Cry Wolf

Like the face of God, a high June sun, or Olivia Wilde, some things are too overwhelming and shine too brightly to behold directly.

 

So we turn away.

 

Similarly, the same is often true in the negative. At the top of that list for me is Sandy Hook. The topic is so big is should be written about but so big that it could not be. That it happened. How it happened. What’s happened in its wake. What has not.

 

But sooner or later stuff has to be dealt with. It’s emotional whack-a-mole. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but it will raise its head somewhere sometime. This is the inherent flaw in the compartmentalization strategy so many of us employ. You may sleep softly in the master suite of the mind, but the bomb detonating in the basement will kill you just the same.

 

I first got to know “Jack” about four years ago when he was two or three. I don’t know why I put his name in quotes. His name is actually Jack. I’m not feeling very creative. But let’s call his dad “Maurice.” Maurice, or ‘Mo’ as I’ll call him moving forward, and I worked together.

 

Mo had a charmingly infuriating ritual of Skyping with Jack every afternoon.

 

Without headphones.

 

We all braced ourselves each afternoon like it was a train rumbling by on schedule. It was to be endured, not indulged.

 

“How was your day?”

-Gooooood!

“Are you listening to Mommy?”

-Noooooo!

“OK, I’ll see you at suppertime when I get home.”

-Mac ‘n’ Cheeeeeeese!

 

You get the point.

 

Every so often I’d photobomb their Skypes with hilarious two-fingered bunny ears over Mo’s head or funny faces with oddly juxtaposed arched eyebrow and droopy mouth. Again, hilarious.

 

Then I started to just set my chin just above Mo’s head and talk to Jack myself. We’d talk about candy, dolls (this is the subject of a separate post), lacrosse… Whatever came to mind. Sure, the genius of creating brilliant, optimized, interruptive marking innovation was derailed, but I liked it despite its lack of real purpose or substance.

 

Mo eventually left the company to pursue fame and fortune elsewhere. I was happy for him. He was taking his shot. But I was sad for me. Afternoons were eerily quiet and filled with the kind of business patter that makes real people want to eat bees rather than listen to another tortuous minute of it.

 

Maybe six months ago I met up with Mo and Jack at my son’s lacrosse game in their town. Jack’s eyes were wide at the size and speed of the eighth graders. His ears perked up with every crunching pad-on-pad hit and all the bawdy sideline banter (contrary to popular belief, seventh and eighth grade is where language development really occurs).

 

Jack had fun and I had fun watching him have fun. I was happy my son was *big* now to little kids but a little misty that he wasn’t wide-eyed like that any more himself and never would be again.

 

(Why didn’t we do the Skype equivalent when he was that age? Page one another perhaps?)

 

Mo and I are in touch all the time– usually a snarky text or profanity-laced voicemail at the office. Sometimes we get together for a drink and talk about old times, current times, kids and wives, mutual friends…with a pinch of deeper water sprinkled in with the Johnny Black (him, not me. I’m bourbon all the way.)

 

I rang him up yesterday. Sounded like the same old Mo.

 

“What’s up?”

“Not much. What’s up with you?”

“Not much. You traveling this week?”

“No. I’m in town. Actually I’m at the hospital.”

“Finally getting snipped?”

“No. Jack just got out of surgery. He had a tumor removed from his spine. We’ll know if it’s cancerous or benign in a few days.”

 

I’m immediately transported back. I’m at Logan airport just getting off a flight from Montreal. Really, though, I’m in the basement. As I get off the plane I notice on the CNN monitor news crews outside what looks like a school. My first thought is some Emo kid has had enough again and some town is going to be missing its middle linebacker this season. As if high schooler on high schoolericide barely warrants Wolf Blitzer any more. I walked right on past and to the parking garage.

 

I briefly thought about throwing NPR on to see what was going on but instead chose my “Cold as Balls” Spotify playlist. I got home to my pretty cushy suburb whistling Beck’s “Cold Brains” and thinking ‘What’s a dipshit like me doing in a place like this?’, pleased. But there was a little whisper between the notes– a little voice that wanted me to see what the hell Wolf was talking about.

wolf-blitzer-work-final copy

Twenty-something dead. Children. Little children. Stories of mothers and sons, brothers and fathers were swirling. Checking twitter only exacerbated the complete and utter overload.

 

Brain…shutting…down.

 

Sound became echoey. The picture got fuzzy. I wasn’t passing out. I was passing in. Come get me when Colbert comes on shouted the Medulla Oblongata. (Actually, I don’t think it does that but conjuring up the various parts of the brain is an excellent diversion from the actual, stark matter at hand.)

 

See what I did there? Another lock on the basement door.

 

Parents dropped their kids off, babies really, for school and lots of them are still waiting to pick them up from the dismissal line.

 

That. Just. Happened.

 

So as Jack convalesces while his parents and family wring their hands I’m left to think of the black holes of the mind where things go in but never come out. Our psychic cellars.

 

I don’t mean to get all Steven Covey on you because I’m not Mormon and have much better hair, but exactly what does it take to put first things first? At what point do we stop tweeting, surfing, posting and blogging (cue ironic snicker) long enough to get our heads out of our virtual lives to stick both feet in our actual ones?

 

If you think your iPhone4 glass is fragile, you’re missing the larger point.

 

As for Jack, he’ll be fine. I know it without knowing it. As the Cardinals convene to discuss succession plans and cessation plans, Jack to me is the real essence of Faith. Belief without proof. Jack will be out there with pads on in a few months and making noise of his own. I have faith.

 

So, my advice is less Words with Friends and more words with friends– preferably in person.

 

And clean out that basement now. Don’t wait until Wolf is at your door.

 

 



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