My son Nick and I are having a slow first day of school.
Truth be told, we’re not even at school. We’ve been sitting on the grass outside the front gate for half an hour. Our talk is of Jay, Nick’s best friend, now enemy. A few careless words over a cubby problem have broken a couple of nine-year-old hearts.
“Weren’t you guys scheduled for a play over tomorrow?” I say.
“I would rather eat hairballs,” says Nick.
I have no idea where to go with this. I try for Father Knows Best, even though I know better.
“You know,” I say, “When one door closes, another always opens.”
“My doors close and I have no other doors.”
“It feels like that?”
Nick doesn’t answer. So much for doors.
I decide to call Nora and fill her in on why I’m not home yet. Nick hears me give her the details.
“Am I telling this right?” I ask him.
I get off the phone and give Nick a smile. He tossess a pebble.
It roles away, one second per second.
WORDS WORDS WORDS
I like it that words have come. Shakespeare, especially in the comedies, gives you a feeling of confidence in words. Say enough of them and a solution to any problem proposes itself. Of course, we don’t live in the age of Shakespeare, but the age of Beckett. In Beckett, the more words, the deeper the hole.
It occurs to me that Nick’s sensibility, even in despair, is more Midsummer Night’s Dream than Waiting for Godot. He loves stories and role playing games, has an inner world populated with swords and dragons.
Me: What would you do right now if I gave you a magic wand?
Nick: Destroy the world.
Me: This wand can’t be used for destruction.
Nick: Make Jay disappear.
Me: Okay, now what?
Nick: I don’t know.
I am, suddenly, swimming in water over my head, tired and looking for shore. Are there waves breaking in the distance?
“That is such a great plan,” I say.
“Making Jay disappear?” he says.
“Not knowing,” I say.
Silence from Nick. A soft September breeze.
Sand under my feet.
Me: “Do you realize we could walk through that gate into the yard right now and the plan could be just to see what happens?”
I don’t know why Nick goes for it.
Maybe because he’s cried all the tears he’s going to. Or because it’s been a couple of hours since the whole thing started and he’s ready to move on. Or maybe he just likes being in a story. I like being in a story.
When the bond between heaven and earth is broken, says the Baal Shem Tov, Only a story can mend it.
Once we’re inside the gate, a few kids come up to him. Since parents are often in the yard, I’m invisible.
There’s a water plan in the sand pit, to which Nick says, “No thanks.”
“Hey Nick,” says Mitch, one of the older boys, “We’re going to have a seance. Want to be in it?”
“What’s a seance?” says Nick.
“It’s when you talk to dead people. We’re going to talk to Jimi Hendrix.”
I’m recruited also. Five or six of us gather in a corner of the yard. We hold hands in a circle and close our eyes. The older boy calls out to Jimi’s soul. No answer.
“Jimi’s soul isn’t home today,” says Mitch.
“I need to pee,” I say to Nick. “I’ll be back.”
He lets me go. I check in with Nick’s teacher, Dante.
“Looks like he’s feeling better,” says Dante.
“I’m not sure he’s ready for me to leave yet,” I say.
“It’s really great you can be here,” he says.
I think of times neither Nora nor I could be here. And times Nick came home in a sour mood, not wanting to talk about it. What a child really needs, I think, is a fairy godmother.
The seance breaks up and Nick walks over.
“Dada, can we go home now?” he says.
Two steps forward, three steps backward. I have no idea where we are or where we’re going. Nick doesn’t need a fairy godmother. I do.
Fairy godmother: Yes?
Me: Where are we?
Fairy godmother: You know where you are.
Me: I need to borrow your wand.
Fairy godmother: What for?
Me: I’m going to point it at Nick and Jay and say, Repairo.
Fairy godmother: You should eat something.
“How about some lunch?” I say to Nick.
I didn’t bring any lunch, so I order spaghetti at the restaurant across the street and take it back to school. Nick and I find a secluded part of the yard, spreading out our provisions under a shade tree.
“I want spaghetti,” says Nick.
“You’ve got peanut butter and jelly in your lunchbox.”
“Trade?” he says.
I give him half my spaghetti for half his sandwich.
“You know,” I say, “I should probably call Jay’s mom and let her know the play over is off for tomorrow. I think she had a plan to be somewhere.”
“We can still have a play over.”
“You’re willing to have Jay over?”
Perhaps I do have a fairy godmother.
The truth is both boys would probably like to forget about this morning. But I’m not forgetting.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m not sure it would work with you two on the outs.”
“Well, I didn’t do anything to him.”
“Well, something isn’t right. Would you be willing to have a meeting and try to work it out with him?”
A long, theatrical pause. Not Shakespeare, but not Beckett either. Maybe Chekhov.
“Okay,” he says.
I had thought I was going to tell this story in three posts. Silly me. The First Day of School concludes next time with Paradigm.
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