The Husband SitterBy: Jessa Kane
Hello, I’m Astrid.
For as long as I can remember, I have been in love with love.
Warm hugs from my mother, her nimble fingers weaving daisies through my hair. My father making the perfect s’more and handing it to me, laughing at the inevitable marshmallow mess. Those were my first encounters with love. My parents and the life they gave me on the compound was full of affection, selfless gestures. Love. It was everywhere I turned.
My mother, father and I lived in a small cabin on the California property we shared with several other families. “Hippies” they called us in town. A cult. If we were either of those things, so be it. My childhood was happy and full, and I never wanted for anything. I never would have left it, either, except my mother decreed that my gift needed to be shared with the world.
So here I am, riding a bus south to Los Angeles, my clothes, a blanket, and a wallet containing five hundred dollars in a satchel at my feet. My fingers fold the hem of my white, flowery skirt over and over, my eyes wide as sights I never expected to see in real life whiz past. Buildings that reach toward the sky, billboards advertising radio stations. Color and noise everywhere.
Why didn’t I refuse to go? Already I miss afternoon meal and the dancing that followed. The hours of reading under my favorite tree, watching the clouds drift lazily above. I should have gone on a hunger strike or tried another crying jag, but my mother insisted there are people beyond the compound who will benefit from having me in their lives. I don’t know if I agree with her.
Around my tenth birthday, my mother started to notice what made me different. When a person expressed an emotion around me, such as sadness, anger or mirth, I matched it. Empathy, she called it. An extreme version.
Once our neighbor received news from Canada that her sister had passed away. She took to her bed and cried for a week. So did I. That sense of loss and regret…I could almost visualize it leaving her and entering me. My knees lost power and I howled into my pillow, trying to combat the pain. It was as though I lost my sibling, even though I didn’t have one and never met my neighbor’s sister.
Weddings at the commune were the happiest days for me, because the love between the bride and groom would reach out and take hold of me. It became so impossible to contain my joy that my mother would have to remove me from the ceremony so I could spin madly in circles and laugh. More than anything in this world, I adore love. I write poems about it, I hold my breath when a child snuggles their dog, my heart goes wild over a kiss on the cheek.
The world needs more love and empathy, my mother said. Go spread it.
My first stop was the Internet café in town. We didn’t have computers on the compound, but the owner was more than willing to assist me. I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for in the Wanted section of the online forum, but I’d recognize my calling when I saw it. That turned out to be true. The advertisement staring back at me from the glowing screen was simple:
Wanted: A non-judgmental young woman.
Create a unique, loving community with three families.
I didn’t need to look any further. An email was sent expressing my interest and the response back contained an address in Bel-Air, Los Angeles. The owner of the Internet café helped me map a route to the location. He asked me if I wanted to have dinner, too, but I declined his kind offer in the interest of answering the advertisement. Surely they will be overrun by candidates. I don’t want to miss this opportunity to see if my mother was correct and my empathy is truly a gift.
The bus lets me out at the bottom of a hill and I check the closest house for an address. Relieved that I’m close by, I renew my grip on my satchel and journey up the palm tree-lined road. The mansions I pass remind me of The Great Gatsby, which I’ve read over a hundred times, the copy of my book dog eared and worn. I wonder how many families live inside each of these homes. Surely it can’t only be one family in all that space. Or a single eccentric millionaire. That only happens in books.
A modern-looking home perched on the cliff overlooking the reservoir brings me to a stop. I double-check the address on my printout. This is where I’m to be interviewed? My pulse begins to skitter and race at the thought of going inside and being scrutinized by strangers. What if I’m not what they want?