Palouse by vwl




Chapter 20


End of Season - March 1991


A Month Later






            “You’ve only practiced two hours this week. Two hours,” Betty shouted. “Basketball season is over. Your vacation is over. It’s time for us to get back to where we were.”


            “Us? You mean that you want me to get back to work so that you can get back to where you were.”


            “What are you talking about?”


            “Nothing.” Micah shrugged his shoulders.


            “I want you to be a great violinist, Micah. If you don’t want to do it, forget it, once and for all. They come from all over the world to Marcia Vilas just for one lesson, and you don’t respect that. You’re not taking your life seriously.”


            “I don’t feel like playing anymore. I need some time off.”


            “I think you’ve already had your time off.”


            “Screw you.” Last time Micah had said this he was out of Betty’s earshot. This time he was not.


            “I have never struck one of my children, and I don’t intend to do it now. But I have never felt so close to doing so.” Betty turned on her heels and stormed out of the room.


* * * * *


            There was a sharp knock on the bedroom door. Micah opened one eye and looked at the glow of the clock – 6:04 a.m.  What the hell is going on? he thought. He looked across the bedroom at a sleeping Greg, who was a lump in his bed.


            “Micah, get up,” he heard his mother speak through the door.


            “Why? It’s 6 a.m.”


            “We’re driving to Seattle. Get dressed and get the Guarneri. Breakfast will be in 10 minutes.”


            Micah lifted his feet off the bed and onto the floor, sat for a second staring at them and then trundled down the hall to the bathroom.


            Something was wrong, and he thought he knew what it might be. After a quick shower, he returned to his room and put on some jeans and a sweatshirt. If his mother wanted him to dress better, she should have said so. Fuck her.


            There were some pancakes on his plate when he arrived in the kitchen. He put some butter and syrup on them and dabbled at eating them, looking up from time to time at his mother, whose chin and eyes were set in grim determination. It was too early for him, and that seemed to strip him of any hunger. What was left of it disappeared with the look in his mother’s eyes


            “Mom, do we have to do this?”


            “I’m tired of it, young man. You don’t deserve the Guarneri anymore. You don’t practice; your concerts have been canceled; I know your teachers won’t like to work with someone who doesn’t practice. The Guarneri is just a 400-year-old liability, so it’s time it goes back to its owners. We’re leaving in five minutes, so finish up.”


            Micah climbed into Betty’s van, put his violin carefully in the back, took off his jacket, folded the jacket as a pillow and leaned his head against the passenger side door.


            “Buckle your seat belt!” Micah reluctantly reached behind him and found the buckle.


            He wasn’t going to say anything. A part of his very being was being wrenched from him. He felt an immense sense of loss coming; a stage in his life was shortly going to be behind him. He wanted tears, but he held them back so as not to show any remorse to his mother. He had his other violin, but he knew, in the state that he was in, that it would sit in the corner of his closet when he got home.


            Micah didn’t realize how wrenching this day was for his mother, too. She had devoted much of her last seven years nurturing Micah’s talent, making sure he learned music theory thoroughly, getting him to his lessons, making sure he kept his grades up even with a rigorous schedule, arranging his concerts and pushing him to achieve what she had been unable to achieve. When the Guarneri violin had arrived, she had cried all night in joy. When she’d decided to make Micah return it, she shed an equal quantity of canceling tears. But, she knew what had to be done. It just wasn’t proper for Micah to keep an instrument he no longer deserved. Though she would not admit it to herself, the other reason was her anger at her son’s rebellion against her.


            She drove the van up to I-90, turned west and after five hours arrived in Seattle with only a short stop to get a hamburger. She’d gotten directions to the Queen Anne house from Jake Cantwell and arrived there shortly after noon. She decided she would sit in the car and let Micah take the violin to the door. She parked the van in front of Jake and Robbie’s fine brick home with its beautifully tended gardens.


            “Micah, take the violin into the house. I’ll wait in the car.” The van idled quietly.


