Hopper’s first warning should have been the laughter coming from his office. It sounded like they were trying not to laugh, snickering every once in awhile and shushing each other loudly, so he wouldn’t hear them. He tried ignoring it, figuring they would find something appropriate to do, but laughter continued, and he put down his sandwich in defeat.
“Hey Flo,” he called from his office “could you go see what they’re doing out there?”
Flo peeked her head into the Chief’s office, then she glanced out into the rest of the room. “Oh, nothing. Just kids being kids, I guess.”
“Well, what are they doing?” he asked, the term “kids being kids” making him suspicious.
Letting out a long sigh, Flo put her hands on hips. “Hopper, I’m not being paid here to babysit your kids. They’re fine, but since it’s your job to be watching them I suggest checking on them yourself.” She smirked, walking away before Hopper could say anything else. They weren’t his kids exactly; sure he had custody of Eleven until they could work out something better, but he wasn’t anything more than a guardian to telekinetic preteen. As for Will, Hopper had agreed to watch him every once in awhile when both Joyce and Jonathan had to work. But they weren’t his kids. Hopper went back to his lunch.
His next warning should have been Eleven and Will coming into his office, still snickering every time they looked at each other, to ask for his desk chairs.
“Why do you need them?” he asked, squinting his eyes.
Eleven gave an innocent shrug that Will mirrored. “Okay, yeah, sure you can have those two over there.”
“Thanks Chief!” Will pumped his fist in the air and began trying to drag one of the chairs away from Hopper’s desk. He tilted it up, in a flustered attempt to make dragging it easier. But it hit the ground with a thump, Will sighing.
“Hopper, why are the chairs here so heavy?” Eleven asked.
He didn’t even look up from the report he was in the middle of, telling her outright, “So you can’t throw them at people.”
The laughter started again, and when the Chief looked up, they were looking at him with doubt in their eyes. “Really?” Will intoned, “Why would people be throwing chairs? Does that happen often?”
“We bring criminals in here every day,” Hopper continued to write, taking another bite of his sandwich. “People who are angry that they got detained, so we make sure they can’t throw stuff at the officers. And yes, it happened a couple times, before we got the heavy chairs.”
“Oh.” Will nodded. “Well, thank you for the chairs, Chief.”
Hopper signed his name at the bottom of the report, before placing it in the ever growing pile of them on his desk. “Anytime, kid.”
His third warning came soon after Eleven and Will dragged the chairs away, grunting and panting as the chairs were well half their weight, maybe even combined, when Callahan came into his office. “Hey Chief,” he started, “You don’t have any tape, do you?”
“No, the kids took it awhile ago.” He answered. When they had asked for it earlier, he simply handed the tape roll to them, not giving it any thought.
“Well, I talked to them and they said they were out.” Callahan shrugged. “They sent me to go look for more.”
“Go look for more?” Hopper narrowed his eyes. “Why?”
“For their fort. They built a really big one out here out of chairs and stuff. Flo even gave them blankets, and they’ve been taping stuff to the walls and-”
“They built a what now?” asked Hopper. Callahan was in the process of answering him, but Hopper was already office door.
They had built a fort, way in the back of the office, but it was huge. Desks were empty of chairs that were now stacked on top of each other, covered in sheets and blankets. Other officers, including Powell, were helping to balance the chairs and keep the blankets tucked. Almost no one was at their desks. Eleven was taping something to the outside, Will handing her more tape from within the fort, when she whirled around and saw Hopper.
“Uh oh.” she muttered, hitting the blankets so Will would crawl out. When he did, his eyes went wide.
Hopper let out a long sigh. He should’ve seen this coming; Will had that hide out in the woods, and Eleven had told him about her tiny hideaway in the Wheeler’s basement. Together their powers combined, Hopper almost wanted to laugh. His mind went back to a time when he would make couch forts with Sarah.
“Looks good, kids.” Hopper winked at Eleven.
“We’re not in trouble?” she asked, followed by Will “We don’t have to take it down?.”
“No, you’re not in trouble but you do have to take it down before you leave. And you two owe me a roll of tape. Everybody else,” he glanced around the office, eyes narrowing on his officers, specifically Callahan, “get back to work.” With that, he walked back into his office. He had a sandwich to finish.
