing my hands on the towel, the color stuck. For some odd reason, it bothered me more that my hands didn't match anything else. Or maybe I was a bit jealous over Gary's new look. I leaned at the waist, grabbed my long blond hair up, climbed on the stool and dunked. The water felt good, and as I swished my head, I pictured my hair looking like beautiful long vines.
Talking into the sink, I ordered Gary to get me a towel. We used three already on him then mopped up our mess.
When Gary bathed Jim, he placed him on the edge of the tub. Jim was spoiled, and loved to socialize. Usually he sat where he was put after a bit of investigating. He knew he'd get a treat as positive re-enforcement.
"Jim's gone!" He said.
I muttered some more into the sink. "Whatcha mean, Jim's gone?"
"He's not on the tub!"
"He musta jumped down to the floor..."
I lifted my head a bit and watched parts of Gary's body upside down dart and move. I heard him push the shower curtain aside. He lifted the trashcan, hunted behind the sink's pedestal and toilet.
No Jim. He crawled around the baseboard as if Jim would magically reappear, but with no luck.
"I think he fell into the tub and is stuck in the drain!"
"Gary, I don't think so..."
"He had to!"
I heard the door open and close as he left. It opened quickly again. "I brought a coat hanger."
"Get me a towel for my hair and I'll help."
"Don't have time!" He handed me one from the floor. "Use this one for now, 'kay?"
I bunched towel over my head and carefully got off my perch. Grabbed the coat hanger from my brother and unwound the wire around its neck. Together we straightened it out, and then climbed into the tub. Carefully I slid one end into the drain and snaked it down. I was trying to listen for hamster noise. The towel kept sliding to the side and I'd shove it back up.
"Gary, it won't go in any farther. I'm pulling it up."
It wouldn't move. Stuck on something. I sat down, put my feet against the tub and yanked.
No luck. "Gary, help me!"
He was quiet, and then asked, "Jim loves to climb, right?"
"I think he climbed up the shower curtain and got out the window."
I looked up. There was a tiny hole in the screen, created by me one day when I was supposed to be taking a shower. I was bored and wondered how hard it would be to make a hole in the screen. Figured if I experimented in a corner, no one would notice.
Gary shimmied up the side, balanced first on the bathtub's edge. He popped the screen off and it barely made noise as it hit the soft grass below. "I'll be right back," he said and heaved himself to the windowsill.
This was when we heard Mama scream. She stood in the open doorway. Her eyes darted all over the place, looked like she was trying to follow the path of a pair of flies. Every once in a while she'd pause; at the sink which dribbled green trails down its sides to pool on the white tile. Or at the white walls covered with green splotches. Or at the broad streaks of color from the tub and up the wall leading to the window. There were handprints, fingerprints - the bathroom looked like an experiment gone from black and white television to green and white.
She stood there, our Mama, with her jaw dropped. Closing it once, she slid her tongue across her lips, and then froze, taking in our condition. My hair was still mostly covered with the towel, and fortunately the color was wiped free from my skin with every shift of re-adjusting the towel. Except my hands. Or my blouse. Or my pants. Or my bare feet. Gary's hair stood on end. Looked like a field of soft grass. Beautiful. I was impressed.
Mama was not. She opened her mouth to say something, but about that time, my towel shifted and Gary dared a peek at it.
"Jim!" He whooped and attacked my head. Grabbed Jim who was nesting camouflaged green on green.
That year we went to the school party with green hair.
When Gary sent 'Jim' the bunny to April, it was a reminder of bonding. Family. How even in our differences, we are the same.
I pulled into Connie's driveway and softly knocked on the door. It creaked open. Connie smiled and danced Jim in front of me. I smiled. "Thanks..."
"April missed it, huh?"
"I miss Gary too."
"I know, Hon." I drew her in for a last hug, and she whispered in my ear.
"One day I'll see him again. I miss the story of when you two colored your hair..."
I laughed. "Yeah, every time Dad used to call us his early spring bulbs, Mom would whack him on the arm!"
"Is that why on every Easter you and Gary would hand out bulb plants to the neighborhood?"