Raising Wild Ginger
by Tara Woolpy
Paperback: 228 pages
Publisher: Bats in the Boathouse Press (June 11, 2012)
Book review (5-star)
Parenting is hard. That's what Edward Rosenberg has always assumed, although his only experience with children has been as the drunken uncle. Now the love of his life, Sam DaCosta, is yearning for fatherhood. Edward's been sober for years. He and Sam are in a good place. Why rock the boat? On the other hand, how can he deny Sam his dream of a family?
Then they meet Ginger. At twelve she's been through more than either Edward or Sam can imagine. She's seductive, secretive and dishonest. But somewhere between stealing his cash and alienating Sam, Ginger manages to wind herself into Edward's heart. Can the three of them create a family? Or will Ginger blow them all apart?
"Raising Wild Ginger is a captivating tale of a newly created family - a family that is not your usual mother-father-child family, but one that still matters to all involved and is at the very heart of the word a family. Of course, this family is not without it's ups and downs, and there are many instances that are heartwarming as well as heart wrenching. It is an emotional, tender story, and it reminds us just how powerful the love of a family can be."
Kristin Thorvaldsen, Always with a Book
"Woolpy has penned a sensational sequel to her outstanding debut novel Releasing Gillian’s Wolves. Raising Wild Ginger brings 12 year old foster child Ginger into Edward and Sam’s lives after she has endured countless acts of horrendous trauma for much of her young life. She arrives broken and alone, it is her last chance for a normal life with a family. Edward and Sam vow to not make the same mistakes their parents did and accept and love Ginger for who she is and what she can become, leaving the past behind to create a loving family all three of them desperately need.
This story will tug hard on your heartstrings and not let them go. An Absolute Must Read!!
Lori Caswell, Dollycas's Thoughts
I spread out a blanket. Sam opened a cooler and grabbed the bottle of sparkling cider and two plastic champagne glasses. He popped the cork and poured. Little bubbles fizzed up from the bottom of the glasses. Handing one to me, he smiled and toasted, "To us."
Four years ago, we’d met in the late afternoon every day for two weeks, hoping to catch mayflies in their annual ephemeral swarm, an event where, if I understand correctly, in one afternoon the whole population mates. On that last day, I’d arrived late to find Sam and the mayflies already there. I swung up my cameraand, looking through the viewfinder, I’d seen everything I’d been waiting for, too.
That’s the picture I keep on my desk. Sam, arms outstretched, head flung back, laughing as hundreds of beautiful white-winged insects fly around him. I’d wanted that for the book cover, but the art director decided it wasn’t properly academic. She went for a close-up of a male mayfly perching on a blade of marsh grass, wings held high, tail filaments catching the light, his huge eyes scanning the sky for a mate.
As the light began to fade that afternoon, we’d stood in the middle of the grove, our shoulders almost touching, peering at the camera preview screen. I remember trying to feel heat from his body and watching his face, memorizing the curve of his eyelashes, as I clicked through the images. Eventually he looked up, and that’s when we kissed.
Four years later and I still couldn't believe my luck.
"To us," I agreed. Our glasses touched. I sipped the syrupy juice and leaned back on my elbows. We had an amazingly good life.
Then Sam said, "You know, I really would like children," and I groaned.
"What?" he continued. "Look, Edward, I know we’ve been over this but—"
"Sam, darlin', I’m too old for kids."
"Don’t be silly. Men older than you have children all the time. And it isn’t like you’d be making one from scratch. I think you’d make a great father."
"No, you’d make a great father. I’m a better uncle. Let’s not talk about this now. Come." I patted the blanket next to me. "Lie down and let me distract you."
He laughed and handed me my sandwich. "Food first, you old lecher."
After lunch, I pulled him down beside me on the blanket. The wet earth beneath us smelled of spring, and the nylon of our bulky jackets rustled. "The thing about an early spring picnic," I whispered into his neck, "is that, while we don’t have mosquitoes, it’s also too cold for people."
"We might have seen another mayfly emergence."
"But we didn’t, and there’s something sharp poking my hip. Let’s find Daphnia and go home."