            Micah hadn’t thought what would happen when they arrived at their destination, but this wouldn’t have been how he envisioned what would happen. He hesitated, but his mother simply sat holding the steering wheel, her eyes looking straight ahead, the car ready to return to Endicott. Micah unbuckled his seat belt and opened his door. He opened the back door and retrieved the violin. He slammed the back door hard, partly in frustration, and walked up the brick walkway to the front portico. He rang the bell. Robbie answered it, knowing what was going to happen, but uncertain on how to act. Micah thrust the violin at Robbie.


            “Are you sure you want to do this?” Robbie asked, realizing immediately what was happening and knowing some of the problems that Micah was having after speaking to his violin teacher Marcia.


            Micah shrugged sadly. “No.” But Micah’s head was nodding. “Yes.” Micah turned and started to walk away. “I’m sorry,” he said over his shoulder. He hurried down the walkway. Robbie stared at him, feeling sad at what was being lost.


            Tears smarted in Micah’s eyes as he went back to the van. He opened the back door, climbed in and lay down on the seat, curling in a near-fetal position. Betty thought about reminding Micah about a seat belt, but decided against any admonishment. She put the van in gear, turned east toward Queen Anne Avenue, coasted down the hill to Mercer Street before heading east to I-5 and then onto I-90. When she reached Issaquah, she pulled off I-90 to get gas; inside the mini-market, she bought some fast food and tried to hand a sandwich to Micah. But Micah was fast asleep, so Betty climbed in the van and drove back to Endicott.


            It had been a hellish day.





Chapter 21


A Day in Court – July 1992


A Little Over a Year Later



            “Micah, would you come in here for a moment, please?” Stanley sat in his corner chair of the den. “I want to talk to you.”


            Micah was already heading down the hall. When he heard his father calling, he stopped and stood still, not turning around. He stood there for a few moments, defiance in his shoulders, wanting both to turn around and to say “Fuck it” and to go on out the door. He hesitated only a few seconds and continued down the hall.


            “Micah! Come here. Please.”  The tone in Stanley’s of the last word was plaintive, as if it was a cry for help. It stopped Micah short and dug at his deepest insecurities and the love he felt for his father despite, Micah thought, his unquestioning support of his wife. He felt his father’s eyes on his back. He felt the bonds that had been there for eight years, bonds that formed early after his arrival in the Palouse. He couldn’t turn his back to his father’s request, and the fact that he used the term father showed how close they were. But he was angry at his father as well; he was angry at the pressure he was facing; he was angry at the expectations that he couldn’t meet. So when he turned toward his father, it was with reluctance and apprehension.


            He went into the den and took the leather chair opposite his father, sitting down hard, then slumping forward with his legs spread. He looked into his father’s eyes, half dreading, half wanting what he thought was coming. He noticed the strain in his father’s face and the increasing grayness of his hair.


            “I love you, Micah,” Stan said. “I’ve loved you ever since the day you walked through the kitchen door into our home – even before that when your mother and I were deciding to adopt you.”  Micah felt a lump tightening his throat.


            “I pray for you every day, Micah. God has given you a talent that few on this planet have. You have an unbelievable talent – a talent that I could never hope to understand.” Stanley paused. “Your mother understands what you’re capable of.” Stan left his last statement hanging in the air.


            The only thing Micah could do was nod his head. He knew where this was going, and he was becoming more uncomfortable as Stanley continued to talk.


            “Dad, I know I have talent. I’m told that every day. But I want my own life. I don’t want to live somebody else’s life. I don’t want to become Mom’s dream. She dropped out when she married you. If I want to, I want to feel that I can drop out, too. I’ve got new friends that will support me.”


            “Your new friends?” Stan said with disdain. “They’re druggies; they have no morals. You and they are going to court because of their actions.”


            “Our actions,” Micah corrected. “I was part of it. It wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but I accept my responsibility.”


            “Micah, I don’t believe that. They dragged you into it.”


            “I don’t want you to judge my friends, Dad. That’s up to me.”  Micah said, his voice rising.


            Stanley sighed in resignation. “Micah, you’re screwing up your life in more than with your music; I know you know that,” Stanley said. When Micah didn’t respond, Stanley shook his head and then continued. “You’ve got two strikes against you now with this latest screw-up, and with your current attitude, you’re aiming for your third.”


