Friends, Home

Choosing Teams

We need others to bring us back into the comity of human life. This appears to have been the final lesson for me — to appreciate someone’s embrace not as forgiveness or as an amicable judgment but as an acknowledgement that, from time to time, private life becomes brutally hard for every one of us, and that without one another, without some sort of community, the nightmare is prone to lurk, waiting for an opening.

Barry Lopez, “Sliver of Sky” in Harpers Magazine, January 2013

Bug has his seatbelt off before I’ve even pulled up to the curb. He reaches for the door handle. “My team! My team is here!” he cries. Up the low hill at the park, the big kids play basketball in the deepening dusk. Bug jumps out of the car, clambers over the fence, and starts across the grass. But it is not the court he is after. He veers right and aims for a tree with low branches at the corner the blacktop.
A small gang of boys swarms around tangled limb and leaf. Bug makes a beeline for this flush-cheeked hive of activity. I follow my son and once I am closer, familiar faces resolve into view. Our upstairs neighbor. The bully from the pool. The shaggy-haired big kid from the townhouses who watches out for the little guys. Half of them hold sticks. One is directing some kind of game. Several dangle from the higher branches.
I get Bug’s attention, or some fraction of it, and tell him I’ll be sitting over at the playground. He nods, his head already turned away from me. The group swells to absorb him before sucking itself back into the shadows like some kind of amoeba. A moment later, my boy is nothing more than a white-blonde streak at the center of a stick-brandishing, howling horde galloping across the grass.
I chat with parents whose names I’ve just learned and whose history with each other takes up far more room on the bench than I do. Too soon, the last of the light recedes carrying reluctant children off with it. It is dark a little earlier each visit. Soon, we won’t have time to come after school and we’ll have to make do with each other.
My kiddo and I are the last ones. We find a place to sit together. A bat dips low. Bug leans his head back against the bench and laughs when another one flutter-bumps against the sky.
The next night, he is not with me. This is the way. Half the nights, half the weekends. It is a whole life scored right down the middle. Not quite torn in half, but thin enough at the seams that you can see through to something far worse.
It’s risky to pull too hard.
When my son is with his dad, this new home, this first-place-of-my-own home, is warm and full with the kind of space that invites me to open into it. A crowd of authors chatters at me from the shelves. The music whispers my bones awake.
When my son is with his dad, this place is as empty as an abandoned grave. Silence is a hungry throat closing around me.
When my son is with his dad, I am me with me with me.
Except for the dog. Ain’t no getting around the dog.
When I drag in from work, she and I walk. These days, we don’t speak much to each other. We have a way of finishing each other’s thoughts. We meander over to the shortcut that passes through the park. When Bug is not with me, it is only a path I am after. My head has gone off on its own magic carpet ride. I float along the sidewalk in a bubble of dog-padded solitude.
It’s only when I am halfway through the playground that I see someone waving. A face I recognize. One of the moms from the townhouses. Then one of the other moms whose kid is in Bug’s class. And a dad, too, whose son is Bug’s favorite and most disastrous friend.
I lift my head. My hand. My attention. The dog’s tail wags bigger. As we cut through the woods, I lean down and give her a head scrub.
My team! My team is here!

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