Later, covers pulled up to our necks, Sam lay spooned against me. I stared into the curly mat of his hair. He’s younger, smarter and much better looking than I am. He’s also usually right. "I’ll think about it," I whispered.
* * * * *
We packed the usual dozen or so into St. Sebastian’s for the Tuesday noon meeting. I took a seat next to my sponsor, Henry. Last week’s Sunday School projects hung above our heads, butterflies made from tissue paper and clothespins. A woman in gray, whose name I never remember, agreed to chair and we began. I looked around the group--no first timers, but a few still early in recovery.
After the readings, our chair said, "This is a discussion meeting. Does anyone have a suggestion for a topic?"
I cleared my throat. "Hi, I’m Edward. I’m an alcoholic and an addict."
"Hi, Edward," the group chimed.
"I guess I want to talk about resentment." I fiddled with my coffee cup. "My partner really wants to look into adopting… making a family. The thought scares the crap out of me. He grew up in this white-bread family where punishments fit the crimes and everyone was hyper- normal—at least until he came out, but that’s another story. I don’t have any idea how to do that, what that kind of family looks like from the inside. I feel scared of the responsibility, the time, and I think, deep down, terrified I’d turn into my mother and really mess someone up. It’s not something I want him to want, and I can’t seem to shake feeling angry and resentful, even though I know that’s poison for me, my sobriety and for our relationship. I’m hoping this meeting will help me get over myself. With that, I’ll pass."
Someone else took up the topic of releasing resentment, an alcoholic favorite, and the meeting continued. By the time we stood to hold hands and repeat the serenity prayer, I felt better than I had in weeks.
Henry asked, "Got time for coffee?”
"Sure. How about we meet at the Rise and Shine? The coffee’s awful, but the pie’s good."
At the Rise and Shine Café, cracked green vinyl booths line the wall opposite the lunch counter. Old-time diner food. I’ve been a regular all my life. It’s gotten a little better since Irene and her sister Claire took over, but not much. The smell of grease still envelops you as you pass through the front door. Sam’ll come here if he’s really hungry. For me, the place remains delicious with memories of the grandfathers taking us for chocolate chip pancakes on summer Sunday mornings.
Henry and I took the back booth. As Irene poured our predictably bitter coffee, I wondered if I looked as unchanged to Henry as he did to me. Over a decade ago, he’d taken on the job of steering this messed-up, rich, white, gay guy toward something like sanity. He didn’t look different to me from that first time I’d stumbled into a meeting, fresh from twohundredandseventy-four days in jail, followed by twenty-eight in treatment, and looking for something to convince me that life without drugs and alcohol was better than suicide. Big and black, ten years older than me, already sober twenty-some years and married for longer, he breathed out a cloud of patience developed through years of sobriety and social work, and looked like hope to me. He still does.
"So Sam wants babies." He chuckled.
"Not babies, he’s thinking kids, maybe refugees." I took a swig of coffee and dumped in more creamer. "He’s got some great arguments. No question about it, we have plenty to share." I shook my head. "But I’m not sure I’m the Mother Theresa type."
Henry stirred sugar into his coffee. Irene brought two slices of rhubarb-apple pie, warmed so that golden flakes of crust glistened against the ooze of pink filling. I forked a bite into my mouth and rolled the tart sweetness along my tongue.
Henry spoke. "Have you thought about a compromise? Maybe foster care? It’s cheaper and faster than adoption, and it could be temporary if that's what you wanted."
"So you think I should give in?"
"Man, this is good, isn’t it?" He held up a forkful of glistening pink filling. "I think you should keep an open mind, that’s all. How badly does Sam want kids?"
"Badly. Ever since he visited his sister and her family last summer, he’s talked about it off and on. It triggered this family thing in him, and it’s like an itch he can’t quit scratching." I stuck my fork into a ridge of crust, watching it crumble, catching the crumbs and popping them into my mouth. Food is my only remaining addiction. I'm not giving it up.
"I thought he wasn’t in contact with his family." Henry wiped the edges of his mouth with a napkin.
I shrugged. "It’s complicated. His father won’t acknowledge his existence, but Naomi, his sister, keeps in regular contact. They talk on the phone, email. Over the past few years the three of us have seen each other a few times in neutral territory, and last year he met her family. She’s scheduled to spend some time here early this summer. His mom pretends to his dad that she doesn’t communicate with him, but sends little messages through Naomi. It gets confusing."
