It was close to midnight and Dad had driven all over the mountain in the rain and the mud looking for Daniel, only to come home again shaking his head in distress. Susanna and Anna had gone to bed but Will, Jake and I continued to tromp around the farm in rain slickers and mud boots, calling Daniel’s name.
Then I heard Grandpa calling through the dark and Will took off running down toward Grandpa’s cabin. He came back a moment later but didn’t stop to talk to me, he just kept running toward the house. I didn’t know whether to go to Grandpa or to follow Will, so I hesitated in the rain, shining my flashlight around me for a moment.
After a few minutes, I turned toward the house, trudged around it and wearily climbed the front porch steps. This day had lasted forever. Where was Daniel? What had happened to him? Why had he disappeared?
Just then, I saw Dad’s head appear through the wine cellar door on the porch. He climbed heavily up the steps and Daniel’s limp body was in his arms. Will came behind him, holding the floodlight. My breath caught in my throat and I covered my mouth with my hand to keep from crying out. Was he dead?
“He’s fine,” Dad said, and his voice sounded weary but happy. I knew he was relieved just to have found Daniel and to have him safe again.
“He’s fine? He looks dead!” I exclaimed, backing away as Dad walked past me. Dad just shook his head and walked into the house. Daniel’s face was pale and his head rolled limply on Dad’s arm.
“He’s drunk,” Will said to me quietly. “He drank until he passed out. Somehow Grandpa knew.”
I stared at Will in shock. Drunk? Why? I couldn’t believe it. Will’s face was somber. He shook his head.
“His dad must be a real son-of-a-bitch,” Will said quietly, with an angry voice.
“But —but —why?” I stammered.
“Not everyone has a life like ours, Ramona.” Mom appeared through the kitchen door in her house robe, with a candle in one hand and a bottle of kombucha in the other. She followed Dad down the hall.20
Jake came up the steps behind me.
“What’s the kombucha for?” he asked.
“For Daniel,” Will said. “It will help his liver deal with the overdose of alcohol.”
“You found him! Where?” Jake exclaimed. Will shook his head.
“I’ll tell you later. Go to bed now. You too, Mona. Pray for Daniel. He’ll be okay.”
We obeyed Will without argument, partly because we were so tired and partly because we didn’t know what else to do. I don’t think my brain was working at full speed at that point, because in spite of all that was going on in my mind, I was asleep the minute my head hit the pillow.
I awoke when it was still pitch dark and got up to look out my window at the stars. It had stopped raining and the sky was clear. I remembered Daniel and shook my head in shock and confusion.
“Not everyone has a life like ours,” Mom had said. I knew that. I knew that a lot of people have crap lives and deal with all kinds of bad stuff. I just didn’t expect Daniel to be one of them. I did know his dad was in jail for stealing a car when he was drunk. Daniel must have grown up around alcohol abuse.
“Pray for Daniel,” Will had said. What should I pray? That he’d have a different life? I knew from experience that particular prayer doesn’t get answered. At least not magically or right away.
God, please help Daniel . . . heal his heart. . . help him be strong when life sucks.
Then my thoughts got jumbled and I realized I was still sleepy, so I went back to bed and slept late into the morning.
When I came into the dining room, Will and Jake were sitting at the table with half-open eyes and pillow creases on their faces, like they’d just rolled out of bed.
“Have you seen—Daniel?” I asked hesitantly. Will shook his head.
“I just woke up.”
“Me too,” Jake mumbled. He was quiet for once in his life and I could see that he didn’t know what to say or do. He reminded me of Tigger, up in the top of the tallest tree in the hundred-acre woods.
Mom came in. She looked tired but not stressed. She poured herself a cup of hot tea and sat down with us.
“Sue and Anna are with Grandpa,” she told us, as if we had asked.
“And Daniel is okay,” she continued. “He’s been throwing up and he has a terrible headache but he’s okay.”
Dad came out and sat down as well. Mom passed him her cup of tea and poured another. He drank it wearily.
“Did he say anything?” Will asked.
“He wasn’t very coherent,” Dad said. “He was worried that he smelled like vomit and urine.”
Despite the awfulness of the situation, I had to hold back a smile. That’s what I had said at Agua Bonita during our picnic a couple of weeks ago.
“He’s sleeping now and will for a while. After that, we’ll need to talk. If you guys would handle the chores and watch the girls for a few hours, Mom and I need to sleep now.”
Will nodded and stood up.
“No rush,” Dad said, smiling wearily, “The milking is done. Just check the herd, feed the other animals and get the girls from Grandpa. But first—eat some breakfast.”
