I Used To Be A Politician. Shh…. Don’t Tell by Carrie Jones
I was once a politician. I hate to admit this, honestly. It’s like admitting that you’ve done something terribly wrong – illegal – like stolen granny panties from Wal-Mart. But it happened. I was a local politician until I lost an election and quit.
I did the run-for-office thing because I wanted, somehow, to do good for people.
I used to have to knock on doors, canvassing. I walked up long, dirt driveways with one sock on and one shoe. I tried to make my lack of a right shoe not too noticeable by putting on black socks (layer after layer of them) to match my black shoe. I was shoeless because I had hurt my toe. It was swollen and purpled and it couldn’t make it into any of my shoes.
I was walking anyway. My sock foot sloshed in mud, felt every pebble.
One day, I hobbled up a long dirt driveway on the Otis Road in Otis, Maine. The driveway ended at a white trailer and a red garage structure. There was a cute little boy named Cote hunched over a toy ride-along ATV. Even though I was totally a stranger, his mom saw me coming and smiled. She had dark brown hair and bangs, some wrinkles by her eyes and a skinny face that was beautiful but tired somehow.
A little girl named Caroline also came running up from the trailer. She was two maybe. Cote, by the way, was four. How did I know this? He kept telling me.
“I’m four!” he said-yelled. “What’s your name?”
His mom smiled but got the patented-mom-frantic look, where she’s trying to figure out how to get him to stop talking but still be a good mom.
“I’m Cote and I’m four!”
“No shoe!” Caroline interrupted. She was about as tall as my knees. Her head was bowed and she’s pointing at my sock. “NO SHOE! NO SHOE! NO SHOE!”
“Oh,” I said. “I hurt my toe so I can’t wear my shoe today. That’s silly, isn’t it? To just wear a sock.”
“No shoe! No shoe! NO SHOE!!!” Caroline was pretty much dancing in a frenzy of two-year-old happiness because a grown-up was standing in a muddy driveway wearing only one shoe.
Cote’s mom smiled an apology. “It figures a little one would notice. I didn’t even notice.”
“You’re just saying that to make me feel good,” I said.
“No. I swear. I didn’t.”
“I’m four!” Cote yelled.
She turned to Cote. “Cote, honey, we know you’re four, sweetie.”
He gave her puppy eyes, pivoted and went back to his ATV. Once there he yelled, “I’m Cote!”
“He’s my only child. I love…” She gets choked up. “I have eight kids.”
I was lost. She didn’t look old enough to have eight kids. How could he be her only child if she had eight kids? It made no sense.
“Eight?” I asked.
“I babysit for eight. Just two here today. I tried a long time to get Cote.” Tears formed in her eyes.
Cote has flopped on his belly, legs and arms dangling over the sides of his mini four-wheeler. He was smiling and chattering on about something, a bundle of little boy energy.
“He’s beautiful,” I said, because he was.
Her lips pressed together and her throat was so thin that I could see her swallow. “I love him right to death.”
And it was true. You could tell by her voice. You could tell by her eyes how true it was.
Otis, Maine is a small community and really rural. According to the last census about 9 percent of the people there live in poverty but it’s a community that’s full of wealth, not the monetary kind. It’s full of the human kind.
In the 1886 Gazetteer of the State of Maine, George Varney wrote “History of Otis, Maine.” In the article he said, “There is a cave in Oak Hill on the west side of Beech Hill Pond, which is 12 feet under ground, with rooms 7 feet by 10 feet. Ice and snow have been found in it on the 4th of July, by which it has gotten its name of the “Cold Cellar.”
That’s what I was thinking about after I said goodbye to Cote, his mom, and Caroline. I was thinking about how Otis, and so many towns in Maine, have secret, hidden away places, cold cellars, where you peer inside and see something unexpected and beautiful. It might be snow on the Fourth of July, or it might be a mother still so overcome with the blessing of having a son that she is easily moved to tears. Either way, that something unexpected is also something incredibly beautiful.
Cote’s mom might not be the richest woman in Hancock County or even in Otis, Maine, but she had an amazing handle on what riches really are. She knew that riches have more to do with the spark in your little boy’s eyes than the money missing from your wallet. She knew that in a trailer, hidden off the main road was something unexpected and beautiful and gigantic: it’s a mother’s love.
When I wrote Time Stoppers, it was that element of need, of love, of secret that compelled me. The story is about a magical town, hidden in Maine, and two kids who long for love and acceptance more than anything else. I started writing it when my daughter was little and bored in the car and we were too poor to have screens or data plans to keep her occupied. So I told her a story. Now that story is going out to the world, which is terrifying and magical all at once. It makes me a really lucky former local politician who absolutely failed to get elected, but the stories – the kids like Cote – they gave me the gift of their goodness, their stories.
I like to think that every experience we ever have makes us better writers and people. I’m not sure if that’s pretentious or even true, but I do know that meeting Cote and his mom helped make my heart a tiny bit richer and helped create the feelings and theme that ripple through Time Stoppers. I’ll never be able to thank them enough for making my world a little bit better when I was supposed to be doing that for them instead.
Carrie Jones is the New York Times and internationally bestselling author of the Need series, as well as After Obsession, co-written with Steven E. Wedel. She also co-edited the anthology Dear Bully, about YA authors’ experiences with bullying. She is a distinguished alum of Vermont College’s MFA program and a part-time police dispatcher in Maine because she likes cop stories. Really. Visit her online at www.carriejonesbooks.com.