"Sounds like it." He sipped his coffee. "Sam’s good for you. Those early years I knew you when you were involved with what’s-his-name—"
"Rob," I supplied.
"Right, Rob. Where is he these days?"
"New York, last I heard. He got a job as a personal assistant for some magazine editor." I shrugged. "But that was a couple of years ago, so who knows."
"Well, he wasn’t healthy for you. You really struggled in that relationship."
"It didn’t help that he was constitutionally incapable of fidelity."
"Uh-huh. I don’t see you having that trouble with Sam."
I shook my head and smiled. "Sam was born faithful."
Henry nodded. "People like that don’t come along every day." He pressed his fork into the few remaining crumbs on his plate. His eyes met mine. "I have this girl. She’s from downstate and has been through a rough time. Before next school year, we’d like to get her out of the town she’s living in and find her somewhere around here, at least for a while, until we can get her something more permanent. When you were talking in the meeting, I thought maybe you’re the right people to take her on."
He shrugged. "She’s already been bounced from a couple of homes. She tends to make wives uncomfortable. I think she could use a safer kind of father figure than she’s had so far."
"Oh." I leaned back in the booth, letting the coffee cup warm my hands.
"You could think of her as a different sort of refugee." He smiled.
I nodded slowly. "Interesting."
"Talk it over. Do whatever’s best for the two of you. If you’re interested, give me a call and I’ll come over to the house, talk with the both of you, fill out some paperwork, and get the process started." He smiled again. "You think you can prove you’re healthy, financially stable and have enough room for a foster child in that mansion of yours?"
"Okay, I’ll talk to Sam. You really think I could do this?"
"I really think you could be good at it, but you’ve gotta do what works for you. What Sam wants is important, but you need to know your own limits too." He tented his arms, folded his hands together and rested his chin on his thumbs. "You’ve grown up more than you know, my friend. Give yourself time and I think you can figure out that next right step."
As we stood to go, Henry said, "I’m having an open house on Saturday afternoon to celebrate my birthday. Can you both come?"
I smiled. "I’ll check with Sam, but I bet we’re free."
"No presents," he said. "We’ve got more than enough crap around the house. And bring big appetites. Fran’s already cooking."
I grinned. "Appetites we’ve got."
From my car on the way home, I phoned Sam at work.
"Hi," he said, "can you stop at the store and pick up some pasta? I talked Maggie into coming over for dinner with a jar of homemade tomato sauce."
"Excellent. I’ll see if I can pick up some appropriate bread and a bag of salad."
He sighed. "We really should learn to cook."
"So you keep saying."
"I’ve got to get to class. Thanks for shopping."
"I love you."
* * * * *
As I pulled into the garage, I glanced at Gillian’s house next door, where Qian practiced skateboard moves in the driveway. Gillian lent the house to the university for use by visiting faculty, and for the past few years it had felt like we were living next to an international guest house. Qian’s mother, Bo Lin, was almost done with her sabbatical and soon they’d pack up to head back to China. I knew that feeling. Sam and I spent our first year together in Amsterdam during his sabbatical. As the end neared, I felt torn. I’d made friends and I loved the city, but I also missed my home. And when I came home, I left Gillian in Amsterdam.. Who’d have thought I’d be the one to hold down the home front while she spent our golden years abroad? It’s like the Dalai Lama said in that movie, “Kundu”: things can change just like that.
Gillian’s my oldest friend, my next-door neighbor, my sister, my co-conspirator in life, not to mention the best cook I’ve ever known. We’ve been linked since childhood by our grandfathers, two men who lived, made a fortune, and died together, leaving all their money to the foundation that Gillian and I control. I always contend they were gay and Gillian, while she allows it’s a good possibility, points out that our very existence could be cause for doubt. Now she’s living in Amsterdam while I keep the old homestead in repair and watch the foreign professors come and go.
