An honorable human relationship – that is one in which two people have the right to use the word “love” is a process,
Delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.
It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.
It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.
It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.
— Adrienne Rich
“Dada, can I play Angry Birds for ten minutes?”
A simple, yes-or-no question. What a ridiculous assault of feelings and images it brings. As if someone has said, “Howya doin?'” and I have to grope and grope before coming up with a measly, “I have no idea.”
Since the Computer Wars, we have strict screen limits in our house. An hour on a school day. Two hours on a non-school day. This has restored a measure of sanity to us. Nick even is happier. But his desire remains, and its plaint washes over my heart and baptizes me in regret.
“I’m sorry, Nick. You’ve had your hour today. Tomorrow.”
He trudges off, little pools of disappointment collecting in his steps. How is it three lines of prosaic dialogue have left me feeling a tyrant?
I sit frozen for a few minutes, the piece of reading I was absorbed in now trivial and tasteless. The memory of a day I’ve not thought of in years flies in the window.
I’m nine. My father has been gone a year. I’ve already discovered Superman comics and my desire for them is insatiable. My mother has not yet taken them away from me.
My collection had begun when I noticed a rack of comics in a local market and fished ten cents out of my pocket. I know the exact date. But I know also that Superman comics started coming out years before my time. There are thousands of them I will never be able to see, unless I can somehow find them. They call to me out of a misty darkness, as from the original Fleischer cartoons:
On this particular day, a Sunday, I’m at my cousin’s house and we’re about to go to the Purim Carnival. Printed on the flier in bold letters are the words:
SALE—Toys. Art. COMIC BOOKS.
It’s there in black and white. They will be selling comics at the carnival. Old comics.
I am bursting to get there early. I know with a certainty absolute that the comics I want will be the first ones sold. Yet we dither. My uncle, who is taking us, is talking on the phone with some imbecile. He gets off and must consult with my aunt. The carnival is starting.
“We need to go,” I say to my uncle.
“Hold your horses.”
“But the good comics will be gone.”
“There’ll be plenty of comics.”
Nothing I say will convince him of the matter’s gravity. We arrive half an hour late. I see a few boys with comics in their hands. I race to the booth. Arrayed on the counter and stacked in open boxes, I find Archies. Little Lulus. Ritchie Rich.
Not a Superman among them.
An older boy passes by with a batch under his arm.
“Look what I just got,” he says.
He shows me a dozen Supermans. My eyes fix on the covers with X-ray force. I own a couple, but the rest I’ve never seen. Each one is a Rosetta Stone, a key to something crucial in my past. My secret identity.
“Hey,” the boy says. “Give ’em back.”
I remember nothing else of that day.
On my tablet of reasons why I can’t bear Nick’s disappointment, I now inscribe this story. I feel pathetic. Surely missing out on some comic books ranks low on the list of plagues assailing the world. It doesn’t even matter to me anymore.
But it matters to Nick that I sort it out. It matters because if I don’t refine the truth and do justice to my own complexity, then I can’t tell us apart. I will end up rubbing balm on my own wounds which I imagine to be his. I will end up withholding balm for his actual wounds where I imagine him to have none.
And it’s important to write this down because there are so few people we can count on to go that hard way with us.
There will be, perhaps, a time when ten minutes of Angry Birds equals ten lost Superman comics. Or when some other thing that is troubling Nick has troubled me in precisely the same way, and my past can illuminate his present instead of obscure it.
Today, I can see clearly now, is not that day. Today we are different.
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