Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Day in the Life, Part VIII
Empathy for the Living

My mind is a cacophony of words; images; thoughts.

It is silence, and then a terrifying mess of sounds.

It is awash with ideas and experiences, old and new, many now too lost in time to ever be communicated or understood.

For example: everything you see here is three months old — a single two days plucked from the early summer — though the words are a bastardization of every moment since.

But let us work backwards, for a moment. The unordered order of the recent past.

Yesterday I skipped the post-work workout and drove directly home; tired and unmotivated for anything other than sleep.

When I pulled up to my apartment, I was first greeted by a neighbor (don't worry, I like this one) and his dog. A short conversation and a minute or so later, and I was unloading my car when a man on a bicycle pulled up behind me and said:

"Excuse me, miss. You speak English?"

"Yes," I said, turning around to find a face as vaguely familiar as those words.

And then it hit me. Again and again, as he continued to speak.

He was exasperated and out of breath; a wad of cash in one hand and an inhaler in the other.

And then his story — as familiar as the cash, the inhaler, the bike — began:

He just needed a few more dollars (he said, showing me the wad of tens and twenties) to get his inhaler filled at the Walgreens down the street. He isn't going to hurt me, he said, he just needs a little help so he can get his asthma medication.

"I gave you 10 bucks for your inhaler a couple months ago," I said truthfully, realizing his plea was as likely a ruse before just as it was then.

"I know, I know," he said. "But I just need a little more. It's for my daughter," he said, gesturing to the invisible no one over his shoulder after repeating a story to me that was otherwise identical to the one before.

"I'm sorry," I said, shutting my car door, angry with myself for having ever given the ten dollars in the first place.

"God bless you anyway," he said, pedaling hurriedly on to his next victim.

I looked at my car and sighed, wondering if he'd return later to "bless me" (and my vehicle) for our lack of alms.

And three days before:

His face crinkled and flushed into a melancholy red as he let out a painful sigh.

"The sun is going down," he said, looking out of the window. "The sun is going down and I haven't seen my mom all day."

The inflection at the end — coupled with his keen observation of the rural horizon — was what killed me, my body filling with a sort of empathy that, these days, is reserved especially for him.

He's only six, after all. Going to school all day for the first time in his life, leaving his mom at home alone with his infant brother. Spending three nights a week refining his martial arts skills, and every other weekend with his grandparents.

But that wasn't all I thought about then, putting my hand on his shoulder and telling him I'd let his Papaw know it was time to take him home (it wasn't our weekend, after all).

Secondary to my concern for him, it bothered me that it's seldom his father he misses (or at least: that he talks about missing). That he's become so used to that absence in his life, it's hardly worth mentioning. It is, after all, his father who swims in the same gene pool as I, and it pains me to think our role in this little boy's life could be in any way amiss.

But I shake off the thought, reminding myself that this attachment between a mother and child is historic. An inevitable fact of life, really. It's the mother they so often cry for; seldom the father.

Why is that?

"But I can't go yet," he said, sniffling and wiping his eyes. "I need to bull ride Papaw first."

I informed my father of this change of events and stood by, amused, as my nephew threw on his favorite cowboy hat and hopped onto my father's back.

He was smiling and laughing in seconds.

It was the same smile I saw three months ago when I opened my apartment door to find him on the other side.

He marched in, hands on his hips, and rattled off a list of things he wanted to do during his weekend visit.

And, boy, did he keep my parents and I busy. Museums

and aquariums

and sculpture parks

and hatcheries

(just to name a few).

I had fun, really. All of us did.

But one thing really struck me on that trip, something that was solidified this past weekend:

There's no denying he resembles both of his parents, but it's particularly interesting for me to see him now: he's the same age his father was when I was born.

And now when I look at him, I see the beginnings of the boy I first remembered.


M@ said...

There is an interesting other-worldly quality to some of your photos here. Like it.

Re: the scammer. I have a guy who pulls up in a van and claims he's out of gas.... I told him I'd met him a few times already.

Local scam artist. I can't believe you gave one of those guys ten bucks. YOu should have taken the opportunity to ask for a refund.

david said...

Great photos. But the best picture was the one you painted of the boy and Papaw.

disgruntled world citizen said...

this was worth the wait. i've been wating for new words from you for a while.

ds said...

very good. you think on both sides. color with black.

Stacy said...

i think this is the first time you've made me cry- beautiful