I let Daphnia out the front door and spotted the afternoon paper slumped against the step. Above the fold, the headline called out in big letters that after years of delay, our congressman was finally headed to jail. There was a bad picture of Jack, the guy I'd spent twenty years loathing as he made Gillian miserable. I was glad she'd been out of the country throughout the scandal of the divorce, his bribery trial and the endless appeals. Maybe now that it was over and he was headed to prison, she'd come visit.
I stared at the picture, hearing the clang of prison gates closing. The memory never fades. It's been years. I can go weeks without thinking about it and then something will trigger my memory--a story in the paper, a guy showing up at a meeting sporting an ankle bracelet, the phrases “drunk driving” or “vehicular assault,” and I'm back there amid the bright lights and constant noise. Most of what you hear about prison is bull. I wasn't raped in the shower or shanked in the yard. I did spend nine months stuck in cacophonous, soul-sucking boredom. Like anywhere else, money helps. My mother could talk the judge into the harshest sentence possible, but she couldn't keep Gillian from stocking my prison account with money and my care packages with cigarettes and chocolate.
I threw the paper on the dining room table and went to work. I spent the afternoon editing two images I’d agreed to donate for a Nature Conservancy brochure. I fiddled with the magenta in a sunset until my eyes crossed. Still, it was easier than the old days when I would have been stuck for hours in an acrid darkroom. Around four, I took a break and headed for our basement where, years ago, I’d converted the old rec room into a gym. Back then, I was struggling to keep Rob’s attention and had spent hours pumping iron, trying to force myself into the hard-body he’d wanted. These days I trot along on the treadmill. Sam’s thirteen years younger, so I’ll probably die first, but I’d like to stick around long enough to enjoy a life together.
By the time Maggie and Sam pulled up, I was considering a few images from Madrid for the book and playing tug-of-war with Daphnia. I watched out the window as Maggie parked at the curb and Sam waited in the driveway. As they greeted each other, I was struck by how related they looked--about the same height and lean. Actually Maggie borders on skinny, with that wonderful dark, curly hair. Maggie looked like Sam’s slightly older sister, but their DNA couldn’t be more different; SamDaCosta'sa Sephardic Jew only two generations off the boat, and Maggie Mazzoniis the daughter of an Italian butcher and an Irish nurse, who I'm sure never counted Abraham, Isaac and Jacob among her next of kin.
I like Maggie. It seems to me that we’ve been to some of the same dark places, but we never discuss it. There’s something tangential about our friendship. She’s Gillian’s best girlfriend and Sam’s closest colleague at work. Sam and Gillian are sweet people. They grew up loved and it shows. Maggie and I--well, that shows, too.
I opened the door as they started up the steps. Daphnia bounded down, wagging his whole body in greeting before jumping to plant his little paws on Sam’s thigh. Sam picked up the dog and held him as he squirmed and licked his face and tried to lunge toward Maggie.
She reached a hand over and obligingly scratched his ears."Hi Daph,how’s the poop-eating business?"
Sam averted his eyes. "Oh, he’s been over that for, um, weeks."
"Uh huh," Maggie said. "I’m still not letting that tongue anywhere near my face."
"Great to see you." I hugged her and stood aside to let them through. Sam and Daphnia kissed me in passing.
"God I love this view." She stood by the kitchen window, looking out at the lake. "So what have you been up to lately, Edward? It seems like I haven’t seen you in ages."
"Polishing his book." Sam took the tomato sauce Maggie handed him and went looking for a pan.
"A book? I didn’t know you were working on a book."
I felt myself blush. "It’s not a book yet. But I collected some nice images of urban wildlife in cities like Paris, London, Rome, Amsterdam and I think—shit, I don’t know what I think."
"They’re great," Sam exclaimed. "He caught all the great landmarks: Buckingham Palace, the Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower--only the focus of each picture is a pigeon, a squirrel, a rat, raccoons, even a pet ocelot. They’re funny and sad and beautiful."
"I’d love to see them sometime." Maggie leaned against the counter, watching us puttering in domestic bliss in what passed for cooking in the Rosenberg-DaCosta household.
I grinned at her. "Sure. If you twist my arm, I’ll show you everything after dinner."
She sighed, one hand on her forehead like a swooning B-movie heroine. "I can’t tell you how long it’s been since a man made that kind of offer."
