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By Judy Baer
Steeple HillCopyright © 2007 Judy Baer
All right reserved.
My sister, Mickey, apologizes a lot these days.
“I can’t imagine what Tommy and Terry were doing to knock it off the top of your china cabinet.You have no idea how badly I feel, Suze. We’ll pay for it, of course….”
“Never mind, I didn’t like those Waterford crystal candlesticks much anyway.”
Mickey has been asking for forgiveness, expressing regret and acting contrite for three years. That’s when her twins learned to walk. Before that, life was relatively calm. Since the boys mastered locomotion, however, nothing has been the same. Tommy and Terry are adorable with loose black curls, blue-violet eyes with long lashes as dark as midnight, rosy cheeks and wide smiles that reveal faint dimples. We lovingly refer to them as the Terror Twins, Tommy Tomahawk and Terry the Tormentor.
Mickey, whose name is short for Michelle, flung herself onto my couch. “I can’t go. It would be cruel and unusual punishment to make you take care of the boys for three months.”
“Nonsense. They’re my flesh and blood. Of course I’ll take care of them.” Saying it, I felt a little like the martyr Stephen stepping up to be stoned. “Do what you need to do to adopt your baby girl. If it means staying in South America for ten or twelve weeks untilthe baby is ready to leave the country, then go for it.”
Medical problems had made it impossible for Mickey to have any more children, and she’s always dreamed of having a little girl. I love my sister and would do anything for her. I’d give her a kidney. Of course, offering to care for the Terrors for twelve weeks might be more like giving her both my kidneys.
“Have you heard anything on the new job yet?” Mickey asked.
“I’m interviewing in Chicago on Thursday.”
“You aren’t moving there are you?”
“No, but I have to interview at the main office.”
“What if you have to start immediately?You wouldn’t be able to take care of the kids while we’re gone.”
“The position doesn’t actually open up for four months. Someone is retiring. Besides, if I did have to travel, Mom and Dad could manage an overnight or two with the boys.” My parents, though only in their early sixties, can’t handle the boys full-time. When I think about it, no one can, not even the boys’ own parents.
“Mom and Dad would come here to feed the animals anyway.”
“Speaking of the animals, what have you got now? Other than that crazed hamster, I mean.” “He’s not crazed. He’s sensitive, that’s all.” Whenever Hammie perceives that I’m upset, he gets upset, too—and begins to run on that wheel of his until I settle down. He’s become a great predictor of my emotions. He’s also made my home a much calmer place. I have to stay calm—deep breathing and envisioning a sunny place with vast white beaches and dolphins playing in the surf—otherwise the sound of that whirring, rattling wheel in his cage would drive me nuts.
“There’s a lady in my spinning class who was very interested in what you do. She is looking for a dog for her mother—something loving and easy to spoil.”
“Chipper would be perfect. She’d like a black Pekingese. He’s small, dignified, affectionate, a real character. He needs lots of brushing though.”
“That’s fine. Her children have requested that Grandma get a dog to groom so she’ll be too busy to tell them to cut their hair and dye it back to normal colors. But what’s this dog’s problem?”
All my pets come with problems. I’m a foster mother for a last-chance pet adoption agency. These are the animals that literally no one wants. When they reach our agency, these are the saddest little creatures on the planet. Health problems, age, bad hair and bad habits bring them to us. I take in these pitiful little creatures, fatten them up, doctor them until they are healthy, teach them manners and make them more desirable in any way I can. Then I attempt to place them in loving homes.
“His foot is missing. Got it caught in a mousetrap. He wandered around lost, dragging it until it got infected. It may bother someone else but it doesn’t bother Chipper.”
Mickey winced. “Poor little thing. Do you have a photo? I’ll take it to spinning tomorrow.”
At that moment, the mini-watchdog in question set up a commotion in the kitchen. There were no burglars in the house, just two naughty scamps trying to remove a package of Oreos from the top shelf of a cupboard.
Terry stood on my kitchen counter tippy-toed on the Minneapolis telephone book reaching for the cookies while Tommy, belly down on the counter, resolutely held on to Terry’s ankles. When Terry fell he’d take Tommy right off the counter with him, but they hadn’t factored that into their equation. The twins always assume they will succeed at their schemes and spend little time dwelling on the consequences of their actions.
“Terry!” Mickey screeched unhelpfully. Her guilty son turned to look at her and teetered on his perch. Mickey reached out to catch Terry while I dove for Tommy, still clinging tenaciously to his brother’s feet. The impact of Terry’s fall sent Mickey flying backward into my kitchen table. I heard the tinkle of breaking glass.
Mickey and Terry stared down at the other Waterford candlestick holder lying shattered on the kitchen floor.
“Oh, well,” I said weakly. “At least now they’re a matching set again.”
Discipline is always harder on the adults than the children themselves. As the boys sat in opposite corners of my living room howling at the indignity of having to stay in one place for more than twelve seconds, Mickey and I sat across the room pretending we could hear ourselves talking.
“Are you going to be able to handle a third child, Mickey?” I tried to be gentle. “It takes a village to raise just these two.”
“We’ll be fine. The boys will be in school soon. That will help.”
It will help Mickey, but what about the American educational system? Isn’t it in enough trouble as it is?
“Tell me more about this job interview,” Mickey encouraged. “Are you flying in and out the same day?”
