When I announced on Facebook that I would be re-entering the blogosphere, I mentioned I would feature an occasional blog post from my previous site or excerpt from my private journals. I’ve since found most of my blog entries have been lost. But nevertheless, there is one post that I held onto. As promised, here’s a “flashback” blog post carried over from the days when I was recently divorced. I was in a bad place when I wrote this, sometime in 2011. I was coming to grips with my new living situation and the loneliness of not being with my children everyday. I have come a long way since then. Enjoy this blog post for what’s worth – a piece of writing from a dark time that I somehow managed to escape.
Forgotten for the afternoon and likely the day, the girls sit in swings dangling legs as dark as the shadows they cast. One holds herself in the A-shaped frame, grasping the metal bars and craning her neck and head like a zoo animal to make the others laugh. Their skin is black in the overcasted clouds and their hair is somehow blacker and wild, the girls like silhouettes, their outlines yelling to each other though they are only a few feet away, screaming for today, maybe using up all the little girl before a few years now when they are forced to become women before other girls in other neighborhoods. No parents to protect them or guide their hands, they play unnoticed most days behind the apartment complexes without even a face or slightest glance from someone checking on them. And yet, they’re safe and happy, and they’ll be that way all day unless it rains.
I see the girls while coming in from dropping a check at the rental office, across a winding sidewalk and about 100 feet from my backdoor. They pay no notice to me, and I go inside and slip open the window to listen to them. The kitchen window in a sparely furnished apartment is an entertainment and a simple appliance that acts as a radio, a clock, a television, a fan, and a jury box. The noises that filter in through the screen are the radio waves, and it easily becomes a television when you put your eyes to it to bring a picture to the sound. I use it as a fan or a vent when I’ve singed my dinner in the skillet or need to freshen the air. The former tenant was a heavy smoker, and the cigarette smell has permeated the carpet, but it’s only noticeable if the place has been closed up for a time. And the window can become a jury box quite easily if I think about these children and the parents who live in these complexes, who I see leaving for jobs on weekday mornings, and coming home and parking in the same spots in the evenings, but who I’ve never once noticed in the middle-yards, tossing pitches, pushing kids on the swings, or calling them home for dinner. But all the children sleep somewhere and they are back again the next day after school, in the same groups, segregated from one another by age and gender.
After work, I listen to them while I make dinner, and let in the sounds from the playground down the row of khaki-painted buildings to the north. While I’m moving around the range and trying to remember where I’ve stored the plates, pans, can opener, and silverware in this new place, all the movement I can imagine outside sets the shadows on the walls and under the cabinetry into a motion that only I can perceive.
Yesterday morning, which was a Saturday, I listened to six boys playing football in the open grass in a space about the appropriate size for a football game not counting the cement back porch slaps that jut into spaces along the imaginary sidelines and the sidewalk to the rental office that cuts through one end zone. Usually, the boys are not organized enough to play their own game and stand around the play equipment or climb up on the swings and push each other standing in the seats and grasping the chains, like trapeze artists, swaying and too scared to somersault off into the rocks, proudly swinging without any supervision or discipline, without any care that the little girls on the slides would like a turn to swing but are too afraid.
They are gentle boys, and they would relent if the girls asked them for a turn, but they never do. The girls only get the swings if they happen to come first. If they’re not first, they just take rocks and toss them into the puddles that last for days after rains, thinning out the playground surface and annoying the grounds crew that has to stoop and replace the rocks when they’re about to mow.
During what felt like morning to me, but was actually almost noon, and while I was lining up my plate for a steak I fried, I heard an “ooh” that follows a big hit, and I looked out to see one boy lying on his back by the sidewalk, and another boy, who I’d talked to and thrown a few pitches to during an unexpected pick-up game, rolling off the ground from his hip and standing up. I stood an extra second to make sure he was ok, and he was. I liked that boy, but I couldn’t remember his name.
The soft clouds for sleepy afternoons always remind me of February, and they’d moved in and now were making the angles on the building tops sharp so they stood out. Both boys were fine, so I went back to my meal, ate at the shaky kitchen table, and took my trash out to the dumpster. The boys were gone and the sky was barely spitting rain. They’d quit their game on the flimsiest sprinkles I can remember a game ever being called for, and I went back inside not thinking I’d hear them again for the day. But they came back, and I heard them arguing about what down it was, and I heard them again talking about how close one play was to greatness. And, then the rain came, and they were gone less than 10 minutes later.
As often as I see them, I couldn’t say in what buildings they live or whose parents are theirs. The kids are well behaved, if sometimes a little lost and desperate for attention. I only know one boy’s father. They share the same name, and I’ve seen him selling a little pot, I’d suspect. Nothing serious, but he makes his way around the complexes, seems to know everyone, and sits out back with a woman who cleans apartments here, and is sometimes so drunk, she can barely pronounce her name. She tries to get me to talk, and I imagine she’s slept with some people in the complex, and what’s most surprising to me is that she has a pretty teenage daughter who comes out to walk their little dog, and seems well adjusted. The parents here don’t seem to take any interest in their kids. They are let loose after school, come home when the sun is coming down, and hopefully in one piece. I’m not sure how much they would be missed if they didn’t come back.
I would notice them missing. Continuous sound, even if it’s not from my own children, is important in an apartment that feels especially empty after my two daughters and son go back to be with their mother. The noise is not what is missed, it’s the type of noise, the sweet calls from upstairs from my little girls who always yell daddy first, then follow with a request for what they want. When I hear daddy in a public place, I still look for my kids, even when they aren’t with me, and I am aware of children being around when they are not mine, like these girls at the playground and the boys tackling one another.
I don’t know them or own no responsibility to watch them or keep tabs on them, but I do it. I know a few of the boys now. When they see a father throwing a few pitches to his son, like I do with mine, they all leave the playground and walk the length of the apartment complexes to join in, to take a swing, but most are too lazy or uninvolved to play in the field. Their energy is spent making it through the day, like mine is some days just to make lunch.
I try to move fluidly while I cook, not inhibited by the judges’ robe I wear while I turn the meat over, seeing myself an ideal parent who unjustly ended up in this divorced apartment, alone, completely innocent, like a zoo animal, like all those not-guilty jailbirds in the world wearing orange.