"What about Paul Johnstone? I thought he made that kind of offer all the time." Sam winked at Maggie.
"Who’s Paul Johnstone?" I shook pasta into boiling water.
"Chair of the history department," Sam said. "He’s hot, for an old guy. And he seems to find his way into the science building and past Maggie’s office more often than you’d expect."
"What I’d expect and what really happens in academia seem to be completely different things." I stirred the pasta, which was forming alarmingly large clumps. "It always sounds more like you’re high school students than college professors."
"Feels like that, too." Maggie gave Sam a look. "Paul’s a great guy. And he’s not much older than Edward."
"Ouch," I said.
"And I’m about as interested in him as I am in Edward."
"Any time you youngsters are ready, you can feel free to change the subject," I grumbled into the pot.
Eventually, we got dinner on the table. I turned to Maggie."So, you have any plans for after the term ends?"
She shrugged. "Mostly work. I’ve got a big grant that starts in June."
"The drug company collaboration?" Sam asked.
"Yes. And that’s all I get to say about it." Maggie speared a lettuce leaf. "I signed all sorts of confidentiality papers. I can tell you that they’re sending over a doctoral student as part of the deal."
Sam's eyebrows shot up. "They’re sending you a student? What about funding any of the students you’ve already got?"
"Part of the deal. And it works out well for me. They’ve already trained this guy so he’ll be ready to do the technical work from the get-go. Anyway, no summer plans." She tore off a hunk of bread. "I was going to visit my sister in San Diego so I can remember all the reasons I didn’t marry some redneck guy and have a bunch of snotty-nosed kids, but it looks now like I’m stuck in the lab all summer. You guys doing anything exciting?"
I looked at Sam, who shook his head. "No, not yet."
"You’re coming to the end-of-term picnic, aren’t you, Edward?" Maggie asked after a pause.
"Am I?" I asked Sam.
He smiled. "It’ll be better than the holiday party, I promise. It’ll be outdoors. We can play volleyball."
"I guess I’m coming," I told Maggie. "But if he abandons me to that geologist again, I’m out of there."
"You left him with Carter, didn’t you?" Maggie accused Sam.
"I went to get punch, and by the time I returned they were already up to the Cambrian."
I shuddered dramatically. "It was hideous."
Maggie patted my arm. "I’m so sorry I wasn’t there to rescue you." She turned to Sam. "You’re a cad."
He shrugged apologetically. "I wasn’t thinking. I’ll be better next time."
After Maggie left, Sam and I walked down to the dock. I pulled him close as we stood looking out over the water, listening to the waves lap against the shore. I recounted my conversation with Henry.
"Huh," he said. "Troubled teenage girl--hadn’t thought of that possibility."
"I don’t know what I think yet," I told him. "We’re really good, right now, like this."
"I know," he whispered, leaning into me.
"But we can keep talking." I watched the play of moonlight and wind across the waves.
* * * * *
I woke in the dark, hot and sweaty, my heart pounding. The clock said three a.m. Taking a deep breath, I tried to relax. My favorite nightmare, the one where I watch through my windshield as three kids tumble in slow motion around the back seat of the station wagon. My car keeps pushing and pushing into theirs. I can see Zoe Barnes’s terrified face in her rearview mirror. I watch as first little Ben, then Amber, and finally Zach crumple onto the seat. Can’t tell you how much of the dream is memory, how much reconstruction, but I bet Zoe has dreams like mine. This was the part I avoid remembering. I went to prison and eventually walked out, picked up my life and went on. Zach tried to get home from dinner at his grandma’s and won’t ever walk again.
I slid out of bed and pulled on my robe. Might as well start the coffee. Fourteen years and I hadn’t yet fallen back to sleep after the dream. Before heading down to the kitchen I stopped in my office, turned on the computer and transferred $10,000 into the trust account I’d set up for Zach after the accident and another $10,000 into a checking account I share with Zoe. It doesn’t stop the images, but it’s what I always do after the dream. I deposit, she withdraws. Maybe after her own dreams, maybe when she watches Zach wheel himself to school. We don’t talk much. He’s going to Stanford in the fall. I know because I’m paying the tuition. Seemed only fair since over the years I’ve made him too rich for financial aid. Least I could do.