Chapter One Hundred One
We had to rent a car, even an Escalade has a seat limit, and the Corvette is not much for a crowd.
“We’re going into Prescott, about twenty five miles, place called Dry Gulch Steakhouse. There isn’t much upscale here, it’s a casual laid back community.”
Susan, "I want a ride in the Vette, Sloane can sit in my lap, instantly huggable."
We get eight in the Escalade, three in the Corvette, six in the second SUV, a Tahoe something or other. Geez, eighteen for dinner. To make for easier conversation, we break up into three tables of six, sprinkle parents around.
I'm at a table with Sis, Sloane, Danika, Dasha and Zi. The two cocktail drinkers order beverage of choice while we study the menu.
Susan, "Certainly have a tempting selection."
"We’ve been once. Filets were great, sides basic but acceptable, the margaritas are good. I'm grilling fish tomorrow so keep that in mind. Everything we had was as described on the menu."
Danika and Janah make do with baked potatoes, sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions and beans. The rest of us opt for steak, filet and rib eye, accompanied by platters of steak fries and more sautéed mushrooms.
Danika, "Daphne and Dasha cook so well, I'm broadening my diet, rather happily I must say."
Sloane, "They make the best breakfast ever. I may never eat cereal again."
"I never thought to ask, we aren't cereal eaters, do you want me to get some?"
Sloane, "I don't miss it. Pancakes, biscuits and waffles are better, with scrambled eggs and bacon. Dasha makes grits, I never had grits, so good with cream cheese."
Zi asks Susan, "Anything you or the others want to do while you're here?"
Susan, "My sense is they want to hang at the house and catch up. I could use a workout, maybe a sparring match."
"That's easily arranged."
Sloane, "You're going to fight your mom?"
"Probably Nikko or Zi. Sis likes it rough and I'm not rough on her."
Sloane looks at Susan, "Daphne and Nikko go at it, Zi too. I don't see why they aren't more busted up."
Susan, "Lots of training, their bodies are accustomed to punishment."
Sloane, "I'm learning to dive, Daphne and Zi are going to teach me gung fu. It's like ballet when they do it."
Susan, "Busy girl."
"Sloane is an early riser. She meditates with Danika, then a few laps in the pool, breakfast, then lessons. After lunch is a nap. Afternoons she can dive or gung fu, not both on the same day. Sunday is nothing, but I probably can't keep her out of the pool. Could be worse, she could be a crack head."
Sloane giggles, Sis says, "Bit extreme, a little extra swim time seems acceptable. So Sloane, you okay with the schedule, you are taking online courses as well?"
Sloane, "Lessons aren't so bad, the time goes quickly and Janah helps. I want to be ready for school."
Susan, "Where's she going, Village School I presume."
"Yep. She'll be sort of part time. It's our school, we know the curriculum, she'll keep up. We'll be here in the winter longer than a Christmas break. Right now, we're looking at Thanksgiving through February, three and a half months. Amaya and Chloe may go earlier or stay longer depending on film or commercial commitments. We'll be here early summer, if it gets too toasty, back to New York, a couple of weeks in Canada. School for Sloane isn't for education so much as a chance to make friends."
Sloane, "Daphne says girls there won't care if I'm....different."
Susan, "You okay with their curiosity? There will be questions."
"I guess, there's already a transgender girl there."
Susan, "I didn't know that. How'd she do Daphne?"
"Kids were kids, but after the curiosity phase passed, she's just another girl. Parents have been great, she goes to parties, sleepovers, has girls over to her place. Sloane could have handled it, but it's nice that there was a trailblazer."
Dinner done, I pay the check, we pile in the cars and back home. It's a nice evening, we decide to park by the pool and look at the star show. It's deliciously dark on our mountain, we're miles from city lights.
James, "Reminds me of Canada, so many stars."
Amaya brings out a tray of cocktails, bottle of wine. We use acrylic glasses, inside and out. Better, nothing breaks. The floors in the common areas are granite, carpet gets dirty and is impossible to adequately clean. The workout room is wall to wall martial arts matting, same as New York.
Lacy, "I don't recall knowing anyone with an Olympic pool, particularly a diving pool."
