Monday, November 19, 2007

Without Rhyme, Without Reason

My best friend Starr Ann and I noticed a change in Lane after Saturday's afternoon at the Fall Fair. She seemed even more broody than usual.

Like I said, it was the first time the girls' home allowed Lane to spend the whole weekend with us, and we truly wanted to make it memorable - for each of us. All I've got to say is there's no chance we will ever forget it.

On Saturday night, Lane wanted to meet a group of her friends in town. Starr Ann and I said that would be fine and even let her take Carmel, our horse that has kind of become Lane's by virtue of the fact that she always rides her. Anyway, we told Lane to be back home no later than nine.

By the time midnight struck and there was still no sign of Lane, Starr Ann and I were terrified. We'd gone into town looking for her at nine-thirty, but nobody had seen her or her friends. At half past midnight, the barn lights went on and we could see Lane down there tending to Carmel, putting her up for the night.

Both of us just about cried the second we realized she was safe.

Starr Ann said, "When she walks through that door, we don't freak out, we just tell her real calm, but stern, that tomorrow's trip to the Horse Park is off. That's a big enough punishment, don't you think?"

I laughed out loud. "Starr Ann, first of all you couldn't muster stern if your life depended on it. And second, if you take that trip away from her she'll go ballistic."

Starr Ann was dead serious about all this. "Margo, do you remember when we were running around with Carla and Jamie? Do you remember how they'd be all worried about how much trouble they were going to be in when they got home late?"

"Sure I do."

"Well, I know we always pretended that we were the lucky ones, not having anybody to answer to. But, tell the truth, what would you have given to have somebody who cared enough to be really mad and worried when we got home?"

I studied the tops of my shoes for a few seconds. "Anything, I guess."

Starr Ann didn't say another word, just trained her eyes on the front door, waiting for Lane to come in. When she did, it took us about a millisecond to realize she was totally wasted. Somehow, Starr Ann really did manage to be stern. And when she told Lane about the trip being cancelled, that got the exact response we'd expected.

Lane went right up close to Starr Ann, kinda confrontational, and said, "If you think I need you or anybody else telling me what to do, you're crazy."

Starr Ann just said, "We love you, Lane."

Everything froze up for a minute, then Bates, who had been content lying in my arms, started turtle-paddling the air in Lane's direction. I said, "Take him to bed with you, Lane, he wants you."

When Lane took Bates and turned to go upstairs, I could tell she was about to start crying. Guess that was why she didn't argue anymore.

So, Sunday was pretty subdued around here. Jodie came over, and nobody addressed what had happened the night before, or the fact that we weren't at the Horse Park, where we'd been planning to go for the last two weeks. Early in the evening, Lane's case worker, Jennifer, came to pick her up.

Then this morning around ten, here comes Jennifer again. We could tell she had something major on her mind and invited her into the kitchen to talk. There's no way to say this but to say it. Jennifer broke the news that Lane went to the U.S. Army Recruitment Center and enlisted this morning.

Starr Ann went all stony at first, and then her hands started to shake. I felt like somebody had been stomping on my stomach.

Starr Ann said, "Surely she's underage. Surely we can get her out of this."

Jennifer shook her head. "Unfortunately, her parents refuse to override Lane's decision."

Starr Ann jumped up from the table and almost yelled, "Her parents? Her parents? Since when the fuck do they have any say-so? Are they even still her guardians? Can't the girls' home do anything?"

"Starr Ann, Margo, I've exhausted every option in trying to reverse this. Seems it's going forward. The only thing that could keep her out at this point is scoring too low on the entrance exam, but she's way too bright for that." Jennifer put her fingertips to her forehead briefly. "It has been one hell of a morning. What I can do, though, now that Lane is officially Army property, and since she doesn't leave for at least a week, I can allow her to stay here with you two."

I said, "Yes! Please, tell her we want her. Tell her."

When Jennifer left, Starr Ann and I were pretty much dazed, standing on the front porch. Starr Ann said, "Four whole years."

I knew we were both thinking of Iraq and Afghanistan and the fact that we're never going to leave those places, much less end our wars within the next four years. I said, "Is it even humanly possible to survive, holding our breath for that long?"

Starr Ann said, "About a hundred and fifty thousand families are already doing it, Margo. And that's just the American families."

Bates was whining and pawing at Starr Ann's boots. She picked him up and cuddled him. "Hey, Bates Boy, Lane's coming to stay for a whole week. Isn't that great?"