A 4th to Remember
The clink of icy cans and bottles, the rattle of ice in coolers. Children shrieking with joy and abandon. The smell of charcoal and sulphur. Miles of exposed flesh; some of it taut and tan, some it pale and jiggling.
We sit together and drink it all in.
We chit chat, enjoying the first tentative overtures of friendship.
When we first met, I learned she is a Guidance Counselor at one of the local high schools. She is a single Mom and she goes to school as well. I not only enjoy her company a great deal, I also respect and admire her.
We talk about her job, we talk about Diminutive One. He interests her in a clinical way. And she likes him. She sees beyond his behavior to the quirky, funny, creative kid that he is.
I tell her how much I like her kids. They are very sweet, funny, sociable creatures. Even her teenaged son, who is playful and mischievous, is essentially a good kid. He has none of the sly arrogance that some adolescent boys exude. He seems at ease with adults, and he does not shy away from us as do some kids that age.
Suddenly, from out of the crowd, comes a hulking young man, shiny with the heat, red faced, but smiling. He is dressed in an ill fitting, but immaculate military uniform. He exclaims at having run into her. Then he lowers himself to one knee so he can look her in the eye. His long limbs fold with impossible fluidity, and his glossy black shoes crease at the toe to accommodate his posture.
His gaze flickers over my face for a moment. My presence is disconcerting to him. He has a secret, I think, and he is all but bursting with it. He leans forward to whisper something in her ear, and then, his secret expunged from his heartsick soul, his face crumples into that of a small lost, frightened child.
She pulls him to her, and he lays his face against his shoulder. Her fingers curl around the nape of his neck; her rich cocoa skin in stark contrast to the pink of his scalp and the white blonde stubble that bristles there. He sobs silently a few times.
She looks at me with her deep brown eyes, and I see genuine sympathy, but also impatience. He has intruded on her life. This carefree day is now marred by his tragedy, whatever it may be.
I look away, uncomfortable with this intimacy. I don’t want to know his grief. It feels a little as if I have caught him undressing, but his nakedness is even more profound. It leaves him far more vulnerable than an absence of clothing would.
Having found her in a vast sea of humanity, he now clings to her as a drowning man clings to a piece of driftwood. She soothes him as a mother would soothe a small child.
She says, “You have to remember, sweetie, everything happens for a reason.”
I get up then, murmuring an excuse about taking Husband a drink. I grab a beer from the cooler and hasten away. Husband and the other team Dads are working the gate at this venue and all of them have been standing in the heat for hours. Husband is grateful for the drink, but he sees that I have not come for the sole purpose of quenching his thirst.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
I shrug. “Nothing really. Andrea just needed a moment.”
He nods, but doesn’t ask why. Sometimes, the apathy and disinterest of men is mind boggling. I stand with him for a few moments, watching people go by, enjoying the parade of strollers, wagons, wheeled coolers. People are happy today; happy and unconcerned with the usual cares of day to day life.
It’s nice to see. It makes me feel happy too, but the boy bothers me.
After about ten minutes, I return to my seat. She is alone now, and seems calm, but perhaps a little troubled.
“Everything okay?” I ask.
She sighs heavily.
“Yeeeesss.” She says. “He’s one of my students. His girlfriend, who is only fourteen, got pregnant just before school let out. He just told me she lost the baby.”
She doesn’t say what we are both thinking, but now I understand the comment that she made to him earlier. And I think that his grief was probably a combination of genuine regret, and guilt over his relief.
“Poor kid.” I say.
I can’t imagine my own son, only a few years younger, having to deal with such a thing. These man/boys are just not equipped. I feel afraid, suddenly. For my own son of course, but also for all the boys who have to grow up. There is so much they have to get through before they are men...so many ways to derail young lives full of hope and promise.
“Yeaaaah....He’s kind of a mess, and this just didn’t help at all.”
“Geez Andrea, I’ve got to hand it to you. I just don’t think I could deal with that day in and day out. I would be an emotional wreck.”
“Don’t give me too much credit. Sometimes, I don’t think anything I do or say makes any difference at all.”
“But you’re there for them. That makes a difference.”
“I hope so.” She says. “I hope so.”
I wonder about this manchild. What silly thing will he do to assuage the guilt of his indiscretion? Punch someone? Enlist? Get a tattoo? Ask the girl to marry him? Tell her they should try for another baby? Debauch some other young girl?
I hope he will not do any of those things. I hope he will take the chance he has been given and turn it into a good life. A happy life.
And I hope I never have to watch my son turn into a man at the behest of a plus sign.