The Androgynous Strain 1
"Been thinking about it since before fourth grade."
"August to April. Nine months. Like pregnancy."
Some had just found a summer job. Some had to quit when school started.
Sugary sweet. Fat kids. Insulin needle prick.
"If you express anger, I'll punish you. Parents have problems too."
The teen's fists tightened. Silence. Guilt. Shoulders slumped. Alone with no friends.
"I can't go. Got to take care of you, grandmother."
"Go. I'll be okay for one night." she said to her grandson.
"I know how you think. You'll try to kill yourself because you think you're a burden."
The sound of a sigh.
Four people to a room in apartment and rental house bedrooms designed for one person.
"Rape crisis hot line. I'm your counselor."
"Take your time. I can wait."
"I just got raped." said the young voice.
Drive-by shootings. The commute from Simi Valley was always a traffic jam hassle. By the time the few cops reported for duty, they were openly racist against the people they were supposed "to protect and serve."
Asthma-causing smog, nasty tasting tap water, and chemical smell dirt.
"My mom has cancer."
"Everybody here has cancer."
Music blasting from boom boxes and cars. Heavy street and freeway traffic. Jackhammers and jets taking off.
"You say you attended community college but the records were lost?"
"It's a demanding job and I can't offer you a big salary."
"The wages are still better than what I earn as a waitress."
"Well okay Sarah . . ."
"Baum. Pronounced like bomb."
"Okay Sarah Baum. You can start today. Go to HR."
"Thank you so much."
He handed her paperwork and looked at her as she left his office. Pretty woman. Nice suit. Skirt too short.
Tremor. It wasn't the big one. Mud slides in the canyons. Fire in the hills.
A father deployed to war. He dies but his Type A personality genes live on in his children.
"What's wrong with that kid? He looks like an old man."
"Progeria. Might not live to see graduation."
Crips. Bloods. Bullies. Fear.
psychology teacher: "Cognitive dissonance. Nice people worry about hurting others. Evil people feel no strain."
a student: "Explains the world."
psychology teacher: "Nice people are honest and committed but circumstances beyond their control can prevent them from keeping promises and then they are perceived as dishonest and incapable."
student: "I can use that excuse when I go with someone else."
Injuries. Greenstick fractures.
Jesse: "Get yourself pregnant by John Connor. No one else. I can get a paternity test done to make sure."
Riley: "I don't want to do this."
Jesse slaps her.
Jesse: "Half the girls at Campo de Cahuenga must be unwed teen mothers. Do it."
John looked around. A mother dominated by her dissolute college-age son bringing home beer for the house party. Some kids were using drugs. A sudden appreciation for his overly strict mother. He dragged Riley out of the house before any cops busted the place.
Riley was into cutting.
"Is someone hurting you?" asked Cameron.
As usual, Riley's eyes widened in fear of Cameron and she backed away. Riley had robotphobia like Sarah and Jesse.
"John, one day you'll listen to me. Riley has been in the bathroom too long."
"Stay out of my life Cameron."
Nevertheless he checked. Blood all over the floor. Slit wrists. Emergency Room.
"Burglars." said Sarah.
"I guess Riley didn't set the alarm when she left." said John.
Cameron is pissed. The thieves took her purple leather jacket.
"Derek, we're wiped out. They got all the money." said Sarah.
The student in the psychology class is like many -- can't get a date after jilting the one they had.
"Why would you say that?"
"Morning sickness. An heir and a spare as the British royal watchers say."
"If I'm supposed to be the heir, then you're saying mom is making sure?"
"There is nothing to stop her from naming a second child John Connor if you get killed."
"What if it's a girl?"
"Girls can lead too."
Riley gets on her bicycle and pedals away after visiting John.
"John, dump this Riley girl. She's dragging you down. I bet she hangs out with stoners. She's attracting social workers and police. And she's brought this family to financial ruin."
"No! I don't give up on people like you."
"Who have I given up on?"
"Uncle Derek and Cameron. They are part of this family."
"They are fifty percent of my problem."
Loud arguments. Not just in the Baum home. Every home in the community. Parents, brothers, sisters, friends, co-workers, boss.
The co-worker dumped her work on Sarah's desk.
"I help you with your work. How come you never help me with mine?
"Sarah, I don't pay you to argue with your co-workers. Get this work done."
Tossing the pillow and turning in bed.
"Mom wants to pull me out of Crest View."
"We are out of Red Valley."
"What are you talking about Cameron?"
"That's in New Mexico. You said mom wants to pull you out of Crest View."
"I said that? I meant Campo. One day I'm there and a substitute teacher shoots at me and the next day I'm enrolling at Campo. Mom changes jobs and I change schools a lot but this was whiplash."
"Well we did jump over a decade."
Clang. Cold metal bars. Eau de puke and sweat was the perfume of the teen girls holding cell.
"What are you in for?" asked Jody.
"Being in a grocery store."
"You seen this girl?" asked John many times.
"Yes, she's over there." Finally.
"Get away from me."
"Your name is Cameron Baum not Allison Young."
At work, Sarah was almost alone in the back office except for somebody from another department.
"Where is everybody?"
He made air quotes.
" 'Sick.' Probably out interviewing."
TV commercials. Everyone's new phone, game, and PDA was now obsolete. Many had not been paid for yet.
Uncomfortable workplace. Thirty-nine hours. Not technically full time. No benefits. Then the boss piled on long boring hours.
Sarah: "Do I get benefits now?"
HR: "After you've been here a year."
Sarah: "When will I get training?"
HR: "You never got training?"
Tracking down the burglars and their fences. Cameron shot the burglars point blank. Sarah recovered the money and then beat the rest of the money out of the people who fenced the blood diamonds and the property stolen from the Baum home.
Tracking. Stocking warehouses. Setting up safe houses and alternate I.D. Following every lead to find this Turk in hopes that it will take her to the technology that makes the Skynet artificial intelligence possible. Protecting people that Derek says are future Resistance. Shopping. Preparing hot meals for John whenever possible. Leaving a casserole in the refrigerator when not. Keeping Cameron in line. Paying the landlady. Paying other bills. Cleaning the house but delegating laundry to Cameron. Cleaning guns. Waiting in waiting rooms for appointments with doctors. All while holding down the new job. Over-scheduled.
Test anxiety. Midterms.
A letter from the government.
"They've found us mom."
She opens it.
"An IRS audit. How can that be? I've never paid taxes before. Always below the minimum. Well, Los Angeles has been fun. We'd better pack up and skip town."
"Bad idea Sarah."
"You agreed mom. We'd take a stand."
Cameron: "You wanna find Skynet? You wanna stop Skynet? This is the way."
Sarah: "You don't know who builds it!"
Cameron: "No, but we know where and we know when. We can go kill it before it's born. You can stop running. Stay in one place. Fight."
After waiting for this appointment, Sarah shifted in her chair. The IRS agent scrutinized the returns and scanty receipts.
"Only recently stopped working for tips at Mel's Diner . . . "
It was a comment not a question.
"Your return is thin but in order. Start keeping receipts from now on."
Cameron had perfect hair and brought home perfect grades. Other girls wanted the perfect body, the perfect dress, the perfect shoes, and the perfect night. Hard to do when you didn't control your life.
At home, teens stopped talking to parents and started obsessing and worrying. [When parents overheard phone conversations, the subject was always the same.] At school, students only had one topic of gossip.