by Bud Miller, also known as Matt Hogan Originally Published December 2001
That’s what they called her—Esplanada, like some exotic denizen of a romantic Latin American village. It really was just an appellation dreamed by some smart-aleck students at Chico High School, who, like children everywhere, wasted no chance to harass and demean some unfortunate person whom they considered to be below them in stature. “You know that crazy retarded lady that walks up and down the Esplanade all day? The one that you see wherever you go?” asks someone. “You mean Esplanada?” answers another, “She’s crazy, we should get her!” They all would concur and thus would begin yet another round of harassment, the unfortunate victim being dealt untold suffering, bewildered and annoyed.
It wasn’t so much that she was different; most people accept those who are less able bodied, or those who are differently-abled in terms of intelligence. It was just that she was so mobile. She refused to simply stay put, to know her place. She was highly visible, a daily part of the community, and a kind of reminder that there are people who are not so palatable in their demeanor. She didn’t know her place, she traveled around and lived her life—it bothered people, it embarrassed them.
One person said, “It’s like you see her wherever you go. She’s always around.” Another person said, “I know. One time I was at Bear Hole and there she was, as big as life. She just doesn’t fit in, man.” She was a pest, a creep, a bad person. She was unsightly to behold and overbearing to be around. She invaded people’s personal space and she made people feel uncomfortable: She embarrassed them. She was goofy, which isn’t so bad per se, but given her ubiquity, her goofiness made her dreadful.
She would wear voluminous thrift store dresses that she thought were pretty, given her childlike perception, but to the average person simply made her even more unsightly. She favored wearing garish and overdone makeup that gave her a clownish appearance. She spoke gibberish and drooled. She was.a mess.
Every day she would walk up and down the Esplanade, becoming a regular feature and a fixture on the street. People would honk and wave at her or, given their level of tolerance, make an entirely different, less friendly gesture. Esplanada didn’t mind—she appreciated any and all attention. She would dutifully wave back, no matter what the greeting and then carry on with her business, which seemed to be simply sauntering cheerfully up and down the street, which was her namesake.
But one day, love came to Esplanada. She, like so many more before her, found true love, the one true love that floated her boat, that blew up her skirt, that turned her crank. It was just some guy, an ordinary guy who was waiting for a bus back to Oroville. She struck up a conversation with him as he cooled his heels.
“You like me?” she asked. “Yes, I like you,” he replied. They kissed. He, being from Oroville, didn’t know of her reputation. He didn’t know that she wandered all day, every day, up and down the street, annoying and harassing innocent people. He thought that she was just some strange retarded girl, one that he could have his way with.
And have his way he did. She had a little studio apartment on South Cherry Street. It was barely big enough to contain her queen-size bed. They carried on their romance until the caseworker from County Mental Health found out about the lover boy from Oroville and sent him away. Esplanada was heartbroken and three months pregnant.
“I want to keep my baby,” she wailed, somehow grasping that the powers that be would not allow her to care for the coming arrival. She was right. She was considered too incompetent to attend to the needs of an infant and as soon as the baby was born, he was taken away from Esplanada, whose real name was Jean, and placed in a foster home.
Esplanada was, of course, heartbroken. It was some time before she renewed her practice of wandering the streets of Chico. Some people wondered what had happened to her. “Maybe they locked her up or something,” one person said. “I heard she had a baby,” said another. She eventually came back to the street and all was forgotten, except from time to time, Esplanada could be heard to explain, “I have a boyfriend and we had a baby, but my boyfriend went back to Oroville and they took my baby away from me.”