"Wretched excess, but Oceane loves it. We started diving for fun, and Olympic makes laps real laps, you don't have to turn every ten strokes. It will get plenty of use.
Lacy, "I'm going tomorrow."
Kara, "Me too. Where's Oceane and Danika?"
"Probably on one of the roofs, or Oceane is in her room. She's okay around people for a while, then she's ready to enter her world, which is not ours. Or I should say, it's ours if we could sense it like she does."
Lacy, "Is she happy, wrong word maybe, content?"
Janah, "Both. Her world is busier than ours, she gets vibes from everything. What we discovered in the temple, science is beginning to understand. Plants and insects communicate, plants release chemicals that are picked up by other plants. Both to ward off predatory insects and to attract insects that attack insects attacking the plant. Insects communicate with wings, antennae, they use light and magnetism to find their way. Birds obviously have an intricate communications system, as do whales, porpoises and dolphins. Forest creatures talk all the time."
Lacy, "So she is having other conversations, sensory communications."
Janah, "Yes. If you hear her voice, she may be talking to you, or something only she senses. It's why she has no interest in TV or movies or music. It's all artificial to her."
Amaya, "Young Sloane needs to get tucked in, say goodnight and come along."
Sloane does a hug around, then takes Amaya's hand to her room.
Susan, "You and Janah had three moms, Sloane has ten."
"Yes, I'd say she'll turn out three times better, but I fail to see how any times better is better than me."
It's quiet for a while, wine refilled, Susan asks, "Su, what do you think of this strange family?"
She grins, "Danika and I are thrilled. We were invited to a dream life. Beautiful place to live, time to pursue our interests, Janah is our Abbess and now we live in her home. We do not question such good fortune. Neither of us are interested in a romantic partner, or in starting a family. We talked it over with Janah and Daphne before deciding. It wasn't a decision really, it seemed obvious."
James, "Sloane appears to be adjusting well."
Janah, "She was in a lousy situation. Father ashamed of her, couldn't see her beauty, only her anatomy. It made him angry, which he took out on her. Here, she can be who she is now and become who she will be."
James, "I don't mean to fabricate problems that don't exist. Just bear in mind, transgenders sometimes have depression or other psychological issues."
"She has twelve moms who want nothing but the best for her, and twelve moms who won't decide what's best for her. Well, excepting Amaya. She gets to decide what's best because she's right in her areas of expertise. She also limits herself to that expertise."
Evening comes to a close, they wander off to bed, Dasha and I collect glasses, load the dishwasher and go off to bed ourselves. Before I go upstairs, I peek in on Sloane, quiet regular breaths tell me she's asleep. I lean in and kiss her cheek, go to my girl upstairs.
Chapter One Hundred Two
Today is goof off, relaxing fun for parents. Dasha and I are up early, Sis has always been an early bird, she's at the table drinking coffee. Dasha and I are in a flurry of biscuit, bacon, sliced ham, cut fruit, and scrambled egg prep.
Susan, "I'd help but I assume you want the food edible."
Sis can't boil an egg. Her kitchen skills are limited to microwaving water for tea and the coffee maker. Sometimes she runs the microwave so long the water evaporates. This is a woman that can hack the NSA and get out clean. Who built a several million a year business showing corporations where the holes are in their leaky firewalls, running rings around CIOs with CS degrees from Berkeley. Sis never went to college, probably why she's better at it.
"Just enjoy a second cup, read the paper and forget about creating toxic waste."
Dasha is talking to herself, 'Ees eighteen person, we need three, no three and a haf dozen aig. I will scrahmbull haf, haf when others come.'
Twenty big biscuits, two packs of bacon, I have a slice of ham for everyone, I'll grill them, top with pineapple and let them stay warm in the oven. Good thing I have two stoves, both have two ovens, six gas burners and a griddle. I fire up the commercial vents, smoke and smell goes up and out.
Sis, "Geez, those vents, there's a draft in here, how come they don't make any noise?"
"Motors are soundproofed, the fans are inset enough to cut back on the blade noise.
The table is full, Kara, Lacy, Janah and Taylor are still in bed or getting ready, Daria and Eloise came down for coffee and up to the workroom. Dasha and I nibble on the fly.