“No. The interview is early in the morning. I’ve made a reservation at the Omni. I’ll have dinner, relax and get a good night’s sleep to be sharp for the meeting.”
“Overnight?” Mickey’s blue eyes darkened. “Suze, are you sure?”
“Positive,” I said shortly.
“But your problem…What are you going to do about that? I mean, really, a hotel?”
I willed myself to be calm. “My 'problem’ as you so obliquely refer to it, has kept me from traveling for far too long. I’ve decided to fight back.
“I’m not going to let it stop me from getting a promotion in my company or from traveling to places I’ve always wanted to visit. It’s war this time, Mickey.”
But how to conduct a war with an enemy that only attacks at night while I’m asleep?
“You know how you are, Suze. What if you sleepwalk? You could walk out of the hotel and get into trouble.”
Sleepwalking. Who would believe the heartache it has caused me?
“The registration desk at the Omni is not on street level. That’s why I chose it. Besides, I bought this.” I held up the padlock I’d purchased this morning.
“There’s no way I’ll be able to unlock it if I am asleep. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”
My family’s tales about the crazy things I’ve done while sleepwalking are legendary. If I remained inside the house during my nighttime meanderings, it would be one thing, but I tend to wander. It’s not just anyone who has ended up in her neighbor’s kitchen making eggs Benedict at 3:00 a.m. or has been awakened by a policeman while in the 7-Eleven buying Tootsie Rolls and trying to pay for them with bus tokens.
My own home is wired with alarms so that if I open a door they wake not only me but the dead in three counties. Other places…well, that’s a different matter.
“I’ll let the front desk know,” I assured Mickey. “If they see me leaving, they can bring me back.”
“I don’t know why you want this job anyway. It involves travel.” Mickey’s lips turned downward at the corners. “Your family is here. We’ll take care of you.”
True, they would take care of me, but they also have a lot of laughs at my expense. There’s that running joke my brother, Mike, started when we were in high school that’s only grown over the years. “How can you tell if Suze has been sleepwalking?” he would ask at the dinner table. “All the eggs in the carton are already fried!”
“…the washing machine is full of freshly washed shoes….”
“…the dog is wearing an undershirt and a pair of boxers….”
Fortunately Mike moved to Germany where he is teaching English and I have a two-year reprieve from his teasing.
I’m creative in my sleep. What’s so bad about that? Everything. “I’ve never dared travel alone and it’s time I quit allowing my fear to rule me and to master this thing. I want to take care of myself and I want to travel.”
“When you’re sleepwalking no one realizes it, Suze. You talk and act like you are totally awake. What if you get mixed up with some horrible man or walk onto the freeway?”
“I’ll buy another padlock. I am going, Mickey, and I don’t want you to worry about me. I’ll be fine.” I didn’t tell her I’d also considered buying a box of tacks to strew across the hotel-room floor, hoping that pain and blood would wake me up before I escaped.
“Okay, if you say so.” She stood up and kissed me on the cheek. “Now I think I’ll take the boys home and give you a break. You’ll have plenty of them soon enough.”
As I closed the door behind my sister and nephews, I leaned against it and sighed. Mickey was worried about my health and welfare, certainly. Didn’t she realize that I’d probably be in more danger from the Terrors than wandering alone and asleep on Michigan Avenue?
The flight from Minneapolis to Chicago took just over an hour, and I reached my hotel with plenty of time to check in and unpack before dinner. My college roommate, Darla, is in middle management in the insurance company for which we work. She works in the Chicago office and picked me up at seven for dinner.
She held out her hands, wrapped her arms around me and squeezed tightly, like a hungry boa constrictor. “I have missed you so much.You never get to the Windy City to see me.” She glanced at me sympathetically, dyed blond curls falling into her face. She scraped the hair from her eyes with her fingers. “I understand, of course, but I do wish you’d travel more. Come on, the car’s this way.”
I quickly got into her car. “Are you nervous?” she asked. “About your interview?”
“It will be more money and a promotion but I have mixed feelings about the added travel.”
She held up her hands and waggled her fingers as if to indicate something eerie. “Because of the woo-woo sleepwalking?”
Darla and I roomed together in college so she, more than most, knows the scope and gravity of my affliction.
“Remember the night we found you sitting on the front steps of the administration building trying to convince one of the stone lions to let you pet him? Or the time you took a shower in your pajamas?”
“I wasn’t exactly awake to remember, Darla, but I’ve certainly heard about it enough. We graduated from college a while ago. Surely something interesting has happened since then that would be more fun to discuss.”
Darla screwed up her face as if she were considering my statement. “Nope, I don’t think so. Suze Charles sleepwalking stories are urban myths on campus by now. Have you forgotten the time you got into the cafeteria and set every table? Three hundred plates, cups and sets of silverware. You folded the paper napkins into little hats and everything.”
“I’ve tried to forget, but no one will let me.”
Of all the things I could be remembered for—my work with animal rescue, my graduation summa cum laude, my master’s degree, the volunteer mission work for my church or even my ability to cross my eyes— but no, I’m famous for what I don’t remember doing, all the mayhem I’ve caused in my sleep.
“At least you aren’t a sleep eater. You don’t raid the refrigerator at night,” Darla said. “That, at least, is something to be grateful for.”
Excerpted from Sleeping Beauty by Judy Baer Copyright © 2007 by Judy Baer. Excerpted by permission.
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