            “Hey, I’m a minority, I get four strikes.”  Micah stood, turned and moved out of the den. “And as an adopted kid, I get five,” he shouted bitterly as he climbed the stairs and went to his room, slamming the door as he entered. He was thankful that Greg wasn’t there; otherwise, he might have antagonized him as well; Greg was his principal support around the house.


            Besides, he wanted to cool down, but the more he thought of the conversation he’d just had, the angrier he got. What right does he have to judge me; I’m seventeen, I can solo with any orchestra in the world, blindfolded with one hand tied behind my back. I can choose my own friends. Micah slammed his fist against the wall, rattling the pictures that were hanging on it.


            In a minute, his father opened the door to his and Greg’s room, strode in, stood with his hands on his hips:  “Don’t ever do that again.”


            I will do it if I want, Micah thought, but he didn’t say those words aloud. He lay on his bed and turned his back to his father. Stan stood for a few moments at a loss as to what to do and then retreated to the den as a tear rolled down his cheek.


* * * * *


            Micah was at the front door of the high school at 10 a.m. as his parents had instructed. They had made him put on a suit and tie that morning in order to go to court. When he got to school earlier that morning, he noticed that Arturo and Carlos were dressed conservatively as well – earrings removed, normal hair colors, makeup gone. Micah grinned at his friends, as if this trip to court was going to be another party – a masquerade of normality.


            Micah was still grinning from thoughts of his friends when his parents drove up in their ’68 Buick sedan, a car that they rarely drove because it could hold only five of their family. Micah was surprised that Greg was in the back seat but got in beside him from the driver’s side. Greg, too, was in his Sabbath suit. There was a somberness in the car that contrasted sharply with the mood he had just left with Arturo and Carlos. The contrast startled Micah, capturing his attention, sobering him.


            They drove east from Endicott, and a half hour later they pulled into the courthouse parking lot of the Whitman County Courthouse in Colfax. Not a word had been spoken by anyone in the whole 30-minute drive. Micah didn’t know what was more unnerving:  the silence or his parents’ refusal to look at him as if eight years of living together meant nothing.


            The courthouse doors were heavy oak, and Micah held them open for his parents and Greg. Inside the doors, a short, balding, intense man of about 45 years of age came up to them, shook Stanley’s and Betty’s hands, and turned to Greg and Micah as they were introduced. Greg held out his hand, and Micah followed suit as they were introduced to Albert Finley, Esq., or so the card that he handed Micah said.


            “Let me buy you all something to drink,” Mr. Finley said, leading them back out the door to a small café nearby. They seated themselves in a quiet part of the café, and after the waitress took orders, Mr. Finley began to speak to all of them. “This is a first-time offense, so the judge is predisposed to be lenient, but there is no guarantee. What you are offering, Stanley, will sit well with him, so I expect, this time, things will go well.”


            “Offering?  What’s this?” Micah asked.


            His father made no answer.


            “Tell me.”


            “You’ll know soon enough,” his father answered.


            “It’s my life. I want to know. Now!” But Micah wasn’t sure he really wanted to know. All kinds of possibilities moved through his mind – in a Brownian motion of fear and hope. Would they send him to another foster home?  But he had been adopted, so they couldn’t un-adopt him, he didn’t think. Would they agree to a light sentence in jail to make sure he was taught a lesson?  Micah searched the eyes of his father and mother to see if there was a clue in them.


            “Soon enough, son.” 


            The word ‘son’ had an immediate calming effect. It was a lifeline, the only one of this unsettling morning.

* * * * *

            Albert Finley checked his watch – for the tenth time, it seemed to Micah. “We’ve got to go,” he announced. He pulled the bill from the table and walked to the cash register at the end of the row of stools. The rest of the Kingmans waited a moment and then followed him out the door, down the street and across the crosswalk to the courthouse. Stan walked alongside the lawyer, while Betty put her arm through Micah’s, holding him, trying to comfort him. He didn’t say anything, but his emotions were torn by her touch. He wanted to be free and on his own and separate from her, but there was a doubt that made her hold of him a parent’s security signal.

            Once through the heavy courthouse doors, Finley led the Kingmans to the courtroom of Judge William Radcliffe. They entered the courtroom quietly and took seats in the back. Judge Radcliffe was presiding over another case – a young fellow who was standing at his lawyer’s table with a scowl on his face. He was pounding on it.

