Thursday, June 03, 2004

Heartstrings Pulled

I got a letter from my oldest son the other day. Yes, an actual hand-written letter. It was about five pages long. Three pages of poetry of sorts...more flow of consciousness prose perhaps.

He is out in California; 3,000 miles away from me. After trying a few different things, he has chosen to return to the town from which he graduated from High School. He's got a place with some friends, works every day, and squeezes in a class here and there at the community college.

How do I describe him? So many stories. Let me try the first one that springs to mind;

When he was about two, his sisters and I were playing make-believe with him. I was Lex Luther, terrorizing two damsels in distress (his sisters, ages 4 and 6). He was Superman, complete with flowing cape (no, this is not the "Santa" son. We're just into costumes. Dad still is, especially on Sunday mornings!). The old house in which we lived had numerous doors connecting the rooms, which allowed us to run from room to room in a circle. I would chase the girls, with a villaneous laugh and Lutheresque rants; "I will rule the world!" "I am invincible!" "You cannot escape!" The girls would scream, and lead the chase.

The fun part for them was that another aspect of this game was a variation on follow-the-leader. I had to chase them using the same exact route. If they jumped on the couch, then to the coffee table, then to a chair, I had follow the same path. My son would bring up the rear, chasing the evil Luther. Sometimes we'd have to slow down so he could catch up, as it was not so easy for him to go from couch, to coffee table to chair. Every once in awhile, he would catch up with us. I would then show great fear and tremble; "Please don't hurt me Superman!" Then I would begin a new procession, with Superman chasing me, and the girls following behind cheering on their champion (I know, it's all so terribly chauvenistic, isn't it?)

In one pass through the dining room, I spotted a small wooden box. Snatching it up, I turned and faced this miniature man of steel. "I've got you now Superman!" I bellowed. "In this box is the one thing that can defeat you; kryptonite! When I open this box, you will become weaker, and weaker." His eyes got big, and with a loud scream, he turned and ran, changing the order of the chase once again. He changed the course as well, which resulted in him ending up in a corner with no way out. As I approached with the box, he suddenly burst into tears, and began wailing loudly, "No! NO!" I put down the box, and tried to hold him. He ran away, still screaming. Eventually, with much quiet coaxing, he calmed down, and we talked about how "make-believe" is just a game. He asked if we could play it some more. I suggested maybe another time. We never played out that particular script again.

The line between what is real and what is not has always been a bit thin for my son. He has always loved to play "what if...?" Sometimes I wonder if what we call reality is the illusion, and his imaginary worlds are closer to the truth. In grade school, one of his teachers called us in for a conference. Our son was having difficulty getting his work done. The teacher seemed to think it wasn't a learning disability, or some other kind of handicap. His observation was that our son absorbed knowledge differently than most of the other children. Rather than soaking it up like a sponge, he would take a piece of information and turn it this way and that, playing with it, reshaping it, and then carefully filing it away. The observed behavior was that our son was often the one staring off into the distance while the rest of the class was diligently working away on the assignment.

This young man, with his gentle spirit, is now trying to find his own way in a world that insists on empirical data being the highest priority. Not easy, for one who sometimes experiences the imaginary as being just as real as the concrete. I worry about him. And I miss him. May God keep you safe my son. And never change. This twisted world needs more visionaries.

Here's one of his flow-of consciousness prose pieces;

Steam rises from white styrafoam.
The thick aroma makes me think of church and librarians.
I'm not saying librarians drink coffee.
All I'm saying is the smell reminds me of librarians.

If I was a librarian, I'd drink coffee.
If I was a firefighter, I'd drink coffee.
If I was a janitor at McDonald's, I'd still drink coffee.
I don't know. I just like the stuff.
It makes me feel all grown up
My dad drank lots of coffee.
Maybe, deep down, I want to be just like him.
I think I'm at least half like him.
And that is enough.

He would sit up reading, writing and drinking coffee.
I didn't know, or even care, what he was up to.
Now, after he left across the country, I wonder what it was all about?
The reality couldn't possibly match my imagination.
Still, I get a taste of his life with this coffee.

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