At first, it was just a picture of a rooster shared on my Facebook page with the Mama's caption, "Sweetie, look what I found!"
It came at an opportune time during a meeting I was at. I shared the picture with everyone at the meeting, who then shared some chuckles back, a moment of levity.
But then came the backstory -- the fact that the rooster belonged to a young woman living in her car up the street from us. She was from the Northwest and had picked up the rooster in Arcata on her way down to Santa Cruz. Her car supposedly had a dead battery and a flat tire. The woman told the Mama that she was living temporarily in her car, but offered up no other information, and the Mama didn't push.
The rooster ended up in our backyard because the woman wanted to go the beach. That's when I started firing off questions:
"The beach? Why? Did she have any track marks on her arms? Did she have pock marks on her face, like from using meth?"
Wow. Where did that come from, Dad?
The Mama answered, "Not that I could tell."
"You didn't let her in the house, did you?"
"Maybe she's mentally ill," I said.
The Mama sighed. "I don't know. What should we do, though?"
"Get that frickin' chicken out of the backyard, baby. That's what."
"Don't worry, she'll come and get it. But we should help her somehow."
"Were there any signs of abuse?" I asked.
"No, not that I could tell. We could recommend a shelter to her, right?"
"Yes, of course."
We discussed it further for a few, wondering what to do, how to help, but all I could keep thinking about was protecting my family. Why is this young woman traveling alone, living out of her car, with a rooster? What if she was casing our place? What if she was a druggy and/or mentally ill? What if she brought back sketchy guys to get the rooster, or worse, and I wasn't there?
That's where I went -- immediately to the horrific side of human nature -- which actually surprised me a little. Usually I'm trying to see the converse, the promise of personal responsibility and being one of the good guys and good girls.
Like my own girls, one of whom could grow up and somehow find herself alone, living out of a broken down car, with a rooster...
The Mama and her mother ended up shooing the rooster out of the backyard at the end of the day, a comical event to witness. They tried to shoo it up the street to where the girl was parked, but it just frantically ran across the street to the field and hid in the bushes.
Shortly thereafter I saw her; the young woman came back for her rooster. She looked earthy and wore flowing, hemp-like clothes, and was thin but pretty, reminding me of the Dead Head dancers at the Grateful Dead shows I used to go to. I watched her track the rooster, pick him up, kiss him on the beak, then carry him off down the street.
I watched her and wanted to know her backstory, to see if I could help her, but was worried I'd scare her if I approached.
The reality, however, was that I was scared of her, because of the italicized thought above. A strange mix of empathy, disappointment and despair overcame me, paralyzing me. I could only watch her walk away down the street. The Mama had her mom to take the woman a bag of food, which she did. The young woman was grateful, even teary-eyed. We're trying to figure out how to help her with her car now.
But why is this young woman traveling alone, living out of her car, with a rooster?
I could just ask her, right?