I was eight (almost nine) when things started to get weird. Well, weird for me. Since I was eight (almost nine) I have learned a lot about weirdness, more than I really want to know . . .
But To get back to when I first--
Maybe I ought to go back further than that. I think I will start by telling you about my start.
My parents were divorced before I started to talk, so I don't have any real memory of my father living with my mother. Most of the time I was with my mother's parents. My other grandparents died before I ever met either of them, though Grandpa Leon was alive long enough to send me a present I remembered, a cowboy hat. But he died before I ever met him. I'm named after him, though my mother and my grandparents who were still alive always called me "Lee."
Dad was in the Army. That meant he didn't stay in one place for very long. It had something to do with the green hat he wore sometimes. I remember once he took me down to Florida to visit Disney World, but when we got there, someone called and he had to leave and a woman sergeant put me on the plane back home, with Grandma and Grandpa in Laurel, Maryland.
Mom had other men around. There was someone named John, but I don't really remember him. I remember Grandma and Grandpa talking about him. Dave was the next important one after John. He was nice to me. He was nice to all kids, in fact, including his own three, and he decided to stay with them and their mother.
Next came Good Old Fred. I called him "Uncle Fred" then but my father always called him Good Old Fred. I didn't know that then, but now that's the only way I think of him. When I came back from Camp Nobanaurawa in the Adirondacks at the end of the summer of 2009, instead of going home, I went to live with Good Old Fred and my mother in Georgetown, which is a neighborhood in Washington DC.
I really didn't like Good Old Fred.
Good Old Fred was not the only new presence in my life and my mother's, but the other person was a presence without a name, never mentioned. The only indication that there was something amiss was that my father vanished. It's not that he had been around a lot before, but now, my Mom never mentioned him herself, and she didn't say much when I asked about him. It was because of the Other Person.
This is not to say that when I was seven or eight I was stupid. I knew I wasn't the only kid who had a Daddy who didn't live with Mommy. I knew plenty of friends with a just a mom, or a mom and a new dad. But I just didn't see my dad changing that way. So, I didn't guess that the reason Dad had dropped off the radar screen was because of the Other Person.
Somehow I suffered through Third Grade at a pretty snotty private school and nine months of Good Old Fred. It helped that Good Old Fred was gone a lot. Well, it helped me; Mom wasn't too happy about it. But, just as I didn't tell my mother that I thought Good Old Fred was creepy (in so many words) my Mom didn't say anything to me about Good Old Fred being less than the perfection she told Grandma and Grandpa and Dad he was.
At last school ended for the summer break, and I went back to Camp Nobanaurawa. I really looked forward to going that year, not only to get away from Good Old Fred but to get out of Georgetown, which was the kind of place you never saw kids just running around. The people who ran Nobanaurawa had different ideas about what a kid was allowed to get away with.
Three important things happened at Camp Nobanaurawa that summer. The first thing was that I got a letter from my father. I don't have it any more, but I sure remember what it said. Dad said he understood that I was probably still angry because he had married someone else besides Mom, but that he hoped that I could come down to visit later that summer and meet my new sister, provided their lawyers could work something out.
Sister? When did that happen?
I read that letter over and over for two weeks. I didn't send anything back. Why? Well, what could I say? As I said before, I wasn't stupid. I knew a lot from other kids about custody and visitation. I knew my Mom. I knew Grandma and Grandpa. So, I figured out part of it: Dad must have been writing all along, but I wasn't shown his letters. Lawyers? A consultation with a couple of worldly-wise eleven-year-olds brought this estimate of the situation:
"Probably your dad is trying to get custody. Now that he has a stepmom for you, he has a better chance."
I still hadn't made up my mind whether I should write to Dad or ask Mom or my grandparents about all this when another letter came, at the very end of June. I don't have this one either, but I think I can reproduce it pretty accurately even after so many years:
I am Besu. I love yur father beri big. We have beibi. Hur neim is Hippolyta. Shi beri little.
Mai eigo beri bad. I am sori. I meik betur sun.
Plis rait yur father. Hi mis yu beri big. Lon teim yu rait.
