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the empty

The fat girl as they call her, came to school with a hypodermic needle in her backpack. It may have been to defend herself, it may have been to instigate something. She comes from a broken home and this is her second or third school. E steers clear of her, and the bullies she tangles with. It was never understood  - how things began, who threw the first insult, the first punch, the first grabbed book but the end is a chronic cycle of violence. At one point, the girl's mother got the police involved and this was seen as offensive, a step too far. The police did not resolve anything so it was all just a lot of saber rattling. That is the most common sound here. The empty threat.

Last week, there was a sobrani, sort of a cross between a parent-teacher conference and a school meeting. I was busy, so E went by herself and took notes. Five minutes in she messaged me, that I was wise not to be there. Nothing about this girl was going to be resolved.
"Boys will be boys" was all …

I know you

There is a moment when you pass them in the street. You smile and nod. You know they recognize you, walking with your child's guitar slung across your shoulder. They do not flinch. They know you. You sat next to each other in the back of the classroom for two years while your children studied music theory. The little ones sat in the front seats sometimes with their eyes closed just listening and guessing what interval was being hammered on the piano. 
This is the part I never understand. 
This fear, this impulse to disconnect. These people on the sidewalks and hallways, aloof, saying you are nothing, you are forgotten. Saying, "I do not know you."

And at the same time there are armies of people busying themselves with ugly acts, meddling, insulting, telling good children they are bad. There are people weaseling for information in kitchens, sucking on cigarettes. 
To what end, I do not know.  
Maybe this is a way to fill their days.


The annual painting of fences has begun. Oily, giant misshaped lumps glisten in the cool wet air. Like bones that broke and were never set correctly they reheal into grotesque skeletons. There are cigarettes burning. There are trashcans on fire. No one does anything. The militia are chasing the women who hawk roses for forty rubles away instead.
This is how things work here, adding layers on top of layers. This is how things hold together here instead of scraping them clean to the bone and starting fresh.

I can remember Spring on the farm, with mud and pig shit and the first wildflowers. There were baby ducks. There was maple syrup reduced slowly over fires, the sap running in troughs, the snow melting all around us giving way to rotting leaves and the raw earth. There were broken robin's eggs and dead hatchlings. There were mice in the dark corners of the barn. There were cats that padded across the wet grass trying to catch them.


Left alone, a person can stare at viscous acts for days and accomplish nothing. I have to wake up at seven, to get E fed and iron one of her white shirts. We run through the three compositions, her playing them almost perfectly then leaving the guitar on the couch to watch cartoons for a few minutes. I do not have time to shave. A sloppy peanut butter and jelly brings itself together right on the kitchen table and goes into a grocery bag. I pull her hair into two ponytails and her face winces, readjusting them until they are loose and crooked. Shoes go into the bag, a juice box, a camera I never end up using.

Moving across the pavement our shadows run long and blue in front of us.

We will get there first, and practice in the familiar little room. The rest will arrive, thumping and plunking their way through their pieces. E sits on my knee then goes to the window for some time. We are ushered into the big room and then the parents are told they must wait outside. I find my way back to the little room that opens onto the stage. I will sit here and wait, listening for E's music hoping it will carry through the tiny crack I rest my head against. I cannot simply stand in the hallway or in the lobby. I can't.

There are a series of balalaika pieces, accompanied by the piano teacher. An hour goes by and I picture E tiny in her chair, hungry. There is a break. I hear the judges making phone calls in the hallway and I duck inside. E waves at me, sitting right next to the stage.
"I'm in the practice room." I whisper to her. "I can hear you play through the door."
She nods, smiling.
I let out a nervous breath.
She waves me outside, they are starting again.

A low wave of embarrassment runs under my sleeves. I know she will be fine.
I just want to witness it.



Comments

liv said…
I loved that. The last line so poignant. Sometimes witnessing is all we can do. It's the best that I can offer here and a blessing for me in return. But it can be the hardest and sweetest part of a parents job. You want so much to be able to do something - to do something! But so often all you can do is witness - I get that.

I see you, Marco. Thanks for seeing me - I'll write more, soon.

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