This morning I passed the aftermath of an automobile accident. It was in the quiet that follows the crash, after the squeal of breaks, the shaky moving of damaged vehicles to the side of the road. A car in the line behind tapped the horn and like molasses, we all slid past the scene. A petite woman stood next to the crushed fender of her new minivan. I could hear her sobbing into her cell phone, the rise and fall of it, not the words themselves. In a second car a young man sat slumped behind the wheel. His car was old and formerly luxurious, from a time when everyone had overflowing ashtrays. Before shoulder straps and airbags.
That’s the way the morning started, and, as always when something happens involving the young, my thoughts went to the mother, even to what she must have thought about that gas guzzling car. Maybe it had belonged to the young man’s grandfather or some uncle may have left it to him, those relatives impatient to rid themselves of outdated vehicles they can no longer drive. Another danger to warn our children about.
I showed the old stone house on Mill Street. It was a second viewing for the woman, but I got the impression she wasn’t a serious buyer. A dreamer, that’s what she was. I let her open and close drawers and doors while she imagined herself at the center of a movie-screen sized family, graciously loading food into enormous earthenware bowls. I have learned to bite my tongue as buyers forsake their budgets in favor of patios with built-in Grill Masters and seating for a dozen. I read somewhere that over seventy percent of restaurants fail within the first two years. There’s a lesson for all of us in that statistic. I wanted to tell the woman that having the perfect room for a ten foot Christmas tree was no guarantee that her daughter-in-law will relent and agree to spend the holiday; only I said nothing. Buying real estate for empty chairs is the new norm, the thing that has replaced the hauling out of card tables and the dusting off of folding chairs. We have become a people of the grand gesture.
I walked the woman to her car and had just gotten into mine when there was a text message from my son. I sat behind the wheel and read: “So, we’re in lockdown because apparently somebody has a weapon. I’m chilling in study hall with about 200 other people, so plenty of others to hide behind.”
I should say right now, he’s fine. I’m not one of those people who can handle suspense when it comes to kids. And don’t get me started on books, plays, or movies with dead or even threatened children in them. However, there were several notable things about the text message worth pointing out: he used full sentences, no abbreviations, no misspellings. And it was funny. When it comes right down to it, attitude and humor are about all he and his friends have in the world. I provided him with vaccinations, paba-free sunscreen and good reading habits, but he supplied his armor.
We ate late, sharing the online reports claiming it had been a false alarm—
an overabundance of caution at the high school—we are to be consoled knowing correct procedures had been followed. My head was swimming, the last to recover from the scare. How can we begin to understand what it means for our children to spend their whole childhoods inside this language of lockdowns? My husband escaped to the living room with his dessert and nightly dose of belching and MSNBC, our son to his headphones.
Alone in the kitchen, I let the room grow dark and moved dishes to the sink, filled the dishwasher. The pots I washed by hand. I sang, something I do without thinking and without discernment, pillaging the squalor of my mental drawers and pulling out half of a Gershwin tune or some jazzy misshapen Joni Mitchell or an earnest ballad from the King and I. It is possible to sing yourself into being. I hate to admit it, but it’s true so here it is–I was dancing as well, swinging the pots back to the cabinet. In the middle of a bizarre pirouette I caught my husband stepping back from the doorway, his eyes turned away. He didn’t know I had seen him and he retreated as if trying to shrink himself down to the size of a cat, his hand tapping against his chest.
There are things I haven’t said. The job I’m not that great at, the friendless feel to many of my working days, the worry- the endless worrying I need to supply so that everything may somehow turn out all right. And then, there is this: the great love I had just seen on my husband’s face. That we are fragile and precious and that sometimes, he, too, is holding his breath.