Today as I walked down the hallway of the YMCA I saw a boy – a man – I went to school with. I hadn’t seen him in thirteen years or so, I’d imagine – I don’t remember him being at the reunion a couple years ago. But he and I recognized one another right away and said “Hi” quite warmly. Then he said, “Is this your son?” looking at Nels (Sophie was in the showers) and I said, “Yes,” and the man said, “He’s cute!” A beat later: “He’ll be a little boy genius like his mom!”
I said thanks – taken aback but pleased – and goodbye. I held Nels’ hand and we walked into the locker room and I tried to think of why it was nice to hear such a compliment – for myself and my child. Much of it was just the honest-to-goodness nice feeling of seeing someone you haven’t seen in a long time, and you both recognize one another and share a warm rapport. But another part of it was to be noticed besides someone I am responsible for cleaning for and feeding.
But who did he notice? That girl he knew – and did not even know all that well – does she exist? I used to be a person but there has been some fragmentation and now that I’m living where I grew up, I sense it all the more strongly. Yes, I went off to college and married but that wasn’t it. At some point my responsibilities ate my life up, devoured me, for a brief but intense bout I was in the belly of the whale. Then I got back above water but I’d changed while I was under. I don’t know how I changed exactly but in any case, whatever dreams or ambitions I had before I’d drowned in child-making and -raising were long gone and left in their place was a fulltime job of cleaning, cooking, worrying, bothering, fussing, and above all loving – loving intensely and selfishly. I added sewing and writing and housekeeping to the list and daily wish I had something more but not sure what that “more” would be.
Maybe another thing I’m seeing is that returning and seeing classmates and childhood peers, many of whom have children now and I sense a divide in them and who they were, too. I know this divide can and may exist whether or not we’ve started families; I don’t quite know how to bridge it. Except to say hello and to reconnect; to extend a hand and a smile and at least know that this is one reason people are often too scared to return to where they grew up.