Back in the late nineties I was in college, kind of a rock and roll sort of phase in my early twenties. Kelly was going to UCSB and had us up to her place a few times, those of us who went to Valley High School and still got together for years after high school.
At one such party in her SB apartment, Douglas was playing bartender and mixing drinks, making sure the party was properly lubricated. I’d driven up with a girlfriend in tow, and had to drive back down in the morning for my own student film shoot project. Douglas was extremely flirty in a young boy from high school that if ever called on to sleep with who he was trying to lay, would be unable to perform the actual-act. He talked the talk, but wouldn’t be able to put his money where his mouth was so to speak. This did not stop him from his loved art of flirting and banter. He looked like a white Urkel of sorts with buck teeth and tiny black afro type curls adorning his head. He verbally teased and cajoled and did it well. It had been one of those parties where I had a few too many drinks, chain smoked through a pack of Camel Red Lights, got up early and drove back to L.A. the next day to shoot on the beach for hours, not forgetting to feed my free actors of course.
Douglas was at future Kelly parties and at our place and when I lived with Kelly for a brief period before discovering what a slob she was to live with. And every time I saw Douglas, he was a relentless flirt whom I never took seriously. While still rooming with Kelly, it was discovered that Douglas had fathered, unbeknownst to him, a little girl. See, Douglas and Kelly were big into experimenting with drugs. I was not. ‘E’ was a big deal, as were shrooms and whatever else they were trying and kept right on doing through their twenties and thirties.
I can hold my liquor, and sadly smoked through my twenties and some of my thirties, but was never interested in the drug culture. I knew how hard I had to work to survive in this world, and didn’t have the brain cells to burn with that nonsense.
Douglas discovered that he had a daughter when she was seven. She’d been in foster care and separated from a beloved baby brother, after living with a nightmare of a mother. One day, as Piper had related to me this story in her eight year old way, her mom was so sick that the paramedics had to come and had cut open her neck because she had stopped breathing. I can only assume Piper was telling the truth, and know she had seen and experienced way too much in her eight years of life.
I came to baby sit for Piper while I was in the student teaching portion of my credential earning process. Student teaching, is expected to be done by the future teacher for free, in a classroom, for school length-hour-days. I was supporting myself before just barely by subbing for 10-12 k a year. I took out a student loan for the student teaching portion of that leg of my journey. Douglas at this time had been looking for a sitter, Kelly told me. He was going to pay a cousin in bags of weed to watch this little girl. I was desperate for extra money, and got myself that babysitting job.
Douglas was working crazy long hours. I would go work in a classroom all day, and then go and pick up cute little Piper from her school, take her home, help her with homework and make her dinner, etc. One day I let her and another little after school care boy play some extra handball. Both children had been in the foster care system, and talked about their past foster parents, the variety and moving around, some who were mean and hit them.
Piper hadn’t really any stability in her life, or a routine schedule. And Douglas was clueless as to how to provide that for her. On Friday’s I took my sitting money and took her and I to a cheap sushi place near my home in Hollywood once or twice. I remember the chef commenting on how well we got along, and how calm we both were with each other, a signature with me and children most of the time.
Some of Piper’s quirks were telling me I was fat, her mother obviously with her drug use, had been very slim if not anorexic, and I was on the tubby side. She liked to take the pennies on my dashboard and flip them at me while I was driving, and had a weird obsession with household appliance sprays. Once or twice she tried to spray these at me, misting the air. I explained to her why those things were dangerous, and would hide all chemical sprays in her house.
After school I would always go through her backpack, regardless of sentiment. I explained to her that big people were meant to go through kids’ backpacks; that is how they made sure kids got their homework done. And on my watch she did.
I would bring over pizza making supplies and convince her to stop watching cartoons and come be the cheese girl. What kid doesn’t want to be the cheese kid for their homemade pizzas? And I tried to help her with her fear of showers. She’d been allowed to watch plenty of horror movies, and thought if she looked at the ceiling while showering that she would be sucked up into it.
During Halloween season, I picked her up one Saturday where her dad had her there at work with him at the restaurant, and took her to a petting zoo at the Grove where she sat on the hay and let the bunnies and chicken crawl onto her lap. She needed those animal hugs.
Another time Douglas asked me to cut her hair as that is my original profession, and I gave her this adorable bob.
All of the other adults I knew of in her life; Douglas and Kelly and her boyfriend John ~ a long time friend of mine from high school, were all fairly un-kid friendly. Didn’t get kids, jut ignored them in their presence, and shot down cute quiet behaviors, the innocuous kind like sticking two straws under your upper lip to quietly look like a walrus. They didn’t know how to tell a cute kid she looked nice, or engage her when she was present.
During Passover I had to be at my families for the family dinner, so brought Piper. Piper proceeded during dinner to inform everyone that she had been through a lot of hardships. My holocaust-surviving grandmother pooh-poohed the statement not knowing, where upon Piper launched into her sad tale of how she hadn’t seen her baby brother in two years and didn’t know where he was, how her mother was kept from her, and stories of foster care. Just broke your heart.
One day during my second leg of student teaching I was really sick and worn down, felt like I had pneumonia. I called Douglas and told him I had to call in sick. He yelled and yelled at me, hadn’t anything like a back up plan for his child’s care. Furious and ill, I called in sick to my student teaching post and rested all day. Picked up Piper for the last time from school, bought her dinner as I was too weak to make her anything, and brought her to my home til her ridiculous father came to get her. She asked to take a bath in my deep tub. Somehow my shihtsu Karma wound up in the bubbles with her. We had ice cream for desert. She fell asleep on the little bed I made for her in my living room. And finally at midnight her angry dad stormed in and picked her up, not paying me what was owed to me for that week.
I heard later from John that Douglas had soon after made a ludicrous, unilateral decision to take Piper off of the medications she has been on, cold turkey. That she went nuts and drew all over herself and her room. Subsequently he hit her, and her teacher finally called protective services on him. Other than the rumored, “was going to offer someone pot to baby sit for her”, there wasn’t any evidence when I worked for him that would let me know she was unsafe at the time I worked with her. That she was taken from him and given to grandparents was a relief.
This was all nine years ago. About a year or so after Douglas didn’t pay me, he showed up with Kelly and John to a club night, and had bought my ticket to the event as a form of apology for how he had treated me, and handed me the much needed before eighty dollars he’d owed to me. Years after that night, he was back in Piper’s life.
Last night I walked into a fancy downtown restaurant for a friend’s 40th birthday party, and Douglas had seen me walk in. I hadn’t known of his whereabouts for years, had heard on the wind about Arizona, but other than Piper, who I never saw again, could really care less about Douglas. But he saw me and came and gave me a big hug. I just asked for pictures. And Piper is stunning. From a dorky little eight year old with big ears and buck-teeth like her father, to a stunning young woman. And I hope she is doing well in life. Because the life she was given was one tough road.