The letter was all block printing, by hand. Since I was a sophisticated graduate of the third grade, able to write cursive, I wondered a lot about that. Once again I asked older, wiser eleven-year-olds. One of them was an anime fan and told me "eigo" was the Japanese word for English. So, if Besu was from Japan, she might not know how to write in cursive, since the Japanese have their own way of writing, much different from ours.
That made me feel better, and I meant to write back the next day, but something came up. Early the next morning, lots of police came to Camp Nobanaurawa. Later I found out the camp owners had been making up their losses (and more) by growing marijuana.
My grandparents picked me up from camp. They were vague about where my mom was, never a good sign. I didn't ask about Good Old Fred. I didn't care. But I did ask why they hadn't told me anything about my dad getting married again. I asked it as soon as I knew I wasn't going back to Good Old Fred's.
Grandma tried to explain it something like this: "Lee (Grandma always called me 'Lee'), we didn't want to upset you or your mother. Abigail was terribly upset. And we are in a legal fight now over you, I'm afraid."
That explained a lot of the sudden changes of plans I'd had over the year--Mom had been taking me somewhere where I couldn't be found. At eight (almost nine) I knew other kids who had gone through or were going through the same things. I wasn't surprised.
"Are you angry with your father, Lee?" asked Grandma. "Did you think he would get back together with your mother?"
"It would be nice," I said, "But I know that doesn't happen much."
After quite awhile, Grandma asked if I wanted to see my stepmother and my new sister. I asked why Dad couldn't come. She said he was away somewhere. And after another quite long pause, she said maybe it could happen soon.
Soon turned out to be a few days later. It was a Saturday, and like any Saturday in summertime Grandpa was out on the golf course. Grandma went out to do something, I don't remember what it was now. But anyway, it was still morning, earlier than anyone could be expected to show up.
I was in Grandpa's home office using his computer. He had enough bandwidth on his machine to get into the really good internet game sites. I was so totally absorbed I wouldn't have heard anyone open the door, or maybe even ring the bell. All I knew then was that a voice from behind me said, "That's not how you get past the Death Ducks."
I swiveled around and saw six pairs of eyes looking at me. "Who are you?" I must have asked.
"I am Besu," said the red-haired, red-eyed one with the baby. The baby reached out and grabbed my nose. "My baby is Hippolyta. She like you."
"I am Sere," said the oldest-seeming one.
"I am Juno," said the green-haired, green-eyed one in pants.
"I am Parapara," said the the one with light blue hair and eyes.
"I am Nereid," said the one who had just told me about the Death Ducks. She was the youngest, maybe younger than me, I thought, though she sounded very grown-up. She looked the most normal, with black hair and sea green eyes. "Besu and her sisters cannot speak English very well yet, so I came to help."
"Princess could not come," said my teenage-looking stepmother, gently removing the baby's hand from my nose. She had quite a grip for such a small baby.
"She means Sarah," said Nereid very quickly. "Sometimes she calls her that. Sarah is my stepsister. She was going to come, but she went on a date instead. You'll never get past the Death Ducks that way. Here, let me show you . . . "
Some time went by, perhaps a lot. It was enough time for Nereid to show me how to get by the Death Ducks and for me to get my nose pinched many more times by Hippolyta. It was also enough time for my stepmother and her sisters—Nereid wasn't one of them—to clean out our fridge and investigate the house thoroughly.
I didn't really know what to make of my new stepmother. She was so different from my mom! If I'd picked the Asatara sister most likely to marry Dad, it would have been Sere; she was more like Mom in some of her ways. She was also the only one of them who had anything like conventional manners. Besu . . .
Well, to illustrate, when Grandma got back from wherever she had gone that morning, after she made her way past Juno tumbling up to meet her, and after she rescued her Hummel and Lladro figurines (very expensive) that ParaPara was juggling while on top of the bowling ball Sere had found somehow (going through things was another one of Sere's traits that was like my mom's) her jaw dropped about to the floor when Besu came up to meet her. Besu was nursing Hippolyta, and to do it, she had simply taken off everything on top. It was something that had boggled me a bit, but I had already had a couple of hours of Besu and her sisters by then, but it absolutely froze my grandmother for a little while.
When she recovered, she inevitably asked Besu, "How old are you?"