They’re good kids, he thought to himself as he sat back down in his office. Part of him wanted to be out there with them because it was nice to see them happy, for once, even if they had wasted all his tape. But he stayed put at his desk, he did have to finish these reports and he didn’t want to endure knowing looks from Flo. The afternoon began to fade away, filled with Eleven and Will’s laughter.
“Damn why are these chairs so heavy?” Callahan whined as both Will and Eleven shouted excitedly “So you can’t throw them at people!”
i could see you, little person, in your little house
(those burgundy walls might be mine someday)
talking with all the other little people
who you love enough to watch
tv with on a sunday night
and pour a coffee for
on monday morning
and to hear them
talk in their sleep
(through shut doors or
only the layer of clothes or
no clothes between you)
talk in their sleep
and cry sometimes
your feet were up on the arm of
(i couldn’t see your face)
and you had socks on that
your grandma might have
gotten for you
the arm of a couch through a
sharp cornered window in a
geometric room, like a honey
comb in a hive
(frequented by the worker bees)
there were other little people
in the photographs on your wall
which the chandelier
it looked expensive
(the chandelier and the frames
and the way the freshly cleaned
glass panes glistened)
and i thought about how that
chandelier light would look bouncing
off of my own burgundy walls someday
licked by steam from
the coffee that i bought
and i poured
for my people
or person on a monday morning
there would be people in my
photographs that looked like
the people in yours
(the young people smiling
the old people stately
the family’s been traveling
i’ll say with a smile though
i do miss them so but i
have been traveling too)
and i can’t quite see
to the back of the den
but i’m sure you’ve got
bookshelves packed to the brim
run a finger across, wait and say when
second hand classics, again and again
like you read in school
when things only reached as far as the foot of your bed
and you had no need to think about
the chandelier you might someday own
(when the wrinkles from a million seconds
spent laughing start to show)
no need to consider
the smell of freshly painted burgundy walls
or picture frames
i hope you have a nice
rest of your life in that little house
or another little house
(but they’re all the same
coated in a fine layer of fingerprints
and sweat and hushed whispers
dinners and arguments and glances)
and i guess it’s funny because
if you hadn’t had your living room
light on at dawn i wouldn’t have
ever known you existed
“Hop, I still don’t understand why you’re so upset. Just try and take a deep breath, okay?” Joyce rests her hand on his, letting out a sigh. “It’s not like it’s an engagement ring.”
Hopper’s nostrils flare at the mention of it. “This still crosses a line, Joyce, and she needs to know it. I’m going to talk her-”
“Oh, you’re not going to make her take it off, are you?” Joyce grabs his arm and pulls him back to the kitchen table. “It’s a harmless piece of jewelry. Besides, I haven’t seen her this happy in a really long time. Well, up until you decided to yell at her.”
“I- I shouldn’t of yelled, I was wrong to do that, okay?”
“Oh?” Joyce face perks up in a smile, “are you admitting you have faults now ,Jim?”
“Maybe. But I still don’t see why we’re gonna let them get away with this. Neither of them are ready for it, they’re just too young.”
“Hopper,” Joyce sighs again, “It’s a promise ring. They’ve been dating for over a year now, he gets her jewelry all the time.”
“Yeah the necklaces and bracelets, that’s all fine, but it’s a ring, Joyce! And she came in wearing it on her left hand! A promise ring, doesn’t that mean they commit to the relationship forever?”
Shaking her head, Joyce rubs the back of Hopper’s neck. “No, no. I mean, usually, I think it’s something like that, Will told me the word promise has some special meaning to the two of them. I’m not really sure what it is, but it isn’t what you’re thinking.” As for walking into the house wearing the small silver band on her left hand, that made Joyce raise her eyebrow. El brushed it off as a mistake, that she simply didn’t know that was the tradition for engagement rings. Joyce knew that Mike and El were smarter than committing to a marriage while they were still in high school, but she had a clear memory of explaining the tradition to El when she married Hopper a year later.
