On the brink of motherhood, I acquire a troll.
The timing strikes me.
Cruel. Poignant. Potentially instructive.
Cruel: I would have liked to write every step of this bridge-crossing, hooves clattering on the boards. But my troll scares me. I back away, trot upstream, find a protected place to wade across quietly.
Poignant: My troll imagines that I have been raped. That I have conceived and had an abortion. That I am protecting my rapist. That I am weak. That I am stupid. That I am a seductress. That I am boring. That I lie to my husband. That I am hung up on the past. That I crave an education.
“I” who? My troll does not know me. The general female ‘I’ then: The same ‘I’ that the demented man at church teases, “Better get yourself to the salon. Hair so long.” (He takes my hair in his hand. I take my hair my back gently. Noli me tangere. “I like my hair.” I, the un-general female, like my—mine—hair.)
My troll gets under my un-general skin.
I am reminded of an encounter with my God-brother (son of my Godparents). His family was happy while mine was not, and I imagined he was well in a way that I was not. Both of us recently graduated from high school we met for coffee. I was doing a fair job, I thought, being pleasant and interesting. I was in the midst of summarizing the early movements of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity when my God-brother leaned over the table, “I look at you, Catlin, look at your eyes, and I see you screaming inside.” My soul fell into a crouch, naked in public, cowering nightmare. I stammered, wiped angry tears away, tried to speak again of C.S. Lewis. My God-brother did not love me, had no intention of clothing me. He got up to leave.
I have since wondered who would not feel exposed by such a pronouncement: “I look at you, and I see you screaming inside.” And now I wonder what woman would not feel implicated in the portrait drawn by my troll (rape-victim, abortionist, betrayer of husbands).
What would the male analog be, I wonder. That you have murdered your brother, stolen his wife and donned his coat? That you have wet yourself in battle, deserted your fellows, left your father’s body unburied? That what you have wanted from women they have not wanted to give you? That you have taken to taking it?
I don’t like this game.
Poignant and cruel: Our social worker puts boys’ files before us. These are older boys: eleven, ten, fourteen, twelve. “We’re open,” we’ve said. Older boys are the hardest to place. We are curious about the twelve-year-old. We ask for more information, eventually meeting his worker and foster father. We like what we hear. We feel good about this possibility. We ask for some time—a week—to think it over. During that week we get a call from a case worker across the state. She found our home study by accident and wants us to consider an eight-year-old-girl. We lie in bed. My husband says, “Imagine a twelve-year-old boy in that bed” he gestures through the wall to the adjacent room. “Now imagine an eight-year-old girl. Quick: What does your gut say.” I shrug and roll toward him, “The boy is real to me in a way the girl isn’t. I care about the boy.” “Yeah, but . . . ” I know what he wants me to say. He can say it. “You?” “My gut says that the girl is . . . safe.” I tsk my tongue against my teeth, “Girls are hard. I told my mother I hated her, screamed in her face, slammed doors.” He offers the rejoinder, “Yeah, but boys . . . ” I finish it for him, “Kill people, I know.”
I imagine my troll reading this blog post. I imagine him comprehending in sum or in part. He could kill me, I think. Don’t write that, I think. Don’t put ideas in his head. Like: When held at gun point don’t say, ‘Don’t shoot.’ The word ‘shoot’ inspires the trigger finger to twitch. But surely if he kills me it won’t be my fault.
His case worker assures us of what we already know: He shows no signs of reactive attachment disorder, has no history of fire-setting, does not have problems urinating or defecating appropriately, has never perpetrated against a child. She switches from the negative to the positive mode: He is very attached to his current foster family, is protective of the other children in the home, loves animals, one cat in particular, makes eye contact during conversation, expresses empathy consistent with his age . . .
At the end of the week we decide not to adopt him. We will not be adopting the eight-year-old girl either. In the space of a few days my husband has been offered two tenure-track positions, one in Tennessee, the other in Indiana. We will be moving this summer to one place or another, quitting our jobs, breaking our lease, buying a house. There are other things we have to do too: I’m running a week-long literacy camp, managing a community garden, running a group of kids out to the east coast for a ministry project; S is attending a three-week residency; together we’re hosting a workshop on the farm, but before that we have to dig a water line to the cabin and put in an HVAC system. There are logs that need milling. We have yet to do our taxes. We have our calendars out before us. “I think it’s too much, babe,” he whispers. I nod. I am heartbroken. We are heartbroken. At our long kitchen table, in our big empty house, we weep.
Out of the water then, back to the same side of the river I started on, mid-sized billy goat eyeing the brush on yonder hill. Hungry.
We’ll try again in the fall.