James, "Biscuits seem even better, they're huge."
Dasha says to the stove, "Buttermeelk and baking powder."
Oceane is talking to her eggs at one end of the table, "No prison for you."
Sis, "Eggs in prison? Oh, she means cage free."
"Ham had a happy life, outside, no prison for her either."
Sis, "Is she making it up?"
"Oceane, do you know where the pig was raised?"
I fish out the package from the trash, "Hopkins Hog Farm, Aguila, southeast of here."
Sis, "She read the label."
Oceane smiles, "It has two brothers and four sisters."
"Anyone for more eggs?"
James, "I'm good, thank you, I'll take another coffee out to the pool and get busy not being busy," no other takers.
We clear off plates, the second shift is gathering, Lacy, "Smells delicious in here, yum grilled ham and pineapple."
Oceane, "It has two brothers and four sisters."
Taylor, "She knew the pig?"
"They met online."
Danika, "Daphne, I'm going up the mountain, not here for lunch."
"Take water. I know you don't eat much, there are granola bars in the pantry, won't hurt to take one along."
She collects two bottles of water, slides a bar into her pocket and out she goes.
Kara, "Danika spend a lot of time up there?"
"Fair amount, she goes for a few hours, I doubt she's moving to a cave."
Su laughs, "No. Danika needs time alone, but she has no objection to a big bed and warm shower. Her asceticism is limited food intake. I suppose you could include limited intake of what's happening in the world. She considers it sane not to engage insanity."
"Strange, she seems to like it here just fine."
Su smiles, "Relationship without conflict is the definition of sanity."
Daria and Eloise appear, Eloise says, "Dasha threatened us if we didn't come down and eat."
Dasha, "You are skeeny girl already, Daria ees not eat when she ees workshopping. Sister must haf calorie, she has lost five pounds here, too much for her. And you will haf also lunch, I will tell Daria, you will come down. Dahfoney and I do not haf all day to find you. We make gud food, you will eat."
Eloise is staring at the table, glasses slide down her nose, she pushes them up, "We lose track of time."
Dasha, "Bahloney. Daria knows exact minute of every hour. Vy budete na vremya sestry, da?" (You will be on time sister, yes?)
Daria, "Da, vy pravy sestra , ya izvinyayus." (Yes, you are correct sister, I am sorry.)
Dasha nods, turns back to scrambled eggs.
Taylor, "The language is so beautiful. I have no idea what they said, but I suppose that was the point."
Oceane, "Bliznetsy nakhodyatsya v serdtse drug druga." (Twins are in each other's heart.)
Janah, "Yes Oceane, it is true."
Susan, "Don't tell me....Oceane?"
"Dasha and Daria have been teaching her. It's her fourth language, Chinese, Japanese, French and Russian. I have quite enough trouble with English, but managed to get Chinese and can stumble my way through Japanese."
Taylor, "I'm getting an inferiority complex."
Finally get everyone fed, they go off to whatever, Dasha and I stack dishes, overflow to the second dishwasher and crank then up.
"What are you up to today?"
Dasha, "Swim maybe, what ees lunch?"
"We'll have a big grilled fish dinner tonight, no, it's fresh catfish, let's fry it. For lunch we do salads, there's cold cuts left, they can stack it on crackers, open white wine."
"Do you know what Daria and Eloise are working on?"
"Improve firing range of dart in drone, accuracy ees gud for thirty yards maybe. They want to go to feefty, then see. It haf to be going fast enough when it hit target. They are improving power in air gun, strength of dart, accuracy of sighting."
"Also, Eloise haf figure how to make graphene sheet."
"What's it do?"
"Make drone wing and fuselage stronger. Also she ees trying to make bahttery, charge in five minutes, much more powerful. Drone fly faster, stay up longer, recharge time almost nothing."
"All because of graphene? Geez, I gotta keep up. Okay, let's get to the pool."
Oceane self-propels through the water; we have guests, she's in a one piece instead of her usual none piece. I presume Amaya took care of that.
Amaya, Actually she did it herself, did not have to remind her that James is here.
Good sign. When Black or Chan and family come out, we don't need to keep an eye on her.