Mom and Dad slept until afternoon. I kept Anna and Susanna with me in the corn field. We hoed weeds while it was cool enough and then we went to sit in the shade of the water tank. We picked mint to dry in the horno, which, amazingly, was still quite warm.
After the mint was in the horno, we sat down at the table. Susanna was full of questions about Daniel that I didn’t know how to answer. I just told her that he was sick and that I didn’t know the whole story either.
I got her to help me make an early dinner for everyone. The boys came in and just hung-out on the porch, talking while we worked around the stove and the outside table. We decided to make taco salad.21
Will kept the conversation going and off the topic of Daniel. I was glad he had done this when the door opened and Dad walked out with Daniel coming behind him. He looked terrible but worse than that, he looked crushed and ashamed. I felt so bad for him, my eyes filled with tears and I turned away, stirring the taco meat on the stove.
“Hey, Daniel,” Will said in a friendly, quiet voice. “I’m really glad you’re okay, man. You had us worried there for a while.”
Daniel flashed a strained smile at Will but he didn’t say anything. Dad didn’t say anything either, which surprised me. I figured Dad would have something to say.
A very awkward silence followed and I realized that Dad wanted Daniel to speak first and that was why he was waiting. Daniel must have clued in, because he finally took a deep breath and cleared his throat. His hands were shaking and I saw him grip the edge of his chair to hide the fact.
“I—I’m sorry,” Daniel stammered, his head hanging low. He ran his fingers through his hair and grabbed the back of his neck. His head must still hurt. He looked up at my Dad through bleary eyes.
“I hope you don’t hate me. Should I—should I pack up my stuff?”
Dad seemed relieved. He leaned forward to grasp Daniel’s shoulder.
“No—no, Daniel, we don’t hate you.” Dad said. “We’re not like that. It’s not like that around here. We want the best for you.” We were all quiet.
“Listen, Daniel,” Dad said when Daniel didn’t respond. “Life will give you a beating sometimes. And I’m really sorry about that. I wish I could change that for you. But I can’t. And, although some of us have it better than others, everyone has to deal with crap from time to time. Everyone runs into walls that knock them down. Everyone has to deal with bad people and bad circumstances. Or— ” Dad paused and waited for Daniel to look at him again.
“Or—they don’t deal with it. Instead they begin to add to the evil in this world by doing bad stuff themselves.” Daniel winced and looked back at the ground. Dad continued, reaching out to touch Daniel’s shoulder again.
“Getting drunk is not the issue here—we’re not looking back—we’re looking forward. Feeling bad over the past is a waste of time and energy that can be put into living well right now.
“Daniel, you lost control in a bad situation. Everybody has done that and everyone needs to develop self-control so that they can survive life and make the world a better place. You can learn how to cope when bad stuff happens to you. And you will. I see strength in you—undeveloped and unsure, but it’s there. You aren’t your dad. You are Daniel and your life is just beginning. You can’t control life but you can control yourself.”
Daniel smiled the smallest smile ever as he glanced up at Dad. “Thanks. You guys are—” He stopped and shook his head. “Mom was like you,” he whispered, then his eyes filled with tears. He dropped his head again and sighed.
“I’m sorry I screwed up and if you’ll give me another chance, I’ll try to . . . I’ll try to get control.”
Dad nodded. “You got it.”
Then Dad sat back in his chair, looked around at Jake and grinned.
“Tomorrow I’m taking you boys to Red Canyon with me,” he announced, changing the subject so completely it took me a minute to mentally catch up. I knew what he was doing: he was giving Daniel a new start.
“Red Canyon? Really Dad?” Jake asked, breathless with excitement.
“Really. It’s time for a camping trip. Will has offered to stay here and help the girls with the chores, so it’ll just be me and you two guys. We’ll leave in the morning. Make sure Daniel gets all the gear he needs, Jake.”
“Yeehaaa!” Jake roared.
Tigger is out of the tall tree, I thought to myself.
Red Canyon is a long way from our house and hard to get to. It would be a good place for Daniel to recover from what had happened and to get trouble out of his mind as the song goes.
I had dinner ready and Susanna was helping me carry the bowls of toppings, meat and beans into the house. She had already set the table. As I walked toward the door with my hands full, I came face to face with Daniel who had stood up to go back inside.
I met his eyes and he looked back at me steadily. Something in his soul seemed stripped away and laid bare. I tried my best to let him see me as well, to not be at all fake or reserved. I wanted him to know that I respected his apology and promise to Dad to learn self-control. So I looked right at him and smiled. He nodded and his return smile was grave. Then he took the bowls of food out of my hands, his fingers touching mine briefly before he turned to walk into the house.