“She’s only sixteen, Joyce. She shouldn’t be committing to anything! Especially not a boy!” Hopper was clenching his fists now, his head turned from Joyce. She tries to touch him, but he just distances himself further from her.
“I thought you liked Mike.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Hopper shrugged it off. “Wheeler’s a good kid, I just didn’t think he was this dumb. You don’t think he’s pressuring her into anything or-”
“No, Hop-” Joyce attempts to stop him, but he was already so upset and on a roll. She just had to let him work through it.
“I trusted that kid that he wouldn’t do anything to her or do something as dumb as misleading her and this counts as something Joyce, and if he tries to pull anything else I can personally arrange his funeral because Sarah is not going to-” He stops mid sentence, face flushed red and out of breath. The air between them was humid, the silence hanging in the heat. Joyce heard Hop swallow. Quickly he turned his face from her, wiping a tear she’d already seen.
“I-I” he stutters, eyes wide in shock, “I haven’t had slip like that in years.”
“Oh, Jim,” Joyce’s voice cracks and she swallows, blinking away hot tears of her own. “Is that what this is really about?”
Silence, then-“Watching her grow up is so hard, Joyce. It’s like the older she gets the closer I am to losing her. She only has two years left for school, and then she’ll move out for college, and you and I both know that promise ring isn’t going to stay a promise ring.” Tears were flowing down his red cheeks and slowly he let his head fall into his hands. “I just don’t know if I can lose another daughter.”
Something in Joyce broke. El hadn’t been Sarah’s replacement, but to Hopper she was a second chance. A chance to be better, to be there more often, to be the father El never had. But deep down his heart still ached at the remembrance of Sarah, at what he couldn’t do and what he couldn’t stop. Joyce wraps Hopper up in a hug, which was awkward as she was so much smaller than him. But Hopper’s sobs quiet, and Joyce lays her head gently on his shoulder.
“Jim,” she whispers, “Jim, it’s okay. It’s going to be okay. Yes she’s growing up but, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to lose her. No, no, please, please don’t think that.”
“I guess I’ve been preparing myself for this day, I just didn’t expect it’d be so soon.” sighs Hopper.
Joyce flat out whacks his shoulder for that. “Now listen to me, Hop, El looks up to you more than you know and loves you more than you think, and no ring from Mike is gonna change the fact that we’ll always be there for her if she needs us. And when she leaves us, she’ll always come back. It’s what she’s good at.”
Hop sniffs, but Joyce catches a glimpse of him smiling, if not laughing just a little. “You know you’re a lot better at this than me, Joyce.” With a real smile, he bumps her on the shoulder. “I got a second chance to be a parent and I almost blow it over something stupid.”
“Nonsense,” Joyce whacks his shoulder again. “You’re doing fine as a parent. What’s that thing that Lucas says when he’s trying to compliment someone? Oh, I just had it-”
“You’re the shit,” Hopper laughs, “He says you’re the shit.”
Joyce snorts, bringing an even bigger smile to Hopper’s face. “That’s right, that’s what he says. Well then, that’s what you are at parenting.”
“I’m the shit?”
“You’re the shit” Joyce nods, poking him in the shoulder.
Hopper lets out another sigh. “I should probably go talk to the kid. Tell her I didn’t mean it and that she can wear the ring, but on her right hand.” Standing up, he ruffles Joyce’s hair and begins to make his way back to El’s room.
“Hey Joyce,” he looks around the corner back at his wife. “You’re the shit, too.”
For most of his
childhood, Ben Solo is half-raised by a protocol droid. He sees more of
Threepio than his own parents—Father too busy with his adventures to much
bother with his son, Mother so embroiled in the Resistance that she never
prioritizes him over her political responsibilities. The droid is fussy and
irritating, but at least he’s present.
Ben knows that his
mother and father love him. Just not quite enough to put him first.
His father is off-world
again. Mother won’t tell him what he’s up to, or where he’s gone, so Ben can
only imagine what’s important enough to call Father away the day before his
It doesn’t matter, he thinks. I don’t need him anyway. This
isn’t true, but Ben has always been good at lying to himself.
At least when Father is
gone he doesn’t have to listen to his parents argue.
