The traffic light, like most downtown lights, was taking an eternity but I stared at it feeling certain I could will it to change if I just concentrated hard enough. It refused to budge off red, and I sighed. The buildings downtown were shimmering from the heat, reflections from windows were making my eyes hurt. I was almost sure I’d just seen a gargoyle moving around on a rooftop. Leaning towards the windshield, I peered up to the sky-high ledges up there; yes, there he was. An olive green, sort of liony gargoyle was pacing back and forth on top of the Federal Building. It was hard to tell at this distance, but from his body language he looked anxious.
I heard the passenger door beside me click open, and an enormous pink face poked into the car. “Hello!” Fred shouted gaily. He jumped into the car, rather adroitly for a pig, I noticed, and just then I heard both rear doors opening as well — Marmalade, Peggy, and Jasper hopped into the back seat, rocking the entire car as they wiggled in and adjusted themselves. The car sank at least six inches.
Jeez, I thought. I’ve got a car full of swine again. I had no idea how they kept finding me.
Fred was talking. “So I knew this would interest you, it’s a cosmic environmental gleaning conference for all Democratic Socialists — or for anyone vitally interested or slightly curious about socialism — in fact if you’ve so much as heard of socialism or the environment, you’re exactly the audience they’re hoping to attract,” he said, then stopped to breathe. His ears flapped a bit. “You’ll be so excited to go! There will be a roundtable discussion, an auditorium gathering for questions, two brainstorming sessions, several excursions for canvassing opinions, and a pon-farr in the hotel lobby.”
My teeth made a sound like a crack as I ground them together. “That not only sounds ridiculous, I want nothing to do with you or your friends again. You already led me once to a political meeting where I thought I was going to listen to a speech, but it turned out I was supposed to give one! I was utterly unprepared and looked like a fool. Get out of my car, your girlfriends in back smell like Love’s Baby Soft perfume.” My hands had begun to shake, I was that mad.
Fred said gently, “Snacks are guaranteed.” The three in back nodded and made mm-hmming noises, and one of them hiccupped.
I turned to face him. “Do you know where I was last week?” I asked. “I spent three hours in a psychiatrist’s office lying on a leather or maybe leatherette couch telling every detail of my recent encounters with you and how you drive me insane. I told her how long you’ve been visiting me, making me go do stupid things or giving you lifts to stupid places and making me meet stupid people. This psychiatrist wrote in a notebook for an hour, then finally stopped and just looked at me and told me to keep talking. I think she was recording it and is going to use it to have me institutionalized.”
“We will never let them take you! We will defend you to the death, we’ll free you from any asylum — any prison — ford any stream, we will climb any … um, slight rise, and spirit you away to freedom!” This, from Jasper and Peggy.
I kept driving, and they kept chattering. Soon there would likely be singing. The car seats were sure to be covered in smears of white baby powder and lotion whenever they would finally get out. I hate pigs. They’re so — clean, it’s repulsive.
That was the beginning of the script I showed my parents, so they could get an idea of the sort of podcasts I wrote, developed, and had started to sell. Some were for children’s shows, others for grownup audiences. They still didn’t get it. My father, chewing on his lip, nodded as my mother told me very clearly they expected me to report to the nursing school the following week. I was to attend those wooden classes, where every measurement had to be exactly the right number of significant digits and if you didn’t have a plan to get your patient to toe the line and cooperate in his care, you were in trouble.
I couldn’t focus to do those things, because I just didn’t see how anyone on earth could. How can you keep thinking about making someone behave in “adaptive ways” when the best things in life was to subvert and do the unexpected? Of course that isn’t “adaptive” behavior, but I thought if I had to go in that hospital or those deadly classes again my face was going to turn to granite and pieces would start falling off. Now that would scare patients, so clearly the best thing was to make sure someone like me was made to go far away. Yes, I was willing to go. Far away.
My parents argued a bit more — we never had long arguments — and my mother ended it with, “So that’s settled. We are NOT having you run off and ignore a solid and practical educational opportunity.” My father (who hadn’t actually spoken) made an mm-hmming noise; it was clear they thought with one mind.
I listened, but was trying to remember the bus schedules to get across town the next morning, to the film institute where I could submit a video essay. There was a contest. It would be fun. At the very least I’d get a writeup that I could show prospective clients.
Years later, my parents, Fred and Peg, finally had a nurse in the family in my younger sister and they’d forgotten their ambitions for me.