            “I will not tolerate that behavior. You will stop right now, Mr. Anson,” the judge said, cracking his gavel against a block of wood.

            “And if I don’t?”

            There was no hesitation on the judge’s part. His voice rose till it sounded to Micah like a roar. “Bailiff, will you restrain Mr. Anson?  If he continues to interrupt this proceeding, I will ask you to remove him from the courtroom.” 

            The bailiff moved alongside the young man and placed handcuffs on his wrists.

            “You son of a bitch,” Anson shouted at the judge. “Who do you think you are?”

            “Mr. Anson, I’m not going to answer that question. I think it is for you to think about and answer. Meanwhile, I will hold you in contempt of court. We will continue this case until next Monday.

            “This court will be in recess for 20 minutes.”  His gavel sounded loudly. Everyone in the courtroom rose, and the judge left through a door to his left.

            Micah watched all this with eyes wide. The power that the judge displayed shocked the remaining cockiness out of him. When he and his friends had torched that abandoned shed, Micah had not foreseen a courtroom like this in his future. Now he was faced with the might of the state against him, and he had just seen what could happen if that might was challenged. He drew back into himself, unsettled. Greg noticed the change in Micah’s demeanor and put his hand on Micah’s shoulder, a gesture of support.

            Finley carried his briefcase to the polished wooden table in front of the bench that Mr. Anson and his attorney had just vacated. He motioned for Micah to join him and for the rest of the Kingmans to sit on the benches behind the table. The prosecutors and a child-protective worker remained at the other table arrayed in front of the bench, shuffling one set of files to the side and moving another set in front of them.

            After 20 minutes, the judge reentered to an “All rise” by the bailiff. He motioned to Mr. Finley, the prosecutor and the child-protective worker to approach the bench. “Please come back to my chambers,” he said, and the group all left by the same door that the judge had used to enter. Mr. Finley stopped by the table, asked Stan and Betty to join him, and told Micah to wait where he was.

            It was nearly an hour before all but the judge emerged. A minute later, the judge entered to the cry of the bailiff:  “All rise.”  The judge took his seat and pounded his gavel as those in the courtroom seated themselves.

            “We are on the record,” the judge said, and the stenographer began typing on the small machine in front of him. “After a discussion in my chambers with the prosecutor, Mr. Lister; the child-protective worker assigned to this case, Ms. Ryan; Micah Kingman’s parents and Mr. Finley, we have come to a plea bargain in this matter. Because this is Micah Kingman’s first offense, because he is a minor, and because Stanley Kingman and his wife, Betty, have agreed to make full restitution for the building that was burned, I am inclined to be lenient.”   

            Micah realized that paying for the abandoned building would mean that Betty would have to delay the purchase of her new refrigerator, a thought that suddenly saddened him, because she had been describing and researching what she wanted for several months now. He knew how much she was looking forward to it. He figured he could pay her back after he got access to his college fund. When he turned his head to look at his mother, her expression was intent on the judge.

            “I am further persuaded by the willingness of the Kingmans to send Micah through a program designed for troubled teenagers.”  I’m not troubled, Micah said to himself. What do they mean?  “Micah Kingman, will you rise?”  Micah stood up. He saw that his lawyer had stood up with him. “Micah, I will give you the choice of spending 30 days in juvenile hall with two years’ probation afterwards or taking part in a program for troubled teenagers, after which there will be six months’ probation but nothing on your record. Do you understand your options?”

            “I do, sir…er, I do, Your Honor.”

            “Do you want some time to think about your choice?”

            “No, s… your honor. I am willing to make my decision now. I will choose the program.” He had no idea what this program was, but somehow being in juvenile hall with people like the Anson fellow whom he had just seen did not sound good. Besides, he figured it was going to be, what, a couple of weeks, and he’d be done with it.

            “A good decision, Micah. So ordered. This hearing is closed.”  The judge pounded his gavel hard, those in the courtroom stood, and the judge stepped off the bench, turned and went through the door to his chambers.

            Betty, Stan and Mr. Finley stood talking for a while, occasionally gesturing to where Micah was seated.