I chose the pink crayon. Laws are laws and I, a simple man who regards black coffee, the nightly news, and a box of Camels as the key ingredients to a good life, have never been one to question the apparent. Pigs are pink. End of story.
But when I handed Sammy the crayon she pursed her lips and shook her head in that dramatic way of hers. We were staked out in my 95’ CRX, air conditioner on full blast, Springsteen doing his thing in the background. I’d conveniently parked towards the back of the parking lot so that none of those crazy soccer moms could see my kid was doing homework at 8:07am on a Monday morning. They were scary the way they flocked together on the east side of the parking lot morning after morning with their flammable hair, big Explorers, and their beady, judgmental eyes.
I continued to hold the pink crayon out to Sammy, waving it in front of her like a worm on a hook. Instead of taking the bait she reached over and plucked a black stubby crayon from the cup holders between us.
“I’m not making my pig pink,” she announced.
“But pigs are pink…”
“Not all pigs. Jamie’s grandparents own a farm. They have lots of pigs. Including white ones with black spots all over them.”
“That’s a cow.”
“No, Dad, I know what a cow is. These are pigs. They have snouts and everything.”
I watched her trace the outline of the pig with her clumsy little hands—first the ears, then the back, then the tail that wound around like a loose coil. When she started making black spots I looked away.
“It’s your grade, not mine.”
The end result looked exactly as one would imagine. It was a pig traipsing around as a cow. It wasn’t that I discouraged imagination. I just didn’t want Mrs. Nest-head to think my 7-year old daughter couldn’t get her animals straight. The clock turned to 8:14. She was going to be late for school, but there was always time for a father to teach his daughter an important life lesson. “You know, honey,” I said to her as gently and wisely as possible. “You can’t believe everything you hear. Just because some girl in your class tells you pigs are a different color, it doesn’t mean you have to believe her.”
“Jamie’s not a girl,” she casually corrected. “He’s a boy.”
“Yeah. And he’s not in my class. He’s a third grader.”
“So he’s older than you?” A knot formed in the pit of my stomach right next to the egg and cheese Mcmuffin I had earlier. Not that I’d read a lot of books on the subject, but from general knowledge I knew that boys weren’t supposed to come into the picture for another five to fifteen years. Deep down I’d been banking on Sammy being one of those awkward kids that studied all the time and didn’t discover boys until well into her twenties after her face cleared up, her college weight went down, and her career had been well established. What if instead my kid was one of those early bloomers who went through the entire little league baseball team before the end of junior high?
“Tell me more about this Jamie kid…”
“I can’t,” she said, shoving her latest work of art inside her book bag. “I’m late for school. If I’m over five minutes late I’ll get a demeanor and have to wipe down all the tables after lunch.”
The door slammed shut.
I watched Sammy mesh with the crowd of kids, but just before she disappeared she joined with a pale, skinny kid with glasses wearing a red polo and khakis. Already I didn’t trust him. The pale, skinny ones were the ones that eventually got nipple piercings and tattoos and filed down their teeth to make themselves look like vampires.
I sighed, completely alone. Well, Springsteen was there though. I sat in my car and listened to a few more songs while watching the soccer moms migrate south.
Twenty minutes later the parking lot was empty, save my rusty little car, but I was no longer in it. I was on the playground, rocking back and forth on a metal swing set and blowing tobacco into the air, thinking about before.
Before anything I said was truth. She used to follow me around and copy everything I did. Whatever I ate, she ate. Whatever I watched, she watched. Whatever I said was gold. Somewhere between the sixth and seventh year though I’d been thrust from my throne and stripped of my status as the king of all knowledge.
God, I missed my throne sometimes.
I looked up to see the head of the PTA or some kind of cult parent group stomping towards me. Pillowy in her mid-forties with crazy red hair, a zoo of kids, and a booming voice that cut through the air like a shotgun, I was terrified of her. She reminded me of my old parole officer.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she demanded. “You can’t smoke on school property.” There was a kid attached to her hip, sucking on a pacifier. She spoke to me as if I was…well, the kid on her hip, sucking on a pacifier. Different age, same habit, I wanted to tell the kid who stared back at me blankly.
I put out the light, but the hen continued to stare me down as if she had just caught me stealing dum dums at CVS. “You’re Sammy’s dad, aren’t you?”
She stopped. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
It happened a while ago but I was still getting that. One of those things that would haunt me for the rest of my life. Like the person who used to be overweight and looks totally amazing now will always just be the person who used to be fat.
“I don’t recall anyone ever saying cancer was cool.” (Jesus, who was this woman? My mother? My high school principal?) “Sammy’s a good girl,” she continued. “She’s smart and she has a lot of friends, but…” She stopped. “Well, if you ever need any advice don’t hesitate to ask, okay?”
I kicked at the grass beneath me. “What color are pigs?”
“Excuse me?” She inched closer as if hearing it better would make more sense of the question.
“What color are pigs?”
“I’m not sure what that has to do with—”
“You said you wanted to help me.”
She shifted from Ugg to Ugg, contemplating if she wanted to play along with my silly game. Finally, she sighed. “Pigs are pink.”
I smiled, then hoisted myself up to make my exit, but apparently you can’t ask the head of the PTA something like that without offering a full explanation as to why. I ended up telling her all about the early morning coloring session and this new Jamie kid. She listened intently without squawking back, which I appreciated.
“Today he’s telling her pigs aren’t pink,” I said. “Next he’ll be telling her that Santa Clause doesn’t exist and we all came from monkeys. Then before you know it, he’s turned her into a junkie who spends all her nights at bars sniffing coke and serving tables for her next fix.”
As we walked through the grass, Mrs. PTA covered her kid’s ear with her left palm and held his other ear against her chest. I couldn’t tell if it was because of the topic of conversation or the strong gusts of wind that were flying by.
“How long had she been clean?” Mrs. PTA asked.
I laughed a little to shield my discomfort.
“How long?” she repeated.
The woman nodded solemnly. “And you?”
I suspected it was my tattoos and my piercings turning me into a giant stereotype. Nevertheless, she was right about me. About us.
We stopped at her Explorer parked at the edge of the parking lot. I had no idea how I could have missed its arrival earlier. It was blood red. She swung her kid into the passenger seat and then started her car up. “I wouldn’t worry about Sammy,” she said. “There’s still room in her life for her dad.”
“Yeah? What makes you think that?”
Mrs. PTA flashed me a knowing smile, causing her beady eyes to shrink up. “Sammy’s seven years old,” she said. “Seven-year-olds don’t have coloring homework.” Then she pulled away without allowing a response.