No, she's connected to our reality, we just aren't connected to hers.
We alternate laps and dives, everyone in and out of the pool, Susan says, "Feels good to swim, we use hotel pools when we travel, and the water in Greece was wonderful. We go to St. Martin a fair amount, you got us hooked on La Samanna, the villas are splendido. We keep saying we're going to try someplace else Caribbean, but we never do."
"New is good. For a vacation, it's nice to get familiar with a place, have your favorite food and beverage spots. Some vacations are for exploration, others for relaxation."
Lacy, "Exactly, St. Martin is our carefree place, no itinerary, no schedule. We went for a month last year, left freezing New York all of February. Enough beer, rum and champagne to pickle a moose."
Oceane, "What is St. Martin?"
"Beautiful island in the Caribbean, here, take a look," I tap in La Samanna to the IPad, Oceane flips through the photos.
Oceane smiles, "It is me, ocean."
"Then we will go, summer is too stuffy, next winter, perhaps before we come here we'll spend a week there."
Dasha executes a front flip pike from the three meter board.
Taylor, "She's gotten good."
"It's gymnastics, diving is just a water landing she can do on her head without breaking her neck."
Lacy, "Is she ever not serious?"
I laugh, "She can be acerbic, sometimes sarcastic. She makes her little jokes now and again. Her smile is lovely, but she only uses it when she's in a role, the twins aren't smiley faces."
Taylor, "She is the most determined person I've ever known."
"She made her gym coach explain everything exactly, then she did it until she had it."
Lacy, "She never wanted to compete?"
"She would consider it performing. Gymnastics for her is exercise, strength,
flexibility and balance. It serves her purpose, that's how the twins see things, functional or useless."
Chapter One Hundred Three
After tea and before cocktails, James takes Janah, Nikko and I aside, we go to Nikko's office.
"Taking the temperature. How is Society work going?"
Janah, "Efficient and effective. We follow the procedures. Social Workers abide by limits, we don't abuse our state or federal agency connections. In fact, they call Mrs. Pearson (Janah) far more than Mrs. Pearson calls them. There are always inter-agency turf battles not to mention the intra-agency ones. We've been able to remove obstacles and obstinance so people can get on with their jobs."
"It was always that way, back with Mrs. Epstein. People don't always mean to be a pain, but they have bosses and agencies have arcane self serving rules. The fact is many would like to be more cooperative, the rules don't permit it. Going through you is a way to avoid earning a demotion, even losing a job."
Janah, "Exactly. We're a relief valve with no consequences."
"What I really want is ask how you are doing personally. It can be demoralizing work, seeing what you and your teams see."
Janah, "Sometimes Daphne has to let Social Workers do a mind dump. They see a brutalized kid or spouse and aren't allowed to fatally remove the source. People who do Social Work are not social workers, they aren't big on empathy and kindness. They do physical persuasion. We approve physical persuasion, but no guns, no murder. They would take out some targets in an eye blink. We only allow for that if they or innocents are in immediate deadly danger. Walking in on a dad beating his kid with a belt doesn't cross that line most of the time. If the child is brutalized and dad has a deadly weapon, they can use whatever force necessary. It's an onsite call. When there's a death, we send in forensics if we can, before cops show up. Most of the time Daphne listens to the story, I get it when she does, if we think we're being bullshitted, we unplug the team. They never hear from us again."
James looks to me, "And since they don't know who you are, or where you are, they get no more work and no one to ask why."
"Yes. Some have met a disguised Daphne, most of our Social Workers come by referral, they talk to her on the phone. They don't know us, we don't know them. For them and us, it's a layer of security. Can't testify against an unknown."
Janah, "You want to know about us though. Dad, we've done this a long time. If we were suffering over it, it would have shown up by now. Nikko does very little anymore, she has other responsibilities. Lately, our stuff has been handled by Daphne, Daria and Dasha. Targets do not want the 3Ds to show up on their doorstep."
"We also have Danika, lot of D names, but she doesn't do social work, she's not as sociable as I am."
James laughs, "And the twins have no feelings about it, not negative ones anyway."
"The twins would have been their own Society, deadlier than ours. We found them other outlets, they get to put on their game face once in a while, seems to be enough. They stay really busy, no time to reflect on a horrid childhood."
