Bring Me Back, Little One

Yesterday a child made me feel unintelligent and emotionally ill-equipped. The child was naming flowers as examples of a point he was making and I kept having to ask what he was talking about, what the flower looked like. He also identified – correctly, I assume – that a nearby tree was of Japanese origin. I said “ah okay.”

In an attempt to get him to leave, I turned toward the dashboard of my parked car and touched a couple buttons to look busy. He then began asking me questions about the car and he came closer to observe the inside of the car. He made several surprisingly astute observations about the locations of dials and gauges. I employed the one-word-answer method, which quickly melted into wordless grunts and nods, in fear of entering a potentially unending conversation about life, nature, and the naming of all things. His hair looked like it was shaved unevenly, and this, coupled with the appearance of his clothing, suggested poverty. Should I have adopted him? He continued to bring up new topics such as possible materials a house can be made of, and the concept of buying property at a time when the market is struggling, to save money. The front of his mouth appeared to have new adult teeth. He laughed when he talked about buying houses and cars and selling them for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He named the year, make, and model of his mother’s car, and questioned me about both the car I was in and the previous car I owned. I became progressively more nervous what was happening, if anything, between this cool kid and I. Would he remember me? Was I making a bad impression with my lack of engagement? Was I injuring his curiosity and friendliness? Was I one of many adults who stifles conversation with a genuinely interested child for the sake of doing what I want to do instead? All I wanted was to sit quietly and listen to the stereo, the sound waves to replace the space in my head reserved for the identification of responsibility.

I called my friend Jared, who I was waiting for, to see how much longer I had to tolerate the situation I was in. Jared was close. The cool smart kid resumed sharing his pure enthusiasm with me right when I hung up the phone. He explained there was some flower that is spherical and pink and purple or something, and that he has always wanted one. My immediate reaction was “huh” though I deeply wanted to proclaim how awesome that was, and I wanted to reward him with compliments and high fives. Why don’t boys typically love flowers? Because adults don’t give them positive reinforcement? Flowers are fucking gorgeous and I want them too. As a child, I used to chase after butterflies and try to catch them with a net so I could put them in a container and stare at them in awe. I wanted the kid to know that, but it was really just an afterthought. I more wanted to run away. I often run away or hide from things. I see butterflies now and for a split second fantasize about running after them with my arms and hands open. But there is no chase. Just a passing glance at a gone reality. A memory of squinting at a shadow out of the corner of my eye.

I am thinking about all this the following day at lunch as a saliva and hot sauce-soaked piece of rice falls out of my mouth, onto my work shirt, staining it slightly, but permanently.

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~ by josephmchugh on May 2, 2013.

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