Mother makes his favorite
breakfast for him the morning he turns ten, but she’s called away for an
emergency meeting before he can take the first bite. She kisses the top of his
head and says, “Be good for Threepio.”
“Yes, Mother,” he says.
“I promise I’ll be home
before you go to bed.”
Ben stays up until
midnight, but she doesn’t make it back before his birthday fades into the early
hours of the morning.
It isn’t the first
promise his mother has broken, and it won’t be the last.
Father returns almost
four weeks later. He takes Ben for a ride in the Falcon and allows him
to co-pilot (on the condition that he doesn’t tell Mother about it). This is
his way of saying he’s sorry without having to voice the words. In their month
apart, Ben had imagined being silent with his father, refusing whatever apology
he managed to make, but he’s too happy to see him to maintain his cold front
for longer than a minute.
After they’ve landed,
Father ruffles his hair, then pulls him into a loose, barely-there hug. It’s
the sort of rare show of gruff affection that makes Ben remember why he’d do
anything in the world for just a moment of this man’s attention.
Mother returns from her
Resistance duties early and catches them as they’re exiting the Falcon.
She stalks over to Father and hits him on the arm hard enough to draw an
indignant noise from him.
“You let Ben co-pilot,
didn’t you?” she asks.
“‘Course not,” Father lies smoothly. “I was just spending a little time with
him. You’re not gonna fault me for that, are you?”
“How could I?” she asks
sweetly. “You’re never here to see him.”
“That’s rich coming from
you,” he says.
“What’s that supposed to
mean?” Mother asks.
Father shrugs, his smile
lopsided and sharp. “I’m sure a smart woman like you can figure it out,
They fight all night,
and when Ben goes to bed he can hear their raised voices through the thin walls
of his bedroom. He tries to meditate, the way Uncle Luke taught him to do years
ago, to shut out the sounds of broken love coming from the next room over. But
he never has been any good at clearing his mind. He feels everything too much,
feels it viscerally and violently. Lying there, alone and angry, the bed begins
to shake and the knick-knacks on his dresser shiver and clatter. It ought to
scare him, Ben thinks, but somehow this tangible expression of his anger calms
Jonathan knew this happened a lot. There were a lot of nights where Lonnie was drunk, because his mom always did the same thing. On regular nights his would come home around two in the afternoon, right when Jonathan got home from the elementary school, relieving Will’s babysitter. Then Jonathan would watch Will play and when his dad was in another room (he almost never watched them) Jonathan would play with him. They would have adventures in the living room, hopping from couch cushion to couch cushion because the floor was lava. They would build a fort every day out of pillows and blankets and then they would play in there. Jonathan would draw pictures while Will colored them in. Unlike other little kids, Will was a good colorer and colored in the lines of all his pictures. His classmates in the first grade couldn’t do that, so Will was obviously smarter and more special than them.
Then his mom would come home, late, right before Will’s bedtime. She would hurry to make the dinner his dad was whining for and then put Will to bed. After that, she would let Jonathan stay up late and they would eat ice cream together. She would tell him about all the people she’d met at work and he would fill her in on what he was learning in school. He went to bed next, and so did his mom, but not before she kissed Will and Jonathan goodnight.
But then there were the nights his dad drank and lumbered onto the living room couch to whine and complain about Jonathan’s mom (once, when Jonathan was feeling brave, he told Lonnie to shut up and stop saying those things about his mom, and Lonnie had yelled at him, making both him and Will cry) and when his mom came home that night, he’d start yelling at her with bloodshot eyes and shaking hands. His mom would take Jonathan and Will into Will’s room. Then a little while later, she would bring them dinner. She would tuck them into Will’s bed and kiss them good night, leaving the door cracked open because Will was scared of the dark. He would tell his little brother, that no, of course he wasn’t scared of the dark, they were safe and nothing could hurt him. But as he listened to his mom and dad scream at each other long into the night, he didn’t really think so anymore.
His dad was drunk again, but Will had fallen asleep in the afternoon, and was already in his room. “Jonathan,” his mom said when she got home, moving him quickly down the hall, “you should go too.”