James, "That's what you did with Amaya, Chloe and Oceane."
"And now Sloane. Although Oceane was different. She never saw herself as abused, it was her body, but she was never of it, there but elsewhere."
"You don't think it's denial or repression?"
Janah, "No, not at all. She knows what happened, in detail. She knows it was her body. She put up no resistance, they did what they did, her mind was elsewhere. Denial would be pretending it didn't happen, I guess there was a form of denial, she occasionally says 'the girl' instead of 'me'. Repression would be inability to remember, she remembers. To put it another way, she simply didn't care."
"And you didn't try to make it a thing, see that she should care."
"That would be cruel and pointless. People make assumptions that this or that thing was horrible, they see it as they are, not as the child is. Once they project their feeling onto the kid, then it’s therapy, therapy, therapy. You're a psychiatrist, you see it. Can't justify therapy without a diagnosis, and a diagnosis of let the kid be normal and see what happens isn't billable."
James grimaces, "Don't remind me. I see kids on medications they have no reason to take, in sessions with therapists who accomplish nothing and use the nothing to convince mom her child isn’t ‘progressing’ and needs more therapy. And the child figures out that trauma can become a get out of jail free card. Any bad behavior can be chalked up to the traumatic experience."
"Thanks for the checkup dad, but the patients are healthy."
James, "And it's the cocktail hour, so as we say in my business, our time is up."
Sloane comes running, jumps in my arms, "Mom! Zi has been showing me gung fu stances. She says I have to stay in horse riding stance for twenty minutes. I fell over after five."
"Great! You know what that means?"
Sloane, "No, what?"
"It means you're not special, everyone falls over after five minutes, you're a perfectly normal kid."
Sloane thinks about that, a little frown, then her big grin, "That's what I want to be, a normal kid."
"Congratulations, you've made it. A little longer every day, five and a half minutes, work up to six, then seven. or you can use Nikko's method."
Sloane looks to Nikko, "What's that."
"Daphne made me stand until I fell down, then do it again, my legs screamed for relief, she enjoyed every minute."
Sloane, "Mom, you wouldn't do that to me, would you?"
"Of course not angel," she brightens, "that's Zi's job," she frowns.
Sloane, "Oh. This isn't going like I thought it would."
"Life never goes like you think it will, welcome to normal."
Sloane runs over to Zi, plops in her lap, "Let me explain why a gradual approach is better."
Zi giggles, the rest of us laugh, well, not the twins.
Daria, "Show some balls."
The family is dead silent, Sloane stares at Daria slack jawed, then grins, "At least I got them to show."
We collapse in hysterics, I high five Sloane, "Best line ever."
Trust Daria to slap reality into the conversation, Dasha says, "I will make horse ride wiz Sloane, we will be best. In a month, she ees twenty minute, you will see."
Nikko, "Daph, what's that thing Chris used to day, about getting good?"
"How much pain can you stand and how long can you stand it?"
"That's it Sloane, the simple secret to everything worth doing."
Amaya passes around beverage of choice, family parks around tables by the pool, bowls of nuts, a tray of cheese and crackers. Dasha and I have fish to batter and fry. Four cheese macaroni bubbles away in the oven, a separate pan with chopped vegetables for our vegetarians. Wedges of lettuce chilling in the refrigerator, choice of blue cheese, vinaigrette, or tahini dressing.
An hour later the table is covered with platters of crisp fried catfish and accompaniments. White and red wine opened. Our table handles sixteen, Dasha and I nibbled our way though while we cooked, we don’t need to sit.
Lacy, "Macaroni and cheese heaven."
Danika, "This is splendid."
Su, "I never had fried fish, only grilled for the first time last week. Dasha, this is amazing, crunch into firm flaky."
I make the rounds with wine refills. I don't drink, but there's no prohibition against pouring.
They finally can't take anymore, Taylor says, "Good Lord, I couldn't stop, and there's a lot of fish left."
"No worries, we have a use for the extra. Dessert is chocolate cake, Fry’s Supermarket has a decent bakery. There is Vanilla Bean Hagen Daz on the side for the fearless."
