FIFTY-THREE - Wise, he is.

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I didn't let Norm take the heat for my stupidity. And not just because he has cancer. I was an ass hat, and the whole thing should never have happened. And the fact that Norm was perfectly willing to protect me from the wrath of my father, even when it was HIS barn and HIS llamas that were at risk, makes me realize (even more than before) what a kind and thoroughly decent human being he is. And I just don't get it. Why does someone like Norm get a death sentence like this? He lost his wife  - Misty's mom - to the same illness just a few years ago. What kind of bullshit is this? The dude is salt of the earth, and the way I see it, the earth needs more salty people like him.

Dad told me that cancer is a roll of the dice, and that good people sometimes get dealt shitty cards, just like bad people. And then he grounded me. Actually, I can't really call it that, because my father thinks "grounding" is stupid. He said people just need to be accountable when they screw up, and then do what needs to be done to make it right again. (For an accountant, my dad is pretty wise.) So, I'm just doing more chores, really. Oh, and llama and barn duty, too. Apparently I am going to be helping to rebuild the barn, which, of course, seems fair. I'd have done that anyway, even if I hadn't burned it down.


Norm and I led Desmond, Snowflake and Audrey down the road to Elizabeth Taylor's place this afternoon. No, not that Elizabeth Taylor. The one you're thinking of is dead, and if she wasn't, she'd be, like, eighty-five. This Elizabeth Taylor is not quite fifty, and raises dogs—Golden retrievers, to be exact. She used to have miniature horses, but said they weren't worth the trouble, so now she just has the dogs and a couple of empty barns. Which is why we took the llamas down there. They are going to live there while we rebuild the barn.

Desmond and Audrey seemed okay with it, but Snowflake was pretty wary of the dogs. There were about eight of them, but they weren't the least bit interested in the llamas. I don't think they quite understood what they were. (Totally understandable; llamas look like preschoolers' drawings of alien creatures come to life.) They were more interested in playing fetch with me and Norm. Who knew tennis balls could get so slimy!

The best thing about Elizabeth Taylor's place, though, is the gilden retriever puppies. There are four of them: 8 weeks old, and they were all rolling all over each other like little animated stuffies. It was like watching an endearing toilet paper commercial in real time. One of them—a little guy called Finnegan—really seemed to like me. He ended up following me wherever I went. I've never had a dog before. I'm going to ask Dad if we can buy him. (I still have three hundred dollars in my savings account from the garage sale we had when Mom and Dad split. (They gave me all the money from the sale, which I think helped to appease the guilt of their putting me through all the divorce chaos in the first place. And, good son that I am, I accepted so as not to make them feel any more awkward than necessary.)

On the way home from Elizabeth's house, we walked very slowly, because Norm was pretty wheezy. I told him I'd get Dad to come pick us up but Norm said he'd been walking his whole life and wasn't about to stop now just because his damn lungs were failing him. I didn't argue, because I think anyone with stage 4 lung cancer should be able to do pretty much whatever they want. So, we walked. Slowly. Which was fine because it gave us plenty of time to have a really good talk. 

I told Norm about the recent drama with Petra, and how I felt weird calling her that now, but would have to get used to it so as not to disrespect my little raccoon friend. That was when Norm got a funny expression on his face, stopped walking, leaned against a cedar tree and shook his head. Then he frowned and called me a backwards-thinking idiot.

I was shocked, because I thought I had behaved in a very progressive manner, addressing the sensitive topic of gender identity with a maturity far beyond my years as well as a very open mind. But Norm disagreed. He said that just because Peterson had seemingly "come to life" after nurturing the little raccoon kits, I had blindly assumed he was female. He told me I was sexist, and that men could nurture, too. And it made them feel good and needed just the same way it made women feel good and needed. He told me the whole thing hadn't been a gender issue at all; it had been a caring issue. Peterson had just needed something to love, he said, but I had gone and blown the whole thing out of proportion. I had gone and made it a gender issue, when really, it wasn't that complicated—it was just about love. End of story.

What can I say? The dude puts Yoda to shame. Wise, he is.

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