“But, Mom, I don’t want to!” she tried to pull him into the room, but Jonathan stood very still and planted his feet. “I want to stay out here, with you. I want to help you.”
She knelt down and took his hands hers. “Jonathan, I’ll be okay.”
“You yell at eachother.” Jonathan whispered. “It never sounds okay.”
“Does it, does it bother you when we yell?” his mom asked and he nodded. Then she was wrapping him in a hug. Jonathan didn’t realize it before, but he was crying.
“It’ll be okay. Shhh, honey, I’m right here. It’ll be alright.” she rocked him back and forth as he cried harder. “I have an idea.” she whispered, and stood up. He watched her tip toe into the living room, then into the kitchen.
“Come here, Jonathan.” he heard her say from the kitchen and he walks carefully through the carpeted hallway to his mom.
“Lonnie’s asleep.” His mom pointed to the living room. “Do you want to help me make dinner?” Jonathan nodded. His mom is not the best at cooking, but he perks up when she says it’s mac n cheese, his favorite. “Here, could you clean off the table Jonathan? That would help mommy a lot.”
He nodded, and began to clear the clutter from their small kitchen table. They never ate at it as a family. Jonathan took all the half empty beer cans and old stained newspapers and put them in trash can. He took all the dirty dishes and put them in the sink. His mom had gotten the water to a boil, asking him if he wanted to pour the noodles in. Then they had to wait, so Jonathan went back to cleaning the table up.
“Hey mom, what’s this?” he asked, holding up what he had found for her to see.
She glanced up from the pot. “Oh, oh that’s a camera, sweetie.”
“Like a camera that takes pictures of people?” he asked, and his mom nodded. “Does this one still work?” he turned the lunky object over on it side, almost dropping it.
“I- I don’t know, Jonathan. Here, bring it here, and we’ll see if has any film.” Her eyes lit up, in a way that Jonathan couldn’t remember seeing in a long time. There was the time when Will learned how to walk, but that was before Lonnie started drinking every day. Her eyes were bright every day before then. He brought her the camera and placed it on the counter with an plop!
“Did I break it?” Jonathan asked as his mom picked up the camera.
His mom shook her head. “No, but be careful in the future, honey, cameras are very fragile. Do you know what that word means?”
“That it breaks easy.” Jonathan whispered. His mom nodded again.
“Well it looks like it’s still got some film in there. I don’t know what that thing was doing over there, I didn’t even know we still had one. Looks like you unburied a treasure! Here, it’s almost done.”
While his mom drained the pot and started making the cheese to mix in, Jonathan studied the camera. He discovered that if he pressed the button on top, the camera would make a little click sound and the light on top would flash. Then, he found a tiny little window on the camera, and took another picture.
“Be careful Jonathan,” his mother warned him. “You don’t want to burn through your film.”
“Hey, Mom, say cheese!” Jonathan laughed as he took another photo of her. And another. And another.
“Jonathan!” his mom almost dropped the bowl of their dinner. “What are you doing?”
“I’m taking your picture.” he told her, taking another picture.
She put her head in her hands. “Oh, Jonathan, you don’t want to waste your film, taking pictures of-of me!”
“Yes, I do.” Jonathan said. He didn’t understand why she didn’t want to have her picture taken. “You’re my mom.”
“Oh, Jonathan.” his mom was crying, so Jonathan rushed to put the camera back on the table.
“Mom, what’s wrong?”
That’s when she pulled him to sit on her laugh and hugged him tightly. “You’re the light at the end of the tunnel, you know that?”
“What does that mean?” he asked, his head nuzzled on his mom’s shoulder.
“It means you make everything worth it, all the bad and good things, in the end. I love you, Jonathan. Don’t you ever forget that.”
“I won’t. I love you too, Mom. Can I keep the camera?”
“Of course, Jonathan.” she smiled, and her eyes were full of light again.
Finishing off this series of photos from the American South with a personal favorite of the trip.
Most people don’t think of urban stylings when they think of the South, especially a place like Savannah. But for me, having grown up there, the affected “charm” of the South often times belies a humbler, more honest beauty inherent in some of the candid fragments of humanity hiding just beneath the carefully preened surface.