Janah, "I'm fearless."
No movie tonight, visitors want to visit, even Oceane hangs around, listening, she touches Susan's hand, smiles.
Sis, "What are you smiling about?"
Oceane, "You think of friends, spirits on the other side, Chris, Alva, they are in your heart."
Sis, "Always. They come to mind more vividly when Janah and Daphne are around."
Oceane, "They were strong."
"Yes, tough characters, no nonsense matter of fact, soft for family and friends. Ms. Alva gave a fifteen year old girl with an infant a place to live. She didn't know us, took Daphne and me in off the street without a second thought."
Oceane, "Ms. Alva rescued all of us."
It's quiet, Susan says, "I never thought of it that way, thank you Oceane. Alva would smile to hear that."
Oceane, "She is smiling now."
Chapter One Hundred Four
We’re around the pool, Danika, Taylor, Sloane and Su take a hike up the hill. We decided not to build on the mountain, better to look up at it than down on our property. Our mountain is behind us, others off in the distance. Here, mountains are more rounded, full of greenery and trees, not the sharp edges of the Rockies.
Oceane exits the pool for a break.
Lacy, "Lovely girl, nice tan, long legs, slim as a whip."
"She is that. I thought swimming and diving might result in bulky muscle, but she doesn't swim aggressively, not for speed. Her movement is compact, it doesn't look like she's straining, but she's hard to keep up with in the water."
Lacy, "I noticed that yesterday, she must have swum twenty laps in a fifty meter pool. When she got out she was breathing normally. I'd be gasping."
"Janah experimented, Oceane can hold her breath for five minutes under water, and her VO2 max is off the charts."
Lacy, "I've heard that term, what does it mean?"
"Amount of oxygen you breath in versus the amount you expel breathing out. High VO2 means you are using more of the oxygen, so expel less. She burns oxygen more efficiently. Any aerobic athlete requires a good VO2 max to compete at elite levels. Other factors some into play, technique for instance. A sloppy swimmer or runner won't be carried by efficient VO2. VO2 essentially translates into endurance. Due to her constant swimming, she just doesn't get fatigued. And she has lungs like footballs."
Lacy, "She doesn't look like it."
"No, her chest size is normal, just more lung packed in it. If she takes a deep breath, her chest expands ten percent. X-rays show her ribs to be spaced further apart than normal for a girl her size. She is genetically built to be a fish."
Lacy, "Your growing family continues to confound normalcy."
"Morticia Addams said, 'Normal is an illusion. What's normal for the spider is chaos for the fly.'"
Lacy laughs, "Of course, rather obvious when it's pointed out. The girls at Chapmans are universally abnormal. I was around them so much, they seemed perfectly normal to me."
"And our family is normal to us. Janah and I had the advantage of both Chapmans and the temple, nothing was normal either place, certainly not us."
James, "All my years in psychiatry, I don't know what normal is. The great lie of therapy is that we can normalize humans."
"Doesn't stop the Republicans from trying."
James, "One of the more abnormal groups trying to normalize everyone else."
Janah, "I think they aim more for conformity."
"Well, we resolved that, we're screwy and we know it.”
Susan, “Speaking of, are Oceane’s narratives real, is she talking to fish and ham and pencils?”
"She does, just creates both sides of the conversation. Amaya uses her imagination to write and perform, Oceane does the same thing for her own entertainment."
Lacy, "How do you keep it straight? What's made up and what's not."
"We don't. We take it at face value. When it's real, like her talking about Ms. Alva and Chris, it's evident. She didn't know them, I don't recall talking about either of them with her. It's possible one of the others did I suppose. But she made a direct connection to how Susan felt. She might have surmised it, put what she may have heard and drew a conclusion. She's made other connections where she had no prior knowledge."
Janah, "It's not a credibility test. She feels what she feels, that part is real, good enough."
Lacy smiles, "I should know better. Half the time people don't know they are lying to themselves, at the least ignoring contradictory evidence. Your approach allows for the mystery, no mucking it up in a vain attempt to calcify the moving target of truth."
Oceane, "My world is pure, beautiful. Truth is temporary and relative."
She's right you know.
Calm focus in a pill, it works, try it.