"I am not too young," was all that Besu gave for an answer.
"I am the youngest," piped up ParaPara.
Grandma then looked at Nereid and said, "Who do you belong to, then?"
This irritated Nereid. She marched over to the stereo, picked out a CD, and marched back to Grandma. Holding up the CD case she said "Michiru is my Maman. My father was Doctor Chiba."
Nereid made an impression. I would have never thought until then that my grandmother could be intimidated by a kid my age.
"Circus people?" asked my grandfather. Besu and the others had left by the time he got back from his golf and whatever it was he did after golf.
"Yeah," I said.
Grandma continued to explain the visit as she had seen it. "That's what they were. They don't seem to be working now."
Grandpa shook his head. "I suppose Andrew must have met them overseas."
"No," I corrected. "I remember Besu said it was here."
"It was about a year ago, from what they said," Grandma clarified.
There weren't a lot of questions about Besu and her sisters, but Grandpa was very interested in Nereid. I didn't really know anything about Michiru except that she played the violin and made CDs.
Mom came to stay with Grandma and Grandpa a few days after the visit. Mom didn't ask me a lot of questions about Dad's new wife. Maybe she didn't want to hear the wrong answers. Maybe she found out enough from Grandma and Grandpa. Or maybe she thought if she asked me questions, I would ask her questions. Questions like, maybe:
What happened to Good Old Fred? What happened to Mom's car? Why was Mom borrowing money from Grandma and Grandpa all the time?
The Monday after Mom came home, they took me to court. No one had said anything to me about the custody fight, but I wasn't too surprised. Another thing that did not surprise me was that Dad wasn't there. There was Besu, with Hippolyta, and just one lawyer with her, a woman who did not look older than my mom.
On my side of the courtroom there was me and my mom, my grandparents, Grandpa's old lawyer Mr. Gruen (who was much older than Grandpa), and a lady lawyer I'd never seen before. Maybe her name was Tomkinson; I'll call her that from now on. Anyway, Ms. Tomkinson was very confident as our case approached. She wasn't nearly as good looking as my absent father's lawyer, but she was dressed a lot better, or at least more expensively. I could tell that much by the time I was eight (almost nine.)
It was a family court, so there wasn't a big ceremony to start the case, although everyone did rise when the judge returned from her break to start hearing our case. Ms. Tomkinson began by saying, "Ms. Hino, isn't your client going to appear today?"
"No," said my father's lawyer. "He cannot."
"Interesting," said Mrs. Tomkinson. "Mr. Verhofen is disputing custody, but he doesn't care to come in person."
"Colonel Verhofen is meeting with the President," said Ms. Hino. She indicated three boxes. "I have brought a selection of evidence to support my client's case for custody of his son." Mr. Gruen snapped the point of the pencil he was using.
Grandma took me out of the courtroom before the papers were revealed and the argument really started. I guess it didn't really go on for that long, but it seemed like a long time for me. Then I went to see the judge alone. He asked me who I wanted to live with. I said I thought I should live with my mom because she needed me, but I wanted time with my dad, too.
Nothing permanent was done that day, but the judge said I was to spend the next weekend, Friday evening through Monday morning, at my Dad's place down south of Washington. Mom, Grandma, and Grandpa didn't say much of anything else to me about it.
Well, maybe it would turn out all right, I thought, when there hadn't been any blowups by my bedtime on Thursday . That's when Mom finally talked to me. She didn't know much about Besu. She asked me "Is she younger?" I said I didn't know how old she was, although Nereid said she was much older than she looked. She asked me who Nereid was. I was surprised she didn't know from Grandpa, but I told her she was the daughter of one of Besu's friends. My Mom asked me, "How did this Besu meet your father?" I told him she had met him playing pool, and I told how Besu had giggled and blushed when she said that and wouldn't say any more. Maybe that was a mistake. Then my mother asked the big one: "Do you like her?" I said she was all right or something like that, but she knew from the way I'd been talking about her and her sisters that I liked her a lot. What kid of eight (almost nine) wouldn't like a visit Besu, ParaPara, Juno, and Sera? They were just about a four-ring circus all by themselves.
I knew nothing about their other important points, but I would start finding out very soon . . .