Friday, April 9, 2010

meeting a stranger on the road

Yesterday was yet another deeply tired day in a long string of them, and I though for a few hours that I was getting worse instead of better (pneumonia?) Left work a little early, went home and slept an hour or so...and after wolfing down some dinner, ascertaining that I had no fever, putting away the laundry...went back to bed at 9pm and slept almost continuously until 7am.
H is still waking up -- wide awake -- at 3am. Has for days. He is complaining of dreams that disturb him, and wants to sleep with me. Two nights ago: Snow is created by a chemist (him?) that when it falls makes all people melt. Last night was similar, dreams of "disappearing people." He has been struggling with health and the concept of mortality for weeks off and on. Overlay this with the fact that he and I are both trying to shake the same virus; at one point I had laryngitis for several days, and this really disturbed him. I seldom get very sick, and I suppose I just sounded creepy. "You have to rest and drink plenty of fluids" he'd say, frowning. This morning when I awoke, he appeared next to the bed and asked, "Is your voice still working?" He has a sensitive ear, always has. He worries about his mommy.

This sensitivity might have been confirmed in some way later this morning, on our way to school. As we crossed the street and began walking towards the school building, a middle-aged woman called out from behind us. "Excuse me!" I turned, and she apologized for "scaring" me. She approached with her hands out, extending a see-through calendar-wallet that had a picture of two lovely young children on one side, and a check for fifty dollars tucked into the opposite side. She wore a light pink hoodie with the hood up, and sweats, no coat. She looked, not surprisingly, anxious. "I need help," she said, and began to tell the story of an ex-boyfriend and non-custodial parent trying to kidnap her two youngsters and take them to St. Louis. She needed money -- to travel? I couldn't tell, though the check she flashed me was made out to Greyhound Lines. At a certain point, a few seconds into this, I steered H around behind me and tried to put his attention elsewhere -- I don't need my six year old hearing stories about children being kidnapped by their fathers and taken away. She saw this and apologized again. I knew she was going to ask me for money -- knew that in the first five seconds of the encounter -- and knew I'd say No because I wasn't carrying any cash at all. When she finished her story I touched her hand and apologized myself; and she said simply "Oh," and turned away before the sound of the word had quite left her lips.

I knew H would need to deconstruct the scene, to trying to understand it as best he could prior to a day of kindergarten. What did that lady want? She needed money. Why did you tell her you don't have any cash? Because I don't -- cash is money, and I don't have any to give her. "But she needed it." "Yes, that's what she said, but I didn't have any." "I know," he said, "She needed to get life, she needs life in order to survive. She needs to survive."

This is an idea he has absorbed on his own. Once, when my husband temporarily shut one of the cats in the basement to keep it out of the way, H became very upset and cried repeatedly, "But she needs air, she needs to survive!" And he couldn't be consoled, assured that the cat had air -- and food -- in the basement and would be just fine. To H it seemed cruel, a crisis.

But, too, I think he simply heard the desperation in the woman's voice. Whether real or assumed -- I've grown a little cynical over the years, I'm afraid -- this desperation was convincing. In a sense of course that woman is desperate, regardless of the immediate verity of her tale, because her circumstances have driven her to begging for change from strangers. For that reason I'd have given her a few dollars, had I possessed it. But H saw only her anxiety, her pleading, and while he wasn't especially bothered by it, I'll bet it sticks in his head for a while.
It's certainly stuck in mine.

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