We’re so ultra-connected with everybody – we may be in touch with an old friend who lives half way around the world, we may be privy to the social habits of someone we just met once by being their friend on facebook – yet our little kids disappear for seven hours a day to school and we don’t talk to them or see them.
This morning is Friday. All week I’ve felt like a baseball player, thwacking away balls spit at me from that machine which goes shunk shunk shunk as it fires the balls, just trying to get through the last of them so I can sit down and do some thinking and some writing. Friday is raining and grey and my to-do list is cleared; it’s the perfect day to settle in and get down to business.
I stand with my seven year-old son on the sidewalk waiting for the bus. He’s had a fairly good week, a few minor ups and downs. The bus pulls up and I kiss him and tell him I love him and watch him get on. I’m still in my sweat suit and a cup of coffee is steaming on my desk beside the computer inside. I’m all ready to go once he’s off.
The bus driver calls me over. I step to the edge of the sidewalk and lean into to hear her over the diesel engine as my son takes a seat.
“A couple of kids say he’s been spitting on them,” she says.
I just blink, looking at her. There goes my clear-headed Friday morning. The doors close and the bus pulls away. My son, in his bright orange rain coat, waves at me from the window, a sweet little smile on his face. I wave back, and the bus heads up to road, carrying him off to school.
Spitting on them, I think.
I walk inside with this notion filling my brain. The steaming cup of coffee and the computer sit and wait patiently for me. Now, though, my mind is on a different track, thinking about my son and kids at school and all the things that go on that I don’t always know about, that parents don’t always know about.
School is weird. It’s necessary to educate our young, but as a parent I have little to no control over what is taught. I would have my son learning to hoe and plant gardens, learning to build things, learning about renewable resources, peak oil, and fiat currency. Kids need to socialize. It’s been said that a child’s personality forms not so much out of the home life, but from the social life, and at seven years old, the social life is mostly the school life. So there’s my baby, whom I’m out of touch with for seven hours of the day, five days a week, learning things he may or may not need to learn, in ways that may or may not really be the best way for him to learn them, and forming a social personality that has nothing to do with me.
Spitting on them, I think.
I consider this, wondering if he is reacting to stress, wondering how many of these other little “quirks” in behavior I don’t know about. As I’m mulling it over, my cell phone chimes with a text message coming in. I pick it up and take a look at it.
“To jail I go,” it reads.
The message is from Dava, my girlfriend / fiancé / domestic partner, who is a crisis worker at a county mental health clinic. Here and there she has to make trips to the county jail to see about people enduring another kind of stress – being locked up for some reason often having to do with their addled state of mind.
Dava is off to the jail to see about someone who may have done something violent to themselves or to another.
She is pregnant with our child.
So there is my son, carted off to school where, on that dark side of the moon, he may be expectorating on other kids or doing other things I don’t know about. And there’s my beloved woman and my unborn child in her belly going behind bars to be with someone who did something bad to get there.
The coffee on my desk has cooled. The laptop stares blankly back at me. The writing now, made-up stories about a world without oil, seem silly compared to the realities of my life. Once again I consider why in the blue heck I write fiction when everyone around me is a trove of ideas and emotional inspiration.
I walk through the house and into the kitchen to reheat my coffee. Along the way, my socks pick up a few stray bits of food items from the floor, which I peel off and throw in the trash. The morning continues to be overcast, the smoky, low clouds about the color of blue steel. The trees dribble with rain and wet leaves plop to the ground.
I think about how joy is something composed of love, and happiness, and even sadness. That it’s a whole greater than the sum of its parts, something beyond electrochemical signals and peptides and hypothalamus glands. I think how, in order to be where I am now, and to have all that I do, I had to quit drinking, to raise a baby into a boy, to live without a license, car, or woman for three years, to build my body and mind back up from the brink, hauling, like a boulder up a hill, hauling my soul away from the edge of the abyss.
That was all.
Spitting on them. Well, maybe. It’s not exactly vetted information. It may be so, and I’ll talk to him about it. We’ll work it out. And my woman, there at the jail, she’s smart. She’s got guards there around her all the time, and she’s been doing this enough so that she’s got a level head and not too much anxiety about it. She’s good at her job. I don’t have control over either of their days, my son and my woman (and the tiny baby inside her) or what they do or what happens to them. I’m not in touch with her while she’s at the jail or him while he’s in the second grade classroom. They’re in the void.
And so I remember: that’s why I write. I write like some people jog, or others meditate. I write because what I’m left with, in the absence of control, and full of this manifold, sad and beautiful thing called joy, is the chance to dip into the ether, and to draw a bucket for today from the collective consciousness. To have a vision, to make a plan, to tell a story, to find a character. This is the raw place that belongs to everyone and yields to me, a humble servant, from which I shall take example.