story #3 in my “23 stories for a fried chicken sandwich” project.
when we are driving and i am listening, really listening, to him tell me about his day from the back seat, i can imagine him standing there in his classroom, his eyes moving in their sockets, tongue against new, much bigger teeth, his cowlick softly springing to, skinny arms, the frayed edges of his pants. i can feel the weight of his tennis shoes against the blue not-so-much carpet and smell glue, the vinyl plastic-covered desktops, the insides of lunch boxes, and the rain drying on the puffy, warm jackets.
when i am really listening, i remember how it feels, how some days are scary, the way teachers are our first loves, and that boys like to brag about things that never really happened, which makes you want to lie too. because lying is easier than having to believe all those fantastic things aren’t really happening to us all. i know how excited he can be, can get, when he realizes someone’s about to, might just, listen to the words he wants to speak, might notice him, might give him a gold star nod, but he’s also not willing to break the rules, to talk out of turn in order to put it out there. the risk is simply too great.
as he tells me stories from his day, i can feel the limitations and the possibilities. the heavy sighing over the projects that call for the steady pulsing of the tiny scissors, matched up precisely to a faded black dotted line. i can see the simple list of numbers that can go on changing forever with plusses or minuses, in the same way innumerable poems can be subtracted from a bunch stories you put altogether. i know the lost chances because you played by the rules. i know the salty choke of tears when you try something new and it fails. i can still feel the numbing way we rest our chins against the palms of our hands and watch the ever-slow tick-tick-tick while everything that’s supposed to happen in its own goddamn sweet time lines up. i wish i could keep him home the day that the morning recess changes the way he sees everything.
i don’t listen this intently every day on our drive home in the car. some days his chatter just lifts up and over me like the light raindrops that get caught in the windshield wipers. it’s simply necessary and keeps the road ahead clear. because i can’t go back. there’s no real going back, no matter how much my mind gives it a try. no matter how much i can’t resist the pull. there is only forward, the same direction he is headed, as he tells me about everything he is learning at school and he shows me what he’s going to make of it.